Saturday, 19 January 2013


Islay Standing, ©Nadav Kander, courtesy Flowers Gallery, London

BODIES - 6 Women, 1Man

Flowers Gallery London
                  until February 8th                             
'Wherever I may be, my pictures seek to expose the shadow and the vulnerability that exists in all of us, and it is this vulnerability that I find so beautiful'.
Coated in white marble dust and set against the stark background of the photographer's studio, the subjects of this set of dramatic chromogenic prints tease us with references to Classical and Renaissance art. Some also resonate with what we know of religious iconography and tomb sculpture. But that is not the focus of this exhibition.
In Islay Standing she turns her face away from the viewer, with her hair tumbling and twisting like that of Botticelli's Venus. She stands revealed, yet concealed, with outspread fingers shielding her eyes from some unseen danger - or from the viewer? Below, in Audrey with Toes and Wrist Bent we see a woman reclining with toes and fingers curled and compressed in an uncomfortable and unsustainable stance.The use of the sitters' names remind us that these are real people, individuals in the here and now, and not mythological figures.

Drawing on the conventions of earlier art works, Kander is  inviting us to engage in a visual dialogue between the past and the present, between notions of 'perfection' and the  beauty of a living, breathing human being. He exposes the shadow and vulnerability that exists in everyone, unique and idiosyncratic as we are.  The result is tender, wise and compassionate. For once we escape the scarifying pressure of artificial airbrushed perfection and that of sickly sentimentality.He describes his work as 'an enquiry into what it feels like to be human' and invites us to meditate on the beauty which lies in our all-too-human vulnerability.

Zoe Pilger's review The Naked Truth in the Independent on 14.1.13, referenced below, alludes to other work by Kander, including his prize-winning Yangtze, The Long River.

Audrey with Toes and Wrist Bent, ©Nadav Kander, courtesy Flowers Gallery, London

Post Script: Some years ago at the V&A Mark Quinn's life size marble sculptures of people with disability also challenged and displaced the classical ideal of 'beauty' and the category of the heroic and perfect nude. His work was placed amid the V&A's historic collections,including two works by Antonio Canova. In 2006  his statue of Alison Lapper, naked, disabled and eight months pregnant, was mounted on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. She appeared again in glorious splendour at the Paralympic Games last summer.
BODIES 6 Women, 1 Man by Nadav Kander, published by Hatje Cantz

Saturday, 12 January 2013


oil on canvas, 1995  37 3/4 in. x 16 in.   © National Portrait Gallery, London

'Oh, you don't need to worry, I don't work that way'.
Sir Anthony Dowell, C.B.E.,dancer and former Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet, describes in a lively Independent article, referenced below, his fears about how much time it would take when he learned that Philip Harris wanted to paint his portrait. The artist assured him that he only needed a couple of hours to photograph him. 'I didn't even have to go to his studio; he came to my house. He wanted to photograph me in very strong light, so when he came over we went into the garden.I was photographed in blinding sunlight, and I remember thinking that the portrait would be very much warts and all'.

Sir Anthony agreed to allow Philip Harris to 'choreograph' this work. 'Because I had put myself in the hands of choreographers for years I didn't mind...It's not a known position, but it gives the sense of dance.  He also chose my outfit. He wanted ...this very stark black-and-white look. The light reflects on me and the shirt and that catches the eye'.
Two Figures Lying in a Shallow Stream, 1992
Oil on Linen, 72" x 48"
When I read that the portrait was commissioned as part of Philip Harris's reward for winning First Prize at the  BP Portrait Award in 1993,  I checked his winning entry and was delighted to see Two Figures...again. As Susan Hiller has said, 'There are certain images which once seen are part of one's imagination forever'..As you stand in front of this portrait, you are looking at a stream so real you are tempted to dip your hands into it. Beneath are the artist and his partner Louise, two bodies on a carpet of natural materials and artefacts arranged with the care and precision of a still life. Is it a trompe l'oeil? Is it surrealism? Is it radical realism, ostensibly the world but not as we know it? There's a degree of discomfort about a painting which contains within itself both the ultra real world and a dream-like other worldly character. I find it unforgettable. › Collection

Norbert Lynton  Painting The Century 101 portrait masterpices 1900-2000, introductoin. Published by NPG (2000)
Sandy Nairne  - 500 Portraits: BP Portrait Award  Published by NPG (2011)

Thursday, 3 January 2013


Copper sheet and glass set in resin, 97 in. (2465 mm) high, Photograph © National Portrait Gallery, London
Poetry of Motion
 This image is not exactly what you see in the gallery, because the work is suspended from the ceiling high enough the viewer's head. In fact, the first glimpse is disturbing: the sculpture swings slightly as people walking round the room disturb the air. You look up and see a sharp 3 dimensional cubist depiction of a dancer, her body scooped out, her head, hands and feet making their way through the frozen folds of her hollow robe. Just who is hanging there and why?

The answer is Lynn Seymour, a distinguished actress-ballet dancer, who joined the Royal Ballet in 1959. Her dramatic gifts were the inspiration for many leading roles is such productions as Romeo and Juliet in 1965,  Anastasia in 1971 and The Two Pigeons in 1961. She left the Company in 1979 to become Ballet Director for the Bavarian State Opera.

The intention of the National Portrait Gallery in their current exhibition Poetry of Motion is to show works where artists have tackled the problem of  depicting the moving body by experimenting with new forms and new media. The hope is that a non-conventional approach captures something of the grace and vigour of their subjects, be they athletes or Olympians, dancers or choreographers.

The artist Andrew Logan is said to belong  to a unique school of English eccentrics,  challenging convention, mixing media and playing with accepted artistic values.On his web site he writes ' My reason for living is to give enjoyment and pleasure to others through quirky, humorous and extravagant mementos. I hope you will find the same pleasure and enjoyment when visiting this site'.

He said of Lynn Seymour '(she) flies, she does not dance'. -.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013


Multi-monitor video portrait, 1990     © National Portrait Gallery, London

National Portrait Gallery, London until February 10th.

Duncan Goodhew's life was changed forever when,  at 10 years of age, he fell 18 feet from a tree and, through a damaged nerve, lost his hair. The story is told that, already dyslexic, he decided to harness his talent for swimming. He did it with such vigour and determination that in time he became the best in the world. He won the  men's 100 metres breaststroke Gold  Medal at the 1980 Moscow Games and this multi media video celebrates his brilliance as a swimmer. To see the Olympic race from start to finish go to

The work can be seen in Room 37  at the National Portrait Gallery, in a small exhibition entitled Poetry of Motion. When I was there it felt like a quiet side chapel in a bustling cathedral, viewers concentrating on paintings and sculptures which were trying to do the nearly impossible: depict dancers and athletes not as subjects sitting for a portrait, but as moving, living performers.

In the centre of this still image, the medal sparkles below Goodhew's characteristic bald domed head and between the turquoise pool water reflected in the pupils of his penetrating eyes: .But in a moment it will be gone. At one point all ten screens are flooded with choppy vibrant  water, with the remaining eleventh image at the base showing ten toes balanced on the edge of the pool; a few moments later he's braced for a dive, flexing his fingers, his hands. his shoulders, his trunk, waiting, waiting in silence; suddenly he is diving on every screen from every angle - back, front, side, close up under water, gaping mouth emerging for breath. Another set of stills shows eleven identical close ups of his hands pressed against the black and cream tiles of the swimming pool edge, perhaps the moment of arrival - or even victory.

The artists' use of a video sliced into moving segments is a perfect choice of medium.  Championship swimming must mean chopping up a huge task into little bits; precision as well as unleashed energy; patterned repetition; and times of  silence, times of stillness.
Toned bromide print on Kentmere paper, May 1996
13 7/8 in. x 13 7/8 in. (354 mm x 354 mm)  © National Portrait Gallery, London
This remarkable bromide print (1996) by Alistair Morrison is another view of  Duncan Goodhew's arresting appearance and memorable eyes.