Tag Archives: sublime

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.

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Ditzy and Disorientated in Fitzrovia

9 Dec

After having popped into The Piper Gallery, I decided to meander down Eastcastle Street before heading to my next set of meetings.  This is an area of London that I know well – after all I’m here most days.

I intended my first stop to be Haunch of Venison and as I opened the door to the gallery I thought how different the space looked, they’d completely gutted it.  And, as I walked further in, it seemed they’d even excavated and added a basement floor.  Yet alarm bells weren’t going off in my head and I even sent a text to a friend informing him that Haunch had opened up their basement!  As I wandered back upstairs it finally struck me that the whole aesthetic of the show didn’t really seem in keeping with Haunch’s normal style.  I picked up a press release and the reason became all too clear – I had unknowingly wandered into Carroll/Fletcher, which is a few doors down the street.

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Upstairs at Carroll/Fletcher. Own photograph.

I don’t really have a bona fide excuse for these five minutes of sheer ditziness.  But, it did allow me to explore a gallery I hadn’t previously visited and discover that it is a beautiful, and large, space.

Carroll/Fletcher is currently presenting the first solo exhibition of Manfred Mohr, a concise survey of his fifty-year practice.  Mohr makes use of the automatic processes of the computer, uniting his interests in music and mathematics to create minimal but lyrical works.  He claims his key influence is the composer Pierre Barbaud who is responsible for introducing Mohr to the innovations of computer programming.  As such, the artist works by a set of restrictive rules that culminate in abstract shapes often formed using a plotting machine.  Although many of these works are similar and related to one another they are not the same.

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Manfred Mohr at Caroll/Fletcher. Own photograph.

In 1972 Mohr began to work with the cube, exploring a rigorously methodical system of art-making often comparing the cube to a musical instrument.  Using a simple shape (perhaps comparable to a musical riff) he is able to improvise endless possibilities.   Upstairs, Morh’s obsessive experimentation with cubes is demonstrated in every possible configuration and distortion, progressing into hyper-cubes with multi-dimensions and elements.  These hard-edged systems and codes show a growing interest in systematic art.

Downstairs, his early works are displayed in a scatter hang.  This is effective to gain an overall impression but it is impossible to see the detail in some works; sitting on the gallery’s bench allowed me to soak up the ideas and concepts (well, some of them) behind Mohr’s practice.

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The hang downstairs. Own photograph.

The final room of the exhibition plays his film Cubic Limit through an old-fashioned juddery projector – the film constructs and deconstructs the cube, outlining the limitless variations that can be created.

After having worked in monochrome for nearly forty years, Mohr returned to the use of colour in 1999 to emphasise and distinguish subtleties in spatial relationships.  Some of the concepts here no doubt went way over my head – especially as I’d struggled even to walk into the right gallery – but the subtlety of his work made the exhibition very palatable.

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Mohr’s Cubic Limit. Own photograph.

As I headed out of Carroll/Fletcher I realised quite how many times I’ve walked past it.  It’s definitely going on my Fitzrovia list for the future.

Finally, I headed into Haunch (looking as it normally does) who are showing Isca Greenfield-Sander’s Second State, a body of work that explores the physical and metaphorical enormity of landscape and the sublime.

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Isca Greenfield-Sander’s Second State at Haunch. Own photograph.

Greenfield-Sander uses vintage slides as the starting point for her multi-layered paintings.  The imagery is easily recognisable but the paintings are expanded, physically referencing the magnitude of the subjects.  But size alone cannot illustrate the sublime.

Using the power of painting to convey the sublime is a tricky business to say the least.  The sublime represents nature at its grandest scale and is both powerful and awesome although remains an indeterminate concept.   In Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgement of 1790, he divided the sublime into two types:  the mathematical sublime deals with size and the immeasurable and refers to something huge beyond all comparison, in particular the majesty of nature; and the dynamic sublime deals with the incomprehensibility of the great power of natural forces.  Experiencing the mathematical sublime makes all else small and insignificant; it is a magnitude that cannot truly be experienced and, therefore, reminds us of the limitations of our own relationship with nature.  The mathematical sublime overwhelms our mental faculties so that we are unable to comprehend fully what we see.   Traditionally, an example that inspires awe due to its magnitude is an ocean or a mountain range, but Kant also relates to ideas of reason such as absolute totality and absolute freedom.

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Greenfield-Sander works. Own photograph

While the mathematically sublime is based on the incomprehensibility of an infinite measure, the dynamically sublime is based on incomprehension of absolutely great power as produced by the vast forces in nature. This is exhibited by the power of a hurricane, a tumultuous ocean, a high waterfall or a mountain range in relation to which we realise our own physical powers are puny yet are forced by our insignificance to try to understand the faculty of practical reason.  Both types of sublime are complex feelings of frustration at the inability to comprehend such absolute vastness, but the mathematically sublime takes pleasure in the ability of imagination, while the dynamically sublime takes pleasure in the superiority of reason.

Probably the best representation of dynamic sublime in art is Turner’s Snow StormSteam-Boat Off a Harbour’s Mouth of 1842 where the whirling boundaries between the chaos of the sea and sky are totally confused.  Turner tied himself to the ship’s mast to experience at first hand the powerful forces of nature; viewers of the painting are not in danger but appreciate the magnificence and power knowing that from their vantage point they are safe.

Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth exhibited 1842 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

JMW Turner, Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, 1842.  Image via www.tate.org.uk

With this in mind, I think claiming that Greenfield-Sander’s works explore ‘the power of painting to convey the sublime’ only confuses matters.  Taking this element out of the equation, her use of a bright tonal range and abstracted areas is very effective.  Overall, for me, there’s some excitement lacking and this exhibition doesn’t quite live up to Haunch’s usual standard.

Across the road Scream are showing Greg Miller work which make use of the diverse cultural and geographical make-up of Miller’s American roots, exploring the contradictions between urban streetscape and history.  These works have a huge energy to them, montaging different images that Miller has collected over time, layering meanings, stories and narratives into a dense melée of artistic factions.  His use of resin to glaze the works preserves their history and transience, saving these otherwise impermanent memories.  The nostalgia of these works is poignant despite their busy and bold constructs – the personal touch recalling the artist’s youth and fonder memories from his upbringing in Northern California.

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Greg Miller at Scream. Own photograph.

To finish the day off I went for a marked contrast, popping into the Piacenti Art Gallery for a glass of champagne and their winter exhibition of old Master works.  Sadly this was a short run and has now shut but it’s a lovely space to visit in the New Year.  Although be warned with all those galleries on Duke Street, who knows where you’ll end up.

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New Possibilities: Abstract Paintings from the Seventies is at The Piper Gallery until 21st December 2012.  Manfred Mohr: one and zero is at Carroll/Fletcher until 20th December 2012.  Isca Greenfield-Sanders: Second State is at Haunch of Venison, Eastcastle Street, until 25th January 2013. Greg Miller: Four Corners is at Scream until 5th January 2013.

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