Tag Archives: studio

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Obviously, Stephen knows London well but the detail included in these maps was extensive and he had to study numerous historical documents, travel literature and antique maps.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.

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C’est Magnifique – Gérard Rancinan’s Wonderful World

9 Jun

I tend not to write about exhibitions with which I am directly involved but every rule has an exception.  The Shoreditch exhibition of Gérard Rancinan’s Wonderful World is one such exception.

Gérard Rancinan, Desperate Marilyn. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.thefuturetense.net

Although Rancinan is represented by Opera Gallery, The Future Tense is responsible for mounting this museum-quality exhibition.  The Wonderful World series has never before been seen in the UK; it is the final part of Rancinan’s phenomenal Trilogy of the Moderns, a series that has been seven years in the making.  The works tell the story of a humanity that is obsessed with the cult of celebrity and guided only by an absolute desire for prescribed happiness.  Those in the works are the Moderns – people today who incessantly use electronic devices and who idealise celebrities and iconic figures, longing to lead their lives and play their roles.  Ultimately though, the joke is on us as Rancinan peels back the charade behind which these characters hide to look at the reality.  His photographs are about not taking everything at face value and the importance of individuality.

Gérard Rancinan, Jumping Gis. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.thefuturetense.net

As committed witnesses of the metamorphoses affecting society, Rancinan, and writer, Caroline Gaudriault, have engaged in an ongoing dialogue, delivering their dual observations on a generation seeking relentless progress at any cost.

Gérard Rancinan at the exhibition. Image courtesy of Paul Hampartsoumian and via www.thefuturetense.net

Rancinan’s works have incredible visual impact; he first picked up a camera when he was 15 years old and knew straight away that photography was for him.  Even today, he can’t imagine the idea of doing anything else, saying he wouldn’t know how.  He is a photographer and the master of his camera.  Rancinan began his career as a war photographer, capturing images on the front line, travelling the world and bearing first-hand witness to events of historical importance. Although different these new artworks are equally valid.  He delivers startling images of our contemporary world filtered through an ever-evolving aesthetic prism.  For Rancinan, photography is above all an instrument of thought, a militant perspective on our era.

Gérard Rancinan, Saint Sebastian. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.thefuturetense.net

Rancinan is already an international star having come to London fresh from La Triennale di Milano and it is now time for him to star in the UK as well.  On 17th May, in the Philips de Pury photography auction, his work Batman Family Girls set a new world record for him.  It was also a record sale for a living French photographer and showed the growing importance of Rancinan’s work and the high regard in which it is held among collectors and institutions.

Gérard Rancinan, Batman Family Girls. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.thefuturetense.net

Walking into the Londonewcastle Project Space, where this show is being held, one is immediately struck by a photograph of the head of Mickey Mouse served on a platter (a detail of his Salome).  If this doesn’t grab your attention then who knows what will.  Rancinan’s works don’t whisper; full of complex subtleties they scream.  Following the exhibition round past his Saint Sebastians we come across a wall of Batman masks, dramatically lit to create strong and striking shadows.  I first saw a Future Tense show last year and was immediately impressed, not only by the quality of the works, but also by the lighting.  The gallery ethos is about doing things properly and the lighting of this show is again exemplary.

The Future Tense presents Rancinan’s Wonderful World. Image courtesy of Paul Hampartsoumian and via www.thefuturetense.net

In the next room, alongside the Batman Family works, a chandelier lies on the floor, straight from the wall into real life.  It is an immersive exhibition that includes and captivates the visitor, displaying the 15 large format works cleverly integrated with props from Rancinan’s studio.  But in no way is it over the top.  The methods of display and the clever curatorial decisions successfully bring the works to life and portray the dramatic themes of the series.

Props with the works. Image courtesy of Paul Hampartsoumian and via www.thefuturetense.net

The barcode wallpaper in Family Watching TV has been theatrically extended onto the gallery wall – the exhibition becomes an installation piece in its own right.  Other such clever tricks continue.  A small enclave contains the dress from the Salome photograph, installed on chequerboard flooring, exuding an air of mystery and intrigue.

Theatrical installations. Image via www.thefuturetense.net

A video shows the making of these works and, through watching, the methods of the Rancinan studio become clearer.  All of Rancinan’s photographs are created in just one shot.  There’s no clever manipulation in Photoshop.  It is his perfection and eye for detail, his understanding of what makes an immediate impact that creates these amazing visions.

The head of Mickey Mouse. Image courtesy of Paul Hampartsoumian and via www.thefuturetense.net

The last room hosts a purpose-built set and studio.  Public auditions are taking place this weekend for the final composition for the entire body of work which will be shot on this set on Tuesday 12th June.  This presents a rare opportunity for visitors to see what goes on behind the scenes of a major fine art photo shoot and, potentially, to be immortalised in art history as part of the photograph.   A black rectangle on the wall shows where this work will hang – a solitary gas mask is hooked in the middle and Rancinan’s signature shines out in white paint.  There aren’t yet many clues about the content of this last piece (and, no, I’m not telling).  Repeat visits will reveal the organic nature of studio life – part art installation, part film set, part soap opera – as the shoot moves from concept, through production and postproduction, to the climactic unveiling of the finished work.

Rancinan’s studio comes to Shoreditch. Image courtesy of Paul Hampartsoumian and via www.thefuturetense.net

At first the works are striking, even rather comical, but look a bit closer and the many-layered meanings start to come through and hit home.  They are incredible works and Rancinan deserves the acclaim that this show is receiving.  Despite having now seen his photographs many times, every walk through the gallery offers me something new and reveals further detail.  Even without my involvement with this exhibition, I would still be urging people to visit and I would still be making several trips there myself.

Gérard Rancinan: Wonderful World is at the Londonewcastle Project Space, 28 Redchurch Street, until 24th June 2012, www.thefuturetense.net.

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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