I am very moved and inspired by my visit to see the exhibition at the Tate Britain ‘Schwitters in Britain’. I had seen a couple of pieces of Schwitters work in collections of the years but I hadn’t really engaged with them and had given more attention to his contemporaries that Schwitters had, in my eyes, sat in their shadows. The exhibition at the Tate has changed that and I am grateful for them bringing his work to my attention.
On display are a lot of Schwitters collages and assemblages made from found materials and occasional use of paint. Some of the collages are made up of scraps of travel ticket, sweet wrappers, images and words from the press and other found containers. The larger assemblages are made with found pieces of wood, rubber circles, card and even one with an asbestos mat with signs of heat use on.
From the exhibition I learnt that Schwitters, like many other intellectual and artists, was exiled from Germany in the 1930’s. He left, escaping the Nazi regime and initially moved to Norway but was pushed further West to Britain with the Nazi invasion of Norway. On his arrival to Britain he was required to spend 16 months on the Isle of Man in a detainee camp before he could freely settle here. He died in 1948 just as he was given citizenship.
Despite his uprooting Schwitters continued to make art and was very prolific throughout his exile, even at the detainee camp where it is reported he made over 200 works. He very much used what materials were available to him and included them in his art – his ‘Merz bild’ – the scraps of tickets and everyday materials were as important in his art as the paint. The sense that access to materials was difficult in this period is reflected in his art but Schwitters was not hindered by this and made some excellent artwork with very little means. There is a wonderful piece in the show of the roof tops of the Isle of Man painted on a bit of lino that Schwitters pulled off the floor.
Schwitters draws our attention to the overlooked and makes what would be thrown away worthy of hanging onto a wall. He subverts the hierarchical order through re-presenting and collaging materials together in a harmonious visual order and personal scale.
Schwitters was a very gifted painter he painted portraits and landscapes alongside making his collages and assemblages. This may have been through a commercial need to make an income but shows his adaptability and his love of art and painting. His style of painting with thick brush marks seems to mirror his assemblages as colour and forms balance together.
I left the exhibition feeling inspired that art can and should be made from whatever materials we have access to and in any circumstances. Schwitters preserved in difficult circumstances and as a result produced some inspired and informative pieces. It is the making of it that is more important and the art will then speak for itself.
How we perceive the world is very personal and subjective. It is influenced by so many factors such as our culture, upbringing, our senses, our environment, how we see ourselves in the world, our moods and relationships. Although we share experiences and there are a lot of interconnections between people our individual experiences remain unique to ourselves and therefore our perception is unique, although very closely shared.
One of the biggest and current influences on our perception is the Internet and digital imaging. We increasingly use the Internet to create a persona. I use it as a space to promote my art and through this promote myself as an artist and open up conversations with similar practitioners through the net. It is a useful tool but I do question its reality.
This morning I have been photographing some of my drawings and paintings for my portfolio, some of which I have uploaded below. I use a reasonable standard digital SLR to do this. I enjoy the process of observing the transformation of the work from a tangible drawing on paper or painting on canvas into a digital image. The work changes. It becomes digitally enhanced. The way the camera captures the light and colour of the work and transforms it into pixels has a hyper real quality. I am seduced by it because it is without much effort that my work becomes digitally enhanced and becomes new work.
I think we are learning to respond to the hyper real, digitally enhanced image. It is attractive, slick and seems flawless. The hand made is removed and it becomes another jpg on the Internet.
Viewing multitudes of jpgs enhances the wow factor of going to a gallery or studio and seeing artwork for real. The contrast between the two experiences is considerable. Most artwork that is hand crafted is more impressive off the net. It’s hard to gauge a true sense of scale, colour, depth and surface on a flat screen. The hyper real is slick and part of life but for me can never replace the solid and personal.
David Hockney at the RA
“We see with memory. My memory is different from yours, so if we are both standing in the same place we’re not quite seeing the same thing. Different individuals have different memories; therefore other elements are playing a part. Whether you have been in a place before will affect you, and how well you know it. There is no objective vision ever – ever.’ (Hockney 2009 in interview with Martin Gayford, RA)
With some initial hesitancy I feel the need to reflect on my latest painting ‘Red Detachment’. I don’t necessarily want to talk for the work – it is important that it holds its own autonomy and I doubt that words will be sufficient to summarise my thoughts and feelings generated by this work. But this work has surprised me on many levels. It is as if it is has come from deep inside me and holds so many meanings with layers of personal and political histories.
I recently rediscovered a few postcards sent to me by my father from his time in China in the early 1970’s. The cards he sent to me were of the Chinese State National Ballet – in particular images from the dance ‘The Red Detachment of Women’. I suspect that he was taken to this ballet as part of the business hospitality that he received when there.
The cards always intrigued me – beautiful images of dancers in bright colours, some holding weapons and wearing uniforms leaping across the stage, some in unison, others dancing solos. Even at an early age I was aware of how different and perhaps exotic these images seemed in comparison to Western contemporary ballet.
On rediscovering these images I became motivated to do some further research in to these dances and have uncovered a number of interesting articles about these dances and their significance in recent Chinese history.
The ‘Red Detachment of Women’ was choreographed and performed at the time of the Cultural Revolution in China. It was a state supported art form and was very much written and performed within strict parameters to support government propaganda. My understanding of the story is that it is about a peasant girl that escapes from the evil landowner, with the help of a communist agent and then joins the red army to seek revenge on the landowner. Mao Zedong evidently loved it. The score was devised using a number of traditional Chinese folk songs and some of the dance postures were taken from Chinese Martial arts – when not holding guns many dancers have clenched fists in opposition to more western forms of ballet in which the hands are open and softer. There is plenty more reading that I am uncovering on this and if anyone has a film of these ballets do let me know – I ‘d love to watch them.
This piece of work has uncovered a whole new line of enquiry for me – how dance and art are used and sponsored by governments to support their own power objectives – the influence of patronage. It is a beautiful image to work with but what lies behind the beauty is complex – there is confinement and control within what initially appears to be a free powerful movement across the space.
I have had the privilege recently to see the current exhibitions of Gerhard Richter at the Tate and Wilhelm Sasnal at the Whitechapel. Two contemporary masters of paint; their ability to use it to create an illusion of an image while being honest about its materiality I find overwhelmingly seductive.
My enthusiasm and emotional reaction to these works has prompted me to dig deeper as to what it is that makes a good painting and why I continued to be enticed and beguiled by this art form. How is it that some works have such presence that they make me want to stop still and look and can even create an emotional reaction. It is almost as if they vibrate at a different pace to the everyday.
These artists have the practiced skill of being able to place paint on the surface in such a manner that it creates an illusion of an image, event or feeling that moves beyond the flat surface. A gesture that communicates so much and moves beyond what is the present. In Sasnal’s ‘Robert Smithson’ the use of black white and grey tone and brush stroke creates such a seductive image that steps beyond the materiality of its existence. The black paint of where the boot merges into the dark background baffles me. The full shape of the boot is not illustrated, it is not visible, but we know it is there. Similarly in another work (which I will locate the title of) the leg of the figure is only made visible through the highlights, the leg is also part of the background but we know its shape through as much as what is not there as well as what is painted. ‘Kackper’ is another of Sasnal’s work that I truly think is beautiful. His subtle ability to create the illusion of light streaming through the canvas is mesmorising.
Recently I have been reading ‘Painting is not a Representational practice’ by Barbara Bolt in ‘Unframed: Practices & Politics of Women’s Contemporary Painting ed. Rosemary Betterton (2004 IB Tauris) in which Barbara Bolt analysis her paintings ‘Reading Fiction’ and ‘Reading Theory’: “…at some indefinable moment, the painting takes on its own life, a life that almost seems to have nothing to do with my own conscious attempts to ‘control’ it. The ‘work’ takes on its own momentum, its own rhythm and intensity…. The painting takes on a life of its own. It breathes, vibrates, pulsates, shimmers and generally runs away with me. The painting no longer represents, nor does it merely illustrate reading. It performs it. The painting transcends itself and becomes a dissembling presence…” (p42)
Bolt raises the question “If a painting comes to perform rather than merely represent some other thing, what is happening?” (p43). Without citing her whole article on this, which is very worth reading, I think she raises some interesting theories on what a painting does. What it performs is beyond that of paint on a surface. A ‘good’ painting, i.e. one that has the power to stop me in my tracks, is one that successfully excels beyond that of its materiality and communicates on a very different level to that of its material substance; it transmits a resonance or vibration beyond its objectness.
I am excited that painting continues to inspire me and will no doubt continue with this investigation into its perfomativity and resonance, although I wonder if language and cognition will ever truly be able to sum up our fascination with the painted image.
I arrived at Selfridges today with some trepidation. I find department stores, especially on a Saturday afternoon, overwhelming. Their labyrinth like qualities with bright lights, shiny things, synthetic smells and people jostling in all directions is my idea of a surreal hell. Everything seems distorted and unreal. I was relieved to find that the entrance to the Selfridges Hotel where the work of Judith Scott was on show and the discussion around ‘The Art of the Studio’ was up a separate staircase from the street.
When I entered the gallery I was pleasantly surprised by the space. It was like an industrial warehouse with exposed concrete walls and rough flooring. It seemed far removed from the commercial bustle of Oxford Street.
The lighting and the surrounds showed off Scotts work fantastically. These labouriously wrapped sculptures suspended in the space seemed to tightly hold so many stories and emotions. There was tranquillity in the curation of the work that balanced out the seeming endless passion entwined in the making process of the sculptures. I felt honoured to have encountered Scott’s work.
Following the interesting and international contributions to the discussion on ‘The Art of the Studio’ I got the courage up to battle the crowds and enter the show in the ‘Museum of Everything’ show in the basement of Selfridges.
I thought the labyrinth qualities of the show suited the department store yet was a welcome contradiction to the objects being sold in the store. On viewing the show I became completely overwhelmed with emotion as I encountered the work of Harald Stoffers. I could feel the tears welling as I stared at the density of his lines of words weaving and wondering across the pages before me. It held such passion and frustration.
“A thought, a word, a sentence, Stoffers daily art practice speaks on his behalf in letters written to a fictionalisation of his mother” was written next to these works. I could not ‘read’ these letters, they are in German, and I am not sure if I spoke German I could read them, or if they are ‘readable’. But the art of Stoffers is a language that communicates beyond the written word. It is visual, emotional and says so much more than the words written. The fact that these are letters to a mother is loaded in itself. It is almost as they represent the so many words that we would like to say to our mothers but are unable to utter. They say so much.
“There is such pressure to remain true to the facts, and it seems so important somehow, so vital to preserve events and people as they really were. But he knows how memory can make a shattered dream come true. Sometimes he loses the strength and vigilance to stand up to its forces, and thinks he would do just as well to let it transform the past as it wishes.” (Harvey p127)
I had the joy of reading recently Samantha Harvey’s novel ‘The Wilderness’ (Random House 2009). It is the humourously melancholic story of a man experiencing Alzheimer’s in his later years and the increasing liquidity between what is real, what is remembered and what is fantasy as the disease erodes his ability to deal with the reality of presence. It is tragic but Harvey explores so beautifully the themes of memory and what could be real or even fabricated.
I never think you can trust memory, it is fluid, it changes; things are lost or found. As the ages increase it is no longer possible to retain years of information and experiences.
Jane Boyer wrote and interesting introduction to the Core Gallery Open Exhibition Catalogue reflecting on how many artist selected are grappling with ideas around memory and the distortion of time and space. “…These works speak of fractured and fragmented experiences; the search for meaning between the two selves; private/public; a bombardment from technology and media images; place which is no longer actual but has become a representation, a symbol, an icon; a preference for constructed memory because real memory has become suspect…… Constructed memory becomes as defence against an invasive barrage of technology.” (Boyer 2011)
It is increasingly hard to engage with the present when we are communicating with numerous people on line, being subject to thousands of images, sounds, personal stories, expectations and demands for our time. If we cannot be aware of our present how can we possibly have a consciousness of our past? Our minds are powerful things and our ability to create, fabricate and believe is incredible. Why would we not want to create for ourselves a more romantic, interesting, intelligent, fun and care free past?
I had the pleasure of seeing British Art Show 7 at The Hayward Gallery this week and it is a great show. I left feeling very inspired and heartened that there is such a wide variety of interesting work being produced by contemporary artists. The show is very well curated by Lisa Le Feuvre and Tom Morton and I enjoyed some of the dialogues established between the works.
I spent a good couple of hours there and would like to return to see some of the video works that I did not have time to engage with. To truly appreciate all the work there I think calls for a good half day.
I was pleased to see work include by my previous tutors Cullinan Richards, having only ever seen documentation of their work. I thought they had confidently and amusingly responded to the staircase of the Hayward and their titles hold no pretensions – ‘light suspended from the floor’.
It is a great show to be introduced to artists that I had not come across previously. Ian Kiaer being a new favourite with his subtle and unpolished installations and panels on the wall alongside the delightful rotating disco round on the floor, and a roughly made architectural model – all suggesting that despite our aspirations to sleekness it often turns out a bit ‘crap’.
Haroon Mirza’s work found interesting but maybe did get a bit lost being in a group show. There was something in his choice of materials evoking music technology of the late 80’s / early 90’s and the ideas presented that will definitely make me look out for his work again. Maybe it is the draw of subject matter – Joy Division and Beckett.
Nathaniel Mellors work I would also like to engage with in another context – there seems a lot to take in and as it is part of an ongoing series appears like it requires more time to view.
There were also the familiar favourites – George Shaw, Wolfgang Tilmans, Christian Marclay and Phoebe Unwin, whose paintings I saw recently at Wilkinson (image included from that show) – a very inspired and exciting painter who uses a variety of paint and methods in her work with such visual confidence.
I will not attempt to review all the work in the show so will conclude with Alasdair Gray’s quote included in the exhibition notes “I disapprove of Time…When working fully, productively and without interruption we live in a continual present.” It’s good to be reminded. Thank you to The Hayward.
Sleep Furiously, a film by Gideon Koppel. A beautiful, poetic meditation on the rituals of a small rural community in Trefeurig, mid Wales. Koppel clearly has a personal and close relationship with this community as the intimacy in this film is one of its strengths. Koppel manages to draw us into view this small community by allowing us to just observe, to see, some of the intimate passings of everyday life and the passing of time.
Koppel has carefully chosen and beautifully shot the moments he wishes to share with the viewer. The hands of a woman baking, a boy plaiting, a line of sheep in the distance traversing a landscape, a calf being born, piglets and sheep being shorn all tied together by the mobile library van.
The film leaves you with some beautiful Morandi-esque still images with a haunting sound track from Aphex Twin. An understated masterpiece and an elegy to a disappearing world.
The creative act or inspiration for art work usually arises from a series of ideas; when thoughts or images merge into another to produce a new image or art work. Recently I have been working through a number of methods to produce a new body of work. I have used found art works and images and have reproduced or reformed these images to suggest a different narrative to that of their past form. I have also revisited the act of painting and colour theory and at times have combined this with the found work or solely used the method of painting to suggest a further dimension beyond the flat surface and a presence beyond the now.
To an extent this collage and presentation of ideas can be described as what Deleuze refers to as the fold; the folding inside of the outside. A simple interior and exterior mutually existing yet at the same time increasingly complex as what is present goes beyond the visible and includes the folding of time and memory.
For me there is no boundary between the works and how they becomes visually present through the making process; by presenting these ideas together I aim to suggest a continuous ‘texturology’ between the works. This idea is summarised in my ‘Fold Series’ paintings which suggest a visual presence of the fold in an abstracted form in which a ‘finite number of components produce an infinite number of combinations’. The system of geometric forms finds is own space and the use of colour and light suggests an exterior beyond the surface. The repetition of shape is not uniform and so offers and opportunity for the series to continue indefintely or break down or deviate to create a new set of visual ideas.
For a the planned exhibition with fellow artists Sophie Barr, Alice Rolfe and Griffits&Blackburn I am eager to bring new systems together in a space to stimulate further ideas and explore further the idea of a continuous ‘texturology’ as we work in collaboration to bring our ideas and visual references together under the working title of ’Future Useless/ Future Perfect’.