Thursday, 28 January 2016




 LEFT Untitled (head phones medium) 2014, acrylic on aluminium, 122x122 cm
 RIGHT Untitled (xbox control) 2014, acrylic on aluminium 200x200 cm

Once upon a time, in the 1970s in Scunthorpe (and elsewhere), there was a crime wave. Many new people were the victims of theft, or even robbery. Why? Because for the first time young boys and youths were carrying about their person an object which could easily be snatched and which had financial value - skate boards.  A few years later the craze had passed, and with it the crime.

This exhibition is called Transience - which one dictionary defines as ''staying for a short time".  The Serpentine Gallery is full of sumptuous paintings of ready made and fabricated objects, each one trailing its unseen history. The walls are lined with witty, elegant objects we have known and loved and thought essential to our welfare or amusement, objects which we now regard with amused benevolence. 

Michael Craig Martin (above), one of the most distinctive and distinguished picture-makers of our time, has explored procedures outside the fine art tradition partly to integrate his art into the world of everyday objects. The result is an exhilarating experience: an explosion of colour;  a history of contemporary design; enigmas; nostalgia;  a visual cryptic crossword of references to 2OC artists and their work - all in a perfect, self- contained, spectacular and elusive world.

LEFT  Eye of the Storm 2002, Acrylic on canvas,  335.3 x 279.4cm
CENTRE Cassette 2002,Acrylic on canvas, 289.5 x 208.3cm
RIGHT Flashlight,2002, Acrylic on canvas, 289,5 x 86.4cm

At the back of an excellent illustrated catalogue is a timeline of key events and innovations 1981-2015.  On page 21 Michael Craig Martin reflects with Marco Livingstone 

' those days, you held a telephone in your hand by the handle, you held it to your head and spoke into the bottom part and listened through the other one. And it was an absolutely perfect visual reading of the three things going on there. Now we have telephones which are minute, we have a screen on them and they have little buttons. The only thing that isn't indicated at all is where do you speak, and where do you listen? They are completely removed.  The two things that it's actually for it doesn't show you. And the phone looks like a calculator. The calculator looks like a personal organiser. The personal organiser looks like a computer. The computer looks like a TV. The TV looks like the video. The video looks like a DVD...

FOOTNOTE:Transience and Obsolescence. For some years galleries have sent me images I requested as jpg files, which I downloaded, stored and used with appropriate credits. In the past few months images began to arrive  'zipped' and with a time limit. I know how to download but not store and use. The technology is flourishing - it's the user who is obsolescent.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Who are you? Theorist? Pragmatist? Activist? Reflector?


Some time ago I wrote Learning for Life, a book indicating ways in which adults  could discover and practice their preferred learning style. The book drew largely on the work of two British educationalists, Peter Honey and Allen Mumford. You can get a free download of the quiz I used to help you discover your own preferred style. 

Below is a clutch of excellent and diverse art books, all but one recently published.
Which book appeals to you?  Are you a theorist? a pragmatist? a reflector or an activist?  

100 WORKS OF ART THAT WILL DEFINE OUR AGE by KELLY GROVIER (Thames and Hudson, 2016, 27 x 22.6cm)
Beautiful and daring illustrations, some spilling over onto a second large page and accompanied by text written by the distinguished art critic and poet Kelly Grovier, who is setting out to capture the zeitgeist of our age. The earliest piece is Marc Quinn's Self from 1991: the most recent is Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds from 2010.The premise is that these 100 works will stand the test of time when it comes to critical acclaim in the future, (though some may question whether 20 years is a long enough span to find 100 enduring masterpieces). I have written blogs about 27 of the chosen artists - this blog only includes living artists whose work has been on show recently in central London.

The joy of the book is that here is a bold author, brave enough to lay his cards on the table, and challenge us to think about what work will endure for generations to come.  Who can resist leafing through and deciding what's there under false pretences and which of our favourites has  (incredibly) been left out? Full page aphorisms challenge us: can art go too far? Is all art transformative? does art still have the power to forge new myths? Govier's highly accessible book offers a unique perspective on the imagination of the artist and the age in which we live.
Theorists are people who are hungry for patterns of ideas and like the challenge which springs from a lively, authoritative viewpoint. They enjoy being intellectually stretched and making their own connections.

It reminded me of an earlier book - Prestel's ICONS OF ART: THE TWENTIETH CENTURY by Jurgen Tesch and Eckhard Hollmann, published in 1997, well illustrated but not quite so sumptuous. It would appeal to those who would like slightly more of a text book feel, such as a b/w picture of each artist with dates of significant life events running down the side of the page. 
Pragmatists learn best when new knowledge is useful and clearly accessible, perhaps because they face a  challenge, such as an assignment or a situation which needs a response.

THE THAMES AND HUDSON INTRODUCTION TO  ART by Debra DeWitte, Ralph Larman and  M Kathryn Shields 2015
An imaginative, exciting and well-illustrated book, but not one where you begin on page one and plough through. It's more like a recipe book. You have seen an art work or you've had an idea and you want to do something about it, so  you turn to  the pages waiting there ready to take you forward. How do you find them? There are 4 sections and everything is colour coded for easy reference. Are you interested in Photography? The art of India, China and Japan? Print-making? Time and Motion? Sculpture? The  Middle Ages? Art and Illusion? Art and Science? and so on. If so the entry is there with excellent  illustrations and text.
Activists are enthusiastic and open-minded. They like variety and enjoy bouncing ideas around with other people.

PORTRAITS: John Berger on artists (ed Tim Overton) (Verso 2015)
John Berger says 'the illustrations in this book are all in black and white...because glossy colour reproductions in the consumerist world of today tend to reduce what they show to items in a luxury brochure for millionaires'. Sworn enemy of art critics, the book consists of 74 essays in chronological order of artists, starting with the Chauvet cave painters (c30,000 years BC) and ending with Ramda Mdah, born in 1983.  He is one of the best and most provocative writers on art I know. The influence of his 1972 book and subsequent TV series WAYS OF SEEING was enormous. It has 7 chapters, 3 of which use images and no words. Their unique insight into ways of seeing women was revolutionary.
This book defies my classification. It's as if John Berger has  dropped by and drawn up an arm chair to sit down and share his unique ideas and insights with you, and you alone.

THE ICEBERG: a memoir,  by MARION COUTTS (Atlantic Books 2014). 
Winner Of Wellcome Book Prize 2015 - 

'This book bowls me over with its beauty and profundity, and it seems a new kind of thinking in itself, a work of word art unlike any other.'   Laura Cumming
In beautiful textured prose and with extraordinary narrative force the author describes the last 18 months of the life of her partner, the distinguished art critic Tom Lubbock. I knew of him as, to my mind, the most outstanding art critic of the day. He changed my life. The moment I read his piece in the Independent describing all the ways a conceptual artist could transform an electric toaster into a work of art, I knew I was hooked.
Reflectors  like time and space to ponder and try to make sense of our messy and unpredictable world. They have the energy to listen and reflect on other people's experience and convictions.

 'Seeing is an action, Marion Coutts says, like aiming or hitting. And writing, in her hands, becomes yet more so, harsh and fierce and beautiful in this shocking book.'
Jenny Turner

P.S.My earlier books were published under Yvonne Craig. I did not realise I shared the name with BATGIRL, the  glamourous 1960s film star, who had an overwhelming internet presence. Confusing! There is also a third party:Yvonne Joan  Craig. So now I publish as Yvonne Craig Inskip

Friday, 15 January 2016


CHURCH BOATS, 137 x 122 cm,Fluorescent egg tempera; lead white, iron oxide, raw sienna, Spanish glazing ochre, red lead, French ultramarine in oils; birch leaf lake in pine resin on board


I love the Saatchi Gallery: spacious, free, an illustrated b/w mini catalogue on sale for £1, lots of young people around. All that and a space outside the front portico which looks to all intents and purposes like a village green. But its art is sometimes dark,'challenging, even grim. So as I went through the entrance to Gallery 2, my spirits rose at the blast of colour.

Colour - and the past - are the keys to Holmwood's work.  Up-to-the-minute handmade psychedelic paints nuzzle up to each other, clash and dance in this glimpse of a gentle, ordered, traditional Swedish life, long vanished.  Church Boats shows an enactment of a midsummer festival from Rättvik, in the region of Dalarna. Villagers are crossing a lake to attend church in boats decorated with wreaths made from birch trees. The yellow paint is made from the leaves of the trees. 

The painting's style and hues are reminiscent of Impressionism 'I am interested in 19th century themes', says Sigrid Holmwood  'That’s the period when (people) started to feel rural culture was being lost, and artists made a real political gesture against the city. Van Gogh went to Provence to live with peasants, and likened the act of painting to the peasants ploughing their fields. I like the idea that there is a history of artists doing that, artists trying to rough it. The psychedelic colours refer to the hippie movement, going back to the land, living in communes, which is a similar sentiment... I think these ‘hippie ideas’ are having a resurgence today with people growing their own vegetables in allotments and the ‘slow food movement’... 

...I think of my work as being a ‘slow painting movement’.

THE LAST PEASANT-PAINTERS PEELING POTATOES (Old Woman Mill)    Fluorescent orange egg tempera; lead white, Prussian blue, Chrome yellow light, lead antimonate, Bohemian green earth, Spanish glazing ochre; iron oxide in soured milk; birch leaf lake in pine resin on board,  122 x 142 cm
Here Holmwood is inspired by the 19th-century peasant painters of the Darlarna province, whose folk art is a national symbol of Sweden. The figures of the two women are based on an archive photo of the last peasant-painters and they sit in front of a typical Dalecarlian composition. The artist teases out the ways in which the hand-making of materials generates meaning and confronts the alienation of industrialised life. 'I use things made by hand by other people', she says, 'such as paint brushes, reproduction period pottery, wooden bowls, hand blown glass, all mixed in with modern things. I like the idea that I’m partaking in other peoples’ crafts and skills'.  

To get a psychedelic effect the artist has  painted the woodwork to look like mahogany, using a technique the women used: paint  glazed with sour milk and pigment mixture. and sealed with oil. The image on the wall, by the way, is worth a second look.  At least it has a happy ending. It's based on a folk legend of old women who are ground up in a mill and emerge rejuvenated.

The Saatchi Gallery is off Kings Road Chelsea, an expensive shopping area. But nearby is a florist's stall. I bought a bunch of yellow daffodil buds, another of purple Iris spears and a pot with 5 narcissus bulbs yet to flower. All neatly wrapped and handed over for a mere £6.00. A good way to end the afternoon.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016


Elvis Shrine: Portraits, Landscapes or Still Lives 1994-2016 the first exhibition to focus on the artist’s portraiture. Not perhaps portraiture as we know it, as he appropriates pop culture icons, advertising imagery, collage and much more to construct  playful, irreverent and often baffling images.    He describes himself as a “journeyman, jobbing portrait painter who gets a good likeness and a nice picture, but in terms of great paintings, they’re not Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon or Stanley Spencer.” . The exhibition includes a series of small watercolours depicting heavily tattooed women and men. Sa Ben Luke of the Evening Post points out,'Blake is a skillful draughtsman and, especially when using watercolour, has a delicate, painterly touch'.

Going round the gallery lined with portraits, it's possible to turn a corner and discover yourself in a grotto, a small sanctuary, a shrine dedicated to Elvis Presley. On tables and panels Blake has composed assemblages of found objects with humorous allusions to the history of art and childhood fantasies. Masses of memorabilia jostle for space on the walls and the surfaces.

It is bound to call to mind Blake's iconic 1961 Self-portrait with Badges, in the Tate Collection, showing him plastered with notices and baseball badges, looking like a human billboard. Centre stage Blake is holding an Elvis album. 
Usually people dress up if a portrait is in the offing but here Blake's clothes are casual and eccentric, denims and trainers. As for the denims, it's said that having seen a pair brought back from the States by an art teacher, he bought a workman’s pair of dungarees, cut off the bib and kept the trousers up with a belt  And he had managed to get a pair of basket ball boots said to be ones like those  the abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock wore in the 50s. For a masterly analysis of this painting read what the art critic Jonathan Jones wrote about it in the Guardian in 2002

 The exhibition catalogue includes an essay by Marco Livingstone.

Peter Blake's work also features in an earlier Blog 169: .'American Trilogy' at the Railings Gallery

Saturday, 9 January 2016


        STAR, Oil on Board,,21.6 x 17.8cm   © the artist, courtesy of Flowers Gallery,  London and New York


While still a student Alison Watt came to national attention when she was commissioned to paint Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, after winning the 1987 John Player Portrait Award. I first saw her work in 2008 when I visited Phantom, an exhibition marking the end of her 2 year spell as National Gallery Associate Artist, the youngest in the scheme's history. It consisted of six massive paintings inspired by works from the Gallery’s permanent collection, in particular St Francis in Meditation by Zubarin (1598 - 1664) and .Madame Maitessie by Ingres (1956). The beautifully designed exhibition catalogue accompanying the show, and published by the National Gallery,  also debuted powerful work by Scottish poet Don Paterson, recipient of both the Whitbread and T.S. Eliot Prizes for Poetry. As it happens three days ago he was awarded the Costa prize for his latest collection, 40 Sonnets, published by Faber and Faber.

And what connection is there between the Watt's tiny painting Star, and Phantom's massive canvases which spread over 2 or 3 metres? Well, both appear at first to be overwhelmingly white, but at the Phantom exhibition 'this sensation is arrived at by the surprisingly varied palette that includes grey, burnt sienna, cadmium red and yellow'. I  wonder if that is true of Star too? 
Secondly, and more importantly,
 ..all these 'paintings are there to be experienced as events. They are also to be meditated on, and to be enjoyed by the senses; to be felt through the eye'. 
John Hoyand, whose words have a wider appllication than his own work

And Don Paterson's poem seems to me to apply equally to poetry and painting

...In the same way that the mindless diamond keeps
one spark of the planet's early fires
trapped forever in its net of ice,
it's not love's later heat that poetry holds,
but the atom of the love that drew it forth
from the silence:

Friday, 1 January 2016



Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park contains many mature trees, each one precious. But a decision had to be taken when disease turned one giant plane tree into a potential killer. It would have to be felled. 


When the tree was given a life sentence, the local community, local Councils and the redoubtable Friends of Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park suggested that the trunk of the tree be turned into a work of art, with peace as its theme.The image above spells this out: it's part of the  Berlin wall and is erected outside the IWM. Funding came from many sources including Borough, Southwark, Bankside and Walworth Community Council's Greener, Cleaner, Safer Scheme

   The result is powerful. We are familiar with figurative sculptures of torsos and limbs - but marble or stone is what we expect. Here we are faced with the paradox of looking at a sculpture which was once alive, greening every spring, sheltering birds, shedding leaves. It creates an astonishing tension. The carving suggests bodies and entwined limbs with a subtle and allusive beauty.   In the sunshine the wood gleams with colours of bronze and nut brown and ebony. You could almost say that the tree is stronger and more alive and vital than it has ever been.

The Imperial War Museum is set in the grounds of this Park. What was once the Bethlehem Royal Asylum, established in 1815, relocated in Bromley in 1926. The land and buildings were bought by Viscount Rothermere, who presented them to the LCC for use as a public park in memory of his mother, Geraldine Mary Harmsworth. The remains of the hospital building were converted into the Imperial War Museum in the 1930s. Its most recent and spectacular refurbishment was completed in 2015.

You can find out more about this  often anonymous street artist (like Banksy) on his facebook entry  mORGANICo. Or discover some of the pop art style portraits of assembled guests  he made at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh to celebrate the opening of a new Roy Lichtenstein exhibition.

JUST IN: more information and images from  mORGANICo