Friday, 31 July 2015


The Picturesque Imperfect
River Esk, Trough House Bridge, Eskdale, Cumbria 150x122cm. (c) Simon Roberts; courtesy Flowers Gallery
There are artists who dazzle us with new materials, new techniques, juxtapositions never seen before. And there are artists who challenge our lazy, everyday assumptions by boldly basing work on a pictorial cliche, in this case a 'picture postcard' location. They turn it into something we have never seen before. Roberts' distanced vantage point allows the relationship of individual bodies and groups to the landscape to be clearly observed. It echoes the great tradition of history painting.

The dozen or so folk In the photograph above are relishing this beauty spot by the River Esk, and they may have travelled some distance to get there. They are taking advantage of beautiful weather to park their bags and picnics, towels and bottles and occupy the place. What we see is a happy 'family snap', which has been turned into an action photograph.  Will that flying young body make a safe landing? It's pure theatre. gripping our attention, and that of half a dozen people above on the balcony/bridge. 

Stonehenge, Wiltshire.  (c) Simon Roberts, Courtesy Flowers Gallery

Here we notice a circle of rather busy people who happen to be surrounding Stonehenge. This small image does not allow you to see the activity clearly: conversations, greetings, groupings,  camera at the ready.  But the large formal tableau we see before us - and the fact that the picture was taken from a height- sets us at a critical distance from the scene. The  notice in the grass reminds us that their progress and route are being benevolently  'managed'. 

Visiting Stonehenge early in the day or in the night might be a very different experience. Nearly 200 years ago (1833) the poet William Wordsworth visited another favourite beauty spot, the Cave of Staffa (known to music lovers as Fingal's cave). His response has a contemporary ring:

We are, but surely, in the motley crowd,
Not One of us has felt the far-famed sight;
How could we feel it? Each the other's blight,
Hurried and hurrying, volatile and loud.

Mullion Cove, Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall (Simon Roberts( Courtesy Flowers Gallery
This third image is different again: a famous cove, with huge concrete ribs modelled and managed for the good of us all.

"Roberts' work explores senses of belonging in landscapes...Landscapes are ... linked, beyond legal ownership, to large worlds of nature and nation, beauty and history, as the term 'belonging' extends to more shared senses of attachment, citizenship and entitlement". 
From Stephen Daniels' upcoming publication Landscapes of the National Trust  
(Pavilion Books, October 2015)

Examples of Roberts' earlier work are  We English (2009), The Election Project (2010) and Pierdom (2013).

Sunday, 26 July 2015


Flea Market Lady, bronze, polychromed in oil, mixed media. accessories, Photo Florian Kleinefenn, Image courtesy of Galerie Perrotin
 I push open the doors of the Serpentine Sackler Gallery and there in the atrium is a lady surrounded by art books and artefacts. For a brief moment I expect her to glance up at me from beneath the brim of her sun hat.
Man With Handcart, polyester resin, fibreglass, polychromed in oil, mixed media, accessories, photo Rod McKeever
There are five people in the gallery above. You can tell who they are because they are  'viewing'. Two are examining Man with a Handcart. Further back the Old Couple on a Bench  are being silently interrogated. 'Watching museum goers interacting with Hanson's art is just as much a part of experiencing his work as admiring it on its own'. From a distance it is easy. The figures are legible in terms of surface descriptions: I am a cleaner, I am an art lover, I am a handyman. But close up, each face and body is as specific as a weather worn landscape. Cast from live models, meticulous details are included such as body hairs, veins and bruises.
Old Couple on a Bench, Bronze, polychromed in oil, mixed media, accessories
Queenie II, Polychromed bronze, with accessories

Hanson's realism helps us see and empathise with fatigue, resignation and loneliness. Face to face contact with the sculptures makes us bold. We stare with no risk that Queenie II or the fatigued, forlorn man with the hand cart will "return our impolite gaze". They are not heroic figures, they aren’t special, they are equal to you and me, yet encountering them can be full of interest, wonder and surprise. In a fascinating article by Douglas Coupland in the catalogue, he muses on "selfieness" and art which, like Hanson's, is intimate, curious and democratic.

In the turmoil of everyday life, we too seldom become aware of one another. In the quiet moments in which you observe my work, maybe you will recognise the universality of all people. DUANE HANSON

I wonder what is the ambition of the millions walking around London at this moment waving their photo-sticks in the air?

In addition the catalogue Duane Hanson published by the galleries at £18 is fully illustrated and carries two arresting articles:  Surface Identity by Ruba Katrid and Duane Hanson: Realness, not Realism by Douglas Coupland

Saturday, 25 July 2015



2015 Serpentine pavilion at night (c) Iwan Baan      
Every summer since 2000 a much anticipated landmark appears in Hyde Park. The annual Pavilion is said to be 'one of the top ten most visited annual architectural and design exhibitions in the world'. This beautiful 'happening' is a double-skinned polygonal structure consisting of panels of many coloured polymer (ETFE) woven through and wrapped like webbing. This year the extraordinary chrysalis-like structure is as organic as the surrounding gardens. It connects with nature and becomes part of the landscape.

The first impression is of a joyous playfulness and bold use of colour. I heard a mother asked her small son what colour he would like to be. 'Blue' he said, perhaps a little predictably. 'Quick, come here' - and he was transformed. You can go in and out along any number of different paths. One of the inspirations was the way in which people move through London Underground with its many-layered yet structured flow. 

At its heart is an open space for gathering, as well as a cafe. 

2015 Serpentine Pavilion interior (c) Jim Stephenson

Gradually I became aware of the mystery of the Pavilion's weightlessness and solidity. How is it possible? Well, some of the publicity suggests that here a visitor can experience architecture in new ways through simple elements: structure, light, transparency, shadows, lightness, form, sensitivity, change, surprise, colour and materials. I think this is not an exaggeration.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015


The Old House Dreams It Is Still There, 42 x 30cm

Perhaps the magic of this painting is that it suggests a story, yet it is the opposite of a story. Words in a book move patiently in line and come to an end. You close the book. Here you can look as and when and where you like. Silence, mystery and space. Nothing is straight forward.

You cross the road which runs along  the bottom of the painting and find a narrow lane winding up and away out of sight. It's lined with cottages which look onto greenery, a copse and a field.  It could be anywhere. On the right is a small boy in blue, standing in the shade, safely on the pavement. Why is he so still?

But centre right is the ghost house.The  door faces us, a door that's closed. The house  is dreaming of the past that is still present, still dominating that corner, grander than the cottages perhaps, weighed down with bricks and mortar. Perhaps it's listening to  the chatter inside.

This witty and gracious picture is tickling our dreams about houses we have known. Memories ease themselves into our consciousness. A street corner in Hammersmith with mown grass, a park seat and a small electricity sub station, was once a three storey end-of-terrace house. Now the spot lives on in the memories of old men who think back affectionately to the years they enjoyed the bomb-site-cum-play-ground. We once moved into a house on a corner which won architectural awards in the 70s. It was demolished last year:it was so shoddily built it was unsafe. It has now shrunk to a life on shelves of architects' plans and blueprints, press cuttings about the Award, sheaves of litigation, and the sounds of the families and neighbours who once moved and lived and had their being there.

In researching this painting I came across the blog listed immediately below. It has small images of six paintings. Four are by current Royal Academicians and one of the others is  The Old House Dreams It Is Still There. The blog shows the price of each at the time of writing. It makes an interesting comparison.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015



The Duchess of Cornwall ascends to the Royal Academy Annual Dinner via Jim Lambie's central staircase,
Photo: Thomas Alexander/Royal Academy/PA 
 I first saw Jim Lambie's work in a London gallery about 15 years ago, and knew this was an occasion I would never forget. Now at the Summer Exhibition the Scottish artist again engages the viewer at an emotional, intuitive level.  He uses familiar materials sourced locally, in this case brightly coloured  vinyl strips  laid down as tape)  to transform the magnificent and at times intimidating main staircase of London's Royal Academy of Art.

The  different colours push and pull against each other. Steps appear to  advance and recede before our very eyes. Rev Dr  Richard Davey wrote in his introductory essay in the Exhibition catalogue A Masterclass in Looking:  ‘the colours  appear to ripple and breathe from side to side. pushing at the walls and balustrades like waves breaking on a shore'.

“While you are walking, the art underfoot is both a dance floor and the music itself “.
Adrian Searle, Guardian 2003

So you enter the main building of the Royal Academy and are faced with treading on this insubstantial shifting world of colour.  We may be used to stepping on tessellated floors in churches and mosques, but nothing prepares us for this. The zigzagged,  edged rings of concentric colours lead us step by step into the exhibition.When we get to the top we discover that Michael Craig-Martin, who co-ordinated the show, has also transformed parts of the building: we are surrounded by walls painted an intense buttercup yellow. Beyond that, art in the octagonal Wohl Central Hall hangs on a vivid turquoise background,  the Lecture Room is a spacious airy light blue, and Gallery III 'has been brought to life with  an electric magenta that animates without overwhelming the paintings hung on the wall' ( Richard Davey)

 'Sometimes when you dig for meaning you end up in a hole. 
The answer, I suspect, is to simply relax about it all Adrian Searle, Guardian 2003      for sense of shifting movment        for more about Richard Davey