Review of Harold Cohen exhibition now published by Studio International

Harold Cohen, First Sighting, 2012, oil over pigment ink on canvas

Can one human’s artistic knowledge be encoded? That is what artist Harold Cohen set out to do when he created AARON, his art making computer program. Read my review published in Studio International and go and see the show at Gazelli Art House in London (on till 19 November). Also of interest is my panel discussion held in the Gallery on the 25 October, watch the recording here.

Roger Law

I very much enjoyed a talk given by Roger Law in aid of the Wells United Charities, in Norfolk this week.  Law, as one half of Luck & Flaw created the fantastically satirical Spitting Image for television in the 1980s & 90s.  He brought along one of his brilliantly-crafted Margaret Thatcher puppets (in all they made over 2,000 different puppets all by hand):roger-law-2However Law always made ceramics on the side (remember the ‘ugly’ mugs of politicians and royalty?) and what was most interesting was hearing him describe his recent experiences making pots in China.  These 3mm thick vessels are carved deeply into the surface by the artist with beautiful images of flora and fauna, seen during the time he was artist in residence at the National Art School, Sydney.  In fact he says he often had to reassure his Chinese assistants that such creatures as mudskippers really do exist!

Roger Law is a remarkable draughtsman and his talk was illustrated with his own sketches to illustrate the processes of making and the characters he encountered in Jingdezhen, a city famous for porcelain.  Here he is able to work with highly skilled specialists and as he says, it was “very good to learn to fail, which was impossible in the UK”.  Experimentation is difficult in the UK due to the high overheads in the industrial potteries meaning commercial interests must take precedence.

This is his postcard-sized work of art created for my recent Secret Postcards project, in aid of the Maltings, Wells-next-the-Sea.

Roger Law, watercolour & ink on card, 2016
Roger Law, watercolour & ink on card, 2016

Ninety-nine artists from across East Anglia produced a total of 123 miniature (6x4inch) paintings which we sold at a fundraiser on 6 October at Holkham Hall for £60 each.  This event raised in excess of £30K.  I worked on this project for many months and was incredibly touched by the generosity of all the participating artists including the hard work which had clearly gone into each and every card – the beauty and sheer high quality, they truly were miniature masterpieces.  Thank you again to Roger Law.

Book Review: The Art of Jeremy Gardiner Unfolding Landscape

JG bookMy review of Jeremy Gardiner’s beautifulnew book is out now in the Art Quarterlymagazine. Read a PDF here.

Jeremy Gardiner (1957- ) aims to help us experience the changing face of the earth through his art and to this end has spent decades exploring the ancient history of the Jurassic Coast. This book calls his art A vision of landscape as an inscribed tableau of ancient geological or man-made patterns (Peter Davies). The results of Gardiner’s study of place lie within this handsome hardback, which situates him firmly within the history of the great English tradition of landscape painting stretching from Constable to Nash.

See also my previous article about Gardiner’s digital art practice here.

A Bigger (Digital) Splash

David Hockney, perhaps Britain’s most famous living artist, has never been one to shy away from the use of new technology. Whilst a student at the Royal College of Art he embraced acrylic paints when they were still quite new in the 1960s and has used the photocopying machine and a Polaroid camera to create collages, exploiting the unique characteristics of each of these mediums. Recently Hockney has turned to the iPad and this month’s image, from a group called The Arrival of Spring in East Yorkshire, was made on the iPad, printed out on a large scale and is currently on show at the Royal Academy, London. Read the full article here:  See also a related post here:

Wonderful new Graham Sutherland show at Oxford

A marvellous new exhibition of around 80 pen & ink drawings, watercolours and gouaches has just opened at Modern Art Oxford. These rarely seen works on paper, borrowed from private collections and mostly regional museums (no doubt where much of it has been residing in storage for many years), demonstrate Sutherland’s almost obsessive drive to paint his subject the English and Welsh landscape, over and over again each time capturing something new  a subtle change in form, or light or colour. Sutherland’s post-war thorn cross & head paintings, his giant tapestry at Coventry Cathedral are well-known, but in this show we see a quieter side to him and through careful curation are able to learn about his working methods.

The exhibition has been selected and curated by George Shaw a painter whose own work centers on depictions of Tile Hill, a post-war council housing estate on the south side of Coventry where he grew up (and in my opinion, the artist who should have won the Turner Prize this year). By reconsidering Sutherland through this painter’s eyes we also understand more about where Shaw is coming from in his own work, which uses hobby Humbrol paints to talk about his sense of memory and loss within decaying suburbia  a place with nothing but recent history. Shaw says, ‘It is not about place  it is quite abstract. The painting is of how far away you are from there. It is a tethering so you know how far you’ve come.’ [quote from Daily Telegraph Review, 3/12/11, p.7]

Scenes from the Passion: The Fall, 1999, copyright George Shaw, courtesy Wilkinson Gallery, London. (From the Herbert Gallery website)
Scenes from the Passion: The Fall, 1999, copyright George Shaw, courtesy Wilkinson Gallery, London. (From the Herbert Gallery website)

All of this raises interesting and timely debates around a sense of place. According to Shaw, Sutherland was an artist as much rooted in the past as in the world before him  a world forever unfinished. Shaw’s world is also unfinished (he is now nearing his 180th painting of Tile Hill). He uses his place  Tile Hill as his device on which to hang timeless painterly concerns, and so doing he tells us something of the anxieties of 21st century living.


George Shaw I Woz Ere at the Herbert Gallery until 11 March 2012

Remembering 9/11

September by Gerhard Richter, 2005
September by Gerhard Richter, 2005

It has been ten years since the devastating attacks on the World Trade Centre and many tributes and analyses are appearing in the media. So much has been written on the astounding and tragic events of 9/11, both at the time and subsequently, that it is difficult for me to know what I can add.

How can art respond to war? I couldn’t resist re-posting this image from a thought-provoking article published last month in the Sunday Times Culture magazine by Bryan Appleyard which addressed this question (28/8/11). For me, this quietly powerful painting, like a lot of Richter’s work, falls within the Romantic tradition and exploration of the nature of the sublime. The 19th-century interpretation of the sublime as something astounding, awe-inspiring, almost un-knowable was formed in relation to man’s concept of the natural world. Here Richter inverts this tradition, painting the almost unbelievable moment that the second plane ploughs into the south tower an act of terrorism seemingly un-knowable. The familiar landmark of the towers is barely visible here as though seen through clouds of carcinogenic dust, ash and soot that their destruction released into the air and which continues to poison those New Yorkers who breathed it in. Curator Robert Storr has written about this picture and says that the unsettling nature of the image is due to its indeterminate depth of field and lack of vanishing point as well as all the baggage of his/her own that the viewer brings when looking at it. Each one of us already has our own visuals of the event as the dramatic media images unfolded live before our eyes as people everywhere watched stunned, glued to the television. Storr continues, September states nothing This is a figment rather than a record of history. Compared with what eyewitnesses can recall even with the passage of time and what video and photography have captured and preserved, Richter’s version or, better said, vision of 9/11/01 is an eroded representation of a monument blown to smithereens, the ghost of a ghost.

It is both representational and abstract and it is the tension between the two that makes this painting more interesting than a documentary photograph.  Storr again: The sense that the image dissolves in front of your eyes is literally part of the illusion.

This modern take on history painting is to be included at a major retrospective of Richter’s work which opens next month at Tate Modern (6 October to 8 January 2012).

I found Why Art failed Us After 9/11 by Nick Gillespie on a similar subject fascinating.

A discussion of what place memorials can have by Simon Schama in the FTWeekend (The Remains of the Day Sept 3-4, 2011), was also well worth reading and described the permanent memorial currently being finished by Arad and Walker at the World Trade Centre site, which will include a museum due to open next year. This prompted me to remember a trip I made to Berlin not long after the wall had come down when I happened by chance upon a memorial by Israeli artist Micha Ullman in the Bebelplatz. This is the site of the infamous Nazi book burning of May 1933. I have a fascination with memorials and the relationship of artists in the creation of these; I would love one day to embark on a project recording and researching particularly war memorials around the world. I have never forgotten this particular memorial for its profound subtlety and aspect of supreme quietness. Nothing is visible above ground as you gaze across the grand, 18th-century architecture of the square; it is not until you are almost on top of it that you notice a small window into the pavement and peering through, realisation dawns that you are looking at row upon row of empty bookcases, partially illuminated by the sun that streams in at an angle. A world without books would be very quiet indeed.

But should it ‘just’ be about memorials? If art reflects the state of the society in which it is made we can look to it to offer clues as to why life is the way it is. Shouldn’t we be seeking a more active role for art, other than memorialising the dead (important though that is)? Art that is interactive and participatory has the power to change people’s lives in the here and now. Brazilian artist Vic Muniz’s inspiring work with garbage pickers in the world’s largest dump outside Rio de Janeiro shows this concept in action to profound effect (documented in the brilliant film Waste Land – easily my favourite art documentary). Muniz’s project highlighted people who tend to be overlooked by society, who felt disenfranchised and gave them a voice in a positive way. Terrorists also want to be heard, whether we wish to acknowledge their complaints as valid or not. Of course this does NOT give anyone the right to perpetrate violence under any circumstances. However surely dialogue is the way forward (look what happened in Northern Ireland when the various parties finally started talking). Buckminster Fuller believed that we are all equal members of one global system and we all need to manage this to keep it in balance. Surely the majority of people would rather see Art than War. Artists occupy a uniquely valuable position they act as creative mediators and facilitators between objects and experiences (real or imagined) and viewers/participators/the rest of us. Let us make more use of them where it counts.

David Hockney: I’m very busy painting England

It was good to hear David Hockney speak of his love of nature when interviewed forBBC’s Front Row tonight. He said that England was a beautiful country and we should all get out more and see it. He also called for a return to studying the discipline of drawing in art schools, as it teaches artists how to look. A show of his landscape painting, mostly of Yorkshire, will be at the Royal Academy next year. Also on view will be drawings from his iPad series and I hope to be able to feature one of these in my column Computer Art Image of the Month next year.