Sunday, 23 December 2012

206. UNTITLED (2012) by ISA GENZKEN

© Isa Genzken Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Galerie Buchholz, Cologne



HAUSER & WIRTH
 Saville Row
 until January 12th

 Never feature the same artist twice - a rule I instituted fairly soon after I started my blog. It makes sense as I live within reach of hundreds of galleries and thousands of  artists. No two days are alike. But I'm making an exception: I have featured Isa Genzken's work before when it was at the Saatchi Gallery (Blog number 137)

This piece makes a striking impact as it greet you in Saville Row. At first glance it's nonsensical: a column of tall white plinths topped by plaster casts of busts of Nefertiti. As the wife of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten 3,300 years ago, she remains one of the most famous icons of feminine beauty of all time. Leaning at her feet is a reproduction of the Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo da Vinci a mere 500 years ago - and still a Western icon of a beautiful woman.

But what is Nefertiti doing masking her face with something designed to put her in the shade, to obliterate her beauty? Like any gangster or celebrity-seeking-anonymity she has a pair of  sunglassess perched on her lovely nose.And the Mona Lisa is 'de-faced' too, for Genzken has collaged an image of herself onto the reproduction.

So here we see a striking .column of totemic poles which are at one and the same time nonsensical, playful, harmonious - and salutary. At a time when women hobble around in ricketty shoes seeking painful procedures and expensive products in the hope that they will be admired and loved for what they are not - because they do not trust what they are - we need art like this. It doesn't wag fingers or scold. Instead it invites us to reflect on a lineage of feminine beauty and examine the (usually passive) place of women in art history.

As Genzken says. 'There is nothing worse in art than 'you see it and you know it...that's a certainty I don't like'.

 There is a beautiful piece about her work by Colm Toibin in
http://www.colmtoibin.com/content/isa-genzken 

hauserwirth.com
.hauserwirth.com/artists/8/isa-genzken/biography

Saturday, 22 December 2012

205 MONUMENTAL by FELICITY AYLIEFF




THE PLACE TO GROW:
 175 years of the
 Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore 
until Jan 3rd


An exhibition consisting of  work by students who have attended the Royal College of Art during the past 175 years is bound to be riveting. And it needs time...

...but suddenly there is Monumental by Felicity Aylieff, who has been teaching Ceramics & Glass at the Royal College of Art for the past decade. The scale of the piece can best be demonstrated by the picture below showing the artist in her studio. Is she working on a 'ceramic' or a 'sculpture'?

It's the stuff of fairy tales. Ali Baba (and his men?) could hide in it . It might be brimming over with gold coins and sapphires. Water could be turned into wine in such a vessel. It could stand guard at the foot of a magnificent flight of stairs leadnig up to the stars. The meaning of life could be written on a scroll curled up inside it. Or it could be a coffin, or the resting place of a tranquil mummy. It's a piece so surprising and  overwhelmingly beautiful that it is a show-stopper.

Porcelain in various shapes and sizes - crenelated, asymmetric, tapered, tubular, the list is endless - we have met and loved before.Their colours can drench the eye, they can be seraphic , but they mostly know their place. But here is a piece which defies humility.

And how is it made? In 2007 Felicity Aylieff took up residence at the Pottery Workshop Experimental Factory in the historic 'porcelain city' of Jingdezhen, China, while on sabbatical from her work as Professor of Ceramics at Bath Spa University. In China she began working with the family business specialising in making enormous traditionally-formed and decorated porcelain vases.The surfaces of these pots explore contemporary translations of traditionally used techniques.

She shares  a studio in Bath with the   potter Takeshi Yasuda. and recently co-founded the Red House Design Studio with Yasuda.

Unlike many  other works of art, ceramics cry out to be touched and held and appreciated close up. The artist's own website incudes some glorious images of her work which is the next best thing to standing beside them.

aylieff.com 
rca.ac.uk
takeshiyasuda.com
ceramics-and-glass@rca.ac.uk

Monday, 17 December 2012

204. THE PASSION, NUMBER 57 by GEORGE SHAW





THE PLACE TO GROW:
 175 years of the
 Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore 
until Jan 3rd

THE PLACE TO GROW is a remarkable exhibition of work by artists who were students the  Royal College of Art sometime during the past 175 years. George Shaw completed an MA there in 1998 and was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2011.These paintings - like much of Shaw's work - are of the council estate on the edge of Coventry where he grew up amid grass and trees and woodland. His works are 'fragments of memoirs', pages of a book of life. He once told  Matthew Cain from BBC Channel 4 that he identifies more with writers than artists. 
 
One of the things that makes his work instantly recognisable is the purity and sheen of his medium: Humbrol enamel paint, more often than not associated with model railways and Airfix kits. It's an unpretentious material, readily available, cheap, does what it's told. It rejects the flamboyance of oil and the fragility of water colour. The result is paintings which are ultra real, in that they tell us more than the eye can see. It makes the mundane, the quotidian, mysterious. And look at our vantage point: we are pressed back on the other side of the road, cut off by a wide grey empty road which occupies nearly half the painting.
The Passion, The Path on the Edge
Look too at the muddy track, the dense green vegetation, the places where the sun does - and does not - penetrate. The mystery is compounded because no one's there. But these unpopulated houses and  lanes are alive with possiblities of danger, boredom, pride, routine, competition, pleasure, duty, discovery. . At times they seem to be teeming with human presence.  (In comparison, look at the bull terriers and wheelers and dealers populating   Ray Richardson's paintings as he recreates a corner of the South London where he was born and bred). (Blog 189) .

In the artist's own words: 'I started to make these paintings out of a kind of mourning for the person I used to be: an enthusiastic, passionate teenager who read art books and novels and poems and biographies and watched films and TV and listened to music and dreamed. They are paintings of places that were familiar to me in my childhood and adolescence, places in which I found myself alone and thoughtful. They are places in which I forgot things. ... I paint the paintings of all the times and all the thoughts I lack the language to describe. For the one single moment that I can recall, I feel a dull sadness for the thousands I have forgotten'.

'I haunted the place and now it haunts me'


Thursday, 13 December 2012

203. INTERACTIVE ABSTRACT BODY (CIRCLE) by JOSIAH McELHENY


WHITE CUBE GALLERY, MASON'S YARD


I think I'm going to find it challenging to write persuasively about this exhibition, so I'll begin with the artist's own words 'I’m interested in the question of seduction, the idea of: how do you seduce people to be interested in what you’ve done?' He goes on to say  'Artwork can be about ugliness or things that are disturbing, visually or viscerally. But in order for them to actually have any kind of long-term viability as art, they have to have their own beauty. He refers to Francis Bacon, 'whose work evokes horror as well as beauty...a great deal of beauty. Beauty is about a kind of sympathy to a set of ideas or relationships'.

So when you walk into the gallery what do you see?  The image above is of a sculpture on the lower ground floor. The trousers belong to the man who happens to be taking the photograph. He is standing amid eight mirrored sculptures, collectively called Interactions of the Abstract Body and individually titled after a shape: circle. square,triangle or elipse. And then words fail me - or rather thousands would be needed to begin to describe how this artist makes a reflective surface a metaphor for the act of reflecting on an idea, be it Modernism or fashion, the human body or the notion of Utopia...and much more. 

 The artist himself says 'Reflective work  gets you involved in it because you see yourself in it, and then the kind of horror, repellant nature of that at the same time. I think that’s a lot of the subject of my work, this idea of a utopia that falls apart. We all want this utopia; we want this fantasy of a perfect world. And yet any perfect world is the worst place there is to be'.

After midday there is a chance to see  performance art by a member of the Laban Conservatoire of Music and Drama, who wears one of these structures, turning the body into a kinetic sculture  On Saturdays all eight sculptures will be set in motion according to a pattern choreographed by the artist. Gallery goers and performers alike peer into and become reflected, so that both real and implied bodies multiply 'creating a complex, intangible sense of space'.

Glass sculptures in vitrines, ground floor
If a visit is not possible, I find that the artist himself talks more directly and freshly about his work than most of the people writing about him. If you have time the website below is a good place to start.

I can't resist a final quote: '...the all-reflective work or the all-white work—they suggest at first a very seductive thing, but if you think about it for half a second, they become very awful too. Anything that is very seductive is also awful. I mean, if you go to a Renaissance palace in Europe, it could be the most sumptuous thing, but if you think about who paid for this—who made it, who had access to it—then you realize it represents pure evil, at some level'.

whitecube.com
art21.org/.../josiah-mcelheny/interview-

Thursday, 6 December 2012

202. THE TILED CATHEDRAL by LUCY WILLIAMS

Tiled Cathedral
TIMOTHY TAYLOR GALLERY 
All images Todd White Art Photography,copyright Timothy Taylor Gallery and artist

An image cannot convey the mystery of this startling and wondrous work. It is not a painting, but a mixed media collage. But even that label fails to prepare you for Williams' 3-dimensional hand-made artistry. At first you see the high ceiling, empty spaces and lofty 'platforms', where the specialists go, way above the heads of ordinary users. As you move nearer, the diving boards appear to extend until they seem to press against the glass of the conventional picture frame.I'm reminded of the first time I saw  Bridget Riley's Movement in Squares in the 60s: and of some of Amish Kapoor's work where he teases the viewer as to what is a hollow - or a mound.

 Below is Parkleys,part of Eric Lyon's Span Housing Scheme at Ham Common. In works like this Williams uses perspex for windows, cast jesmonite for tiny bricks, various veneers and acetates for wooden and glass structure. She even embroiders greenery and flowers and cross-stitch skies.

Parkleys
The emotional content of her work sharpens rather than diminishes her take on mid-century Modernist architecture.  City Hall, unpopulated like the rest of her work, features patterning from mosaics, tessalations and modular structures. As with The Tiled Cathedral, you are aware of how the perspective changes as you move - now you see the underside of the stairs, now they've gone. But in the work's rhythm and control  she has captured the essence of public buildings, which are places where time is experienced in slabs  (called meetings), where words and numbers are laid out in agendas, schedules and timetables, and where a person's civic role trumps individuality. It echoes functional civic life: a solemn building  pared down, shorn of ornamentaion and furnishing, silent but not melancholy The colours are bright and warm, the buildings unblemished, and her meticulous loving attention to detail makes every work  intensely pleasurable to experience.

City Hall

Saturday, 1 December 2012

201. BURNING BOAT, LAKE MAGGIORE by MICHAEL BENNALLACK HART

 Medici Gallery Cork St until December 3rd

Michael Bennallack Hart's landscapes are said to follow in the tradition of Romantic 19C painters. '(He) has a particular feeling for the solidity of landscape: the white mass of a chalk cliff, the solid shapes of clipped hedges, heavy dark blocks of foliage. It lends an impressive and individual quality of weight and calm to his work, and an elegiac serenity."(Jane Ross) As you walk into the Medici Gallery you sense the meditative quality in his paintings, shown, for example, in Seafront, the image at the end of the text.

But then you come to Burning Boat, Lake Maggiore. It's a shock. The Lake is one of the most beautiful places I have seen: a large sinous stretch of  water, colours changing, on the south side of the Alps, where tropical plants flourish. The villages and villas seem to have tiptoed round the edge to find a  space flat enough to build upon. It's a place of steep rocks and tiered gardens which run hot and cold with azaleas, eucalyptus, orchids, cypress, neoclassical temples, balconies and fountains. Inside, the villas boast frescos, sculptures, curly staircases, clocks, and breath-taking views.

But in Burning Boat all that colour and scent and beauty is blacked out. Azure sky is whitewashed by wood-burning  smoke from the lively flames which leap to the sky, freed from a cradle of smouldering  beams.

Why is the boat burning? We do not know the back story and no one is at the scene to hint at what has just happened. But the flames are enough to remind us that the lake, its villas and chapels and islands, has a long and violent history. Tales of treachery and hidden tunnels, smuggling and savagery, feuds and fury are packed into the local guide books and seeing this painting we believe every word.



.mbhart.co.uk

info@medicigallery.co.uk



"

Sunday, 25 November 2012

200. WINNING PHOTOGRAPH by SAMUEL ARANDA

Samuel Aranda, Spain, for The New York Times.
The glimpse of the woman's face which breaks through  the solid black plane of her drapery and the gloved hand tenderly holding her son's arm makes a striking picture. But it's not a pose adopted by models - it took place in real time. The date is 15 October 2011. The place is specific too - a Yemeni woman, Fatima al-Qaws, is cradling her son Zayed in Sanaa, Yemen.  It's the winning photograph  chosen from over 100,000 images aubmitted from 124 countries  to the 2011 World Press annual competition in press photography, currently on show at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank..

 Zayed was suffering from the effects of tear gas after being fired at as he approached a government checkpoint during protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Zayed remained in a coma for two days after the incident. The image was taken at a mosque that was being used as a temporary field hospital where Ms Qaws found her son among the wounded.

 Anyone familiar with European art might see the composition as an echo of  Michaelangelo's Pieta. Another mother, Mary, is grieving over her beloved son, Jesus, an event which took place 2,000 years ago. It was translated into one of the world's greatest sculptures 500 years ago. It's a grief which does not change from generation to generation and is probably being experienced in various parts of the world even as you read this.


Samuel Aranga's photograph is on display at the Royal Festival Hall amid a dazzling and powerful exhibition of  169 images from across the world, including award-winning images from each of the other nine contest categories.  There is a warning that some of the work is very disturbing.

www.southbankcentre.co.uk/

worldpressphoto.org/Exhibition/2012_London

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

199. FISHING BOAT IN SURF, SRI LANKA 2 by PATRICK GIBBS

28 CORK STREET  until November 24


A brief note as the show will close soon:

Patrick Gibbs' oils and acrylics are largely inspired by the people and dramatic landscapes of Burma, Sri Lanka, Zanzibar and Kerala. In Fishing Boat in Surf, Sri Lanka 2 (84 x 98cm) the viewer looks up at this astonishing moment when surf and skill and strategy converge into a white wall  as frozen as a glacier. But the stillness is an illusion: in a moment the wave will burst with energy and topple and sway and reach out towards who-knows-where...

In contrast  Four Fishermen, Lake Inle, Burma ( 70 x 184cm) is at first sight a placid, pleasing rather romantic view of boats  gliding over calm waters, sea and sky making a pleasurable unity. But this is real life: the picture is packed with dynamism and the composition highlights the poise and skill of men absorbed in making a living, not making a picture.

The third picture Women Harvesting Sugar Cane, Burma (40 x 40 cm) confirms the physicality which is so powerful in Gibbs' paintings. The hot, dry air impacts on us and  colours  are bleached out by the sun. It is a modest, quiet, dreamy scene, those shady hats giving away nothing about the mysterious women  crouched over their exhausting daily labour.




www.patrickgibbs.com

Monday, 19 November 2012

198. MINDLESS, MINDLESS by JESS FLOOD-PADDOCK

 Tate Britain  until January 6th 2013
ART NOW

Why go and see a series of scaled up leather bicycle saddles scattered on the floor of  the ART NOW room at Tate Britain?

Not for the first time in her work, the artist is reminding us that things as well as people have a biography; and goods have an emotional as well as a monetary value, especially notable when they change hands. The title reminds us of the 2011 London riots. Just over a year ago David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham, described the rioters as 'mindless, mindless people'. Is that what they were?  Jess Flood Paddock has chosen her title in order to challenge his way of thinking.

Saddles are easy to steal, are highly valued by cyclists, can be quickly sold and resold and have become a sort of alternative currency. The very word ‘saddle’ conjures up a history of speed and daring: horses, races, cowboys, highwaymen.  In the second picture you can glimpse  on the far wall a video displaying the empty scruffy streets, barricaded shops, barred gates and doors around London’s Broadway Market, where these bicycle seats used to zip along.  Each image moves slowly, pausing long enough to discomfort us. 

For the viewer is inside a beautiful and well-loved gallery, Tate Britain, standing in a quiet, well-lit room looking at these elegant sculptures. The artist's gift is to 'tell it slant', to stop us in our tracks, to conjure up a fresh awareness before we have time to gather up an armful of defensive  clich├ęs.  Pause for a moment and imagine streets with a proliferation of chained up bicycles, without seats,  the main stem poking up to the sky: an eye watering picture.  In the studio the saddles are humbled, grounded, detached from what gave them purpose and meaning in life. She's asking how far do circumstances dictate what we see, think and feel? 
The result is visceral.  How far are we all complicit? Do we all need to exchange mindlessness for mindfulness?





Saturday, 10 November 2012

197.STITCHED DRAWINGS by GEORGIE MEADOWS

Visiting the Wellcome Collection yesterday for another reason, Georgie Meadows' arresting exhibition stopped me in my tracks as soon as I stepped into the Foyer.. Using a domestic sewing machine to sew through two pieces of cloth, separated by wadding, Meadows has created a series of delicate, evocative, profound portraits of old people. The title of the show is Stitched Drawings and sometimes she uses black thread to create an outline as if she's sketching the subject.And tight-knotted threads combine and contrast with loose stuffing, with softness and jagged edges. The notes on the exhibition point out that 'the tangled threads are both a metaphor for the scrambling of neural connections during degenerative illness and a tender and tactile form of portraiture'.

 And deeply moving as the portraits are, the artist has a practical purpose in mind - to help us understand some of the concerns that need to be addressed when caring for - or just being with - some older people.Meadows' concern is with the primacy of visual communication in the act of caring, when logic and speech are often elusive. This gives the portraits a meditative quality; when the confusions and distress of illness are set beside the kindness held in the simple act of empathetic looking and seeing.. 

The captions accompanying the pictures movingly outline the daily challenges and triumphs of her sitters: the woman wearing a party paper hat looks as if this is not the sort of headgear she has ever relished, young or old; the success of a man's day is measured by dressing himself; a woman is hungry but her brain will no longer tell her how to eat. There is also a short film Thursday Afternoons.about a community on the Welsh border where Georgie Meadows has organised a weekly tea dance to bring together a mixture of people.

Meadows' works are a gentle and beautiful testament to courage and resilience in the face of a loss of control and identity. I hope this exhibiton will go on tour.




Friday, 9 November 2012

196 HEDGEROW, NEW FOREST by RICHARD BILLINGHAM

Hedgerow (New Forest) 2003 lightjet print mounted on aluminium 122x155cm © The Artist, courtesy Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London


The Cornfield 1826 John Constable, oil on canvas 143x122 © The National Gallery, London
The picture at the top of a shining golf course  beyond a serpentine path, framed and held by a wreath of dark foliage, is shown beside none other than The Cornfield, the purpose being to find out  'how photographers use fine art traditions to explore and justify their work.'

The National Gallery has mounted its first major exhibition in photography, Seduced by Art, using work from the mid 19 century onwards to illuminate some of its Old Masters. Hedgerow (New Forest) is the work of one of our most exciting contemporary artists, Richard Billingham. People may recall first encountering his stark, painful, sympathetic and unforgettable photographs in the 1990s when he pictured his parents and brother in their domestic environment.

Death of Sardanapalus 1827 by Eugene Delacroix

Hedgerow and The Cornfield are in Room 34 and the pair are used as a taster to invite you downstairs into the Seduced by Art exhibition which I cannot include because you have to buy a ticket (half price on Tuesday afternoons). This blog is about free art. I should mention that the National Gallery is open and free (except for special temporary exhibitions) for 361 days in the year.

Seduced by Art has had mixed reviews but at its best it is magnificent. In the first room is this work by Delacroix. It comes to life with  the great late Tom Lubbock's review in The Independent 02.07.2010. He described a scene of 'beautiful chaos', where there is 'rich fabric and gorgeous colours' among 'turbulence, cruelty, opulence, ruin, decadence, slaughter... a masscre coming to its end'. Beside it in the exhibition are three contemporary photographs: Jeff Wall's Barbaric Destruction, Tom Hunter's single figure at a bedside and Sarah Jones' sheet slipping from a plinth. You may find the juxtoposition  overwhelmingly powerful.
http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on

 www.independent.co.uk/.../great-works-the-death-of-sardanapalus-1...

www.independent.co.uk/.../until-further-notice-i-am-alive-by-tom-lubbock..

http://www.thefwa.com/site/jeff-wall-in-his-own-words

www.tomhunter.org/

http://www.maureenpaley.com/artists/sarah-jones




























© The Artist, courtesy Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London

Thursday, 25 October 2012

195. HOPE by ANON

HOPE  HMP, Lindholme, Shearman Bowen Award for Mixed Media c
FREE
 Curated by Sarah Lucas

The Spirit Level,
 Royal Festival Hall
until November 25




The 50th anniversary of the Koestler Trust is celebrated by an exhibition  of art by prisoners, offenders on community sentences, secure psychiatric patients and immigration detainees. From the 8,000 entries Sarah Lucas chose 180 exhibits which include music, film, drawings, craft and sculture.

The horizontal lines in Hope draw the eye inescapably to the grid at the back which is shut firmly in our faces. No escape there. No glimpse of life outside through a cell window. The textured brownish black paint (?) applied thickly - scrawled even - on the walls is  disturbing, a reminder of prisoner protest. But we can see something like a  porthole. Alas, this image is too small to do justice to the  delicate line drawing of a tree in full leaf enclosed in the small, pale circle. Perhaps the artist is reminding us that hope can come as a gift, unbidden,  to anyone anywhere


Just Another Day, HMP Lindholme, Shearman Bowen Gold Award for Pastels
Just another Day - a bunch of friends, a hand or two of cards? After all it's a soft and reassuring picture, drawn using a limited number of gentle, pale colours. And the medium is pastels,  as light as air, crumbly, unresisting, deeply sensitive to touch, even the pressure of a finger.

Which contrasts with the what's happening before our eyes. Behind the bespectacled  man at the table is an open doorway where two men are violently entangled. The trio in the top left hand corner could be having a group hug - or sorting out a deal? It's best not to ask what the man in the right corner is up to. And the card players? A cosy hand of rummy or whist? We can look over the right shoulder of the man in front of us but the symbol on his card is not red hearts or black clubs or red diamonds or black spades. It looks like a heart-shaped white arum lily. I've never found one like that in any card game I've played.

All Patched Up, The Dene Hospital, Partnerships in Care, Women in secure hospitals Platinum Award for textile |Art.Add caption
All Patched Up  is made from scraps of cloth, threads and decorations. Sometimes the clothing it came from is identifiable: a patch from a pair of jeans and from a check shirt, each with the pocket still intact. Some squares (the hearts?) suggest a narrative, others are abstract patterns. Each one is unique. But the notice tells us this is work by a group of women in a secure prison. The Oxford English Dictionary says  'Patching up' is  making a quick  temporary repair until some better way is found. It also mens settling an argument.

koestlertrust.org.uk
southbankcentre.co.uk
(c) koestler trust

Sunday, 21 October 2012

194. ANONYMOUS by KATY GRANNAN

'OUT OF FOCUS'  

at the SAATCHI GALLERY

Katy Grannan considers her pictures to be portraits. By so doing she breaks a few rules. Portraits are usually of people with names, who  in the past had status by being high-born or affluent or statesmen or clergy, or  had for some reason or another become what we would now call celebrities. They were  portraits of individuals, often dressed and framed against a carefully chosen background, sitting ot standing in a pose which spoke volumes to the viewer about their life style and circumstances. They might also  have around them animals (perhaps a horse or dogs) and artefacts such as an artist's paint brush, a queen's crown, an explorer's compass, a scientist's glass flask, a writer's quill or pen.

Anonymous  is very different. The subject is nameless and set against a background which is stripped of any clue as to when and where the photograph was taken The narrative, the back story, is not shown in symbols or artefacts but is in the face.. Her portraits - strangely private - suggest a rich history of victories and defeats which we shall never discover.

The subtitle gives us a little more information: San Francisco, Boulevard 4, 2009, printed 2011. So we know it's a form of street art and the catalogue tells us that all Grannan's subjects agreed to be photographed.  The impact of her  work comes from seeing a roomful of 'prideful individuality among human beings', .. 'Caught in the blinding glare of the Californian sun, the figures stand , shift, turn, look away - resigned to the next throw of the dice while not holding our much hope that it will go their way'.

www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/artists/katy_grannan




Sunday, 14 October 2012

193. BREATHE 2012 by DRYDEN GOODWIN




Stand outside the Houses of Parliament by Big Ben, look south over Westminster Bridge and this is what you see, a large video screen atop St Thomas’ Hospital on the south bank of the Thames. It’s an arresting, moving image of a young child breathing. It’s presented by Invisible Dust, a commissioning organisation bringing together leading artists and scientists to examine issues around climate change, air pollution and the environment. London is one of the most polluted cities in Europe, air pollution causing more deaths than passive smoking and traffic accidents combined.

For his new installation Goodwin created over a thousand pencil drawings of the breathing of his five-year-old son, sometimes easy and relaxed, at other times laboured. You may recall some of Dryden Goodwin’s earlier work in Blog No 10 – his warm, lively, humane, informative portraits of staff who work on London’s Underground system, which used to be on display outside Southwark tube station. 

The dramatic scale of the projection high up on the skyline heightens the fragility of a young child drawing breath. We know that children are more susceptible to (invisible) air pollution because their lungs are underdeveloped at birth and mature slowly during childhood.  But it reminds us of the fragility of us all, from the moment of relief when we as a new born baby drew our first breath to the moment when we will draw our last. It resonates with the research of Professor Frank Kelly, an advisor to the government on air pollutants, who has studied the effects on the health of children of the Congestion Charge and Low Emission Areas. It’s hoped that his EXHALE study of 8 year olds in East London will help inform future government policy 

Saturday, 13 October 2012

192. LEVITATION by PAUL BENNEY

NIGHT PAINTINGS by PAUL BENNEY
The Deadhouse

Levitation 2005 Oil on wood (c) Paul Benney

Beneath Somerset House’s famous neo-classical courtyard - used for film sets, fashion shows and as a glamorous skating venue in the winter – lies a web of little-known underground passageways called the DeadhouseYou could hardly ask for a better setting for these strange paintings. It’s an unsettling space, dingy, crooked, with headstones hung on the walls grabbing your attention with tragic true stories. The corridor is punctuated by rows of alcoves each about the size of a large pantry.  Part of the site is said to be under the River Thames itself.

 Paul Benney is now showing the first exhibition of paintings ever to be held there. He writes ‘I don’t set out to make eerie or unsettling work. It does eventually come across as that, I think, as a coincidence, as a result of me finding imagery that makes sense to me’.

 Benney is influenced by the Symbolists who believed that, because you can’t confront absolute truths head on, the artist must ‘tell it slant’. That way, art can embody something of our spiritual quest. Rachel Campbell Johnston of the Times writes that Benney ‘shows us our lives as they balance on that fragile boundary between the perfectly ordinary and the profoundly otherworldly. He seeks to capture that mystery which redeems us from the mundane’. 

In Levitation it's as if we're looking through a window at a figure furled up as a foetus, suspended in some magical space. It reminds me of Salvador Dali’s Crucifixtion. In both paintings the subject is oblivious of us, both figures, caught in eye-catching postures, are suspended between alternative universes.
Christ of St John of the Cross 1951 S.Dali

Benney is quoted as saying he has ‘a holy horror of slick paintings. His influences range from 20th century Russian cinema to Rembrandt and Goya. ‘Generally, of all those artists I am drawn to the subterranean subject matter. That includes Goya’s Black Paintings’, which include Saturn devouring his son and two ghoulish old men eating soup. I find some of Benney’s work equally disturbing; Pissing Death, a skeleton standing ankle deep in a Romantic mist-swathed lake, pissing into the water; and Black Varla, a head which bursts into flames, not fire descending from heaven as in the Pentecost story but seeming to escape from the man himself as it his very forehead has caught fire.
 
While I appreciate Benney’s sense of adventure and his dislike of the mundane, I think he has a harder task than the Symbolists had when they burst in on the world to shock and to shake. We can now have daily access to terrible visual and word images.

What I appreciate most are Benney's skill in creating an atmosphere - and the beautiful way he paints. Look at the upper half of Levitation. Who would not want to plunge into the jades and turquoises and silver which are so absolutely present before us? Waves or clouds, plunging or rising, they welcome us.  Or perhaps they greet us with perfect calm and stillness and silence - and we're back with the Symbolists' spiritual quest?