Tag Archives: memory

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.

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No need to be SAD: Victoria Miro and Parasol Unit

28 Nov

You may remember that I missed a couple of openings last Tuesday so after lunch and a few meetings at The Charles Lamb in Islington on Friday afternoon, I decided to head over to Victoria Miro and Parasol Unit to see their two, much-talked about new exhibitions.

Victoria Miro’s artist, Alex Hartley, has had his fair share of press recently – and not much of it positive – regarding his 2012 Cultural Olympiad Project, Nowhere Island.  The sculpture is formed from six tonnes of rock cut from a Norwegian glacier and will visit numerous venues across the UK next summer.  Hartley’s aim is for the project to highlight the dangers of climate change but the ‘island’ has been slated as a waste of public money.  Rarely do all the different newspapers unite but here they found a common cause.

Alex Hartley’s Nowhere Island. Image via www.dailymail.co.uk

However, Hartley’s current exhibition at Victoria Miro serves to remind us what a great artist he is.   Presenting a series of mixed-media photographs, the exhibition seeks to explore his on-going investigation into dystopian architecture, secular habitation and the construction of a sanctuary.  Not only do his photographs concentrate on built environments, but the works become built environments themselves as well, as Hartley constructs and transforms traditional wall-mounted photographs, turning elements of them into sculptural jungles.

Alex Hartley, A city in my mind, 2011. Own photograph.

The interventions are all scaled architectural models which come together to allude to the creation of something that has now become uninhabitable, a building or form of shelter occupying an uninhabited landscape.  In some of the images, Hartley even digs crevices into the flat surface of the photograph – ingenious!  From a distance they look like just photographs but up close they are sculptural landscapes.

Alex Hartley, I’m tired of travelling, 2011. Own photograph.

His works directly reference Drop City, the first rural hippy commune built in a desolate area of Colorado in the mid-1960s.  Living in makeshift shelters, the radical artists and film-makers sought to create a live-in, and living, work of art.  In practice, it wasn’t quite so successful and was disbanded within ten years.  But, on Victoria Miro’s terrace, Hartley has made a Drop City dome, rusted, aged and out of time which he will apparently inhabit during the exhibition.  I saw a pair of boots outside the tent mouth but didn’t spot him lurking inside, only a few hens pecking away at the water’s edge.  Dropper is beautiful and so brilliantly brings to life the ideas in his photographs.

Alex Hartley, Dropper, 2011. Own photograph.

One other sculpture accompanies this exhibition.  Upstairs, a work shows a life-size, one-man tent, partly submerged in a snowdrift.  Is the inhabitant inside?  Has he/she survived or escaped?  Although the message reinforces that of the photographs the sculpture, in my opinion, was slightly unnecessary and seems a bit random placed by itself.

Upstairs at Victoria Miro showing Bivvy, 2011. Own photograph.

The project space by reception includes artefacts and objects from Hartley’s past two expeditions to the High Artic that relate to the controversial Nowhere Island.  As this space is separate, it doesn’t distract us too much but I wish they hadn’t dredged up the Olympic debate here and, therefore, brought all of our doubts about Hartley to the surface.

However, regardless of your views on that, the mixed-media photographs are superb and deserve attention in their own right.  Pretend Hartley has had nothing do with the Olympics and look at these stunning works afresh as he re-builds the photograph, forcing us to think about place, community, shelter and surroundings.

Alex Hartley at Victoria Miro. Own photograph.

Looking at the Hartley installation on the terrace, it’s impossible not to be struck by Parasol Unit’s installation by James Yamada.  The summer shelter retreats darkly among the trees is a sculptural work addressing the phenomenon of light and is the first in Parasolstice – Winter Light, a series of outdoor projects on this theme.

Complementing Victoria Miro’s exhibition, Yamada’s work is a shelter but in no ordinary sense.  Integrated into the roof are lights normally used in the treatment of SAD (seasonal affective disorder).  Yamada is known for such ingenious constructions as this that merge nature and technology but here the main question is, is it art or therapy?  The artist doesn’t want it pigeon-holed as either.  Art is therapeutic for a lot of people and, regardless of whether you suffer from SAD (and I think we all do a little bit), after ten minutes of exposure, the lights are meant to elevate your mood and change your body dynamic.  Yamada thinks that London is dreary in winter and wants the artwork to give people hope.  We visited just as it was getting dark and, although I didn’t have time for my ten minute stint, it did make me happy looking at the warm glow emanating across the terrace.

James Yamada, The Summer shelter retreats darkly among the trees, 2011. Own photograph.

Inside at Parasol is an exhibition of two Swedish artists – Cecilia Edefalk and Gunnel Wåhlstrand – that focuses on time and memory.

Cecilia Edefalk at Parasol. Own photograph.

Edefalk’s work carries a strong Scandinavian haunting melancholy.  Beautifully painted, her twelve completely different versions of the same nude (a Venus statue) focus on ideas of repetition, reproduction and historical memory.  Although all the paintings concentrate on the same subject, they could not be more different.  They allude to one another and form a complex exchange until all that remains is an abstracted, silhouetted image.  The artist is heavily involved in the exhibition and the physical set-up is an integral part of her practice – some works are displayed at angles, some upside down and so on until the exhibition becomes a performance of the artist’s own sensibilities.

Cecilia Edefalk at Parasol. Own photograph.

Upstairs, Wåhlstrand’s work blew me away.  Images do not do these justice – they are photo-realistic ink drawings, focusing on memory, that reconstruct her own personal history.  Exploring motifs from the family album, Wåhlstrand re-approaches her family history and the harrowing story of her father’s suicide when she was only one year old.  Although the images themselves are not particularly special by re-drawing them, Wåhlstrand gives them a poignant immediacy as she re-explores the past of her family that she never knew.

Gunnel Wåhlstrand, Walk, 2011. Own photograph.

As she approaches and moves beyond the stories they tell, the drawings are greatly enlarged from a normal family snapshot.  The images are soft and lacking in resolution, showing the fading of memories over time.  The softening dilutes the power of the photograph and the memory.  Both artists’ works have a profound sense of loss and distance.  We cannot get close to the figures depicted, we will never truly understand.

Gunnel Wåhlstrand upstairs at Parasol. Own photograph.

Three brilliant exhibitions and they’re next door to each other so what a bonus (I confess to having been in flats otherwise this would have been a perfect totter for me).  All the works deserve attention in different ways and then, if you’re tired from an art overload, you can sit down in Yamada’s happy house and get some energising light.  It’s a win win situation!

Alex Hartley: The world is still big is at Victoria Miro until 21st January 2012, www.victoria-miro.comJames Yamda: The summer shelter retreats darkly among the trees is at Parasol unit until 18th March 2012 and Time and Memory: Cecilia Edefalk and Gunnel Wåhlstrand is at Parasol Unit until 12th February 2012, www.parasol-unit.org.

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