Monday, 30 March 2020

Becomings - an exhibition by CSM students

Teo Burki

It seems so long ago now since we were allowed to gather together to celebrate, well, anything, so before this splendid show disappears from the memory, here’s some impressions. Opening on 12 March at the A.P.T Gallery in Deptford, the private view was a well-attended affair with lots of bubbly, and sushi, that proved difficult to eat whilst practicing good CV hygiene. But, enough of the food and onto the art.

Curated by final year and some first year MA students at Central St. Martins, in what, as it turns out now, was in effect their final degree show, it was a sadly short-lived five day exhibition, but one that I am very glad I caught before virus precautions closed it. Twenty seven students showed a wide variety of work across all media from ceramic tiles, to stone carving, to painting and video.

I’m not going to comment on each person’s work, rather I want to highlight those pieces that particularly appealed to me. Art, it’s a taste thing. So, in no particular order:

Kathryn Gee (film) & Rowan Riley (textile) presented an interesting collaboration of diaphanous embroidered textile onto which a short series of images was projected. The piece was pleasingly hung in its own side room, and had the benefit of having an iron spiral staircase behind it, which serendipitously added texture to the whole. I watched the image sequence several times and enjoyed it more on each viewing.

Painting that on first encounter is precise and perfect in its dreamy realism is the stock in trade of Sizou Chen. But look closer and you’ll see the disturbing nature of the imagery of her young, if not pre-pubescent, girls; their bodies arranged in un-natural poses and some with their limbs at impossible angles. They are disruptive and deliberately challenge the viewer – why are you looking/don’t look/ see, but look away, and so on. I found myself distinctly uncomfortable, and that is the point, and more so when I watched her animations of the paintings. Unsettling with a gloss of the beautiful, and nicely done.

Another woman artist presenting sexualised images is Tijana Petrovic. Her large scale painting, a semi-naked back view self-portrait of a woman in her stockings and panties, is another deliberate provocation to which I have a conflicted feminist response. I find it troubling that a contemporary artist would paint an image that conforms tradition and in that sense plays to the expectations of the male gaze. I did not see how, if at all, this was a reclaiming of this ground; there was no defiance, no head turned staring at the viewer. Indeed the face of this woman was absent, replaced by a head full of strawberries. Surreal? Yes sure, and beautifully executed, but I guess I wanted more from it.

The part-printed canvases of Eduardo Rebelo are fine abstractions in that they are all about colour. For me they conjure the bright palette of Southern Europe and I loved their vivacity, complementarity and bold mark making. Equally vivid is the work of Teo Burki whose piece here is a riotous collage of paper and paint presenting a multiplicity of pleasing images that require work on the part of the viewer. Initially the whole is an attractive abstract, but as one moves closer and around the canvas, one is rewarded with a number of vignettes and some very balanced painting. It’s part Twombly meets Rothko meets Matisse, but is in fact none of these.

Clara Fantoni
Total abstraction comes in the unlikely form of a large plastic sheet made quite by chance as the result of it being a groundsheet for other paintings. It is the work of Clara Fantoni who has produced/found an interesting piece with both strong and subtle marks in a secondary colour palette. She has a challenge on her hands though as to how to preserve work in this ultimately flimsy material without destroying it.

K Blick is busy exploring traditional Portuguese ceramic tile making. Here she has decorated an alcove’s worth of tiles with playful images of dinosaurs and other animals in what is a patchwork of Greek myth meets Jurassic park with a crawling baby thrown in. I rather enjoyed its mysterious wit.

Sculpture came in the form of Siân Fan’s pond of perspex waterlilies, which take the representational into the digital age, as they are in part decorated with geometric shapes for their greens. I found the superimposed disruption of other leaf patterns and other flowers, and their botanical impossibility strangely pleasing. Emma Moore’s stone cutting is pleasing for its utter simplicity of line, which exposes the beauty of the natural materials she uses. Mounting the sculpture high on steel supports is an excellent choice to bring the sun to eye level. I also enjoyed the deliberately partially-made marble piece tucked against the gallery wall. Work in progress has its own merits.

Politics was represented on a large scale by Simon Hodgkinson’s bold monochrome monotype/painting, which dramatically counterpoints the catastrophic climate present with a possible greener future. I enjoyed character spotting: Attenborough as god on his central cloud, Morrison and Trump as caged dinosaurs, Greta Thunberg as superwoman, along with a cast of endangered animals, slag heaps, pit winding gear, solar panels and windmills. It is always a challenge to show polemic lightly and with subtlety, and this work succeeds in this regard as it demands close viewing to absorb the entire conceit.

One tip I would suggest it to catalogue the show in advance. It was a pity that there wasn’t time for this, as whilst the artists’ CV’s were provided in a helpful brochure, there was no clue as to the title of any of the pieces, or indeed their prices if they had been for sale. People are pretty shy about asking the cost or work, and so it might save embarrassment all round, if a price list can be produced.

As to titles, I think artists in general are missing a trick. Untitled might be a deliberate obfuscation, but I suggest it should only be a rare one. Over-used it loses its power. More likely it might be, and probably is in most cases, just a bit lazy. Titles are hard to write – tell me about it - , but done well they can add to and not detract from the art work, provide subtle or not so subtle clues to intention and meaning, and they do not necessarily close down multiple readings. I would like to have known what all of these works were called.

Sam Shepheard-Walwyn
And now for my star of the show. The outstanding painting for me is that of Samsom Shepheard-Walwyn. Only very partly influenced by Kiefer, and only in one landscape, his two other paintings were my absolute favourite pieces for different reasons. His mythical bird was a brilliant use of paint. The boldness with which he allowed white paint to run in order to suggest the birds’ feathers was genius. And the vicious dog chasing another white bird was excellently animated, teeth and all. I’d happily have taken either of these home. Bravo.

Congratulations though to everyone  - high quality work, very well displayed. It’s just a real pity that not one of the tutors turned out to support their students’ work and efforts in mounting a professional show. They could have easily awarded the degrees on the basis of this exhibition alone. From me at least: Distinctions all round.


Friday, 6 March 2020

Afternoon Tea

It's a tradition, yes, and a bizarre one. Anyone who is not British will find it hard to understand why at 4pm everyday we stop doing whatever it is we are doing, including work, and make a cup of tea. And if we miss the hour, why we tut at ourselves and catch up pronto. More than a simple cuppa is, of course, possible. Some kind of cake or bun or sweet thing is typical too. Even a biscuit will suffice for this purpose.

But there's more. A cream tea involving scones and clotted cream and jam, in that order - don't trust anyone who puts cream on the jam -  is a lovely indulgence beyond a toasted tea cake dripping in butter, or a muffin. And that thing in the Importance of Being Earnest about cucumber sandwiches is for real. We do actually eat these, and other fillings besides, before turning our attention to the sweet stuff. But if you want the full monty in afternoon teas you need to not eat any lunch, and not plan on eating any supper either.

The best place to indulge in this lavish experience is one of the smarter hotels in London. Think The Ritz, Savoy, Dorchester or Claridges, for example, There are lesser places, but, hey, this is a once a year, special occasion treat. And be prepared to spend a pretty penny.

For my birthday this year, a very dear friend took me to The Dorchester where we indulged in two kinds of tea - I chose Ceylon and then Darjeeling - plus a third - to serve as a palette cleanser, a mixture of peach, rose and green tea unfurled into a flower in a glass flagon as we ate our sandwiches. These were of cucumber, what else? as there were some to be had in the market that morning, egg, smoked salmon, chicken, and beef. All crustless, delicious and eaten with a knife and fork. It's more than a little crass to eat this kind of tea with one's fingers.

Then the cake: first the cream tea with two kinds of scones, frutied and plain. And then the fancy cakes served on the traditional stand. At this point, and well over two hours in, we failed. We had simply eaten too much. Luckily it is not considered bad form to ask for a box in which to take one's cakes home. So, various fruity, sugary and chocolate confections found their way to accompanying my morning coffee for the next couple of days.

This odd ritual was a throughly enjoyable way to spend an afternoon/early evening, but not one that I'd want to repeat too often, as it is hardly very good for one's health or figure.

After note: Champagne is an indulgence too far for me with tea. It's not traditional and I'm a stickler, but go ahead it you have something ultra-special to toast.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Hidden London - The Wallace Collection

OK, so it's not exactly a secret, being slap bang in the middle of Manchester Square behind Selfridges, but what are hidden are some gems of eighteenth and nineteenth century French (Fragonard, Corbet), British (Reynolds, Van Dyck), Spanish (Velasquez) and Italian paintings, some earlier Dutch masters (Rembrandt and co), a lot of Renaissance works, and some of the auctioned off contents of Le Petit Trianon.

The best way to tackle this confection of gilt bling furniture, objets and art is to wander and let your eye fall of the beautiful things that attract you without letting the sometimes overwhelming wall paper blind you. To my shame I have never been to this fabulous free museum before and I am glad that I have now put that right at my companion's invitation.

The thing that I most wanted to bring home was a Dutch painting called The Lace Maker - no, not that one by Vermeer, but the one by Netscher. I loved her embroidered cap, red jacket and the casual way she has kicked off her shoes. I also rather fancied any one of the collection of portrait miniatures and the gold trinket boxes. Or failing those then I would settle for one of three bronze snakes coiled in their Gordian knots.

I focussed on the art, even when it was badly hung - who puts a portrait above a door frame if it is to be seen? There are some famous things here too, like the Laughing Cavalier, who is not so much guffawing as smirking rather sarcastically, and whose vertical moustache would put the nearest hipster to shame. Plus royal and court portraits by Lawrence, society ladies by Reynolds and Fragonard's The Swing were familiar and surprisingly at home.

This was a rainy Sunday treat, which is more than can be said for our afternoon tea in the courtyard cafe as we had to queue for a table for quite a while, and for the tea for even longer, uncoordinated as it was with the cake appearing and consumed long before my pot of Darjeeling. Best avoid that.

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Dora Maar - Tate Modern


Oh dear - nice commerical fashion photography and one or two surreal photographs that can claim the status of iconic, but really, a whole retrospective? I think not. And probably only because of her relationship with Picasso, and that whole revising the cannon project - fine, if the art merits it, but not here. Take a look at her paintings, watercolours etc. Not good. Not at all. There was one I loved, but only because it reminded me of the diminutive Spaniard. Hey ho. On your head be it if you go.

Poets for the Planet

I am delighted to have been part of this all day (February 8th) charity poem-a-thon organised by Poets for the Planet.

The whole thing was live streamed and recorded. My few minutes of glory can be viewed here.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Olafur Eliasson at Tate Modern

Summer holidays and well into the autumn, then it must be time for some block busting inter-active art. But while you are there, don't be too busy walking through the kaleidoscope, or in the cloud room of changing colours, or at the strangely disembodied fountain to take a really good look at the fancy light fittings and the brilliant photographs.

Intent on documenting the shrinking glaciers of Iceland, these should be an almost too late wake up call. I especially liked the room long miscellany wall of cuttings, articles and photographs, which shows some deep thinking on art, environmentalism and climate change. And the paintings made by melting glacier ice were intriguing.

Go, but be prepared, it's packed and there are queues for some of the rooms. And it's a little curate's eggy in places: thin wave tanks, and a candle on a circular mirror - really? My companion loved the reindeer moss wall, although I couldn't detect its scent over my own perfume.

Monday, 30 September 2019

When art does not enhance the garden

The Chihuly at Kew is generally a masterpiece - see earlier post - but there was one part of it that really disturbed me.

Japanese gardens, as we know, are designed as one integral piece, and are works of art in their own right. Rocks are placed to be mountains. Different gravels form rivers and streams, or bolder strewn borders. Moss makes for painterly covering. A limited palate of well sited and well trained planting gives interest year round. It is an ancient art, practiced by masters and mediated over daily.

Japanese gardens are a joy to behold if you sympathise with the aesthetic. They can take your breath away. But what they do not need is an intrusion of alien colour.

I found the placing of coloured glass spheres at Kew so out of keeping as to be garish, so disrespectful to the garden as to be offensive. They were simply otiose and should have found a home elsewhere.

There, I've said it - quite a mis-step that made the garden look like a game of Disney marbles.