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Thursday, 30 December 2010

Reasons to Smile in 2011

It seems that the end of the year is not just for one particular countdown (of which there is a very funny description at Spare Time Gone Awry), but of countdown lists, the top ten best T.V moments of 2010, the top ten news stories, blah, blah, blah. I have to admit to being a bit of a closet fan of these lists; neat and ordered. I used to make one every year, a summary of what I had done, films I had seen, countries I had visited etc. This year I don't feel like making one of these lists. I have had a very rich and full list of experiences, happinesses and achievements. However the year has not come to the best of ends and I'm not sure that recalling all of that happiness is a very useful activity. So here is a list of ten art things that I will be looking forward to in 2011. Feel free to mention the things I have missed.

1. Modern British Sculpture- Royal Academy of Arts (22nd January-7th April) This year at the Royal Academy I experienced a revelation; I had always dismissed sculpture because I didn't understand it and it didn't communicate with me. Then on the recommendation of my supervisor I went to Wild Thing and all of a sudden there was the sculpture of Eric Gill, Epstein and Gaudier-Brzeska speaking to me of the sensuality of stone, of its fleshly corporeality. I don't doubt that the Royal Academy will bring another challenging and astounding exhibition and offer another revelation.
'The exhibition will take a fresh approach, replacing the traditional survey with a provocative set of juxtapositions that will challenge the viewer to make new connections and break the mould of old conceptions.'

2. Shadow Catchers Symposium (4th Feb, V&A)- Yes I loved the exhibition so much I booked myself a space on the symposium like the giant art geek that I am. The artists will be speaking and so will Marina Warner (a slight and distant hero of mine). This feels like the future of photography.

3. Venice Biennale- This is a huge event and perhaps I will be there. Art, Cinema, Architecture, Dance, Music and Theatre, where else would you want to be over the summer?

4. Eric Gill: Public and Private Art, British Museum (10th February- August 7th)- I love Eric Gill and believe he deserves appreciation. My dissertation won't be finished yet either, so I can count this trip as research!

5. Barcelona- Since I am going in a couple of looks like I will only catch the dregs of exhibitions from 2010 but this is an art city and will be a landmark of the year.

6. The Guggenheim New York- Because perhaps, just maybe, I might be here too.

7. Lucia Nogueira, Kettle's Yard (15th January-13th March)- It would be a crime to forget the treasures of exhibitions which will be occurring on my doorstep. More sculpture, Nogueira is involved with what seems to be a kind of reclamation, her work has been described as a process of 'taking things which are close to hand and imbuing them with malignancy and magic.' A lot of exciting things are happening for sculpture next year and Cambridge will be an important part of the exploration too.
'My way of thinking is very much from Brazil: my way of picking up objects comes from there too. It is something connected with childhood and also with the Brazilian psyche. Our way of thinking is not as linear as it is in Europe ... In art you obviously have a background in art history that is very rich. We don't have that in Brazil at all ... We just do everything in a very empirical way, even art.' Nogueira

8. Henry Gaudier-Brzeska Sculptures, Kettle's Yard Talks (10th February)- the influence of Wild Thing stretches far. Brzeska has his own attic of work in the Kettle's Yard house and I am looking forward to hearing the enigmatic curator Sebastiano Barassi talk.

9. Ian Hamilton Finlay's Little Sparta- This year I discovered Finlay's garden, his contained sculpted world, just as the season was ending. I did not have time to organise a trip to Edinburgh (it would have had to coincide with the Pope's visit) and missed the dying autumn moments of the garden. When the season opens again this year I will use it as an excuse to make a trip up to the beautiful city of Edinburgh and engineer a visit to my friends in St.Andrews. The thought of the garden makes me a little feverish with excitement.

10. Future Beauty- 30 Years of Japanese Fashion, Barbican- This is a postponed trip from 2010, my friend Ralph and I are going to make a trip, it will put Chinese Vogue in to an Eastern context and give us the perfect opportunity to reminisce.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Harlow Sculpture Town

In September when I wrote about Harlow's sheep trail I was fairly scathing. I will defend my judgement of the odd painted-plastic sheep but it is unfair to dismiss Harlow's sculpture collection. Including works by Henry Moore, Auguste Rodin and Barbara Hepworth it certainly has the weight to justify its new status as 'Harlow, Town of Sculpture'. My only question is, who is interested? And will anybody come to visit 'pram town' now it has been renamed 'Sculpture town'?
Sir Frederick Gibberd was the town planner for the new development in Harlow in the 1950's. He conceived his modern town with a sculpture collection at its heart. Located in main squares, precincts, public buildings and schools the sculpture trail offers an alternative map of a dilapidated town in Essex.

Henry Moore, The Family Group, at the Civic Centre

Moore's sculpture was a special commission from the town planners of Harlow. The Family Group became a symbol of civic pride. In the 1950's when the sculpture was made Harlow had a birth rate that was three times the national average and so gained its status as 'pram town', as a town of families and community. In 2010 'pram town' has developed an added irony as the shopping streets are filled with teenage mothers. In recent years Harlow notched up the highest teen pregnancy rate in Essex, the UK and Europe. The original message of the sculpture in this post-war town has been lost and obscured. Harlow has a very different reputation now.

"A few miles north form my home at Perry Green (now the Henry Moore Foundation) is Harlow, and over the last 25 years I have watched it grow from a small scattered rural population to a thriving new town of over 70,000 people.

The Placing of sculptures in a town can have a greater significance than just providing a setting for a work of art. As can be seen in Harlow, when sculpture is related to the space in which it stands. Both the sculpture and the scene itself gain.

Auguste Rodin, Eve

I can't help feeling, as I pull a wet paper bag from her cleavage, that Harlow Town has given Eve reasons to feel lost and dejected which Rodin had not intended. Clutching herself before a backdrop of fast food she is an anachronism, a molested outcast on the fringes of the Water Gardens. The Harlow Art trust and the council are right, there is something beautiful here which deserves resurrection. I just believe that its resurrection with the contemporary residents of Harlow would be something of a miracle. So send your prayers to the Art trust and Rodin's Eve, they need them!

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Virago Green Spines

The Cambridge University Library are offering a £500 prize for a collection of books put together by a student. With £500 as temptation and motivation I thought I might have a try. As the collection will not be judged on size or monetary value perhaps I have a fair chance. Many years ago I joined a website called ReaditSwapit, and one of the books which came rushing through my letterbox on a whim was Elizabeth Taylor's Angel. The book fascinated me; the feel of its binding in my hand, it's green spine, the silhouette of an apple at its top and then the Portrait of Madame Lacroix by Giovanni Boldini which acted as its cover illustration. A little research only increased my fascination. What I had stumbled upon was a feminist printing press established in 1973 by Carmen Callil to publish the work of forgotten or overlooked women writers from the literary canon and to promote the writings of new and emerging women. Virago has been an obsession ever since.

Part of my fairly modest collection.

I felt sure I was the first to have made this discovery and began a treasure hunt in local charity shops, second hand bookshops in Cornwall and London and internet swapping communities. I was under the impression that they were difficult to find (they were in Harlow!) and that I must be the only woman on earth who actually wanted them. Since moving to Cambridge I have found that I can no longer buy eeach one that I find as the Virago press was genuinely prolific, (Heffers even reprints the originals to add to its stock). I have to be a little more selective in my search now that I am a student.

A picture of a larger and more impressive collection, stolen from Fleur Fisher

For the University Library prize my collection requires a coherence and an intellectual strain of thought to support it. My collection is of the early originals, published in the 80's with portraits of women for their covers. My interest is both literary and artistic; the cover paints a portrait of the central character just as the books themselves are studies of the female voice which leads them, these novels are word- portraits.

Cover: 'The Bather' Kees van Dongen

'I wanted to live at the centre of a focus of pleasantness, and harmony, and things coming right. And instead I was tossing about in a whirlpool of useless passion and frenzy.' The Thinking Reed

Cover: 'Portrait of Ira P' Tamara de Lempicka

' "Hardly anyone is dancing," said Charlotte to the unknown man beside her, "yet whenever I put out my hand, I touch someone," But the stranger seemed not to have heard her.' Strangers

Tamara de Lempicka was an amazing painter during the 20's and 30's who had her own distinctive and feminine approach to Cubism. Working in Paris she was associated with Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Andre Gide. The portrait used for the cover of Strangers is a powerful portrait in red and white, between innocence and passion.

Cover: 'Catherine Carrington' Carrington

'I am forward-looking girl and don't stay where I am, "Left right, Be bright," as I said in my poem. That's on days when I am one big bounce, and have to go careful then not to be a nuisance. But later I get back to my own philosophical outlook that keeps us all kissable.' Novel on Yellow Paper

I just finished reading Stevie Smith's Novel on Yellow Paper for my London dissertation and I love her loose writing style. It is like a 'stream of consciousness' but with an innocence and enthusiasm to it that is completely independent of the fluidity of writers such as Virginia Woolf.
I won't pin all my hopes on that book collecting prize, but I think I have a story and a chance, so wish me luck.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Grey Bricks and Aquatints

As you may already know I happen to live in an art collection, hence the quotidian exposure to art. When I returned as a resident this year I was excited to find that the curator had found a space for our print collection along the grey brick walls of the residential corridors. The grey bricks are the subject of obsessions; love or hate they are a listed and therefore a permanent feature. As an atmospheric backdrop for the prints of the New Hall Art Collection I think they work very well, 'Grey Bricks and Aquatints' has a kind of poetry to it. Anyway when I return from doing laundry I make a point of travelling along the first floor so that I can see our prints, finally exhibited.

Liliane Lijin, Black Koran, Etching

Helen Fay, Cormorant, Drypoint

Pale reflections in the glass of picture frames reveal the ghosts of bedroom and bathroom doors. As much as Helen Fay's Cormorant desires its creative independence the life of the world around it influences and corrupts. There is something complimentary in the subtle tones of brick and the inky black and white of these prints.

Iona Montgomery, Aranda, lithograph

A walk along the corridor is an exploration in printing techniques; Lithographs, Etchings, Drypoint, Monoprint, and Screenprints. As these women represent themselves they also represent the breadth of their medium. I won't go in to a description of the various techniques here as that is the job of Wikipedia.
The pictures below will offer an insight in to the range of prints on display from wistful fairy tales, to bright dream-scapes and dark brooding landscapes.

Charlotte Hodes, Untitled, Etching

Jacqueline Moon, Lighthouse Tower, Etching

Ashley Cook, Finding your place in the world, Screenprint

Sarah Wilson, Nightgown, Monoprint

We also have one of Paula Rego's Nursery Rhyme etchings, but that's locked away in another room and is for another story.

Friday, 24 December 2010

The Eric Gill Pilgrimage

The Eric Gill pilgrimage turned out to be providential. I had planned out my landmarks but was unaware how close they were together; Oxford Circus, Victoria and South Kensington formed a tightly bound prism on the tube map. Then there was the Itsu ( opposite Portland Place which provided the perfect lunch and the unexpected Gill sculptures which greeted me as I entered the V&A. When I emerged from the underground at Oxford Circus I could already see the beacon of broadcasting house beckoning from just behind the lines of Christmas shoppers.

In 1932 Gill produced the Prospero and Ariel sculptures which still furnish the exterior of BBC broadcasting house. The BBC chose Shakespeare's The Tempest as a theme in order to make a cultural statement. Prospero was an 'airy' spirit who represented the airwaves of broadcasting. However Gill adapted the sculpture to his own beliefs about culture. And so Prospero and Ariel become God the Father and God the Son. When I arrive at broadcasting house in the flesh all I can see is Eric Gill's big joke on the BBC.

I assume that Gill's sculptures are details hardly noticed as commuters, businessmen and shoppers pass them by. However they are beautiful. I particularly like the detail of the wave that rides the building round as a trimming. I have seen so many photographs of these recently that I don't know what it means to have a set of my own, whether it will mean anything? Nevertheless I get in to the road and flutter about the steps of Langham church making a fool of myself with my camera.
‘Had not Prospero power over the immortal gods? At any rate it seemed to be only right and proper that I should see the matter in as bright a light as possible and so I took it upon me to portray God the father and God the son. For even if that were not Shakespeare’s meaning it ought to be the BBC’s’ Eric Gill
For Eric Gill the light of religion illuminates all creation.

My second stop, and what I assumed was my final, in the short pilgrimage was Westminster Cathedral. In the bitter cold as Christmas is nearing The Stations of the Cross with a little Catholic liturgy thrown in for good measure, seemed satisfyingly appropriate (probably more suited to Easter, but as a heathen I only have a gentle feel for these things). As a raging Catholic sculptor, although relatively unheard of at the time, Gill was asked to furnish the Cathedral's pillars with carvings of the Fourteen stations of the cross. This is Gill's 'Epic' just as The Anathemata is David Jones's; it communicates the whole history of a people and culture even if this history is uniquely that of Religion and the Passion. Mounted on pillars in Westminster these succeed in being epic.

Only one photo for you as the angles were awkward, although I did get some beautiful postcards so perhaps I will share those as a treat eventually. Red lettering and Gold details add subtle decoration, to a stark but beautifully conceived sculpture.
The final joy of the day was arriving at the V&A believing I had, had my warm cosy fill of Gill, only to be confronted by a preparatory carving for Prospero and Ariel in an alcove. I had unwittingly stumbled upon a new landmark in my pilgrimage.

To supplement my endless reading on lettering and typography there were framed tablets of Gill's typefaces. He donated them so that they could be studied by the V&A's legacy. You have no idea how often I have consulted black and white reproductions of these, now I am the student poring over them.

Gill's sculpture Mankind is a female cipher for the power of his sculpting. She is a luxurious decapitated monument to sexuality and the sensuality of stone. Gill admired tradition with such fervour but he commands a space in the centre of it all. I spent a long, long time absorbing buttocks, indents, curves and Gill's own deep admiration of the female form. Here she is for your enjoyment.

You can deny Eric Gill many things, but not this appreciation. In the V&A Fiona McCarthy's biographical revelations are irrelevancies, Eric Gill is a modern British sculptor whose influence stretches across the exhibition hall from Robert Gibbings to the student of lettering.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Magic Lantern- Mat Collishaw

I have to admit to not knowing what I expected. Perhaps I was just looking for some of the beauty that had entranced me in his Insecticide prints. In which case I can't deny that Collishaw delivered. I think perhaps I imagined that Collishaw had been granted the dome of the Victoria and Albert museum as an exhibition space. Well this is also true, but we are not as yet granted access.
At dusk I ask how I get to the dome and I am told that I will have to go out in to the street to see it. If I cross over the road I should get the best view. So I wrap up warm and dash across the road, the dome has been transformed in to a beacon of light but I am too close to discern its detail. So I skip down the street passing tall South Kensington doors and parked black taxis until I can look back and take it all in.
In the street in my madness Collishaw's Magic Lantern looks like a schizophrenic strobing of bats in the belfry, not the elegant worship of moths to a flame. But I have to put this down to my obscure perspective. I don't think that this mad dash outside as closing time approaches at the V&A is what the experience is about. This is for the outside world; a beacon to lost souls out in London who might be attracted to the Victoria and Albert museum like little moths to its potent art flame.
I have committed another injustice. When I return to the Madejski gardens to see the replica zoetrope I can gain enough perspective to feel real admiration. Here the moths are engaged in their ritual worship of the light. Delicate, fluttering forms moving faster than the eye can perceive. A zoetrope is a cylindrical device first designed in 1834, 'a rapid succession of images simulates motion'. As with Insecticide I see Collishaw playing with the modern and the traditional; digital animation and Gothic fairytale are forced together in a contemporary fusion. When Collishaw's zoetrope begins to spin on the edge of the lake magic is invoked. I wish I could get far enough away from the dome to see Collishaw 'animating the Museum's architecture with a work of haunting beauty.' For now the replica zoetrope allows me to imagine and my imagination goes wild.

My Art History

I am in London today, so here is a bit of a rushed post, apologies for picture quality, it's my blackberry it doesn't do anything justice!

The beginnings of an art book sculpture

While I am back Home, Home and have my whole life in boxes before me I have decided to organise some of the many things I have collected over the years. I am beginning to trip over postcards of artworks, gallery maps, exhibition leaflets and posters and so I am going to try and make a scrapbook of them all. So they don't go to waste but also to preserve them amongst my thoughts. Here are a few pictures of the chaos.

I can already see some interesting things collaged here; Miquel Barcelo's watercolours, Goya's bullfighting etchings, and a bit of Sonia Delaney!

I am going to make a scrapbook, but I need to buy photo-corners first so that I don't destroy anything with glue. I hope that some more interesting posts will come out of this excursion in re-discovery. My mother informs me we do in fact have a scanner, so expect more beautiful, good quality images, soon.

Meanwhile in London. Today I am going on my Eric Gill Pilgrimage; to see the Prospero and Ariel sculpture on the exterior of BBC's Broadcasting House and The Fourteen Stations of the cross at Westminster Cathedral.

AND if I don't get lost I might wander to the V&A to see the exhibition of Camera-less photography which is reviewed beautifully here;
and an even bigger if, I happen to be at the V&A at the right time I will go see this;
having discovered Matt Collishaw at the Fitz the other day.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A Christmas Kiss from Alfred Eisenstaedt

Posts are proving to be much more difficult at home without a scanner, instead of providing you with beautiful images you will have to put up with some stolen things from the internet along with my own photographs!

On August 14th 1945 Alfred Eisenstaedt captured what was to be his most famous photograph. 'V-J Day in Times Square' is a spontaneous moment of elation and excited energy following the announcement of the end of the war on Japan. You wouldn't know it from the photograph but this sailor and his nurse were total strangers. At one moment they were locked in an embrace and in the next they were lost in crowds of celebrations and anonymity. A sailor celebrating the victory by kissing strangers in the street (and rather forcefully) has become an iconic image. 'Kissing the war goodbye' has a beautiful poetry to it. But the image evokes passion and sentiment, it calls for other stories and the attachment of new meanings. So today these will be the lost lovers reunited for Christmas.

In 2005 John Seward Johnson created Unconditional Surrender, a sculpted version of the iconic kiss for a re-enactment in Times Square on the sixtieth anniversary of the event. These are photographs of a 25 feet tall version in aluminium and plastic displayed in San Diego by the naval base. Catching the fading light and shipwrecked by the sea, this immense sculpture made a powerful impression. Taken out of the photograph the couple can be circled and examined from every angle. They become dancers, dreamers, everything we want. They represent the American dream; the desire to keep those things that are important in the foreground, to make gestures bigger and in so doing increase their power.

'I was walking through the crowds on V-J Day, looking for pictures. I noticed a sailor coming my way. He was grabbing every female he could find and kissing them all — young girls and old ladies alike. Then I noticed the nurse, standing in that enormous crowd. I focused on her, and just as I'd hoped, the sailor came along, grabbed the nurse, and bent down to kiss her. Now if this girl hadn't been a nurse, if she'd been dressed dark clothes, I wouldn't have had a picture. The contrast between her white dress and the sailor's dark uniform gives the photograph its extra impact.'
The Eye of Eisenstadt

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Travels in Graffiti

Graffiti has been vindicated in recent years as Banksy has brought his work off the streets and in to gallery spaces. There is a lot more appreciation for the talent and thought which informs this underground culture. On my European travels I have always been interested in documenting, with my camera, the particular graffiti-culture of the cities I visit. It seems that each country and each city has a different approach to their medium and a unique motivation.

Madrid- characterised by bright, vibrant graphics, powerful letters, explosions of colour.

Yesterday when I wrote that sculpture more than any art form is in dialogue with its surroundings, I was not considering graffiti. Graffiti doesn't simply furnish buildings, roads and pavements; when we visit a city we absorb its graffiti as an integral part of its vista. But graffiti is not a permanent feature, its power is in its transience. While architecture remains an archaism, a monument to the past, graffiti is that part of the city which adapts with its people, with the moving, breathing, developing culture.

Bucharest- Romania, 'Women! Don't tolerate misogyny' in Romania graffiti appeared to have a bitter political ambition, scrawled with a fire and an urgency or stencilled with powerful irony.

Prague-Czech Republic, appeared to me to be obsessed with stencil graffiti, with repeating patterns across the city.


Budapest, Hungary

Rome was all about the effortless scribble, as if the entire city were a notepad for the scrawls of its people.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Ascending form

Not everybody lives within the second largest collection of contemporary women's art work in the world. However I am lucky enough to say that this is the case. Art adorns the walls of the dining room, the bar and the corridors which track the path to our bedrooms. But it is the sculptures which have become landmarks in the gardens which are my interest today.

Sculpture, more than other arts has the power to adapt to its surroundings and to communicate with its environment. With the garden coated in fresh inches of snow we are reminded of sculpture's adaptability. Barbara Hepworth's Ascending Form holds the garden in its magical orbit, it is the focal point of all views, the silent observer of snow dancers and sun bathers.

Hepworth made many upright forms based on the idea of the figure in the landscape. Ascending Form has the grace of the anonymous female silhouette with its large human eye. It also draws us beyond the woman, through the hole of its view finder and in to the landscape.

In the snow it transforms again. The snow highlights, it clings to form and depth drawing our attention to details lost through frequent viewing. In the snow I look out of my kitchen window at the solitary Ascending Form and remember how beautiful I think it is.

"my approach to bronze isn't a modeller's approach. I like to create the armature of a bronze as if I'm building a boat and then putting the plaster on is like covering the bones with skin and muscles. But I build it up so that I can cut it. I like to carve the hard plaster surface" (in conversation with Alan Bowness 1971).

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Alfred Wallis- dreams of the seaside

This post is a little goodbye to Kettles Yard for the christmas holidays. I had to stop reading for my dissertation and start writing so by the end of the week visits to that big pine table and all those gorgeous art books trailed off. While the snow begins to mount up outside the sun keeps shining in Kettles Yard. Its sunniest paintings are the collection from Alfred Wallis, arranged for the comfort of those studying the books.

White house and cottages- the Old House, Porthmeor Square, St Ives 1930-32 and White houses- Hales Down, near St.Ives 1930-32

Wallis was a Cornish artist who began painting at the age of 70 after the death of his wife. Painting provided a solace and became his 'company'. The paintings have an instinctive quality and people often call his work 'childlike'. I think that 'childlike' is as far from the truth as possible, Wallis paints like a man at 70 who has never painted before. At 70 he knows that he has no time to refine and practice that instinctive skill. He paints with himself, raw and open. He paints now because this is the last chance he has to paint. My mother does some art therapy at a local centre for the socially disadvantaged and some of her students paint like this; secret artists who have been denied paint and brushes for all of their lives.

Two fishermen in their boat with one mast steeped and Three-masted ship near lighthouse

These paintings are like a revelation. In Kettles Yard the paintings are kept together because they are a collection, we can imagine that they are personal works of art that orbit the artist as significant elements of him.
'He enjoyed talking about his paintings, speaking of them not as paintings but as events or experiences.' Ben Nicholson

Springing from the same colour palette, (the palette of Cornwall- sea water, cliff and sand) these works have a continuity, a fluidity which allows interconnection and reflection.

Looe, Cornwall, from a trip in 2008

Cornwall has a history of inspiring art and hosting small artists studios in its narrow, winding streets. I still remember looking jealously at my friend's art project at school. Her family have a house in St.Ives and she had collected all kinds of materials from Tate St.Ives and the Barbara Hepworth museum. She was forever painting delicate watercolours of beach scenes with a style all her own. Cornwall is a place with its own language, national identity and particular aesthetic. An aesthetic which the Ede's brought back to their home like the spoils of beach combing.

A Polperro sunset, 2008

People can be very dismissive of the British seaside, but Cornwall with its aquamarine stretches of turbulent sea, delicate boats buoying on the water and infinite coastlines of fine golden sand and rocky cliffs, blows all criticism out of the water. You can argue that it is dull to go on holiday in the same places every year but Cornwall requires that kind of affection from you. I will remember my holidays there forever, like a lost treasure.

Some links for you.
Great introduction to Wallis: