Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Hummadruz- Newlyn Art Gallery 2018

The Batty Edge of Art

'Hummadruz',       Newlyn art gallery, March 3 to June 2nd 2018

Curated by Field Notes - Cat Bagg and Rosie Thompson-Glover.

'Hummadruz' refers to a humming sound heard by some visitors to ancient sites such as reported by Andy Norfolk in the periodical Meyli Mamvro as he and two friends experienced it at Zennor quoit, not far from Newlyn gallery.

My companion reacted to this by saying, 'sometimes you get a noise from the wind blowing through the long grass - it's a physical phenomenon - not some mystical crap.'

As the title is a Cornish word new to me I found I was calling  the show  'that stuff about the occult and magic' rather than the gallery leaflet's 'lived system embodied by both artists and communities'.

Unusually it was the video exhibits I found the most interesting. There is a circular tour round an Irish hill plus a black mark on the lens that the artist, Niamh O'Malley, thought necessary.

There's a beautifully filmed bright sequence of a Danish woman asserting her belief in the strengthening properties of a Rowan tree, by Gitte Villesen.

And there is a small child listening to remarks about the supernatural as he colours in and asks matter of fact questions. This last, by Susan MacWilliams has a warning in case parents do not want their children to be hearing the conversation.

In the 70s Monica Sjoo's works about the occult and the Bronze Age stone circles were complained about in St.Ives and removed by police.The curators have the account of this in the Daily Telegraph to entertain us but now no such fuss has been made as her paintings are shown here.

 I would have liked inclusion of her image of God as a woman giving birth which was shown in St.Ives church about the same time.

The American Mary Beth Edelson's use of nude photos plus pagan allusions from the same time are also here. Both recall an era when feminism had quite a yearning for times before patriarchal religions took control, women were excited to learn about early eras when there were goddesses, and had a fascination with the idea of an essential 'femininity' which claimed certain qualities for women's work.  Some appreciative visitors' comments indicated this may persist.

There are artefacts displayed from the Cornish museum of witchcraft.

There is rather a lot of small print to read, stuck not always quite straight on the wall and not as I would have liked available to read as a handout, sitting down to take it in comfortably.

Linda Stupart has spells to take away, one of them against the malign effects of Richard Serra's work and fame, a sign of men's dominance in the art world as macho wielders and welders  of big heavy objects.

So, there is humour, history and the batty edge of art, from Ithell Colquhoun's surreal vision of a stone circle 

to an artist new to St.Just, Lucy Stein, who says, 'Since settling permanently in St.Just I have become totally cosmic'. (2016)

Does this show provide an interesting change from the usual arts council fare? Another show all by women but not saying it is so as not to provoke complaint?  Is it a worrying rejection of science and reason in suggesting the ancient supernatural beliefs are live and flourishing? Is it adding to a Cornish touristy myth of a backward strangeness with romantic aura? Is it a themed show with art you probably haven't seen much of before? An examination of a tiny backwater?

It's all of that.

The slides weren't working, the tea was not being served and my camera batteries ran out.  

A jinx on this sceptical visitor or just bad luck this bank holiday Monday?

Monday, 5 March 2018

Virginia Woolf:An Exhibition Inspired by Her Writings.

Virginia Woolf:An Exhibition Inspired by Her Writings

At Tate St.Ives to April 29  2018

Curated by Laura Smith.

Lamps, Nicola L, 1969, drawn by Mary Fletcher

Looking into the large new gallery I can see that there is a lot to look at in this exhibition and as I walk around enjoying a lot of the paintings it slowly dawns on me that they are all by women. As its so rare to encounter over 200 works by women in a space and none by men I wonder why Tate do not make this clear. Is it fear of criticism or is it the intention that visitors become gradually aware of this ? Surely many will not notice - even the invigilator I checked with wasn't sure. Is this the point?

The curator appears to have thrown in a long list of women artists, including many living ones who have recently been in shows at this gallery. Their connections to the works of Virginia Woolf seem often to be tenuous, as though any woman artist is connected simply by being a woman. The prevailing mood of the works is quiet, personal, delicate, lacking in any stridency which rather perpetuates to my mind unfortunate stereotypes of femininity. 

The Judy Chicago sketch for including Woolf in her dinner party show, in which Woolf was like all but one of the women represented by a vaginal image is interesting but requires knowledge of that very important feminist exhibition. Often one bit of art, like the Louise Bourgeois sculpture included, seems meaningless on its own when that artist's work has usually been seen in installations where the visitor gets multiple impressions from many works that add up to an understanding of what the artist is saying. 
So this show is an accumulation of brief references and examples. 

Visitors, drawn by Mary Fletcher.

The atmosphere when I was there was of very quiet serious study. There were some very well behaved serious young children with adults who were really having conversations with them about the work. 
A few people were watching the videos, listening to through headphones, but probably rarely for the whole length of the pieces, which were often about 20 minutes long. As there is no where else to sit this will encourage some to take the opportunity of a rest and tempt them into getting involved with these pieces.

In general then much to enjoy - in my case the exquisite detail of the Gwen John picture of her room, the Laura Knight cactus picture, one of many of using a window, the crisp clear colours of a Winifred Nicholson painting of primulas, the Dod Proctor self portrait, alas too high up and badly lit.

There are all sorts of frames. There are all sorts of heights of hanging. There is wall decoration, documents in cases to read, quotes from V. Woolf here and there. There is enough for several visits. 

There isn't much about Virginia Woolf, or her writing, there isn't the rather surprising completely abstract painting by her sister Vanessa Bell that we have had in the gallery before

 I was asking myself, ' why put that it in? ' repeatedly. And also why not Rose Hilton, why not Felicity Marr etc...

It's enjoyable, a bit incoherent, but worth visiting for many individual treats.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Alternative Visions: Undiscovered Art in the South West

Alternative Visions. Undiscovered Art in the South West.

'Abattoir ' by Steve Burden

Falmouth Art Gallery, closed 9th December 2017

This show was first at Bristol. After Falmouth it is going to Cheltenham and then Poole. The inside back cover of the nicely produced catalogue reveals eleven logos of sponsoring bodies, including the Arts Council and Arts and Health.
Nine support days were organised and 310 artists submitted work, from which 20 were selected by four people , one an 'Outside  In' artist  award winner and three arts administrators, with each chosen artist having one work on the wall plus a rather lengthy caption and a video statement to be viewed in the gallery. In addition a group of artists with learning disabilities in Bristol had given responses to the works which  could be heard if you could work out how to work the audio system, which involved putting on headphones and inserting a microphone shaped audio device into a circular activating switch next to each painting. I think each device had one person's reactions to every piece. As I chose a very slow speaking respondent who didn't really grab my attention I gave up on this extra, which I had to get a member of the art gallery staff to explain to me.

'Wish Pond' by Pinn

All this detail about how it was presented I give because it shows that a lot of time, care and money was put into giving a lucky twenty an exposure in a mainstream municipal art gallery that maybe most would otherwise never have obtained. Seeing them on video some of the artists had a rough, battered by life quality. Many had no art education and used art as a therapeutic activity to relieve depression or other distress. Quite a few only gave their first names.  Some spoke of art being an easy thing to do  - something I felt most artists outside their sphere of mental or physical need would never say because it was so at odds with the narrative of effort and difficulty of which  artists usually speak. Some encouraged others to take up a brush or marker to try making art themselves, another thing you don't find artists who think they've achieved some status doing unless it's in a class they are being paid to teach.

If I tried to assess the work as if it had been in any mixed show say at the RWA in Bristol or the Newlyn Society I think no one would have seen it as unusual without the accompanying information about the artist's ill health or difficult life circumstances.

'Critical Mass' by Jeremy James Lovely

Some of the information would have simply been interesting but much of it spoke of problems, exclusion, mental stress.

'Pink rain and rain' by George J Harding

So, I am left with a mixture of feelings about the whole thing. It's as interesting as many shows. It wouldn't be there as it is if the health and art organisations didn't exist. It's in a way preserving a ghetto for outsiders but then again it's giving a few a treat of being seen, written about, encouraged.
'An Assortment of Characters' by Alex

What of the 290 not selected, left much as the refused of any group show, disappointed, told to try again?

'A Distant Echo over the Atlantic Ocean ' by Peter Matthews

Could the organisers have shown all the refused ones in a slide show? Should they have had a larger exhibition and been inclusive rather than reproducing the art world circumstances of some being chosen and no one knowing what criteria other than personal taste prevailed?

I took photos of some of the work. More selection and exclusion.
'Trip to National Portrait Gallery' by Peter Sutton

I was interested in the show and it made me think about the craziness of how anyone gets a break to show the world something they make. 

Monday, 27 November 2017

Lexis over Land:Towards a Feminist Geography, at Tremenheere, Penzance

'Lexis over Land:Towards a Feminist Geography'.

 Tremenheere Gallery, Penzance, 
19Nov to 31Dec 2017

Curated by Nina Royle with work by her plus Jasmine Garrett, Lucy Stein, Daisy Rickmansworth, Miriam Austin, Lotte Scott, Laura Wormell, Libita Clayton, and Annabel Lainchbury.

The title of the exhibition, using an unfamiliar word which means 'the vocabulary of a language', the understated grey catalogue, the fact that prices are only available if you enquire at the desk, numbers next to works rather than names of who made them,  all points to a serious intent. 
Having spoken briefly to the curator I gather the artists are all friends and I wonder if they were all at college together. There isn't any information of a curriculum vitae nature.

The 'feminist geography'  is of the romantic essentialist variety, seeing a spiritual or mystical something that women have and tying this in with reference to their bodies, pomegranates photographed held up in front of naked breasts, hands covered with earth, recalling  Ana Mendieta.

Unfortunately to my mind references are left to the cognoscenti to notice rather than being frankly  acknowledged. There are works supported on gardening gloves like Chris Offili's lumps of elephant dung,

and chunks  of charred wood in a row like Richard Long.

There is work made in situ on the floor using local materials, work unframed  held up with masking tape, latex, plants incorporated in installation and also painting and photography.

It's not easy to work out who did what. 

There's a saw outside, distressingly left out in the rain to rust. The man invigilating feels he can't make a decision to move it when it's mentioned to him.

I leave with my brain a little bit refreshed, looking about me at the rain on a plant, spotting an earth work thrown up by work on the railway opposite Sainsburys that I think is in the two large photos, St.Michael's Mount in the background, and taking some photos myself.

This is despite a bit of disappointment. No doubt these young artists are exploring what is new to them but rather old to me. They've done very well to secure an excellent gallery space and made a show that is refreshingly uncommercial. 
I resist the romantic female essentialism, I want something grittier, more of today, and maybe next time they show they will have developed more personal and more surprising things.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Rebecca Warren at Tate St.Ives 2017

Rebecca Warren has the honour of being the first artist to show in the large new gallery at the Tate St Ives until January.
Would Barbara Hepworth approve?

Finding the room dotted with lumpy bumpy glutinous objects reminded me of recently seeing bronzes made in the Bronze Age by the Nuraghic people in Sardinia. 
I wasn't reminded of their beautifully made detailed yet simple forms of warriors and boats that are displayed so well in Caglieri archaeological museum, but of the crass, badly made feeble approximations offered in the museum shop.

Some of Rebecca Warren's work looks as if she took a Giacometti and dipped it repeatedly into glue.

Other work is precarious looking, bolted into the floor and its solid bronze construction covered in thick lumpy paint. 

I asked a young woman attendant how the artist can afford to use large quantities of bronze and was told it wasn't that expensive, which is not my experience when enquiring about casting a small dancer I made first in clay. To be sure this artist hasn't got any complex undercut forms so the molds could be easy to construct but the sheer quantity of metal would cost quite a lot.

The attendant also told me that the 'snowman with twig and pompom' presented on a wheeled platform and made of unfired clay was included by Laura Smith the curator to show how Rebecca Warren felt oppressed by unhelpful tutors at college. Unfortunately the label indicates nothing of this and word of this being an object of outrageous incompetence lacking all merit had already reached me via one of St.Ives gallery owners.

The gallery ceiling, quite a complicated construction with many small lights, had already impressed me as interesting and really more enticing than the sculptures. The size of the room is marvellous, although sadly acoustically it's as boomy and difficult to speak and be heard in as the other rooms with only the small carpeted shoes-off space by the cafe offering hope to musicians and speakers or film makers. The largely blank walls make a great background for photos of people, bringing out the subtle variety of their shapes in contrast to the sculpture.

In the Guardian guide it says of these works, 'A slobbering, molten carnality pervades everything this gutsy artist makes.'
I certainly agree with the first two adjectives.
I can't see Hepworth thinking it's a fitting exhibition to follow her heritage. It is the opposite of her work in its blobby bulbous messiness  but then who to suggest would have been better?

There must be work out there in three dimensions by a woman, Cornelia Parker? but we have seen a lot of her. As so often I am left wondering how the artist has received such recognition and why and believing surely that there is more lively, relevant and surprising sculpture waiting for an opportunity. Please.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

FAKE ART at CMR - Redruth October 2017

Fake Art at cmr Redruth. October 6,7,8   2017

I missed the opening of FAKE ART as I was away being an artist in residence in Sardinia, and I approached the building hopeful but a bit nervous in case some of my contributions had not been included.
Luckily they were all there apart from some 'colour in your own Braque'  sheets, but my own colouring in of my own copy of a Braque was there, considerably lighter and brighter than the somber rich tones Braque had used. I had drawn from the original when it was in Tate St.Ives because I loved the painting and wanted to possess it but had not referred later to the actual colours.

There were many different approaches to fake art in this mixed show, curated by David Axtell and being his choice of theme. He had several things in and my favourite was a hotline to God using an ancient telephone.

He also had a fur coat embellished with false nails etc. which  was all about the false additions some women use to add to their bodies.

I knew these were his but most of the work had no names on and the catalogue, of the international  Gallery 13 ,  London New York and Redruth , had no indication who had done what although  there were photos and names of the artists. This all fitted in with the fakery of other artist's work but makes the attributions rather dodgy.

There was one completely fictitious artist, a French woman with the name of Moser, an identity used by Ron Ford to enable him to make a change from his usual concentration on landscapes.

It was a show where a good grounding in art history and contemporary art made the jokey references more appealing but there was information about the first artists discreetly placed to inform the incognescenti. Some of it could on occasion be spoof info.

Angelica Rescued, Two lines before Willie Barnes Graham, Moser -two paintings, Emin bed

Tracey Emin's bed was recreated using photocopies by Jaqui Orly. This brought to mind how much art we only know via print media or online. In a way installations were a way of insisting that you make the effort to get firsthand experience of work, similarly performance art requires your presence. The  development of film, tv and video are I think our version of the medieval cathedral, a vast arena of imagery, largely made by people whose identity escapes us.

There was a room with female emphasis and a spiritual room where my underlit Cretan goddess looked very mysterious under a Rothko which had been made based on research into his methods.

Alongside were some glowingly coloured sort of Buddhist temple forms , part of Alice Mahoney's work.

Stuart  Blackmore had used the words 'real deal' repeatedly and also made an amusing series of collaged images of the artists, photographed by Alice Mahoney, stealing an idea by having paper bag masks and using all sorts of background locations and a current ubiquitous Trump and fake news image. Jaqui Orly had chosen to hide her head behind a dog, which reminded me of her performance in a previous show in which her head was hidden, and of the many art performances I have seen where the heads of the performers are enveloped in bread etc. It seems to be almost de rigueur in performance art, whether to make the performer feel more free or just to confuse the audience?

(Howmanyperformanceartistsdoesittaketochangealightbulb? )*

Tim Pryke had copied a Van Gogh which was one of his very lively drawings using many sorts of marks. He also had documentation in the form of letters from Vincent to his brother Theo.

There was a jigsaw of a painting  by Sam Basset which you could take up and put together, and another jigsaw of Angelica by Ingres, with the woman freed from her eternal wait for rescue by Rugiero. I had made this in the 80's as a feminist piece. 
I also showed a lithograph done years before Willie Barns Graham had done a similar one and speculated about whether she had seen mine. When I was studying art history at Nottingham University so much of it concerned influences, from whom, on whom and finding if dates indicated who was first.

David Axtell had obtained a Duchamp bottle rack which would make him rich if only it had been signed, and had produced a Picasso dove that might still buy him a house if he ever takes to criminal forgery.

The result of looking around all these most enjoyable fakes, some produced by accidental subconscious knowledge or simply doing work in a similar way to someone else, some produced by careful reference to the original either to learn from it or to see if it could be faked, was to gently raise all sorts of issues.
Why is the first version the best?
Are the 'cover versions', a term used by Danny Fox in  a recent talk in St.Ives about his own versions from Gauguin, tributes, developments, avant garde gambits as described by Griselda Pollock, or failure to be original?

Work ranged from an Egyptian  BC anonymous monkey vessel, through to copying a living painter, who it turned out wanted the jigsaw to be destroyed after the show, feeling the need to assert his identity.

Approaches ranged from using up some paint in my studio and finding the result reminded me of Howard Hodgkin

and  made me think about his obsessive border making in a psychotherapeutic way as I have been an art therapist, to trying to make  accurate copies of either the  way an artist worked or to copy an actual work exactly.
The repetitious aspect of many artists' work seems to me to often mean they are stuck in habits, either because that habit sells or because they have a psychological stuckness or simply have become crafts workers without the imagination or urge to strike out in new ways, but it seems to be seen as evidence of making a successful recognisable style by dealers and buyers who are often uneasy as artists develop. However artists seen now as great innovators were able to change repeatedly as we see in Picasso and in music the Beatles.

Writers sometimes write books in different genres under different names so why not artists seeking to free themselves from narrow confines?

Visitors were taking a long time to examine everything perhaps because of the uncertainties about the identities of the artists and the degrees of fakeness involved. There were a lot of things to see.

As the bbc programme about fakes shows the monetary value of works of art hinges on correct attributions but in this show everything was fake to some extent. 
Two pieces by two different artists used fake bank notes.

Fake Art turned out to be a playful fun fair of cross references and illusions, thought provoking and enjoyed by those that sought it out. 

I look forward to the New York and London versions.

  • I don't know - I left before the end.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

An Axolotl and Art at Tate St.Ives 2017

Tate St.Ives April 2017

Our Tate reopened with a huge number of people attending the occasion. As usual there was more excitement in the roar of the crowd and opportunity for brief conversations with friends and acquaintances than in the art, many people promising to return for a better considered look another day. The bar serves a very delicious white wine.

I was a bit worried about the salamander in a tank alongside a huge ceramic dog's head. Others were afterwards anxious and obtained information designed to reassure that Aaron Angell, the artist the axolotl belongs to, was ensuring it was cared for but some thought it is unacceptable to subject live creatures to being art exhibits. I returned to try to work out why it was part of the show and it seems to be just a whimsical notion, rather than a trip to Rio. Other artists have made other ceramic tank furniture that may be exchanged with the dog's head and these are on show nearby. Children were taking  a great interest in the axolotl while I was there and one of the attendants clearly knew a lot about its care. I couldn't help thinking since these animal inclusions are always controversial that it might be a bid for fame. I walked round everything again and had to admit it was the most interesting item, but I still wanted to make a ripost to it, which I will exhibit at the Crypt in the Taking Space show from April 29 toMay 5th, perhaps my own attempt to gain notoriety without any living beings being used.

Aaron Angell


The first room of the show has a nice selection of Leach ceramics, notwithstanding the existence of the Leach pottery museum up the hill. It's all very beautifully made, elegant and functional and there is also a lively ridge roof tile in a room with a film of how to make a teapot and a group of attractive examples.

Leach roof tile

This pottery is an absolute contrast with the ceramics from California and  London, which are said to be art not craft, being non functional and more thrown together. These are shown rather en masse with a lack of different height stands and with the names and titles on separate borrowable large laminated sheets like they have in museums . The effect of these two sections was like a school  ceramics show  I had seen in Kalamata in Greece, excellent and interesting to find there but to see similar stuff in Tate St.Ives was baffling and made me see how brilliant Grayson Perry's work is in comparison. The display is of many random objects by many different people and has no coherence.

Malcolm McClain 'Chamber of spheres'

Tom Salt 'Mushroom Cloud'
Jessica Warboys has been throwing paint on canvas into the sea to make large attractive marks, hung ceiling to floor in the curved gallery. This is described rather ridiculously as collaborating with the sea. She has other objects and three films. I watched two and they were largely handheld wobbly images of places in Wales and Cornwall. Sometimes a red square construction appeared wedged into space between two stones of an ancient quoit. It was the sort of thing my MA tutors would have torn to shreds as woolly unfocused rambling. Of all the artists in all the world why has Jessica Warboys come into my local Tate?

In the roofed in clay play area two nicely dressed children were rejecting the opportunity to play with clay, to the distress of their Dad. I felt a bit like them, invited to enjoy two shows and all I could do was feel concerned about a salamander, ungrateful and bolshy.