Sunday, 23 December 2012


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

 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

Saturday, 22 December 2012


 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.

Monday, 17 December 2012


 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



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'.

Thursday, 6 December 2012


Tiled Cathedral
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.

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


 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.