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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Re- Appraisals…

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Aspects of Print, work by Roy Bizley occupies the relatively small but lovely light and airy exhibition space at the front of Leicester’s Print Workshop and yet it’s a show that delights and deserves more attention than one supposes it may well be getting. It is accompanied by an even smaller display at the nearby LCB Depot that sadly we weren’t able to access on our visit. Roy was a long term contributor to the Fine Art teaching team at the nearby Leicester Poly (now De Montfort University) and was a modest and unassuming character, pretty much loved by all who knew him, and focussed much of his teaching on developing printing talent, a deal of it associated at one time or another with LPW.  This show concentrates on prints made in response to visits to Iceland and have a suitably cool palette, offset by small hot colour highlights that gives the images real punch – and show off the printmaker’s consummate abilities in the medium. In fact these prints have quite astonishingly technical competences given that woodcut and lino are integrated to achieve the results. But of course technique is only of value if allied to something to say and images that say it. Here the artist scores top marks, not least in terms of unerring drafting skills and compositional alertness.

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Roy Bizley is part of a big story yet to be written about the talent that lurked in provincial art schools through the period from roughly the late fifties to around the turn of the millennium. As the art schools expanded they embraced young talent and a generation of really top class artists like Roy came into them. At 34 when he began work in Leicester Roy was older than some colleagues in both his institution and others (many came in quite fresh from their art school post grad training) but his time there was spent in teaching and also making so that on his death in 1999 he left a large body of compelling work, much of it rarely seen outside (or even inside) the academic realm. Like many of his colleagues (and I could mention many around the country) exhibition opportunities were rare in a time when the premium for official institutions was on young, new artists, when to be visible you needed regular access to the capital and – to be fair – lecturers with long term full time tenure were less compelled to need to ‘hustle’ for shows and thus sales. This show is simply the tip of a very large iceberg, with a vast amount of excellent work sitting beneath, Roy’s other work, his paintings and political prints especially but then a huge volume of other equally exciting artists – I might mention David Willetts in Nottingham or Norman Rowe in Wolverhampton, Martin Rogers in Derby or Doug Kemp in Loughborough…the list is extensive and might be repeated across the North, or the South West as much as the Midlands. Whether much of it is still extant (particularly as regards those artists who have sadly passed) I do not know but if it is it deserves to be seen – and celebrated.

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Lancelot Ribeiro, Purple Still Life, 1965

Curiously enough the theme of appraisals, whether they be ‘re-‘ or not was writ large at Leicester’s New Walk Museum & Art Gallery too. Firstly the Lancelot Ribeiro: A Voyage Of Discovery show suggests that he has been criminally neglected over the years. His omission from The Other Story, the Hayward Gallery survey show of British based ‘Afro Asian’ artists in 1989 is odd…was it self exclusion or not? (several other notable artists, Anish Kapoor, Veronica Ryan and Dhruva Mistry amongst them were also absent). But then again his half brother F.N.Souza was included.  Leicester has, to its credit, championed his work over the years (with long time Director Patrick Boylan a key supporter) but elsewhere in the UK he achieved relatively little recognition (indeed in later years he fared better in Germany).  Whatever – the show here suggests that his output was astonishingly varied with little hints of quite startlingly arresting individuality.  A small sculpture from the mid sixties explores the way in which paint can be pushed into three dimensions , late collaged work that looks as if it might have come from a particularly innovative student from last summer’s degree shows given how fresh they are. Overall the strengths of the main bodies of paintings are a surety in line and structure and an exuberant confidence in handling strong, often hot colour in subtle ways.

Ribeiro, Lancelot, 1933-2010; Accented Landscape, Series 1

Lancelot Ribeiro, Accented Landscape Series 1, 1979

Across the New Walk Museum as a whole there are plenty of treats in store if you like quality painting. Of course the highlight is the marvellous German Expressionist gallery augmented presently by three wonderful Egon Schiele drawings on loan ahead of a showing at Tate Liverpool. But the display of works by ‘global’ artists includes a canvas by the excellent, sometimes resident of Loughborough, Ghanaian painter Atta Kwami – more fantastic colour exuberance locked into solid structures – and in the recent acquisitions room another equally striking colour canvas by another favourite of mine William Gear. In this latter room one comes full circle with two fine canvasses by Roy Bizley as well. With a new entrance Leicester is leading the pack at a time when many regional museum spaces are under financial and even existential threat. Get there and see some terrific work and lend it support!

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Global Artists display, with Atta Kwami painting centre right, next to the Francis Bacon.

The Ribeiro runs till May 6th…

The Bizley till 12th May…

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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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.

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.

 

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