Monday, 30 January 2012


                                                                                    ArtEroticaExhibition,  Cork St

Don’t loiter, girl! Do you think I shall lose appetite for the meal if you are so long about serving it? No; I shall grow hungrier, more ravenous with each moment, more cruel... Run to me, run! I have a place prepared for your exquisite corpse in my display of flesh!
This extract from  The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter is on display by the painting.

The Bloody Chamber is based on the story of Bluebeard, a wealthy-beyond-the –dreams- of–avarice French nobleman who married a 17 year old girl, a talented pianist, and whisked her off to his remote castle. There she discovers his passion for sadistic pornography and his pleasure at her humiliation and pain. He sets up a trap which leads to her discovery of a chamber containing the bodies of his previous wives. In Carter’s version, narrated by the child bride herself, before the Marquis can add her to his collection of corpses she is rescued. A blind piano tuner seen on the right of the picture plays his part but it is her magnificent feisty mother who, arriving on horseback, does not hesitate to ‘put a single irreproachable bullet through the Marquis’s head’.

Traditional fairy tales have been described as the science fiction of the past. Certainly the novelist and short story writer Angela Carter used them to explore how things might be different.  Her unforgettable rich gothic imagery draws from ‘subterranean areas behind everyday experience’, which Jones depicts so exquisitely in her arresting picture.

Karen Jones captures the essence of this horrific tale. The Marquis stands with a strong grip upon his weapon. The unnamed heroine carries the ring of keys which, by unlocking the bloody chamber, awakens her to the peril she is in. She wears a collar like a dog - albeit one made of blood-red rubies - ‘coiled like a snake about to strike’. And what about those lilies? They are everywhere. When the Marquis proposes, 'he seemed to me like a lily...possessed of that strange ominous calm of a sentient vegetable, like one of those cobra-headed, funereal lilies whose white sheaths are curled out of a flesh as thick and tensely yielding to the touch as vellum’. When falling asleep the last thing she remembers is ‘a tall jar of lilies beside the bed , how the thick glass distorted their fat stems so they looked like arms, dismembered arms, drifting drowned in greenish water’.

I’m reminded of American Gothic, an oil painting by Grant Wood. Is it a neat inversion of Jones’ picture? (It's one of the top three paintings that every American is said to know. The others are  Mona Lisa and Whistler’s Mother). Both couples stand to attention in period dress. Here the man on the right is not lusting after the woman. He's her father, gripping a rigid pitchfork, a weapon useful for  ‘defending the virtue of his not very alluring daughter’ (the artist’s sister), according to the art critic Robert Hughes. The pitchfork, which is so central to the painting, is usually  ‘Satan’s archetypal tool for tossing souls into eternal fire,  but here it becomes the weapon against Satan’. Opinion is divided as to whether Grant is underlining or undermining the values of his Iowan ancestry. Is he shyly poking fun at intolerance, rigidity and moral vigilance – or upholding traditional values?  

No such ambiguity exists in Karen Jones’ painting (or Angela Carter’s story. The Bloody Chamber  - a reference to the womb? – is visceral, chilling, intriguing. Not the sort of image you would easily forget. 

The EroticaArt2012 exhibition, in which it is displayed, has two aims: to showcase the work of emerging and established artists and to raise funds for FPA, a sexual health charity. Its aims are to see fewer unwanted pregnancies in the UK, lower rates of sexual infection and for parents and children to be more able to talk about growing up.

Friday, 27 January 2012


 Open Exhibition Prize Winners
 Cork St
What first attracted me to this painting was its clarity and calm. About half the surface  is glassy sea unruffled by a breath of wind, underneath a soft sky luminous with the very same colours I find in the opal ring I’m wearing. It has the appeal of an abstract.

Then I notice the perspective. What perspective?  The hut on the right presses against the picture frame, near enough to touch. The rails slightly left of centre are like a hand stretched out barring you from entering the picture. When you squeeze your way down to the sea you find a snapshot of activity between a group of sleek surfers - not a sign of shaggy wet lumps of hair, or crumbs of sand between the toes. Their sharp  outlines are dwarfed by their sails, pristine, crisp, clear.  

As we come back off the beach, springing out of the velvety dark hut is a white door.  But not any old beach hut door. This one is festooned with frills and fringes, tassels and tapes in a lovely collation of pastel shades: an echo of the sea in the turquoise, the creams and pinks of sea shells, a hint of green from sea weed. But what is such a grand curtain doing here? Has it come down a peg or two from a previous life in a lady’s bedroom or her parlour?  Why a curtain at all since one would imagine that privacy and modesty would be safe enough in the hands of the top panel of the door which appears to be opaque? 

This work appeared in the Cork Street Open exhibition where last year the artist won the Framing Prize (£500) for his painting Newhaven Pier Steps. Anyone interested in bird paintings as well as sea side scenes should consult Tony Feld's website.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012


© Gillian Ayres.  Courtesy Alan Cristea Gallery, London.


In the 1960s, prompted by the Tate, Gillian Ayres  made a list of items that intrigued her as a painter. They included: art history, puddings and marine life-forms, the artist Crivelli, jelly moulds, Mrs Beeton’s ice cream and cakes, finials and crockets, lichens and seaweeds, shells, Uccello hats and plumed helmets...’ 

Gillian Ayres, is the first - possibly the greatest - English female abstract artist, who was awarded the CBE (Companion of the British Empire) in the Queen’s Birthday Honour’s List this year, around the time she celebrated her 80th birthday.

In the 1970s, when Gillian Ayres was a senior lecturer at St Martin’s School of Art in London, other members of staff are reputed to have warned the students, 'Don’t listen to her, she’ll make you want to paint.’ It was a decade when the desire to produce conceptual art was intoxicating, pumping energy into art schools. But Ayres carried on painting her distinctive pictures, which is what she has done for the past 60 years.

I would like to show you an image of her wonderful Distillation, owned by the Tate, painted by the young Gillian in 1957, said to be among the most powerful and lyrical abstract paintings ever produced by a British artist. But I don’t have copyright permission. Do please look it up. It was painted partly in Ripolin household enamel paint and partly in artist's oil colour. The artist applied the paint with rags and brushes, having poured it from a can or squirted it from the tube. Inspired by Jackson  Pollock, she  worked with the painting flat on the floor. Using turps to keep the surface free-flowing, she was free to work with subtlety and speed. Her principal concerns at this time were pictorial space, materials and colour, and the balancing of different elements 'so that nothing is more important than anything else. One was into the idea of no composition’.

If it's for her vibrant  heavily worked canvases that she is best known, she’s is also a dedicated printmaker. Mirabell is a woodcut on Japanese Unryu-shi paper, and comes from a new series of woodcuts, her first foray into this medium. It will form part of her solo exhibition of new paintings and works on paper to be held by the Alan Cristea Galleries  in October 2012, a show which will be going on to the  Victoria Art Gallery in Bath, the Turnquicke in Wigan, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter and the Royal  Cornwall Museum in Truro.
The  broadcaster and author Andrew Marr recently described her as 'probably the finest abstract painter alive in Britain’. He added, 'Ayres has always been obsessively concerned with painting – the unfolding of a self-contained logic, whirling chaos held just in check.’ › Royal Academicians › Painters 

Thursday, 19 January 2012


Why no blogs? Sometimes it's because I'm careless. It's Saturday and I turn up at a gallery not realising that it closed at 2pm. Or I've failed to check dates and can only stand outside on the pavement staring in as curators heave canvasses around, lighting experts climb ladders and vans draw up to offload or collect works of art sealed in stout wooden crates.  I've arrived too early or too late for the show.

Other times it's not my fault. I'm refused permission to use an image. In my experience this only happens when the artist or the subject is rich and famous, and then rarely. Or the format in which an image arrives is too convoluted for me to fathom in one lifetime, which is all I've got. Or, through no fault of its own, what looks magnificent in real life transforms into someting weak and feeble when reduced to an image of a few centimetres. Often I grit my teeth and continue to use it because I love the work and hope that people might link to a larger picture on a screen or even be moved to go and see it on site. But it's a tough call - and a limitation which sadly applies to many of the images I use, particulaly of very large or very small works.

Again I fail when I turn up to see work by an artist of whom I have fond memories. I recall the time I saw their first solo show perhaps, and remember being blown away by it all and buying the catalogue. But now it's different. I try hard but it doesn't work. I can't blog about what was or what might have been.

There's another tussle. I love David Hockney's art (don't we all now?) but I can't blog about the Royal Academy Exhibition because you have to pay.

Sir Thomas Salt
There are ways of accessing Hockney's work on line but first take a peek at the magnificent website: Sir Thomas Salt was an extraordinary Victorian industrialist and philanthropist. As his success grew, he drew up plans to build a new mill on the outskirts of Bradford, away from what was then a polluted industrial boom-time city. He chose a spot adjoining the Leeds Liverpool Canal and the River Aire, which was perfect for transport and surrounded by beautiful moorland. A committed Christian, he saw the appalling conditions under which working women, children and men lived. He went on to create a whole village for his workers including houses, a church, a school, a place for adult learning and a park. He named the village Saltaire.

Now the Salts Mill gallery and museum is housed there in the mill itself, built in 1853 in warm yellow sandstone in the Italianate style. It has a large collection of Hockney's work, a film archive, a digital library, cafes and bars. And then there are the shops: books, art materials, textiles. antiques, early music, homeware,  jewellery, florists..

I have eight thick chunky glass napkin rings (which look as if they've been folded and moulded like clay) to prove it.
This is the only authorised David Hockney website.


Monday, 9 January 2012


Medici Gallery 
oil and board 18.5 x 18.5

Mark Harrison is an extremely successful illustrator, painting nearly 500 book jackets in the past 25 years. In 1990 Paper Tiger published his monograph Mark Harrison's Dreamlands containing more than 90 of his jacket paintings. It was awarded the British Science Fiction Association's Prize for Best Artwork of the Year. In 2003 he gave up illustration to concentrate on personal work for sale in fine art galleries. The first two pictures here are now showing at the Medici Gallery. The link below shows Wish You Were Here, the third image, and many other works.

Midnight Promenade is powerful. There is an eerie emptiness about the place. Is it safe? The shelter on the left stands alone, the seats no longer occupied by ice cream-sucking children and pensioners shielding from the wind. Nothing moves. The building on the right blocks our view. It's a tease. Is anything happening near that explosion of light at the centre top?  I cannot imagine angry rollers roaring across the beach, only the gentle hiss of waves as they lap against the sand. The paradox is that all this menacing calm and silence is achieved with strong vibrant colours which pulsate with energy. And with a limited palette.

Harrison  often paints the twilight or the night.  Like Edward Hopper (who also began life as a commercial artist) he includes few people and no narrative. He leaves it to the viewer to ponder on what they see. What do we know about the silhouetted figure in Away From It All? He's not a man who's been striding purposely across the picture, but, head bowed, looks deep in thought. He's poised on the edge of a silky ribbon of water which links us to him, but he's turned away from us and the light, and faces out of the picture frame.
Sometimes a human shadow says it all. In Wish You Were Here there's only a locked and shuttered beach hut where there ought to be merry teenagers with a Frisbee and deckchairs draped with wet towels. Is that rust on the cropped lamp post - or dried blood?

Being a popular artist used to be a bit of a millstone. It was a shock to see work by highly acclaimed living artists like John Miller  not only in smart galleries but also sold as cards and prints in department stores. I'm told Harrison's prints are available in IKEA and Next catalogues. That's good news for many people. 

Sunday, 8 January 2012


pl© All rights reserved.  Reproduction or unauthorised use of images is prohibited.

Medici Gallery

Since time began we have loved flower pictures. Artists have chosen set pieces in vases, wreaths, baskets and bouquets; or painted flowers to enhance a lady's beauty or suggest an idyllic pastoral scene. We put flowers on everything, from calendars to boxes which sell cosmetics or chocolate. With such an abundant history behind us how can we be helped to look afresh at them? 

A recent exhibition at Tate Modern showed some of Gerhard Richter’s answers. Some of his paintings are blurred so that we have to concentrate, almost burrow our way into what is there. At other times, seen here in Blumen (Flowers),  he crops the subject, much as we are used to doing with photographs, and we see a section with new eyes.

Lombardi, who is painting professor for New York University in Florence, succeeds in a different way. Peach Blossom is part of a body of work based on the garden of Villa La Pietra in Florence. There Lombardi transformed the Limonaia (the lemon house of the villa) into a gallery where her work was exhibited. Her intention was to create a garden within a garden, where the internal space of the Limonaia was linked to the external space of the walled garden and then beyond to the rest of the garden. 

What first drew me to the picture is the tension between ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’.
Here’s a living breathing sturdy plant bursting with life, that has in some ways been captured and contained by the modern innovative hanging system that was designed by the head gardener. It’s not the only contrast. There’s the drab, dreamy ochre colour of the walls, against which the delicious sharp, spiky pink of the blossom is framed. And there’s the softness and fragility of the petals and newborn leaves set against that taut, unforgiving wire.

Perhaps it’s the artist’s use of light which makes it all so magical. She writes ‘Light is the departure point for all of my work... my desire is to create richness with the paint but to keep the colours and light fresh. I...feel free to do what needs to be done so that the paintings are a visual reflection of my thoughts and emotion’.

She’s currently working on a series of paintings of butterflies, insects, birds and animals. ‘My observation and exploration of forms in nature has made me further appreciate nature's perfection. It has made me contemplate the beauty, strength and fragility of the creatures who share the earth with us and who are increasingly in peril’.

Saturday, 7 January 2012


Halcyon Gallery

This is a remarkably powerful and disturbing painting. I’ve seen it at the Halcyon twice but I haven’t yet been able to get an image which I can reproduce. When I called in at the gallery yesterday to check that it’s available for public view, I was told that it was but by appointment only.

It’s a large three-quarter length portrait of Bob Geldof painted with the skill and complexity of an the Old Master. Geldof looks like a Renaissance lord, rich, controversial, and much given to patronage and good works. His face is layered with meaning: confident, disdainful, alert, scary.  Whatever he’s feeling, he’s painted as if exercising superhuman self control. His arms and hands are stretched out towards us and they are covered with large rats. Some are climbing up his chest, others on his shoulders appear to be nuzzling the flesh of his neck. It’s a shocking image – like that of Aisha by Jodi Bieber (blog 129) - and not likely to be forgotten.

Think of Bob Geldof and you think of the musician and the man behind Band Aid and the millions raised for Africa famine relief and other charities.

Think of his band, the Boomtown Rats.

Just think about rats. Unlike squirrels and foxes, puppies and kittens, they have no cute ways. We hunt them down as vermin and we kill them. They have a criminal record as long as your arm: they infiltrate human settlements to spread famine and plague.  In mythology if you want to signal that someone is really, really wicked, you give them a rat as a pet or a familiar.  In fairy tales they are larger-than-life characters. Here’s the second verse of Robert Browning’s The Pied Piper of Hamelin.

They fought the dogs and killed the cats,
And bit the babies in the cradles,
And ate the cheeses out of the vats,
And licked the soup from the cooks' own ladle's,
Split open the kegs of salted sprats,
Made nests inside men's Sunday hats,
And even spoiled the women's chats
By drowning their speaking
With shrieking and squeaking
In fifty different sharps and flats.

An itinerant Piper promises to lure the rats away with his magic pipe. With the rats all safely  sealed up inside a mountain, the citizenry refuses to pay him.  He turns his magic on their children, leading them (all except one lame child) to the same fate. It’s a morality tale: always pay what you owe, always keep your promises ...or else.

To find out more about Mitch Griffiths and to see some of his paintings visit his website  You may have already seen his work at the National Portrait Gallery as he was part of the BP Portrait Award Exhibition in 2001, 2003 and 2004. In 2001 his entry was widely distributed as the Exhibition poster.

As I understand it there is to be a new exhibition of his work   at the Halcyon. It will be called Iconostasis and feature portraits of such famous people as Ray Winstone  and Keira Knightley. An iconostasis is a screen of icons and religious paintings which divides the nave from the sanctuary in an Orthodox church.  

What I like about Griffiths’ work is that while being hugely influenced by the language and techniques of artists of the past, he tackles head on the issues of the twenty first century.  His ‘symbolism reflects a modern quest for redemption from the overriding self-obsession and consumerism of contemporary society, with its vanity and greed, addictions and needless suffering’. I can see and applaud how he does that.

But I have a niggling doubt. His work is bought and displayed by the privileged and wealthy. Do they feel more comfortable about inequalities because they can see the joke, the wit, the knowingness of it all? My daughter, when seeing the painting,  pointed out that when something unlikely happens in a Sci Fi drama, a character might well say, ‘Goodness me, this is just like being in a Sci Fi programme’. Does sharing the joke with the viewer invite them further into the fantasy world?

Part of the fun of looking at art is to see behind the scene. It’s not so long since many Victorians conjured up a cosy world of rosy-cheeked children, Shire horses, cottage gardens, blonde curls and velvet breeches, while reality included  children in factories and up chimneys, high infant mortality and low life expectancy.

137. URLAUB (Holiday) 2004 by ISA GENZKEN

New Art From Germany
Saatchi Gallery 

While people queue up for tickets at Tate Modern to see the work of Gerhard Richter – variously described as the best living German artist, or the best living European artist or even the best living artist in the world – you can wind your way in calm and peace through the current Saatchi Gallery show to get a rich slice of action  among younger German artists. And it’s free.  It’s an eclectic collection and there is, as they say, bound to be something for everyone.
One room is devoted to Isa Genzken’s work. She uses eye-catching columns as plinths and pedestals on which to explore how ‘high art’ and mass-produced products talk to each other. So these are junk towers, swathed with plastic garlands, silver foil, photographs, spray paint and pictures cut from magazines and newspapers. And on top, instead of a nice quiet glass vitrine containing and confining a precious art object, we have  explosions of fake flowers and leaves, miniature toys, plastic cowboys and Indians astride horses splattered with black paint, a giant wineglass topped by a battered straw hat...and much more. They are both comical and mysterious.  And 'unstable' in the sense that each time she assembles her work it is different. She also uses mirrors and other reflective surfaces to draw the viewer into becoming part of an artwork.

Urlaub breathes out a melancholy air. How often do holidays – which offer so much to so many - live up to their promise? We look at the debris and our hopes stare back at us like contemporary ruins. 

Worse than that, have we turned holidays into products rather than experiences?  We need to have a smart answer to the question 'Where are you going/have been on holiday?' What was once exotic - Bali, Iceland, China - is now within reach. When we name our holiday destination it's like displaying our car on the forecourt. Sleek limosine or rusty old banger?

Urlaub was created at the time when Richter and she were getting divorced.  I thought of Arman’s  Condition of Woman 1960 – he’d displayed the contents of his first wife’s bathroom waste bin in a glass vitrine on top of an ornate antique cabinet.But that seems to be relatively straightforward message compared with Genzken’s work. She wants to take us by surprise with multiple meanings. As she 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 by Colm Toibin in