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

 

Abstract Expressionism – Royal Academy

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Well…its a James C. Brooks work from 1954 (and isn’t it terrific) but it isn’t there!  More of that later.  And what am I doing straying so far from the A52?  Well…

One friend of mine called it a ‘once in a generation’ show…and to have assembled all these greats in one location is just that. Above all the largest central gallery that we might call the ‘Still’ room is pretty special…after all the vast majority of his canvases are usually holed up in Denver. And the use of ‘vast’ is rightly pertinent. The three in a row along one wall are towering achievements in the entire history of painting. So its  a show that warrants attention even though Piccadilly is a long haul from here.

Plenty has been said about the ‘movement’ over the years and in truth a lot of it nonsense. And though there’s some revisionism going on here its a decent round up of the main suspects. I was minded to take issue with David Anfam’s introductory text but on reflection I’m warming to it. Though its didactic consequences for the selection especially in the earlier days are quixotic to say the least.

And selection issues are writ large here. For example there is the rightful inclusion of Joan Mitchell – but no Grace Hartigan…her River Bathers easily the equal of De Kooning, a testimony to her year spent revisiting the Old Masters that pissed off her pals (and crucially Clem Greenberg) but shows (to my mind at least) a genuinely thoughtful and independent streak to her artistic research).  Of The Iracibles we see nothing from Stamos, maybe no surprise there after the Rothko debacle but I was impressed back in the early 90’s when I saw a large retrospective in Athens especially by some of his later work that echoes colourfield painting. In that context perhaps Friedel Dzubas’ Ab Ex work might have pointed up the connections between these two movements as might have James Brooks who might well vie with Helen Frankenthaler for pole position in the development of staining as a technique? No Hedda Sterne either though I’m quite taken with the two mid fifties works owned by the Whitney & MOMA.

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Hedda Sterne  New York, N.Y., Airbrush & enamel on canvas, 36 1/4×60 1/4 ins. 1955

There is a modest Tomlin…but hardly a major work…what a pity…surely No. 20 from 1949 or the following year’s magnificent Number 9:In Praise of Gertrude Stein would have been available (neither has been on display when I’ve visited MOMA!) and would have been a fitting inclusion. The second generation in particular have been rather overlooked… so no place for Alfred Leslie or Michael Goldberg and to my mind nobody exemplifies second generation ab ex better!

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Michael Goldberg  Untitled, 1957

But overall this is an opportunity to see more great paintings of the period in one place than is ever likely again in the UK. There are many important pictures to evaluate and re-evaluate and some interesting and valuable juxtapositions to mull over. That said some of the hang is a tad unfortunate… the trio of Guston, Mitchell and Frankenthaler in Room 4 (titled Gesture as Colour) are cramped and, pitted against the magnificently luminous Sam Francis’ canvases on the adjacent wall, look a bit poky which they most definitely are not! Barnett Newman isn’t exactly well served either and there are more odd omissions, I love  Francis but it seems perverse to give him (and Mark Tobey) such a solid outing but completely omit Cy Twombly.   David Smith is dotted through the rooms fairly liberally and of course he sits at the centre of the contribution from sculpture to the party but surely there was room to feature some others (I know Louise Nevelson is here…though quite how her work sits stylistically is more questionable) Herbert Ferber, Ibram Lassaw, Theodore Roszak and of course Louise Bourgeois all spring readily to mind.

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Ibram Lassaw  Moons of Saturn, Bronze 1954

The inclusion of photography is interesting and speaks to our current mindset of inter and cross disciplinary work. Aaron Siskind has long been seen as operating in similar territory to the others but I knew little of Barbara Morgan’s abstract work nor had seen Harry Callaghan’s extraordinary early prints – Detroit 1945 is exquisite or the Minor White pictures. Herbert Matter was completely unknown to me. The famous Pollock images by Namuth merited inclusion but why none of Fred McDarrah’s photos…his image of Norman Bluhm (another omission) sums up the period just as much as the Namuth.

But again I’m falling into carping. This is, overall, a magnificent show that immerses one in an extraordinary and exciting period of painting history – and is a must see event if one cares about abstraction.

Known Masterpieces…

img_9896HMS OPEN STUDIOS & THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE by ARTEMIS POTAMIANOU

This is a rather strange outing for me…after all its only just two years back that I was a part of this event rather than simply a visitor. But hopefully distance lends at least some critical judgment. HMS is, in the main, very much a painters place and there is a good deal of work here that shows how accomplished much of it is.

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As usual Jackie Berridge has some excellent work underway. There are drawings on show that amply demonstrate the solid underpinning this gives to her work (and underlines the excellence that comes from her background as an illustrator) but it is the paintings that go from strength to strength. In the larger canvases it is the astonishing variety of technical devices allied to the myriad of narrative vignettes of human behavoirs that show just how good a painter Jackie is. But I was also struck by this wonderful small painting that pairs the vulnerability of the single figure matched only by the vacant sofa that is her companion.

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Justine Nettleton as always is full of exuberant painterly activity, alongside much else, including some intriguing new works that weld re-quoted painterly passages with digital photographic elements. Alison Whitmore is exhibiting some fascinating new box works but also a riveting and nakedly honest set of small self portrait drawings that repay close examination.

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John Paul Cooke tackles the sense of place that is the Peak with a surer touch and an unerring ability to capture the light than most of the battalions who choose this location as subject matter. Patrick Prentice amply demonstrates both his powerful sense of place and a delightfully playful sureness of arrangement. The painting here is as good as it gets.

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Carole Hawthorn has a number of her beautifully calibrated colour studies on show and several of them glow with a luminous intensity like the one I’ve posted here.

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Clay Smith is perhaps best known for his moody, atmospheric and compelling photo montages (and several were on display) but he has, over the past decade or so, experimented with painting. Alongside a large recent canvas that displays a sureness of touch and is infused with a similar sense of ethereality there were two, I think, new experimental canvases that look very exciting.

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Sculpture makes a statement with work by Lesley Kelly, Louise Garland and Dee Shiels. Louise has an unerring ability to fashion fresh juxtapositions with humble found materials.

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Dee shows a range of media including some light, airy and yet oddly disturbing and provocative hanging pieces.

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Is the work of Chris Wright categorisable? I suspect she hopes not, with its address to a wide range of disciplines and media allied by her ongoing interest in exploring transitional spaces and borders. Her pieces throw up strong and powerful emotional and intellectual congruences and dissonances. All in all, there was much to see here.

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Including this years invited artist, Artemis Potamianou, from Athens, who sadly couldn’t be present at the weekend. Rather than explain the project I’m attaching the introduction to it. Suffice to say that these alterations and improvisations put the works that had been riffed into new and disturbing conjunctions.

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Urban and urbane…

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Having taken our eye off the ball these past few months its good to get back to the hard business of reviewing whats about. And where better to start than the home of the Premiership Champions?   So away from the A52 south to Leicester. It’s here that De Montfort University have picked up the University ball as far as gallery spaces go (excepting the Djanogly at Nottingham – clearly our best HE gallery in the region by a country mile) by opening this lovely new space in the Vijay Patel building.

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The opening show cleverly and wittily picks up the theme of what’s happening outside, viz. extensive on going landscaping activity that currently means that one has to enter the space from the rear rather than the main entrance. Indeed Simon & Tom Bloor’s installation – Urban Studies might almost be part of the external H&S doings…obviously part of the point. At first its tempting to write off this work as just another example of ‘stuffism’ and there is a whiff of the facile about some of the thinking at play here. It’s plainly lazy and absurd to argue that the row of brightly splashed plaster coke cans represents the ‘idea’ of “the crushing of a can is a creative gesture equal to chisel on marble” as is claimed in the accompanying blurb. But, to be fair to the artists, they may have had nothing to do with that.

img_9795The mainstays of the display are the dotted about arrangements of the (albeit over elegantly coiffeured) security fences decked out with canvases on which paintings have been made. Curiously these are styled as ‘graffiti’ in the text panel but they actually seem altogether more ‘aesthetic’ in their construction and could, at a pinch, have come out of any savvy Bushwick atelier over the past twenty years. I suspect that there may even be a specific referent at work here as that seems to be the lads usual MO. Indeed I may be over egging the pudding but the gaily coloured sandbags that weigh down the base blocks of the fences suggested to me a nod in the direction of dear old Barry Flanagan’s early outings before the hare production took over. Overall however despite the lack of real depth the work did have a brash, indeed urbane and witty feel to it and played well in a space that will suit free standing pieces well enough but be a tad more problematic for those of us wedded to more traditional and old fashioned wall based outputs.

img_9801Still fair play the DMU – this is an impressive space in a lively building on what is rapidly becoming a very stylish campus. And a welcome addition to the few spaces for contemporary art in the ‘Premier’ city in the region!

Without feeling? but really felt…

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We were due to go directly to Lincoln but I suggested a detour to the small market town of Sleaford to visit the National Centre for Craft & Design.  I knew the venue had opened “a few years back” as I told my partner in crime, the estimable Simon, but it turns out that was 13 years ago – so high time we paid it a visit! And in truth although rather tucked away in this – to be honest – remote corner of Lincolnshire it is a real delight. I shall certainly be keeping my eyes open for future shows there and for us its actually not that long a journey so there really isn’t an excuse if you’re a driver (I’ve no idea how the rail links are to here but I imagine not too good if you’re a distance away?).

The show that had caught my eye was Anton Alvarez’ ‘Autonomous Manufacturing System 1.0’ that between publication of the Feb/May programme and the opening became ‘Alphabet Aerobics’. In essence the show comprises a machine that makes ceramic sculpture without human intervention, the paraphernalia required to do so (including a gallery technician/invigillator, drying racks for the sculptures and a range of plinths on which finished works sit.

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This is an intriguing and elegant show that is both visually interesting and conceptually questioning. The machine itself is cleverly though quite simply constructed…the clay is pushed down through a tube that ends with a die or mould that forms the material as it oozes out of this device onto a bed beneath that can be tilted forward or back further determining the ensuing shape. My pal and myself have just had a little debate over exactly what to call the various metal dies or moulds…suffice to say they are discs with shaped cut outs in them…but the key to the titling of the show comes from the idea that they are based (to my eye loosely) on the letters of the alphabet and that this is apparently related to a rap song? Whatever the specifics of this it is the delight of the machine demonstrated and occasioning a unique artwork on each occasion of its doing so.

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The device, the moulds, the whims of the operator (we were told that each operator makes decisions on the actions and movements), and I imagine too, climatic conditions, subtle differences in material contents, and so on, determine outcome on each operation. It is a curious and chaotic means of predicting form although being machine driven there is an odd kind of unpredictable predictability at work too. It seems rather as if a Richard Deacon or Tony Cragg (more visually contingent?) or Ken Price(more materially so) were an automaton rather than a thinking emotional human, the sculptures being curiously both regimented and not. The use of the alphabet as a kind of cypher or metaphor is amusing too…as pieces are mounted to plinths will the alphabet emerge visually? This is a terrific exhibition that truly begs plenty of questions of us as viewers.

AA2The Centre is an enterprising and delightfully rounded venue, alongside Alvarez the show at the top of the building ‘The Other Mountain:Contemporary Chinese Jewellery’, was surprising and delightful by turns, a crazy material mix and imagery that both emphasises cultural origins and again then often confounds them. Next to it Kathryn Parsons’ eclectic mix of objects, a narrative thread held together by the obsessive delight in the life and work of John Clare, and small displays of wall hangings by Robyn Hinchcliffe and jewellery by Flora Bhattachary added up to collection of displays that makes a visit so much more rewarding than a single show venue where you are confronted with a ‘take it or leave it’ experience. Oh and the cafe is lovely too…the cakes were marvellous!

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Mela – HMS, Long Eaton

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Rob Van Beek

Drawing used to play a central role in any self respecting artist’s practice…I say ‘used to’ as it seems nowadays that much contemporary work makes very different kinds of statements about, and defines our relationships to the self and the world around us by other means, so that we certainly see less of it regardless of whether it goes on or not. Of course now we have a battery of other ways of recording or replicating our observations of the external worth or the interior worlds of our imaginations, and the advent of the digital age has exploded and befuddled our grasp on where those boundaries we thought existed. But drawing, on this evidence certainly does ‘go on’.

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Sardul Gill discussing his drawing

In the context of this relative ‘hidden’ life of drawing, the idea of what drawing is or can be has been mined in very novel ways several times over recent years, we have of course the Jerwood prize, the fascinating Rabley sketchbook competition, the utterly marvellous ’43 Uses’ show curated by Paul Curaton & Craig Staff back in 2011 that ought to have been seen and discussed by many more than it was, and in its modest way, we can now add this outing.

Stimulated by a conversation a year or so back at Backlit Studios between HMS’s Jackie Berridge, Rob Van Beek and Martin Lewis the idea of the MELA came up as a means to explore aspects of drawing in the region. One of the key notions behind the show was to bring in new artists to the venue alongside those above and others who have shown here before. Hence the first appearances at HMS of quite a few whom I am unfamiliar with as well as others I know quite well but have previously not shown here. The idea of the MELA is spelt out by the organisers here.

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Stephen Waterhouse

The illustrator Stephen Waterhouse is one of the new names to me. Stephen’s topographical study of Manhattan stretching northwards from the Twin Towers is both lyrical and poignant – he revealed, during a short ‘show and tell’ session that was a rewarding feature of the opening, that he had begun the work on site before returning home where, whilst continuing to develop it he heard the news of the 9/11 attack, whereupon he ceased working it up. Like much of the work on show there is considerable delicacy and deftness of touch at work here…and then passages that remain tentative or wholly undeveloped – a reminder of the horror of the event.

A quite other demonstration of this deft and delicate approach to the idea of a drawing comes in the form of a lovely abstraction by Sardul Gill. Sardul is an artist I’ve known for many years but whose work is much less frequently seen out and about than it ought to be (he isn’t the only one represented in this show). Sardul’s piece is playful, relying upon collage and accidental elements that he then riffs off of, and has a sense of balance and ‘thusness‘ (that Buddhist term beloved of Bernard Leach in describing ceramics of real quality).

Amongst the other ‘newcomers’ to the Mill is Gabriel Tejada who hails from Peru by way of the Royal College and, nowadays, Repton in South Derbyshire. There’s three smallish drawings here with considerable finesse – a lightness of touch that builds into dense, intense and atmospheric space within which curious figures are partially submerged. These figures have something of the bulbous quality one might find in the great Columbian master Botero, though there the comparison ends as these characters are dark, mysterious and somewhat threatening. If any other artist is called to mind its the feverish imaginings of Odilon Redon but here too the comparison doesn’t hold, if anything these are simply Tejada’s people coming at us tentatively, almost liminally, off of the page.

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David Willetts introduces his drawings

Facing across from Tejada is another artist whose drawings are worked up very sensitively indeed. perhaps not surprisingly as David Willetts is both one of the region’s most talented and most experienced artists with a reputation for impeccable draughtsmanship. Here he shows a small group of drawings of a plant to which he returns again and again discovering more about both the subject and the object, exuberant and luminous pastel and pencil pieces, and in the process, more about himself. Willetts is one of our best artists hereabouts and deserves to been seen more often. When his work has been shown in the past few decades it has often been in the company of Peter Cartwright. Cartwright is another of the more senior artists in Notts and has been painting and drawing fabulously strong work for many years. He says of his approach that “I make intense unpremeditated responses through drawing, to fragments, objects and situations, creating a stock of images that feed the working process.” Here he brings a counterpoint to much of the work around him in that there’s a raw energy to his drawing that contrasts with many of the other works on show.

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Martin Lewis

There are strong offerings, in quite different ways, from each of the show’s progenitors. Martin Lewis shows two small conceptually driven pieces…one a thousand white lines, that the artist rightly insisted were all there! Jackie shows a lovely piece that opens the show with a strong narrative element whilst Rob assembles a fine array of curious small plastic frames in which his equally oddball pictographic drawings sit on a shelf. I’ve not mentioned quite a few of the other artists here but suffice to say there’s a delicate and, simply lovely, work by Gurminder Sikand, a strong iPad drawing from Mik Godley and two especially fine observational drawings from Ian Whitfield, who is also from Repton by way of the Royal College. With another dozen or so equally strong offerings from other artists this show is well worth a visit.

Open
Saturday 23rd, April 1-3pm 
Sunday 24th, April 1-3pm
‘Measurement and Anti-Measurement in Drawing’
Sunday 24th April, 2-3pm
Talk and discussion introduced by Rob Van Beek

Grateful thanks to Maggy Milner for use of her photos of the show.

 

Shining Forth

 

 

02 LONG BOXES - 12 colours 2Sheila Ravnkilde     Long Boxes – 12 Colours at Harrington Mill Studios in Long Eaton

It can be quite a tricky space…essentially a short and then a long corridor, the latter punctuated by the entrances to the studios…but nonetheless it has hosted its fair share of highly individual and distinctive exhibitions over the past nine years. None more so than Sheila Ravnkilde’s third outing in the gallery.  Given her knowledge of the foibles of the location and well known talent for investing whatever space she selects, or has been asked to animate, it is perhaps not surprising that this project is a joy.

I’m a great fan of Barnett Newman and one of my most treasured catalogues is that of his Tate outing in 1971 within which is a reproduction of a stunning painting entitled ‘Shining Forth (to George).  Although very close to monochrome (as close as Newman gets except in the Stations of The Cross series) it has an amazing luminosity.  As Thomas Hess says in the catalogue essay (a marvellous piece of poetic writing that we seem to have all but lost over the past forty years) light “seems to pour from behind the quivering negative zip and intensify brightly at the edges of the severe black cuts”.  I reference this picture because despite its seeming lack of colour it does in fact point up the opposite…that the bare canvas colour is accentuated by the blackness of the two zips and the feathered stripe.

06 detail 4And precisely because of this, and the more obvious connections between the zips and  Ravnkilde’s bars, I see connections.  Connections of the kind that Don Judd also saw in his work and Newman’s.  What all three artists have in common is an unerring sensibility with what colour, surfaces and forms can do when treated with craft and respect, but also permitted to behave as they must be…given their inherent properties.  Much has been written on this (especially as regards Newman and Judd’s responses to him) but in this current exhibition where Ravnkilde goes a deal further into spaciality than certainly Newman (and perhaps – and more surprisingly, Judd) she seems to be explicitly courting ideas about the nature of both painting and sculpture.

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Indeed in this work (and the other piece on show here) the physicality of paint and the chance operators in the relatively mechanistic procedures by which the works are made are openly revealed and, more so than in most of the earlier works I’ve seen, celebrated.  Where Newman uses intervals in order to regulate and allow colours to breathe and Judd regiments them within rigidly constructed form Ravnkilde uses both regularity and colour in space to modulate the overall composition.

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In the second of the two works here…Boxes (24 colours) these operators are perhaps even more evident…the luminosity is more concentrated and the use of sensitive and inspired colour juxtapositioning reinforced.  The willingness to allow what Judd called “matter-of -factness” to come through is clearly revealed in the individual panels in just the same way as Newman would occasionally allow drips or splashes into his pictures in what his wife Annalee dubbed ‘tears’.

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Its a matter of fact too that this level of serious enquiry into the nature of painting and its essentials has been rather out of fashion of late (a consequence of the falsity of the post-structuralist stranglehold over art criticism up until a few years back) but some artists (the best ones) stick to their guns. Ravnkilde is one such and this was an exhibition of high ambition and considerable quality.

 

 

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!

Hepworth Connections

 

2015-12-02 12.34.39-1I’ve written several glowing reports on the Hepworth in my personal blog but now I want to wax lyrical here in what I’m thinking will be one of Cloughies away games (this blog started life confining itself to the A52 corridor between Nottingham & Derby but hell those down South just think its all ‘oop North’ anyway). On this occasion I’d no expectations ahead of the visit as my pal had suggested it and I’d not looked it up.

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It turned out to be a richly rewarding visit to a venue that has provided us with many excellent shows since our first when it opened back in 2011. Indeed as a roughly three times a year visitor I reckon there’s always fresh material to mull over in a building devoted to a single figure, albeit highly distinguished, where one might have thought displays would be rather static. This time the clever curatorial pairing pitted the female English modernist Gertrude Hermes against the male Italian born post modernism of Enrico David.  As I often tell students ‘compare and contrast’…and here the connections are many, various and highly instructive, and, wrapped together with several other displays, deeply satisfying.

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David is an artist I first encountered through his paintings but here the focus is appropriately more on 3D. Think English 50’s figuration meeting Arte Povera…so a wall figure piece in cardboard reminds me of something that might have been commissioned from Lynn Chadwick for a provincial theatre in the Midlands.  He has a particular and peculiar way with the human figure, a lugubrious and serial approach that sees them shoe horned into strange geometries and put through odd contortions.  Other commentators have described the work as ‘odd’ and that’s fair enough but I also saw a poetry that is rather beautiful. The use of materials is quite fascinating…I was especially taken with something I’ve not come across before now – Jesmonite – that seems (at least in his hands) to be just about anything you want it to be…ebony, ivory, polished limestones etc.

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He occupies the large temporary exhibition gallery with aplomb…a scattering of small lead spheres that are dotted around the space brings the various pieces together so that a satisfying whole is created from what might otherwise appear as disparate pieces. In a second room there are some lovely drawings with a spare, delicate touch as well as more mystifying though genuinely considered pieces. This is a show I can’t recommend highly enough.

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Gertrude Hermes, I freely confess, wasn’t known to me at all until this trip out. Her exhibition was a revelation – a tour de force – as regards the art of woodcut but also an astonishing array of sculpture and print and drawing. She ranged freely across the subject matter of the figure and of nature in a manner that is of course in part reminiscent of the English Romantics but also betokens a tougher, more structurally rigorous, sensitivity and, occasionally, a peculiarity that to me she shares with Enrico David. One of my favourites in the show is the small terracotta Baby 11, that could be slotted into his smaller room here, assuming of course that it was fashioned from Jesmonite! Hermes’ astonishing fecundity as an artist and her amazing technical virtuosity is a delight and constitutes reason two to get up to Wakefield. Given the other current displays and the fine café/restaurant (that I’ve written about before) there are a dozen or more reasons that should make the trip worthwhile.

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