Friday, 17 May 2013


Walking past  trim railings and flanked by tidy grass, you are shepherded  along Kensington Gardens' neat paths. And then you come across 2  gigantic boulders approximately 5.5 metres high, which seem to be balanced on top of one another. The title tells you nothing. It is what it is. Not a word about construction and destruction, oscillation and stability.

You touch or stroke the work. It is pitted and veined and awesome: some granite is said to be more than 4 billion years old. Compare that with most art, often made of contemporary materials; some may even last a few fleeting seconds. The Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss are known for their witty sense of the absurd and their power to startle us into taking a fresh look at our surroundings with art which feels both incongruous and commonplace. 

For we have one of these already - Logan Rock at Treen, the bay next to Porthcurno, of Minack Theatre fame. It's balanced on the top of of one of the pinnacles of this promontory. It's much loved. In the 19C a gang of macho soldiers led by a nephew of the playwright Oliver Goldsmith managed to dislodge it and was made to put it back asap at considerable expense.

Rock On Top Of Another Rock is the first UK commission for the artists and is organised by the Serpentine Gallery, The Royal Parks and Modus Operandi. It currently serves a particular purpose. The Serpentine Gallery is closed for refurbishment until June 8, when the Pavilion designed by Sou Fujimoto opens. When a loved institution is closed for refurbishment, it's impossible to spread the news world wide among all intending visitors. (As families and groups alighting at Lambeth North tube station in the hope of visiting the Imperial War Museum  are currently finding (reopens 29 July)). Rock On Top Of Another Rock, situated close to the entrance to the gallery, gives a focus.

If you like the artists' zany sense of humour, one of  their best known works is the short film The Way Things Go (Der Lauf Der Dinge). It's about chain reactions and the astonishing way objects fly, crash and explode across a studio. Intriguing and fun for all ages..

Tuesday, 14 May 2013


a London-based group of artists with cultural links around the world.
Elke Counsell says of her work 'those who see my paintings can have their own ideas as to how a picture could develop'. She aims at 'the not-quite-finished look'. 

The orchard in the foreground seems to shimmer in the light. Perhaps the weather is warm, wet and blowy? The soft pastel colours melt into one another but they are studded with a fiery red. On the hills not one but two substantial buildings are watchful;  ancient stories of love, separation, generosity and compromise are wrapped round them.

The artist was born in Berlin in 1939 and life was not straightforward. She lived for a time in the village of Muhlberg and played in this orchard. Muhlberg is next to Wechmar, a village notable for being the home of the Bach family of musicians and composers.

The work above is an expression of a new kind of personal  exploration, for having worked as a translator, she is now a very successful illustrator of children's books (one of my favourites is Springy Jane written by Alexander McCall Smith).Below are some examples of her witty and delightful work.

Friday, 10 May 2013


Crimson, scarlet, vermillion. Red has many names.
Blood, lipstick, earth, mars. Red has many meanings.
Of all the primary colours, is red the most powerful, disturbing and divisive?

In this show Espacio artists, a  London- based group with cultural roots around the world explore the potential of red to evoke a visceral reaction in the viewer. But is this the only use for red? Or can it have other meanings, other possibilities?

The triptych here on display stands on a window sill at the Menier Gallery. The image cannot do justice to Alexis van El’s work, which is designed to be seen from more than one viewpoint, with the additional pleasure of looking through the startling gap slashed through a beautifully textured metal surface. It’s pungently reminiscent of the scars you see where branches have been lopped off mature trees leaving a gaping wound. 

The metal plaques are made of thin, mild steel sheet, sometimes with the addition of other metals, mainly copper. Some are suspended in pairs in a Perspex frame; others, called Bookforms, consist of two hinged plates, conjuring up the enclosed, personal world a reader is free to enter.   

 And for most of us that beautiful shape has sexual associations. The artist writes ‘in my pieces the labial forms and the enriched, encrusted surfaces celebrate female energy’.

In 1928 Virginia Woolf addressed the Arts Society at Newnham College, Cambridge on the subject of Women and Fiction, and from this talk emerged her feminist and modernist text, A Room of One's Own. In March of this year, as part of Women's History Month, Alexis van El was one of 12 artists at the Espacia Gallery offering their personal response to the work. Woolf writes about women and education, marriage, money and property, and ends with a passionate call to her readers to open their minds and throw themselves into creative endeavour. (Woolf was practical too, recognising in the book title that ‘a room of one's own and money in one's pocket’ are essential to women's creative freedom).


Monday, 6 May 2013


NEW ORDER: British Art Today    at the  SAATCHI GALLERY 

AFTER LOUISE 2011, Papier mache, wax, acrylic eyes, mixed media 85 x 70 x 70cm
The Louise in this piece is Louise Bourgeois, most famous in this country for her unforgettable gigantic spider, Maman,which both alarmed and enchanted visitors to the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern at its opening. The5e is a link below to the NY Times obituary. She has been described as 'queen of the disquieting family drama' and one of the greatest women artists of the 20th century. Here her head pops out of a giant ball of dark material, studded with pins and needles. Around her neck is a feather collar as grand as a courtier's ruff. To see her face to face you would need to get down on your knees.

This remarkable work is a tribute by Wendy Mayer. In the artist's own words 'I feel connected to her as a woman, a mother, a sculptor and through our shared background in mathematics. When she died in 2010, I wanted to acknowledge her unwitting contribution to my career as a sculptor and created her portrait as a pin cushion doll'
Pins can hurt and draw blood; you stick them into images of your enemies to bring about their downfall; Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger on a spinning wheel needle and look what happened to her.On the other hand we can't do without them: needles and pins make and mend things we need: clothes and furnishings and glowing tapestries. Mayer again 'I wanted to represent her obsession for repair of damage to the self. She wears the dark clothes of mourning but retains her playful spirit and a twinkle in her eye'.

GOLD WATCH 2012 Wax, acrylic eyes, wigs, mannequins, chair, needles, gold watch 100x61x61
In this tender family scene Mayer questions the innocence of children. The adults are child-sized, which makes uncomfortable viewing, but the spectacles and sensible hair styles inspire confidence. Only when you look more closely you can see that the lively baby has slim sharp metal needles in those delightful little chubby fists.
 The catalogue says of After Louise that she's smiling to herself as though delighted with the unspooling disquiet of the exhibits around her. What is she looking at? New Order, on the second floor, is a collection of paintings, sculptures, videos, photographs and installations by 17 'new' artists who live and work in Britain. Some say that the overall effect is too detached, the artists less than passionate. 

It's certainly a sharp contrast with   Gaity is the Most Outstanding Feature of the Soviet Union on the lower floors, an ironic title for works depicting at times almost unbearable violence, despair and degradation in the years following the break up of the Soviet Union.