On the sublime…

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It’s a simple enough trope…superimposition of one scale upon another…though I suspect quite a bit harder to pull off than one might imagine.  In Richard T. Walker’s video piece its used to quite powerful effect – regular readers will know I’m quite a lot harder own video – but the poetic narrative at work here is pretty mesmerising.  It lives up to the promise of the exhibitions title.  Sadly much else here doesn’t.  Mariella Neidecker’s piece here buries her characteristic vignette into a clumsy mis en scene that proves to be a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.  The other work in the space crowded out by this bombast.  Elsewhere nothing much lives up to the billing.

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Luckily outside the main galleries in the Angear space there is something of exceptional and exquisite quality.  The Nottinghamshire based artist Robert Hart has been given the opportunity to display some the exceptional work he has been engaged in over the past few years.  It is an astonishing display – perhaps a little overcrowded – of the drawings, prints and paintings he has produced over recent times.

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He has focussed a deal of his creative ambition on the Suffolk coastline – specifically the wastelands of Orfordness and, whilst many artists have chosen this unique landscape since it was released from the Ministry of Defence a few decades back, fewer still have done so to such exceptional effect.  Anyone who has visited this location (and if you haven’t I strongly advise you do) will testify to its unique character – an ambience that Rob has captured to perfection.  His forensic visual intelligence is coupled with a poetic imagination and has resulted in a wealth of material.  His show is a triumph – catch it in the few days you have left – it ends on May 6th.

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Mining the seams…

Strata:1 is a show that takes its name from the ‘collective’ of five Loughborough art school graduates – two from back in 2012 and three from the class of 2015.

IMG_0271How to be a painter in the second decade of this century should vex everyone who picks up a brush but loads of us keep doing it so what gives? Obviously we kick against the digital pricks and still get that visceral kick from something so obdurately analogue. These guys are definitely getting that idea in spades and well done for that. The seams maybe running thin but here are five younger artists determined to mine whatever ores are still running.

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Joshua Browitt

Joshua Browitt is digging in the far reaches of colourfield abstraction, out beyond the mid 80’s grunge of Larry Poons and the 90’s onwards of Jules Olitski. Though his canvasses are relatively small in size, making some of natural mushing of paint effects a tad uncomfortable and forced, they have the same gutsy feeling as their forbears and a curious muted colour palette that holds back some of the more lurid colour clashes of those antecedents.

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Martin Clarkson

Martin Clarkson has plumped for a more strait-forward delivery in some wristy brushwork but has found imagery that laps up the jungle and envelops it in a weird and wonderful colour cast as if the painter was working with a particularly odd photo filter. I could live without the glossy sheen over them that I’m imagining the artist sees as a way of giving them a further homogeneity but is very much not to my taste.

Philip Clarke is staying very much within a tradition of wee sized photo realism with scenes in oil on aluminium sheet. His lonely stretches of some of the loveliest parts of the highlands are powerful and affecting images and his handling is pretty decent too. Its quite a well worn route he’s taken but he does it well.

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left – Saku, Oil on canvas, 50 x 50 cm. 2018 Sarah Cunningham right – Elgol, Oil on aluminium, 20 x 15 cm. 2018 Philip Clarke

Sarah Cunningham can paint, in fact her handling is some of the most confident on show, but as yet some of the subjects and compositions are less than convincing. Steering clear of figuration might help and working into the image as it ‘lives’ on the canvas works better for her. Saku and Borneo struck me as a rather lovely pictures where what was pushed around its surface took precedence over the image portrayed.

Perhaps the whackiest and certainly most arresting work comes from Adam Waghorne, for whom it is the image that takes centre stage. These are played out on an array of differing supports and techniques and have about them a whiff of Wyndham Lewis’s self portrait of 1921 or Stanley Spencer mixed into psychedelica…in fact the parade of them across a glass support is one of the oddest and unusual works I’ve seen on a wall anywhere so far this year.

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Given that these are still younger artists, and forgiving the rather overblown claims for the show in the blurb, this was one that entertained and intrigued, if not wholly excited, anyone who cares about the future of the medium. The biggest hurdles they face today is the indifference of the curatorial elites, their non-metropolitan location and a buying public, the absence of which makes the UK for the most part an inhospitable place for serious painting now.

Sadly the show ended Saturday past…but there’s always something worth checking out at the Surface Gallery space at the bottom of Southwell Road in Nottingham.

 

Gurminder Sikand & Sardul Gill

IMG_1884The recent show at Harrington Mill Studios gave one the rare opportunity to see work by two of the region’s more influential and talented artists, both practicing locally since at least the 1980’s but less often featuring in exhibitions outside Nottingham itself.  In this show Gurminder Sikand focussed exclusively on black and white drawings that, although markedly different in content and style, rather effectively played out against the more experimental approach that Sardul Gill adopted in his selection of mixed media works.

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Dying Star by Sardul Gill

To my eye it was the deliberation in Gurminder’s drawing technique that often complements as well as contrasts with the more organic marks that are very much the basis of Sardul’s pieces.  That his work is also predominantly in black and white, occasionally augments by naturally occurring pigments, further adds to the resonances between their two bodies of work.  Sardul talks of ‘a form of self-discovery’ whilst Gurminder suggests her process is ‘a journey’ – what is certain is that both artists are on a thoughtful, intelligent and ultimately rewarding voyage, both for themselves and the audience.

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Mothering by Gurminder Sikand

Sikand’s work is focussed on “the social conditioning that forces women, especially, to look and behave in certain ways’ and this is effected through the use of the house as what she describes as a ‘carapace’ that whilst protecting and comforting is also a burden and a restriction.  The juxtaposition of the building against the figures produces strong and powerful images that convey the metaphors most effectively.   The stylistic manners put emphases on some elements and line is used simply elsewhere to offset the narratives.

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Nature Print & Ink Drawing (2) by Sardul Gill

In Gill’s work nature itself is forced into action as both subject and method, although his subtle and thoughtful interventions steer the viewer throughout.  His interests include cosmology and scientific theories with the resulting works revealing their structure slowly and exquisitely.  The printmaker in him (he has many years experience in the medium) allows the lightest of touches in the methods deployed that include exposure to natural elemental processes that further assist in the revealing of the image.  The painter Sean Scully has talked of painting as having “something of the nature of nature” and that is very evident in these works.

Sadly this show is now in the past but I’d advise anyone to seek out further exhibitions by these two in the future.

 

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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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.

Gallerists should not (generally!) be trusted…

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Milena, WR:Mysteries Of The Organism.

As a student I watched a lot of film…cunning old fox Lionel Miskin (the famed “Holman Hunt’ lookalike!) ran a free mid week cinema show at college that seemingly randomly showed movies that turned out to be a great history of the medium.  Amongst the recent releases (there were a few) one that struck up considerable discussion and debate was WR:Mysteries Of The Organism by Yugoslav director Dusan Makavejev.

Dusan turned up in Monuments Should Not Be Trusted that ran at Nottingham Contemporary through the early part of 2016.  Not that surprisingly given that a good deal of the show comprised film and video…some part of the ‘Black Wave’ and some plain documentary material.  And to a degree this was a weakness of such a substantial exhibition, far too much screen based works of substance and far too few really significant and good quality art objects.  Indeed in the front gallery much of the space was given over to the admittedly quirky and to a degree interesting ‘votive’ folk objects sent to the communist leader Tito.  Though curious and quirky there were far too many really.  As for the other material much of it had the same whiff of the ‘curio’ about it, frail and indifferent ‘student’ works that, of course, represented the developing politicisation of these ethnic groupings emerging as the various ‘Student Cultural Centres’ began to push back against the weakening power of Tito’s Yugoslav state apparatus but often derivative and weak both conceptually and visually as well as being occasionally rather shockingly naive and puerile.  Overall the film and video material was much the stronger element here but whether an art gallery, with small monitors and darkened spaces with poor seating, is a sensible context for it is rather more debatable.

For me, once again, NC seemed over precious and rather arcane.  In a more concentrated form, edited carefully and presented in the context of a broader based programme, this was a show of some considerable merit.  But the scarcity of punters tells its own story – this is very tenebrous programming…continuing the ‘grand projet’ that has characterised this venue since opening  viz. the aggrandisement of the Curator in search of career progression (achieved in the case of the first Director) and to hell with the audience.  Why on earth a Labour council puts up with it goodness only knows…ignorance and stupidity can possibly be their only excuse.

Surely the purpose of a large, publicly funded contemporary art gallery in the provinces is to bring a rounded, informed, educated and entertaining programme of modern and contemporary work to its location?  When I worked in a largish space in another large provincial city we brought in adventurous programming in its day – it was not without its critics…but we took a ‘journal’ view of the mix of shows.  Alongside a ‘difficult’ major new work by a relatively unknown but highly critically acclaimed international figure we would pit an Arts Council touring show of mixed new work that otherwise wouldn’t have shown up within a hundred miles of us and gave a small solo outing to one of the more talented ‘local’ artists.  NC could easily provide something similar and almost certainly pull in bigger and better audiences, that might enliven the place and bring in far more of the people who pay for it.

 

Clang, clang, clang*…

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I have an irrational fear of trams (borne of a confrontation with one whilst behind the wheel of a hire car in Den Haag!) but the new tramline from Clifton into Nottingham makes for a far more relaxing journey into the city’s various art venues.  On this occasion ostensibly to visit Lakeside for the Elizabeth Frink retrospective.  And, although its not exactly the kind of work that pushes all the buttons for me, it was impeccably curated and displayed, exactly what one has come to expect in the Djanogly.  Frink is probably due a revisioning, firstly as she, after Hepworth, is the leading woman in the post war pack of British sculptors and secondly because the fracturing of the distinctions between figuration and abstraction nowadays plays well with the vision contained within her best works.  At least thats how it seems to me when I look at those pieces that resonate most with me…the heads, figures and, just occasionally, the creatures where a certain angularity and blankness overhauls the more tradition topography of the subject.  And for the most part its in the spiritual commissions where this aspect of her visual thinking is paramount, making the second gallery the best of the three to my eyes.  Overall the show is beautifully presented and marvellously coherent.

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Rana Hamadeh, installation Gallery One, Nottingham Contemporary

Because the tram service makes movement between venues so convenient my friend and myself were able to take in a trip to Nottingham Contemporary…not something we do anywhere as often as one might imagine given its proximity.  Alien Encounters was a curious mix of four rather disparite exhibitions.  Not that each didn’t have elements of interest but simply that there was, for me, little meaningful connectedness to the whole.  I can ‘get’ the loose relationships between Sun Ra (the well known African-American jazz musician) in the next gallery and Rana Hamadeh‘s ‘The Fugitive Image in Gallery One…the notion of alienation and the appropriation of the Ancient Egyptian context…and more besides but frankly it seems both a bit of a stretch and ultimately a ‘so what’moment.  The whole piece revolving around an academic book on two serial killers in 1920’s Egypt and essentially comprising the set of a filmed play suggests that the work “scrutinises the relationship between criminology, epidemiology and theatre” and perhaps it does but it didn’t engage this viewer…and the technical breakdown of several video elements probably didn’t help.  I’ve talked often of the scourge of ‘stuffism’ and for me I’m sorry to say it was right up there with the best of it.

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In Gallery 2 we are treated to an elaborate ‘2001’ interior in which the aforementioned Sun Ra’s discography is displayed with handy hanging headphones to dip into his huge back catalogue.  Now I am actually one of those people who has both listened to a fair bit of his work (there’s even a couple albums on my ipod) and saw him perform once back in the day. Even his biggest apologists might concede that his oeuvre is patchy…in fact for most people a lot of it is frankly impenetrable.  Here he is presented as a polymath thinker, artist, sonic and visual, and again to an extent there’s more than a grain of truth in it.  But some of the case is crazily overstated…his visual arts output is mainly artwork designs that range across received symbolism and stage costumes that draw on a clumsy mix of science fiction meets ancient Egypt.  All good fun but often rather silly and shambolic…as I reckon…is some of his music where the free jazz experimentation could often fall apart into a kind of anarchy that is a tad tedious and unlistenable (except to the performers themselves maybe).  Ultimately Sun Ra is an undoubtedly seminal figure in the explosion and exploration of the limits of what free jazz and more widely contemporary experimental music (especially electronics) might be and an interesting figure in the emergent Black political/cultural milieu of 60’s America.  But I’m not sure a show of this kind will bring home these messages to an especially large audience.   I can’t comment on the video work in Gallery 3 as I simply didn’t engage with it…sadly often the way with split screen works of talking heads.  In Gallery 4 there was proof positive that stuffism can be both trivial and bombastic (as if to point up the seriousness of Hamedeh’s material).  All in all not a lot that I found engaging in the run up to the festive season!

 

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Blue Firth – Ziggurat, pigmented plywood, 2015

We popped over the road to Syson, where Blue Firth (based in Nottingham) was presenting a show entitled ‘Brought Something Back’. Here there were glimpses of an engaged and engaging visual spectacle although much of the borrowed imagery seemed to me as haphazard and obvious as that deployed by Sun Ra.  Of course I know one might say that about, say, Paul Klee (and there was a whiff of his ethos going on here) but then again he was situating borrowed mystical symbols within an altogether more intense and structured visual construct.  One wall comprises a good looking wash of what might have been a blown up English pastoral watercolour with the individual pieces (some essentially 2D, others delicate half circle shelves with glazed stoneware) ranged across it and that worked a whole lot better than the other objects, both freestanding and wall mounted elsewhere in the space.  All in all intriguing and ambitious without being entirely convincing.  So a good run round whats on in the city…made possible by that jolly good tramline!

p.s. I’m aware of the fact that it was a trolley car rather than a tram in the song!