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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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.

 

 

Wet, Wet, Wet

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I have just managed to catch up with Cornish Light at Nottingham’s Castle Museum – if you are reading this within four days of posting then you can just catch it otherwise a trip to Penlee House in Penzance between 20 June & 15 Sept. is required (and why not?!).  I spent three years in Cornwall in my teens and twenties and have made numerous visits to West Penwith over the years so have a special affection for the place.  But I thought I’d use Garstin’s The Rain It Raineth Every Day at the top of this post, not only because its a fine painting but it is an antidote to all those glorious views of the place that is only part of the Cornish experience.  My recollection of winters in south Cornwall is that they were often wet, wet and wet!

Garstin is an interesting artist and this picture is probably the one he is known best for.  Most of the artists who have ever lived are pretty much forgotten over time…a sobering thought for all of us!  But he studied in Antwerp and Paris and its probably there that he spotted the Impressionists and it is their influence (and their admiration for Japanese art) that’s at work in this canvas.  In particular I can’t think of this picture without thinking too of Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street;Rainy Day painted by that much underrated member of the Impressionists circle in 1877…just before Garstin arrived in the French capital.  Did he see it?  I’d like to think so…I can imagine myself as young Garstin thinking of working up the glistening promenade in similar vein to the cobbled street and deploying the formal shapes of the umbrella’s in much the same way as Caillebotte was attracted to them.  It’s the way I like to think that we painters think – like magpies storing pictorial tropes and forms away for future usage.

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This is a show easily overlooked…after all many of these painters though highly regarded in their heyday now only pop up mostly in the gloomy 19c galleries in our regional museums.  In such circumstances jostled and hedged in with the Pre-Raphaelites, Academicians and such many of the works would be overlooked.  Some are, in truth, of mainly academic or pleasurable interest only, but the best of them Walter Langley, Frank Bramley and of course, to my mind, the incomparable Stanhope Forbes here represented by a marvellous large painting, in which his Cornish light might be the leitmotif of the show, are wonderful works by artists, who – whilst not by that point at the cutting edge of contemporary art of their day – were at the top of their game.