Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Secret Place...

I completed this painting yesterday. This piece and the last one, feel more ‘built’ than previous paintings. I’m also enjoying (and understanding) working from photographs more now; exploring the idea of translating from one medium to another, looking at and appreciating the differences in visual language and the very different processes used to make the image, and frankly the freedom of having images available to work from when studio time often feels so limited.  I can’t wait to develop the next one, whatever that may be…

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Man Gave Names To All The Animals...

Tessa Farmer, 'Swarm' 

‘The Nature  of the Beast’ is an exhibition well worth a visit at the New Art Gallery, Walsall. I found myself there last week attracted by it’s theme of animals in art, which is something I’m really interested in. There is something about the mystery, power and appearance of animals and creatures that I find really fascinating, so it was great to visit this exciting exhibition that was all about some of these issues and featured a range of contemporary artists working in painting, drawing, sculpture and photography. 
Olly and Suzi, 'Spider', aquarelle pencil on paper
I was greeted up the stairs by a really large aquarelle coloured pencil drawing of a rather menacing spider blown up to gigantic proportions by artistic collaborators, Olly and Suzi, who work on location together on expeditions across the continents, and even under the sea, attempting to get close to their, often very dangerous, subjects in their natural habitat.  Elsewhere they were represented by some other lovely drawings of swarms of scurrying ants, beetles and cockroaches across large sheets of paper, rendered very directly using inks in an almost calligraphic way. I loved those. 
 Olly and Suzi, 'Ants', ink on paper
Olly and Suzi, 'Dungbeetles', ink on paper
There were also some very large and beautiful photographs by Matt Collishaw of squashed butterflies captured at the moment of death as they are pressed between two glass slides. They were suitably simultaneously beautiful and incredibly melancholy. These photos surrounded the surreal taxidermy sculptures of Polly Vernon, where dead foxes and a large deer were being seemingly attacked or occupied by other creatures such as birds, and even an octopus, whose tentacles were being pulled out of various orifices of the poor fox. The deer, however was displayed on its side with its stomach slit open which was now host to a nest of hanging bats. It was incredible. The installation by artist Tessa Farmer (top image) was even better with an army of ants and crabs marching across the floor, which I feared I would squash with my big feet and then be set upon in an insect frenzy, similar to the fate of the  adjacent python overwhelmed by vicious, biting creatures. Above and around you were hundreds of flies, bees and other insects and weird things that were wonderful to observe ‘eyeball to eyeball’, as it were. 
Polly Morgan, 'Hide and Fight', taxidermy and mixed media

Polly Morgan, 'Harbour' (detail), taxidermy, rubber and mixed media
The six life size paintings of prize bulls by Mark Fairington were also impressive, looking photographic in their detail from a distance, but much more painterly up close, but my favourite exhibit was the ‘Sphinx’ by artist Patricia Piccinini, a sculpture representing ideas imagining a future world of cloning and laboratory created hybrid creatures. It was made from fiberglass and so life-like with it’s veiny skin covered in tiny hairs, and genitalia like mouth I found it genuinely disturbing and nightmarish. I've since looked into her website and it's full of equally thought-provoking and disturbing work.
Mark Fairnington, 'Wroxall Tracer', oil on canvas,  235 x 367cms
 Patricia Piccinini, 'Sphinx', fibreglass, resin, human hair

Well, if I haven’t sold that show to you in this post there is definitely something wrong…!

Monday, 13 May 2013

John Grant in Birmingham

I was lucky enough to see John Grant (above) perform last Thursday night in Birmingham at the HMV Institute Library. He was incredible. His current album, ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ is pretty much all that I have listened to since it was released, often at the sort of volume that makes the mirrors on your car shake as I’ve whizzed along the motorway (the album came with a bonus CD of 6 remixes of three of the tracks that I have particularly loved with their heavy retro club feel). Hearing the songs performed live, playing all eleven of the albums tracks, with his terrific Icelandic backing band was incredibly powerful, especially the really loud fat, squelchy bass of the new electronic material, which made your whole body vibrate right to the core. At the centre of this was Grant himself, warm and funny, and sometimes sad, between songs, before giving the most intense performances of almost any artist I’ve seen. He has a tremendously rich, timbered voice that reaches all sorts of places most singers could never reach on songs that really left me struck by their originality. As a songwriter he has great melodic gifts that reference all sorts of things musically, but his funny, bitter, twisted, dark and deeply personal lyrics are what really make him really stand apart.  The encore was largely made up of songs from his debut ‘Queen of Denmark’ album, which I singled out as my favourite record of the year on this blog in 2010. It was great hearing these songs performed live- they had a more intimate quality, apart from the storming title track, which just blew the lid off the place with its crunching guitar crescendos. Great fun. 
I think the new album definitely has the edge on the debut. It seems more original and a better realization of Grant’s influences from what I have read in recent interviews. In interview he is also very candid about his troubled psyche, both past and present, with problems with addiction, dealing with his homosexuality, and more recently his diagnosis as HIV positive. Still, he describes how ‘I still feel a childlike wonder in the world. I’m like a cockroach. No matter how many times I’m crushed I still get back up’. I can get that.
 The support band were great too. Not one to stereotype, but as soon as they walked on with their slightly unusual haircuts and funny boots tucked in skin tight trousers, all cheek bones, I clocked them and thought they must be from Iceland. Indeed, Asgeir Trausti (above) and his band were Icelandic, and played some wonderful Bon Iver with more synthesizers like songs that I’ve been enjoying ever since having bought the album on the way out, my ears still ringing, a big ear to ear smile on my face from what had been a truly memorable night…