Tag Archives: Liverpool

Get Drawn into Stephen Walter’s Wonderland

25 Nov

Amazingly, I now know my way around Hackney Wick.  Despite the fact that I regularly get lost in central London, I can ‘do’ Hackney Wick.  Well, that may be a slight exaggeration.  I can get from the station to Britannia Works where two artists I know currently have their studios.  So, after the tube and the mainline and a rather hazardous walk over the canal where I was nearly blown away (that bit is not an exaggeration), I arrived.

I love visiting artists’ studios and Stephen Walter’s is always a highlight – there’s frequently something new to see, a work in which to lose myself or something exciting to pour over while having a good catch up.

Stephen Walter’s studio. Own photograph.

Many of you have probably seen Stephen’s maps of London.  His most renowned work, The Island, took two years to complete and, on seeing it or one of the borough works (offshoots from the central piece), you can’t help but try to find your home or other landmarks across the city that are personal to you.  I have Barnet hanging on a wall at home and take great pleasure in spotting my house on it.  I blogged this particular series when it was installed at the National Trust’s Fenton House last year where you could climb the 18th century staircase and take in all the boroughs on the way up.

Stephen Walter, The Island.  Image via www.stephenwalter.co.uk

Obviously, Stephen knows London well but the detail included in these maps was extensive and he had to study numerous historical documents, travel literature and antique maps.  Plus, he used Wikipedia to source place names and amusing trivia on important historical and artistic figures as well as contemporary celebrities, on purely capricious grounds.

Stephen also mapped out Liverpool in his own inimitable way.  The map was far larger and more detailed than he initially planned.  Here again, the map is geographically accurate highlighting many of Liverpool’s main roads, railway lines, built-up areas, monuments and green spaces, with an enlarged section of the city centre added in the bottom left corner. It also records several memorable viewpoints that translate the city’s character onto paper.

A poster of Stephen’s Liverpool map on the studio wall. Own photograph.

This year the buzz has been about Walter’s London Subterranea which was on show at the London Transport Museum.  One of these maps is currently hidden away in a chest of drawers in Stephen’s studio; based on the tube network, Stephen painstakingly recorded buried rivers, bunkers, sewers, government tunnels and other hidden parts of London’s underground networks.  He found out about, and included, pagan burial sites, ley lines and murder mysteries.   Unusually, the map is set against a striking black background and crammed in typical ‘Stephen style’.

A detail from London Subterranea. Own photograph.

Stephen is currently finishing Nova Utopia based on the shape of Abraham Ortelius’s map, which was designed to entertain his friends and provide an illustration for their copies of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia (1516).  In Greek utopia means ‘a place that doesn’t exist’ but has also come to mean ‘an ideal place’; Stephen’s map brings together a number of different imagined worlds forming his own island of Utopia.

Abraham Ortelius, Utopia.  Image via www.blogs.artinfo.com

More’s Utopia depicted what its narrator, Raphael Hythloday, claimed to be an ideal human society.  There are many ways to interpret Utopia but, ultimately, the book attempts to navigate a course between the ideal and the real, a desire to create perfection while understanding that perfection is unattainable.

The detail in Stephen’s works is very special.  Despite having seen his Nova Utopia on a number of occasions I can’t help gazing at the detail and soaking it all up.  I’m not going to spoil the treat for you by revealing any images before the work is finished.

A work in progress. Own photograph.

Walter’s drawings have evolved from his fascination with maps, public signs, symbols and obsessive tendencies.  But, he doesn’t just create maps; he also produces beautiful landscape works where he takes emblems to describe often fictitious places and amazing totem-like drawings, playing with mirrored imagery.  One work pinned to the wall is exploring 1960s popular culture with figures like The Beatles jumping out at us.  But, what will fill the other half of the totem pole?  Well, Stephen’s works are always a wonderful surprise and a mystery so I guess I’ll just have to wait until my next visit to see what transpires.

Finding Nick Goss’s Studio

16 Jan

My first encounter with Nick Goss’s work was when someone showed me a photo on an i-Phone in a pub.  I was instantly captivated by his elusive, yet enigmatic, style of painting.  Not much art can really grab your attention from a phone screen but there was something about these works that left me wanting more.  The ghostly textures pulled me in and the more I heard about Nick, the more I wanted to know.

Nick Goss, Dockery Plantation, 2009. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Over the last year I’ve seen a range of his pieces at the Josh Lilley Gallery and he has also produced a response to be included in In Conversation with Stuart Sutcliffe which opens in April – how did that come around so quickly?!  It was because of this exhibition that I ended up trying to find my way to his studio today.  Getting out at Elephant & Castle I was instantly disorientated.  It’s another one of those stations where I never use the right exit and never end up in the right place.  After several failed attempts, and having crossed the roundabout three times, I set off in the wrong direction.  Finally I managed to get it right but half way down the New Kent Road, a taxi came to my rescue (again).  And, thank heavens it did, as the studio was much further away than I had anticipated.  When will I learn?

Nick Goss, Casbah, 2011.  Image courtesy of the artist and via www.stuartsutcliffe.org.uk

I arrived quite late and frazzled but walking into Nick’s studio had an instantly calming effect as the smell of oil paint wafted over to meet me.  Everything seemed right and I was greeted by Casbah – the work that will be included in the Sutcliffe show.  For this, Nick went up to Liverpool on a Stuart Sutcliffe research trip to get fully in the mood.  As well as being an artist, the multi-talented Nick plays in the band, My Sad Captains, so the combination of art and music in ICWSS particularly appealed to him.  His band has been described as lonesome and groovy with a warm dynamic range; his music elicits very similar emotional responses to those of his artwork.  Over the last year, Nick has been using board more than canvas, experimenting with block shapes as seen here.  His work has developed a long way, without losing any of its potency.

Nick Goss’s studio. Own photograph.

Casbah looks at how the reality of being a musician is often so different to the imagined ideal.  Nick wanted to investigate the associated detritus of playing in a band and the sort of rehearsal spaces and small venues that the Beatles would have confronted on arriving in Hamburg.  When devoid of players and instruments, these spaces have a peculiar, melancholic atmosphere.  Cheap, simple and limited, these rooms allowed creativity to flourish and promulgated the development of musical ideas.

At the studio. Own photograph.

Nick has also painted a companion piece to Casbah, a bigger composition with a different colour scheme and tonality.  It’s different but the same, emanating from the same point it is a mirror image of the first composition.

Looking back, Josh Lilley first saw Nick’s work in late 2008 at his studio at the RA.  He then included him in his gallery’s inaugural show.  Nick graduated in summer 2008 at which time Saatchi began buying his works.  Josh had spotted something special and offered him a solo show for April of last year.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Nick Goss, Everyday, 2009. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Nick’s works play closely on the paradox of observation and memory, purposefully seeking out locations and subjects that co-exist between the landscape and the industrial, the recognisable and the ambiguous.  The works include many historical allusions which demonstrate the ability of painting to accommodate the historic alongside the contemporary, and to integrate the conceptual within the visual.  Many of his images focus on the remains of a built environment that is abandoned, overgrown or decayed.   Nick removes any sense of specificity from these spaces, embodying the works with beautiful timelessness and romanticism in his parallel world.  Yet, they are real places with a haunting presence and fading memories.  The scenes appear almost overlaid at times as dense textures and thickly-rendered surfaces are covered with delicate washes in dream-like scenarios.

Nick Goss, Ringling Brothers, 2009-10. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Across the studio, and indeed across his whole oeuvre, Nick’s works range dramatically in size.  Whether you’re looking at his intimate watercolours or huge canvases (exceeding three metres), the texture and feel remains the same whatever the scale.  We are not meant to look at these works and identify figures, objects or landscapes.  Instead, their elusive presence is intended to fade in and out of our viewpoint.  The works are bold yet fragile in their portrayals.

At the studio. Own photograph.

Nick’s work fringes on the cusp of memory and imagination, denying space and time.  His desolate landscapes are incredibly moving; the geography of the images is both relative and abstract importance especially when viewed alongside the emotional reality depicted in them.

The studio had a very conducive atmosphere and I could have happily whiled away the day sniffing oil paint fumes and getting lost in the paintings.  Paint tubes jostled for space on a central table next to pots bursting with brushes, and sketches discarded in a corner caught my attention but the room wasn’t cluttered.  It exactly what you’d expect of an artist’s studio but was personal to Nick in all aspects.  One wall was filled with watercolours on pages torn from a sketchbook, developing the theme of the shabby rehearsal space by adding manufactured models in a study of fakery and idealisation.  These drawings are filled with a romantic melancholy, a sense of nostalgia and an elusive sensibility.  It was very special to get a feeling for how Nick works and to see his progression of ideas.

Watercolours on the wall. Own photograph.

Examining the paintings in progress was fascinating.  I won’t give too much away – you’re meant to be left wanting more.  Nick returns to Josh Lilley for a solo show this October and no doubt these great ideas will have developed and taken shape.  This is an artist who is quietly making big waves!

For more information about Nick Goss, see www.joshlilleygallery.com/nick-goss or www.stuartsutcliffe.org.uk.

These Boots Are Made For Working – Site Visit for the Sutcliffe Show

10 Aug

This morning I was able to don a hard hat, high visibility jacket and some sturdy steel-capped boots and go exploring in what will be the new East Wing Galleries at Somerset House.  I didn’t really look my usual well-groomed self but the builders seemed to enjoy me tripping around the site.  My ‘gorgeous’ boots were several sizes too big and although it was rather fun, I was pleased to return to my stilettos.

The boots. Own photograph.

These beautiful new galleries (you may have to use your imagination a bit at the moment) will be the home for the London stop of In Conversation with Stuart Sutcliffe next year – an exciting touring exhibition.

The new East Galleries at Somerset House. Own photograph.

Sutcliffe’s importance to the Beatles must not be underestimated – he was one of the founder members, the original bass player during their early years, and a close friend of John Lennon.  Stuart Sutcliffe’s sad and sudden death (attributed to an aneurysm) is part of Beatles’ folklore, a poignant story of a young man whose promising career was tragically cut short.

Stuart Sutcliffe in Hamburg, 1960-61. Image via www.stuartsutcliffeart.com.

In July 1961, Sutcliffe decided to leave The Beatles to concentrate on his art, enrolling at the Hamburg College of Art under the tutelage of Eduardo Paolozzi, who considered him one of his best students.  Known as the 5th Beatle, Sutcliffe was a fantastic young artist who showed huge potential and the legacy of his work has been seen all over the world.

Stuart Sutcliffe, Untitled, Red Portrait. Image via www.stuartsutcliffeart.com.

We’re bringing a great collection of Sutcliffe works over from the States and, as if that isn’t good enough, the exhibition will include a number of artists’ responses to Sutcliffe’s life and work.  Artists involved and creating works for the show are Michael Ajerman, Andrew Bick, Kit Craig, Andrew Curtis, Nick Goss, Mark Hampson, Jann Haworth, Serena Korda, Laura Lancaster, Bob Matthews, Bruce McLean, Marilene Oliver, Flora Parrott, Martina Schmid, Steven Scott, Jamie Shovlin, Sergei Sviatchenko, Jessica Voorsanger, Stephen Walter and Uwe Wittwer.  The final few will be confirmed this month so keep watch for more news.

Excited?  You should be! We are! They are! It’s going to be an amazing exhibition.

The Crypt Gallery, Liverpool (stop 2). Own photograph.

In Conversation with Stuart Sutcliffe will be hosted by CCA&A in Hamburg from 10th April – 9th May 2012, by the Crypt Gallery at the Contemporary Urban Centre in Liverpool from 18th May – 23rd June and by Somerset House in London from 4th July – 27th August.  New York dates are to be confirmed.

Buy the Catalogue: René Magritte at Tate Liverpool

23 Jun

Last time I visited Tate Liverpool was in 2007 to see their Chapman Brothers’ exhibition and I was excited to return to have another look in the gallery.  René Magritte: The Pleasure Principle confirms my previously mentioned opinion that Tate bought a bargain job-lot of grey paint and is going mad with it.  The opening room is so dark and gloomy that you don’t actually want to look at these masterpieces.  Instead, you want to hurry through to find the light.

Own photograph.

Magritte’s works are iconic.  His interest in evoking mystery dominates most of his works, exploring the disturbing effects of depicting recognisable and familiar objects in unfamiliar environments.  The works make use of visual repetition and the paintings themselves are also repetitive.  Magritte regarded that his role as an artist was to confuse and displace; he often makes it hard for viewers to know what they are looking at, a method enhanced by his sometimes bland painting and commercial expressionless, advertisement style.

René Magritte, The Listening Room, 1958.  Own photograph.

I am normally a firm believer in the importance of seeing works first hand but Magritte himself did not think this was necessary saying there is ‘very little difference between seeing a work in reproduction and looking at the real thing.’  That is usually not the case but it is for Magritte’s where I think the concept is more important than the paintings themselves.  He often churned out many of the same works; when seen individually, whether ‘in the flesh’ or in reproduction, they are amazing but when seen in bulk they blur into each other and lose significance.

This is the most comprehensive Magritte exhibition ever staged in the UK with over 100 loans from private and public collections, including works that have never been exhibited before.  The paintings are arranged thematically, showing different elements of Magritte’s practice but I found some sections to be disjointed.

His Vache paintings are silly works with a strange humour (Vache, literally meaning cow, was a pun on Fauve or ‘wild beast’ and was the name given to artists associated with the Fauvist movement at the beginning of the 20th century).  Ellipsis is the strongest in this section, showing a green headed man, wearing a Magritte-style bowler hat (with an eye staring out from its crown) – his nose is a rifle, his left hand is detached from his arm, his eyes are cartoon-like and the colours are garish.  Magritte’s Vache works are flamboyant in their caricatured style and uncharacteristic in his oeuvre; the artist utilises his paint in an unusually sloppy and painterly fashion, challenging conventional expectations of taste.

René Magritte, Ellipsis, 1948.  Own photograph.

The exhibition includes such well-known paintings as: The Lovers (1928) whose shrouded heads perhaps recall the horror of Magritte’s own mother’s suicide when the young Magritte witnessed his mother’s drowned body being pulled from a river, her face veiled by her nightdress; Threatening Weather (1929) bearing the hallmarks of an unsettling, possibly erotic dream; Time Transfixed (1938) where a train travelling at full speed emerges from a fireplace and; The Treachery of Images (1935), more familiarly known as Ceci n’est pas une pipe, (don’t miss it, it’s hidden by a doorway) of which he made many versions, all of which have received an inordinate amount of study and analysis.  The pipe, in fact, became the most emblematic of Magritte’s banal images.

René Magritte, The Treachery of Images, 1935.  Own photograph.

The sheer quantity of the loans does mean there are some exciting works with which I wasn’t familiar.  The Secret Player (1927) is one of his first truly Surrealist works, establishing many familiar techniques: depicting objects in contrasting sizes, the metamorphosis of the inert into the living, the suggestion of staged performance behind a curtain and the presentation of the ordinary in extraordinary circumstances.  Here, it is a cricket match amongst skittle-like bilboquets which evolve into trees.  The work is unsettling and confusing – why is that turtle floating overhead?  There is a lot of misery and unpleasantness in Magritte’s world, it’s not all jolly transformations of fruit.

René Magritte, detail of The Secret Player, 1927.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

My favourite work is a piece I hadn’t seen before.  Crouch down in the corner of the first room and spend some time with The Cut-Glass Bath (1949).  I’m not going to ruin its elegant simplicity with words – it’s beautiful but, of course, the subject of capture and imprisonment is not.

René Magritte, The Cut-Glass Bath, 1949.  Own photograph.

I am ashamed to admit that half way through the exhibition I gave up on my heels and had to change shoes, shrinking several inches in the process.  I had gone up to Liverpool for meetings at the Contemporary Urban Centre (a wonderful space) and having already walked for most of the day, my feet had had enough.  There is only so much one person can take and the greyness of the walls made me feel drained.  Awful I know!  Don’t worry, I was back clacking today.

The exhibition does improve drastically in the second half.  ‘The Pictured Picture’ room playing with the idea of hidden visibles holds some gems.  The sketches are interesting and unusual to see, as Magritte proposes a three-way relationship between text, image and reality.  There are also some rarely seen photos by Magritte as well as a room devoted to his commercial works – advertising posters and the like.

The Pictured Picture.  Own photograph.

The exhibition was far bigger than I had expected, too big in fact.  You go round wanting not only to see the famous pieces but they’re famous for a reason and, amidst this confusing mass of work, you find yourself easily drawn to the familiar.

Now, it may not come as a surprise if I reveal I have a thing for the Thomas Crown Affair.  Of course, this is entirely due to the inclusion of my favourite Magritte painting and nothing to do with Pierce Brosnan!  Although reproductions of the man in the bowler hat recur frequently in the shop, The Son of Man (1964) is in private ownership and not included in the actual
exhibition.  Other Magritte paintings in the exhibition include very similar imagery and the act of partly covering the face is a common Magritte technique – we want to see the thing that is hidden by the thing the artist shows us, we are left in flux, in conflict.  But, the work itself isn’t here.  This wouldn’t have been a problem for me if they hadn’t plastered the image all over their merchandise!  (This is a common gallery marketing tool but it is misleading and people don’t appreciate being misled.)  I had to come home and watch the film to make up for it (swoon).

René Magritte, The Son of Man, 1964.  Image via www.wikimedia.org

Something Tate Liverpool has produced very well is the catalogue.  Not a traditional exhibition book of essays and images, this cute little A-Z begins with A for absence and finishes with Z for zwanzeur with sections on themes, individual paintings and other people.  OK, I won’t leave you in suspense; a zwanzeur is a joker in Brusseleer, a dialect spoken in the Marolles district of Brussels.  Also the little exhibition guide you take round with you, is a chronology rather than the usual repeats of the wall blurbs and it works really well.

René Magritte: A-Z.  Image via www.tate.org.uk

One of the main problems with this show (as with so many) is that it claims to do things that it doesn’t.  Tate Liverpool thinks they offer a fresh look at this popular artist.  They exhibit rarely seen works and bring a large body together but I don’t think they offer any valuable new research, there’s nothing fresh.

If you live near Liverpool or you’re there for the day then it’s definitely worth a visit.  If you’re not, then depending on where you live, it could be quite a trek (it took me 3 hours each way on the train).  It is a good exhibition but that is just because the works are fantastic and maybe you can enjoy them just as much by buying the catalogue.

René Magritte: The Pleasure Principle is at Tate Liverpool from tomorrow (24th June) until 16th October 2011, www.tate.org.uk.

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