Tag Archives: Elisabeth Frink

Oh Woe is Woking

6 Apr

I’ve long been aware of The Lightbox and, when I read Florence Water’s article in January’s Apollo, I decided that it was time for a Mini adventure to Woking.

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The Lightbox, Woking, Own photograph.

In 1993, a group of 70 arts and heritage enthusiasts decided it was time to create an arts centre in Woking. Through their endeavours they achieved this goal raising more than £7 million and in September 2007 The Lightbox opened its doors (be careful on your way in as the automatic doors open outwards). Although the gallery does have a permanent body of staff, it still relies largely on the support of its 150 volunteers showing the strength of community in these parts. Education is obviously where this gallery comes into its own – as well as having great learning facilities, they run a young curators’ group, after-school arts clubs and more structured schools’ programmes that work within the national curriculum.

The Lightbox is located alongside numerous shopping centres, endless multi-storey car parks, lane after lane of traffic and more traffic lights than I’d care to count; its striking design sticks out like a sore thumb. This is obviously the most impressive building in town although I’m not sure there is much competition; designed by Marks Barfield Architects it is found, clad in wood with gold and silver aluminium panels, alongside the Basingstoke Canal. The canal-side garden is protected by a gabion wall, gesturing to Renaissance fortifications. Inside is the most wonderful expanse of wall, lit from an atrium that stretches the entire length of the south side. Currently there’s a mobile of hands hanging in the space but there is a painfully ‘blank canvas’ of white wall. Considering the surroundings this architecture is challenging but it is successful and effective.

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The white wall. Own photograph.

Most of the time, The Lightbox is filled with Chris Ingram’s spectacular collection of Modern British Art, helping to fulfil his desire to make this period more accessible to a wider public. The drawback of visiting during the Frink exhibition meant I saw very little of the collection I had hoped to view; it is usually on permanent rotating display in the Lobby galleries (aka the corridors). I made do with buying the books to give me a greater insight into the Ingram Collection which really is incredible, showing the works that Ingram likes and chooses to share with the nation. The generosity of his loan programme across the country and, indeed, his permanent loan here is fabulous.

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Chris Ingram at The Lightbox. Image via www.surreylife.co.uk.

You’d be forgiven for not knowing that Woking is the home of Kenwood food mixers and also where HG Wells wrote War of the Worlds. Part of the aim of the gallery is to house Woking’s Story which tells the social history of the town looking at the railway, the history of mental health through Brookwood Hospital, Brookwood Cemetery (once the largest cemetery in Europe) and Britain’s first purpose-built mosque. This display is aimed at a young audience and, although simplistic in format, it does well at highlighting the cultural importance of the area.

Woking's Story

Woking’s Story. Own photograph.

Currently, The Lightbox is mounting a retrospective of Dame Elisabeth Frink’s career. In the 1960s, while other artists turned increasingly to abstraction, Frink continued to pursue an interest in figurative and naturalistic imagery.

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The sculpture gallery on the ground floor. Own photograph.

In the double-height gallery on the first floor we are introduced to Frink’s main artistic concerns: Frink had no interest in sculpting the female body saying it didn’t act as a suitable vehicle for her ideas. Her fascination with man (whether standing, walking, running or seated) extended across her career, expressing ideas of masculine courage, strength and heroism. Her men are complicated vessels of emotion, sensuality and vulnerability.

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The main gallery. Own photograph.

Her interest in animals – horses, dogs and birds – also comes to the forefront here. She admired the strong bonds between man and beast – the loyalty, intimacy and interdependence.

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Frink’s horses. Own photograph.

Throughout the exhibition, which is spread across the building, we also see her heads, religious iconography and her vast array of print work which strongly complemented her sculptural processes.

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Frink’s Rolling Over Horse, 1979, and Lying Down Horse, 1977 from The Ingram Collection. Own photograph.

But, the gallery just hasn’t done very much with this amazing body of work – the pieces lose something by being plonked in the corridors and placed higgledy-piggledy across the space. We encounter the first Frink sculpture within seconds of walking through the front door before we’ve even seen a welcome panel.

The labels are sheets of sticky paper that are peeling off the walls. The lids of the Perspex cases aren’t actually screwed down (possibly not the best protection then) and are so smeared in places that it’s difficult to see the works beneath them. Ingram, the inventor of the modern media agency, has a fascinating background and obviously understands the importance of quality finish and appearance. Perhaps it would be worth him sharing a little of his expertise, as well as his art, with the gallery. Water wrote that ‘he loathes preciousness’ which I get and I have the utmost admiration for the aims of this space but The Lightbox comes off as distinctly amateur – it is not doing justice to the great works of art that it has the privilege to display.

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Victoria Way runs next to the gallery. Own photograph.

Hepworth Wakefield, Pallant House and Turner Contemporary can all get it right so being out of London is not an excuse. If The Lightbox wants people to come to see their gallery a little more work needs to go into the presentation and the curation needs more thought. The exterior is wonderful and I hope that, in time, the interior will match it. There was a huge party of men in fluorescents walking around so maybe they are planning some work to The Lightbox.

All the enthusiasm and dedication that formed this gallery in the first place needs now to be used to take The Lightbox to the next level.

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Elizabeth Frink: A Retrospective is at The Lightbox until 21st April 2013, www.thelightbox.org.uk.

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From West to East and a Walk in the Park – Thursday of Frieze Week

14 Oct

Thursday of Frieze week and I was already exhausted with so many things yet to see.

Walking down Savile Row, I decided to pop into a new gallery and I’m pleased I did. Pilar Ordovas made headlines earlier this year when she announced plans to open her own gallery space. She was already well-known among the art world elite, partly for organising the famous, record-breaking sale of Lucian Freud’s Benefits Supervisor Sleeping. She isn’t shy of press. Having worked at Christie’s and managed London’s Gagosian, Ordovas decided to go it alone. One of the things that will make this space successful, other than Ordovas’ skill and vision, is her access to, and unique relationships with, artists. This first exhibition perfectly highlights her past experience. Having managed the estate of Valerie Beston (the private director of the Marlborough Gallery to whom Bacon bequeathed an astonishing collection of his works) in 2006, Ordovas was able to conceive this exhibition.

Ordovas on Savile Row. Image via www.ordovasart.com

Irrational marks: Bacon and Rembrandt is a museum-quality, academic exhibition, hidden within the walls of a commercial gallery. This will be the first show to explore the connections and influences of Rembrandt’s late self-portraits and Bacon’s own self-portraits. The creative dialogue between the two artists is extraordinary. The exhibition also displays a number of working documents, found in Bacon’s studio after his death, splattered with paint, discarded after they had inspired the great artist. They are absolutely fascinating. Ordovas is certainly doing something new.

Downstairs at Ordovas on Savile Row. Image via www.ordovasart.com

An art history professor friend once asked me if I’m conservative (I don’t think he meant in the political sense). ‘Yes’, I replied. ‘And, do you like Francis Bacon?’ he asked. ‘No, I love Francis Bacon’ was my response. ‘Well, then you are definitely not conservative’. Many years on, having seen people’s often extreme reactions to Bacon’s work I more fully understand what he meant but, to me, Bacon’s works are exquisite. The style may often be grotesque but they are sublime.

25 Savile Row is a beautiful space although the ‘frosting’ in the window actually looks as if they have not finished unpacking and we were unsure if they were actually open. Directly opposite Hauser & Wirth, I don’t think the galleries will conflict with one another as they are so different. Pilar Ordovas is helping to create a new arts hub in the heart of Mayfair.

Ordovas. Own photograph.

After lunch, I headed over to Frieze which, this year, felt like a chore. With more galleries than ever before, I thought the fair was remarkably bland. Still obviously feeling the effects of this long drawn-out recession, no-one had taken any risks. The VIP day having passed, most of the gallerists weren’t that bothered by the ‘general public’ bustling past their stands. Desks piled high with coffee cups and ipads (normally about three per stand) were far more amusing than the art and I couldn’t resist capturing the ennui.

Fed up at Frieze. Own photograph.

When we finished the long trek and my fellow fair-goer said his feet were hurting, I knew my moaning was justified. My legs ached. My stilettos clacked with less vigour than usual.

With no cabs to be found, I hobbled to Haunch craving the glass of wine that awaited me. This exhibition at least perked me up again – or was that the wine? Ahmed Alsouandi is an Iraqi artist who lives in New York. He uses the grotesque to explore war and conflict and the consequences of these atrocities. His deformed figures rework, and are inspired by, greats such as Goya and Bacon.

Ahmed Alsouandi at Haunch of Venison. Own photograph.

His vivid, over-saturated, palette both enhances the horror and detracts from the subject matter in an ironically joyous tone. Whilst his many influences are apparent, his work is certainly unique and his style his own. The turbulence and disfiguration are more a comment on general human conflict and physical disruption than specific warfare. From a distance, they could be mistaken for bright abstract patterns. Get closer, and you see tortured bodies, dismembered limbs and even a lone eyeball.

I’d forgotten how great the floor here is – a wonderful dark wood that works so well with whatever they hang. My signature photo would have shown this but my friend refused to squat on the floor of one of London’s major galleries to photograph my feet. The gallery was buzzing and, considering the competition this week, that is a mark of how good this show is.

Ahmed Alsouandi at Haunch of Venison. Own photograph.

Next on my list was Flowers Gallery – not the one in Mayfair unfortunately, I like to make my life difficult. Nicola Hicks has long been recognised as an important British artist. Having exhibited with Flowers for many years now, this demonstrates how astute the gallery were in picking her as a major talent after her selection in 1984 by Elisabeth Frink for their annual Artist for the Day exhibition. Her latest exhibition, which takes over the downstairs galleries at Flowers on Kingsland Road, is a new series of plaster sculptures based on Aesop’s Fables, the well-known children’s’ stories supposedly written by a slave in Ancient Greece in the 5th century BC.

Nicola Hicks’ Aesop’s Fables at Flowers. Own photograph.

Don’t be mistaken and think Hicks is merely depicting the Fables in illustratory form, as you couldn’t be more wrong. Instead these stories act as a catalyst for her work, providing a creative springboard for her wonderful imagination. The detail is incredible – the loose, tactile nature of the plaster means these works need, and deserve, closer inspection.

Although Hicks’ works have developed over time, she has been interested in animal forms from day one. Always heartfelt, she is able to do extraordinary things to her materials and contorts plaster in fantastic ways.

All of the anthropomorphic characters from the Fables are present, frozen in time for us to admire. The creatures are loveable and endearing, a humble theme for a wonderful artist who here explores empathy and beauty in a stunning new series of work. I have always loved Hicks’ sculpture so this exhibition was a treat for me. Who couldn’t fall for her dogs, gazing lovingly out with puppy dog eyes?

One of Hicks’ gorgeous dogs. Own photograph.

Upstairs is an exhibition by artist, Simon Roberts. Roberts is obviously a talented artist – he travelled across England in a motorhome for a year from 2007-2008 photographing England at leisure. His large horizons and country scenes play on a tradition of English landscape painting, studying our national identity in turn raising key social, economic and political issues. He finds beauty in the mundane but the photographs do not stand up to the brilliance of the exhibition downstairs.

Simon Roberts, Keynes Country Park Beach, Shornecote, Gloucestershire, 11th May 2008. Image via http://we-english.co.uk/. 

I had planned to head to an exhibition at the Hospital Club but gossiping away over dinner next door and resting my weary limbs made me realise how tired I was. Or was that the wine too? Anyway, there was no chance I was going back into the West End again that night.

Irrational Marks: Bacon and Rembrandt is at Ordovas until 16th December 2011, www.ordovasart.com.  Ahmed Alsoudani is at Haunch of Venison Yard until 26th November 2011, www.haunchofvenison.com. Nicola Hicks: Aesop’s Fables and Simon Roberts: We English are both at Flowers, Kingsland Road, until 19th November 2011, www.flowersgalleries.com. For more of my Frieze photos, see www.facebook.com/chloenelkinconsulting.

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