Archive | March, 2011

Fantastic Find in Fitzrovia: Carla Busuttil at the Josh Lilley Gallery

31 Mar

I knew of the Josh Lilley gallery by reputation, of course, but this visit was another first for me. 

Once again, my geographical ineptitude came into play as I convinced myself the gallery was in South Riding Street.  “Where’s that?” I hear you say.  Well those of you who like crappy Sunday night TV programmes may recall South Riding was one of those, rather than a street in Fitzrovia that’s actually called Riding House Street.  An easy mistake!  After re-checking the address, I turned around and tottered off in the right direction, back on track.

Image via

The images I had previously seen of Carla Busuttil’s works didn’t do them justice.  I thought they looked a tad over simplistic and not that exciting.  Well, first impressions aren’t always right and I’m happy to admit I couldn’t have been more wrong.  These really amazing works have to be seen in the flesh.  Yes, they are simplistic – a style that is effective and powerful due to Busuttil’s obvious painting talent and the serious subject matter on which she focuses.  The child-like naïvety engages the viewer with a perverse fascination to enter the psychedelic maelstrom of her world.   

King of the Jumble, 2010, oil on canvas, 170 x 200 cm.  Image via

The gallery is split over two levels with the majority of the 20 works on display downstairs.  Unlike some other contemporary galleries that can lack imagination, this space is exciting.  It exudes warmth yet the clean-cut, more intimate, sections downstairs show the works off perfectly. 

Image via

Busuttil is a young artist with a multi-cultural background: born in South Africa of Armenian ancestry, she studied in London and now lives and works in Berlin.  Her works draw on her own experiences and family history, investigating the abuse of power and violence focusing on the perpetrators of such atrocities.  Through her use of bold, striking colours and broad expressive brush strokes, the artist places these figures in the spotlight, holding them accountable for their actions.  We, the spectators, are the jurors at their trial.  Through her unconstrained style, Busuttil gives these figures vulnerability; an inherent contradiction considering the characters she is painting – despite their actions being beyond reproach, we pity these figures, isolated on the canvas.  The bright, dynamic colours serve to emphasise the horror of the subject matter.

The Showman, 2010, oil on canvas, 200 x 170 cm.  Image via

Although some of her subjects are indeed well-known figures, what makes the works so successful is that they do not focus on a particular person but are a montage of events, people and places, blurring the boundaries of fiction and reality.  Busuttil extracts the essence of her characters rather than executing their portraits. 

For me, the powerful resonances are most effective in the larger-scale canvases.  It is the simplicity that makes these works striking.  There is no denying that Busuttil can really paint, these are good!  The coarseness and liberalness of her paint is savage, the rough and almost over-eager application echoing the brutal subject matter.    

Image via

I could have happily stayed longer in this gallery not only gazing at the paintings but enjoying the brilliant acoustics, perfect for my high heels to make that wonderful clacking sound.

The Josh Lilley gallery is certainly not just another white box; this gallery has personality and so do the paintings on display.  Keep this high on your to-see list when you’re checking out the latest on the London art scene. 

Pride and Judas, 2010, oil on canvas, 100 x 80 cm.  Image via


Carla Busuttil: Rug & Gut & Gum is at the Josh Lilley Gallery, 44-46 Riding House Street until 28th April 2011.

Watteau at the Wallace: is that all of it?

24 Mar

To coincide with the exhibition of Watteau drawings at the Royal Academy, the Wallace Collection has jumped on the bandwagon and pulled together an exhibition of their own Watteau paintings.  

Even though I’d read all the ‘bumph’ beforehand, I was still somewhat disappointed to find only one room of Watteau’s – I expected more.  The Wallace term this exhibition a ‘redisplay’ of these ‘great canvases’ and, truly, this is all it is – they have been moved from one side of Hertford House to another. 

Image via

Esprit et Vérité is in two parts: the upstairs exhibition has 10 paintings by Watteau (2 by other artists) gathered together in one gallery.  Downstairs examines Watteau’s influence on his contemporaries showing a collection of works that were all owned by Jean de Julienne, Watteau’s publisher and one of France’s greatest collectors. 

Image via

The relationship between Watteau and Jean de Julienne is hugely significant and shows a key moment in the development of French eighteenth-century paining and patronage.  Despite a relatively short career, there can be no doubt that Watteau altered the course of French painting and drawing, revitalising the Baroque style as well as inventing the fête galante – a combination of fantasy and pastoral compositions where fashionable contemporaries converse with quirky stage characters. 

There is no denying that this is a small exhibition and the Wallace are taking advantage of Watteau being in vogue this year.  The catalogue states it is a rare opportunity to see this range of works – but they are normally on display anyway so this seems a rather bizarre publicity hook!

Image via

Of course, the Wallace’s best Watteau painting, La Toilette, takes pride of place.  The English title A Lady at her Toilet is rather misleading – were you expecting a painting of a lady on the loo?  Well, in fact, it’s a buxom woman getting washed and dressed for the day.  This was actually a risqué painting for its time – considered titillating and erotic.  Apparently, Watteau later repented for such ‘pornography’ and ordered that this, and other such works, should be destroyed on this death.  Luckily for us, his wishes were ignored (as are the wishes of so many dead artists – look at Turner).  This painting really shows Watteau’s forward-thinking, taking female nudes away from their normal depictions as nymphs, goddesses into domestic environments, ordinary settings.

Image via

When Watteau died of tuberculosis in his 30s, de Julienne took responsibility for his works and five years after his death, he published a volume of engravings after Watteau’s drawings.  A second volume followed two years later and, a full seven years after that, came the two volumes of plates after the paintings.  His endeavours and perseverance ensured the artist’s place in history.

If, like me, you saw the RA exhibition first, you may have noticed that some of the figures have migrated directly from the drawings.  The same figures are reformatted over and over again.  The drawings were rarely preparatory and often Watteau just painted directly onto the canvas, creating new scenes as he went along. 

Image via

The paintings on display are wistful, almost melancholic at times.  I’m not going to analyse the paintings; this, you must do when you visit but as you become immersed in Watteau’s world, feel the pervading sense of transience and his constant awareness of the passing of time.

One nice touch is that the exhibition booklets are in in both French and English.  Perhaps this is a cleverly designed tool to allow us to practice some French if you find there aren’t enough paintings to fill your time.

 Image via

Watteau is obviously a tremendous painter but, for me, it is hard not to prefer his drawings.  They took my breath away.  Although this exhibition is not the most exciting, it is free as is admission to the whole collection at Hertford House.  It is one of London’s gems and who would ever object to ambling past all those lovely shops, across Manchester Square to the Wallace Collection to admire some eighteenth-century masterpieces.    

Esprit et Vérité: Watteau and His Circle is on display until 5th June 2011.

Anthony McCall part II – and another 5 galleries (I got a bit carried away)

17 Mar

It’s important to remember that the Anthony McCall exhibition is in two parts and, today, I popped into Sprüth Magers to see Works on Paper.  The exhibition includes a selection of drawings and photographs from the last 40 years of McCall’s career as well as a video of the most recent working maquette of his upcoming Column for the Cultural Olympiad. 

I would be unfair if I didn’t say the exhibition was interesting and I enjoyed seeing the working drawings for the light works but (you could tell there was a but coming, couldn’t you?) I think it would have been better to see this first.  After the sensational experience of wandering through the projected light works yesterday, the drawings didn’t quite capture my imagination or live up to my expectations.

Image via

Don’t get me wrong – there is no doubt that McCall is a very talented artist (and you probably realised from yesterday’s post that I’m rather smitten) but looking at the preparatory works after seeing the actual thing was rather like watching the trickle of a stream after visiting the Niagara Falls.  Pretty but not quite the same.

Image via

Even so, it’s worth a visit but, if possible, head to Sprüth Magers before Ambika P3.

Before I sign off, last night I had rather a hectic gallery dash around London that I’d like to share.  First, I stopped by Alon Zakaim Fine Art for another look at the Robert Marc exhibition.  If you haven’t yet been this one is definitely worth a visit.  Marc’s paintings have been hidden away for the past 20 years and this is their first showing in the UK.  Working in the Cubist style, his paintings are rich and complex with a palette and surface quality that warms and harmonises his geometrically constructed planes of colour.  Really beautiful pieces that you can’t help but like.  My personal favourite (see the image below) is hanging above the gallery manager’s desk upstairs so don’t be afraid to ask for a peek.  The exhibition is split over Alon Zakaim and E&R Cyzer until 8th April. 

Image courtesy of E&R Cyzer and Alon Zakaim Fine Art

Then I headed across to Hauser & Wirth where two exhibitions were opening: Dieter Roth and Ida Applebroog.  Although an undeniably, beautifully-curated exhibition, I’m afraid the Dieter Roth did nothing for me.  With 31,035 slides showing simultaneously on multiple projectors, the gallery has been transformed into a dynamic cinema.  Although distinctive, the images didn’t inspire me. 

Image via

The Applebroog, in their South Gallery, plays with an unusual installation where paintings are balanced on top of one another, leaning against walls and even laid flat on the floor.  Be careful where you tread in case they charge you when you stiletto one!

Image via

Finally I walked down Savile Row to James Hyman who currently has two photography exhibitions on display until 23rd April: Shai Kremer and Exposure 2011.  The Kremer compositions are really engaging, focusing on issues of the transience of civilisation and the legitimacy of imperialism. 

Image via

Exposure 2011 presents the six winners of the 2010 National Media Museum Photography Awards.  Works range from cruise-ship photography and the holiday camps at Butlin’s to images of meteorites and photographs of the post-conflict landscape of Northern Ireland. 

Image via

Some names to watch here and I’d recommend following in my footsteps down Savile Row one lunchtime if you’re lucky enough to have a spare hour.

Incidentally, for those of you now following the saga of my footwear – yes, my feet were rather sore by the end of my gallery marathon.

Lost in the Light: Anthony McCall at Ambika P3

16 Mar

This morning, I decided to visit the much-talked about Ambika P3 and it certainly didn’t disappoint.  My first challenge was to find the actual space.  It’s important to bear in mind that I’m not the most geographically savvy person but, luckily, google maps came to the rescue and I made it (although I did nearly wander off in the wrong direction – an occurrence that is becoming scarily regular, third time this week in fact, oh dear).  For those without a compass at the ready, you’ll find the entrance hidden behind a red gate on the right hand side of Westminster University in Marylebone Road (opposite Madame Tussauds). 

Own Photo

It is here that the adventure begins and it certainly is an adventure, a magical mystery tour of sorts.  Head down the metal staircase, past entrances to various warehouses and loading bays until a black door marks the entrance to this unique gallery space – the biggest in London. 

Own Photo

Originally the construction hall of Westminster’s Department of Engineering, Ambika P3 is now a 14,000 sq ft art gallery.  Perfection!

 A sign in the lobby warns that it will take a while to adjust to the darkness but I still had no idea what to expect.  On first entering, you find yourself on a pitch black balcony which affords a wonderful view of all the Anthony McCall works on display.  Convinced that I was going to fall Alice-in-Wonderland style to the lower level, I stumbled around as if blind (to the great amusement of the gallery assistant), arms outstretched until I reached the edge and could safely hold on.  Once again, maybe those stilettos weren’t the best thing to wear to a dark art installation but I just can’t help it!  After a few minutes my sight adjusted (and then the initial stumbling and groping seemed rather embarrassing) and I ventured down the staircase into the cathedral-like, cavernous space that houses the McCall light sculptures, Vertical Works, being shown in the UK for the first time. 

Image via

 The works are a combination of cinema (the pieces are slowly moving), sculpture (3D works) and drawing (animated lines of light on the floor, housed in a room full of mist).  The experience of walking through the actual sculptures was surreal.  I approached the first work quite nervously, unsure of what to expect.  I felt I was trying to pass through a solid form, a sheer waterfall of light.  Hands once again outstretched, my fingers pushed through this invisible barrier and voilà…  The feeling is amazing as you can, of course, walk straight through the shafts of light but, at the same time, you feel you are being transported to a new place as you cross through the works. 


Own Photo

Your whole body is affected by these giant monochrome installations.  Light appears solid.  It is intriguing to pause and watch other people interact with the works, also hesitating as they walk through the sculptures, expecting something to block their path.  Visitors were lying down in the centre of the beams, becoming part of the works.  I felt miles away from the hustle bustle of Baker Street as I lost myself in the light. 

Image via

Vertical Works are created by projections from the ceiling which form 10-metre tall conical ‘tents’ of lights.  The floor drawing acts as the footprint of the work with the 3D body of light rising and narrowing from its projection point.  In simple terms (I’m an art historian, not a scientist), the sculptures are formed by light bouncing off the mist in the room.  Folds of light create mesmerising shapes that are truly effective. The supernatural effect gives the works a spiritual, other-worldly feel.  They have been likened to shafts of light in a cathedral, yet there is something quite pagan about them as the simple white floor drawings are reminiscent of the chalk shapes you see on English cliffs. 

Image via 

Unless you watch intently, you could miss the fact that the works are actually moving.  Like you, they journey across the floor in a slow rhythmic pattern asking to be explored and offering visitors a sense of freedom as they become familiar with this adult’s playground. 


Own photo

Both the space at Ambika P3 and the McCall works themselves are unbelievable .  It’s a rare treat to experience something like as unique as this.  The installation is only on for one more week but do go and stumble around, journey through the room and move into McCall’s Narnia-like, parallel universe of light.

McCall is also working on an Olympic commission: in Column a spinning column of cloud will rise magnificently from a dock in Merseyside.  The work will respond to the weather around it, sometimes appearing as a white line against the bright blue sky, other times as a dark shadow when it’s overcast.  Approximately 20m in diameter, it will bend, disappear and re-appear.   It will, no doubt, be another McCall work for us to fall in love with and I can’t wait!

Image via 

A sister exhibition of McCall’s drawings is on display at Sprüth Magers.  Vertical Works will remain in situ until 27th March at Ambika P3, University of Westminster,

Watteau Drawings at the Royal Academy: delightful but confusing

8 Mar

This weekend the UK’s first ever exhibition of Watteau drawings opens to the public at the Royal Academy.  The show offers an opportunity to get up close and personal with over 80 of Watteau’s finest drawings. 

The curators have brought great thought and sensitivity to this wonderful selection of Watteau drawings, from many international collections although I did wonder why more works hadn’t been borrowed from the British Museum.  Perhaps the BM had decided to call it a day after lending so many not modern British sculptures to the Modern British Sculpture exhibition downstairs. 

Having studied 18th century French drawing, I was excited that such an eminent gallery had dedicated a central space solely to drawings.  A risk you may say.  In many ways it pays off and the drawings command respect, easily selling themselves as visitors walk around the dimly lit space in hushed reverence.  The Sackler wing becomes a Watteau cathedral!  But, I feel visitors may be left confused as to the purpose of the works.  They have been hung as if they were paintings.  What makes them stand out as drawings, as works on paper?  Well, nothing and this is where I feel the exhibition falls slightly short. 

Perhaps I am being pedantic but the exhibition fails to explain in adequate detail that these drawings were never intended to be framed and exhibited in this way.  In the first half of the eighteenth century, the collecting of drawings was mainly pursued by scholars and connoisseurs, well-versed in the history of art, who could, therefore, appreciate the skill of draughtsmanship.  From the mid-century, elaborately mounted drawings became increasingly popular and were highly valued as sources of pleasure and instruction.  This period saw the rising phenomenon of the connoisseurial collection, where aesthetic objects within a gentleman’s collection were treated carefully, bound in albums and housed in libraries.  A collector’s choice of artworks reflected his social status, affirmed his identity and even constructed a narrative of his ideal self.  The drawing as a finished collectible entity was a sensation in the 18th century.  Drawings were no longer simply for preparatory purposes but autonomous sheets.  They had become works of art in their own right, consumer objects offering a viable alternative to painting. 

Due to difficulties of preservation, light levels and so on, drawings are not often displayed in traditional gallery settings so many visitors will never have had the opportunity to study such drawings first hand.  Drawings are intimate; they are meant to be held and admired.  You almost want to press your nose to the glass and be drawn into Watteau’s intense chalk lines.  They were never intended to be seen extravagantly framed and high on a wall. I know am not the tallest of people even in the four inches heels I clacked around the gallery in this morning but I still had to stand on tiptoes (a difficult job as you may imagine) to study the drawings properly.  Whereas I appreciate that the curators had no choice but to display the drawings on the wall (and considering this, they are hung beautifully) my discomfort with the exhibition could have been resolved by a panel explaining the purpose of these works and the function of drawing in the 18th century.  Although I have yet to read it, I imagine the exhibition catalogue will develop this.


Beware, although the Watteau exhibition is arranged chronologically, unusually for the RA, the route is anti-clockwise and anyone not studying the room numbers may find themselves in the final room before having to skulk backwards after heading off in the wrong direction.  Ooops! 

The exhibition begins showing the early diversity of Watteau’s subjects, moving onto the influence of the Old Masters in his works.  Drawing lay at the heart of Watteau’s creative purpose and he used many of his drawings as a visual archive when composing his paintings.  Although he did execute many drawings for their own sake, many of the figures recur in his paintings and these sheets acted as inspiration and a library of resources and poses.  The wall cards refer to the comparable paintings or surviving engravings but only a handful are illustrated meaning these references are often redundant, except to 18th century scholars. 

The exhibition continues with the artist’s exploration of Persians and Savoyards, his fêtes galantes, nudes, and then his later, more muted and reflective, works.  There is a clear evolution in Watteau’s drawing style which the exhibition successfully shows.  We can see how his earliest works used red chalk alone before he gradually incorporated black, then added white to the mix around 1715.  Although, this trois crayons technique became synonymous with Watteau and he was an important exponent of this technique, he wasn’t actually most prolific in this medium and the curators highlight this well. 

As this exhibition shows, Watteau was an innovative draughtsman.  His works are spontaneous, energetic, rich and powerful.  In the studies where he moves around the figure, focusing on the face from a multitude of angles, his delicate handling of the chalk captures subtle nuances of expression and amazing contrasts.


In my opinion his drawings easily equal, and in some instances even surpass, his paintings (although I have yet to see the Wallace Collection exhibition).  Although Watteau lived until only 37, the impact he had on the art world lasted well beyond his lifetime.  The exhibition is really a delight and I, for one, am looking forward to my second visit.

%d bloggers like this: