Tag Archives: Oscar Wilde

Fitzrovia, Hoxton and a very good Fish Pie

26 Nov

The end of November seems to be overrun with new exhibitions.  Everybody is in a rush to display a host of new work before the Christmas calm hits London as people head home.  And so, on Thursday, I embarked on another plethora of gallery openings starting with the Josh Lilley Gallery – always high up on my must-see list.  For the next month, Josh Lilley is showing a debut exhibition of works by artist, Robert Pratt.  Pratt is fascinated by everyday details that most people would not observe – such as the dirty marks on a pane of glass or the effervescing bubbles in a fizzy drink.  His work seeks to turn these minutiae into a larger, physical reality, thereby forcing us to concentrate on subtle and transient moments.  His sculptures transform and revere the everyday, converting the overlooked into something full of personality that demands respect.  Through an imaginative play on found objects, the work carries a deeper message about the amount that goes unnoticed in our day-to-day lives and calls for us to slow down and admire the detail of the little things.

Robert Pratt, Star Rosette. Own photograph.

Pratt’s work has always been concerned with the gaze, although here it concentrates on the things our gaze misses.  He is not afraid to let these works stand alone; he does not seek to turn them into visually pretty objects but, instead, turns the banal subject matter into a beautiful form by allowing it to have its own presence.   The works all interact, forming trivial but inescapable relationships.  The academic theory behind these works is interesting but, personally, I didn’t find this particular exhibition as inspiring or exciting as the gallery’s previous shows.  However, Lilley sets an extremely high standard and I’m looking forward to their January exhibition of Matt Lipps’ work.

Robert Pratt downstairs at the Josh Lilley Gallery. Own photograph.

Just to make our lives difficult (and more interesting), we headed over to Hoxton.  A long and stressful day and inflexible stilettos necessitated a cab journey as the idea of the tube was rather horrific.  The Hoxton Art Gallery was packed.  Such a buzzy atmosphere is always enticing and passers-by were peering through the glass to see what was going on.  Pushing our way through, we came to a bar set up with local brews – this was certainly an interesting and well-thought out opening.

The Hoxton Art Gallery. Own photograph.

The exhibition celebrates the end of the Hoxton Art Gallery’s first year and showcases four of their artists – Guler Ates, Katie Sims, Lucy Wilson and Ha Young Kim – including new works by each of them.  Individually, there are some gorgeous pieces although there is no strong overriding theme to give the exhibition true coherence.  My works of choice were downstairs; Sims’ paintings draw you closer with her gorgeous technique and abstracted imagery gesturing to blurred landscapes and other worlds.  Ates’ work explores cultural hybrids through a series of haunting photographs.  Her works speak of her own personal experience as a Muslim woman in the 21st century.

Katie Sims, Brooks Ran Gold, 2011. Own photograph.

As it was only a five minute walk away, we headed to Spectra I, the first in a three-part survey presented by Future Tense.  I was pleased we made the effort to trip over the cobbles and make our way here.   This exhibition series focuses on artists for whom dynamic colour relationships is key to their practice.

Chuck Elliot, Radial/TWO, 2011. Own photograph.

Colour has always been an important focus in art but is something that frequently gets side-lined.  The exhibition press release quotes Paul Klee writing that ‘colour is the place where our brain and the universe meet’.  It’s certainly not just Klee who has these opinions.  In fact, it’s a topic that is under constant discussion.  John Ruskin, for example, said ‘The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love colour the most’ and Oscar Wilde said Mere colour, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways’.  You get the idea!  The colours here certainly do speak to the soul.

Chuck Elliott, Blast FIRST/fractureRefract, 2010. Own photograph.

The sole connection here is the seven artists’ concentration on colour although the exhibition is not limited by media.  The project space itself is exceptional and the organisers have put tremendous care into the curation and this has really paid off.  Incredible lighting and installation has made some of the pieces come alive; this is a clever show – the works almost bounce off the walls with their addictive vibrancy.

One of the highlights for me was Lee Baker’s site specific installation – a mesmerising rainbow-like spider’s web of coloured yarns that brings out a childlike playfulness in viewers who can’t help but be intoxicated by the tonal harmonies.   Baker’s works explore the dichotomy between Japan’s fragile, intricate cultural aesthetic and the relentless forces of urbanisation that increasingly mark its landscape.  His wide-ranging influences are often apparent most particularly in his meticulous paintings.

Lee Baker, Refractive Monolith, 2011. Own photograph.

Adam Ball’s paintings radiate as if fuelled by an internal light source, reflecting the energy and life of an ephemeral world.  His intuitive use of colour and light, whether in his paintings or his papercuts, is brilliant.

Adam Ball, Coexistence, 2010. Own photograph.

As you enter the second part of the space, it’s impossible not to be grabbed by Kathrin Fridriks’ work which fuses contemporary imagery with architecture to form a uniquely expressive visual language made from explosions of colour.  The lighting of this piece is a tour de force and it’s hard to imagine it elsewhere.

Kathrin Fridriks, Crayons, 2011. Own photograph.

Although colour may be the overriding theme, there is so much more to these artists’ works than just the aesthetics of colour and their bold statements.  If Spectra II is going to be bigger and better then I’m already excited.

I was starving and just opposite is the perfect restaurant for the East London gallery circuit, accessed through a wonderful bakery and shop.  Albion Caff is wonderful but is certainly not a ‘caff’ and, having forgotten where it was, I was very happy to discover it once again and indulge in their fish pie and share a bottle of English wine and a good gossip.

Robert Pratt: From Table Top to Tiger Print is at the Josh Lilley Gallery until 22nd December 2011, www.joshlilleygallery.comWinter Exhibition is at Hoxton Art Gallery until 19th January 2012, www.hoxtonartgallery.co.ukFuture Tense: Spectra I is at the Londonnewcastle Project Space until 18th December 2011, www.thefuturetense.net.

 

Little and Large – Street Protests at FLASH and Aesthetic Beauty at the V&A

28 Apr

Yesterday evening saw the opening of Street Fighting Man – 50 Years of Youth Protest at Flash Projects on Savile Row. 

Own photograph

A small but striking photographic exhibition, this charts rising violence in the years from 1968 and includes a riot at a Rolling Stones’ concert (the title of the exhibition comes from the Stones’ most political song), Caroline Coon’s celebrated photographs of Punks and photographs set in a wider sociological context including CND matches, civil unrest in Ireland, inner city riots and Poll Tax riots.  The abusive clashes are portrayed in some powerful monochrome images.

Own photograph

From little to large.  Having heard so many 5* reviews, I decided to avoid the Royal Wedding madness that has well and truly taken over London and, this afternoon, I headed to the tranquillity of the V&A to see The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement, 1860-1900.

In a desire to escape the ugliness, materialism and, often vulgar, wealth of 19th century Britain (a country experiencing rapid urbanisation and industrialisation) the Aesthetic Movement sought a new beauty.  Art was created not to serve a purpose but for its own sake (‘art for art’s sake’ becoming the slogan of the movement), to be beautiful and provide pleasure.  The works in this exhibition do just that and, may I say, wow!  The V&A has gathered a truly extraordinary and diverse collection both of paintings (including old favourites such as Whistler’s Symphonies in White) and objects, offering true aesthetic delight.  With their radical ideas, there is no denying that this group of artists changed the face of art and design in late Victorian Britain.  The Aesthetic Movement approached beauty in its own right and aimed to express this perfect ideal, not only through art but through an entire lifestyle change.

James Abbott McNeil Whistler, Symphony in White, No. 1, 1862.  Image via www.nga.gov

For example, furniture was no longer merely functional but something to be admired for its sensual curves and graceful structures.  The panoply includes costume, ceramics, furniture, architectural drawings, Liberty catalogues, wallpaper pattern books, poems, textiles, paintings, sculpture, jewellery, Punch, metalwork…  Could they have fitted any more in?  All these objects centre on beauty, showing the diversity of the movement and the potential for beauty, and for art, to be found in everything and in the way we choose to live our lives.  What a positive ideal!  The Aesthetic Movement really did encompass all art forms and all walks of life. 

Carlo Giuliano, Brooch and hair ornaments, 1875-95, 1912-14. Image via www.vam.ac.uk

As a William Morris fan, I was able to indulge.  Morris revolutionised the art of designing flat natural repeating patterns with richly harmonious colour.  He believed that wallpaper was integral to any interior decoration and it became one of the essential features of the Aesthetic interior.  Morris was synonymous with the style, his decorative skill in hiding the repeat marking him out as a genius.  We still use his designs today.

William Morris wallpaper, 1885.  Image via www.vam.ac.uk

A similar form of interior decoration is seen a notable work early in the show by Edward Burne-Jones in stained glass, The Merchant’s Daughter.  Although he produced many large- scale church window designs, this smaller panel for a domestic interior is surprisingly moving.

Edward Burne-Jones, Merchant’s Daughter, c. 1860.  Image via www.vam.ac.uk

The cult of beauty, of course, extended to the aesthetic woman.  In literature, the aesthetic woman was meant to represent a budding flower, rather than one in full bloom.  The woman as a girl – filled with promise, optimism and hope.  For most male painters of the period, the aesthetic woman was one who embodied eroticism, a vision of beauty and sex which the spectator is invited to look at and fantasise about. 

These were images of temptation personified by the sensual red-headed beauties displayed here.  Lizzie Siddal (immortalised in Millais’ Ophelia) was Rossetti’s lover and his model exclusively but that did not prevent him having a string of affairs and Bocca Baciato from 1859, whose title means ‘the kissed mouth’, refers to the sexual encounter between him and its model, his lover – Fanny Cornforth.  Although devoid of conventional narrative, the painting is deeply symbolic with apples for temptation, rose for love and marigolds for grief, suggesting the illicit nature of their couplings.  Rossetti married Lizzie Siddal the following year before her untimely death in 1862 from a laudanum overdose.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Bocca Baciata, 1859.  Image via www.vam.ac.uk

The beautiful feminine vision is seen in different ways.  Millais’ Kate Perugini of 1880 is gorgeous and teasing while his Louise Jopling of 1879 shows the sitter’s spirit and confidence. 

John Everett Millais, Louise Jopling, 1879.  Image via www.tate.org.uk

In 1877, having gained recognition among the wider public, the Grosvenor Gallery was opened specifically to show these new works.  The Grosvenor was consciously opulent in design so as to show off and further elaborate the works with lavish red silk walls which famously changed to ‘greenery-yallery’ for the second year, gilded pilasters and marble- topped tables adorned with flowers.  The intimate setting was meant to resemble an aristocratic house rather than a ‘conventional’ gallery – an idea that is mirrored by the V&A.  The gallery’s immediate success cemented the emergence of a new artistic group, presenting a challenge to other more traditional artists of the day.

Entrance to the Grosvenor Gallery, 1877.  Image via www.cqout.com

Oscar Wilde has come to be known as the Aesthetic impresario.  Max Beerbohm (1894) said “In fact, Beauty had existed long before 1880.  It was Mr Oscar Wilde who managed her debut.”  This was a moment in which all of art was entangled with ideas of liberation, sexuality and dubious morality – ideas which Wilde perfectly illustrates.

Napoleon Sarony, Oscar Wilde, 1882.  Image via www.vam.ac.uk

This is another one of those exhibitions where every work is stunning!  However, there is a but…  At times I felt the confusing and crowded layout was messy and quite claustrophobic.  The walkways force us so close to some of the larger canvases that they are nearly impossible to view in a satisfactory way. The V&A have gone to great lengths to re-create Rossetti’s bedroom but instead of having the room open or behind glass, visitors have to view the space through peep holes.  It’s such a shame they chose to block the room off in this way.  My stilettos gave me a better vantage point but there’s no way that a child, for example, has any chance of seeing this part of the exhibition.  Finally, the bright light projections (although pretty at first) often distracted from the works and the sound recordings were lost to the galleries, becoming nothing more than an annoying background mumble unless you were directly under the speaker. 

Projections at the V&A.  Image via www.vam.ac.uk

The Cult of Beauty united such ‘romantics’ as Dante Gabriel Rossetti (look out for his highly influential book illustrations infused with intense poetic feeling), James McNeil Whistler (spot his sumptuous etchings of the Thames), Frederic Leighton (his detailed drapery studies), William Morris, Aubrey Beardsley (with his decadent extraordinary black and white drawings) and Oscar Wilde. 

Aubrey Beardsley, Siegfried, 1892-3.  Image via www.vam.ac.uk

The V&A have beautifully brought together this incredible array of fabulous personas.  The dimly lit, almost secretive, rooms are very evocative of the era.  As you venture from space to space, it is as if you are exploring a private aristocratic house – an atmosphere that was also created in the Grosvenor Gallery.

This isn’t my specialist period but I was left wanting to know more.  I lugged the hefty 300-page catalogue home on the crowded tube, changing arms regularly to avoid elongation.  I’ve already made a start – it is a beautifully written, academic but not ‘weighty’ overview of how beauty was applied to the many different aspects of life and art. 

Visit, read and fall for the beauty of this ‘cult’. 

Street Fighting Man – until 4th June at Flash Projects, www.flash-projects.co.uk

The Cult of Beauty – until 17th July at The Victoria & Albert Museum, www.vam.ac.uk.

%d bloggers like this: