Saturday, 6 December 2014


Wall of Water, Amy Winehouse (detail), 2011,oil on canvas, (c) Maggie Hambling, photo Douglas Atfield
Walk up the steps from Trafalgar Square past the flame throwers and acrobats and artists and go through the main entrance into the National Gallery. Turn left after a further flight of stairs, push open the door to Room 1 - and there you will find a new series of paintings by Maggi Hambling, one of the most significant and controversial painters and sculptors in England. Eight of her canvases, each measuring over six by seven feet, line the walls. There is also a ninth smaller work, a detail of which is above, painted in response to the death of Amy Winehouse in 2011. Maggi Hambling was the first National Gallery Artist in Residence (1980-81), and now has returned with 'Wall of Water' (2010), work which has never been seen in public before.  

The waves, frozen in a moment of time, seem to be physically - almost noisily - present, poised between animation and disintegration, between life and death. Look closer and flickering ghosts of people and animals appear and disappear within them. In some paintings exuberant colours contrast  with the stark blacks and whites of a related group of monotypes.  

The one crucial thing that only painting can do is to make you feel as if you’re there while it’s being created – as if it’s happening in front of you.” Maggi Hamblling

I'm intrigued.The artist affirms painting’s immediacy. She has recreated in paint gigantic waves which crash onto the sea wall at a real place, Southwold, in Suffolk, the county where she was born, still lives, and which has often inspired her work. I too have known the waves on the Suffolk coast for many years. It 'makes you feel as if you're there'?   Being present during the act of painting? Or at the moment when, in the wind and to the sound of shifting shingle, the wave itself - as unique as any artwork -  is being created?  

Peder Balke, The Tempest (detail), about 1862, (c) The National Gallery London

While at the Gallery, step through the central hall to the nearby Sunley Room. You will be able to appreciate how Walls of Water offers a fascinating contemporary parallel to  the seascapes and landscapes of the Norwegian artist Peder Balke (1804-1887)
.            (free entry 361 days of the year)

Tuesday, 2 December 2014



Transport for London has an honourable record of bringing art by contemporary artists to the attention of the public, sometimes where they least expect it. Having declared 2014 The Year of the Bus, TFL, together with the London Transport Museum and the capital's bus operators, have created three bus art sculpture trails: one around the City of Westminster; another along the Thames, past Tate Modern and St Pauls Cathedral; and the third in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Kristyana Williams' work references London's rich architectural heritage.  Her illustrations juxtapose strong graphic lines with intricate Victorian engravings, creating a striking  art work in Charing Cross Road. Her glimpses of  London tempt us to set out and enjoy  the views which locals and visitors have been enjoying as travellers on London buses for the past 150 years. Kristyana Williams is an artist whose experience spans illustration, interiors, fashion and design.  She is said to be 'mostly inspired by nature, 'the symmetry in all things living', which stems from her childhood in Iceland.

2014 is the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One. This striking design was inspired by Dazzle camouflage, invented by artists primarily to protect ships from attack. Unlike more familiar forms of camouflage, Dazzle works not by trying to conceal objects or buildings but to confuse the viewer, by making it difficult to estimate a target's range, speed and direction. Over 2,000 'Dazzle Ships' were painted during the war and no two designs were the same. Picasso later claimed Cubists had invented Dazzle techniques - but not everyone agrees.

Punk'd pays homage to London as the birthplace of Punk - a mid 70s fashion and music genre. Two Union Flags are painted draped across the roof, jaggedly pinned together with punk-esque safety pins. 'Rips' in the flag provide glimpses into the 1970s world of album covers, tartan, leather stud belts and spiked pink Mohican hair cuts.
In true 'anti-establishment' torn-newspaper Punk style, a Punk'ed slogan is sprayed across both sides of the bus. It does two things - states that the work is inspired by punk but also that the bus has been 'punk'd with art' i.e. art has played a trick on it.Valerie Osment's work has painting and illustration at its core. She exploits multiple media and visual art forms to create work in 2D or 3D form and has created two BookBenches for Books about Town based on Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle and Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne. 

And then there is the K6 telephone box in Parliament Square referencing Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's iconic 1935 design. The artist hopes that 'visitors will get out their modern smart phones and take photographs of themselves beside the classic predecessor. In fact the sculpture stands feet away from the real red phone box, which is constantly in use - usually as a photographic backcloth. Rarely do I walk by without seeing people from all over the world having fun: a crowd of waving youngsters packed half in and half out of the open door; a couple of sedate tourists staring at a camera as if to say 'We were there' - and all stages of liveliness and invention in between.


Following this public display, all the bus sculptures will be auctioned in early 2015 to raise funds for three charities: Kids Company, Transaid and London Transport Museum

Thursday, 27 November 2014



Southbank Centre Foyer Spaces 

143 award-winning photographs from the World Press Photo Competition have been on show at the South Bank during November. It's an annual international competition which started in 1955 and this year attracted entries from a record 5,754 photographers from 132 countries. 

Kacper Kowalski won Second Prize in the Nature Stories category. These two photographs are not vibrant  and beautiful abstract compositions celebrating nature's beauty. They hold a startling and alarming narrative. Both photographs record the effluent from the Belchatow Power Station, the largest coal-fuelled thermal plant in Europe.and one of the highest emitters of C02 among power stations world-wide.



But not all of Kowalski's works are so grim and shocking. For example, Pomerania, jutting out of the southern Baltic sea, is a part of Poland famous for its large swathes of forests, dotted with lakes and rivers. Flying from paragliders and geoplanes, for many years Kowalski has been photographing  his country with spectacular success.

Here are links to some of Kowalski's other works 


Tuesday, 25 November 2014


MEDICI GALLERY until Dec 9th

Frances Bloomfield, Espinoi  95x28.5x10cms, (c) artist
 There are no fixed meanings in Dreamboxes – they are intended to provide a glimpse of a narrative with which the viewer can play. Nor do I have a way of conveying the beauty of these three-dimensional artworks - but perhaps that's a distraction the viewer can do without initially, because It leads one to wonder  how human hands can make something which is so delicate and so robust.
Espinoi ('spinney' in French) is one of an ongoing series, formerly called Trees.  Frances  Bloomfield writes  " They explore the idea of Waldeinsamkeit, the German word for the feeling of being alone in the woods. However nothing is really as it appears - the 'trees' are actually images taken from seaweed and they aren't planted in the ground - they float - and this is a big part of what I explore in all my work". ( I happened to come to the Medici Gallery to see Frances' work straight from the Royal Academy, which is just round the corner, so Alselm Keifer's extraordinary mammoth rootless trees were fresh in my mind).
The artist makes all aspects of the work, the outside of the box being papered with French geometry or maths books.The 'trees' are cut from mount board with French maths books pasted onto them. The little figure is an architectural model. Maths suggests an order and a rational explanation of the world which contradicts the work in the box. The artist draws on some of R.D.Laing's ideas - and the work of social anthropologists - about what is 'normal' and how 'normality' is itself a social construct rather than anything fixed.
Frances Bloomfield, Mi-Dialogue 4,  34x53x9cms., (c) artist

Mi-Dialogue Domestique 4 is part of another series in which 'the artist explores order and chaos in ‘domestique’ settings. "The media is full of ideas and information on the ‘perfect home’…but the home is also the setting for emotional and often disturbing scenarios. The contrast between what is desired or presented and what may really be going on can at times be quite extreme". The image is printed on French geometry books written in script. The artist again: "I liked the idea of maths being written in script - it already suggests a contradiction".

The series was initially going to be called ‘Falling’, a sensation some experience in dreams or as a gripping fear in daily life, which prevents them from going up the Shard or the London Eye - or even profiting from cheap theatre tickets in the balcony. The artist comments "it is thought that amongst other things it is an indicator of a return of early fears and traumas, which have been pushed away in adult life".
That solitary empty chair is a magnet to our eyes. It's the chair we walk towards for a job interview or a hospital diagnosis; it may remind us of an absence, or an offer of hospitality and comfort to the weary. "It stands as a sort of proxy for a person. It simultaneously creates presence and absence".