Thursday, 28 February 2013


Carved and painted driftwood, 94 x 142 x 33cm

It is a brave artist who puts flying birds on walls. Remember Mike Leigh's coruscating play Abigail's Party (1977), a suburban situation comedy of manners and a satirical attack on the aspirations and tastes of the new middle class? Am I the only one with a flight of vividly painted plaster ducks tucked affectionately away in a cupboard somewhere? 

 But Guy Taplin is a magician. Also in the 70s, while caring for the ornamental waterfowl in Regent's Park and training to become a Buddhist monk, on a whim he started to whittle in wood decoy-like models of ducks and geese.Now his work is in collections all over the world: curlews, sanderlings, terns, plovers, owls... In his Six Godwit Boat Panel he has given us  dream birds, which capture wildness but for the moment are poised against the ravishingly lovely blue of the boat.

Below Joanna Lumley, standing beside the artist,  has in her hands a single bird, an egret. In the introduction to the catalogue she describes herself as a collector who's 'enslaved to (Taplin's) skill in imagining birds in all the old bits and pieces he finds with his magpie eye'.

And here are four egrets, not confined to a hand this time, but achingly poised like ballet dancers, fragile yet tough, utterly still but pulsating with energy, with just a hint of a beautiful nightmare to remind us that these are no saccharine plaster dummies.

Carved and painted driftwood, Four Winged Egrets 103 x 85 x 43m

Bird on a Wire: the Life and Art of Guy Taplin  by Ian Collins (Studio  Publications)

Friday, 15 February 2013


The history of decorated keyboard instruments ranges from harpsichords with Arcadian scenes to a painted piano by Damien Hirst. But when, in 2010, the Argentinian artist María Inés Aguirre (Mia) went into Steinway and Sons in Marylebone with a proposal to transform a piano into a colourful three-dimensional work of art, something very special happened. .

There was at the time a Model D concert grand for sale, one on which Alfred Brendel, Murray Perahia and Andras Schiff have performed. Steinway gave Mia the go-ahead to paint it. The only conditions were that she must do the work at Steinway Hall and not let a single drop of paint fall on the soundboard. So part of the showroom became a studio and Mia spent seven months turning a black Steinway Model D into Dancing Soul. She was supported and encouraged not only by the world's best piano makers but also by someone said to be one of the world's best paint-makers, Michael Harding, whose oils are used by artists such as Howard Hodgkin and David Hockney.

Months later, when the paint was dry, the piano was taken to Kings Place where five outstanding pianists, Alexandra Silocea, Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva, Juan Gallego-Coin and Julian Joseph brought it to life with the excellence of their music. Dancing Soul is now safely back in Steinway's window. 

As a child, Mia spent many hours painting at home while her mother, an artist and gifted pianist, played Mozart. Mia's feeling for the relationship between music and painting is deep-rooted. The brilliant light and colours of Argentina and the fusion of music, dance and visual art created by Diaghilev and Les Ballets Russes were further inspirations..

In his foreword to a forthcoming book about Dancing Soul, the critic Edward Lucie-Smith writes Rather than looking for ways to decorate an instrument...she has looked for ways to express its inner spirit...the colours and forms she has discovered clothe this superb instrument express the soul of the music  that is performed on it. 

The spontaneity and luminosity of Mia's work attracted the attention of the late Pierre Restany, co-founder with Yves Klein of the Nouveau-Realiste movement. In 2003 he wrote We have become too intellectual in our ways of experiencing things. The dominance of rational thought over activities based on feeling prevents us from understanding the fullest dimension of any concept...for Mia emotion is colour and colour is the virtual expression od emotions. 

STOP PRESS Mia is featuring a brand-new piano festival, It's All About Piano! (22-24 March) For more information click here: 

Wednesday, 13 February 2013


Tulipmania 1 ©Gordon Cheung. Courtesy Alan Cristea Gallery. 

 . Hand painted inkjet print on 335 gsm Somerset Advanced Satin paper. Image 50.8 x 40.6 cm

Tulipmania 1 and 2 are from a series of 12 prints made by Gordon Cheung, a British born Chinese artist who lives and works in London. He says that in his work he is trying to mirror 'a state of in-between-ness' which is 'more than personal', it is 'literally around the whole world’.'’.
Against a humble, self-effacing, sepia  background, the tulip stands in glorious technicolour. Embedded in the curl of the leaf there's a moment when the paint has been so thickly applied it sparkles like a jewel. Cheung says of his works 'They're meant to be artificially luminous, a metaphor perhaps for the loss of that Utopian vision of the future after the millennium bug threat, the dot com crash... the war on terror- and all before the current recession. Yet it's also meant to suggest a glimmer of hope.' 

Why Tulipmania?
Tulipmania 2 ©Gordon Cheung. Courtesy Alan Cristea Gallery. 

Tulips, so triumphant and self-contained, are the stuff that legends are made of. Once they'd arrived in Europe an early enthusiasm led to a speculative frenzy known as 'tulip mania'. Tulips were so much in demand they became a form of currency. Gardens were regularly and seriously plundered. Cheung uses the flowers to reference the golden age of  Dutch paintings of still life in the vanitas tradition - the word meaning not vanity but meaninglessness. With every stroke the artists showed their appreciation of everyday objects, including fruit and flowers, but at the same time invited us to reflect on the brevity of beauty. And how transitory and insignificant are our human concerns and achievements. In 17C Holland the tulip bubble burst. The frantic demand for tulip bulbs boosted prices to extremely high levels, then suddenly collapsed.

And just look again at that paper in the background. It is a page of  stock listings, the print so tiny as to be almost overlooked, but marking transactions of the kind which have serious consequences for the lives of every one.  Perhaps the tulip is the most un-flower-like flower, almost fleshy to touch, standing there with not so much a military but robotic precision. It can flow in wide rivers of passionate colour over fields and landscapes, but when dying it stoops and bows its head just as we do.

Friday, 1 February 2013


The image above is of The Crystal Quilt, a 'happening' by Suzanne Lacy which took place in 1987 in Minneapolis, when 430 women over the age of 60 gathered to share their views on activism and growing older. The pattern is made by women wearing colour co ordinated clothes stting at a table in groups of four. Their movement is choreographed to produce a lively video. It still exists in the form of a video, documentary, quilt, photographs and sound piece and was on view at Tate Modern this autumn.

But on February 3rd  Suzanne Lacy is going to create our very own SILVER ACTION. Four hundred women over 60  will take part. At orientation workshops before the event they get a chance to meet and exchange experiences of trying to 'make the world a better place' in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.
You can read more about it  the  Tate's press release:
but it has had a lot of press coverage already. You might care to glance at