Sunday, 28 July 2013


UL 238, FH 172 and FR 59 (diptych), 2012, oil and charcoal on paper (182.5x238cm) © The Artist
Fleming Collection, 13 Berkeley St, Mayfair, until 17.8.03

'Certain gardens are described as retreats when they really are attacks' 
Ian Hamilton Finlay
You step off the pavement into The Fleming Collection, an astonishingly gentle and beautiful space. It is currently showing on the ground floor a remarkable collection of Eileen Hogan's paintings of Little Sparta, the garden created by the artist Ian Hamilton Finlay. On the floor above, works from 1770 to the present day are selected from the finest collection of Scottish art in private hands. The room itself, its magnificent windows overlooking the noise and bustle of Mayfair streets, in an oasis of peace,

Three Beehives, to give it an unofficial title, is a large work so powerful I felt I almost needed to step back, with a sense of not wanting to trespass. This is not 'a landscape painting' nor an imaginary garden nor how a garden ought to be. It is a garden which is 'present', in the here and now, and you know that that particular pattern of shade and light  is only there for a few moments. The warmth of the sun and the sounds of the garden are somehow there too.  I was reminded that someone said of John Constable's The Chain Pier 1872  'it almost imparts the wish for an umbrella'. And here is the advice given on going to see one of his more famous paintings, that it is so real you should be minded to wear your galoshes.

FH 172 (c) artist
 The artist explains how she visited the garden for the first time in 1997. Finlay died in 2006 but she kept returning to the garden in all weathers and has been painting it for 15 years. 'The main subjects have been been the trio of white beehives in the section of the garden known as the English Parkland. The structures echo past concerns in my work, when I have repeatedly been drawn to the play of light dappling white surfaces in green surroundings'.

Little Sparta is so called because in antiquity there were two cultures in opposition: Athens and Sparta. Edinburgh is known as the Athens of the North. Hence Little Sparta. It is featured in this magnificent book: A Gardener's Labyrinth: portraits of people, plants and places. by Tessa Traeger and Patrick Kinmonth      Booth Clibborn Editions      has outstanding photographs

Tuesday, 23 July 2013


'Artifice of Paradise', works by Louise Thomas at the Bischoff/Weiss Gallery, Hay Hill, London W1J8NZ until 2.8.13

Hadrosaur Cove, 2013,Oil and acrylic on canvas.150 x 200 cm
Why Hadrosaurus? It's the name of a very important and a very obscure dinosaur. It was the first near-complete dinosaur skeleton ever to be discovered in North America (in 1858) and gave its name to a class of herbivores--the hadrosaurs or duck-billed dinosaurs.

In her paintings Louise Thomas has visited 1930's Italy, lidos, Victorian hospitals, American resorts, abandoned estates - and now amusement parks. In this exhibition she paints waterfalls, lazy rivers, exotic plants, craggy rocks - all the stuff that Romantic artists and painters of the Sublime have rejoiced in. We wander through hoping to catch fleeting moments of wonder. But instead of escape into tranquility and peace and Jurassic nostalgia, we have louder-than-life colours, modernist architecture and mechanical structures.

Jurassic Park, 2013, Oil and acrylic on canvas,150 x 200 cm

Which is exciting. The pastoral opens up surprises: for the moment the prehistoric world of dinosaurs is recovered and clashes with  a science and technology which is shaping our future.

But Thomas makes us look at our hopes as we plan for holiday paradise. We dream of tranquility while surrounded by crowds, crowds which at the same time re-inforce our belief that this is the place to be, while diluting our experience.

As the writer in the Artlyst link below puts it:
'(Thomas's) painterly brushstrokes highlight an abstracted sense of nostalgia and the failed space of holiday paradise...The paintings convey the cosmopolitan dream of escape mixed with the uncanny as they critique the mechanical structures of contemporary tourism, leisure, and entertainment industries'.

Artificial Spring and Palms, 2013,Oil and acrylic on canvas.150 x 200 cm

P.S. The colours remind me of a painter I hugely admire: the symbolist Odilon Redon.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

237. Ascension (nothing/Something Good) by MARK DEAN

Man&Eve Gallery, Lower Marsh, SE1 7AE until 27.7.13
Works by Mark Dean, Anna Sikorska, Aliki Braine. 
And Dom Sylvester Houedard (1924 - 1992)
Dom Sylvester Houedard - 'Ken Kox Memorial', 1968, Letterpress print
I think Mark Dean's work in this show is best approached obliquely.  His piece Ascension (nothing/Something Good) (below) bears a striking visual resemblance to this print by Dom Sylvester Houedard, an artist who died in 1992 and spent his last 20 years as a Benedictine monk.

'dsh' often dealt with absence.  This work is a memorial to Ken Cox, an illustrator, poet and musician. All the lettters of the alphabet - except those from the name 'Ken Cox' - cascade out into a design which spreads like a mandala. Cox is absent, through an untimely death: answers are absent too.  Instead dhs offers us an opportunity for the  visual celebration of the good that is left,  and an opportunity to reflect.
Ascension (nothing/Something Good) by Mark Dean
Mark Dean was ordained as a priest in the Church of England in 2009. He and dhs are united by a priestly and artistic vocation to ask questions with impossible answers by interacting with contemporary life and culture. This is a still image from a video where the seven spokes of type stream out of a void (which is also the 'Play' button) , each one spelling out the word 'nothing', only to disappear in a never ending loop. The soundtrack is also looped: a brief sample of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer endlessly singing the title of 'Something Good'  from the  spectacularly successful film The Sound of Music (1965). 

Perhaps I had a wicked childhood 
Perhaps I had a miserable youth 
But somwhere in my wicked, miserable past  
There must have been a moment of truth
For here you are, standing there, loving me 
Whether or not you should  
So somewhere in my youth or childhood 
 I must have done something good
Nothing comes from nothing 
Nothing ever could 
So somewhere in my youth or childhood  
I must have done something good
The exhibition leaflet also  references Lucretius, a Roman poet from the first century. He wrote De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things), challenging the prevailing way of seeing what happened in the natural world as 'the will of the gods'.  His robustly materialistic  world view is put alongside the romantic cause and effect implied in the lyric. We're challenged to hold contrasting ideas close enough to allow each to interrupt and refine the other.
So is this work a hymn of praise to nihilism? Or another set of  an Emperor's new clothes? Or perhaps it is a shy and subtle allusion to redemption through the intervention of faith.

On the way back from the Gallery I met an artist friend and mentioned the exhibition. The words 'Dada' and 'Concrete Photography' may have crept in because her response was something along the lines of deciding such work was a treat she was lining up until after her death. If so, that's a pity.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013


'If you can imagine trying to build a cloud out of sticks, this is it', 

Edwin Heathcote, Financial Times.

Pavilion, Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park (c) Danica Kus

Fujimoto, at 41 the youngest architect ever to design the Serpentine Pavilion, has created a brilliant, flexible, multi-purpose social space, protecting visitors as they walk in yet allowing them to remain part of the landscape.  It's built of simple cubes made of fine white-painted steel bars and glass surfaces, so that you can sit or climb stepped terraces to overlook Hyde Park, or dance, or do tai chi or sunbathe. There's a cafe inside. The overall footprint is 350 square metres.

The building is full of paradoxes: it's neither transparent nor opaque; it's abstract yet organic; its still, calm,  crisp regular cubes move to make a different pattern at the turn of your head; it's like an etching set against verdant green grass and a vivid blue sky. There are even transparent discs at the top which moderate the sun so that you can choose to sit in a space which is neither sun nor shade. 

Every year the Serpentine Gallery commissions the building of a temporary Pavilion. Past designers include Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei (2012), Frank Gehry (2008), the late Oscar Niemeyer (2003) and Zaha Hadid (2000).Some works are more memorable than others. The one I've liked best so far was in 2006. I wrote at the time:
Rem Koolhaas designed the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion with structural designer Cecil Balmond. The ovoid inflatable canopy seems to float over the trees & lawns. We first saw it looking like a giant setting moon when we were walking beside the Serpentine. When we reached it we found below a walled enclosure both a Maison Blanc cafĂ© selling pastries & organic lemonade - & a forum for talks & screenings. Chairs & tables are made of black compressed cubes & rectangles which sit on a sparkly aluminium floor & can easily be placed in any sequence. Small babies lie on their backs & kick, solitary young men sprawl, small children clamber. Sam (my grandson) immediately detected the springiness of a floor which is suspended about a foot above the ground.  As the weather was beautiful the canopy was raised into the air. A dado-like strip of blue sky encircled us. We went on to see Thomas Demand’s brilliant exhibition inside the Gallery

2006 is past. Don't miss 2013. 

Friday, 12 July 2013



12 x digital pigment prints on Hahnemuehle Photo Rag 308gsm, each 76 x 60 cm (c) artist

Is this image just a pleasingly balanced pattern of black and white abstracts? Perhaps not...

They are photographs of the perimeter wall of Pentonville Prison in London. The broken surface of the wall had been repaired by workmen with white paint. Parker photographed the walls literally seconds before they were obliterated forever by magnolia paint. Later that day, with the paint barely dry, a prisoner (incarcerated for a shot gun murder) escaped from the prison after scaling the walls.
Cornelia Parker is an artist who makes us see for the first time what was already there. She has shot at objects, thrown them from cliffs, blown them up and rolled over them with a steam roller. Her sculptural processes have been described as ‘mimicking cartoon deaths’. But out of destruction she creates  tragedy and unimaginable beauty. The art critic  Adrian Searle in the catalogue of a 1991 Chisenhale Gallery exhibition wrote '(Parker) can convince you that the living room is an ocean, that buildings can breathe and that the universe can be turned inside out, like glove'. 

 In the current show is Black Path (Bunhill Fields). It's a cast of the spaces between paving stones at the non-conformist cemetery of Bunhill Fields. William Blake the artist, poet, visionary and author of Jerusalem, is buried there. The work is resonant with memories of childhood games across the world where you pretend that if you 'step on the cracks', you might fall down them into everlasting blackness - or at the very least the bears will eat you. By pouring liquid cold-cure rubber into some of the gaps and leaving it to set, Parker was able to lift out a 'map' of the stonework. The captured rubber cracks upturned, cast in black bronze and placed on steel pins hover over the floor like a petrified line drawing.

Parker’s work is both dramatic and delicate, powerful and intricate. Perhaps her most famous piece is Cold Dark Matter: an exploded view 1991 once a garden shed, filled with car boot sales junk, then blown up by the army. You can see how the fragments were transformed into this beautiful installation wrapped in unfathomable shadows. It is not in the Frith Street Gallery exhibition, indeed it will never be in any exhibition again as it was destroyed in a tragic warehouse fire. Another memorable piece is Twenty Years of Tarnish (wedding presents). Two silver goblets are displayed but Parker focuses on the tarnish, the worthless byproduct of 25 years 'which we avoid psychologically'. Heart of Darkness 2004 is made from charcoal from a forest fire in Florida which was started deliberately to contain a fire and got out of control, a paradox of good intentions and unintended outcomes.

There is a beautiful book on Cornelia Parker's work by Iwona Blazwick, Director of the Whitechapel Gallery, with a foreword by Yoko Ono, newly published by Thames and Hudson at £35.00 parker

Wednesday, 3 July 2013


The Royal Academy School Show is another annual treat. But it is not for the faint- hearted.

First, the entrance to the School was blocked by a pantechnicon unloading works for a future exhibition. I follow a member of the technical staff around and under a fire escape in order to squeeze inside. The RA has been at Burlington House since 1868. Turn a corner and you’re up against a glass- fronted cupboard of elderly skeletons crouching, standing tall or in bits and pieces, which suddenly remind you how many distinguished artists have walked these corridors and  contemplated  those bones. The uneven stone floor leads you to a labyrinth of door less rooms, some of which open off each other like a telescope. Each wall is painted clinical white, while the ancient boards of the wooden floors are matching - it looks as though they've been given a quick coat of white distemper.Your reward after the heat and bustle of Piccadilly is a place full of light and air and space and surprises. 

This year  James Robertson's installation, bits of which are featured here, greets you head on as you turn into his room. He's one of the 16 postgraduate artists showing work from their final year:  sculpture, painting, installation, and photography. I want to look away. There is a child standing in front of me asking if the life-size cut outs of a topless feminist campaigner (the top right hand corner) are buried in the floor. Those at the back appear to be waist deep. Those nearer have sunk so far down that they are barely visible. They appear to have  'STILL NOT ASKING FOR IT' scrawled not on a bill board but on their skin. There are several black plastic buckets containing what looks like  unsavoury black liquid. Mag Master is scattered and screwed up over the floor. I realise I do not recognise much of the iconography. What, for example, is the significance of a Paul Jones tie which one of the women is wearing?  Most chilling of all is the legend 'Seeing Milton (Friedman) is like seeing a hot blonde getting gang banged'.

My mind goes back to Sept/Dec 2000 and the RA's exhibition Apocalypse: Beauty and Horror in Contemporary Art. Robertson's work would not be out of place. To get a better view of this installation and to see his other work, click on to the link below. To read about the show in the Royal Academy Magazine 'In a Class of Their Own' page 46. What I would now like to see is something written about Robertson's installation so that my mind could catch up with the rest of me.,502,RAMA.html

Monday, 1 July 2013


Alas I inadvertantly deleted this post by pressing 'cut' instead of 'copy'. I am particularly sorry as I met the artist at the gallery (wherever it was), we talked of his work - and now I have no record.


Philip Glass 2012 Oil on polyester on board
1730 x 1370 mm
© John Devane 
National Portrait Gallery until September 16

Most years the work on show at the BP Portrait Award Exhibition is of family, friends - or self-portraits.  Philip Glass is one of the exceptions, a celebrity whose operas, symphonies and compositions for his own ensemble have had an extraordinary impact upon musical and intellectual life. So too have his collaborations with artists ranging from Twyla Tharp to Allen Ginsberg, Woody Allen to David Bowie.

I first heard his Glassworks at  the Arnolfini Gallery Bookshop in Bristol, and have been listening ever since. He wrote the musical score for the film Koyaanisqatsi  (a Hopi Indian word meaning 'life out of balance'), made in 1982 and directed by Godfrey Reggio. The film may disappoint those searching for a plot or with an ear for dialogue: there is neither. Instead it paints a stunningly beautiful if apocalyptic vision of the collision of two worlds - urban life and technology versus the physical environment.

Furrowed and lined skin, penetrating eyes, a slightly down-turned mouth, casual clothes; it's probably unwise to project onto this portrait any individual 'reading' of this face. A camera captures and hands over to the viewer a fleeting moment, whereas portrait painters have a longer relationship with their subject and more possibilities of interpretation. Here Van Doom seems to give us the best of both worlds: the impression that we're looking at a lively but transitory image of a face which will change from moment to moment, but embedded in it is the serious intensity of a deeply creative intellect and imagination.

Phil 1969 by Chuck Close ;Acrylic on canvas 
274.3 x 213.4 cm Whitney Museum NY

Van Doorn studied at the Willem de Kooning Academie, Rotterdam and was commissioned to paint Princess Beatrix, when Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, in 2000. Philip Glass agreed to sit for him when he visited the artist’s home town.  He is an important subject for van Doom: he had been inspired to become an artist after seeing Phil by Chuck Close. 

 Close's portraits are drawn from a wide circle of relatives and friends, many of whom are connected to the art world as artists, dealers and collectors. Characteristically starting with a small photograph that he took himself, Close drew a grid over the photograph, dividing it into small squares. Then he painted a much larger copy of each square of the grid onto the canvas. The title he gives the  portrait, Phil, adds an informality to an imposing image of an imposing musician.