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.

Ribeiro, Lancelot, 1933-2010; Purple Still Life

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…

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.

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!