Thursday, 25 October 2012

195. HOPE by ANON

HOPE  HMP, Lindholme, Shearman Bowen Award for Mixed Media c
 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.
(c) koestler trust

Sunday, 21 October 2012




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'.

Sunday, 14 October 2012


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


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?

Friday, 5 October 2012


16 - Rain Room Installation image © Felix Clay
Rain Room, Random International 2012.
Courtesy of Barbican Art Gallery
until March 3rd

Dio you remember fairy tales where you could step over mountains in your seven-league boots and swallow a lake too, if they happened to be in your way? But did anyone think of dry rain?

Here we have it at the Barbican. Except that it is anything but dry. Rain falls from the ceiling in silver shreds, it crashes onto the grating below your feet, bounces up as silver spheres like ball bearings, then settles under the grating in a dark pool.
But you, the person walking through the rain, are DRY.

11 - Rain Room Installation image
© Felix Clay Rain Room, Random International
2012. Courtesy of Barbican Art Gallery

Rain Room is a 100 square metre field of falling water into which you are invited to plunge.  First you hear the sound of the water, then feel the moisture in the air on your cheek. You step into the rain field, aware that overhead censors will pick up your presence and quietly steal away the rain from above your head.You may chose to become a performer on an unexpected stage, or to be still,  to reflect and to contemplate in this curiously intimate atmosphere,

 Legend has it that King Canute, tired of the vainglorious flattery of his courtiers, proved to them his fallibility by trying in vain to stop the incoming tide. He drew his throne up to the sea's edge, commanded it to be still - and his feet got very wet. Now we are all King Canutes, and successful ones at that.

The work invites us to explore what role science, technology and human ingenuity might play in stabilising our environment by rehearsing the possibilities of human adaptation. On four Sundays (18 Nov, 2 Dec, 20 Jan and 24 Feb) there will be a new short dance intervention (Wayne McGregor with a score by Max Richter) created in response to the Rain Room. Admission is free on a first-come, first served basis. You may also like to catch the Superhuman exhibition exploring human enhancement which happens to be on at the Wellcome Collection in Marylebone Road until Octeber 16th.
P S Jonathan Jones has a longer review in the Guardian's weekly Art Review (5.10.12)


Pillow 64 X 83.5CM


‘To live is to leave traces’ 
 Walter Benjamin 1935

I can only invite you to imagine this beautiful, delicate pencil-on-paper drawing, which has been shortlisted for the 2012 Jerwood Drawing Prize. It's a work whose accomplishment is  astonishing, partly, perhaps, because pencil and paper is such a democratic form of making art, open to all ages and not requiring expensive tools or a great deal of space. And yet how anyone can transform flat paper into someting so subtle and gently nuanced is past my understanding.

As I stand in the gallery and look, I want to touch this pillow, confident that I'll be rewarded with a soft, gentle fabric. And I wonder who has been there to leave behind those gentle undulations? Perhaps it's been left undisturbed because the imprint carries memories of that person.  It might even still be warm from the heat of someone's body. It's not 'a' pillow, it is this pillow, here and now, unlike any other, with its own pattern of ups and downs.
When I contacted Tanya she sent me this:
 For me drawing is like touching, sculpting with a pencil. .I aim to evoke our senses, memories and feelings of vulnerability and security. This drawing is as it is, mistakes and all, no eraser, one mark, one life, however it turns out...(it) concerns the fragility and preciousness of life explored through the close study of surface disrupted by human actions. I have invested time in the meticulous, life-size rendering of these traces of existence, precisely documenting unrepeatable creases and folds, elevating the ordinary to the extraordinary.

 Tanya has had a work shortlisted for the National Open Art Competition which opens on October 12th. Her work will be on display at the Jerwood Gallery at Hastings in December


LondonsTopdog 56 x 61 cm

This is no ordinary dog. It's one of the Bull Terriers which make a menacing appearance from time to time in Richardson's paintings. Topdog is resting its fleshy flanks against the smooth skin of an armchair and we can only speculate how it got its name. Perhaps we'd rather not know. Dogs are supposed to be Man's Best Friend but when I catch sight of a Bull Terrier in a city street in real life, I'm wary: relieved that it's on the end of a stout chain - or even muzzled - and sad if its owner cruelly yanks the chain or administers a random beating.

Poundland 20 x 122cm
Anywhere You Fancy
Everything is Everything is an exhibition of paintings of a small corner of South London where the artist was born and bred. In Poundland there are few living creatures of any sort around. Like the American artist Edward Hopper, what is missing in Richardson's painting is as powerful as what is present. Parked cars wait in empty spaces like birds of prey - no happy chattering posse of picnickers is going to heave a hamper out of the boot. No one flings back pretty curtains to look out of those dead-eyed windows.
In Anywhere You Fancy we meet some of the characters who inhabit this world. Although Richardson's work is specific and accurate and local, we know what is going on. The gangster, the fraudster, the runaway, the ingenue, the man who promises us  the earth are all there in his work and as we scan their faces we're in touch with our own hopes and fears. I'm reminded of the impact Roy Lichtenstein makes in a completely different style of portrait painting.

Ray Richardson's work is new to me. He's been called the Martin Scorsese of art, and I'm aware that I approach it not always able to read its references to contemporary music and drama and cinema noire. Stripped of all that, I still find it powerful and orginal work.