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".

Monday, 17 November 2014


MEDICI GALLERY, Cork Street, until December 9th

Standing Fox 4, Bronze: H 22 cm. W 10 cm. L 48 cm.
weight: 6.5 kg. (c) artist

The Cat, the Cockerel and the Fox.
A Russian Fairy Tale. Illustrated by 
Yuri Alekseyevich Vasnyetsov,

The artist traces his rich use of animal imagery to his Russian heritage, and to exposure to Russian folk tales. In particular he was captivated by the vibrant illustrations of Yuri Vasnyetsov, illustrated here. Who could resist rushing to open the book to find out what happened to that feisty no-nonsense lady fox? The chicken may be tucked firmly under her arm but it has the look of a bird not easily defeated...

In his work he continues to develop these motifs and symbols using a wide range of animal images, domestic and wild, real and imaginary. Chickens and ducks and rabbits find themselves among dragons and sphinxes,  geckos (climbing the wall) and elephants, seals, squirrels and swifts, interpreting each form with his own highly developed sense of aesthetics and humour.

 Pencil, pen and ink preparatory drawings are the starting point for his investigation of form. From these drawings the sculptures are built up in wax in a time-consuming process and only when the form meets with his exacting approval are they then cast in bronze -  using the lost-wax method - by the Bronzarte Foundry, in Pietrasanta, Italy.

Inspiration may come from a night at the theatre, a visit to the circus, a beach in Mauritius, a trip to Egypt. Meticulous  observation combined with a sharp wit and a delicious sense of fun are what give life to each of his creatures.

Standing Fox as fountain
copper water pipe diameter: 8 x 6 mm (c) artist

Thursday, 13 November 2014


 WHITE CUBE, Bermondsey St until November 16th

The Last Great Adventure is You

You Never Said Goodbye 2014, Embroidered calico 210 x 251 cm; 232.5 x 270 x 8.5 cm (framed)
© Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2014 Photo: Jack Hems,  Courtesy White Cube)

 Over the years Tracey Emin has used text, paintings, neon works, embroidery, video and installations to re create and memorialise her past. And now her latest drawings, embroideries and bronze statues at White Cube chronicle her life with a new vigour, beauty  - and the same excoriating candour.

That's how you think of me 2014, Embroidered calico, 279 x 180cm
© Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2014 Photo: Jack Hems,  Courtesy White Cube

I recall first meeting her work in 1999, as we clustered round her notorious My Bed listening to Tim Marlowe in the Tate Gallery. She had been shortlisted for the Turner Prize that year and there was a considerable media fuss: how trivial, how irreverent, how bleakly honest can art get? The rumour was that the inspiration for My Bed had been the memory of a spell of several days when the artist felt suicidal because of relationship difficulties.  
Tim Marlowe commented that you could see the work as a current expression of a European tradition which dated back centuries: confessional writing. Young women had produced remarkable literature in their journals,  their poetry and their religious and theological writings. Here was a visual representation. In 2002 I saw Emin's powerful video Why I Never Became a Dancer and his words seemed more apt than ever.

If I was Good 2014 Embroidered calico (200 x 160 cm)  (221 x 182 x 8.5 cm) (framed)
© Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2014 Photo: Jack Hems Courtesy White Cube

The contemplative nature of her work, which Tim Marlowe identified, continues in this show. A section of the Gallery marked simply '9x9x9'  houses six large embroideries. Maybe there are technical reasons for using calico, but its history is of a cheap hard wearing disposable fabric with no depth or gloss. The artist stitches into this lowly fabric her honesty and vitality, untainted with self pity or humility or doubt. Each title is a cliche and her elegance and sincerity strip away any temptation to construct a narrative.  With blank faces they look at you from deep within themselves and involve you with their thoughts.

How it is 2014; Gouache on paper 25.3 x 35.4 cm © Tracey Emin. All rights reserved,  DACS 2014 Photo: Ben Westoby Courtesy White Cube

The main corridor is lined with paintings which appear simple and immediate but are the result of 'application, obliteration, and layering over a period of several years'. Her work continues to be "libidinous and reverent, desperate and tranquil, bleakly honest - a unique take on the idea of a search for personal fulfilment".

 The work is about rites of passage, of time and age. and the simple realisation that we are always alone. (Tracey Emin 2014)

Friday, 7 November 2014


NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY in collaboration with Channel 4
WHO ARE YOU? runs until March 15th

I love the National Portrait Gallery, just off Trafalgar Square, but rarely step upstairs into the company of mostly elderly, white, middle and upper class men who inhabit Gallery 1, a serene space celebrating 20th and 21st century portraiture. 

But last Sunday when I visited - following the trail on the map above - the gallery was transformed. Fourteen works of Perry's art mingled in among the usual portraits. The image below, No 3, is poor, nor is it the one I would have chosen if circumstances had been different. There just happened to be a temporary gap in the thronging crowd which I seized for a moment before being asked to move along. 

No 3. Melanie, Georgina and Sarah,
These statues were inspired by 3 contestants at a Miss Plus Size International Competition in Somerset. Perry's 3-part Channel 4 TV programme which accompnied this exhibiion recorded their painful struggle for acceptance – from others and from themselves - and their growing confidence and pride. In Perry's words it was “a massive coming-out experience “ Some saw themselves as taking the first steps in a struggle for acceptance which every oppressed identity - from suffragettes to civil rights - has had to undergo. 

The ladies' curvaceous and capacious bosoms and bellies remind us of religious sculptures and drawings which in days of capricious harvests celebrated fertility in people, crops and animals over thousands of years.  But now obesity is within the reach of millions. We know it can first damage and then destroy the very life these women embody.

The exhibit which has attracted most press  attention is No 9 The Huhne Vase. Chris Huhne, former MP, served a prison sentence for perverting the course of justice in persuading his former wife to take the blame for a speeding offence.

The vase is patterned with infidelity and fraud: the personalised number plate of the car in which he committed his offence, and a penis, a reminder of events which led to his downfall. Perry then smashed the pot and repaired it using gold. People have asked why was Huhne not more crushed by the end of his political career?  And how many mere cabinet ministers ever got to sit for a portrait by Grayson Perry on Channel 4? 

Other works were inspired by the Jesus Army; a white gay couple with a mixed-race son; a couple living with Alzheimer's; Rylan Clark, an X-Factor finalist;  a young woman Islamic convert; a family who see their deafness as a culture, not a disability; and  a group of Loyalists from Northern Ireland. Perhaps as interesting as the art works, what you can see on TV is Grayson Perry's face as he meets each person: kind, relaxed, assured, open, fiercely intelligent. He takes on concepts like fame, religion, taste, class and they sparkle with colour and life and ideas. 

A final word from Mark Lawson's blog the posted 22.10.14 
'Having already won the Turner prize, Grayson Perry deserves at least a Bafta shortlisting for Who Are You? (Wednesday, 10pm, Channel 4), in which he succeeds in refreshing two over-familiar types of TV – the talkshow and the art doc – by breaking both moulds and recasting them as a new shape; a sort of chat-art show'. 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014


Sea of Ice 2014 by James Casebere, 105 x 130 cms; courtesy of Michael and Sally Strain
In the Eranda Studio on the third floor of the  Photographers' Gallery, visitors are encouraged to spend time and look closely at a single  photograph. Neat miniature 'bins' are fitted into the seating You are invited to pluck out a pencil and a card, stay with the image and through writing or drawing , record your response. On the wall is an i-Pad, which, at a touch, will reveal selected comments (in their own hand-written words and sketches) from those who have gone before. 

A selection of responses to previous photographs is featured as part of Touchstone, a programme indicative of the Gallery's wide and innovative educational emphasis on visual literacy. A list of previous work on display, is available at 

But here's a sample of yesterday's comments:

 What Do You See?
...extreme cold which shatters rocks
...calculated and intricate pile of fake stones with pieces of plastic snow dusted on them. I still like it.
...broken paving stones
...grave stones
...the stones are the colour of pinkish grey jumpers now on sale at H&M stores
...nothing but grey sky jagged edges
...when I watch it I imagine the beginning of the world aesthetic set, carefully constructed like a wedding cake
... unsuccessful efforts that mankind makes to trespass into inhospitable environments. Some places are better left untouched.
The Sea of Ice ( also known as The Wreck of Hope) by Caspar David Friedrich 1824

James Casebere's work, which will be on display until January 6th, is based on a nearly 200-year-old painting by a German Romantic landscape artist. The image above depicts a shipwreck locked in  a broken sheet of ice and is believed to refer to a failed expedition to the North Pole 5 years earlier.  

 To view responses and see past images displayed as part of the Touchstone programme, visit the Tumblr site. 

Monday, 3 November 2014




Jumanji and Gwen, 2014, oil on linen, © Aleah Chapin, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery, London and New York
Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, said in 2012
'...the search for portraits that can astonish with their virtuosity is balanced with the desire to find those that demonstrate real human dignity and integrity'.
That was the year when Aleah Chapin, an American artist known for her realist, larger-than-life depictions of female bodies, won First Prize in the prestigious annual BP Portrait Award.  I wrote about her painting Auntie in Blog 172 when it was on show at the annual exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Auntie was part of the ‘Aunties Project’, a series of giant nudes, featuring a group of older women, her mother’s friends, whom she grew up with and had known all her life. 

Women's naked bodies only seem to be worth painting if they are young and idealised. Sometimes a narrative is attached, perhaps most famously the apocryphal Old Testament story of Susanna and the Elders, who, for repelling  a lustful attack is punished by her would-be seducers, accusing her  of immorality.(They don't get away with it, I'm glad to say). But usually it is a wisp of a story - a draped cloth, a mirror or a discarded item of clothing - and the rest is left to our imagination.

In Jumanji and Gwen there is no back story. One is older than the other, one has a tattoo on her belly. Their touch is friendly, affectionate. Instinctively we scrutinise the face for more information, for the spirit or character to shine through. They look back at us without fear or embarrassment.  We appreciate their strength and warmth.

Lucy and Laszlo 2, 2014
© Aleah Chapin, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery, London and New York

Chapin's work is beautifully painted, but perhaps a the unique quality is this: at a time when many artists choose to be deliberately dissident and ironic, and sometimes rather mean-spirited, she will have none of that. Although her work can be disturbing - even challenging - and may unsettle the viewer, Chapin always affirms and delights in her subjects. It is ultimately, and perhaps uncomfortably. counter-cultural because it is truly celebratory.