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Archive for the ‘Fine Arts’ Category

A Little Book Review: Ruin Lust by Brian Dillon.

In Art, Books, Exhibition, Fine Arts on March 5, 2014 at 5:49 pm
Ruin Lust by Brian Dillon, 2014. Published by Tate to accompany the exhibition Ruin Lust at Tate Britain, 4th March - 18th May 2014.

Ruin Lust by Brian Dillon. Digital Image © Tate, London 2014. Published by Tate to accompany the exhibition Ruin Lust at Tate Britain, 4th March – 18th May 2014.

It’s very lazy of me to talk about a book when that book is about an exhibition. However, the exhibition’s in London and I am far away from there, with hardly a penny to my name. So I spent what pennies I do have on this charming little book.

It’s beautiful. It fits into a (large) pocket. It takes about half an hour to read from cover to cover. Perfect!

I was actually working when I discovered Ruin Lust. It appeared when I lifted another book out of a box that had just been delivered to the shop. Obviously, I had to stop working immediately and see what ‘ruin lust’ actually is.

Ruin lust – or ruinenlust – is a term coined by novelist Rose Macaulay in 1953 and refers to our ongoing fascination with remains, whether architectural, mechanical or otherwise, in both rural and urban settings. The author, Brian Dillon, explains that ruins “allow us to set ourselves loose in time, to hover among past, present and future” (p6). Perhaps this is why I get in such a sombre mood when I walk through the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey: there’s the tumult of the past to consider, beauty to admire, and the corrosive passage of time to acknowledge.

I’d have been happy to read this book if it was three times its actual length. Saying that, it’s a succinct introduction to an intriguing and visually alluring subject. But don’t take my word for it – go and see the exhibition at Tate Britain.

A superfluous afterthought:
My only real bug with Ruin Lust – this is where it gets petty – is Dillon’s reference to the Zone as “a derelict territory whose name derives from Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker” (p41). Stalker is based on the Strugatsky brothers’ novel Roadside Picnic, published in 1971. Although the screenplay was adapted by the brothers, I think it’s a bit cheeky to claim that the Zone originates from the film. I only say this because I’m sad that such a good book gets neglected so often!


I Like People.

In Art, Drawing, Fine Arts, Life Drawing on November 25, 2012 at 5:54 pm

I really do like people, especially if I’m drawing them.

As I’ve made the decision to start painting again I thought it would be prudent to actually take pencil to paper and see if my approach to drawing has undergone a miraculous transformation in the last six years. It hasn’t, other than the fact that I cannot remember how to draw (properly, that is; the pencil landed on the paper just fine).

I can’t draw hands and feet any more. I can’t make hair shine. I can’t gauge perspective. But one thing that did resurface like a drowning man who just found the hole in the ice was the lines. Lines are great; I could draw the line of a waist or an arm all day. Forget tone; forget chiaroscuro; just the outline.

It’s no wonder that I’m fond of Matisse’s figure drawings and of Schiele’s writhing pencil marks. There are whole archives of renowned and forgotten scribblings that I’ve amassed onto my hard-drive over the last ten years, and yes, lots of them are faces and bodies cast in shadow. But give me a Chillida drawing over a Singer-Sargent study any day.

Drawing, like any other skill, requires persistence in order to maintain high standards. I’m not the arty swot I once was as a pre-university adolescent, but it’s still a bit of a shock when you realise that your current self can’t do something with half as much dexterity as your fifteen year old self could. For now, however, the joy is simply in the act of drawing.

With no intention of sounding over-sentimental, sitting and knocking elbows in a badly lit, crowded room and drawing mostly-naked people felt liberating. I almost felt younger, no doubt because I was doing what I did best as a teenager, having for some reason shirked the ‘classic’ artistic skills since adulthood.

The life drawing class that I attended on Tuesday was casual with some experienced artists and some beginners. Drawing advice was given if asked for, and offered competently when desired. Don’t be scared of a nude stranger standing in front of you; give life drawing a chance. If nothing else it will send you home feeling relaxed and, most importantly, with a sense of having done something different, productive and exciting.

While there isn’t a UK-wide website listing the times and whereabouts of local life-drawing classes, try local art schools and colleges or indie bars and cafés – there’ll be something happening close by. For those of you in the US, Art Model Book’s website is an amazing resource for finding your nearest life drawing class.

The Exhibition Must Go On.

In Art, Exhibition, Fine Arts on August 16, 2012 at 5:31 pm

Laura Lillie at Howard Gardens Gallery, Cardiff 2012

The summer is nearly over. June’s smorgasbord of students, private views and liquor-soaked celebrations has dissipated. Now graduates, they hunt for employment, perhaps returning to the nest or living in packs in the city. But for a small handful of people the show is only just beginning: Masters students everywhere are preparing for their autumn exhibition.

Having forgotten how to make art myself I’ve decided to live vicariously through friends that have remained in art school. At this very moment I’m listening to a woman noisily scraping underglaze pencils across what can only be described as ‘plate-cones’ and watching another student tie and hang spherical bulges of latex from a shelf. At the moment we’re the only ones inhabiting the modest white cube gallery that we’re sitting in; in three weeks’ time it will be teeming with works of art, observers and free booze.

It’s a strange activity, exhibiting your work to tides of people. It can be exhilarating but it can leave you feeling exposed. When I ask one of the women, Laura Stevenson, how she feels about the impending exhibition she looks up from her ceramic plate-cones and grins. ‘Fiiiine! We’re miles ahead, it’ll be fine.’ Laura’s an artist after my own heart – expertly prepared – but there will no doubt be mania simmering in the warren of every art school. It’s just more expertly dealt with because the students are older, wiser, and more acclimatised to the way exhibiting makes you want to bang your head on the wall instead of hanging your painting on it.

Context, Context, Context: The seizing of Seizure.

In Fine Arts, Installation, Site Specific on July 31, 2012 at 9:42 am

‘Seizure’ 2008, Roger Hiorns. Photograph Marcus Leith.

This month the Arts Council announced that Roger Hiorns’ council flat/copper sulphate installation Seizure has been removed from its original home in South London’s Elephant and Castle. It’s future home: the beautiful Yorkshire Sculpture Park, a haven of mindfully placed, mostly large-scale sculptures in the Wakeshire countryside.

Assuming that the basic structure of the flat is still intact, the startling crystalline-encased walls will no doubt be a visual success in the North. But what impact does this relocation have on the meaning of the artwork? For an installation that began as 75,000 litres of copper sulphate solution being pumped into a disused urban council flat, how will it be redefined for the viewer?

Hiorns himself seemed relatively enthusiastic about the transfer of Seizure according to the Guardian: “I was more than happy to complicate its future: if you have the opportunity to complicate things, then you should always take it.” What I can’t find, however, is exactly why it was made in the first place (not that I believe a reason is necessary). In the same article he states that he just “set up the right scenario for it to exist”. It’s an interesting take on making artwork: the human as a mere device.

There is also the other question that comes to mind: would it’s destruction have added something to the ‘cult’ of the artwork, as it is referred to in the article above? Like Whiteread’s House (1993), although generally lamented, it could be argued that its erasure somehow makes the work more appealing.

‘House’ 1993, Rachel Whiteread

No matter. Despite all of these questions, maybe even doubts, I’m looking forward to witnessing Seizure. It may not be site-specific any more but experiencing it in Yorshire Sculpure Park is just another way to experience it. And there isn’t anything wrong about that.


In Fine Arts, Identity, Life on June 15, 2012 at 6:40 pm


There comes a time in everyone’s life when they realise that they have no idea what they’re doing.

As you may have realised from my previous blog post (and from the prolonged, empty cyber-gap on this site between then and now), I reached that point a few months ago.

It’s been quite a fascinating experience. I haven’t written a single, solitary word. I haven’t bothered with even a page of literature*. The only films I’ve watched have been along the lines of Kung-Pow and Superstar: Dare to Dream! which we all know are not really films; they are things created solely for the purposes of procrastination and despair.

This has to change. Last week, as I was writing a reserve note for a customer at work I spelled the word ‘call’ wrong. And the word ‘please’. Hopefully I gained points for attempting to use pleasantries, but the degeneration of my skills is still pretty impressive.

So now I finally have it: scientific proof that literature and writing improves intelligence. I have to read in order to be able to spell four letter words.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I’ve missed all that stuff. The syntactically complex sentences; the long, meaningful gazes between art-house characters; the questioning of what that painting fucking means. I think it’s time to welcome pretention back into my life once more.

So…I’ve missed you, arty stuff. Welcome back into my life.

*This is a lie. In February I read Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, but as it’s technically a humour book I’m choosing to consider it invalid; books that make you snort coffee out of your nose don’t count.

Writing about Looking.

In Fine Arts on January 2, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Norman Rockwell's 'Connoisseur,' The Saturday Evening Post, January 13, 1962 (cover). Private collection.

I would like to open this blog entry with a confession:

I have never read any Marcel Proust.

Or is that a disclaimer? I just thought I’d get it out of the way, because what I’ve been mulling over these last few days seems to keep bouncing back to the French author and his À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time/Remembrance of Things Past).

I’ve been thinking about methods of describing emotional responses to art.

This is intertwined with the physical act of looking at an artwork. I recently discovered the horrors of having to attempt this in a short story – the first of the term (and it shows). My protagonist embarks on a journey to discover a portrait of Rubens’ wife, Helene, and on encountering the object becomes enraptured. Sparks fly, emotions soar, tears are shed. You get the idea.

Except sparks didn’t really fly. Emotions did not soar. It had never occurred to me before: I have no idea how you write about art on an emotional level. I’m not talking about art as an object ripe for description, but instead about the personal, emotive affect that it has on an individual. I fell prey to this struggle more recently with my post about British Art Show 7, for which I intended a follow-up entry regarding the artworks that particularly enamoured me and my friends. Listing them was instinctive enough, but trying to type their significance wasn’t just problematic…it was embarrassing.

And this leads me back to Proust. Edmund de Waal, in his recent and wonderful book The Hare with Amber Eyes, describes Proust’s mega-prose as being “suffused not just with references to Giotto and…Renoir, but, by the act of looking at paintings, by the act of collecting and remembering what it was to see something, with a memory of the moment of apprehension” (p106).

The “moment of apprehension” is an ideal way to describe one aspect of experiencing an artwork. Perhaps, as de Waal goes on to consider, it is also about learning to “stand back and then move forward,” both in front of an artwork and in your subsequent recollections of it. How well this will translate into writing, or to other people, I can’t say, as it doesn’t just depend on the artwork but on the writer, too. And that’s what terrifies me.

The British Art Show 7: In the Days of the Comet.

In Exhibition, Fine Arts on December 6, 2011 at 2:24 pm

It looks like I’m not the only one who’s had thoughts of time on the brain recently. The British Art Show 7 (BAS7) also seemed to be concerned with the ticking clock. In this instance, however, the artists and curators were not just observing the linear passage of time but were considering it from all angles. Hence why they borrowed H. G. Wells’ title In the Days of the Comet for the show’s subtitle, as one of the two curators, Lisa Le Feuvre, explains in her essay Present Tense:

“BAS7 uses the motif of the comet to locate artists’ responses to our own uncertain and inconclusive times. Due to their looping, recurrent nature, comets are simultaneously of the past, present and future.”*

So in the BAS7 we are faced with art that addresses the future and the past whilst simultaneously confronting and existing in the present. Yikes.

Mick Peter, 'Moldenke Fiddles On' 2008-2009 © Mick Peter, Courtesy the Artist and Galerie Crèvecoeur

BAS7 is the most enjoyable and thought-provoking exhibition that I’ve seen in a good while. I caught it on its final day in Plymouth, where it was pleasantly spread between five venues: The Slaughterhouse, Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, Plymouth Arts Centre, the Peninsula Arts Gallery and Plymouth College of Art. Consisting of 39 artists and artist groups, it has been held every five years since the first BAS in 1979, with each exhibition touring to various cities throughout the UK. The artists were all British or based in Britain, and the variety of work on display was vast; it consisted of sculpture, painting, film and video, sound, installation, performance and drawing, plus all the bits in-between.

Sarah Lucas, 'NUDS' © Sarah Lucas, Courtesy the artist and Sadie Coles

There was a smattering of familiar names in BAS7. Charles Avery, Roger Hiorns, Sarah Lucas, Nathaniel Mellors and Wolfgang Tillmans to name but a few. I was unfamiliar with many of the artists (guilty as charged) but was particularly impressed by many of them. Elizabeth Price’s comically philosophical video overlaid with Ah-Ha’s Take On Me, Varda Caivano’s abstract paintings, David Nooman’s astonishing tapestry, Alasdair Gray’s bold drawings and Maaike Schoorel’s ghostly portaits; I could go on, and this isn’t even naming the artworks that really drew me in. I’m still contemplating those.

Alasdair Gray, 'Andrew Gray aged 7 and Inge's Patchwork Quilt' 2009 © Alasdair Gray, Courtesy the artist and Sorcha Dallas

BAS7 was certainly a lot to take in. I suppose that’s where the success of an exhibition such as this lies: in its variety. A show of this magnitude is going to contain art that causes you to recoil in horror, disgust or even worse, boredom and indifference. But there’ll also be work that entices and excites you, that hooks and reels you in. If you got the chance to experience the British Art Show 7, I hope it did both of these things. It’s way more fun if you see both sides of the coin.

Visit the British Art Show 7 website for more information and artist links.

*Page 21, British Art Show 7 Exhibition Catalogue, Hayward Publishing 2011

Welcome to the Google Art Project.

In Exhibition, Fine Arts, New Media on December 1, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Last time I wrote a blog it was on a paper napkin. This time it’s on a phone. So why do I keep forgetting to pack my pen and notebook, when previously they were as necessary a part of my daily luggage as my wallet and keys?

In all honesty, forgetting my notebook isn’t the travesty that it used to be. Typing, computers and portable digital devices are here to stay, providing solar flares don’t catch us out any time soon. I could go on about examples of the transformation of analogue to digital but my intention isn’t to patronise; everyone is aware of technology’s increasing omnipresence throughout the world. Our lives are hectic but more efficient, more communicative and yet isolated, and we can be introduced to experiences we may never have had the opportunity to see 10 years ago.

But can digital experiences really be as insightful and exciting as the genuine article? This is a question I continuously asked myself throughout my endeavours as a digital art student, and I have never reached a solid conclusion. Or rather, after considering both sides I was won over by the validity of each argument.

Above is Amit Sood’s TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) video for the Google Art Project: ‘building a museum of museums on the web.’ If you’ve got time, give it a watch – it’s pretty exciting. What with this and the TV/cinematic broadcasting of Leonardo da Vinci’s current exhibition at the National Gallery, it looks like the people upstairs are trying to make art more accessible to a wider audience.

The quandary we are left with is this: what can the digital presentation of an artwork offer us that the original cannot? And, of course, what are we missing when we look at, say, Chris Ofili’s No Woman, No Cry on a computer screen instead of in the flesh?

Chris Ofili 'No Woman, No Cry' (1998) © Victoria Miro Gallery, London. Photo: Tate Photography

Objects in Time.

In Fine Arts on October 10, 2011 at 10:40 am

'Inhale (Yellow', 2002, Michael Craig-Martin

I think very well in lectures. That isn’t meant to be insulting to the speakers, because I genuinely try my best to listen attentively. Maybe it’s just the concentrated atmosphere of listening and thinking from the general audience. Today, for instance, I went to see a talk given by artist Michael Craig-Martin. One of the perks of being a student again is access to events such as this, and I felt a calming rush of excitement (contradictory, I know, but that’s what it was) as people thronged in and settled in their chairs. Once the infectious buzz abruptly receded with the first introductory taps of the microphone, I almost felt at home again. It didn’t matter that I was in a new town, with new people. Art is home.

That sounds hopelessly tacky, but I’m all for being honest and that’s how I felt. Comfort wasn’t my immediate reaction, however; whilst the audience had been buzzing, two women were talking across me about various goings on in the art world surrounding us here in this little town, prompting an initial rush of displeasure. This didn’t stem from the two women, who were pleasant and enthusiastic; it stemmed from my sudden awareness that I am completely out of the loop. Clueless. I’m having to start all over again.

When London-based curator David Sturgess began his interview with Craig-Martin I started to pay attention. And a focused mind for me is a productive mind; strangely, I can’t concentrate on one thing without concentrating on another.

Michael Craig-Martin’s work is not to my taste, although I can greatly appreciate his talent and boundless dedication. I can see the value in what he does. Whether or not I like looking at it seems irrelevant. You don’t have to like a person’s work to like them and their philosophies.

And so I started thinking about images. That sounds broad – bear with me.

I was thinking about images through time, and how certain objects (for the sake of argument I’m including living beings in this definition of ‘objects’) have appeared continuously through time, and how their representation has changed. It sounds so obvious it almost appears a worthless topic to mention, let alone write about. But I can’t shake the idea of an object existing hundreds of years ago and existing now (I’m not talking about literally the same object, but the same type of object) and it being represented in completely varying ways over time.

This thought may sound broad and slightly objective, as I could refer to variants in social trends and cultural ideologies when I talk about the re-representation of an object, but I am also considering it from a smaller, more subjective standpoint. This was prompted by Craig-Martin’s discussion of his own representation of images. He draws an object, a table for instance, depicting only its most common features, its edges and surfaces. He uses line to create a universally recognised image of that object and when he needs a picture of that object once more, he reuses it. Perhaps its proportions will change in relation to other items surrounding it, but it is essentially the exact same image. So throughout his painting repertoire we are presented with reproduced images again and again.

'The Ambassadors', 1533, Hans Holbein the Younger

It was the globe in Craig-Martin’s Reading With Globe (1980) that sparked questions about representation through time. When I saw it I immediately thought of Hans Holbein’s Ambassadors (1533). It is one of my favourite paintings and I spent many an hour studying reproductions of it when I was young. I used to suffer a sense of awe and wonderment when I looked at it, an experience magnified a thousand-fold when I visited it in the flesh.

And here was Craig-Martin’s globe, simplified and reproduced. It didn’t tantalise me in the same way that Holbein’s did, but the contrast between each artists’ portrayal of this object fascinated me for new reasons.

Reading with Globe, 1980, Michael Craig-Martin

An image of a globe in one painting symbolises power and omniscience, in another it represents normality and mass production. One object, two images and various interpretations and meanings.

As of yet I haven’t quantified whether I’m trying to come to some conclusion about artists or about objects. It may be that I care about neither and instead am interested in social and cultural trends in representation. Umberto Eco records these developments magnificently in his book On Beauty (Maclehose Press, 2004), in which he charts our depictions of Madonna and Christ throughout history. The array of contrasts and transformations are intriguing.

Not Thinking About Art.

In Fine Arts on May 25, 2011 at 9:08 am

I hastily drafted this post in a local coffee shop, where for all intents and purposes I had gone to read. It didn’t occur to me until I had typed it up later that, whilst I made it explicit in the article that it wasn’t going to be a Fine Art-related post, it ended up being entirely about art.

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi 'Akashi Gidayu Writing His Death Poem Before Committing Seppuku in 1582' (around 1890)

This is the first time I have written anything on a napkin. Anything coherent, that is; I can’t count the hours me and my classmates wasted doodling obscenities on school canteen napkins. I don’t intend for this post to match those expletives in quantity (or quality), however. No, this is more intended as a harmless meander through my thoughts right now.

Depsite leaving the flat unarmed, my mind immediately set itself the task of writing something, anything, as long as it wasn’t about art. Fine Art that is; I’m still open to thoughts and ideas about the wider arts.

The previous statement no doubt sounds more pessimistic than my disposition genuinely is toward Fine Art at the moment; I’d say that my attitude towards [relationship with] the subject has actually reached a relatively ambivalent level. It’s certainly giving me more joy than it has at any other point since graduating last July. As a matter of fact, I’m beginning to recall some of the reasons why I chose to study Fine Art in the first place, and for once I’m not completely clueless regarding the possible causes of this: it is because, despite my recent silence on this blog, I have been writing about art – and art only – elsewhere. And in order to do that I’ve had to really start looking again.

It’s so easy to forget to look at something, or to forget how it should be looked at. It’s even easier not to bother contemplating or writing about what you’ve observed. Luckily for me the two activities are naturally symbiotic; if I take the time to do one I will inevitably feel compelled to do the other, because I can only discover what I may or may not know know about something if I put it in writing.

So I was really, really lucky when I landed a voluntary job writing for a small art and design column. There is something exciting about having a weekly deadline and knowing that by this time next week I will have discovered another artist or artwork that excites me. It has, for the first time in well over a year, encouraged me to spread my prized art books and texts in front of me, looking and reading for hours until I find that one piece or story that makes me want to devour more. Moments like that are often fleeting but they are precious reminders.

All this time spent observing has also begun to make curiosity re-spark certain queries in my mind. I had forgotten, for instance, how few contemporary women artists are represented in the books that I own. The drastic imbalance is intriguing and is a subject that I don’t wish to shy away from.

Another curiosity is of a more personal nature, one I haven’t properly considered since I left drawing and painting behind: my increasing aversion to oil painting and my affection for monochromatic draftsmanship.

Ernesto Caivano 'Philapore Tug (Due Tension)' 2009

In life drawing classes I was only ever interested in the lines that constructed the form, not in the gradients that rendered it life-like. There is something about a clean, delicate but confidant black line on a piece of quality cream paper that satisfies me more than any other aesthetic. It was the Japanese artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi‘s drawing of Akashi Gidayu (see beginning of post) that first reignited my feelings on the subject, inspired further by my research into contemporary draftsmen such as Ernesto Caivano.

This re-acquaintance is tied in with yet another that has technically already been made explicit: draftsmanship. It has been over three years since I completed a painting or drawing that wasn’t a hasty caricature or frivolous parody, despite my dedication to both mediums for the majority of my first twenty years on this planet. I almost feel ashamed that I abandoned them, as if I have callously forsaken a faithful sibling.

I suppose I left drawing and painting behind because I know that one day I will revert back to them; there will come a time when I will experience something and instinctively reach for the pencil or paintbrush. It’s not quite the right time yet, but it will happen. And, as I am beginning to now, I will savor the joy of completely re-acquainting myself with an old friend.

Old school - my last completed portrait (2005-6)