Thursday, 31 December 2009

A man's list...

Yup, like a lot of men of a certain age I like to make lists, so this is my end of year review as 2009 draws to a close. All my favourite magazines are filled with their favourite records, films, books and TV at this time of year which gets the cogs in my own feeble brain whirring as to what have been my own cultural highlights.

Francisco Zurbaran, 'Saint Serapion', 1628

My favourite exhibition this year has been Wilhelm Sasnal at K21 in Dusseldorf. I think my fine art interests increasingly becoming narrower and narrower each year to just painting, and other more traditional forms such as sculpture and photography, and this exhibition pushed all the right buttons for me. Sasnal’s engagement with the medium opened up possibilities in my imagination but also confirmed some of my own convictions in the decisions I’ve made in my own painting practise in terms of keeping it mobile and varied. I also really enjoyed Van Dyke in Britain at Tate Britain, and Per Kirkeby at Tate Modern, as two other examples of the vigorous possibilities in painting from very different places but very rooted in its traditions. I always found ‘The Sacred and the Real’ at the National Gallery, the exhibition of Spanish Realism in the Polychrome sculptures and paintings of Zurbaran and Velasquez, two favourites, very moving. Seeing Zurbaran’s ‘Saint Serapion’ (above) in the flesh has been a particular highlight this year. The best things locally had to be Neal Rock’s sculptures and Gordon Cheung’s paintings at New Art Gallery Walsall. These two exhibitions, that ran alongside each other, were really exciting, particularly in their ambition and engagement with their materials in service to the ideas. I’ve also enjoyed discovering the paintings of Janet Fish and Rackstraw Downes this year.

And the worst? Well, it has to be The Event, the Birmingham Contemporary Art Forum in November. Trudging from one venue to another in Digbeth’s Eastside on a cold Sunday afternoon to view ever increasingly esoteric installations was a bit soul destroying. I did enjoy visiting the old factories where some of the events were housed though. it was just a shame to spoil them with such boring installations. When it came to being asked to fill in a questionnaire on my experience I just didn’t know where to start or what to say….I just quietly slipped it back on the table and hurried away…

Wilhelm Sasnal

In music, it’s been a great year for my two favourite artists, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. The Boss’s ‘Working On A Dream’ was an album full of surprises and memorable songs, both uplifting and stirring, poignant and poetic. I really loved it, and his Glastonbury performance with the E Street Band was so exciting. Dylan’s Together Through Life was a great record too, with a warmer, more spontaneous feel than ‘Modern Times’, and Christmas In The Heart, the controversial Christmas album is inspired to these ears. It’s like a Theme Time Radio Hour Christmas Special only with all the songs performed by his Bobness. It’s divided opinion but I think the arrangements are terrific. It’s been on my stereo non-stop in the last few weeks anyway.

I’ve also recently enjoyed updating my Kraftwerk albums with the digitally remastered Autobahn and Radio Activity. I think the latter must be one of the most affecting albums I’ve ever heard. It’s both disturbing in parts with its experimental sounds and also very sad. Also sad and wonderfully melanchoIy was Richard Hawley’s ‘Trueloves Gutter’. I was also lucky enough to see him live at the Town Hall earlier in the year-he was fantastic, one of the best live acts around.


I’ve also enjoyed a good slice of so-called Americana (which seems to cover most things American with guitars) with The Gaslight Anthem’s ‘The 59 Sound’, Ryan Adams’ ’29’ and ‘Jacksonville City Nights’, The Low Anthem’s ‘Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’, Grizzly Bear’s ‘Vectamist’ and The Felice Brother’s ‘Yonder Is The Clock’. The latter were 2009 releases, and are all terrific listens, but my album of the year has to go to The Low Anthem (below) with its range of songs that were one minute reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel, the next Tom Waits in raucous jug blues band mood. ‘Champion Angel’ must be song of the year. They were a spectacular live act at The Glee Club in Birmingham too, as were The Felice Brothers.

I’ve not seen much in the way of new films this year, but really enjoyed ‘The Wrestler’ and the lo-fi sci-fi ‘Moon’. The film which made the most lasting impression had to be Swedish Vampire film, Let The Right One In. As mentioned in a previous blog my favourite TV was all five seasons of ‘The Wire’ which were shown late on BBC2, and also ‘Occupation’. This 3-part British drama set in war-torn Iraq proved that our own home grown drama can be every bit as good as the American dramas that are so lauded. It was an amazing piece with very powerful performances by James Nesbitt and Stephen Graham. It was every bit as good as The Wire. I also, rather guiltily, enjoyed ‘Desperate Romantics’, the (very) fictionalised story of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, an art movement I’ve never really enjoyed, but this was great fun, again with great performances.

Let The Right One In

I’ve read a fair bit too as usual. I’ve previously blogged about my enjoyment of the novel, ‘Heartland’ by Anthony Cartwright which is probably my favourite book this year. I discovered the poetry of Jackie Kay, and enjoyed her ‘Adoption Papers’ and the collection ‘Darling’. More recently I read my first George Pelacanos (below) book, ‘The Night Gardener’, which was really absorbing and unexpected. It was very reminiscent of ‘The Wire’, which shouldn’t be a big surprise as he produces and writes a lot of it, but also had a downbeat quality with an interest in the ordinary and mundane details which I always enjoy and relate to.

As a postscript to the previos blog where I asked what am I going to do now ‘The Wire’ has finished, Santa kindly bought me the DVD miniseries ‘The Corner’, which was the precursor to ‘The Wire’ and the book ‘The Wire:Truth Be Told’, by Rafael Alvarez, the inside story of the series. So that should keep me going! Happy New Year!

(Please feel free to share some of your own lists...!)

Thursday, 24 December 2009

The Wire

I watched the last episode of the final series of ‘The Wire’ on Tuesday evening. Earlier in the year we bought a HD recorder and recorded all five series when they were shown late on BBC2. Over the last few months, Diane and I have sat down every night to watch an episode totally gripped and drawn into this dense, complex and dark world of modern urban America. I’m suffering from withdrawal symptoms as I write. What shall I do with my evenings? How can I go to bed without my head full of Bunk, Bubbles and Omar, trying to disentangle the latest development in the plot, and trying to second guess how things will unfold, tense and frustrated that Marlo Stansfield and his crew still walks the streets of Baltimore…?

‘If it’s not the best thing you’ve ever seen, you’ve not seen it’, runs the excerpt from a review on the box set. I can’t help but agree. There has been so much written about it, and you can understand why. It’s off the air now (as usual I’m about two years behind everyone else), the series ending its run with HBO in March 2008. It was not by any means a hit, with the last episode aired to an audience of some 100,000’s rather than millions. It’s success was through the box sets and word of mouth, but it’s cultural impact resonates enormously. I don’t want to repeat the details of the show which has been extensively written about much better than I could ever hope to do here. The show’s own website is a brilliant guide if you’ve not seen it, and has a great archive to the show and all that has been written about it. I just wanted to add a little about it’s impact on me and why I have felt so inspired by it.

I’ve just loved ‘The Wire’ and its characters. Over the course of each series the cast of characters continued to develop their stories and expand with new characters introduced, other ones finishing (often in untimely, violent deaths). I think the real achievement in why the series worked so well was not so much in the brilliantly innovative storytelling techniques, and the unflinching eye that it cast on the society and communities portrayed, but more in the traditions of why all great TV, Film and literature work: the ability to create great characters that draw you in, that you can empathise with, root for, that express something of our shared humanity. And this is what I loved above all else about The Wire (although I was amazed by the other things too). It’s interesting to note therefore that series creator, David Simon, says he had little interest as a writer in character development. Which you can see too in the sense that very little is explored about the individual characters background stories, motivations or personal lives, it is acted out in the moment in the greater service to the narrative arc. And yet who else can express something of our shared humanity as deeply as the character of Bubbles? How can you root for your favourite character (and Barack Obama’s) who is a violent outlaw like Omar Little who acts by his own screwed-up code of ethics that you think makes perfect sense? There were so many memorable characters amongst the regular cast: Valchek; Landsman; Denis; Brother Mouzone; Duquan and many, many more. The performances throughout have been inspiring. The stories told as much in a look or a gesture, as in the words spoken.

The boundaries between the so called ‘good guys’ (the law) and the ‘bad guys’ (the street, the drug gangs) were not so much blurred but obliterated. Most of the time, I felt more in sympathy with the street characters, which considering the often depraved lives they lived again says something of the skill in the writing. I even found myself in sympathy right at the end with ‘Snoop’, one of the most malevolent characters ever seen on TV, as she faced her own death. You couldn’t without hesitation say the lives they lived were wrong. For most, it was the only options they had, or bad decisions made from limited choices. It must be the one of the best written things about the black experience of living in modern well as all the other issues it deals with. I’m not sure how much of an impact it has had on black audiences and whether they recognised it. I’d be really interested in finding this out.

Anyway, I could go on and on. I feel really lost without it. The big question for me now is: what am I going to watch now?

Monday, 21 December 2009

Andrew Page and Jippi Comics

As well as the great Christmas cards, the season is increasingly often the only time I catch up with old friends from year to year. I’ve just come off the phone from my good friend Andrew Page who has just told me the news that he has had his first graphic novel published by Jippi Comics in Norway ( It’s great to see Andy’s talents recognised. We both studied on the MA Fine Art course at Norwich School of Art and Design ’back in the day’(as my students would say). Andy has lived in Norway now for many years, and since taking this new direction he seems to have really found his artistic voice.

Here is the Jippi Comics press release for ’Kunsten å knyte en knute’ (Yes, it is in Nowegian)

’Mr. Sule is alone on a small boat at sea. Suddenly he is seized by a whale. His friends in the local fishing village decides to hunt for him. Is it possible to still find him alive? The quest that follows is both an inner and outer journey includes both action and philosophy.This is a completed original graphic novel that owes inspiration to Herman Melville as well as Samuel Beckett.

Andrew Page makes an impressive debut album after he previously released a number of his own fanzines in recent years. Order the album from Jippi Cafe.’
I’d really recommend it, if your Norwegian isn’t up to it, Andy works more in pictures than words so I don’t think there would be too much lost in translation. Here’s a link to Andy’s own webpage:

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Seasons Greetings...

It’s great having artist friends. I always look forward to receiving their home made Christmas cards at this time of year. I’ve had some brilliant ones over the years, and this year is proving to be just as good as ever. Here are a few examples that have landed on my doorstep so far….

So This Is Christmas from ‘Stolen Moments 1978-2009’ by Tony Lawlor, photographer, Birmingham

A brilliant ceramic card/tree decoration from Pat O’Donohue, ceramicist, Birmingham

Façade of the Nativity Sagrada Familia from one of his sketchbook drawings…Barcelona April 2009, Chris Cowdrill, Illustrator, Birmingham

A great drawing from Pierre Turton, Art Therapist, Glasgow

And here’s this year’s from Diane and myself… Garden and Studio in The Snow, February 2009

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all friends and followers of the blog.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

School of Infantilism

I’m sure there will be lots of art bloggers tapping away furiously in response to ‘The School of Saatchi’ TV show which finished its four week run the other night. I thought I ought to make a little contribution of my own as I found myself turning off the TV as soon as the credits rolled up at my wife’s disgusted insistence. ‘Turn that rubbish off- that must have been the biggest pile of living and breathing rubbish I’ve ever seen ‘. It wasn’t the word rubbish really, but I think you can guess the adjective.

She’s right of course. I’ve found myself equally amazed at quite how bad the show was and depressed at how it’s confirmed so many of my own prejudices (I did want to enjoy it- honest!). I’ve also found it really funny too, particularly this week’s episode which seemed all too often to remind me of Galton and Simpson’s brilliant Tony Hancock film ‘The Rebel’. All it needed was a guest appearance from Irene Handl as Mrs Cravat, Tony’s landlady and we would have been there. The hilarious Van Der Graaf Generator sculpture was the modern day equivalent of the ‘magnificent beauty’ that was Hancock’s famous ‘Aphrodite at the Waterhole’.

I think I wasn’t so fed up with the artists themselves, it was more the critics and curators that wound me up, in particular Tracey Emin and Matthew Collings. Collings seems to increasingly lay his hat wherever seem s convenient if you ask me, or with whoever is paying. I’ve read alot of his writing over the years, and enjoyed much of it, but I find myself increasingly irritated by what he has to say. It seems to centre around a formal obsession that I find increasingly condescending to anyone who is remotely visually literate. His recent ‘Ten Things About Beauty’ on BBC Four was awful. He does argue though, and I tend to agree, most contemporary fine art is really lacking in any visual literacy...but give me Waldemar Janusczack, Andrew Graham-Dixon or Simon Schama any day. They write with insight, passion and a real commitment to their subject.

And Tracey Emin? Well, it’s taken me ages to appreciate Emin’s work, but her rampant ego and the vague self-important rubbish she spouted every time she appeared was really off-putting. I listened mildly disturbed to her ‘Desert Island Discs’ a couple of years ago where she described her tent and un-made bed as seminal pieces comparable to Picasso and Braque’s breakthrough with cubism. It’s not that I’m knocking these pieces, but they are essentially a Duchampian thing, not seminal like Picasso’s achievements in Paris. Let’s get some perspective, Tracey. I don’t think the art world has ever recovered from that urinal of Duchamp’s. I suppose my attitude to Emin is rather like that of Hancock's landlady at the start of the film. Informed that the hideous statue taking up most of his bedroom is "impressionist", she replies:
"Well, it doesn't impress me. I want it out of here."

And finally, what of the artists selected for the show? I can’t believe from the THOUSANDS that applied they couldn’t find a more interesting bunch. I think what I struggled with, and what was one of the core problems for me, was their age. They were just so young with very little to say or no meaningful practise established, which was really reflected in the work they made.

I’m just going to put a couple of pictures from ‘The Rebel’ on this blog. Tony’s School of Infantilism was head and shoulders above the School of Saatchi.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

A Slice Of Christmas Action...

I’ve just had a busy weekend at the first Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form Art Department Christmas Fair. I’ve really enjoyed myself amongst all the great regional artists that we managed to get on board to take part. These included friends such as leading ceramicists Craig Underhill, Simon Hancox, Emma Spence, and Serge Sanghera. Serge is an interesting artist whose ceramic practise revolves around his interest in the relationship between the martial art aikido and the circular movement of the clay vessel on the wheel. After some meditation Serge slices the revolving vessel with a samurai sword. His demonstrations in his martial art gear had everyone spellbound.
The vessels themselves are simple forms that when sliced create incredibly beautiful new forms from the momentum of the action as it strikes the moving clay. I loved the process of his art, the fact that they were created ‘in the moment’, with very little interference later, just a stroke of painted glaze. They had a poetic quality that really moved me. I treated myself to one of them as an early Chrimbo present (to myself!) Here’s a link to his website:

Craig Underhill

I also managed to acquire one of Craig’s vessels, which I’ve long admired but can never select one, until this weekend. We exchanged a piece for one of my recent etchings. Above is an example similar to the one I obtained. I also sold one of these etchings to photographer (and fellow Bob Dylan nut!) Tony Lawlor. We exchanged money to the sound of Bob’s wonderful ‘Christmas In The Heart’ CD tinkling in the background. It was a nice surprise to sell something. It made me feel a bit more relaxed about buying one of Serge’s vessels. My etchings received lots of good feedback, which was encouraging.

It was great chatting to all the visitors and artists over the weekend, which also included painters, clock makers, jewellers, and wood turners, and make a few new contacts. I think the students also got a lot out of meeting the artists too. We could have done with a few more visitors, but it was the department’s first event of this kind. I personally hope to see it grow. It certainly inspired me…

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

'Autumn to Winter': notes from the studio

'Alan', oil on canvas, 90 x 60cms

I’ve been busy over the last few weeks in the studio. Aside from working on ‘The Moz Award’, I’ve been trying to lock myself away to stay focussed on creating some new paintings. I’ve had a vague concept in my head of the theme ‘Autumn to Winter’ to help hang things on. I do mean only loosely though, with the idea of letting the colours and textures of the outdoors inform the formal decisions I make.

I did my first portrait in over a year, ‘Alan’, a portrait of Alan Cheeseman who owns and curates the Chameleon Gallery in Walsall. I really enjoyed doing it, and it was good to re-connect with this side of my work. I feel it has a more confident and ‘up’ feel than a lot of the work I’ve made recently. I have often felt the best portraits I’ve made express all that I want to say as an painter. I think at the moment however, I need to keep pushing the ‘nature’ paintings where things are less comfortable, such as the one below based on a study of an autumn tree.

'November' oil on canvas, 120 x 100cms

This is a larger painting, and painted very loosely. I surprised myself at how loose I was happy to keep it, but it just seemed quite quickly to become it’s own thing that I didn’t feel that it needed my hand interfering with it anymore. I wanted it to look like it was painted outdoors ‘plein air’, like the study it was made from, and think it does this and more. It was great fun.

'Wild Flowers', oil on canvas, 100 x 150cms

This blue painting, ‘Wild Flowers’ was made from further studies I had that informed my very large ‘Eve Of The Day’ painting. Initially it was intended to continue an exploration of the formal decisions I made there, and it was this, but since it’s creation it has very much asserted it’s own identity to me. I’ve really learned to like this one.

'Yellow and Purple', oil on canvas, 85 x 70cms

‘Yellow and Purple’(above) was shown hot off the easel at my recent ‘Thirteen’ exhibition. It was still wet as I put it on the wall, but often my paintings are. This and the large painting I did this last weekend on the easel in the studio photo, are based on dahlia’s my Dad planted on his allotment over the summer in my brother Stu’s favourite colours. The plot was covered in them, and each week he would bring more back to my parent’s home and put them in jars around the house. I found it very moving, and felt compelled to record this in drawings and paintings. I think the allotment has been a place to work through my Dad’s grief, as the studio has been mine. ‘Yellow and Purple’ on reflection seemed like a portrait of my Dad and Stu’s relationship. It’s ended up on my Dad’s living room wall which I’m pleased about. I did it for him.

I hope you find these notes of interest. Any comments are always welcome!

Monday, 23 November 2009

The Moz Award

I finally handed over ‘The Moz Award’ to my brother Stu’s former work colleagues today. I don’t know if you remember, but when we did the Fun Run in August they asked if I would make a piece of artwork dedicated to Stu to be handed to a different colleague each year for good work and more importantly the qualities they bought to the workplace. They wanted the award to reflect some of the values and qualities that Stu himself carried in his life and work that left such a huge affect on those around him.

I’ve worked hard on the piece over the last month or so. This was with help from my own colleague Patrick O’Donohue who is a great ceramic artist, who initially suggested some ideas for the form of the artwork inspired by the ceramics of Jiktha Parmer, who creates some wonderful painted vessels. As I’m not a 3D artist, Pat thought it would be a good approach to collaborate; where I could paint on a vessel that he had thrown. He was absolutely right.

My design was based on an initial suggestion by Stu’s workmates that reflected his love of family and his family life, based on the idea of using different hands to express this. All Stu ever really wanted in life was a family of his own so I held onto this idea, combined with a love of nature that he also had.

I normally work only from primary sources, but after a few failed attempts at drawing from my own hands to get started, I quickly realised the limits of this. Having no one else to model for me, I instead decided to make studies from lots of paintings in books in my collection, looking particularly at Renaissance artists such as Pierro Della Francesca, Mantegna, Fra Angelico, and Botticelli. I really enjoyed this and found it really absorbing. Through the act of drawing from these sources it really taught me a lot and opened up the possibilities. It’s one of the oldest artistic traditions, copying from old masters, but not one I’ve directly done much of myself. I really learned the value of it more deeply.

Pierro Della Francesca's, 'Baptism of Christ'

If I had to have a ‘desert island painting’, it would always be Pierro’s ‘Baptism of Christ’ at the National Gallery (above). There is something in the tenderness between the Christ figure and John the Baptist that I find incredibly moving. The way the whole scene is painted with both a clarity and restraint is inspiring. The actual casting of the Christ figure must be one of the greatest things in Western Art. I wanted to convey some of these feelings in the piece too if that’s not too presumptious of me.
At half term Pat threw some terrific large ceramic plates in terracotta, which were then fired and I then painted. Below is the image before it was glazed and fired again. You can see the teal blue background is much lighter before firing. I think I prefer the darker fired blue.

It was a relief handing it over today. It has been a difficult piece to make, both emotionally, and trying to work with different materials such as glaze paints. I also felt the pressure of expectation of everyone at Stu’s work. They were really pleased though, so that’s great. I remember last December when the Principal, Dr Lynne Morris MBE, retired from Joseph Chamberlain College where I teach. There was a huge send off for her and celebration of her professional achievements and her very long, prestigious career. I found it a very difficult evening, as my thoughts were full of Stu, who was by then off work and we had learned he was not going to get any better. I just thought Stu will never have any celebration of his own working life, he has just slipped quietly away home. But these last few months have proved how wrong I was as I have seen the impact Stu had on all those around him and the huge gap left behind. Now, to have an award named after him is very comforting after those feelings at that retirement evening. I feel very proud of Stu and glad I could play my own part in marking his personal and professional achievements like this.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

'Unpopular Culture'

‘Unpopular Culture’ was a recent touring exhibition featuring paintings, sculpture and photographs selected from the Arts Council Collection by artist Grayson Perry. The selection presents a very personal view of post-war British art from 1940-1980ish, and provides a subtle investigation of the mood, pace and preoccupations that underlie the period. The selection evokes a certain nostalgia, while addressing notions of place, identity and class. As Grayson Perry himself says: ‘Unpopular Culture’ conjures a picture of post-war, pre-Thatcherite Britain, more reflective, more civic, and more humane’.

Sadly I missed the exhibition, but recently bought the accompanying catalogue and found the selection really inspiring. Much of it seemed to reflect many of my own preoccupations and ambitions for my painting to do with creating an art that, in Perry’s words in the catalogue essay, ‘is subtle, sensitive, lyrical, and quiet’. I also enjoyed the sense of Britishness in the work, which can be more nostalgic and sentimental, but also find the selections have a contemporary resonance about current British society that particularly appealed. It is something I’d like to explore further in my own work, but have only touched upon in a few pieces.

It seems I also share many of Grayson Perry’s cultural passions. He says, ‘Many of the works in this show come from that span of British cultural history when the working class voice was beginning to be heard in film, photography, literature, drama and art because of post-war socialism, grammar schools and grants. The show is about Britishness, and is therefore a lot of it is about class.

David Hepher, 'Arrangement in Turquoise and Cream', oil on canvas, 1979-81

He also says funnier things, which nonetheless have resonance:

‘The sculptures and paintings…are nearly all figurative. This is a purely personal bias. Abstract art reminds me too much of beardy art lectuters with grey chest hair poking out of their denim shirts as they spout vague unchallenged tosh. I associate abstraction with unreconstructed machismo’.

Blake Morrison in his own essay for the catalogue writes, ‘Anyone knowing only that Grayson Perry is a contemporay artist might have supposed the show would be full of videos, installations, and self=conscious interrogations of ‘the meaning of art’ (there are none)… he has come up with a show, that is muted, modest, wary…a show to get us looking and thinking’.

'Slagheap', William Scott, oil on canvas, 1953

How refreshing. I’ve just been looking at the programme of events for this weekends Birmingham Contemporary Art Forum in Digbeth’s Eastside, and there does seem to be a lot of ‘self-conscious interrogations of ‘the meaning of art’’ on offer. Is it just me, or does anyone else find this increasingly boring? We’ll see. No doubt a blog will follow…

Monday, 26 October 2009

Wayne Thiebaud at Faggionato Fine Art, London

I’m excited to see that American artist Wayne Thiebaud has an exhibition on in London at Faggionato Fine Art. You don’t often see his work over here, so I’m going to try and get down to see this show and view his paintings of iconic American confectionary and San Francisco landscapes ‘in the flesh’. I feel a deep affinity with Thiebaud’s approach to painting which an excerpt from the gallery’s Press Release below demonstrates:

‘Whether a nude, a landscape, or a still life of a man’s hat, the focus is the visual language the works all share…Known as, and frequently referred to, as a ‘painter’s painter’, Thiebaud is less concerned with a naturalistic depiction or a true likeness of his subject, but more interested in solving formal issues. The artist explains: ‘Painting is a series of problems that you are trying to solve-base, colour, design, composition and those intrinsic characteristics, rather than all the things that happen afterwards extrinsically- expressions, individualism, subject matter, iconography. It’s all important, but first and foremost for me is the formal plan’

.…For all its bright modernity Thiebaud’s art readily pays homage to past traditions. While his brushwork is readily influenced by the action and colour field painters, the compositional arrangements look back to Chardin, Manet, Georgio Morandi and Edward Hopper, amongst other heroes’

Follow the link for more details. The show runs until December 18th.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Wilhelm Sasnal at K21, Dusseldorf

I recently really enjoyed a retrospective of Polish painter Wilhelm Sasnal at the K21 Modern Art Museum in Duseldorf. Diane and I enjoyed a weekend break in this great city a few weeks ago. It was nice to connect with a lot of the German artists that have so often informed my practise over the years; Gerhard Richter, Jorg Immendorff, Markus Lupertz. Many of them teach at Dusseldorf’s renowned art school The Kunstacademie, where Joseph Beuys gave many of his famous lectures. I was delighted to come across the exhibition by Sasnal, as it is the only city it has been planned for.

Sasnal is seen, like many current artists, as a post-Tuymans painter. I’ve seen many reproductions of his work over the last ten years as his reputation has grown and like Luc Tuymans the imagery for his paintings comes from many different sources; often media orientated but also personal photographs, and history too. I admire Tuymans a great deal, but came away from the exhibition that Sasnal was very much his own man. The work was so varied in its source material and also its handling. It was so difficult to define or pin down, and this was partly the point, as you moved from one very different painting to another. There was definitely a clear aesthetic being asserted though and this was what I enjoyed and related a great deal to, as it is one of the motivations behind a lot of my own painting practise.
Another interesting thing about the exhibition was a Study Room detailing Sasnal's biography but which also featured a suite of computers loaded up with albums from the artist's record collection, which when you donned the attached headphones you could enjoy. It was significant in the sense that it represented the music that Sasnal listened to while painting. It offered another dimension and insight to the sensibility behind the work. I really appreciated this, and particularly enjoyed listening to 'Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste' by Galaxie 500, a record I hadn't heard in ages, amongst many others that ranged from Slayer to The Smiths. Wilhelm had impeccable taste.
I’ve linked to a recent Guardian feature on Sasnal which discusses his work further:

There’s a really interesting painting exhibition on more locally at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery. ‘Razgulyai’ takes it’s title from the city Russian artist Semyon Faibisovich lives and works. In his huge, heroic canvasses he depicts the city’s many dispossessed individuals, many of them homeless and alcoholic. The paintings are derived by photographs taken by the artist on his mobile phone, and consequently have a weird low resolution, pixellated quality. The shadow of the artist himself looms over many of the subjects, which is a smart reference to how the paintings were created.

I’ve enjoyed both these exhibitions for the scope of the artist’s visions, and the ambition in their work. I visited some of the region’s recent MA Fine Art graduate exhibitions last month, and felt that these qualities were disappointingly absent. So much of the work seemed so uncertain of itself, almost as if the artist’s were afraid to commit to anything in their practise. Contemporary Fine Art practise does encourage a more pluralistic approach, whereas when I studied one worked more definitely in one of the main Fine Art disciplines, but even so...
Hey, I’m just a painter so what do I know, but I was left wondering how these artist’s were hoping to develop and sustain their future practise. There was a lot to learn from the example in the work of Wilhelm Sasnal and Semyon Faibisovich.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Maisie Crow and The Soul of Athens

I was recently pointed in the direction of the work of photographer Maisie Crow by a photographer friend. She’s produced some really powerful photography, such as the one above,and video work, including this one I’ve linked to at the brilliant ‘Soul of Athens’ website. ‘A Life Alone’ is about an elderly guy called Tom Rose, who talks openly and movingly about losing his wife after being married for sixty three years.
I also really enjoyed ‘Lost in Plain Sight’, a series of photographs based on a series of individuals who are not part of the mainstream because of certain choices made or circumstance. They are accompanied by some really interesting notecards by the individuals themselves. I’m not keen on things being too spelled out for me, and these cards hit just the right note between saying so much and yet leaving a space for the audience to enter the story.

Follow the two links to Maisie’s website and the ‘Soul of Athen’s’ one. There is so much to explore at the latter. Thanks to Rachel for the tip-off...

Wednesday, 30 September 2009


I’ve just installed a new exhibition of my paintings at the Bessant Gallery, at the School of Art and Design at Wolverhampton University. I’ve called the exhibition ‘Thirteen’ and it is a mixture of recent paintings with older ones. In the past with every exhibition I was keen to show completely new work, always moving on, but these days I like to view my work differently, as a sort of continuing evolving dialogue between paintings past and present and certain themes and ideas. I enjoy installing exhibitions like these where I select a number of paintings to take to the space and try and create something new in the installation that may surprise and help me and look at the work with fresh eyes.

This time I took along twenty paintings and installed thirteen. At first I was unsure what I had put together. The installation had a quiet, melancholy feel which took me a bit by surprise. But having come away from it I found this mood interesting and it did indeed surprise me and make me look at the work differently. There’s a cool colour palette that runs through the work that seemed to add to the atmosphere. Below are a few pictures of the show.

This is a new painting, 'Yellow and Purple'.

‘Thirteen’ runs until Friday October 23rd, and is on the ground floor of the School of Art and Design. If you want to go along and visit you can find the gallery if you just turn left at the reception.