Tag Archives: landscape

Who’ll Stop The Rain – Tate, Barbican and The Courtauld

19 Feb

So many exhibitions have opened in the last week or so that it is nearly impossible to keep up.

Last Monday, I started at Tate’s latest BP British Art Display – Looking at the View – which brings together a multitude of landscape works from Tate’s stores. The works span 300 years and vary in quality and excitement but there are some pieces worth seeing including works by Julian Opie, Paul Graham, Wolfgang Tilmans, Gilbert & George, Willie Doherty, Patrick Caulfield and JMW Turner. Landscape has often been used to highlight changing social or political conditions and this display demonstrates the usage of the genre, showing how unconnected artists, centuries apart, have looked at our landscape in surprisingly similar ways and asked similar questions of their audiences.

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Julian Opie dominates in the distance. Own photograph.

The display has been publicised using Joseph Wright’s Sir Brooke Boothby partnered with Tracey Emin’s Monument Valley (Grand Scale). Wright shows Boothby reading Rousseau’s first Dialogues, of which he was the publisher, while Emin is also seen reading her own book – a comment on literary self-regard and the act of reading itself. It’s quite different to a normal Tate exhibition (and I breathed a sigh of relief that thankfully they haven’t painted the walls grey) but there is a lack of information as you wander round the space which, combined with the lack of narrative, can be confusing. It’s meant to be simplistic, an exhibition about looking, but a tad more guidance wouldn’t go amiss.

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Joseph Wright’s Sir Brooke Boothby next to Tracey Emin’s Monument Valley (Grand Scale). Image via www.guardian.co.uk

I’m not sure all of the works quite fit in with the thematic arrangement of landscape but it’s certainly a diverse survey. It isn’t as worthy of consideration as a proper exhibition in its own right. It’s a bit of a hotchpotch; there are some beautiful juxtapositions but some strange ones too.

The display does act as a prelude to the Tate Britain re-hang that will be completed this May and aims to pull together the varied media of Tate’s collection and unite the works across the periods, providing coherence and solidarity. Let’s see shall we.

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Looking at the View at Tate Britain. Own photograph.

Next up for me was the Barbican; I was excited about The Bride and the Bachelors and my expectations didn’t let me down. This is the first exhibition to explore Marcel Duchamp’s impact on four other modern greats – John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. It traces and studies their exchanges and collaborations blurring the boundaries between stage and gallery. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as mere creative relationships – Cage and Cunningham were life partners while Johns and Rauschenberg were long-term lovers – and the Barbican cast light on this spider’s web.

Press Preview At The Barbican Art Gallery Their New Exhibition The Bride And The Bachelors

The Bride and the Bachelors at The Barbican. Image via www.gettyimages.com

The personal and creative relationships of these artists are no doubt complicated and Barbican has not gone down an easy or over simplistic route in making these connections. It’s well-interconnected throughout, bringing the group together at every unexpected turn. By avoiding the obvious, the exhibition is challenging and really makes us think about what was going on during this important period.

Of course, there’s Duchamp’s The Bride (the show’s title piece) but there’s so much more including ghostly piano and dance performances and live dance pieces smack bang in the middle of the gallery, challenging our ideas about what a gallery can be in a fascinating cross-fertilisation of the arts. We can’t help but become part of the performance as we walk around the stage, encountering the art from every conceivable angle and viewpoint. This radical curation would have delighted Duchamp who sought to do things differently and change perceptions. Due to the exhibition’s design, the conversations between these creative genii are still very much ongoing today. The works of the ‘bachelors’ are saturated with Duchamp but often in such subtle ways that we are shocked to realise the inherent connections. Where would these artists have ended up without Duchamp? Duchamp oversees the power and poetry here, an invisible figure governing the creativity of the period as well as our enjoyment of the show. The soul of Duchamp is a persistent presence as we look at how important he was for the ‘bachelors’ and how important they were for him.

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Exploring the upper galleries. Own photograph.

The exhibition has been partly devised by artist Philippe Parreno and the juxtapositions he creates on the main stage are quite remarkable. I believe the live dance pieces will be performed on Thursday evenings and during the weekends and, to make the most of this exhibition, I’d recommend going at these times.

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Dancers in action on the main stage. Own photograph.

Some of Duchamp’s most seminal works are here and, in the same way that we still talk about them in any discussion of this period, I feel sure that this exhibition will be talked about long after its closing.

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Duchamp is the star of the show. Own photograph.

While at the Barbican, and with only two weeks until its closing, I decided to make the most of my visit and go to see the Rain Room. Having been told to change my shoes (heels aren’t recommended for walking over a wet metal grid), I slipped my ballerinas on and headed into the Curve Gallery.

The piece, created by Random International, invites us to control the rain and puts our trust to the test. It goes against our better nature and our very instincts to walk headlong into this torrential sheet of water. I must say, having heard mixed reports, I wasn’t very trusting but eventually fought my demons and walked into the water with my arms outstretched hoping they would trigger the sensors before I did. I didn’t think It would make for a very good blog if I wussed out and walked round the edge. I’m not upset that I must have looked like someone from the Ministry of Silly Walks wandering about in this somewhat strange fashion as my coat sleeves had been rained on by the time I emerged. Maybe I should have gone in more casual attire and worn a raincoat but, needs must, and straight hair and a smart dress were required.

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The nervous beginning… Own photograph.

You walk round a dark curving corridor and are confronted by a large patch of thundering rain. It must be that we don’t see quite enough rain in the UK because people are going wild to get into The Rain Room. The piece is activated by sensors and the falling water is meant to stop as you walk through the installation. You are forced to walk slowly and sedately through the piece allowing for greater and calmer appreciation of your experience. The sense of power and control is bewildering and surreal. Standing in the middle of the 100 square metre grid, enclosed by rain, is exciting. I can’t deny the wonder I felt at being part of the work. But, after a couple of minutes I was done. I’d walked through the rain, I’d stood in the rain and I’d narrowly avoided getting drenched. Maybe the inner child in me didn’t want to come out to play but I didn’t really see the point in hanging around.

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Inside the installation. Own photograph.

The technology behind the work is amazing. It’s memorable but I’m not sure it was as satisfying and spellbinding as I had expected it to be. There can be no doubt that it has caused a great deal of excitement and that the work is innovative but when I got outside I just wanted to dry off my arms.

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Looking back. Own photograph.

Numbers are limited to five people in the rain at any one time which explains the four hour queue at peak periods. Is it really worth it?

It was a busy day and, with wet arms and my heels back on, I headed over to The Courtauld to have a look at their Becoming Picasso which revolves around the artist’s work in 1901. The Courtauld’s recent exhibitions have gone from strength to strength focusing around one work from their own collection with a series of exceptional, rarely lent, loans to reinforce their message. This exhibition, in that sense, is no exception and they deserve to be very highly commended for the loans they have achieved here.

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Picasso, Seated Harlequin, 1901. Image via www.arthistory.about.com

The Courtauld’s own Child with a Dove is one of the stars of the show, looking at when Picasso ‘found his own voice as an artist’. The exhibition title is apt as it was in 1901 that Picasso went to Paris and really began to find his feet as an artist and concentrate on his art rather than his more vivacious lifestyle in Spain.

Pablo Picasso's Child with a Dove, 1901

Picasso, Child with a Dove, 1901. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The exhibition is ordered differently from usual and the entrance is where we would expect to find the exit, partly for practical reasons to avoid queuing on the stairs but also to make this space curatorially clearer. It is an unmissable exhibition with an exemplary selection of works, a fascinating look at Picasso becoming Picasso, developing his own style and identity in preparation for his debut exhibition at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery. A selection of works from that exhibition fills the first small room, setting a context for this period and allows us to get a feel for the pace at which Picasso worked, influenced by the bustle of Parisian life – the colours, the art and the daring nightlife.

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The new first room of The Courtauld Gallery exhibition space. Own photograph.

The second room looks at Picasso’s change in direction as we see him introduce themes that would come to dominate his works throughout his career. The works here introduce a more melancholic mood which the gallery explain in part by the tragic suicide of Carles Casagemas, one of Picasso’s closest friends. Here, the pieces are emotionally powerful, anticipating his later Blue Period. He moved so quickly from the saleable and marketable artist we saw in the first room to someone who the Parisian market struggled, at the time, to understand – this was the seminal year when he found his artistic voice and began to make his mark that will never fade in the history of art. These paintings explore the interplay between innocence and experience, purity and corruption and life and death, bound up both with his friend’s death and a number of visits he made to the Saint-Lazare women’s prison.

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Picasso, Yo – Picasso, 1901. Image via www.bbc.co.uk

Although it is no doubt a brilliant exhibition, it doesn’t quite live up to some of The Courtauld’s recent shows and something was lacking here. These are certainly not Picasso’s most palatable paintings and herein lies one of the problems with the exhibition – for a Picasso lover or scholar it is a masterpiece. But, for someone finding Picasso (as he was indeed finding himself) I’m not sure you’ll come away enraptured by the artist.

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Becoming Picasso at The Courtauld. Own photograph.

With only 18 works, The Courtauld don’t fuss around or waste space and their exhibitions are always academically enlightening. They have also produced a wonderful catalogue which looks in depth at the profound changes of 1901.

I haven’t even made a ripple in the water of all the shows that have recently opened, my list at the moment is ever growing but then again I wouldn’t like it any other way. I’m not too sure I’ll be hurrying back to any installation that requires flat shoes though – not really my thing at all.

Looking at the View is at Tate Britain until 2nd June 2013, www.tate.org.uk.  The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns is at The Barbican until 9th June 2013 and The Rain Room is at The Barbican until 3rd March 2013, www.barbican.org.uk.  Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901 is at The Courtauld Gallery until 26th May 2013, www.courtauld.ac.uk.

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Something Old, Something New, Five Exhibitions and Some Shoes

16 Dec

The thing I discovered when doing my gallery crawls is you need to be selective.  Deviate from your list and you’ll never leave the first street so I decided on this route and, with quite a tight time frame, I knew I had to stick to it.

Josh Lilley are currently showing a group exhibition with Analia Saban, Belen Rodriguez Gonzalez, Christof Mascher, Gabriel Hartley, Marita Fraser, Nicholas Hatfull, Nick Goss, Robert Pratt and Ruairiadh O’Connell.  There will be no surprises when I tell you this is another beautiful show – particularly notable is Robert Pratt’s Display Unit which grabs you as soon as you walk through the door.  The seemingly precariously placed pieces of clay on the display unit are Pratt’s body parts, positioned at the correct height, in proportion to his own body.

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Robert Pratt, Display Unit (Pieces of a Man), 2012. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

The show gets even better as you go downstairs with works erupting from the ceiling that provide immediate visual impact.  It’s particularly lovely to see a selection of Goss works on paper after his recent solo show which included his more monumental paintings.  Although many of the works in the exhibition have obvious connections through materiality, process, colour, form, expressiveness and so on, Lilley has not attempted to impose a specific theme here which is quite refreshing.  Instead, the gallery has aimed to bring together certain artists – many of whom studied together or have maintained friendships over the years.  Through this, new and unexpected dialogues are initiated and connections made.

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Downstairs at Josh Lilley with Ruairiadh O’Connell’s work in the foreground.  Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Next up was Blain Southern.  Sadly, I missed their opening show so this was my first visit to their new Hanover Square gallery – it’s a beautiful, glass-fronted, space, with a very traditional white box aesthetic.  Their current exhibition is Francesco Clemente’s Mandala for Crusoe.

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Clemente at Blain Southern.  Own photograph.

For Clemente’s first show in seven years, they are exhibiting fourteen large-scale paintings, using raw linen, paint, verdigris, silver pigment, mica, oil sticks and lithographic ink, which gather myriad cultural references and merge timeless motifs from Buddhism and Hinduism.   In Eastern spiritual traditions, the mandala is identified as a conduit to a deeper level of consciousness.  Yet, Clemente uses the mandala in unexpected ways uniting it with the banality of everyday life.

One of the strongest works for me was The Dove of War where the dove, a symbol of peace, filled with silhouettes of planes and bombs, flies through a tinged pink sky.  Clemente divides his time between New York and India, feeling a nomadic affinity with the completive visual tradition of both the East and the West and this is clearly brought out in his works.  Not all of the images, however, have the same strength; the choice of imagery isn’t the most exciting and it is sometimes quite crudely applied.

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Francesco Clemente, The dove of war, 2012. Own photograph.

In contrast, I popped into Gimpel Fils to see Richard Smith’s kite paintings.  Smith has long been interested in paintings which work in three dimensions, having created kite works since the early 1970s.  The kite paintings are so successful partly due to their contrasts – the hard poles and the soft canvas, the string and the rope – and meticulous finish.  Known for emphasising the importance of shape, support, colour and surface, these works focus on the physical constitution of painting.  The tenser and more exaggerated they are, the more I find myself enjoying them.

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Kite paintings at gimpel fils. Own photograph.

I strolled round the corner, past the currently closed Gagosian Davies Street and headed to Timothy Taylor, resisting the temptation to walk further down Mount Street to see what Christian Louboutin had in store.

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Louboutin’s Christmas shoe tree.  Image via http://theexhibitionlist.wordpress.com/

Their latest exhibition presents new work by Lucy Williams who has redefined the concept of collage through her mixed media bas-reliefs of unpopulated mid-century Modernist architecture.   It’s difficult to decide if these works are sculptures or collages or even how they are made.  They look so simple but I have no doubt they are ridiculously complex to execute due to the high level of detail and finish.  Williams starts by creating a technical drawing that can take several drafts to get right.  She then picks her materials and starts to build her layers, one on top of each other.  It’s the geometry of the buildings that interests her most and, from a distance, it is the modular structure of her pieces and the predominant patterns that stand out.

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Lucy Williams, the tiled cathedral, 2012. Own photograph.

Although hints of activity can be seen behind closed curtains, the works are always unpopulated.  People could return at any moment but, instead, we are allowed to explore these miniature and obsessively realised worlds in an oasis of calm.  The works are presented on architectural supports, providing the perfect context and framework for these beautiful pieces.

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Pavilion at Timothy Taylor Gallery. Own photograph.

My final stop of the day was the Royal Academy for Constable, Gainsborough, Turner and the Making of Landscape.  This show particularly appeals to me as walking through its doors was like re-entering my Masters – some Sandby watercolours brought back very vivid memories indeed.  The exhibition looks at the formation of landscape painting through John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough and JMW Turner, highlighting the discourses surrounding the Beautiful, the Sublime (mainly Burke this time round) and the Picturesque (championed by William Gilpin) and looking at the changing styles of landscape.  The works by the three key figures are contextualised with paintings by their 18th century counterparts and prints made after 17th century Masters, showing the roots of the tradition which comes from the Carracci brothers, Nicolas Poussin, Salvator Rosa and Lorraine Gaspard Dughet.  They used landscape to inform the drama in their subjects and this was important in shaping what we see in this exhibition.

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Paul Sandby, Wenlock Abbey, Shropshire, The South Transept and Converted Prior’s Lodge Seen from the North Transept, 1779.  Image via www.racollection.org.uk

And, of course, there’s Richard Wilson, often regarded as the father of British landscape, who introduced an aesthetic scaffolding that encouraged a particular view with framing devices to send the viewer’s eye to the subject and referenced the landscape as a useful and enterprising place.

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After Richard Wilson, Engraved by Joseph Wood, The Lake of Nemi, 1764. Image via www.racollection.org.uk

Looking at the shift from the idealised view of the landscape, to a celebration of the particular, imbued with ideas of morals and emotions, the works here show the discovery of the landscape of the British Isles and a move away from the Grand Tour imagery that was so popular.  Specificity of landscape was very important to these artists all of whom took meticulous sketch notes.

The exhibition has been put together in a wonderfully engaging way – the first room looks at the work of Richard Long, Norman Ackroyd, Michael Kenny and John Maine showing the lasting legacy of the three artists on which the show focuses.  This offers a fascinating framework through which to see the exhibition and I hope will quash any silly comments that landscape is boring.  After this bold start, the exhibition continues more as one would expect, charting the progression of landscape and introducing its key themes.

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Richard Long, Heaven and Earth, 2001. Image via http://azurebumble.wordpress.com

Perhaps, most importantly, the exhibition looks at the significance of printmaking in popularising and disseminating the genre.  It does rely heavily on prints but this is certainly a positive thing as it’s rare to see so many excellent works on paper together.  For this reason though, it can sometimes seem quite gloomy – but there’s no choice as these works require low light levels and the walls have been painted to show off the paper (drawings and prints) rather than the canvases.

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Thomas Gainsborough, Romantic Landscape, 1783.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

I am deliberately not writing anymore as otherwise I fear I will be at risk of regurgitating my MA.  But, the joy of this exhibition is that it informs so well and specifically that I would urge you to go and learn about the period for yourself.  The RA has not produced a catalogue for this which is a great shame.  Instead, they’ve produced a lovely small exhibition guide that takes the format of their normal student guides.

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John Constable, The Leaping Horse, 1825. Image via www.royalacademy.org.uk

The show is displayed in the Fine Rooms and the Weston Rooms which we’re not so used to but it certainly makes a change.  The big names will no doubt pull in the punters (it’s worth visiting just to see the popular oils that appear later in the show) but this exhibition is so much more than a 19th century blockbuster and many of the works are a rare delight.  It follows the evolution of the tradition of British landscape through 120 works all of which have been sourced from the RA’s own impressive collections.  This is the first Burlington House show to do this in 50 years and illustrates the veritable treasure trove they house.  I’d love to get down there to see the rest.

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Something New is at Josh Lilley Gallery until 10th January 2013, www.joshlilleygallery.com.   Francesco Clemente: Mandala for Crusoe is at Blain Southern until 26th January 2013, www.blainsouthern.com.  Richard Smith: Kite Paintings is at gimpel fils until 12th January 2013, www.gimpelfils.com.  Lucy Williams: Pavilion is at Timothy Taylor Gallery until 11th January 2013, www.timothytaylorgallery.comConstable, Gainsborough, Turner and the Making of Landscape is at the Royal Academy until 17th February 2013, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

Two days left to catch the Burra Bug

17 Feb

By now, you’ve probably all seen the documentary and read about the Edward Burra exhibition which opened at Pallant House in October.  Various things have conspired against me and yesterday I realised how close I had come to missing this show.  So, off I went on a very Mini Adventure.  If I can’t take the car via the Strand and Waterloo Bridge then I tend to navigate via The Stoop (Harlequins’ home ground) and this was the way I zoomed yesterday.

This is the first major show for over 25 years of Burra’s works and he is finally getting a smidgeon of the recognition he deserves.  As well as his work being included in Tate Britain’s watercolour show, Zoot Suits fetched a record £1.8 million at Sotheby’s sale of the Evill/Frost Collection.  But, the art world elite have always been aware of his work.  It’s to everyone else that he has remained a mystery.

Edward Burra, Zoot Suits, 1948.  Image via www.voltcafe.com

The Edward Burra exhibition provides an opportunity to study Burra’s extraordinary creativity.  Burra was remarkable; suffering from severe arthritis and rheumatism, he was barely able to move his claw-like hands at the end of his life and grasped a paintbrush with his swollen fist.  Serious anaemia also left him debilitated and subject to collapse with no energy but, notwithstanding his constant ill health, he never wanted to be defined by this as it was something that he abhorred.  Burra was fortunate to be born to a wealthy family and to have humour and an indomitable spirit, qualities that allowed him to rise above his many illnesses.  For Burra, art was his drug and his escape; the only time that he didn’t feel any pain was when he was painting.

Edward Burra, The Snack Bar, 1930. Image via www.tate.org.uk

Burra lived in Rye, Sussex but he travelled far and wide drawing inspiration from diverse sources, creating complex artworks often redolent of the time in which he lived.  His sharp eye combined with a love and knowledge of art history that is often evident in his works.  He was fascinated by modern urban life – the cheap glamour of tarts and prostitutes who congregated in the Mediterranean seaports and the boulevards of Montparnasse and by the black culture he saw in Harlem where he was intoxicated by the violent colour, noise and heat.

Edward Burra, Harlem, 1934. Image via www.tate.org.uk

Apart from his collages, almost all of Burra’s incredible works are executed in watercolour and he was one of the most skilled exponents of the medium.  Initially, it’s hard to believe that they are not painted in tempera as the handling of the medium is so tight and the works lack the fluidity and tonal quality one would normally associate with watercolour.  It’s probable that he worked so heavily with this medium as it allowed him to paint at a table rather than being forced to stand at an easel.

Edward Burra, The Straw Man, 1963. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.  

Burra is an eccentric artist who resists categorisation.  The characters in his paintings jump out at you from their frames.  His compositions are often playful, provocative and powerful – nowhere else will you find such dynamism and life.   The Danse Macabre works look at Burra’s experimentation with collage; his strange composite beings are almost Surrealist and further heighten the confusion as to what movement Burra should be ‘shoved’ into.

Edward Burra, Dancing Skeletons, 1934. Image via www.tate.org.uk

The Pallant House exhibition is ordered by theme – High Art/Low Culture, Danse Macabre, A Sense of Unease, The Sussex Landscape, Late Landscapes and Painting The Stage – which works quite well because it is hung in relatively small rooms off the main gallery space.   It’s a difficult exhibition space to work and although a thematic display is successful sometimes the rooms feel too isolated and self-contained.

Most of the works here are on loan from private collections and are rarely seen.  The exhibition includes some very unusual Burra works, particularly the Sussex landscapes with which I wasn’t really familiar; these are rare as the majority of Burra’s work did not deal with Britain.  The room of Late Landscapes includes Burra’s painting materials and colour tests from the ’70s. Amidst these is an envelope that had become a testing page and a shopping list; in his distinctive writing Burra has scrawled ‘anchovies, paste, sardines, coffee, BRD, 4 batterys, savlon’.   This is a really lovely human detail.  In fact, as I write there is an envelope next to me that I have commandeered as a to-do list.

Edward Burra, Landscape near Rye, 1934-5. Image via www.pallant.org.uk

Burra was able to create an incredible atmosphere of suspense with heightened drama.  Although his subject altered radically over the years, there is always a sense that something isn’t quite right as he imbues even happy scenes with a sinister quality.  His works are humorous but disquieting, both comic but tragic; we are always left with questions and never quite know what Burra wanted us to think.  But that is the point.  After all, he famously said that he never ‘never tell[s] anybody anything’ so he wanted us to work it out for ourselves – or maybe not.

I was pleased to see how busy the exhibition was.  It is Burra’s seedy depictions of social scenes that grab us, opening windows into the underbelly of a world we have not visited.  John Rothenstein suggested that they may ‘constitute the most grand and the most vivid interpretation of the least reputable seams of society by any painter of our time’.  Although I’d have liked to see a few more of his idiosyncratic bustling urban scenes, the exhibition is great to allow an overview of the Burra that few people know.

Edward Burra, Three Sailors at a Bar, 1930. Image via www.hh-h.com

I’m not sure you’d leave Chichester loving Burra if you don’t already but if you have the Burra bug, like me, then it’s definitely worth rushing down to this.  I hope that before too long there will be another opportunity to talk more about Burra but, right now with only two days left, I urge you to jump on the train or head over via The Stoop and see his work for yourself.

Edward Burra is at Pallant House Gallery until 19th February 2012.  Also, in room four is a small David Dawson exhibition which includes his wonderfully intimate photos of Freud – some of which are at the NPG – and his own lesser known paintings.  David Dawson: Working with Lucian Freud is on until 20th May 2012, www.pallant.org.uk.

The New Hockney – another RA Blockbuster

20 Jan

2012 is the year of the big names and the big shows that will pull in the punters and the RA has hit gold with one of their own – David Hockney RA.   This is the first ‘countdown event’ for the London 2012 Festival and advance ticket sales have reportedly already outsold their van Gogh exhibition.

David Hockney, Woldgate Woods, 21, 23 and 29 November 2006, oil on six canvases. Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

David Hockney: A Bigger Picture is the first exhibition in the UK to showcase Hockney’s landscape work, a genre with which, until a few years ago, we would not have readily associated this artist. Hockney has always been innovative – famous for his ‘portraits’ of boys with Californian swimming pools in an idealised gay aesthetic.  His works are recognisable – he shows LA as a landscape of pleasure and sexual freedom with cloudless blue skies and idealistic fantasies.  His raunchiness has long gone and his recent work is far more mainstream and conservative, more acceptable to many audiences; he has returned to the area around his hometown of Bradford and settled down.  But maybe his work hasn’t changed as much as we initially think – yes, the subject matter may be different but the ideas, use of colour and idealism still underlie the canvases.  Hockney has tricked us with his change of aesthetic focus.

David Hockney, The Road across the Woods, 1997, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

So, here we have a Hockney exhibition that is a display of vivid paintings inspired by the Yorkshire countryside.  This is not simply a show about nature, although the theme may lead us to believe it is.  It is an exhibition about the importance of an artistic tradition and the British landscape.

Walking into the Royal Academy, you are instantly engulfed by Hockney’s work.  So much so, that the use of a room with multiple doorways means visitors don’t actually know where to start from.  My advice is head to the right.  Once you’re in Room Two you’ll find that curatorially the show flows like a dream.  The wall colours change in almost every room, often successfully alternating between deep red and putty grey (which is a surprisingly nice colour).

David Hockney: A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy. Own photograph.

The second gallery contextualises the exhibition, looking at landscapes from earlier in Hockney’s career, showing how he has always been a landscape artist.  Hockney has a skill with colour and, while landscape may have been present earlier in his career, this is still fairly a dramatic shift in subject.  Many of his works are made up of numerous panels, reflecting the dominance of nature and A Closer Grand Canyon from 1998 comprises 60 stunning canvases.  Due to its vastness, the Grand Canyon is not an easy subject for any artist to tackle but size has never scared Hockney.  This painting extends the boundaries of the conventional landscape genre, focusing on the depiction of space and the experience of being within such a space at one of the most spectacular vantage points.

David Hockney, A Closer Grand Canyon, 1998, oil on 60 canvases. Own photograph.

I adore Hockney’s landscapes so, for me, this exhibition is generally a delight.  They are beautiful works that can’t help but make you smile; Hockney’s exuberant use of colour creates bright, happy, idealistic paintings.  The recurring motifs of idealism and the importance of colour still pervades Hockney’s work.

Moving around the exhibition, the dense hang, in Room Four, of the paintings from 2004-5 reflects the unusual smaller scale of these works  and, here,  it’s possible to really get a sense of Hockney’s passion for his re-discovery of landscape.   Hockney has become extremely well-attuned to the natural world, studying seasonal changes.  Continuing this progression, Room Five is the first of four consecutive galleries devoted to a particular subject or motif, often the same place at different times of day.  It is fascinating to study the scene in its different guises.

David Hockney, A Closer Winter Tunnel, February-March 2006, oil on six canvases.  Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

Despite Hockney’s nod to a tradition of British painting, one of the most distinctive elements of the show is his new iPad works where he is able to celebrate the new and enliven the old.  Now I’m not particularly adept on any Apple product but Hockney certainly is.  At 74 years old, Hockney has re-invented a tradition using his iPad as an electronic sketchbook and the stylus as his new paintbrush.  He delights in the immediacy of the medium but retains the hallmarks of his style to very different effect; the painterly skill he has achieved using an App is impressive.  This is apparent when comparing his iPad works to his painting, which reveals a bolder composition and use of mark-making.

David Hockney, The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) – 2 January,    iPad drawing printed on paper.  Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

The iPad works document the changing season, recording the transition from winter to spring along a small Roman road that leads out of Bridlington.  Filling the central room, all these works form The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven)which comprises 51 iPad drawings and one large painting made from 32 canvases.  This gallery is stunning;  light and airy, there is a deliberate sense of theatricality where the viewer is centre stage, surrounded by drama and change, engulfed by the natural landscape.  Hockney has applied his obsessive energy to this new medium and this project, designed with these rooms specifically in mind.  The iPad works all have dates on the walls next to them so that we can follow Hockney’s journey.  He scrutinises the natural world and nothing passes him by.  The works in The Arrival of Spring are strong because they are a group.  Whether the paintings would retain this impact individually cannot be assessed here but, in this configuration, they are gorgeous.

David Hockney, The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven), oil on 32 canvases, Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

To leave the exhibition, you have to pass through Hockney’s reflections on Claude.  The less said about these the better.  Inspired, by the spatial effect seen in Claude’s Sermon on the Mount, Hockney has made a life-sized transcript and a number of studies exploring Claude’s geographical compression of space.  These are bad and unforgivable, a sad way to end a beautiful show.  I actually walked round again and exited through the front door so that I could end with a feel-good factor.

David Hockney, The Sermon on the Mount II (After Claude), 2010, oil on canvas.  Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

One of the final rooms in the exhibition presents a bank of screens – multi-camera footage of Yorkshire mixed with interior films and motifs from Hockney’s paintings.  The videos have been filmed simultaneously using nine and eighteen cameras, fitted on customised cars, providing a spell-binding, immersive experience.  Once again, Hockney enjoys pushing technology to its limits, playing with a medium with which we think we are familiar.

David Hockney, Nov. 7th, Nov. 26th 2010, Woldgate Woods, 11.30 am and 9.30 am, film still. Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

Critics say Hockney wanted to get away from his recognisable signature style but, although now concentrating on a different subject, these works still retain everything that has always been important to the artist.  The exhibition is about the importance of seeing and of observing and studying change.   Hockney’s commitment to the landscape is evident by the close study necessary to produce some of these works.  The exhibition also includes a number of drawings showing Hockney’s dedication to the fundamentals of his art.  Sometimes the colours can be a bit garish and some of the works aren’t quite as good as others but, more often than not, they are beautiful – simple expressions of the joy of the natural landscape.  Hockney transforms what, from any other artist, may be polite works into spectacular visions of England, filled with energy and life.  Hockney’s work is ahead of its time, answering questions that have not yet been asked.

 

David Hockney, Under the Trees, Bigger 2010–11, oil on twenty canvases.  Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

The exhibition is immense with more than 150 works, the majority of which have been created in the last eight years.  It’s a wonderful show; Hockney is now considered the greatest living artist – he’s brilliant, the British public love him and why the hell not!

David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture is at The Royal Academy until 9th April 2012, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

Two Galleries for Tuesday: Stephen Friedman and White Cube

23 Nov

I often walk past the Stephen Friedman Gallery as I wander down Old Burlington Street – their wonderful frontage means it’s always easy to have a quick peek at the current exhibition without going in.  But their current exhibition of Catherine Opie photographs is reason enough to stop and take a closer look.  Although simple at first glance, Opie’s works have always been far more complicated and powerful than they initially appear.  They cross diverse genres including portraiture, landscape, and street photography, exploring complex issues of community and identity across her American homeland.  Opie has always been interested in the conditions that people live and how communities form and are defined.

Catherine Opie, The Gang, 1990. Image via www.stephenfriedman.com

This is a simply, but very well, curated show.  Opie’s work is known for moving between portraiture and landscape and this exhibition harmoniously combines these two realms, presenting two very different bodies of work: a selection of portraits from her Girlfriends series and a new series of landscapes, captured at sea – Twelve Miles to the Horizon: Sunrises and Sunsets.

Catherine Opie, Sunset 5, 2009. Image via www.stephenfriedman.com

Taken from the mid-eighties through to 2010, Girlfriends is a striking, stark series of black and white portraits showing a diverse range of friends and lovers.  Opie’s representation often aims to provoke.  With no excess allowed in her compositions, these sitters are themselves and they dare you to accept them as they are.  The works have a playful intimacy, often highly sexualised, that transforms them from voyeuristic objects into subtle peeks into the artist’s world.

Catherine Opie, Gabby (back), 1989. Image via www.stephenfriedman.com

Twelve Miles to the Horizon: Sunrises and Sunsets documents Opie’s journey on a Hanjin cargo vessel, travelling across the Pacific Ocean, from Korea to California.  Living on the ship for 11 days, Opie documented each sunrise and sunset.  The images work in pairs, in conversation with each other, focusing on the passage of time and the transience of a day.  For me, these aren’t as exciting as the series in the front gallery but they certainly are beautiful and Opie puts her mark on the well-worn genre of landscape photography.

Catherine Opie, Sunset 6, 2009. Image via www.stephenfriedman.com

Time for a drink so we headed over the cobbles into Mason’s Yard for White Cube’s exhibition of new works by Jeff Wall.  I know it’s cold, and there are Christmas decorations adorning the whole of London, but this was the first true indication that winter has arrived – for the first time in months there were more people inside the gallery than outside (where the bar is).  Quelle horreur!  As at Stephen Friedman, White Cube are showing two series of works.  The first, upstairs, Sicily, 2007 consists of only three photographs.  This was in complete contrast to Opie’s use of landscape.  Using his typical large-scale format, Wall evokes ancient settings, mingling eras in a timeless world that he creates.  The works came about after a holiday to Sicily where Wall was struck by the powerful rocky landscape and the sense of desolate beauty.  The sheer scale of the works is necessary to convey the impact of the landscape.  Wall doesn’t wish just to photograph stunning scenery but to explore the power of nature.  This is most successful in his black and white images, showing that colour is not important here, only shape and space.

Jeff Wall, Hillside, Sicily, 2009. Image via www.thisislondon.co.uk

Downstairs, White Cube are showing seven new works that depict a figure or a group of figures, who appear to be playing or enacting a role.  Again, the photographs seek to transport the viewer to Wall’s timeless world.  They are always carefully composed and staged.

One such work is Boy Falls From Tree that aims to show a contrast of calmness interrupted by drama.  Yet, the drama does not really impact on the tranquillity of the scene.  The boy is playing a role; although staged, the scene is real, it isn’t created digitally, Wall actually did have someone fall from a tree but ‘protected him from the consequences’.  It is this that gives his work such imaginative depth – staged reality (whether on TV or in art) always captures the public imagination most of all.

Jeff Wall, Boy Falls From Tree, 2010. Image via www.whitecube.com

These are good exhibitions but not really exciting and the whole evening lacked the normal buzz of PV nights in Mayfair.  Even though there are now PVs every night of the week, and the same people attend the majority, it’s always easy to lose track of time chatting.  The art world never sleeps and there’s always gossip to be shared and news to be exchanged.  Reports from friends dotted over London at other openings weren’t encouraging and, with little time to spare before they shut, I decided to put the others on my list on hold until later this week.  The joy and nightmare of living in London is the amount there is to see but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Catherine Opie is at the Stephen Friedman Gallery until 21st January 2012, www.stephenfriedman.comJeff Wall is at White Cube until 7th January, www.whitecube.com.

 

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