Fresh As A Daisy…

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I’m pretty sure Gillian Ross-Kelsey has been painting hereabouts for as long as I have…that’s several decades now. And here she is again with a whole bunch of new pictures (all this year I think) in Nottingham Lakeside’s Wallner Gallery (until 29th October). It’s fair to say that they are refreshing and delightful.

IMG_1729A mass of colour reflecting the subject matter, the British seaside – albeit in Gillian’s palette – a day of bright sunshine where Mablethorpe might more plausibly be St. Tropez! I especially liked the painting on the right of the group that fair glowed off the wall and also these two that I picked out of the show – The Pink House that sits perfectly within the whole composition and Sudden Rainstorm…something we might all recognise from visits to the Lincolnshire East Coast from hereabouts!  A real pleasure to see a painter at the top of their game – and making work that is genuinely optimistic.

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More than meets the eye?

As I was driving home today I recalled seeing online earlier this year that the artist Julian Stanczak had died aged 88. My bet is that very few of my occasional readers have heard of him. Indeed I’ll go further – I pretty much guarantee that hardly anyone visiting Seurat to Riley:The Art Of Perception at Compton Verney presently will have the faintest idea who he was (and the show is attracting a big audience).

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Constant Return I by Julian Stanczak, 1965, 39×39

Not that that last phrase should be a surprise. As always at this location the show is beautifully presented. There are obviously included figures such as Vasarely and Sedgley,; respectively the ‘grandfather’ of Op and the one time partner of Riley. There are other more ‘left field’ inclusions such as M.C. Escher on the one hand and one of the vastly underrated Vorticist women artists – Helen Saunders on the other (it’s great to see her work getting an outing but really to fit the bill of the show’s idea Bomberg’s  In The Hold is a shoo-in for this show) .

In the Hold circa 1913-4 by David Bomberg 1890-1957

In The Hold by David Bomberg

It is an eclectic and lively collection with some oddball ‘current’ artists included – Jim Lambie for one – with a pretty ropey old piece too. Some pieces really don’t fit at all – it seems wilfully wrong headed to have the rather wonderful painting Endless Configuration by Kenneth Martin from 1964, where the whole construction has been lovingly, painstakingly wrought in balance and poise cheek by jowl with classic sixties Op works that are hammering home their message through simple repetitive geometry. Not that both do not have tqualities or their respective strengths and place in the canon – but just that those are two very different places indeed. It was good to see some of Sedgley’s pictures up on the walls again – the second time I’ve seen works by him in a week – and thats two more times than the previous several decades! One of them had powerful resonances with some of the pattern painters of the seventies and eighties…(and wouldn’t an early Valerie Jaudon work or a Ross Bleckner been an excellent addition to the display) and I guess thats where my gripe – if I have one – begins.

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The Broad by Ross Bleckner

Its not that this show isn’t a jolly good visual feast – it is and is well worth a visit – but more that, having come away I’m not sure exactly what it was trying to say. And maybe that wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t actually trying to say anything at all! If it had just said here’s a random selection of good looking pictures – ok. But it wasn’t just that. For starters the connection between Georges Seurat and Riley is pretty tenuous anyway. After all pointillism is deconstructing in order to reconstruct.  You can hardly accuse Riley (particularly in the early black and whites) of that.  The inclusions of Vasarely, Sedgley, Jesus Rafael Soto etc. suggest – but fleetingly – that we may be attempting a survey of Op…but the exclusions and the even odder inclusions give a lie to that. We are rather coquettishly flirted with a bit of Kinetic art…yes a close relation to Op…but we get nothing like enough to tease out any connections and relationships properly.

There is work that has the appearance of opticality – the Daniel Buren piece is a good example – but really is a complete ‘outlier’ in terms of the notion of the show. There are the handful of graphic design works inspired by, or actually by, the Op movement (mostly Vasarely) but again insufficient material to be properly contextualising the show as a whole ( I can think off the top of my head of half a dozen examples of graphics based on Alber’s Homage To The Square, not thats its really clear what thats doing in the show anyway!).  I’m going on now so I’ll shut up but there are plenty more inconsistencies and oddities that rather undermine any genuine curatorial thread.

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one of my favourite young jazz artists using Albers as inspiration

 

So overall its a good collection of bits and bobs but doesn’t add up to a decent survey of Op or really demonstrate the idea of perception, or colour, or opticality.  Dear old Michael Kidner RA most certainly deserved inclusion and getting hold of a piece of his from the sixties or later surely was possible?

I also just checked up and the Tate has a decent screen print by Richard Anuszkiewicz…the leading American Op artist from exactly the right period 1965…that could, and should, have been there.   Oh and – to be fair – I doubt there’s an easily available work by Julian Stanczak in the UK…but he was the guy whose NYC solo show in 1964 is – through a Don Judd review – reputed to have launched the term Op Art.

Optical and Optimistic

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Works from the show at the Longside Gallery, YSP left to right Philip King, Tim Scott, John Dee, Tess Jaray, Barry Flanagan, William Tucker

Kaleidoscope – Colour & Sequence in 1960’s British Art at the Djanogly Gallery, Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham

It’s difficult to argue with the curators sub-title viz. colour as the gallery is full of it – so much so that one imagines that a certain amount of ‘restoration’ (read that as code for a ‘paint job’) has gone on here. But its a very jolly romp through the early to late sixties of UK art with the focus on the New Generation sculptors (excepting the talented South African born Isaac Witkin, who – seemingly – is the one key figure written out of this narrative) augmented by a more eclectic selection of painters from the same period. This latter aspect rather jumbles up some of the argument being presented here (though in conversation Sam Cornish rightly makes as much of the idea of symmetry as sequence) with the notion that something deep connects artists as diverse as Riley, Steele (and apparently in the shows first outing in Yorkshire, Peter Sedgley) representing Op with Mary Martin the constructivist and the sculptor Philip King. Superficially there are connections but a quick glance at how careers advanced subsequently suggests that any connections are far more nuanced than that.

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However it warms my heart to see works that are optimistic and untroubled by post modernist angst – on entering the gallery one is confronted by Richard Smith’s painting Trio and what immediately sprang to mind was the double page bleed photo of the young artist in his hammock fresh back from the United States full of the new spirit of the sixties and casting off the dull grey of 1950’s post war Britain. But as I looked around I couldn’t help seeing the ghosts of the later works by many of the sculptors especially Tucker, King and Anthony Caro as examples of how their concerns turned inward, not only as regards form and materials, but ideas that seem more subtle, elegiac and even –  in a late work by Caro for instance – Shadows of 2013 – to thoughts of mortality. Of course the painters, by and large, cleaved closer to their initial interests or, perhaps most tellingly in the case of Riley, went far further in embracing colour wholeheartedly. Overall the show works well and brings a good deal of material into view that gets relatively little airing nowadays. Of course one thinks of omissions – I’d have loved to have seen Roger Cook’s painting brought out of the store – it is surely a close fit with the theme – as is Witkin’s Vermont 111.  But then there’s a deal of work that would equally fit the remit, Paul Huxley, Jack Smith and Noel Forster to name check just a few of the painters.  All that said…the show is fitted into the three spaces well and all the works need the space they have to breathe. And despite that they are all into their fifties now, by and large, most of them do.

Water Margins

IMG_1199When Steffie Richards showed work a few years back the means behind it seemed pretty neat if somewhat laborious for its creator – series of tonal variations that made up the line, a repeated line that accrued form through its persistency. It made for striking and original paintings but it was hard to see where the process might move onto for future shows. But now we know. Her new body of work – As Yet Untitled – currently on view at Harrington Mill Studios pushes the envelope on the technique through abstracted imagery (mainly related to observations of water and wave movements at various coastal locations) and by using the accretion of canvases to form a larger collective pieces. Supported by an Arts Council award it makes for an interesting and accomplished show that takes her painting to another level.

Take the diptych Ebb & Flow – Catch The Undertow. Here the repetitive marks trip across the two surfaces with a delineation between the rolling surf and the sand line below where the technique represents the particular characteristic of the wet shoreline to great effect. The artist’s trademark use of a distinctive linen support is also used to best effect in these paintings giving a colour field that both acts as a natural as well as a formal foil to the marks that sit on it. interestingly this work is one in progress as the artist informs us that it will in the final iteration become a triptych and though it works effectively at present it is easy, once one has been told, to imagine this.

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In Is The Sea Not Always Blue? Richards uses both the multiple canvases and the individual colour ways for the purpose of answering her own question alongside an evocation of the rhythms of the ocean as it begins breaking onto the beach. As the row of canvases rise and fall there is again a formal surety in the making of a painting as well as a well observed understanding of how colour combinations are both individually distinctive but coalesce into a broiling, churning whole.

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Amongst the other canvases Into The Deep is one of two that suggests a further development into figuration by introducing the body juxtaposed with the waters around them. Its another intriguing direction in which the artist, one suspects, will find more valuable ways of making fresh and original pieces.

I’ve been mulling over the issue of representations of painting in the digital realm a good deal recently. Of course these have been to the fore for years now – the flat glossy screen through which much of our viewing of current painting is conducted gives a lie to the experience of standing up close and personal to the actual physical objects. None more so than here where the materials and processes are deployed to the singular effect of recasting and recreating lived observation and understanding of what has been observed. These processes seek to recombine both the artist’s direct experience of being there with our experience of being here…that is in front of the actual work. This makes it doubly worthwhile to view these works in situ and the viewer who does so will be amply rewarded.  The show runs to 3rd June.

Looking On…

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Image credit: Garth Evans Blue No. 30 (1964) observed by Kerry Stewart Untitled (Lucy) (1996), Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London copyright the artists 2016 Photo: Anna Arca.

Night In The Museum curated by Ryan Gander is currently running (till 21st May 2017) at the Attenborough Centre, Leicester.  Drawn from the Arts Council Collection, and with over 8000 works to go at, so you might be tempted to suggest it would be easy to bring together a lively and coherent collection. Not so…quite a few of these collection shows over the years have just been random and unsatisfactory bundles, others so turgidly polemical they bored your pants off. So bringing together a hugely diverse selection of material is something of a triumph.

The premise is simple (like most of the best ideas) a selection of figures from the collection are paired with a work that in some way or another feature the colour blue. In a Ben Nicholson the blue is a fulcrum accent in a multi colour composition in the Roger Hiorns pieces the blue is effectively the piece, copper sulphate crystals that have engulfed a pair of engines.

Amongst many imaginative highlights the John Davies piece staring intently at a Robyn Denny canvas is a pairing of two real crackers. Gander’s own piece is oddly affecting, the prone figure (after Degas’ Little Dancer) set against an enormous blue cube, with a tiny white one adjacent to it. It is both strangely old fashioned (the figure) and boldly contemporary (the coloured cubes).

It was a little disappointing that William Scott’s magnificent Berlin Blues VI has not found space in this hang but to be fair this display does work well…and shows off these new galleries (a major addition to the spaces available in the region and a vital component of what’s available in Leicester itself) to really good advantage. The handsome central space facilitates the potential of some things and accentuates the vacuity of others… Sadly (and it grieves and disturbs me as an ‘abstract’ painter myself) its often the non-figurative paintings (and their varients) that suffer the most after a few years of existence. I’d reference the coloured factory trolleys (dollies?) by David Batchelor that now look a wee bit tired and ever so ‘turn of the century’ passé to me at least.  But thats perhaps a point…that overall a survey of this kind does throw up surprising, encouraging and arguable juxtapositions and does exactly what Ryan Gander suggested it would.

 

The Ha Ha Man gets serious

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Jonathan Monk likes to make jokes…and he’s pretty unapologetic about it (take a look at Wool Piece II from 2014). Although pretty well known across Europe he’s less so over here. Much of his reputation rests on his insider art world jokes (witty commentaries on artists as diverse as Ed Ruscha, Bruce Nauman, Mark Rothko etc.).  As he was born in the city and studied at the Leicester Poly back in the eighties it’s not inappropriate he’s back at De Montfort’s new gallery space with a solo show titled The Sound of Laughter isn’t Necessarily Funny. Quite.

First the rather lovely space has been sparingly populated…five pieces in fact. The centrepiece is a work that betokens the other main direction for his activity, a more serious and intimate personal reflection on his own life and family rather than those insider art world jokes that made his name. This other strand of his earlier work is writ large here. It comprises an elegant mechanical piano that plays a musical score ‘created’ by his mother cleaning the piano at home and the beautifully notated sheet music sitting on its stand is quite affecting and poignant. It looks magnificent in the space with the sunlight streaming in, pointing up the dust that necessitates the regular process of cleaning. Away towards the darker corner of the gallery a Grandfather clock faces off against a Grandmother clock, the time on each slightly asynchronous with the internal workings partially exposed. Adjacent to this a small cuddly toy, dismembered and missing a limb or two, is embalmed in a perspex box forever locked in almost imperceptible rocking motion between repose and upright, operated it would seem by an overelaborated atomic clock device that sits beneath it. Away to the far side of the space facing out onto the campus is a self portrait bust of the artist himself…one of a series where he invited prominent artists (initially from the Art Povera movement) to use a specially chosen hammer to smash off his nose. Here it’s the post pop conceptualist Maurizio Cattelan (or perhaps, famously, his stand-in) who has done the honours.

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Senza Titulo 1, 2012, Jesmonite bust with nose broken by John Baldessari

So the theme is, appropriately enough, a kind of family reminiscence, grandparents, parents, perhaps the infant artist or siblings and a self portrait…accompanied by a riff on his students days with a small lightbox mounted high on a wall opposite the portrait bust of the artist’s hand holding a picture of Steven Morrissey (The Smiths) – a band he has referenced before in his work. It is all too easy to dismiss Monk’s work as just more ‘stuffism’ but that misses the quiet symbolism that lurks here. Whilst much of the riffing on art pieces that many of even a relatively informed audience might struggle to identify these works that explore familial relationships, test our notions of nostalgia and ultimately cross convincingly from the personal to the universal have both elegance and depth.

Richard Perry

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5 ceramic sculptures, including 3 water columns and 2 marker pieces. Heights 4, 3, 2 and I metres.  Commissioned by Grosvenor Estates for Festival Square, Basingstoke, 2002

This is a rarity for this blog…let me explain.  I’ve known Richard Perry for over thirty years.  He got in touch with me not long after he graduated and had taken a loft studio in Newark, Nottinghamshire whilst I was working for the regional Arts Council.  From the off I recognised both his talent and his seriousness. Over the years he has developed a substantial reputation, mainly for a succession of major public commissions.  Recently we’ve become near neighbours and with his solo show in the Angear space at Lakeside coming up (criminally a rather rare event), he asked me to write a short piece for the text panel in the gallery.  So this is not a review  but the expanded text from which the panel in the gallery is abridged…

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Work in progress, studio

No surprise that in his public works the form of the tree plays a significant part of the repertoire: the sculpture of Richard Perry stands up solidly and elegantly like a fully grown English Oak full of surprising twists, turns and original features. Few contemporary carvers, especially those drawn to geometry, have been so cavalier with those most obdurate materials, such as marbles and that especially hard limestone from Kilkenny. A glance at, say, Interlocking Oaks, a piece at the old Boots HQ here in Nottingham from 2000 is indicative of the striking quality of the distinguished track record of public work right across the British Isles and beyond.

In this exhibition (a relatively rare opportunity to see a body of his work) the artist features recent studio sculptures, a few paintings and a suite of drawings, all of which in various ways touch upon ongoing concerns for the interactions and relationships of basic geometric forms in space. If there is a key component that best sums up the ambition in the work as a whole then poise might be it. Indeed this is a contemporary artist willing to engage in and admit to one of the greatest taboos in current art, beauty, and worse still for many so whisper it, craft.

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Perry is fully aware of the dangers that lurk in these waters. No-one visiting his lean-to studio, exposed to the elements and (one suspects) perishing in winter, could be in doubt that the artist (given to standing and pondering the work for long spells of time) takes very seriously the pitfalls that both form and material can easily fall into – that ‘homes & gardens’ aesthetic as it were. These are lovely materials and in Richard’s experienced hands, fashioned into just as seductive formal characteristics.

A great deal of deliberation is required – hard, painstakingly concentrated looking – to ensure that this plane, or that surface, set against another is ‘right’ or more precisely has that quality that the great ceramicist Bernard Leach called ‘thusness’ (after his studies on the work of Soetsu Yanagi) and yet is also full of surprises. Indeed it is hard to see how these interlocking forms, planes, surfaces and voids could be arranged in any other manner once they are frozen in space. Each work becomes a game of Jenga, that pastime where towers are constructed from regular wooden blocks and the removal of a single piece can bring the whole thing crashing down.

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To return to the notion of poise, and to use it in its archaic sense, it is the balance achieved in the sculpture (and just as surely in the paintings where colour is deployed with great sensitivity to both invite and contradict the sensations of moving through space) that solidifies the equilibrium of all the competing elements. That all this happens with material that is solid, stubborn and hard to fashion is a real testament to ability and durability in the character of the artist. Poise is also a technical term for a unit of dynamic viscosity, the act of resistance in shearing flows where layers move parallel to one another at differing speeds. This too seems apt in pieces where planes shift and tilt both in parallel and opposed to one another, and where the eye speeds across the surfaces but is then arrested by surprising conjunctions and original tropes.

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It is in the drawings that these twists and turns of expected and then wholly unexpected formal arrangements are sent racing along at astonishing speed. With a myriad of variated marks, tones and intervals the images reveal something of the artist’s endlessly inventive and quizzical exploration of what form and material might be able to achieve in space that is both real and imagined. Perry opens up possibilities for what sculpture might achieve were we to crack open our three physical dimensions and discover one, two, three or more that some physicists and mathematicians tell us are already out there.

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Barbara Hepworth – Small One, Two, Three (Vertical) 1975

Of course geometric sculpture (emerging in the early twentieth century) went through many reiterations of all kinds over the succeeding decades but pretty much fell out of favour by the mid sixties as the minimalists boiled it down to its essences. But curiously a small late (perhaps the last complete) work by Barbara Hepworth – Small One, Two, Three (Vertical) 1975 – might be seen as something of a precursor to these pieces by Richard.  In it she precariously balances a group of planes across three blocks atop each other. It is intriguing to imagine how these might have been extrapolated and developed into more complex arrangements had she lived…I’m taken with an idea that they might well have resembled a Richard Perry piece in this gallery.

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Halley 3, 2013