Saturday, 27 September 2014


National Open Art Exhibition, Somerset House until Oct 25th
Stanley, Oil on linen, 20 x 26cms
'For me, a painting should always be recognisably made of paint – the harmony between the illusion and the reality. I am a figurative painter, working within a British, realist tradition'.

The realism of this work is remarkable. Look at the shadow. Someone famous was supposed to have said - when he first saw John Constable's landscapes - that they were so realistic he needed to wear galoshes. This painting almost needs the same safety warning as a Stanley knife:
  •  Always keep hand clear of blade
  • Always wear safety goggles
  • Always be certain that the cutting material is secured when cutting
  • Always be in a balanced stable position when using a hand tool
It's a trompe-d'oeil, an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create an optical illusion. Reach out towards the picture  - and mind you don't cut yourself. And he manages to keep the illusion while maintaining that  the aesthetic allure of oil paint is central to why I like to leave evidence of brush work, and why I am liberal in the application of paint. . I consider the style of a painting to be important as it acts like a signature, in that it alludes to the artist’s identity.

There is a further paradox. Danny Lyon says 'I spend a lot of time sourcing objects, props and things for my work that have symbolic meaning, but often the most profound objects turn out to be the seemingly banal bits of ephemera in the studio'. So here he has chosen an ordinary,  much-used and down-at-heel Stanley knife. But what is the title of the painting? This ubiquitous yet potentially lethal tool is now named. It's no longer just a brand. And what a name! It resonates with so much: the film comedian Stan Laurel ( Laurel and Hardy ); Stanley Baldwin, Prime Minister; Stanley Matthews, said to have been the greatest player ever in English football, and Henry Morton Stanley, reputed to be tops in British cool with his remark on finding the explorer deep in the jungle  'Doctor Livingstone, I presume?'

 The National Open Art Exhibition
Stanley is one of many works of art currently on show in London's Somerset House, short-listed by a distinguished panel in the annual National Open Art Exhibition, now in its 18th year. With prize money of  £60,000, it aims to nurture creative talent from both emerging and professional artists.
You can also see it in Chichester at the Pallant House Gallery from Dec 2 - 14
and at the Minerva Theatre Gallery, Chichester Festival Theatre from Dec 17 - Jan 3
Also back in London at the Works on Paper Fair at the Science Museum from 5-9 Feb

Wednesday, 24 September 2014


Somerset House, London until October 25th
Crow Fledgling, Charcoal 112 x 82 cms
When a winter robin hops into our tiny city centre patio, I'm glad  to welcome her/him. But my approbation stops there. Birds are scary. They have too many options. Like spiders they can go in any direction, except backwards. In fact they are one up on spiders and humans in that they can fly. So you never know where they are going next.  And although they feel soft and feathery on the outside and may parade heart-breakingly lovely colours (and crows may have a green and purple iridescence), hidden in there somewhere are three very sharp fit-for-purpose pointy things - one beak and some scaly claws.

But I am completely won over by Crow Fledgling.  The work could have dipped into  sentimentality. Or it could have been squeezed dry and reduced to a text book illustration. Instead we have before us a moist, fragile, strong creature. As I try to step carefully around anthropomorphism - with its tendancy to attribute emotions or even speech to animals - I see a bird newly arrived, alert and dewy-eyed, bewildered but curious. Tenderness and wonder are the only reponse to this vulnerable creature, a reminder of the miracle of creation.which is happening around us day after day.

I wrote the above before I knew anything about the artist and her work. I have learnt since that she is also a linguist, a stand up comedian, a lecturer and course leader in creative thinking, visualisation and leadership. She says that her work as a counsellor with young and vulnerable people gives
 'me an insight into how we as a society protect and nurture our young. I paint portraits of my subjects and of young and vulnerable animals as a way of challenging the viewer to think about these issues. 

She exhibits regularly at, and has just been commissioned by Michael and Clare Morpurgo to design the 2014 Christmas card for their charity

Crow Fledgling is one of many works of art currently on show in London's Somerset House, short-listed by a distinguished panel in the annual National Open Art Exhibition, now in its 18th year. With prize money of  £60,000, it aims to nurture creative talent from both emerging and professional artists.

You can see it in Chichester at the Pallant House Gallery from Dec2 - 14
and at the Minerva Theatre Gallery, Chichester Festival Theatre from Dec 17 - Jan 3
Also back in London at the Works on Paper Fair at the Science Museum from 5-9 Feb

Tuesday, 23 September 2014


Somerset House, London until October 25th
Infested Carpet, Oil on linen 152 x 122cm
Nicola Bealing enjoys absurdity. She likes the moment when characters or objects in her paintings flounder because their expectations have been tipped upside down. It happens to the viewer too. At first sight across the gallery this is an eye-catching carpet. Why not? After all it's the NOA exhibition so why not add textiles fairly and squarely among the fabricated steel, digitalised Baryta photographs, paint, galvanised steel wire, wax and charcoal which are just some of the materials other artists use?

But this is no carpet, it's an exquisite and surprising oil painting on linen.

We all know that carpets can be national (and international) treasures: expensive, precious, signalling wealth and prestige. But here have they met their come-uppance? The artist tells how she read her way through the world's fairy tales and mythologies as an eight-year-old at school in Kuala Lumpur ‘I still have a powerful sense of the world inside those books,‘ she says, ‘alternating dark and light, blood and forests, wind and sky and sea, eyes and teeth, long roads, high mountains, talking birds'. And here she paints insects - with eyes and teeth no doubt - tiny invaders of the sort that infest carpets and might chomp their way through with military efficiency.

On the one hand the insects are pinned down in patterns as if scientific specimens. Is that the walnut orb-weaver or the lace-webbed spider I see before me? Or are they imaginary?  Either way they are transformed from despised creepy crawlies into jewel-like creatures, some weighty and scarab-like, others so delicate they might flutter up into the air at any moment.
Infested Carpet is one of many works of art currently on show in London's Somerset House, short-listed by a distinguished panel in the annual National Open Art Exhibition, now in its 18th year. With prize money of  £60,000, it aims to nurture creative talent from both emerging and professional artists.
You can see the exhibition in Chichester at the Pallant House Gallery from Dec2 - 14
and at the Minerva Theatre Gallery, Chichester Festival Theatre from Dec 17 - Jan 3
Also back in London at the Works on Paper Fair at the Science Museum from 5-9 Feb

Friday, 19 September 2014


Devon - Winter View from the Artist's Studio.
It is a bold move when in September one person shows another person a picture of a snowy cottage. This is the time when catalogues and charity appeals and the lids of chocolate boxes are getting geared up for Christmas. But there is nothing sweet or sentimental about this painting by Alan Cotton. The lighting is particularly good in this gallery and the artist is determined to exploit paint's physicality, with the result that you can see the thick, crisp crunchiness of the snow, and feel the rough trees stripped bare of soft foliage.  In the bottom right hand corner you can glimpse a sheltered path making a sharp left-hand turn to we-know-not-where.

The catalogue contains an anecdote about how, through a network of mutual friends and acquaintances, John Berger made an impromptu visit to the artist's  house and examined some of his unfinished landscapes.. John Berger is distinguished in many areas, but his four-part series of 30-minute films in 1972 led to a book Ways of Seeing, a classic text  which profoundly altered the way many of us looked at pictures. Berger's reaction to Cotton's work was to encourage him to paint exclusively with a knife as  he believed Alan had 'a real feel for using paint'.

Devon - Dazzling Light at Hartland
While it may be possible to sculpt paint into fallen snow with a knife, what tools do you use when you want to depict slippery, shining water, which stands still for not one  moment? On the left is a painting not unlike one I wrote about earlier: Blog112 Devon - Surging Tides over the Rocks at Hartland.

It makes an interesting contrast to Michael Kidd's style of painting featured in  Blog 304 The Calm Before. In each of the works rows of 'battlements' point out to sea, but Kidd paints a serene beach, each pebble in its place, the silvery turquoise sea apparently in a moment of torpor and the groynes like guns pointing downwards with military precision.

Alan Cotton's work is not confined to beloved Hartland, in Devon, but includes Provence, Piemonte, Venice, Sicily, Cyprus, Morocco, Ireland and Everest. On the right, in the Mediterranean heat and haze of a Venetian canal, the ripples on the surface dance in a coat of reflected colours.before your eyes.

 Venice-Sunlit Ochre Reflections


Thursday, 18 September 2014



Playtime, 2013, oil on canvas, (c) John Kirby, courtesy Flowers Gallery London and New York

Is this maiden, clad in a frock the colour of a buttercup, with her pristine white socks and collar, a little girl - or a doll clutching another doll? Indeed the one eye which peers directly at us from underneath a hand has more life and spirit than the girl's deadpan face. She is giving nothing away. Her picture does not look like an image snatched by a  photographer who caught a moment's stillness from a child, who in the next breath is going to run off and play. Nor is it a reminder of school photographs of rows of bored children temporarily on their best behaviour. Perhaps she is more like a Victorian child required by adults to face the camera however long it takes, until given permission to move? But this painting digs deeper than that.
A Doll's House, 2014, (c) John Kirby, courtesy of Flowers Gallery, London and New York
Here is another haunting image. Like the girl above, this boy's clothes are from another more formal age. What have boys to do with dolls anyway?  But the house is empty, so with a bit of male cunning he could even set it up as a toy garage. The boy himself looks uncomfortable, wary, poised in a half squat from which he could leap up if discovered. by a disobliging adult. The girl, in the earlier picture, doesn't even have a leg to stand on.

John Kirby worked at one point in a children's home run by Mother Theresa in Calcutta, and later became a social worker and a probation officer. He gives us a glimpse of a childhood of best clothes and best behaviour, of literally being seen and not heard. But this girl and this boy are being squeezed into rigid stereotypes as they move  into a confusing, frightening and alien world. Above all, they are alone, set against a background  as cold as a cell, possibly a reference to a nun or monk's religious cell rather than a prison. As you walk past  Flowers Gallery window and into the Gallery itself, this effect is very powerful.

As a child John Kirby saw a great deal of religious art at home and in  church. It was this influence, he surmises, which drew him to be a figurative artist. He reminds me of two of my favourite artists: Rene Magritte and Edward Hopper.

B/W image of Edward Hopper's Summertime

The Living and the Dead by John Kirky (Flowers publ)  £13.95

Tuesday, 16 September 2014


Arrival (King's Cross St Pancras) (c) artist
Rain Regent Street (c) artist

Lower Marsh

These two images capture the excitement of people moving towards a brighter future, with new goods to buy and new places to visit. In reality both places - Regent Street and King's Cross Station - are noisy and confusing. It is not unknown for  traffic to be heavy in Regent Street, including nose-to-tail red double decker buses,  but here two intrepid shoppers trip lightly across the road in perfect safety. Similarly travellers are often rushed and crushed on station platforms. In Arrival they could be enjoying a sunlight stroll.

But the viewer already has common sense in abundance. In both places we are likely to keep our eyes  firmly in business mode,  our ears on the alert for traffic noise or information which will progress our journey. John Duffin transcends this. These beautifully pared, stripped-down images release us from the treadmill of our quotidian needs into the the beauty and imagination of the soaring roof, the elegant lamp posts, the sinuous road and those parallel railway lines pointing to infinity. .
twitter @orsomajorart

Saturday, 13 September 2014


Alan Cristea Gallery, Cork St, until 7 October

 Lithograph & copper plate etching with hand painting on Arches paper. Paper & image 119.4 x 91.8cm,Edition of 11

Jim Dine is an American painter, sculptor, illustrator, performance artist, stage designer and poet. But if you didn't know this, you could be forgiven for thinking that his main gift and lifework was printmaking.  He was born in 1935 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He made his first print when he was 17. He is now 79 years old.  He says:

You've got to care about prints, woodcuts, lithographs and etchings.
You can't care about whether they sell or whether anyone feels the way you do about your images.
I keep going because, like the woman who swallowed the knives and nails, I can't stop.
I've put my life into it.
White Owl (for Alan)1995, Cardboard intaglio on Arches cover white paper, Image 143.5x74.3cm, Edition of 20
Here we have a flower and an animal print. An amaryllis in a pot is a popular gift. The plant has thick juicy stems and leaves, and waits coyly until it is ready to burst out into lavish, ravishing flowers. It's as if a stage curtain has been drawn back  to display a spectacular flush of glowing crimson.

I like the owl too, because it has presence. It fills the canvas, it is still, it is 'there'. Owls more than punch their weight in myth and fairy tale. They pass on wise messages to the godly; they feed the needy; by their flight path they show the way, thus rescuing the righteous. Above all, they  have this absurd notion of turning normality upside down, sleeping while it's light, alert and active in the dark.

At the Alan Cristea Gallery in Cork Street are not one, but two exhibitions of his work. The other  is  A History of Communism, an extraordinary series of new prints made from lithographic stones found in what was previously a socialist art academy in the German Democratic Republic. I hope to return to these later.

A Printmaker's Document by Jim Dine is part catalogue raisonné, part memoir and part artist’s book:

Wednesday, 10 September 2014



Break Point is a wordscape running across a canvas large enough to remind you of a cinema screen. The text describes a single chase sequence from Kathryn Bigelow’s cult film Point Break (1991), and the artist's own words are slotted into scraps of dialogue from the film. The advertisement for the film said it was '100% pure adrenalin’.
Fiona Banner wittily transforms a nail-biting and seemingly endless chase into a startling landscape of words.  The words themselves tumble across the canvas. As the distance in the film between pursuer and pursued closes, the chase hots up and the space between the letters and lines contract and converge until they slide down the canvas. Large mute punctuation marks interrupt  your flow of thought. Eventually everything piles up at the bottom of the canvas in an illegible wreckage of letters and words colliding with each other in a field of red ink. But significantly, in the film the chase does not reach completion - when the pursuer finally catches his human quarry, he lets him escape.

 Who is the 'you' being addressed? Are the words aimed at everyone or someone or no one in particular?  Whose voice is speaking?  Is the chase a metaphor for the way we rush to stitch together words and events, however imperfectly, until they mean something? Are we aware of how we receive this barrage of words and how it seethes inside our internal monologue? 
Or is this abstract sculpture literally beyond words? Is Break PoInt a quiet amusing minimalist sculpture - or a noisy one? Or are we the sculptors as we scrape the words and spaces off the canvas to make of them what we will?

(Images: Matt Browncc-3.0; bixentro, cc-3.0)
I featured Fiona Banner's work  Harrier and Jaguar in my first  blog four years ago:
 'Hanging by its tail from the ceiling and nearly touching the floor, is a huge decommissioned fighter jet, its contents emptied out. It’s a Sea Harrier, 14 metres long with a wing span of 7.6 metres, the kind of plane which saw action in Bosnia and the Gulf. Now it’s a captive beast with feathery markings tattooing its grey surface. It reminds me of dead birds which used to hang in rows outside butchers’ shops at Christmas...down at the other end I see the outline of a Jaguar jet, lying belly up on the floor, like a submissive animal. Stripped and polished into an immaculate metallic shine, its surface is transformed into shifting distorting mirrors, Small screws run up and down the fuselage like a row of ants. I walk round this huge pregnant belly with its outstretched wings'. (Blog 1 Harrier and Jaguar, Tate Britain. Duveen Gallery) 

Friday, 5 September 2014


MEDICI GALLERY, Cork Street, London

Field of Flax, 
I love Michael Kidd's work. It's audacious. He paints familiar  subjects - those which have intrigued artists through the ages: the countryside, coastal areas, buildings - but he dares to tidy up the world. Field of Flax gives the illusion of reality, but every stalk and blade and ridge is painted with a certain prickly mathematical precision and gives me at least the feeling that that is what a field of flax would look like if it tried hard enough. But at the same time we are blessed with curves and colours, so soft I want to run my hand across those inclines and dips. And beneath it all, contrasting with any lyrical response. runs a (still precise) sharp jagged wall like a row of teeth,

A Stroll around the Gherkin
The Gherkin is unique. Its bold and energy- efficient design has won many awards. (It is currently for sale. There are said to be 200 potential buyers and the selling price is expected to be more than £650m).
Kidd demonstrates his fascination with 'patterns and mathematics, the poetry of the indecipherable', and the  pleasure of  'playing with different perspectives - giving the illusion of the reality, and keeping it simple'.

The Calm Before...
Lastly comes this serene beach, each pebble in its place, the silvery turquoise sea apparently in a moment of torpor and the groynes like guns pointing downwards with military precision. No fluttering gulls, no crumbly footprints, no sign of any life at all. But the sky is lowering and the dashes of red quiver to gain attention. And then there is the title. We can guess how it ends...'The Calm Before...the Storm'.


Mamá (Juana Pérez) by Ignacio Estudillo Pérez, 2014
© Ignacio Estudillo Pérez  Oil on canvas,  I650 x 1420 mm
I wanted the portrait to show some of the good and some of the bad in life. But so much depends on the viewer's own interpretation. I see fatigue in this image but another person may see something else.'
Like all the selected artists aged between 18 - 30 who enter the competition for the annual BP Portrait Award, Perez, aged 28, was automatically considered for the Young Artist Prize, worth £7,000. He won with this portrait of his mother, a hospital worker in the family’s hometown of Jerez de la Frontera, a painting which took two and a half years to complete. It meant numerous sittings in the artist’s living room. In his first attempt he felt he had failed to capture his mother’s spirit and he switched to a ‘less forced pose, showing a direct relationship between us’.  

He experimented with differently coloured backgrounds before choosing a ‘disagreeable white,  rather than a white of purity’. The effect is stark. Vibrancy, wealth, fame, youth, wit and confidence are what we often find in a portrait. Here colour is bleached out, there are no intriguing props, no exquisite furniture - and the sitter is not famous. Instead we have stillness,  perseverance and courage. The artist says he wants to hint at something of the hardships afflicting his home town. Once famous for its sherry and flamenco festivals, Jerez de La Frontera has been blighted by widespread job losses, cuts in services and wages since the euro zone crisis. Unemployment is reaching 40% and with it, an accompanying rise in suicides and repossessions.The artist again: 'my mother works long hours in the local hospital and I wanted to  portray the monotony of that life...(which) saps your energy and makes you weary'.

El Abuelo (Agustin Estudillo) Oil on canvas, 2000 x 2000 mm (c) the artist.

Mama is not Perez's first prize-winning portrait. In 2012 he won the BP Portrait Award Second Prize for this portrait of his (paternal) grandfather. He says: ‘It’s not a purely analytical portrait of my grandfather, but a way of showing part of the human condition to which he belongs. I’m not only creating a portrait of my grandfather but also revealing a part of myself.’ 

Monday, 1 September 2014


 Elephant vehicle doors, 2 maps and vacuum cleaner,  3850 x 8200 x 4650 mm

But is it sculpture?

Well, yes it is. Bill Woodrow was one of small group of artists - including Anish Kapoor (see blogs 12, 13 and 15), Anthony Caro (blog 248) - who, in the 1970s, began to change British sculpture forever.

Historically speaking, animals are familiar subjects for painters and sculptors.  And the art form used here was once very popular: mount and frame an animal's head and fix it to the wall to celebrate a wild beast hunted and killed in some exotic location. Even a deer's antlers could evoke the thrill of the chase, and admiration for the killer's skill and audacity. There might even be a small brass plaque giving the grim details of how the deceased met its end. The intention  was to add a decorative note to the interior of a house as well as publicise a sense of privilege and power.

Woodrow's witty, poetic and pioneering approach to this tradition is very different. It allows him to create a wondrous sculpture from...well. from what? Rubbish? He comments on this particular work: 'The head, mounted colonial fashion on the wall, was constructed around an ironing board because of its triangular shape and strong frame. I used the ear shape of some old wall maps of Africa and South America... The fact that they are third world continents soon became the point of the work. I thought of jungles, deserts, shanty towns, natural forces, technology, tribes, revolutions.  This finally produced an elephant lifting an automatic weapon from a water hole, with the car doors I had found at a breaker''s yard forming its banks.'

Self-Portrait in the year 2089 - a sculptural Selfie, Photo Rebecca Reid, London Evening Telegraph

Although works like Elephant rely on discarded durables, the artist manipulates images and objects in such a way that we pick up his narrative and symbolic intentions without feeling that we are being scolded or corralled. Looking back he comments “I was dealing initially with materials. Those other ideas about the context you’re working in, statements about consumerism and stuff being thrown away, I discovered those through making the work,” 

Now, when climate change is a palpable reality and animals are being hunted to extinction, those sculptures, some made decades ago, look increasingly prescient.

Bill Woodrow talks about how Elephant evolved in the link below

 You can find this work in the BP WALK THROUGH BRITISH ART exhibition at Tate Britain  where, starting in 1545, rooms are dedicated to particular centuries/decades.