Tuesday, 26 March 2013


Pastel and charcoal on paper and balsa MDF, 170 X 115CM

Man&Eve Gallery
What's he building out there?

The opening of a new gallery is always a cause for rejoicing, but especially one less than 5 minutes' walk from Waterloo Station and The Old Vic in Southbank's Lower Marsh, a busy shopping street with weekday market stalls. The gallery windows - as big as a department store's - and  Wieland Payer's large canvasses and screens mean busy passers-by tend to glance in, and then pause in front of his seductive colours.

Inside the gallery are awe-inspiring woodlands and mountains and streams, voluptuous in their beauty. Unsettling too. Nothing is quite as it seems. In Talstation  the woodland is curvy, soft, fragile, misty, and the painting seems to have the romanticism and metaphysical qualities of Caspar David Friedrich. For this is a world where anything can happen. 

Look closely and the branches of the trees are straight out of a Grimm fairy tale, poised ready to bend down and snaffle up the unwary. Sharp-angled architectural shapes emerge. Are the yellow rectangles cheeerful banners or a cable car ready to whisk you off to a Sci Fi reality?

The title of the exhibition What's He Building out There? is a reference to Tom Wait's song in which the question is never answered, but the implication is that whatever is being constructed is menacing, perhaps even murderous.It's an intriguing title but it's as if  these paintings and sculptures are not tied down to a single mood or narrative or conclusion. They are layered with snatches of conversation. In this exquisite painting Tunnell II (Charcoal and pastel on paper on MDF,140cm h x 200cm w), it takes time to be at first distracted, then amused and delighted by tiny out-of-scale cameos: buildings, turrets, quays, each a perfect picture but in a preposturous place. If the  paintings and sculptures of this exhibition suggest a post- apocalyptic world, I can think of worse scenarios.


Thursday, 21 March 2013


Trapped. That's what it feels like. You are contained within a blacked-out room with only a sliver of light from the video screen, and in front of you is an empty road. You can see no end and no escape,  You feel yourself being silently driven along it at a slow, meditative pace.

A flat, mournful voice speaks to you of wraithes and ghosts, of people and places with a significance far beyond what we can see or hear.The words are part real, part surreal. You catch a snatch of narrative - a group pursued into a fence by an armoured vehicle and being tossed into the frosty air; the next day heavy tyre tracks were left, now fixed in hoar frost.- and there the story ends.  

And when you leave the gallery and walk out into Pimlico's daylight again, the world looks different. Willie Doherty's concern is with the political conflicts of Northern Ireland,. specifically in his home town of Derry, and this particular work is part landscape, part film noir and part surveillance camera. It's about ghosts, about memory, about the way in which places hold significance far beyond what we can see or hear.What happens to the pain and terror when it is over? Can others sense it? Does it leak into the buildings and the ground?.

 Canon Giles Goddard, preaching at St Johns Waterloo, heavily bombed with casualties during WW2, hignlighted one phrase from the commentary 'as if the surface of the road was no longer thick enough to conceal the contents of the tomb that lay beneath the whole city'. Giles continues 'the artist is talking about how much there is in our worlds which is unspoken, and often unacknowledged – partly because we don’t have the space or the capacity to keep remembering, and so we file things away in our memories and leave them there. But they are still there – the buried things, the sadnesses, the tombs. Under this church, there are people buried. And for all we know, there may be others, buried in Roman times, or since then….  Because there’s a whole history, around us, of life and death, of laughter and forgetting'.

When I visited this work for a second time, a bunch of primary  school children from the Isle of Wight suddenly broke the silence. They quickly and quietly settled on the floor and the benches, then moved off - their teacher told me later they had a tight schedule. So the room was empty again, and still. I patted the bench beside me and was glad to be reminded of a human presence which had been there.
T S Eliot 's poem Burnt Norton says it all
..human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

Willie Doherty was twice short-listed for the Turner prize. This work is part of a brilliant exhibition at Tate Britain entitled LOOKING AT THE VIEW,  open until June 2nd. The link is below

Wednesday, 13 March 2013


68 x 121 cm

I first saw Julian Opie’s work at Tate Britain in 2000, at a landmark exhibition, INTELLIGENCE. The intention then was to have Triennials which would be a raw gathering of information from the art world, not a definitive report on what was going on. It was a brave new millennium in which artists recognised they now had unprecedented access to audiences compared with even 10 years before.

The catalogue remarked that in a theatre or concert hall, there’s a designated area in which we must sit, and a code of silence. But we take our public as well as our private life into an art gallery. In the open areas we can move around and mingle, each with our own unique scrutiny.

The Alan Cristea Gallery has created a perfect space for this to happen. The gallery walls are almost completely panelled in glass, said to reference  the widespread architectural use of glass in public buildings, in particular Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5, A panorama of 75 prints laminated to the glass surround and enfold the viewer.  They represent the sequential steps on a circular walk taken by Julian Opie in France on a harsh but beautiful winter's day. As well as referencing Dutch landscape painting, it does not live in the past - is it a version of Google Maps Street View?

The effect is overwhelming.  The prints are from Opie's recent film, Winter 2012.Viewed together, you can explore the elegiac journey over and over again. But perhaps more importantly,  Opie has captured and is playing back to us the essence of every country walk we have loved, not in spots famous for their beauty or exoticism, but on ordinary paths in ordinary weather – in Suffolk or Cornwall, Bedfordshire or Lincolnshire.

He partly achieves this by a process of elimination and distillation, which creates a meditative, contempltive depth. We know about stillness, how landscapes contest the ceaseless motion of nature. Here the trees are still and sculptural. No breeze chases the grass. No footsteps impress themselves on the muddy paths.Yet here is a reality which no 'realism' could match

68 x 121 cm
Julian Opie has pushed the boundaries of portraiture, painting, and sculpture, seeking to break down what he believes to be illogical barriers between the disciplines. He 'paints' using a vast array of media and technologies and has developed a unique formal language – click on the links below to find some of the technical details.
There is a flip book illustrating all the landscapes, allowing the reader to 're-animate' the circular walk. It's available from: