Saturday, 28 February 2015


 St Marylebone Parish Church Crypt Gallery

Radiator 8, oil on canvas,  45x45cm (c)artist
There are bold art works which, as soon as you cross the threshold, leap  across the space to introduce themselves. And there are those which do not.
There are works with fancy  titles, and there are those simply called Radiator 8.

I found this painting in the Crypt Gallery, a warm, peaceful and well-lit stone chamber under St Marylebone Church. A crypt is a space beneath the floor of a church or other building, which used to house coffins and religious relics. Now things are different. This one's turned into a Gallery, with a Counselling and Healing Centre along the corridor. Outside, in Marylebone itself, there is blaring pandemonium: a major 6-lane  highway stacked with traffic, and a major train station, Euston. Inside, the Gallery is silent.

The picture invited me to stand and look at a radiator as if for the first time. I see an indispensable object bringing warmth and comfort on demand. It is a servant which rarely tires but pays 24 hour attention to our daily needs. I see the architecture too, the stately columns and arches, geometrically perfect, and the shadow which may move across  in unison like a row of chorus girls.  The colours are mostly sombre whites, silvery greys,cool but not cold, with a pinkish tinge, the way evening sun touches clouds. The fixture above it is a mystery.

Adjacent Pill Packs, oil on canvas, 25x30cm  (c) artist
Adjacent Pill Packs invites us to consider two objects huddled together on a shelf, humble and ubiquitous. They may make the difference between life and death. Millions of us handle these silver packs every day, complaining if they resist a quick opening. It's like shelling a nut: toss the empties airily away into the nearest bin, comfortable in the knowledge that there are plenty more packets where they came from. Our perseverance with these daily routines enables us to trust the future with a new confidence. But most of the canvas is uninterrupted space: calm, open, mindful, still. Oh, and by the way, that may be life-saving too.
Sandy Watching, oil on canvas, 50x76cm, (c) artist

I first wrote about Alex Hanna's paintings when I saw Sandy Watching, shortlisted at the National Portrait Gallery BP Awards in 2010. 'Watching' is a weasel word to describe the depth of a small boy's wrapt attention to something outside the frame. It remains one of my favourite pictures (Blog No 5).    -follow the link to galleries

Wednesday, 25 February 2015



Actions: Spurt Splat Thwump Spish (2) Screen print and acrylic on canvas 210x279cm

I was rambling through the upper galleries in Tate Modern long ago when I came across a wide corridor thronging with young and old dancing to a very lively sound track. One wall was covered floor-to-ceiling with constantly changing clips from films. I hadn't heard of  the artist, Christian Marclay, described as Swiss. Things have changed. In the run-up to his present exhibition at White Cube Bermondsey one art critic placed him among the top 5 living artists in the world. Another said that The Clock (2010) is the greatest art work produced this century. (more of that later)

Actions: Froosh Sploosh Woosh Sskuusshh Splat Blortch (2)

At White Cube, Marclay's major exhibition illustrates his lasting interest in linking image and sound in startlingly original ways. There are works like the ones above, on canvas and paper, splashed with onomatopoeic words taken from comic books. He restricts himself to words suggesting the wet sounds associated when  brushes and paint meet: dripping, pouring, splashing. I have seen plenty of clips of the Abstract Expressionist artist Jackson Pollock at work but they begin to look like a silent movie in relation to what I'm looking at at White Cube. (Your only chance of hearing the words in real life might be when a small child smacks the bath water or douses an unsuspecting plastic duck).
Pub Crawl
 Marclay continues his liquid theme in other parts of White Cube. Pub Crawl is a video installation lining the walls of the vast corridor which forms the spine of the building. On early morning walks in  London's East End, Marclay coaxes sound from empty cans, bottles and glasses found lying around in the gutters and streets. We see boots hitting, crushing and rolling them so as to make a lively sound track echoing through the corridor. People walking from gallery to gallery through the corridor throw their shadows onto the streets.

Surround Sounds (2015) is different again: a large scale video installation projected across 4 walls. 'A dynamic choreography ...suggests the acoustic properties of each word.  'Boom'... is no longer static on a page but bursts into life in a number of colourful explosions, while 'Whoosh' and Zoooom' travel at high speed around the walls'.

Throughout the exhibition Marclay works with London Sinfonietto on a programme of weekend performances including new compositions and live improvisation sessions. A word of advice: get there early. We turned up one Sunday afternoon only to find a queue stringing across the courtyard out along the pavement .But you may, like me, be fortunate enough on another day to be in the gallery while there is a rehearsal going on. 

The Guardian's take on 'the most exciting contemporary art show in town': 

The Clock (2010) was constructed from thousands of film clips showing the passage of time. Excerpts took moments from their original contexts and edited them to form a 24-hour video montage unfolding in real time. It showed at White Cube, Mason's Yard, London  SW1Y 6BU
Watch it

Thursday, 19 February 2015


                   Until March 7th, 2015

Tall Dutch Tulips screenprint 790x920mm
Battling through sleet and  wind to the Gallery, would the trip would be worth it? Inside, wet clothes shed, still truculent, I realised I was looking at some fabulous paintings. Yes, I thought, yes.

I have no idea whether Tall Dutch Tulips carries any message. It is exquisite and vibrant enough in itself: colours that sing, a medley of geometric and natural shapes and a sense of space as well as profusion. But it would be in character if there was something more. Since student days Bruce McLean has had fun exposing the pretensions of the art world with witty and subversive parodies. In 1972, for instance, as a sparkling 28 year old, he was offered an exhibition of his work at the Tate Gallery. He opted instead for a one-day  'retrospective': King for a Day. It consisted  of catalogue entries for a thousand mock-conceptual works, among them The Society for Making Art Deadly Serious  and  Henry Moore revisited for the 10th Time, and There's No Business Like The Art Business, the latter designed to be sung.

So why did he choose tulips, I wonder? Tall tulips. Dutch tulips. Triumphant and self-contained, they are the stuff that legends are made of. When they arrived in Europe they provoked tulip mania. Huge prices were paid and bulbs became a form of currency. Gardens were regularly plundered. But the bubble burst in 17C Holland when fortunes were lost as prices suddenly collapsed. (I wrote about this in Blog 211 Tulip Mania by Gordon Cheung).

There is an added layer. Tulips often featured in the golden age of Dutch still life paintings in the vanitas tradition. Vanitas means not 'vanity' but is  a  reminder of how  transitory and insignificant are our human concerns and achievements. Tulips too droop and bow their heads.

Sol Caragol28 Monotype 1220x1525mm

Agave Americana Screenprint 610x610mm
Last autumn I visited McLean's real retrospective show, unlike the one at the Tate. Colchester's magnificent gallery firstsite, with its perfect light and sweeping views over green and grassy space, was the host. I admit I was so bowled over by his sculpture, photography, ceramics, films and installations that I didn't spend much time on his paintings. One I remember in particular. A vase on a shelf in an alcove turned out to be a masterly painting in black, white and grey. I almost felt I had to touch it to discover that it was not what it seemed. 

 McLean's paintings reminded me of Albert Irvin, another British artist (McLean is Scottish) whose print Merrion is on one of our walls at home. Sure enough in the  lower gallery two of his works are for sale.
Images of the current show        
A slide show of 25 of Bruce Mclean 's paintings
The artist talking
The art critic Louisa Buck on Bruce McLean, especially the Colchester exhibition 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015


(c) Julian Wild

Morley College Gallery SE1 7HT
Julian Wild's projects are often  based on the history of a site and may refer to functional processes and systems.The title Pelhan System is a direct reference to the Pelham Mission Hall, formerly a Methodist chapel, which is now Morley College's sculpture studio, where the artist has taught for 15 years. Wild works in a variety of materials including stainless steel, ceramics and glass, creating both indoor and outdoor pieces. He describes his work as a form of three dimensional drawing.

  'In the piece I have used a construction system used in industry. It relates to the Backlit (see below)  space in Nottingham which was previously a Morley factory. I wanted to use a Victorian boiler house aesthetic with heavy duty pipes and engineered joints for this work.'
I started this blog on the day I  went to a lecture by the painter Anna Freeman-Bentley at  Kings College London, which was chaired by Ben Quosh, Professor of Christianity and the Arts. She introduced her new book Mobility and Grandeur. I was reminded of Julian Wild's work because her paintings focus on  the relationships between the design of architecture, its function and use, how these uses change over time, and how streets, areas, communities and cities decline, regenerate and gentrify.

(c) Anna Freeman Bentley

 She says she 'allows space to dictate what I make, exploring the built environment, architecture and interiors, inviting emotive, psychological and semiotic readings of space...derelict factories and warehouses, baroque buildings, shops, cafes, and modern industrial and corporate architecture...(which) open up questions about displacement and replacement, decay and rebirth, change and transformation, public and private space, social and economic mobility, aspiration and desire, buildings and people'.  

The Backlit space in Nottingham' refers to an independent art gallery providing affordable studio space and a public programme of national and international artists including original artist commissions, workshops, screenings and live debates.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015



Un Ballo in Maschera (detail)      Image credits: Andrea Edwards ( Morley College)

Un Ballo in Maschera   Image credits: Andrea Edwards ( Morley College)
I remember the moment I first saw a work by Yinka Shonibare. It was a dazzling take on a Rococo painting called The Swing by the French painter Fragonard in 1767, which you could call charming or shallow or erotic. The Swing became an immediate success and can be seen at the Wallace Collection, a national museum in an historic town house in central London.

The work which grabbed my attention was Shonibare's The Swing (after Fragonard), an installation  in which a life-size woman mannequin leans back on a swing caught at the highest point as it goes forward. Her right knee is bent, her left leg stretches out in front, causing her skirts to ride up. She appears to have just kicked off her left shoe, which hangs mid-air in front of the figure, suspended on invisible wire. 

But the mannequin is headless, a powerful comment on what the artist thinks of the style and politics of the original painting.  Like  the dancers in  Un Ballo in Maschera, she is extravagantly dressed in 18C costume. But in both works lace and silk and tulle are replaced by what we call 'African textiles', the stuff out of which ship's sails were made.

Born in England and raised in Lagos, Shonibare questions  the tangled relationships between Europe and Africa and their economic and political histories. What makes his work so recognisable is his use of brightly-coloured exciting "African" fabrics, the kind on sale in Brixton market. Shonibare said: "We think of these fabrics as African textiles; in fact these are Indonesian textiles produced by the Dutch for the African market...they were ... manufactured in Manchester. (They) are a metaphor for the global connections of contemporary people...'They ...have a crossbred cultural background quite of their own. And it’s the fallacy of that signification that I like. It’s the way I view culture – it’s an artificial construct."

Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball) was chosen for for this exhibition because of  its connection with Samuel Morley MP, the man who in 1889 founded Morley Memorial College for Working Men and Women. He was a Methodist philanthropist whose Christian beliefs made him campaign for fair wages and free education for the working classes. He was also an abolitionist who wrote the foreword to freed US slave, Joseph Henson (which was later immortalised in Uncle Tom's Cabin). Morley's  Victorian building was largely destroyed in the Blitz in 1940 with a terrible loss of life. A new college designed by Charles Cowles-Voysey and Brandon Jones was completed in 1958. It has a strong connection with the arts, including music: Gustav Holst, Michael Tippett and Ralph Vaughan Williams have all directed and taught at Morley.

You may have seen Yinka Shonibare's HMS VICTORY, an installation which stood on one of the plinths in Trafalgar Square 2010 - 2012 (My blog No 19)

 P.S. Lastly, I cannot resist including this...
Reverend on Ice (2005) is Shonibare's take on the much beloved painting attributed to Sir Henry Raeburn  The Skating  Minister or The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch  ( 1790s)