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Five Exhibitions, Two Buses and Three Taxis and a lot of Walking

27 Jan

Yesterday, after finishing my meetings with ample time, I decided to take a leisurely bus ride to the East End.  I now realise that there’s an oxymoron in that sentence.  Without a bus guru to hand, there is nothing relaxing about bus travel.  Luckily, I spotted one nearly straight away (not just any old bus but one that was marked Old Street) and, without any thought, ran (difficult enough in heels) to the closing doors.  Phew!  As it crossed Waterloo Bridge, heading south, I knew something was wrong.  I may have got the right bus route but it was heading in the wrong direction.  By the time I changed buses, time was tight and I had to take a taxi from Old Street station in order to get to Flowers before they closed.  Somewhat ironic that a taxi came to the rescue after all.

David Hepher at Flowers. Own photograph.

Flowers are currently showing a series of new work by David Hepher which explores the infamous Aylesbury Estate in Walworth, South East London.  Crime, poverty and violence – the Aylesbury Estate is often used to exemplify all these things and frequently crops up in discussions about urban decay.  Commenced in 1963 (and demolished in 2010), it was a vast mass of concrete, originally intended to regenerate the lives of the working classes of South London – another irony.  Spread over a site of 285,000 square metres, Ayelsbury was the largest estate in Europe, intended to house approximately 10,000 people.   Aylesbury remained stuck in time, the perfect showpiece of suffocating post-war planning.

Aylesbury Estate before demolition.  Image via www.skyscrapercity.com

Hepher’s interest in images of homes stems from the fact that a house is the first image a child will paint as a symbol of refuge and of safety.  Now, he looks at how people are forced to live in different environments, raising questions about society and living conditions.  He relishes the dirty personality of these council flats with their stained and eroded walls and their constantly changing appearance as people move in and out.  Hepher is able to take something ugly and imbue it with a sense of carefully considered beauty.  The façades may have once been uniform but by focusing on such detail, he refreshes these buildings, concentrating on individual sections.  Using a close-up grid structure, Hepher exploits the angular architecture of the flats, creating a moving portrait of Brutalist architecture with idealistic scenes of escapism used to contrast the grittier surfaces of the buildings.

In an attempt to capture the very essence of the buildings, Hepher mixes building sand with his oil paint to incorporate the fabric of the architecture in the works.  This simple technique helps to bring the paintings to life.

David Hepher, Aylesbury (Homage to Robert Gober), 2008-10.  Own photograph.

These works are an interesting combination of portrait and landscape; they show the immense scale of the Aylesbury tower blocks – one of the works, consisting of five canvases, is ten metres long.  Hepher doesn’t paint Aylesbury because of the political or social connotations nor because the buildings have been branded ‘ugly’ but because he believes they were an impressive part of our landscape.

Detail of a David Hepher work. Own photograph.

Somewhat amazingly (considering my earlier slip up) I know parts of the East End well enough to go on foot and I headed round the corner to the Hoxton Art Gallery whose new exhibition Utopia plays with ideas from the seminal text by Sir Thomas More.  Written in 1516, during the turbulent reign of Henry VIII, More’s narrator Raphael Hythloday describes the island of Utopia, that he believes to be the ideal human society.  It appears that More himself didn’t actually believe Utopia to be the perfect society and its complex meanings are intentional.  The book analyses More’s desire to create a perfect world juxtaposed with his realistic knowledge that perfection in mankind is impossible.  This is not the place for an analysis of More’s humanist philosophy and ultimate religious martyrdom but the exhibition presents an interesting concept which is, here, explored by four artists.  Their work couldn’t be more varied, although all are united by the theme of Utopia with a twist – Utopia filled with ideas of disruption and turmoil.  Because, as More showed, Utopia cannot really exist.

Stephen Dickie, The Mundaneum Debate, 2012. Own photograph.

Stephen Dickie’s work looks at the ideas of intellectual utopia, exploring the different ways in which we pursue knowledge.  His works appropriate structures and systems built to foster and preserve knowledge although the pieces of equipment he uses are adapted so as to become dysfunctional; broken cassettes sit atop a vinyl record emitting phonetic sounds which will, no doubt, drive the gallery staff mad by the end of the show.

Wieland Payer’s drawings also stood out, representing distant and ethereal landscapes with peculiar misplaced figures.  Payer seeks to portray nostalgia for a period of European Romanticism.

Wieland Payer drawings series, 2011. Own photograph.

This is a focused show with a very successful concept.  I cannot say all the artists’ works appealed to me but the ideas behind them are certainly thought-provoking.

And, off I went again, past Shoreditch Magistrates Court (only last week occupied by the Occupy Movement who curated a brilliant sound installation in the dank cells) and Lounge Lover – it seemed as if I was doing a walking tour of the East End…in heels!

Occupy at Shoreditch Magistrate’s Court. Own photograph.

By now I was exhausted and my next stop, Annexe (part of the Brick Lane Gallery but, confusingly, not on Brick Lane) did not reward me for my crazily long walk.  For me, Christopher Oldfield’s paintings were crude and lacked visual immediacy.  They didn’t capture me and I didn’t need to stay.

Christopher Oldfield, Paintings. Own photograph.

Although I was shattered, I knew the rest of my list wouldn’t disappoint.  The cabbie (yes, I did take another cab) didn’t really know where Hewett Street was but between us we worked it out and I was relieved to have a sit down at all those red lights.

For the last 18 months, Daniel Rapley has been writing the King James Bible by hand, on standard notepaper, using a ballpoint pen.  That’s 783,137 words.  Sic is a labour of love.  This exhibition alone made the disappointment of my trip to Brick Lane fade away.  Rapley’s work is amazing – there is nothing else like this around.

Daniel Rapley, Sic. Own photograph.

While the rest of the exhibition is subtly lit, Rapley’s bible glows (a design conceived by curator, Michael Hall).  The work is displayed in a case where only the top page is visible; you see one tiny fraction of this mammoth concept, this huge artistic undertaking.  You have to have the belief that all the words are on all the pages – the same religious belief upheld by those who study the Bible every day is needed to view the work.  This is an idea also played on in Forty where you only see the first of 40 identical drawings stacked against the wall.  Much to the horror of those around him, one gallery-goer decided to flick through – it did allow for the non-believers to have a good look though.  The work is about faith and its integrity is unprecedented.

Daniel Rapley, Forty. Own photograph.

You don’t have to be religious to understand this work.  You certainly don’t have to have read, or know, the Bible.  Sic is the visual manifestation of a private performance that requires the belief of the viewer.  It is a covenant that questions conventions of artistic labour and productivity, of authorship and creativity.

Daniel Rapley, Sic. Image via www.danielrapley.co.uk

Alongside Sic, Rapley is showing seven large text drawings which he created during this labour-intensive project.  These hand-drawn manuscripts describe the minutiae of Rapley’s life, brief bursts of inspiration as he painstakingly embarked on Sic.

Daniel Rapley, Exigencies 1-7. Own photograph.

Rapley is impressive and his work is refreshing; he has broken down the whole concept of religion into an intellectually sincere, thought-provoking piece.  The spin-off works about his life are comical yet serious, equally clever and stimulating.  The images don’t do any of these works justice and the pieces must be seen to be believed.  Rapley’s dedication and focus must not be underestimated and this show is a must-see.

Finally, we hailed a cab (yes, another one) and headed to the other end of Old Street to Cabinet (or Curtain as I keep calling it – I guess tiredness has a lot to answer for this week).  Having seen Cabinet at Frieze this year, I wanted to check out their permanent space on the ground floor of a block of flats – so discreet you wouldn’t have any idea that it even existed.  Homo Economicus explores the relationship between art and labour through a study of the political economy.  The term homo economicus posits humans as self-interested actors who have the ability to have make decisions to maximise situations for their own well-being.

Cabinet. Own photograph.

The works present an interesting discussion and breakdown of capitalist philosophies, visualising the role of economics in relation to art.  The exhibition is in two parts, the second of which can be seen at Mehringdamm 72 in Berlin.  Together they explore the political consequences and resistances that this economic model can encounter and endure.

Homo Economicus at Cabinet. Own photograph.

After an evening of such varied and heavy concepts my brain was starting to spin.  We walked and walked and walked, tripping and falling over cobbles along the way and finally collapsed at the wonderful Le Café du Marché to relax and warm up.

David Hepher: Lace, Concrete and Glass – An Elegy for the Aylesbury Estate is at Flowers, 82 Kingsland Road until 25th February 2012, www.flowersgalleries.comUtopia is at the Hoxton Art Gallery until 1st March 2012, www.hoxtonartgallery.co.ukPaintings: An Exhibition by Christopher Oldfield is at Annexe until 20th January 2012, www.christopheroldfield.co.uk.  Daniel Rapley: Covenant is at PayneShurvell until 3rd March 2012, www.payneshurvell.comHomo Economicus is at Cabinet until 3rd March 2012, www.cabinet.uk.com.

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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.

Octoberfest – Tuesday of Frieze Week

12 Oct

After visiting the Royal Academy Degas show (which will be the subject of a later post), we went for a brilliant lunch at Cecconi’s to sustain us for the busy day ahead.  With openings and art parties all across London, I wanted to see as much as possible and, although, I didn’t make it to everywhere on my to-see list, I did pretty well.

We began at Selfridges’ Museum of Everything.  Launched by art collector, James Brett, in 2009, this is the 4th incarnation of this Outsider Art charity installation.  This weird exhibition has taken over all the store windows (which are completely product-free for the first time ever) and a space on the lower ground floor, normally the Ultralounge, and now unrecognisable.

The Museum of Everything #4 at Selfridges. Own photograph.

Although I love the idea, and I’m pleased that Selfridges are embracing charity exhibition opportunities and exposing unknown artists, the art isn’t great.  In parts, it’s downright creepy and I wish they’d used this opportunity to unearth some real talent.  With over 400 works on display, nothing really struck me in a positive way.  I love the concept of the Museum of Everything and believe it has great potential which I hope they will better fulfil in their next exhibition.

The Museum of Everything #4 at Selfridges. Own photograph.

On to 20 Projects at 64 Margaret Street, who are showing a series of new sculptures by Alex Hoda based on small pieces of nicotine gum – chewed, used and spat out by the artist.  Installation hadn’t really finished when we arrived at 6pm and they were still stencilling the title onto the wall, strangely oblivious of the fact that they had guests.  Hoda’s works reminded me of Alina Szapoznikow’s chewing gum photographs that we exhibited in The Courtauld’s East Wing Collection VIII which concentrated on temporality and the act of leaving some form of mark, making something that is intrinsically rubbish into a work of art.  Obviously both artists are approaching their work from different angles, but the choice of subject is interesting.  Hoda uses a special machine to scan and then enlarge the bits of gum to ensure 100% accuracy when making the pieces in bronze. For him, the sculptures also represent the human form responding to Jean Fautrier’s Hostage series of the 1940s. The sculptures are beautiful but somehow the chewing gum detracts from this for me.

Alex Hoda’s Hostage at 20 Projects. Own photograph.

Moving on, we headed to the Josh Lilley Gallery who are showing Incredulous Zealots – works by four artists from Los Angeles.  Regular readers will know this is one of my favourite spaces in London (and the secret is out after an article in last weekend’s newspapers) – this is another brilliant show which presents the next generation of LA art and shows that the talent there is certainly not diminishing.  The works of two artists immediately grabbed my attention.  One of the girls in my group was so entranced by Annie Lapin’s work that we almost had to drag her away to a different part of the gallery.  Lapin is now exploring the abstract image, using colour and shapes that recall primitive art forms.  Her palette is luminous, using browns, creams, Courbet green, small doses of deep reds and sky blues.  Lapin’s paintings harness monumental experiences, drawing the viewer closer into her work, looking at the depth of layers, like a coloured fog over a hidden scene.

Annie Lapin. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Analia Saban, one of the other LA artists, burns, cuts and destroys her paintings, almost to the point of annihilation before pulling them back to a supreme delicacy.  This destruction of an art form shows Saban’s desire to stand alone and take complete control of her practice, resulting in a re-assessment of the history of painting through a minimal, but beautiful, object.

Incredulous Zealots at Josh Lilley Gallery with Analia Saban work in the distance. Own photograph.

The gallery has been transformed to a more traditional, white contemporary exhibition space, allowing the individual works room to breathe and to be examined in a contemplative space.  Incredulous Zealots seeks to draw on the passion of Los Angeles painters who demand that painting be taken to a new level, persisting with, torturing, and ultimately loving, their chosen art forms.

I was also lucky enough to be able to take a peek at a new Nick Goss work, unusually (for him) painted on board.  Although his act of mark-making continues in the same mould, the painting is in a wholly new style, evoking a completely different feel to his usual works.  Brilliant!

Our feet were already starting to feel sore and, with more galleries still to go, it was taxi time. Have you ever tried to get a taxi in London, in art week, at about 7pm?  It’s impossible.  Finally, we saw one and hailed it, only to have it nabbed, from under our noses, by a ‘taxi thief’.  After my fairly loud comments of shock and belligerence, the driver decided to take pity on us four girls and, much to his surprise, the ‘taxi thief’ found himself moving over, sharing his cab and also letting us use the internet on his iphone (Blackberries still being dead, of course).  So, chivalry is not dead after all.  I have no doubt he was amused by the giggling and gossiping but he made our lives a lot easier and, we are grateful for his generosity.  Thank you, ‘taxi thief’.

Having been dropped at Dering Street, where we briefly, coincidentally coincided with ‘the boys’, we went to Blain Southern to see Rachel Howard’s Folie à Deux. The title is the clinical definition for a shared psychosis, where two or more people enter into a delusional belief induced by an intimate relationship.  Howard’s works play on the minds of people who have wandered far from reality and reason.  Technically, the works are very good – making use of media, including household gloss paint, oil, acrylic and varnish, Howard doesn’t overplay it.  Her paintings are strong and striking but seem to be more subtle variations on her normal work, exploring the intricacies of the human condition.

Rachel Howard’s Folie à Deux at Blain Southern. Own photograph.

The clock was ticking and it was time to head over to the new White Cube at Bermondsey.  Now, as any Blackberry user will know, and as I mentioned before, we’re not having much luck at the moment – unadulterated hell in fact – which meant I was without the internet or my trusty google maps app.

Following advice of ‘the boys’, we headed to Southwark station – not the closest tube as it turns out.  So much for me being geographically challenged.  A short cab ride (no helpful man this time though) took us to the end of a very long queue down Bermondsey Street.  No!  This couldn’t be right.  Sadly, it was.  As our stilettoed feet began to throb, we queued and moaned.  Security guards came down the line telling us to give up, I tried to phone friends who may already have been inside but to no avail.  We waited!

The queue. Own photograph.

And, our waiting paid off.  It felt like we deserved a prize where we finally made it into the forecourt where a thronging mass of people lunged towards the crowd prevention barriers that surrounded the gallery.  I’m not joking.  White Cube has taken hype to a whole new level, as they do so expertly.

Jay Jopling ‘walking’ around the new gallery. Image via www.metro.co.uk

At one point a security guard, atop an office chair, somewhat ironically yelled out, ‘This is not Titanic. There will be a way in. Stop shoving’.  But, of course, people didn’t.  Being small and in sharp shoes had its advantages though and, before too long, we were waiting our turn at the front of the mob.  When at last we got in, I felt slightly underwhelmed.  At 58,000 square feet, this White Cube is the largest commercial gallery in Europe and the space is obviously gorgeous – beautifully lit white boxes much like their other two spaces but on a mammoth scale – though after so much hassle and fuss I had expected more of an opening spectacle.  There seemed to be more private spaces than open gallery rooms so it is hard to gauge the enormity of the gallery.  With 2,000 people supposedly inside, and who knows how many in the courtyard, this was the place to be.  But, aside from serving mini hot dogs (possibly to appease those stuck outside), it wasn’t that different from any other White Cube PV.

Outside the new White Cube. Own photograph.

While many galleries are struggling in the current financial climate, White Cube has defiantly shown that these problems do not affect them or the upper echelons of the art world.  The new gallery is extensive and goes on and on with doors everywhere.  So endless, in fact, that we, along with many others, mistakenly wandered straight into the loos – the entrance looks like just another gallery. Ooops!  The Bermondsey space is stunning with wonderful floors of polished concrete, or something very akin to it.  It is, of course, a triumph.

White Cube on Bermondsey Street. Own photograph.

I’m not going to talk much about their opening exhibition which gets lost among everyone clammering to explore the space, although a smattering of their famous names are included – Gary Hume, Gabriel Orozco, Damien Hirst, Andreas Gursky and so on.  It’s a great show, with a monochrome chic feel running through.  It’s very impressive – the third hub in their never-ending expansion programme.  Where will White Cube turn up next?!

Andreas Gursky, Dusselstrand, 1996, is reflected in Damien Hirst’s Neverland, 2002. Image via www.metro.co.uk

Hobbling out of White Cube and changing, at last, into ballerinas, we stumbled on The Hide where we were able to rest our weary limbs and sink into their comfy sofas with big glasses of wine and dinner.  What a day!

The Museum of Everything #4 is at Selfridges until 25th October 2011, www.musevery.com or www.selfridges.comAlex Hoda: Hostage is at 20 Projects until 23rd October 2011, www.20projects.co.ukIncredulous Zealots: 4 Painterly Interrogations from LA is at the Josh Lilley Gallery until 19th November 2011, www.joshlilleygallery.comRachel Howard: Folie à Deux is at Blain Southern until 22nd December 2011, www.blainsouthern.comStructure & Absence is at White Cube Bermondsey until 26th November 2011, www.whitecube.com.

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