26th October 2019

 

I was in Venice to visit the Biennale at the weekend.  It was hot beautiful weather, but it was also a Saturday and it seemed the whole of Venice was enjoying the show before it closes in a few weeks. I took the vaporetto from Ca d’Oro to Giardini instead of walking across the city, in order to save time and energy.  As usual it is a great pleasure to join with the visitors and the Venetians as they travel through the city and across the water – especially on a sparkling day as this was.

The theme of this year’s Biennale is “May you live in interesting times“.  I knew of the Glasgow-based artist Cathy Wilkes (British Pavilion), though I did not visit this pavilion because there was restricted entry and a long queue.  Instead there were many artists from China, Africa and India and other previously under- or non-represented countries. India is represented this year for the time, for example.  This was very exciting and  I wish I had had the time and the energy to explore this show thoroughly. It would have taken two days at least, instead of the measly five hours I was able to devote to it this year.  So all I got was a flavour.  For much more, read the excellent review by Laura Cummings in the Observer.

Here are a few notes:

Dutch Pavilion

Stand out items I did see included the Dutch Pavilion, carefully explained to me by the invigilator.  This really helped.  The exhibition is a comment by artists Iris Kensmil and Remy Jungerman on Surinam and the Netherlands and their mutual influence,  including references to Mondrian and Rietveld, the actual designer of the Dutch pavilion.  Jungerman is interested in the way patterns are transmitted and how they shape culture.  I would like to explore the ideas of this exhibition further, as it was absolutely rich with meaning and interest.

“The Measurement of Presence. The Biennale Arte is an arena for continuously redefining notions of nationhood and the locality of art. Remy Jungerman and Iris Kensmil’s The Measurement of Presence calls for an alternative, transnational approach towards what binds us, acknowledging that we are in a constant state of flux. Jungerman and Kensmil explore the possibilities that emerge from not just allowing but embracing this ongoing shift. They explore how a truer measurement of presence, spirit, and history are needed for our interconnected existence.  (Biennale Arte 2019)”

 

Martin Puryear in US Pavilion

Martin Puryear’s confident and beautifully made sculptures in the US pavilion.  I enjoyed this work that was so resolved, so well displayed and which did not require much more from me than admiration and awe at the skill involved.

 

Michael Armitage in International Pavilion and in Arsenale

In the International Pavilion I saw work by Michael Armitage.  He paints quite thinly in oil on huge canvases and his subject is the social and political turmoil in Kenya.  There was more of his work in Arsenale.  I admire his message and also his delicate technique, which is different from the heavy expressive use of oil that I have recently been encouraged to do.

 

Ulrike Muller in Arsenale

             

In the Arsenale I appreciated Ulrike Muller‘s large abstract weaving and her highly focused small enamel pieces (like paintings but not?)   She is interested in critiquing the usual hierarchies of fine art, in which textile art comes a long way down the list.  Good for her. I would like to find out more about her work.

 

Julie Mehretu in Arsenale

            

Julie Mehretu (b. 1970 Addis Addaba) ” is a contemporary visual artist, well known for her multi-layered paintings of abstracted landscapes on a large scale. Her paintings, drawings, and prints depict the cumulative effects of urban sociopolitical changes through the landscape’s alteration of architecture, topography, and iconography.”

“I think of my abstract mark-making as a type of sign lexicon, signifier, or language for characters that hold identity and have social agency. The characters in my maps plotted, journeyed, evolved, and built civilizations. I charted, analyzed, and mapped their experience and development: their cities, their suburbs, their conflicts, and their wars. The paintings occurred in an intangible no-place: a blank terrain, an abstracted map space. As I continued to work I needed a context for the marks, the characters. By combining many types of architectural plans and drawings I tried to create a metaphoric, tectonic view of structural history. I wanted to bring my drawing into time and place.[7]

I enjoyed these paintings, so allusive and delicate, and will find out more about Mehretu’s ideas and work.

 

Otobung Nkanga 

Otobung Nkanga  – I liked her small paintings, so carefully done, and with the colour strip she includes to show her palette.

Some artists were using tech to spectacular effect   Antoine Catala. for example

Liu Wei in Arsenale

Liu Wei – large scale propellor-style installation I found satisfying.  For me it just worked as an art piece and a sculpture.

Arsenale was heavily boarded up in many areas to create the separate exhibitor’s spaces. I usually enjoy this massive echoing space for its scale and I did find the partitioning claustrophobic.

These are a few impressions from the time I spent in Giardini and Arsenale. As usual, there was so much to learn and to see.  I was focused on what was closest to my own interests and that meant painting.  It was fascinating to see what artists are making and saying from all over the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is much too soon (about a week) to write very much about the experience of joining Nottdance for a day. I would just like to thank the organisers and everyone involved for a very special experience.  Here are a few prelim notes.

First impressions

I had a fabulous mind-blowing day at the Nottdance 2019 festival.

  • so well thought out
  • Lovely dance space
  • Beautifully organised
  • Top quality events and performances
  • Balanced “flavours”
  • creative buzz

I had to get there before I could even begin to grasp it.  No idea what to expect

  • Breakdancing?
  • Community event?
  • I did not have a clue, but it turned out to be all these things and super smooth

What I did

  1. Katye Coe’s open class on contact improvisation.  90 mins of free style and contact with music once warmed up.  Beautiful experience.  Starting from “listening to the body”, thinking of gravity and being in space.
  2. Julie Cunningham Open Practice   a privilege to watch this amazing dancer work through her warm up routine, explain her ideas, particularly about gender fluidity and lesbianism, and then perform a short dance.  It probably meant a lot but I enjoyed the beauty of her movement and the integrity of the whole experience.  Discussion about non patriarchal ways of viewing the body, its fluidity and messiness.
  3. Reading room. A discussion group focussed on the small library in centre – started with books being scattered off shelf around the room and everyone sharing or reading what caught their eye.  This was a brilliant way to access the books in a different way, how different when they were on the floor or on windowsills or seats, how much easier it was to start discussions with fellow readers.  I felt more at home and confident in this session.  I appreciated the parallels between choreography and visual art.  So eye opening and shifting.  Books we discussed:
  • Inside Choreocracy
  • Power of just doing stuff
  • Marcus Coates  a practical guide to unconscious reason
  • Wondrous Women – a group in Nottingham
  • Cai Tomos
  • Using the sky  by Deborah Hay – “I wanted to choreograph a spoken language that would inspire a shift in dance away from the illustrative body, despite its intense appeal to dancers and audiences alike, to a non-representational body”   “the surplus of output for my whole body at once far exceeds any additional input from me. 

4. Jennifer Lacey, extraordinary dancer and artist, doing hermeneutics practice in Nottingham Contemporary. I sat in on one session, amazed by her evident            skill and depth of knowledge and vast self confidence.

5. Matthias Sperling and Katye doing an amazing dance in the Nham Contemporary. I was quite tired by this time, went to sleep at one point, still did not understand his ideas, but appreciated the quality and originality and spirit of the beautiful performance.

Thoughts?

  • Oh so refreshing
  • Tremendously aware
  • Wish I had been there for whole thing
  • Wish I had seen more
  • But this was just a starter for me
  • Choreography as a practice, seeing visuals in a different way as a result, choreography as a way of creating with the human body
  • Had a discussion with Antonio from Spain/London about the conceptual/non conceptual approaches to choreography.
  • I think that sometimes conceptualisation is like legislation, the mind as agent, otherwise things do not happen, cannot change
  • I am on a track of sorts, particularly regarding improvising and less emphasis on figurative art
  • Matthias exploring new ways of knowing through movement and the body
  • Hearing about other ways of combining visual art and movement   Dancing Museums  “The Democracy of Beings”

Research and ideas

Matthias writing about magic and science, “the magical and the scientific, the imagined and the actual, the subjective and the objective, or with mind and body.  Warburg placed movement at the centre of his way of understanding the world”.

Matthias on how different artists “could be seen to be exploring aspects of this evocative and generative zone in their practices… I see these practices as working within and on the fundamental connectedness of our mental being, our physical being, and the manifold other human and non-human beings in the environments around us.  “

The practitioner as “seismograph” – a person who is tuning in to particular frequencies, resonances and ruptures that are vibrating in the environments around them, diagnosing their epicentres and bring them to light to be perceived in different and yet related ways”… each offering “vitally regenerative responses to the many-layered complexities that we are living through”  (Matthias Sperling)

How does this relate to visual art and to my work?

Good question.  I am blown away by the experience of being in Nottingham, and now, a week later, am unable to produce a coherent impression.  All I can say is that I understand choreography slightly more than I did, and that I have discovered the beautiful and original ideas and writings of Deborah Hay.  Which might be applicable to my art practice and which might help me understand the body, my body, and movement more.  It is something below the radar, and I prefer to leave it that way, reading her books “Using the Sky” and “my body, the buddhist”, as meditations or prayers.

Taking art off the wall into a physical and shared space/awareness, which is less visual and more holistic.  Also more immediately universal.

Thinking back to the work I did for exhibition earlier this year “Being Human – Together”     I was pushed for time in preparing for this exhibition, and had not yet processed ideas from Mattias’ workshop at Siobhan Davies Dance Studios in London.  In fact I drew in a spontaneous way and subjective way,  so perhaps I was understanding more than I realised.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh what a struggle to move from looking to something else.  That something could be analysing shapes back to their limits, somehow finding the essence of the image, expressing emotions, or something as yet unrealised.

Reading about David Bomberg and his insistence on being  part of the subject, “spirit of the mass”, I tried a new approach today and my current “something” is physical experience, for the horse it is the rough messiness and raw power that comes with the sublime beauty of the animal.

Today, 7th October,  I found a looseness and abstract approach, though it still looks figurative.  Getting more relaxed about the paint   Dare I say. But it is still a leap.

A week or so later, making one of these little paintings each day as “drill”, but now it is making more sense as I look at other half finished pieces and think how I could approach them with more awareness of shape and colour.  Anyway here are three more of the recent little pieces.

 

 

Carton #2

RSA Architecture Forum 2019
Our Place on Earth

This year’s Royal Scottish Academy Architecture Forum will challenge the popular idea that ‘people make places’ by demonstrating that our ‘place on earth’ remains a powerful and omnipresent force that fundamentally affects our person, our national character, our culture and therefore our art and architecture.

We invite you to a dialogue with three critical thinkers, an artist, architect and writer, to deconstruct ‘the now’ through the lens of art and architecture. The role of art and architecture in society has never been more acute, come join us and explore together how we can alter or ignore our reality.

Chair: Paul Stallan RSA (Elect)
Panel:
Jude Barber, Jonathan Charley and Patricia Fleming

Tuesday 10 September 7pm
Civic House, Glasgow, G4 9RH

Paul Stallan the architect –   inner and outer punk, supplied the music

Jude Barber  Collective architecture  Common Guild 

Jonathan Charley  writer  critic political character, recommended the reading, mostly vintage and untrendy.  Cocaine Nights by Ballard included.

Patricia Fleming  gallery owner  administrator  artist, says she was educated not in school, which she hated, but by looking at and understanding artists

I made a special effort to attend this, driving into Glasgow on a damp dark evening and getting lost!  Eventually arrived at the Civic House.  I am so glad I did make this effort, because the event was very encouraging and interesting.

HERE ARE SOME QUICK IMPRESSIONS OF THE EVENING.

The debate was lively and original, especially Paul’s music and Jonathan’s book selection.  Jude made a great contribution from the socially engaged architectural standpoint and Patricia very insightful about the role and nature of artists.  She is aware of the deep thinking that goes into making art, and commented that art works best if it combines an “instant hit” with thought and meaning.

Critical awareness of the pressurised consumerist and politically disoriented society we inhabit, social media included, was taken for granted,  as was the call for an engaged art.

One of the panel, maybe the punk architect, Paul Stallan, maybe all of them, agreed that  art is a destructive force before it can become a creative one.  The deconstruction or destructive is a  part of seeing the new and creating something from the breakages.  I applaud this insight.

Architecture Fringe, an annual summer event, across Scotland – so worth knowing about.

 

 

This week I was in Palace House, the National Horse Racing Museum, in Newmarket, Suffolk.  Newmarket is Horse Central and I was so happy to be there.  But the reason I went this time was to see an exhibition about George Stubbs, especially as it focussed not on his paintings but on his drawings and his anatomical studies.  It was a rare opportunity to see an original edition of his “Anatomy of the Horse”, an exhaustive and precise analysis of equine anatomy.  Stubbs at age 32 rented a Lincolnshire farmhouse and spent two years dissecting several horses in the process of creating this masterwork.

He was a self-taught artist, and with a profound knowledge of his subject, he then went on to become the foremost equestrian and animal painter of his day.  Many of his paintings are fairly conventional studies of celebrated horses in the genre of the time.  Others are more imaginative.  Perhaps the most famous nowadays is the huge painting of the stallion “Whistlejacket” (1762)which hangs conspicuously  in the National Gallery, London.  This horse looks distorted, with head too small and legs too long for his magnificient body .  Maybe Stubbs was deliberately exaggerating the proportions for overall purpose of expressing the character and impact of the animal.

What was special about the Palace House exhibition was the opportunity to see not only the original edition of the Anatomy, but also his original working drawings and his studies of comparative anatomy.  No doubt Stubbs was a frequent visitor to Newmarket, as his paintings show.  I got a strong sense of a sensitive and enquiring presence in this exhibition.  His perfectly finished paintings conceal the effort and study that preceded them.  I always enjoy to see how an artist works.

One of my customers told me about this artist, known in her lifetime as Orovida.  She was the grand daughter of French impressionist and neo-impressionist painter, Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) but she was a British artist who lived and worked in London  She turned her back on the current fashions and techniques in Western art (which she thought was too similar to photography) and instead was influenced by Asian art.  I love these etchings which incorporate the horses in an overall composition and a decorative style.  I love to see horses in art of a different tradition and culture.

 

 

I just spent a week running a small youth hostel near Todmorden, Yorkshire.  It is called Mankinholes and is in a tiny hamlet up in the hills above the valley where the town is located.

A tiny hamlet with a huge history.  For this area was one of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution in England, when home industry changed to the factory system and mass production.  The geology of the area means there is flowing water to power the mills, and when the technology became available during the late eighteenth century, local farmers such as the  Fielden family, already prosperous from the domestic wool and cloth business, developed large factory mills in the valley.  Later on the mills were powered by steam, making location less dependent on the water supply, but also creating a sooty pollution which turned everything black.  Just a few hundred yards from Mankinholes, a huge mill was built at Lumbutts, and its water tower which incorporated three huge water wheels still survives.  So Mankinholes, which is up in the hills, is coal black as well!

The Fieldens were Quakers and supported the need to restrict working hours and educate their workers and improve their conditions.  The very building I was staying in, a 500 year old former manor house, was the centre for dramatic rioting against the introduction of the Poor Laws in 1834.  These laws meant that no able bodied person could receive relief unless they were in the workhouse.  I think I read that Fielden was actually present at this riot.  He refused to pay the local rates to enable the Poor Law, and actually closed his mills as an act of defiance, putting 3000 people onto poor relief.  These people were subsequently all paid.  He was instrumental as an MP in introducing the 10 Hour Act in 1847.  The Fielden family were always shrewd business people, however, and their heirs eventually became among the wealthiest people in Britain, buying huge estates far from Todmorden.

It really gripped my imagination, however,  to think that people had been living in the village of Mankinholes for generations, making their wool into cloth.  And that they became politically active, staging protests in the very building I was staying in. I understood the hard work, the labour, the activity involved in building dams, turnpikes, canals and then the railways, all infrastructure that we  take for granted now.

All this happened only about 200 years ago.  And why does it seem so immediate?  Perhaps because we are now at a similar point, with social change, broken patterns of employment and huge inequalities of wealth due to new technology.  We in UK are emerging from the industrial age, many still benefitting from the legacy of the Victorian age and the its wealth.  It is only about 50 years since many of the mills closed, as well as the coal mines.

 

 

I have always worked with dye on fabric, but I am now experimenting with acrylic and oil paint as an alternative source of colour. In my textile work, I used the dye in a very natural, expressive and abstract way.  It has been challenging for me to translate that freedom into paint, and I am having to learn how to use paint in a traditional way before I feel free enough to experiment.  The great benefit is the option of increased control over the medium as well as the option to rework.

But I am now realising how exacting a medium paint is.  It is a process of looking, looking, translating into a sketch, looking again, making a series of drawings to understand how my brain is selecting particular elements such as details or a colour or subject matter which have emotional meaning.  Then to bypass my brain to discover the underlying structure.

 

Freud portrait All Too Human TateLucian Freud “would talk about creating air around his figures, insisting that every square inch was of equal importance…”background” …had to be worked at like all else, paint vbeing the means of convinc ing the onlooker that such a sthing as a picture had more solid an existence … than we ourselves, or any old mattress, say.  Any painting not fully charged was liable to end up talkative … not telling”    William Feaver  “I was Lucian’s spare pair of eyes”   Observer 8.9.19

I am struggling with my own journey with this, redrawing and exploring to find the elements in the subject.  It is very hard work.  Lots of drawings to experiment with shapes and lines and tones before I get to colour.  I want to get these pictures beyond figurative, to get them to their elements.  That might mean changing them completely.  It will certainly take time.

Anthony Gormley, sculptor, says on drawing as a method of exploration:

“Drawing is about being with the materials: feeling the skin of the paper absorbing the scrafch of a pen.  In drawing, you can go to places you could never otherwise reach mentally or physically..”

A few weeks later I am looking again at this set of drawings.  I want to go beyond the photographic representation.  That is a challenge, but I want to go through that and engage more with my own energy and the mysterious energy of the subject and the image.  Yesterday I simply let rip with the colours and made an abstract statement that works.  But it is hard for me to work like this all the time.  I need a “plan” or a  “frame”, even if just as a springboard.  Today I used ink and brush to loosen up my engraved perception of the images.

The annual “Horse in Art” exhibition of the Society of Equestrian Artists will take place at Sally Mitchell’s Gallery, The Newcastle Arms, Tuxford, Nottinghamshire, NG22 OLA

Open Sunday 15th  September, 2019 9 am to 5 pm daily. Closes Saturday, 28th September at 3 pm.

I am delighted to be showing two works, one LARGE oil painting on canvas, “Newmarket Morning” (1200 x 900 mm) and one smaller piece “Newmarket Gallops” oil on board.  These were inspired by a trip I made with the Society a few years to Newmarket one sunny autumn morning.   The Society is a marvellous community of passionate horse lovers and artists.

 

Greg Poole (1960-2018)

Greg Poole was a wildlife artist who drew from memory and feel rather than than from traditional realism.  The latter is often the accepted way of drawing animals.  Instead Poole practised a “subjective realism”, drawing his subjects as they were and as he experienced them.  He found art to be “the only release for what nature stirred in him” (Tim Dee).  He was trained as a zoologist but found himself overwhelmed by what he experienced during his field trips.

“I was with one other ornithologist (in the Canadian arctic) … hundreds of miles from the nearest people… Icebergs offshore, caribou migrating, arctic fox on the neighbouring ridge and all kinds of exotic birds in this near 24-hour clear light.  It was sensory overload and I did not know what to do with it.. I made the resolution to find a way of expressing what I was seeing as soon as I returned to Britain.”

Sadly Poole died far too young.  Read his obituary:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/11/greg-poole-obituary

 

I was so interested to find this article because I also draw and make art from feeling and experience, and particularly horses are a thrilling subject for me. But so often the custom is to honour the animal with a very precise drawing or painting.  This obviously is how some people prefer to work, but I agree with Greg Poole that it is the sensory and energetic impression and the essence that is vital.