Saturday, 29 March 2014


 Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight

British Library until  May 26th

 Circles of Life, 2013 © Martin Krzywinski

'I was frustrated', said Martin Krzywinski, 'reading a lot of the scientific papers and not understanding what they were saying. I just wanted them to be simpler. There’s nothing I can do to make biology simpler, but I started telling people to make clearer figures'. When the tools for gathering data had outpaced those for portraying it, he developed Circos, an open source visualization tool that arranges tabular data in circular form. It was a simple idea, but transformative.

 The British Library has set aside the Folio Gallery for a challenging and exquisitely beautiful exhibition of a journey from 17th century scientists' illustrated diagrams to up-to-the-minute interactive visualisations. Circles of Life illustrates the similarities between the human genome and those of other species, including chimpanzees and dogs. Each coloured square corresponds to a pair of chromosomes. Lines connect DNA sequences, visually depicting how much DNA we share with other species.

Recent years have unleashed a torrent of genetic data. Thousands of visualizations, with their distinctive aesthetic, celebrate the informational richness of our times.This may be, but there's a snag. The only one I could truly understand was a map of England showing the density of fast food outlets. The dark shaded-in areas were perhaps predictable but can you guess the areas which were almost blank? Cornwall and East Anglia. That I understand.
 Nicola Davis writes in The Observer:

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Tuesday, 25 March 2014


ONCE AGAIN THE WORLD IS FLAT until 21 April 2014
Serpentine Gallery

Shelf with Annie Figurine, 1981, wood, 
plastic masks,plaster & paintphotographer (c) 2014 Hugh Grendinning

I came to the Serpentine Gallery after a glorious sunny  walk across three parks, through daffodils, crocuses, harebells and blossom with happy tourists speaking in many tongues, while squirrels, moorhens, ducks and geese noisily sorted out their domestic arrangements. And I found that Haim Steinbach's extraordinary talent has produced a show which is bracing and fun. 

Once Again The World Is Flat illustrates Steinbach's forty-year career, starting with his minimalist paintings of coloured bars placed round a monochrome square. These are  juxtaposed with sculpture, artefacts and children’s playthings: an Ajax can, a retro kettle, a plastic train engine. The  ordinary ( salt and pepper pots) as well as the extraordinary (a ceramic cookie jar shaped as a grinnng skull), are side by side. Some objects are hand made, some mass-produced, some old, some new. The artist questions 'high' versus 'low' culture, the unique versus the multiple, the personal versus the universal.

Shelf with Cookie Jar 1982. wood, paint, spray paint, shelf, plaster
The anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn pointed out that each human being is simultaneously like some other human being, like all other people and like no other person. We each need a set of 'cultural glasses' which help us to perceive the world around us, interpret meanings and frame our actions. To do this we create classification systems for everything from foodstuffs to colours to diseases. The content varies from place to place and time to time but a system remains. This learned behaviour shapes our lives and our tastes. We have views, for example, on what is exotic and what is of value. Steinbach provokes us to think again.  Take the salt and pepper shakers which form a new work for the exhibition. Displayed in long rows, each pair has its own history and story, carrying a  meaning from a former context and, by being displayed, connecting  the private and the public sphere. Are they now 'put together in a way that is analogous to the arrangement of words in a poem, or to the musical notes in a score'? 

The Serpentine has also invited curators from a range of private and public institutions – including the Zabludowicz Collection and the V&A Museum of Childhood in London and Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery – to select works from their collections to be included in the exhibition. 

Sunday, 23 March 2014


 A SMALL THING TO ASK until April 25th at
FRITH STREET GALLERY (not in Frith Street but in Golden Square)

 If You Broke Me 2014 by Daphne Wright Photograph (c) the artist, Frith Street Gallery, 
This is a still from one of two short videos of the artist's sons. If you broke me and I am the beginning  each show a solitary boy speaking in riddles to the camera. Each  child’s face is painted, one as a tiger and the other with a beard.  Telling  a playground rhyme or puzzle is one moment when children have the upper hand. They know the punch line, the triumphant denouement, and the adults don't  - or pretend they don't.  But  Wright turns the game into an enigma.

Each boy's voice is soft, each boy's voice is monotonous. They stare back at us unblinking, heightening the tension. The fun, the mischief is draining away. The 'tiger' slowly asks us
'Will you still remember me in a day, will you still remember me in a week, a month' and so on. But there's no reassuring 'Yes!' to answer each question. When he gets to the climax 'Knock, Knock' we are dumb spectators. We can't say 'Who's there?' and so get a jokey reassuring answer. No body is there.  The child is talking to himself. He simply says 'You have forgotten me already'. The joke curdles into sorrow.

daphne wright kitchen table
Kitchen Table, 2014 by Daphne Wright Photograph (c) the artist, Frith Street Gallery,

Daphne Wright uses a wide range of materials: plaster, tinfoil, video, printmaking, found objects and performance.

In this sculpture two boys of life size are hanging around in the kitchen. Instead of the gentle colours of flesh and the signs of warmth and welcome we  want from a kitchen, everything is ashen and the restless energy of young people is turned into cold hard matter.

Is there is a hint of the  fairy tale of the Sleeping Beauty, tricked  by the spell of the Wicked Godmother? At the moment when her finger is pricked by a spinning wheel everyone is petrified, turned into stone wherever they are, whatever they are doing, and must keep that pose for a hundred years, until  released by a kiss. These boys are in the barest of kitchens slumped, bored, drooping. They look so lifelike but are simply not there. Are they waiting, like the boys in the video, for a  response which would bring laughter and warmth and a shared experience?
Laura Cumming in a brilliant review of the whole exhibition in the Guardian writes ' (Daphne Wright) creates worlds that are beautiful and rather eerie which feel like the threshold to somewhere new'.

Friday, 14 March 2014



Red Shackle,oil on linen, 60x45cms (c) artist, courtesy of Messum's Gallery
A shackle.The first definition offered by the paperback Oxford English Dictionary of this Old English word is chilling: 'a pair of rings connected by a chain, used to fasten a prisoner' s wrists or ankles together'. A definition further down the page describes what's  here: 'a metal link closed by a bolt. used to secure a chain or rope to something'.

 In my experience shackles on boats are heavy and noisy and utterly, utterly trustworthy. They have to be. The definition says 'secure' and security is what you get. But imagine what this particular one looks like pressing against the edges of a 60x45cms painting. It's huge. It's in a colour which signals danger. It is both clunky and graceful, reliable and threatening. 

Winklebrig I. oil on linen. 90x150cm (c)artist, courtesy of Messum's Gallery

 'Floating between ancient and modern, a Dobbs boat forms a metaphor for the region's most masterly creative journey'.   
So wrote Ian Collins in the catalogue of the East Coast Influences  exhibition currently at Messum's Gallery

WinklebergI on the left  suddenly becomes three dimensional when we see the benign limpid water holding it still as if in the palm of its hand.

Falmouth Workboat oil on linen, 99x120cm (c)artist, courtesty of Messum's Gallery
Falmouth Workboat Looking Forward is also tranquil, an  interlaced pattern of horizontal lines holding in tension the gentle bow-shaped belly of the boat. The excitement is being able to look right through the boat. We are both cramped and confined in  a small space, while at the same time set free to travel through the aperture into whatever exists in the flat grey world outside.The boat is work-in-progress. which is both magical and tantalising.

Friday, 7 March 2014



Walberswick (date unknown) by William Bowyer, oil on canvas, 71x71 cms, (c) artist, courtesy of Messum's Gallery

This painting is by William Bowyer, Royal Academician,  who with his sons Francis and Jason form a distinguished family of English artists continuing the heritage of British figurative drawing and painting. It's on show in  East Coast Influences, an exhibition at Messum's, Cork Street. For a slide show of 16 paintings by William Bowyer click below:

They include portraits of Trade Unionist and miners' leader Arthur Scargill and the cricketer Viv Richards, as well as interiors, city scapes and powerful paintings of the Thames and Suffolk coast.
Walberswick above all conveys the heat, the tetchiness and the promise of the seaside; two thirds of the picture is saturated with colours bringing to life a sandy/pebbled beach which you can almost feel underfoot.  None of the foreground figures is moving - for the moment there is the shelter of a sun hat, the rug and those canvas wind breaks to enjoy. It contrasts well with, say, Patrick Boswell's Rendezvous, Holkham Beach, also in Messum's exhibition, where over 20 lively holidaymakers meet and greet each other.

Walberswick reminds me of the beginning of Robert Graves' poem, The Beach. William Bowyer has captured the precious moments between fierce action. Soon the picture will change...
Louder than gulls the little children scream
Whom fathers haul into the joyful foam,
But others fearlessly rush in, breast high. 
laughing the salty water from their mouths - 
Heroes of the nursery,

Blythe Estuary from Southwold 1990, oil on board, 50x60cm, (c) artist, courtesy Messum's Gallery
This second image expresses again the essence of William Bowyer's work. 

Let the family have the last say:

'We have all felt that our particular areas of interest have been enriched by our love and intimate knowledge of the subjects in which we have become involved. It is that basic core of understanding that has built natural bridges for our work to progress and create our own individual voices',
William Bowyer, Francis Bowyer and Jason Bowyer
There is a catalogue - East Coast Influences - available from Messum's Gallery

Saturday, 1 March 2014


WHITE CUBE, BERMONDSEY until 13 April 2014
Franz Ackermann, 9x9x9, 2014 © Franz Ackermann
Photo: Jack Hems, Courtesy White Cube
I've included an installation shot because this is how you experience the work when you walk into the gallery. Space, height, colour, proportion, balance, all these words melt down out of cold abstraction and become a warm living physical presence in the world. White Cube can do this better than any gallery I know. Everything about the building is on a grand scale: a cathedral aisle might comfortably fit into the central  corridor. The glass entrance doors tempt you inside but you need determination and possibly a strong shoulder to get into this promised land. Ackermann's art is perfectly suited to the drama.

His paintings and installations are centred on travel, tourism, globalisation and urbanism. You feel compelled to move around the installation, adjusting to its exuberance, feeling the energy and tension of deeply populated areas. His work often deals with the double side of tourism. These are non-places where the traveller’s desire replaces the local culture. The glamour and speed of international travel are held in tension with architectural scarring and debris.

The accompanying notes suggest that there are quasi-religious connotations in his work. Paintings hang in close proximity to one another around a prominent architectural centrepiece. Perhaps  they re-create the sensory exuberance and visual stimulation of a Renaissance chapel?  Is it too much to suggest that there is a hint of the preoccupations of Renaissance artists there too, the paradox of heaven and hell, light and darkness, sleeping and watching, glory and gunge?