Tag Archives: Van Gogh

Frantic at the Fringe 2012 – Part III

31 Aug

My time in Edinburgh was flying by but I was lucky enough to get tickets for Speed of Light where runners in light suits weave subtle illuminated patterns across the ‘mountain’ at night offering a new visual interpretation of Arthur’s Seat.  Contrary to what many people think, Arthur’s Seat is not a dormant volcano but a small section of a bigger post-volcanic landscape.  It is a dominant feature in Edinburgh and a special part of the city.  I’ve climbed it before but never at night!

NVA’s Speed of Light at Arthur’s Seat. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

I’d been reading on Twitter about people preparing to do this night walk all month and to say I was excited would be an understatement.  Speed of Light seeks to fuse public art and sporting endeavour.  On arrival, you’re shown into large tents at the bottom of the walking path.  Surrounded by people in waterproofs with rucksacks and serious walking boots, we began to realise that handbags and fleeces may not cut it with this crowd.  However, we felt better when our clothing was approved and we were told that people had actually been dense enough to arrive in flipflops!  Groups set off at staggered times throughout the evening and, after a safety briefing and introduction, we were handed our walking sticks.  The audience becomes part of the work and these illuminated sticks become striking elements set against the dark brooding landscape of Arthur’s Seat.

Our walking sticks when we reached the summit. Own photograph.

Sadly, despite our eagerness, Speed of Light was underwhelming.  The publicity shots have all been taken with slow exposures and the spectacle isn’t quite what was promised (my shoddy photos give a more realistic idea).  The idea is brilliant and sometimes you get a feel for how it should be but with the fabulous backdrop of Edinburgh at night, the work so often gets lost.  There is no doubt that it was memorable and that we enjoyed ourselves but it could have been so much more.

NVA’s Speed of Light at Arthur’s Seat seen against the cityscape. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

However, nothing else at the Festival compares to it.  Even the chattering drunk people in our group fell silent as we neared the summit and they felt the power of the pilgrimage-like walk we had undertaken.  Our singing light sabres didn’t half make a racket near the top as apparently they respond to altitude.  We were nearly blown away (literally not metaphorically) while we had to stop on the viewing platform and ended up hugging like penguins to stay upright.  At this point, while moaning and giggling, we were told off for talking and not appreciating the whining of our sticks.

Trying to photograph the piece with a normal camera. Own photograph.

At the summit, you leave a section of your staff in a vibrating urn-like thing, that wasn’t working properly on the night of our ascent, and then you slip and slide your way back down.  At times our group began to split up and, at one point, I seemed to be leading several other people without an official guide in sight.  Not the best idea considering that I can often be quite accident-prone and that I couldn’t really see where I was going.

I do have criticisms and I was rather disappointed by the end but this is an incredible project and I’m so pleased that we had the opportunity to be involved.  Reading about it afterwards has made the piece seem far more fulfilling – the work has been three years in the making and has involved not only the development of new technologies but the training of over 4,000 runners (it’s a shame that more of them weren’t involved at any one time).  There is some great merchandise on sale at the base including a beautiful book on Arthur’s Seat itself and when you finish the walk you are handed a programme about the project that explains the concept in illuminating detail (sorry!).

NVA’s Speed of Light at Arthur’s Seat. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

We were both fitter than we realised and were remarkably unscathed when we finished and headed off for crepes and drinks to celebrate and boast (no-one thought we’d actually do it).

Somehow I made the time to visit the National Gallery of Modern Art as well.  Modern 1 is showing Picasso and Modern British Art which I have recently seen at Tate Britain.  Modern 2, however, is showing Edvard Munch: Graphic Works from the Gunderson Collection with around 50 lithographs and woodcuts owned by a private Norwegian collector.  The exhibition concentrates on how Munch revisited and re-explored his subjects.  Having recently visited the Munch exhibition at Tate in London, this exhibition highlighted to me how much stronger Munch’s graphic works are than his painted works.  Included is a 1895 lithograph on paper of The Scream, one of only two known prints of this work that Munch hand-coloured.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1895. Image via www.i-onmagazine.co.uk

The exhibition also includes a display of archival materials relating to Munch’s first solo show in Edinburgh, in the winter of 1931-2, organised by the Society of Scottish Artists.  Due to the repetitive nature of Munch’s work this exhibition doesn’t take too long to get around but it’s well mounted and does what it says on the tin.  As ever, there is some fantastic sculpture dotted around the grounds of the Modern Galleries including a Gormley and a Roger Hiorns.

Gormley at the Gallery of Modern Art. Own photograph.

In contrast, the current exhibition at the National Gallery requires a bit more thought before you even walk through the door.  This is not an exhibition of Van Gogh and Kandinsky works as most visitors seem to expect (we overheard several people asking the guards where the rest of the Van Goghs were).  The full title is Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Symbolist Landscape in Europe, 1880-1910.  Please take careful note so you don’t get a surprise as there are only two Van Goghs and two Kandinskys in the entire show.   Instead, the exhibition, ordered by artistic trends, showcases landscapes from this period that express the anxieties and aspirations of the symbolists through their interpretation of the natural world.  The exhibition is fundamentally a survey of landscape painting, looking at an area of symbolism that has received little attention until now.  Although there are some famous names dotted throughout, the exhibition also includes artists that even the most ardent art historian wouldn’t pretend to know.

Hung with slightly overpowering wall colours, the exhibition feels like a mixed bag.  Plus, I was still somewhat disappointed by the slightly misleading title.  There are some great individual works hidden here but it’s a collection of landscape paintings and I felt a bit let down.  I thought they’d have gone more for the wow factor during the festival.

Piet Mondrian, (Woods) near Oele, 1908.  Image via http://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk

As well as all this, I managed to see 57 theatre shows during my two and a bit weeks up at the Fringe and would have happily crammed in some more if I could have used a magic wand to add some extra hours into the day.  I won’t go on about that here but will gladly wax lyrical about what I saw if you bump into me when I’m out and about.  I certainly didn’t manage all the art exhibitions in the city (I was upset not to get to Summerhall, except at night for the bar which was lovely) but I have crossed out lots of spaces on my art map and next year I’ll try to beat my own gallery count and see how many I can manage.  Bring on Edinburgh 2013!

Speed of Light takes places on selected nights at Arthur’s Seat until 1st September 2012, http://speedoflight2012.org.ukEdvard Munch: Graphic Works from The Gundersen Collection is at the National Gallery of Modern Art until 23rd September 2012 and Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880-1910 is at the National Gallery of Scotland until 14th October 2012, www.nationalgalleries.org.

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The New Hockney – another RA Blockbuster

20 Jan

2012 is the year of the big names and the big shows that will pull in the punters and the RA has hit gold with one of their own – David Hockney RA.   This is the first ‘countdown event’ for the London 2012 Festival and advance ticket sales have reportedly already outsold their van Gogh exhibition.

David Hockney, Woldgate Woods, 21, 23 and 29 November 2006, oil on six canvases. Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

David Hockney: A Bigger Picture is the first exhibition in the UK to showcase Hockney’s landscape work, a genre with which, until a few years ago, we would not have readily associated this artist. Hockney has always been innovative – famous for his ‘portraits’ of boys with Californian swimming pools in an idealised gay aesthetic.  His works are recognisable – he shows LA as a landscape of pleasure and sexual freedom with cloudless blue skies and idealistic fantasies.  His raunchiness has long gone and his recent work is far more mainstream and conservative, more acceptable to many audiences; he has returned to the area around his hometown of Bradford and settled down.  But maybe his work hasn’t changed as much as we initially think – yes, the subject matter may be different but the ideas, use of colour and idealism still underlie the canvases.  Hockney has tricked us with his change of aesthetic focus.

David Hockney, The Road across the Woods, 1997, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

So, here we have a Hockney exhibition that is a display of vivid paintings inspired by the Yorkshire countryside.  This is not simply a show about nature, although the theme may lead us to believe it is.  It is an exhibition about the importance of an artistic tradition and the British landscape.

Walking into the Royal Academy, you are instantly engulfed by Hockney’s work.  So much so, that the use of a room with multiple doorways means visitors don’t actually know where to start from.  My advice is head to the right.  Once you’re in Room Two you’ll find that curatorially the show flows like a dream.  The wall colours change in almost every room, often successfully alternating between deep red and putty grey (which is a surprisingly nice colour).

David Hockney: A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy. Own photograph.

The second gallery contextualises the exhibition, looking at landscapes from earlier in Hockney’s career, showing how he has always been a landscape artist.  Hockney has a skill with colour and, while landscape may have been present earlier in his career, this is still fairly a dramatic shift in subject.  Many of his works are made up of numerous panels, reflecting the dominance of nature and A Closer Grand Canyon from 1998 comprises 60 stunning canvases.  Due to its vastness, the Grand Canyon is not an easy subject for any artist to tackle but size has never scared Hockney.  This painting extends the boundaries of the conventional landscape genre, focusing on the depiction of space and the experience of being within such a space at one of the most spectacular vantage points.

David Hockney, A Closer Grand Canyon, 1998, oil on 60 canvases. Own photograph.

I adore Hockney’s landscapes so, for me, this exhibition is generally a delight.  They are beautiful works that can’t help but make you smile; Hockney’s exuberant use of colour creates bright, happy, idealistic paintings.  The recurring motifs of idealism and the importance of colour still pervades Hockney’s work.

Moving around the exhibition, the dense hang, in Room Four, of the paintings from 2004-5 reflects the unusual smaller scale of these works  and, here,  it’s possible to really get a sense of Hockney’s passion for his re-discovery of landscape.   Hockney has become extremely well-attuned to the natural world, studying seasonal changes.  Continuing this progression, Room Five is the first of four consecutive galleries devoted to a particular subject or motif, often the same place at different times of day.  It is fascinating to study the scene in its different guises.

David Hockney, A Closer Winter Tunnel, February-March 2006, oil on six canvases.  Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

Despite Hockney’s nod to a tradition of British painting, one of the most distinctive elements of the show is his new iPad works where he is able to celebrate the new and enliven the old.  Now I’m not particularly adept on any Apple product but Hockney certainly is.  At 74 years old, Hockney has re-invented a tradition using his iPad as an electronic sketchbook and the stylus as his new paintbrush.  He delights in the immediacy of the medium but retains the hallmarks of his style to very different effect; the painterly skill he has achieved using an App is impressive.  This is apparent when comparing his iPad works to his painting, which reveals a bolder composition and use of mark-making.

David Hockney, The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) – 2 January,    iPad drawing printed on paper.  Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

The iPad works document the changing season, recording the transition from winter to spring along a small Roman road that leads out of Bridlington.  Filling the central room, all these works form The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven)which comprises 51 iPad drawings and one large painting made from 32 canvases.  This gallery is stunning;  light and airy, there is a deliberate sense of theatricality where the viewer is centre stage, surrounded by drama and change, engulfed by the natural landscape.  Hockney has applied his obsessive energy to this new medium and this project, designed with these rooms specifically in mind.  The iPad works all have dates on the walls next to them so that we can follow Hockney’s journey.  He scrutinises the natural world and nothing passes him by.  The works in The Arrival of Spring are strong because they are a group.  Whether the paintings would retain this impact individually cannot be assessed here but, in this configuration, they are gorgeous.

David Hockney, The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven), oil on 32 canvases, Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

To leave the exhibition, you have to pass through Hockney’s reflections on Claude.  The less said about these the better.  Inspired, by the spatial effect seen in Claude’s Sermon on the Mount, Hockney has made a life-sized transcript and a number of studies exploring Claude’s geographical compression of space.  These are bad and unforgivable, a sad way to end a beautiful show.  I actually walked round again and exited through the front door so that I could end with a feel-good factor.

David Hockney, The Sermon on the Mount II (After Claude), 2010, oil on canvas.  Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

One of the final rooms in the exhibition presents a bank of screens – multi-camera footage of Yorkshire mixed with interior films and motifs from Hockney’s paintings.  The videos have been filmed simultaneously using nine and eighteen cameras, fitted on customised cars, providing a spell-binding, immersive experience.  Once again, Hockney enjoys pushing technology to its limits, playing with a medium with which we think we are familiar.

David Hockney, Nov. 7th, Nov. 26th 2010, Woldgate Woods, 11.30 am and 9.30 am, film still. Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

Critics say Hockney wanted to get away from his recognisable signature style but, although now concentrating on a different subject, these works still retain everything that has always been important to the artist.  The exhibition is about the importance of seeing and of observing and studying change.   Hockney’s commitment to the landscape is evident by the close study necessary to produce some of these works.  The exhibition also includes a number of drawings showing Hockney’s dedication to the fundamentals of his art.  Sometimes the colours can be a bit garish and some of the works aren’t quite as good as others but, more often than not, they are beautiful – simple expressions of the joy of the natural landscape.  Hockney transforms what, from any other artist, may be polite works into spectacular visions of England, filled with energy and life.  Hockney’s work is ahead of its time, answering questions that have not yet been asked.

 

David Hockney, Under the Trees, Bigger 2010–11, oil on twenty canvases.  Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

The exhibition is immense with more than 150 works, the majority of which have been created in the last eight years.  It’s a wonderful show; Hockney is now considered the greatest living artist – he’s brilliant, the British public love him and why the hell not!

David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture is at The Royal Academy until 9th April 2012, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

Double Exposure: National Portrait Gallery and Hamiltons

7 Jul

Glamour of the Gods at the National Portrait Gallery is a celebration of Hollywood stars from 1920-1960.  Over 70 vintage photographs are on display here, many of which have never been shown before, from the amazing archives of the John Kobal Foundation.

The studios used these photographs to transform their actors and actresses into style icons and heartthrobs.  These iconic images helped to shape incredible personalities, acting as powerful ‘posters’ to publicise new films and draw in audiences.  Not only is the range of stars overwhelming (James Dean, Joan Collins, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, and many others) but the range of photographers is also impressive including George Hurrell, Clarence Sinclair Bull, Bob Coburn and Ruth Harriet Louise.

Marlon Brando for A Streetcar Named Desire (1950) by John Engstead. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The exhibition records decades of film history.  John Kobal began collecting film photographs in the 1950s. Over time, his passion burgeoned and he tracked down many of the photographers behind the portraits, arranging exhibitions, publishing books, and seeking to give them the recognition they deserved.  Luckily for us, Kobal was an obsessive, realising the importance of these artists when no one else did and bringing them to the forefront, together with the stars they were photographing.

Whereas today we like our ‘celebs’ to be real people, the Hollywood film studios of this era chose to depict the actors as glamorous, mysterious and inaccessible.  With no paparazzi, these were the photographs seen and admired by the fans.   Appallingly, to enable the photographs to be reproduced as widely as possible, they were stamped ‘copyright free’ meaning many of these important photographers remained uncredited for their timeless works.

Rita Hayworth (1939) by Gene Kornman. Own photograph. 

I know I always commend or criticise slightly strange things – here, I have heaps of praise for the wall labels; they are brilliantly concise with information about both the works and the stars who appear in them.  They are informative and interesting – just right.  It was fascinating to be able to read the real names of these Hollywood icons – Joan Crawford, for example, was born Lucille Fay Le Sueur.

The exhibition is two-tone with walls of light cyan and deep purple – a bold and unusual choice.  Whilst the cyan walls bring out the tonal qualities of the monochrome photos, the purple doesn’t work as well.  These sections are a confusing mass of colour – purple walls with an injection of black (as described by the curator), black wall labels and brown flecked frames.

Own photograph.

There’s no denying that these works are beautiful but, in a way, there are slightly too many here.  The reflections in the glass from the opposite wall are awful and it would be better without these distractions.  A bulk order of non-reflective glass would have been useful.

Alfred Hitchcock with MGM lion (1958) by Clarence Sinclair Bull. Own photograph.

The gorgeous James Dean photo near the entrance/exit is spoiled by the reflection of Rock Hudson vying for your attention.

Own photograph.

It’s a very easy exhibition to walk around – look at the gorgeous photos and admire the beauty of the stars who appear in them.

The works themselves are exciting but the exhibition itself isn’t, other than for bringing these great works together.  Maybe that’s enough though and maybe it doesn’t need to do anything more than this.

I struggled across Trafalgar Square, where people were camping in their thousands to see today’s world premiere of the last Harry Potter film, The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, to the National Gallery.   Ever since I was taken on my first-ever school trip, aged 3, I can’t go past without popping in to visit my favourite paintings.  As I continued across the square towards Yinka’s Fourth Plinth, I came across the National’s incredible living wall.  Over 8,000 plants have been used to recreate Van Gogh’s A Wheatfield with Cypresses mimicking the strong bands of colour in the painting.  It’s gorgeous and such a great idea.  This is the sort of innovative thinking that we should see more of.

Own photograph.

Although I had planned to go to the Dulwich Picture Gallery, with time being tight, I decided to have a photography day instead and tottered over to Hamiltons for their Herb Ritts’ exhibition.  The gallery is dangerously close to a certain shop that sells certain special shoes with red soles but I managed to resist walking down Mount Street for a peek.

As well as working for Vogue and Vanity Fair, Ritts created hugely successful advertising campaigns for the likes of Calvin Klein, Chanel and Gap.  Many of these photographs, coming directly from Ritts’ private archive, have never been exhibited before.  They are images that Ritts particularly liked and saved for his own personal collection.

Own photograph.

This is a beautiful exhibition with clean-cut, striking works displayed in a crisp uniform fashion.  When I came home and looked back at my notes, I saw I had written an endless list of superlatives.  What else can you say about them but wow?  Aesthetically pleasing with perfectly executed compositions, these are a photographic delight.

Own photograph.

Also included are Ritts’ more well-known works such as Fred with Tires ­– this is the biggest ‘wow’ of them all.  It’s now very well-known and very gorgeous.  Girls, go and swoon to your hearts’ content.

Herb Ritts, Fred with Tires II, Hollywood, 1984. Own photograph.

Glamour of the Gods: Hollywood Portraits is at the National Portrait Gallery until 23rd October 2011, www.npg.org.uk.

The National Gallery’s Living Wall can be seen in Trafalgar Square until the end of October 2011, www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

Herb Ritts is at Hamiltons Gallery until 12th August 2011, www.hamiltonsgallery.com.

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