Tuesday, 30 April 2013


13 cms x 9 cms
I noticed this tiny print when walking around  the annual exhibition of students' work at Morley College Art Gallery in King Edward Walk. One of the pleasures of this evocative scene is trying to find a perceptual foothold in this compelling but tight-lipped little world. 

From across the room it looked like a telephone kiosk in the corner of a deserted street. Close up it feels as claustrophobic as a lift. It's a stripped out, deserted corner - and corners, as we all know, are where people get trapped and sometimes  things happen to them which on the whole  they wish hadn't. 

Perhaps that's a steady stream of light - or could it be a flashing alarm signal?

But corners can be good news. We 'turn a corner' when recovering from illness. Or get into a tight vorner and  discover that what seemed to be a blank wall can expose a new direction. When I look closer still  I can make out half-closed blinds on the left, which suggests domesticity. And the matt surface has a beguiling softness. 

This print originated in a photograph taken by the artist on a sunny day. It's of a room in his  house, a space waiting for something to happen, Perhaps there'll be a lovers' assignation?  A space to hide or  somewhere to find peace and quiet?That pattern on the wall could be a flag. What is a cross doing there? The mind's eye  is constantly roving across the surface. It wants answers. There are none. It is what it is, meditative, open yet contained..


Thursday, 25 April 2013


Watercolour, size 41” x 26.5”(C) The artist

I saw this work at the annual exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists held in the Methodist Central Hall, across the road from Westminster Abbey.  

The art of botanical painting continues even in the face of enhanced photographic technology and the digital revolution, for there is simply no substitute for the discerning talents of the artist capturing the essence of plant form.
Professor Peter R Crane FRS, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
An image this size cannot convey the precision, texture and delicacy of the work. It is as if a living plant  hangs upon the wall. You know that these poppies were once fragile, delicate, soft, blowsy, short-lived flowers.  Not for them the stiff-stalked confinement of a vase. But on a page they lie still and we can take as long as we like to examine and enjoy the wonder of their structure and texture and beauty.

I may have selected Ann Swan's painting from the hundreds of others not only for its  brillliance, but because she'd painted poppies, flowers which are drenched in symbolism. I suppose I first came across them in illustrations in fairy tale books: a crown of poppies woven to settle on a princess's jet-black hair. Poppies are perhaps second only to roses as a sign of beauty.

But poppies have a more dramatic, sometimes darker life. When grown as a crop they bring wealth, pleasure, healing - and:destruction. On the one hand poppy oil is used in salad dressings, or to spice up cakes and breads. But its derivatives are opium. morphene, heroin and homely codeine.  Blood red poppy fields  remind us of the devastation of two world wars. We lay wreaths of poppies to remind us of the price paid for freedom. We wear them each autumn 'lest we forget'.


Saturday, 20 April 2013


222. LAND - SEA HORIZON by JAN DIBBETS until April 20

© Jan Dibbets. Courtesy Alan Cristea Gallery
We know that the camera lies. We know that when we wake up in the mornig we never look out at a world whose edges have been neatly clipped and snipped into a neat square or rectangle. Indeed there is evidence that what we can't see, we at times make up by 'seeing ' what we expect to be there.

This is one of a series of photo collages in which Jan Dibbets, a Dutch conceptual artist, has confronted our expectations to create another sort of reality, We know that the sea can be contained and confined by walls and cliffs - but not by pasture. Beaches are the liminal places where sea and land's vegetation meet and part gently and playfully - or rough-handling each other.  In this work land and sea are jammed up against each other until they become one. It's a surprisingly visceral experience. You can see blades of green grass  up against bubbles of white foam and something in the back of the mind acknowledges the pressure and excitement of such an  unlikely encounter.

Stepping back, you see a cool abstract design. A three-part jigsaw, the horizon flattened into a straight line because the curve of the globe is too delicate for us to appreciate. Powerful harmony.
© Jan Dibbets. Courtesy Alan Cristea Gallery
Jan Dibbets started in 1967 to use photography to create a dialogue between nature and geometrical design, He has also experimented with videos, films and conceptual works. Above Land - Sea Horizon (a) is one of the multiple photographic images in the exhibition which juxtoposes a land and sea horizon, morphing them into a single image. By tilting the camera from  0° --135° the  world is gradually tipped upside down. It's a striking sequence. You almost ezpect the watery sea to slide out of the picture frame onto the gallery floor.. In some images the ocean is almost overhead. 

Wednesday, 17 April 2013


 Light in the Forest, Watercolour, 46 x 32 cm
28 Cork St until April 20th

This collection of watercolour paintings represents a pastoral image of the Padana Valley, a region 70 miles north of Florence. The artist, who is from Modena, has had solo and group exhibitions in Italy but has not shown his work before in England. Boni's paintings are both delicate and passionate, calm and joyful, with a deep emotional commitment to the beauty which surrounds him. 

Autumn Vines, Watercolour, 46 x 32 cm

He describes England as the home of watercolour. It's true:the spread of its use in the 18th century not only brought aesthetic pleasure but was also useful for surveyors, mapmakers, archaeologists, military officers, geologists and engineers. Then photography changed everything, especially when someone invented the Box Brownie. A camera, which used to cost a month’s salary at the turn of the century, was now within the reach of the masses and they made the most of it.  They say that even Queen Alexandra’s portable box of watercolour paints gathered dust.

Meanwhile, in the 19C three English artists are credited with establishing watercolour as an independent, mature painting medium: Paul Sandby,Thomas Girtin and J.M.W. Turner. Later its popularity fell into decline.
Boni's beautiful, exhilarating  and joyous paintings remind us of what we are missing .

Sunday, 14 April 2013


220. MONOCULTURE  at the Beaconsfield Gallery, SE11 6AY
 continues until Saturday 20 April or by appointment until Wednesday 24 April.

 The Altered Stocks 2, 2013, pine, fixings, household and polyurethane paints, (c) the artist and Beaconsfield
Arch Gallery installation view (Experiment 1: Mono-Portrait and Experiment 2: Growing Rape (Farm))(c) the artist and Beaconsfield
What possible connection can there be between these images?

 MONOCULTURE is Tamsyn Challenger's exploration of  feminine identity, especially as it is expressed in social networks. Struggling to be special, women pay a high price to obtain a conformist submissive 'beauty'. They are lured into posing for a 'selfie' (a self-taken digital picture), becoming avatars (an object representing the user); competitive with each other and deaf and blind to their own unique personhood.

 As someone who used to lecture in the 1970s on the way women were portrayed in advertisements (draped on floors or beds or sofas,  standing in a posture so unstable they could be pushed over by a finger tip, anchored to a man in the lead role) this  is familiar territory. It too was a time when women were urged to shave and crimp and dye and diet in the hope of being loved for what we were not, instead of for what we were.

What is original about Monoculture is the link with social networking sites.The Altered Stocks wittily mocks their pincer effect. We can choose 'LIKE' on the  left or we can choose nothing. Lost are the infinite subtleties of making a real choice. We are struck dumb. We are held in a headlock.  Scattered around the exhibition - set in railway arches and moody cavernous spaces - are installations reminding us of the past: the ducking stool, chastity belts, the 'scold's' bridle, all designed to constrict, even silence, women's freedom of expression and action.
 The Arch Gallery links with other issues. It looks at first like a polythene greenhouse, but the light is the cold blue of alarm. Inside are plots the size of graves lined with black polythene, where sickly seedlings struggle into existence. This is a reference to oilseed rape - and rape. Challenger draws a parallel between what is happening to women on the one hand  with agriculture's practice of raising a single cash crop using risky chemicals, while stripping the earth of  the eco diversity on which the planet depends.

Thursday, 11 April 2013


© National Portrait Gallery, London; commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery with the support of J.P. Morgan through the Fund for New Commissions
The first surprise about this work is that it is not a black and white photograph, though from a distance it looks exactly that.  The cropped face and shallow depth arrest you like a cinema still, the electrifying eyes  stare unblinking at you from a warm, perceptive face. The work is, in fact, a painstakingly beautiful painting (acrylic on linen) by Jason Brooks. Bill Morris, Director of Culture, Ceremonies and Education at the London Olympics,  chose this as his favourite portrait in the NPG's Gallery Supporters' Magazine: 'You are drawn to Nurse through the searing intellect and the unshakable determination emanating from these eyes... (he) has been painted with every bristle on display, delivering a ‘what you see is what you get’ feeling.

The second surprise is the sheer size: 171cm x 271 cm. For a cropped head-and-shoulder portrait this is enormous. We have always magnified greatness. We are used to having massive sculptures of kings and things on plinths towering above us. Probably the most visited sculpture in England is Anthony Gormley's Angel of the North (1998), which weighs 200 tonnes of steel and has 500 tonnes of concrete foundations. The artist wanted it to be  'an object that would be a focus of hope at a painful time of transition for the people of the north-east'.

And here we have Sir Paul Maxine Nurse, one of our most distinguished living British scientists,  joint winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, President of the Royal Society and Director and Chief Executive of the Francis Crick Institute. A former Director of Cancer Research UK, he is a geneticist whose discoveries have revolutionised our understanding of what controls the division and shape of cells. As I understand it we are now nearer to being able to match treatment to the needs of groups or individual cancer patients; better still, to thwart the formation of cancer cells by genetic manipulation. He is also acclaimed for challenging those who publish or broadcast using rhetorical tricks in discussing scientific evidence rather than logic.

Sir Paul has remarked 'Scientific understanding is often beautiful, a profoundly aesthetic experience which gives pleasure not unlike the reading of a great poem'. Or seeing a great work of art?


Sunday, 7 April 2013


Monotype installation.  Image courtesy of the artist and G V Art, London, 210 x 180cms.
            NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY Room 38A until 1st September 2013

The Portrait Anatomised
The title of one of the artist's earlier exhibitions was Reassembling the Self. Here she reminds us again of the wonder and fragility of  human identity..This is a portrait of Fiona. one of three people with epilepsy whose personal, medical and scientific narratives have been woven together by Susan Aldworth using experimental print and film.

 Susan Aldworth is both Artist in Residence at the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University and Research Fellow in Print at London Metropolitan University. Central to her practice is working on location as an artist-in-residence in a medical or scientific setting. This current project is part of a commission for Guys' and St Thomas' Hospital by Westminster Bridge.
Aldworth's work does more than 'just' expand our notions of contemporary portraiture. She questions the relationship between evidence from our physicality and  the conscious mind.  A hospital is  a building with eyes and ears because somewhere there’s a file with my name on the outside, while inside are X rays, graphs and numbers. Waiting in the corridor outside the clinic, I feel I am a transparent doll with all my insides showing. A simple blood test means that sticky red liquid runs cheerfully into phial after phial, every cell a traitor which will tell secrets about my body to experts in a language I do not understand.

The artist invites science, philosophy, physiology and imagination to co operate so as to give us a unique glimpse of one person's experience. She challenges us to examine how these multiple perspectives work. What is the effect of this dislocated and sometimes beautiful imagery? How do such emotionally- charged snapshots correspond to, or challenge, the subject's perception of herself? 

I stand in front of the work and feel anew the energy in what someone had written thousands of years ago: I am fearfully and wonderfully made... (Psalm 139 verse 14)

Susan Aldworth will lead and participate in  events and lectures during the display’s run at the National Portrait Gallery. There is a lunchtime lecture -  The Portrait Anatomised -  on 18 April at 1.15pm. It's free, on a first come, first served basis..