Friday, 20 December 2013

256 SOLSTICE: the longest day by PETER RIDE (curator)

Solstice is composed of 365 photographs shared on Twitter, reminding us what happens across the world  in the northern hemisphere on June 21st, when the sun is at its highest and the day its longest.

Context is everything. The art work is shown in St Johns Church Waterloo, built in 1824 to celebrate the victory of the Napoleonic wars; savagely bombed in 1940; restored in 1951 in time to celebrate the Festival Of Britain. Outside are the 400,000 people said to pass through Waterloo Station every day. Across the road are bus stops, including one which the travel writer Simon Calder reckons to be the busiest in England. Inside in a small side chapel is a space welcoming anyone who wants some peace and quiet.

Solstice reminds us that we are connected to each other both in our experience of light and dark and  in new technology The work is shown during short dark days, the season of Advent, when the Christian year focuses on 'The light (that) that shines in the darkness and the darkness (that) cannot overcome it."

Sunday, 15 December 2013


Limited edition (100) print, 48.7 x 46cm (unframed)

 Cornelia Parker visited the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 2012 and took a clandestine photo of one of the most successful prints in the show. Every time a sale is made a red dot is added to the piece - and this one was doing so well the red dots began to inhabit the wall as well as the frame. To quote the Gallery notes, at this point 'a rush of covetousness came over (Cornelia Parker)'. The artist doesn't make representational work, especially much- beloved  landscapes and pets and flowers and cottages. She is an abstract artist who displays ideas with astonishing verve, originality, depth  and wit.

Digitally erasing the image that she had stolen, she showed a photograph of Stolen Thunder as her own work in the R.A. 2013 Summer Exhibition, The cool, shy greys and white invite us in to a place where our own fantasies can flourish. What was the original picture? Does the original artist know it's been wiped out, then resurrected? What could you (or me) put in that blank space to take the world by storm? After all, we think nothing of constantly redesigning and redecorating our own homes, obliterating precious occupants' vision with paint and paper and fabric.

The artist kept the red spots as part of the picture, she says, 'in the hope of accruing some of her own sales by a Pavlovian response from the audience'.

 SEE Also Blog 235 PRISON WALLS  by Cornelia Parker     (BBC4 What do artists do all day?)   (Comprehensive illustrated book on the artist's work)

Friday, 6 December 2013


Alpha Gallery, Cork St, London W1S 3NJ
The Meal, 24 x 34 ins, 61 x 86cm, tinted gesso on wood

Eight people gather for a meal.   The table fills the room; the menu is so lavish some of it has to be parked on the deep frame where the painting continues. The ceiling is low, the portraits on the walls, indeed the walls themselves, press upon the diners and draw us into the picture.  We are standing very close. The curved backs of  bentwood chairs and the bowl of sprightly flowers comprise a beautiful but flimsy barrier.

This painting is mysterious yet utterly believable. Most of the diners stare fixedly at a space in the centre of the table which is hidden to us. They are players in a drama about the unexpectedness of life. They could be card players waiting for the next vital winner-takes-all move. Or perhaps those downcast eyes suggest that someone has just made a remark after which nothing is the same? Or maybe they recognise that this is the moment before something irrevocable happens? But this painting is more than a vehicle for a simple narrative.

The Dance (Dancing with the Captain), 36 x46ins, 91 x 117cm,tinted gesso on canvas and painted wooden frame

Tea Dance also both enchants and disconcerts the viewer. These are ordinary people  holiday making (or working) on an ocean liner, bent on enjoying themselves. At least one lady has fulfilled her dream of dancing with the captain. They are centre stage in a dance hall - a  place where people are isolated yet interdependent at the same time.The palm trees flatten themselves against the walls. The figures are superbly organised. So too are the iced fancies on the cake stand, tipped towards us so as to display themselves at their most mouth-watering. Two sedate teapots face each other across the room.  The dreamy  peaches and corals and aquas and greys which everyone is wearing are split in two by the crisp sharp geometry of a diamond tiled floor. You can almost hear the crack and crackle of those heels as they tap out the rhythm.

Hare and Tortoise, 12 x 14 inches, tinted gesso on wood.
Do P.J.Crook's animal paintings also suggest that something odd is going on just below the surface?
The outcome of Aesop's Fable is familiar. Of course the slow patient tortoise triumphs over the hubristic hare. But here the hare, though alert and eager, is trapped inside the frame. Lithe and supple he is not. The  tortoise is watchful, eyeing the viewer. Behind them a couple manoeuvre their tiny rowing boat, and minuscule ships seem to be tethered by the smoke from their funnels.

See 20 more of her paintings at

Wednesday, 27 November 2013


Adam Gallery, Cork St, W1S 3NJ, until December 5th
"The Master's Bouquet "
The Frozen Woods Pastel   30" x 60"

I'm including more images than usual - a wood, a nude woman in bed, a cloud and a stranger by the sea - to illustrate how Cartwright  chooses many subjects but is defined by none of them, He works at night. The absence of daylight is reflected in moonlight in the landscapes and subdued lighting in the intimate interiors. He has the ability to transform the familiar into the mysterious, perhaps nudging us towards a forgotten experience and inviting us to be still, to reflect, even to be comforted.

Reading in Bed (Sophie) Pastel 30" x 40"
The Frozen Woods is also a pastel, an unusual medium for large works. There is an intense feeling of colour and atmosphere radiating from careful layering. Here  Sophie's curtains hanging from her four poster bed, are as fragile as gossamer and sparkle like fairy lights. She appears to be naked, a woman comfortable in her own skin, oblivious of us spectators. Her bed is enormous, dwarfing even historical royal beds we marvel  at in museums or stately houses.                                                                                                                                                            
'Tree with Cloud Pastel 30 x 40 cm

And now for something completely different: a leafless tree, askew, bare boughs spiking upwards, topped by an unlikely cloud The light reminds me of a phrase dredged up from my school girl French - entre chien et loup - that specific time of day, just before night, when the light is so dim you can't distinguish a dog from a wolf. For a moment we wonder what lies between the domestic and the wild, the familiar and the unknown, and stand at that wobbly threshold between hope and fear..

The Treasure Hunter Oil 10" x 18" 

 And lastly an oil, with one tiny Lowry-like figure crouched over his machine, intent on treasure. It reminds me of those pantomime scenes when the only decent thing for the audience to do is shout 'Look behind you'. But this beautifully painted picture may also be a morality tale.What will those mountainous cliffs of solid sparkling sea bring with them?

Friday, 25 October 2013


CERI HAND GALLERY, 8 Coppperfield St, SE1 0EP

PLIAGE Acrylic on purple wool, 180 x 140 cm
I have to declare a bias. Michael Raedecker's haunting, deserted landscapes and interiors failed to win the Turner Prize in 2000. Raedecker applied thin washes and thick impasto to the canvas and then used thread, embroidery, fabric, sequins and textiles. Did the judges see a disjunction between highly valued 'fine art' and lowly 'craft'?

Fabric is the ground of Hannah  Knox's work, each piece  chosen for the possibilities it opens up: from pink linen to silver PVC to day-glo orange pure silk. Her beautiful exhibition at the Ceri Hand Gallery -   tucked away behind the spacious premises of the Jerwood Gallery and its excellent cafe - is a joy. In Pliage dark woollen fabric is folded and sprayed to become a dramatic, mesmerising rainbow. The works are folded, stitched, sprayed and draped, these are paintings barely and painted barely - this is painting in the 'Buff', the intriguing title of this exhibition. 'Buff' as a verb means to polish or to perfect; it also conjures up a yellowish-beige colour worn by genteel ladies in small provincial towns in the 1930s. Better still, the phrase 'in the buff' suggests being caught naked - and really rather pleased about it - as in a naughty Donald McGill comic seaside postcard of the same era.  

 Third Wave Riot, Acrylic on cotton mix,  170 x 100 cm x 3
Third Wave Riot is a triptych of inky blue lines spray-painted onto thin blue and white striped fabric.  It reminds me of Bridget Riley's paintings and I even walked slowly past it to see if the lines would give the illusion of swooping and swerving as hers do. Instead they stay put - because they have already slipped and smudged. The title refers to Third Age Feminism and 'Riots not Diets'. She says 'This way of working - folding, taping, creasing is an attempt at it becoming something, working blind in some sense, only see what you've put on, not what you've left out'.

 I'm including 2 extra images  in order to show something of Knox's remarkable versatility.

PNEUMA, Heat sensitive T-shirt in artist's frame,97x87x4.5 cm
Pneuma is an ancient Greek word for breath or spirit. It's found dozens of times in the Bible's New Testament, often meaning  the Holy Spirit, the energiser, the One who breathes new life into us. The work's  pastel tones are perfect. And while I was at the viewing someone (not wearing lipstick) was invited to  get very close to the work and to breathe out. Like a child's magic painting book, a patch of colour faded and then bounced back into life as the fabric cooled. Shocking! Imagine getting that close to an Art Work and reminding us of our frail dependence on the invisible air in which we live and move and have our being.

Fall 13 is different again. The folds represent falling leaves and change. Thee is a musical reference: the Laurie Anderson song, Walking and Falling.  The song reminds us that with every step you take you fall forward slightly and catch yourself from falling. Over and over again. But without falling there's no walking.

STOP PRESS Louise Bourgeois: the Fabric Works by Germano Celant has just been published.

Saturday, 5 October 2013


ADAM GALLERY, 24 CORK STREET until October 5th
Works available for viewing at the Adam Gallery, Bath, by appointment

High St New York, Oil on panel,60 x 120cm
A slim, dainty image like this cannot covey the impact of this vibrant, vertiginous painting. The viewer is scooped up  in the air and looks down in comfort on a grid of fast-moving traffic and a panoramic view reaching over roofs tops into the far distance. (One of the paintings in this exhibition is View From the Shard - the catalogue is online at the address below).

Garrido's cityscapes, stripped of all ornamentation, are said to have been inspired by urban American artists, such as Edward Hopper. They convey the mood and atmosphere of a place by giving us less, not more. A smudge of paint translates into  a moving car, a bead of colour suggest a traffic light.  His cool, soft tones are a surprise, and especially powerful when he paints rivers, inccluding the Thames .

The restless movement of traffic - and the inclusion of infrastructure, which is usually pushed out of sight by artists - brings energy and wit to many of his works. But February, London draws the eye horizontally along the surface, down an almost empty street, dull and charmless, only red stripes of danger racing towards us. Here we get the sensation of waiting and hoping, waiting and hoping, while the wet pavements gleam and the pale winter light is fading.

February, London, Oil on panel, 80 x 130cm

Wednesday, 2 October 2013


Art First Gallery, Eastcastle Street W1W 8DD

EDGE TO EDGE is open until October 12
Gemini, Oil on canvas, 137 x 168, photograph Justin Piperger
Spring Fever, Oil on canvas, 168 x 137 Photograph Justin Piperger

 The title of this exhibition Edge to Edge draws attention to Cooper’s intriguing use of space. Soles of feet often press down on the edges or are partly obscured by them. A forehead, a shoulder or a toe are mischievously cropped, as if the painter had miscalculated the size of the canvas. The effect is of a snapshot - we are seeing a fleeting moment which will never be repeated. 

It's also playful - women, men and children having a jolly time, while animals casually wander in. Cooper's subjects are often surrounded by artefacts and imagery, part romantic, part commonplace, which defy a neat response. The dogs in Gemini are entering into the carefree spirit of the moment, as are the birds in Spring Fever. Meanwhile the cautious fox in Spring Fever has her eyes on the artist (and the viewer).    Cooper's bold lines and formal composition act as containers for a luscious use of colour, and the candid, alert, intelligent gaze of many of her figures is one of her hallmarks. 

Her previous show at Art First in 2011 was called Showing Off. It’s a wonderful title, packed with meanings. On the one hand you can legitimately ‘show off’ (or showcase) a product or an amazing skill as a pianist or an athlete, but small children used to be regularly castigated for ‘showing off’ by drawing attention to themselves – a pretty dress, a spectacular jump, a clever answer.The people inhabiting Cooper’s paintings have no such worries.  Many turn to gaze straight into the artist's eyes (and ours). The painted observe the painter. No one is discomforted.

Eileen Cooper is a painter and a printmaker. In 2011 she was the first woman to be elected Keeper of the Royal Academy. In the same year Jeanette Winterson, novelist and journalist, was the Speaker at the Royal Academy of Arts Annual Dinner. She said: 
Standing still in front of art – letting art happen to us – letting art overwhelm us, gives us the courage to stand still. The courage to look intensely at what we are
looking at. To see. To feel. And after that, not before, comes thought. 

Monday, 23 September 2013


NATIONAL GALLERY until 24th November

 2013, Mixed media; 282 x 76 x 86 cm,
Michael Landy, courtesy of the Thomas Dane Gallery, London
              / Photo: The National Gallery, London

Should I - or should I not - take my young grandsons to see this exhibition? On the one hand, it's not likely that they will get to see Jean Tinguely's hilarious and mesmerising mechanical sculptures any day soon in this country. This Swiss kinetic sculptor is best known for work which cobbles together junk, is dangerous, is fun, and critiques the excesses of our society. In 1984 when Landy saw Tinguely's work in the Tate he loved it. 'Everyone had smiles on their faces’.
Now as Artist-in-Residence at the National Gallery Landy has had the chance to build seven kinetic sculptures representing seven stories of popular saints. (What is it about the number seven - it's everywhere in folk tales and rhymes?) They're made from recycled machinery, broken children’s toys and unwanted junk, and casts from details in the National Gallery's paintings. The number of visitors at any one time is restricted so that everyone has a chance to pull the levers, wrench the wheels and stamp on the foot pedals to get each machine going. It is not a silent show: it screeches and rattles and howls. It is visceral and theatrical in a way that painting cannot be. It's great fun.

What's not to like? Well, St Apollonia is said to have been tortured by having her teeth pulled out. Here she keeps raising pliers to her face, chipping away at the plaster. She destroys a little more of herself each time, reminding us that martyrdom is often embraced with fortitude rather than avoided at all costs. St Jerome beats his chest with a rock, rather than sitting mildly in some peace-laden library with a dozy lion, the way he's usually shown. Most disturbing of all is a story taken straight out of St John's Gospel where St Thomas's finger is shown repeatedly trying to probe the wounded torso of Christ.

What's not to like about these cartoon characters? I respect the power of myths, believing that they can speak the unspeakable, reaching parts words cannot reach. Laura Cummings (see Guardian review below) writes of the show as 'a tremendous event that seizes the viewer, involving us in a spectacle of passion, conviction, suffering and belief driven both literally and mechanically by violence. Their true subject, in this respect, is awe'.

Are my grandsons ready for this? The answer is very probably.

 You may be able to find Adrian Hamilton's perceptive article Heavenly Bodies 20 September 2013 in the inewspaper.

This MOMA link describes one of Tinguely's works as:
'composed of bicycle wheels, motors, a piano, an addressograph, a go-cart, a bathtub, and other cast-off objects...the machine was set in motion on March 18, 1960, before an audience in the Museum’s sculpture garden. During its brief operation, a meteorological trial balloon inflated and burst, colored smoke was discharged, paintings were made and destroyed, and bottles crashed to the ground. A player piano, metal drums, a radio broadcast, a recording of the artist explaining his work, and a competing shrill voice correcting him provided the cacophonic sound track to the machine’s self-destruction—until it was stopped short by the fire department'.