Thursday, 30 January 2014


St Brides, Fleet Street, linocut (c) artist
St Michaels Paternoster, linocut, (c)artist


Orsomajor is one of two new galleries which have opened in the last few months in Lower Marsh, an aptly named street lying between the River Thames and Bankside, an area drained as late as the 18C. And a few yards away Passionpalette has a display of intriguing paintings in windows attached to a local medical practice. Some expensive areas of London may be losing galleries but elsewhere, including this friendly market street, things are happening.

Janet Brooke's linocut on the right gives the strong sensation of walking though shady narrow streets which suddenly burst out into the bustle of Fleet Street and the Strand. A quiet peaceful stroll bumps into the cacophony of traffic.  Cool shade in the foreground is replaced by sunlight, as if a theatre curtain has been lifted.  And after the restraint of buildings which close in on you,  you suddenly realise that the sky has been there all the time.

St Brides was destroyed in the great Fire of London in 1666, then rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren.  In 1940, St Brides fell victim once again to flames as German incendiary bombs reduced the church to a roofless shell. This time 17 years elapsed before rebuilding was complete. Archaeologists uncovered amid the skeletal ruins the foundations of all six  churches previously on the site. 

The painted inn sign  on the left hand picture, close to the walls of St Michael Paternoster Royal (also known as  St Michaels, Cornhill), is a reminder of the secular amid the sacred. So too are the cranes. The church, which once towered over streets and buildings, is now dwarfed by their slender delicate threads which echo the spire, drawing our eye upward  and out into space. This is another church which has had an eventful life: it too was  destroyed by the Great Fire of London of 1666, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, ravaged by the London Blitz in 1940 and later restored.

I featured a very different version of a city church, Christ Church Spitalfields, in Blog 168. Hawksmoor and Pepsi painted by  Jock McFadyen. The artist was living and working in the East End. He writes ‘St Anne’s Limehouse was a 3 minute walk…standing as a counterpoint (to) a landscape of mediocrity I couldn’t resist making a series of paintings to celebrate the contrast'. The painting It was on show at the Royal Academy, when it ceebrated the 350th anniversary of the birth of another famous architect Nicholas Hawksmoor (1662 –1736).

Janet Brooke is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter Printmakers ( RE ) and a founder member of East London Printmakers.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014



 I can’t take you straight to the art work. First we need the context: 

Credit Semiconductor, Jerwood Open Forest. Photography this is Tomorrow
                                                                     Semiconductor (Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt) develop site-specific sculptures using images taken from rich research data collected from the Forestry Commission’s forests and woodlands. This is a photo of a 26m high Flux Tower at Alice Holt Forest and Research Station at Farnham, Surrey, which captures data on the carbon dioxide uptake by the forest from the canopy of trees below. The artists work with a climate change scientist to transform the data into sculpture. Their largescale, colourful works are installed in ways that dynamically interact with their site. Jerwood Space, which you'll find  in Union Street only a few minutes' walk from Tate Modern, has the extra advantage of an excellent light airy cafe.

Semiconductor, Jerwood Open Forest. Photography This is Tomorrow.

Semiconductor, Jerwood Open Forest. Photography This is Tomorrow.

In  Jerwood Space itself  is Semiconductor’s scaled-down model of the tower and projected on the walls instead of maps and graphs and figures you find beautiful visual representations of the data. 

The inaugural Jerwood Open Forest exhibition  presents new work from 5 short listed projects on display until February 23. It’s an initiative in the Jerwood Visual Arts  programme launched by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation and the Forestry Commission England, with support from  the Arts Council England. It’s an open call to artists to contribute to a national conversation about how  to engage with the environment today.

Beautiful Science is opening on February 20th at the British Library
It shows how scientists use pictures as much as words and numbers to shape ideas. 

Thanks to Anjana Ahuja and Prospect magazine for that, 

Wednesday, 22 January 2014


FLOWERS GALLERY, CORK ST, W1S 3LZ until February 22nd.
Architecture of Density #39 178 x 266cm (c) Michael Wolf, courtesy of Flowers Gallery
Michael Wolf's series Architecture of Density is being exhibited for the first time in large scale in London. The physical impact of standing in front of these huge photographs is something I was not prepared for. I am looking at a faithful representation of where some people live. There is no sky above nor earth beneath to wrap it into a context. I am engulfed by its beauty and weightlessness.  I am looking at an exquisite abstract

There is another surprise. The facades are not flat - some blocks project and protrude, others recede. The effect is three dimensional. When I saw these works I had just come from Tate Britain's exhibition Painting Now; five contemporary artists. Lucy McKenzie's witty and probing trompe d'oeil oil paintings of documents on pin boards are so convincing that I had to take time to be sure it was not a collage I was looking at. There's an illusion of folds here too. If you look along Wolf's work, as apposed to straight at it, you have to remind yourself that a photograph is a flat object.
Hong Kong's lack of lateral space has propelled it into building more sky scrapers over 150m than any other city in the world. Accompanying notes say that, unlike most documentary  photographs, 'these images are coolly detached from their subject and the photographer's presence behind the camera is barely perceptible'.
Architecture of Density #'75,147x122cm (c) Michael Wolf, courtesy of Flowers Gallery

While this is true, we glimpse people in this image through their T shirts, air conditioners, bird cages, mops and brooms. I found that I had  typed 'Architecture of Destiny' as the series title. It's an easy mistake to make. How far are we shaped by our environment? These home dwellers have creatively crafted their private needs to fit public space. As an anthropologist I would love to know of the clusters and fractures, the  patterns and traditions woven in these works.

But that, as they say. is another story.

Thursday, 16 January 2014



Graeme Wilcox is a leading Scottish figurative painter: some of his most powerful  paintings show the tension between animation and stillness. He is able to portray the transient, blurred image of a moving figure while painting another with precise photographic definition.

Strange Weather is a topical and apt title considering the vicissitudes of current weather worldwide. Just what is going on? Two hale and hearty men have lost their balance and are tossed in the air. There they hang, poised  as if in a still photograph of sequence dancers.Or is this a duo in a ballet? One hand is stretched out strongly towards us, nearly breaking through the canvas. Is it an appeal for help? Or are we being pushed away by someone  who doesn't want us to see the humiliation of the next few seconds.?


OIL on canvas 76 x 64cm
Strange Weather  reminds me of a very different portrait of man and the elements by another Scottish artist, Sir Henry Raeburn. The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, was painted in the 1790s and can be seen at the Scottish National Gallery. This serene skater is affectionately known as The Scottish Minister (or Parson). He was minister of the Cannongate Kirk and a member of the Edinburgh Skating Society, the oldest in Britain.
 The weather is extreme again but this time the subject whizzes across the loch and out of sight secure in his skating skills, said to be learnt on Dutch canals. Like the two men above, his eyes are not on us but on the present predicament - how to stay upright.. It looks effortless but fellow skaters would have recognised a difficult and sophisticated manoeuvre. His arms are sensibly folded to his body, suggesting  confidence if not complacency. He wears sombre clothing, as befits a religious leader, making a sharp silhouette against a muddy. lowering sky and the noisy, crisp ice underfoot.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014


WALKING HOME BAREFOOT Paint on C print 120 x 85

TO CHASTEN AND SUBDUE Paint on C print 120 x 85

To my great regret I inadvertantly deleted my post on Alf Lohr, which included images of these two paintings.

I recall the artist saying that his work did not represent events. There was no narrative, it was like atonal music. Put another way, 'you are required to read it like a poem'.

A well illustrated book about the artist is publised by the ADAM GALLERY. It's called Alf Lohr: paintings from three continents. The Adam Gallery has recently moved to Mortimer Street. Details are on the link below

Tuesday, 14 January 2014


If you are out at night and standing at a junction of several arterial traffic-packed roads, each of which needs several traffic lights to cross – and you haven’t a street map - you need time and patience to find Pecking Bird . Agreed it is nearly 14 metres high and 9 metres wide, so should be difficult to miss. The fact that you know it is 17 metres about ground is another clue. I do eventually find it.

This is Gary Hume's first piece of public art, and at first glance it looks like an wordless advertisement. In a sense it is, as it was commissioned by one of Europe’s largest real estate investment trusts and a bird was chosen to remind passers-by of the 275 acres of parkland in nearby Regent’s Park.

Hume's chosen medium of household gloss paint on aluminium adds to the work's luminosity. He captures a fleeting moment: the bird’s wings are cropped, its eye is empty, that beak is not cuddly.  We cannot see them but we know that the insects below - or any other food packages - are in for a shock. The crisp edges and surprising colours challenge us to respond.   
Tom Lubbock, writing in the Independent in 1999, the year when I first saw and fell in love with Hume’s paintings, said "The charm of these paintings is that they look like they could have gone a million and one ways, but have ended up this one particular way. Of course it takes skill, something like wit, to convincingly combine a sense of arbitrariness and a sense of fixity," 

The artist has the last word. Interviewing Hume in his studio last May before his show opened at Tate Britain, Sean O’Hagan of the Observer wrote “I asked Hume what constitutes an interesting painting? I would have assumed they were all interesting or else he would have binned them. He thinks about this for some time. "Well, a painting should be tough, it should have muscle, but I have to find some tenderness in it too. There has to be that dynamic".

P S Pecking Bird is in central London, on the corner of Brock Street and Hampstead Road It can be seen from Tottenham Court Road, Euston Road and Warren Street station.

Sunday, 12 January 2014



Acrylic on canvas 150 x 120 cm
© Lisa Ruyter. Courtesy Alan Cristea Gallery

Water rarely keeps still, unless it is tightly constrained, as in a bottle marked ‘still’ which confusingly does not refer to its lack of motion. When water is still,  a puddle or pond on a breathless day, for example, there’s a strong urge to disturb its calm with a pebble or a skimming stone. Still waters are beguiling. The saying that ‘Still Waters Run Deep’ - which means that beneath a placid exterior lies a passionate or subtle nature - dates back to Roman times.

Ruyter begins by taking a photograph, transferring it to a surface and resolving it into a line drawing.  She applies vivid specific colours which have no relation to the matter represented. The artist writes "colour is a challenge to the status quo. Even when seemingly polite, contained and proper in its given structure, it still looks to make trouble”.  

 Here it is contained in a structure of strong fine lines. The image is completed in our imagination much in the way that our eyes create a sense of three-dimensional space. We can perhaps see leaves and twigs sunbathing on the surface, or fish or amoebae deep down among  the bubbles and swags of weeds. Central is a yellow line which defies our expectations by rising up at a right angle. The painting, which was once a photograph, has no need to tease us with proof or truth or lies about something that somehow existed in the past. It is the lot of photographs to become contextualised by journalists or or advertisers or illustrators.  Here it is brought to life by the artist's intentions.

Lisa Ruyter writes "Medium is often used to describe the material nature of an artwork: ‘silver gelatin print’ or ‘acrylic on canvas’ for example. I propose that the artist is the medium, materialising spectres to varying degrees of recognition in material form". 

Tuesday, 7 January 2014


Quietus: the Vessel, Death and the Human Body
by Julian Stair

Somerset House until January 26th

Beneath Somerset House's famous neo-classical courtyard - used for film sets, fashion shows and currently as a glamorous ice skating venue, is the Deadhouse. It’s a web of underground passages punctuated by cells and alcoves, with memorials lining the walls, each grabbing your attention with their true life stories. The one below is triumphant. One Edmund Fortescue Esquire, third son of a Worcestershire Knight, "exchanged this life for immortality" on May 7th, 1674, while in his 70th year, which sounds like a bargain.

On the right, spotlighted on a dull lead plinth, is a round white matt cinerary jar This too is celebratory. Reliquary of a Common Man, 2012 is an artefact executed with astonishing originality.The jar is made from the cremated remains of Lesley James Cox, the artist’s friend and uncle-in-law. An accompanying Super-8 film, a slideshow of portraits and the murmur of Lesley James Cox’s recorded voice tells his life story. This time there is no mention of resurrection, no promise of eternal life. Instead the artist has literally transformed the mortal remains of a man into a testimony to the worth and merit of that unique person. 

It’s the final exhibit in Julian Stair’s Quietus exhibition where his works range from monumental life-sized sarcophagi to tiny burial jars. Containing the human body in death raises emotionally charged issues. At the core of Stair’s practice is the belief that pottery, as one of the oldest mediums, can encapsulate the most complex of ideas, through elegant simplicity.
 Click here for Shane Enright's excellent review