Monday, 28 December 2015


The Pale Nephew, oil on copper, 25 x18cm
© the artist, courtesy of Flowers Gallery, London and New York.
Flowers Gallery Cork St 

An annual treat is Flowers' end-of-year exhibition in which a group of artists is invited to submit work - in any medium - not exceeding the dimensions of 9 x 7 inches. Eminent figures as well as established and emerging artists  in the British art world are shown, alongside selected recent graduates.

Tai Shan Schlierenberg's The Pale Nephew is on the left.The artist says about the medium he uses: 
"I really love the yumminess of paint, I love manipulating and seeing what it can do and the accidents that occur.  It often helps a painting to have a medium like that that can suggest things that I would have never imagined or I could never have thought of or done as a logical progression in my technique... sometimes accidents happen and the paint oozes out of the back of the brush in a slightly different colour which suggest a different light, a different facet of the face. And the possibilities are endless. It’s a great ally to have paint, when one’s painting, it sounds obvious but it’s so malleable".

We are much more reluctant than we were in the past to believe that the painter intends to set up a narrative or to convey the character of the sitter, but here the title of the work sets us on a search for meaning. A nephew, a blood relative, leans to one side, eyes downcast, boxed in by the frame. He could be thoughtful, staring hard at something beneath him, or ill, or pale with excitement. Common sense tells us that the idea that a character or story-line is revealed in a face is problematic.
In 1989 Tai Shan Schlierenberg won the National Portrait Gallery's (John Player) Portrait Award. Part of the prize was a commission to paint the playwright John Mortimer for the Gallery's collection, The gallery holds several more of his portraits, including Lord Carrington (1994), Lord Sainsbury (2002) and Seamus Heaney (2004). In 2011 Sandy Nairne, the then Director of the NPG, produced a book on the history of the BP Portrait Ward. Its 500 portraits reflect 'the diverse methods of contemporary portrait practice, including a dazzling array of styles, from immaculate photo realism to intense expressionism'.

Thursday, 24 December 2015



Instead of the holly, the ivy, and the mistletoe - and the Christmas tree ablaze with lights  -  the birth of the Christ child  is marked in this beautiful Wren church by an abandoned rubber dinghy and a handful of life jackets slung from the roof.

 It's the work of the  war artist and portrait painter Arabella Dorman. She  has  worked in Afghanistan and Iraq, and went to the Greek island of Lesbos this summer. She knew that the crossing was being used by refugees from the conflict zones she had visited and found it "overwhelming”.  

This relic of  a rough crossing - salvaged from a beach scattered with life jackets - is her attempt to bring the crisis home.  In fact, the people who crossed the sea in this particular boat were very fortunate. 62 people set out from Assos in Turkey to cross six miles of turbulent sea in this boat made for just 15, and they arrived safely.  The title of her work Flight  has a special resonance with Christians, recalling the word Exodus  and the story in the New Testament of the flight of the Christ child to Egypt to escape the Massacre of the Innocents by King Herod.

Arabella Dorman writes 'My interest lies in the men, women and children behind the headlines. The individual stories behind the politics.  I attempt to illuminate and reveal  the human face of conflict, in essence I seek to find God in the darkest corners of evidence'.

Jonathan Jones writes very powerfully about this image in the Guardian.

Saturday, 19 December 2015


UPDATE: Andrea Schlieker discusses how the work, which is installed in London's financial district as part of ‘Sculpture in the City’, deals with themes of virtue and vice. Contact White Cube Gallery Bermondsey.
Public statues in central London are two-a-penny, honouring the good and the great. It’s usually men who stand confidently on the plinth, but women are there too, selected for their good deeds in education and housing and fighting poverty - even martyrdom. See the statue of Edith Cavell surrounded by swirling traffic in Trafalgar Square. She was a nurse executed in Brussels in World War I for helping soldiers on all sides to escape from German-occupied Belgium.

Bit if children are included in sculptures, they are likely to be there to charm and decorate. Not so this little girl. This image cannot convey to you her scale. She is vast: a painted  bronze sculpture (6.7m/22ft high), a giant unwilling to be dwarfed by the 40-storey building behind her, commonly known as the Gherkin.

For people of a certain age there's a tug of recognition. She's a copy of the model of a dejected and wretched girl with a teddy bear and a leg in callipers silently pleading for  money for the Spastics Society. The figures stood on the pavement or in the doorway of many a High Street shop in the 1950s and 60s.  Hirst has remade the splinted girl, scuffed her appearance and burgled her Help-the-Spastics charity box in order to put important issues on a pedestal. 

Now the charity Scope exists to make this country a place where, whenever possible,  disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. The collection boxes were withdrawn in the 1980s in favour of promoting positive images of disabled people. And people learned to drop the word 'spastic', which began innocently enough but had grown into a common word to express contempt.  And it’s not just the pitiful figure in the shop doorway which has been replaced. So have callipers. New timely medical and surgical procedures  have resulted in building healthy limbs in ways which could not have been imagined decades ago.

Somehow Hirst's Charity manages to be both monumental and vulnerable. But not pitiful. She was first shown in Damien Hirst’s solo exhibition  Romance in the Age of Uncertainty ( 2003) at the White Cube, Duke Street. It was a provocative show, where Hirst ‘explored the uncertainty at the heart of human experience...'  One critic said that by bringing into play religion, art and science, he was ‘ layering these categories together, opening them up, in works that tell new and different stories’, speaking eloquently about injustice and the erosion of values