“There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home…” Suddenly, images flash through your mind of a baby blue gingham-bedecked Dorothy clicking the heels of her red sequined shoes. The artwork of British artist Jonathan Baldock is equally transportative. Baldock blurs the line between art and theatre with his cast of enigmatic characters – typically meticulously crafted, soft, pastel pink sculptural assemblages that focus on the human form with an unsettling sense of humour. Employing crafts traditionally associated with the domestic sphere, such as home felting, basket weaving, candle making, appliqué, ceramics and stitching, Baldock’s multidisciplinary practice incorporates painting, sculpture, performance and playful installations, finding inspiration in the enchanted realms of mythology, masks, tribal rituals and folkloristic traditions. Like Dorothy’s ruby slippers, Baldock’s work has a performative element that encourages its audience to engage with it. For There’s No Place Like Home at CGP London (on until 30 July 2017), Baldock’s largest and first solo exhibition in a public institution in London, the artist, referencing the 1939 musical The Wizard of Oz, creates a symphony of surreal sculptures that play with scale, horror and marvel bordering on the grotesque. Baldock’s work can also be seen in Hull (at the Hull Maritime Museum until 2nd July 2017 as part of its UK City of Culture programme throughout 2017) and in Blackpool (at the Grundy Art Gallery as part of a collaborative touring exhibition in three parts with fellow artist Emma Hart until 12th July).
On the occasion of Baldock’s solo show spread over the two spaces of CGP London in Southwark Park, including Dilston Grove, the cavernous historic church that was one of the first concrete buildings of its size in Britain, Marcelle Joseph talks to Baldock about his theatrical sculptural practice and the new cast of characters he was commissioned to make for There’s No Place Like Home.
Congratulations on your latest solo exhibition at CGP! Working in such an iconic and monumental building as Dilston Grove and covering two separate locales, how did you approach this show? What came first? The form or scale of the sculptures? The materials? The reference to The Wizard of Oz?
CGP commissioned me to make new works for their Dilston Grove (church) space. As you say, it is such an iconic space and could be viewed as an artwork in its own right! It is long, narrow and very high and so not an easy space to show in. I felt the work had to be made in response to these factors so I always knew that I wanted the work to utilise the height. From here, the idea of hanging works from the beams above evolved. This adds to the already very theatrical nature of the space – not just a church but a stage.
For me, showing in a church made it impossible not to think of mortality. The exhibition came about during a time when I was thinking a lot about the vulnerability and weakness of the human body. Of the shortness of life... I felt the need to oppose this and to make monuments to celebrate its strength and wonder. I started thinking about the church as a body and the sculptures within as fragmented body parts - kind of votives made monstrous. The Wizard of Oz connection quickly succeeded these ideas, and – firstly the idea of the homemade within the works, the significance of home to people today, but also that Oz is the home of all the unusual characters. Ozma is more interested in the unusual ones than the ordinary ones.
Your work is fascinated with the human body and its many orifices. For this show, the viewer encounters a human-scale votive candle adorned with waxen ears, a wicker chain that morphs into a human spine, chandeliers shaped like breasts hung from the ceiling and a sandy table in the form of an eye. Is your use of the body and its many parts a way of demanding that your sculptures perform for their audience?
Absolutely – I see these sculptures as very performative. Not just in their references to the body and their energy but also in the fact that they are often activated in performance by live performers. These interactions often leave the performer heavily costumed and seem less alive than the sculptures, and I love that!
Carrying on with the corporeal theme, do the bodily orifices depicted in your work have a sinister, sexual or violent side to them as well?
I enjoy the fact that orifices (particularly the word) often have sexual connotations, which in turn could be sexual or violent. For me, however, the orifice becomes a metaphorical portal to pass from one space to another. The doorway from the outer world to the internal world, the physical to spiritual. Orifices on the body are mouths, ears, noses and eyes and not just the anus, urinary meatus, vagina and nipples – which I guess carry more sexual connotations. I think these two aspects can easily run parallel as they do in life. It is the dark and light aspect of the world we live in… or does that make it sound too much like some life coach/guru??
Your work, idolising design, pattern and decoration and often imbued with a hint of the ‘dressing up box’, is laboriously made by the human body, using craft techniques associated with feminised labour. How did your interest in these domestic skills initially come about and how much of it is bound up in your own autobiography?
I learnt to sew from my nan. She sometimes looked after me when my mum was at work and being an older nan meant that she took care of me in front of the TV and showed me how to knit and sew – I loved it! Later it was my mum who passed on her sewing skills – the basic blanket stitch which is a bit of a staple within my work was taught by her. I’ve always said my childhood role models were three women: my nan, my mum and my sister. And I see them entwined in the work that I make. I believe these mediums have an honesty and integrity to them and are incredibly empowering. Being able to make work and construct work by hand – especially in the early days was incredibly important to me. Today, I am lucky enough to incorporate elements that I do make myself and I think the work is all the stronger for it.
Let’s talk about your palette. Is it pastel pink, sickly pink, candy-coloured pink or flesh pink? Is colour integral to your work and on the flip side, is colour an important tool for the viewer to translate or decode your work?
Firstly, it is flesh pink but I like that it is also all of those other pinks. I love that it is one colour that has so many associations. Pink also has associations with childlike innocence so it becomes another tool with which I bring together opposing forces and I subvert and distort its reading with uncanny or darker elements.
For this show, you will animate your new work with performances by Vancouver’s Kokoro Dance Company who will interact with your new commissions in Dilston Grove in bespoke, sculptural costumes. This is not the first time you have worked with performance artists and have made costumes for them. How did this collaboration come about with this Japanese butoh dance company and why the fascination with adorning the live human body in relation to your sculptural installations?
I was first introduced to Jay Hirabayashi and Barbara Bourget of Kokoro Dance through the curator of a show I had in Vancouver – Tobin Gibson in 2014. Tobin had organised for them to perform within my show, wear some sculptural costumes I had on display and activate some of the objects. We hit it off immediately and both expressed a keen interest in working together in the future. In 2015, they invited me to design the set and costumes for their piece ‘The Book of Love’. Inviting them to come to the UK has long been a dream of mine and I’m very happy they have agreed to it. I had no prior experience of Butoh dance before working with them but I think what they do is incredibly powerful and a wonderful antidote to a lot of performance at the moment in contemporary art which seems to be focused on the young, bodies, complacency and posing.
Images 1-3 and 6: Jonathan Baldock, installation shot of “There’s No Place Like Home” at CGP London (Dilston Grove), 2017, Photo: Damian Griffiths
Images 4-5: Jonathan Baldock, installation shot of “There’s No Place Like Home” at CGP London (The Gallery), 2017, Photo: Damian Griffiths.
Image 7: Jonathan Baldock, installation shot of “Love Life: Act II” at The Grundy, Blackpool (collaborative exhibition by Jonathan Baldock and Emma Hart), 2017, Photo: Ian Brown.
Image 8: Jonathan Baldock, installation shot of “Toilers of the Sea” at Hull Maritime Museum, Hull (collaborative exhibition by Jonathan Baldock and Ian J Brown), 2017, Photo: Ian Brown.
Jonathan Baldock: There’s No Place Like Home, CGP London (15 June – 30 July 2017): http://cgplondon.org/jonathan-baldock/
Artist’s website: http://jonathan-baldock.com
Offshore: artists explore the sea, Hull Maritime Museum, Hull (1 April – 2 July 2017): http://invisibledust.com/project/offshore-artists-explore-the-sea/
Love Life: Act 2 (two person touring show with Emma Hart), The Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool (17 June – 12 August 2017): https://www.grundyartgallery.com/programme/forthcoming/
Belmacz Gallery, London: http://www.belmacz.com/artists/baldock_jonathan
Nicelle Beauchene, New York: http://nicellebeauchene.com/artists/jonathan-baldock/
About the Artist
Jonathan Baldock (b. 1980, Pembury, UK) graduated from The Royal College of Art in 2005. He has exhibited internationally, recent shows include: Offshore: Artists Explore the Sea, Hull Maritime Museum; SPACE Gallery, London; Love Life: Acts 1,2 & 3 (touring show with Emma Hart), Peer Gallery, London, The Grundy, Blackpool and De La Warr Pavilion (forthcoming); Conversation Piece/ Part 3, Fondazione Memmo, Rome; Baldock, Pope, Zahle, Northern Gallery of Contemporary Arts (NGCA), Sunderland; Notes from the Orifice, VITRINE Gallery, London (UK); The Soft Machine, Chapter Gallery, Cardiff; Hot Spots, The Apartment, Vancouver; A Strange Mix Between a Butcher’s Shop and a Nightclub, Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge. He has received international awards and residencies, including: Kunstlerhaus Schloss Balmoral Residency (2015), Abbey Fellowship, British School in Rome, Italy (2013); Residency – The Forest, Wysing Art Centre Cambridge, UK (2012); and Skowhegan, School of Painting and Sculpture Residency, Maine, USA (2007). Jonathan Baldock is represented by Belmacz, London and Nicelle Beauchene, New York.
British artist Hannah Perry took over Manhattan during Frieze New York this year, with a solo show that opened on 3rd May at Arsenal Contemporary entitled Viruses Worth Spreading (on until 2nd July 2017). That same week, she did a killer performance in collaboration with composer and musician Adam Bainbridge, performance curator Shazam Khan and clothing designer HYDRA. Combining, video, sculpture, installation, music and performance, Perry makes artworks with an urban tongue that jolt, stir and jump-cut their way through a collision course with class, gender, sex, power and youth lifestyle. Employing lo-fi technologies, Perry layers and loops, samples and processes pieces of video footage, text and sound to create erratic, rhythmic artworks with non-linear narratives that give clues to the artist’s own lived experience. Hailing from Chester in the North West of England, Perry lives the life of a nomadic artist, having lived for brief periods in Los Angeles, Montreal, Istanbul, Las Vegas and London over the last few years; however, her work (in particular, the sculptures) pays homage to the working class aesthetic of northern England, using aluminium and crushed car parts from an auto body shop to reimagine a world of adolescent joyriding in pimped-out speedsters. For her New York solo show, Perry transformed the main gallery into a post-club crash pad with moody, purple lighting, a split monitor hanging from the ceiling playing a new 20-minute single channel video and various duvets and foam mattresses for viewer seating.
Congrats on your solo exhibition at Arsenal Contemporary in New York! Let’s start with the title – Viruses Worth Spreading. For me, it brings up promiscuity and feminine sexual desire, themes often considered taboo in our phallocentric society. Could you talk about the overriding themes in your new show and how you overlay “gender” onto your work?
Within our phallus obsessed society, I guess this is the equivalent of my dick shaped art. Promiscuous is a term that is almost always used when speaking about a woman and it is pejorative. Although promiscuity is no longer viewed quite as negatively as it used to be, I would say mental health is much more out of bounds.
The themes swayed interchangeably between trauma, lust, heartache and anxiety. Imagined in a realm where relationships share equal footing in the virtual and real world—somewhere between online stalking, love letters, sexts and selfies.
The title came from a line of a script that I wrote, conjuring the clichéd image of 'the hysterical woman' who has lost control. The text was written whilst researching and combined a mixture of that research with memes, public posts online and personal emails that I will never send.
The whole undercurrent of the show was an attempt to inhabit and take control of negative stereotypes attached to genders, playing up to something whilst at the same time ridiculing it and then linking female sexuality to a technological virus - which is capable of copying itself and typically has a detrimental effect, such as corrupting the system or destroying data.
Please tell me about your multi-sensorial installation at Viruses Worth Spreading featuring your new video Cry Daggers. Is it important for you that the video sits within this darkened womb-like room? How do the various elements – warped walls, duvets covered in expanding foam and hair extensions, strapped-up foam mattresses, purple lighting, footage of LA car rides and GIF-like selfies, and a script describing tales of revenge and sexual desire – fit together?
The script was written from producing a large collage of images, text print-outs and handwriting - all set out like a mind map spanning the length of a wall in my studio. It came to life in three parts. Firstly, in a collection of wall-based works that consisted of rephotographed, distilled close-ups from its original form (which I violently destroyed) on aluminium and plexi and combined with screen printing. Secondly, as a running commentary through the video ‘Cry Daggers’, and finally as the narration to a live performance set three days after the opening.
For the installation, I brought the walls inward to create a curvy, body-like, glowing space. The collection of beds and duvets were made out of marshmallowy like material which had blond hair extensions and distorted foam mattresses upholstered in PVC, bound up with industrial metal strapping. It was about creating an intimacy within the space to experience and watch the film, inviting people into bed like sculptures and duvets to get wrapped up in.
The image of the auto body reoccurs time and time again within my work, the relics of some power play or car crash sex scene. Ruptured body parts were bound between sheets of plexi and hung in windows on scaffolding pipes. The impact imaged as a site of brute force, conjuring the clichéd image of both trauma and, this time lathered in a drippy gooey latex liquid, episodes of retaliation and lust.
The possible relationships between femininity and hysteria, machismo and industrialism are left to drift somewhere in between contingency and essence, threaded through the intimate and the shared.
For this show, you also presented a performance during the opening week, working with several dancers, a choreographer, a composer and a clothing designer – all with an unmistakable youth culture/club vibe. How do you approach this process with its multitude of different human elements? How did this particular performance activate the installation space?
When I was writing the text I sat with four girls, and together we had a think tank discussion on the themes around the work. So when it came to bringing that to life, it made sense to approach the performance collaboratively. Richie Shazam curated a group of performers, and we all lay together in the installation and watched ‘Cry Daggers’. I then sent everyone in the group a recording of the script that they each went home and listened to. Each performer interpreted it in a different way, with a different intensity and hooked onto a specific element which resonated with them. There were moments where I choreographed sections or directed parts but at the core each performer had their own specific interpretation of the emotions and tone of the piece. This for me was the aspect that resonated the most.
I also sent the script recording to an incredibly talented musician producer called Adam Bainbridge who scored an amazing soundtrack for the piece, and lastly l I worked with Hydra SARTORIAL LATEX, a fashion designer who shares a similar sensibility to materials I was engaging with in my work.
You famously quipped about five years ago, “I didn’t step into an art gallery until I was 18. It’s reflected in my work. It is more about society than art history.” What parts of “society” do you portray in your work?
I suppose I am talking about being from labouring class sensibilities as I come from a family of metal fabricators or service industry work and I have a sense of pride in that.
When in NY, I watched the John Akomfrah art documentary at MOMA about Stuart Hall, the Jamaican-born cultural theorist and leader of the British New Left. It was incredible. I have been reading Stuart Halls’ essay - In low life and high theory - where he talks about the connection between the life which working class people made for themselves in industrial society and the body of socialist theory which came out of it: ‘the interpretation of theory and experience’ focus on the ‘spirit of collectiveness’ which is too often scooped up, aestheticised, appropriated and fetishised.
Having had the opportunity to work with many young people on projects, particularly in South East London, I realised that a lot of the misaligned youths that I was working with were artists of some kind, but were born into the wrong class, without certain resources. The mechanisms of social mobility, that existed when I was younger and enabled me to be situated in a privileged cultural space now, don't exist anymore unfortunately.
In the same way I work with gender in my work, being working class means having an understanding of what it means to experience an unjust socio-economic system. The reality of both of these concerns is things like loan sharks praying on family members when they are broke and vulnerable or fighting for acknowledgement of your credibility and hard work when undermined with sexist comments. There is a difference between a genuine sense of community and a false identification with a group
So not going to an art gallery until i was 18 was referring to social class and accessibility.
Congrats again on being part of the first group of artists to be in residence for the next two years in the neoclassical Somerset House overlooking the Thames in Central London! How will you use this new workspace? What are your plans for this residency?
Well, at the moment, I am doing a bunch of inductions in the Somerset House workshops. It's an incredibly beautiful setting to be in and feels very Dickensian to be there every day. It’s a two-year studio residency but also feels like being back at art school: firstly, because of the sense of community amongst all of the artists and secondly, because of the amazing resources. When you finish art school, you look back and think of all the things you didn't quite get round to learning, such as new processes and new materials, so it's a chance to go back to that in a way. I am very lucky.
One last question… As a female artist whose work makes public your own private relationships and experiences, how do you navigate this space where issues of voyeurism and power relationships come to the fore?
A lot of my work is mediated and fragmented through the process. Reprocessing, degrading, altering and defusing the images, video and sounds.
Conceptually, in the NY show, there are a lot of expressions of anger, trauma and grief through the posture of a relationship breaking down last year and the emotions that spiralled out of that - such as anger, a sense of loss, hopelessness, injustice and grief. Looking back now, it was all a cloak or mask to coincide with the loss of my best friend and long term collaborator, Pete Morrow, who sadly took this life in January of last year. I worked with Pete on various performances, like at Boiler Room and V22 and countless other video and music projects. It was easier to reconcile with a breakup than it was to process death. So there are many layers of public and many layers of private. Working with personal content can be a vulnerable position but the vulnerability is the strength.
Voyeurism and power plays are unfortunately something that women have to grapple with within every area. Being unapologetic about those experiences is exactly what that show was all about.
Hannah Perry: Viruses Worth Spreading, Arsenal Contemporary, New York (3 May – 2 July 2017): http://www.arsenalmontreal.com/en/exhibitions/?t=now&w=new_york
Artist’s website: http://www.hannahperry.com
Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin website: http://www.cfa-berlin.de/artists/hannah_perry
All images courtesy of the artist and Arsenal Contemporary, New York.
Image 1: Hannah Perry, installation view of Cry Daggers (HD video, 2017) in Viruses Worth Spreading, Arsenal Contemporary, New York, 2017.
Image 2: Hannah Perry, Your Ass is Grass (And I’m Gonna Mow It) (2017), silkscreen on aluminium, digital perplex print on plexiglass, silkscreen on plexiglass, 152.4 x 182.88 cm.
Image 3: Hannah Perry, Cock Blocking (2017), foam, vinyl, steel strapping, 134.6 x 76.2 x 73.6 cm.
Image 4: Hannah Perry, Cucci Copey (detail) (2017), expanding foam, synthetic hair extensions, duvet vinyl, 139.7 x 205.7 x 35.5 cm.
Image 5: Hannah Perry, installation view of Pretty and Trauma Junky (both 2017, plexiglass, crushed car parts, foam, latex) in Viruses Worth Spreading, Arsenal Contemporary, New York, 2017.
Image 6: Hannah Perry, exhibition view of Viruses Worth Spreading, Arsenal Contemporary, New York, 2017.
Image 7: Hannah Perry, exhibition view of Viruses Worth Spreading, Arsenal Contemporary, New York, 2017.
About the Artist
Born in Chester in 1984, Hannah Perry lives and works in London. She graduated from Goldsmiths College in 2009 and from the Royal Academy Schools in 2014. Her solo shows include Viruses Worth Spreading, Arsenal Contemporary, New York (2017); 100 Problems, Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin (2016); Mercury Retrograde, Seventeen, London (2015); You’re gonna be great, Jeanine Hofland, Amsterdam (2015); Always, Steve Turner, Los Angeles (2015); and Hannah Perry, Zabludowicz Collection, London (2012). Recent institutional group-exhibitions include: If we think bad, Arsenal Montreal (2016); Private Settings: Art After the Internet, MOMA Warsaw; New Order II, Saatchi Gallery, London (2014); A sense of things, Zabludowicz Collection, London (2014); Alternative Space from London: Arcadia Missa Off-Site, Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo (2014); Stedelijk at Trouw: Contemporary Art Club – DATA, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2013); OPEN HEART SURGERY, Moving Museum, London (2013); and Dropbox, Modern Art Oxford, Oxford (2013). Performances by the artist have been hosted at Boiler Room, London (2015); Serpentine Gallery, London (2014); David Roberts Art Foundation, London (2014); Barbican Gallery, London (2013); V22, London (2012) and Zabludowicz Collection, London (2012).
London-based Italian artist Salvatore Arancio presents a ground-breaking new outdoor ceramic sculptural installation at this year’s Venice Biennale curated by Christine Macel (on until 26th November 2017). Situated in the Giardino delle Vergini, at the end of what Macel calls the “Pavilion of Time and Infinity”, Arancio’s contribution to the 57th Venice Biennale takes the form of a sort of therapeutic sculpture garden, where visitors are confronted by these mysterious, primeval totemic formations inspired by the petrified trees that were formed in Hawaii when a lava flow swept through a forest in 1790. Arancio works across a range of media such as ceramic sculpture, collage, etching, animation and video. Inspired by nature, science, psychedelia and popular mythology, his practice is driven by curiosity and the potential of images. Departing from their literal meaning or original function, Arancio makes artworks that blur the liminal space between fantasy and reality, leaving the viewer with a growing sense of unease and ambiguity. In addition to this new installation in Venice, Arancio's work will be the subject of a new solo exhibition titled And These Crystals Are Just Like Globes of Light at Federica Schiavo Gallery in Milan (19 May - 15 July 2017).
Congratulations on your inclusion in Viva Arte Viva, the curated section of the 2017 Venice Biennale! Please tell me a little bit more about your new sculptural installation in Venice. I understand that it takes its inspiration from an earlier performance commissioned by the Whitechapel Gallery relating to hypnotherapy.
Thanks Marcelle! Yes, you are right, the new pieces take as a starting point a performance originally commissioned by the Whitechapel Gallery in 2015 entitled: “MIND AND BODY BODY AND MIND”. The performance, which coexists as a video that I am also presenting at this year’s Venice Biennale, was a live re-enactment of a hypnotherapy session that I found on the Internet. Its goal was to turn the listener into a better artist.
The idea that a hypnotherapy session could enhance somebody’s artistic skills immediately struck me as a rather humorous, tongue-in-cheek interpretation of what it means to be an artist and the function of art education, but also potentially a great and simple way to improve the world. I decided then to use the original script and to create a live re-enactment of the session, extrapolating the text and having an actor recite it against the background of very psychedelic, trance-inducing footage and sound. For this footage, I used images overlapped with continuous flashes of lights, the frequency of which is identical to the one reproduced by the Dream Machine created by Brion Gysin, William S. Burroughs and Ian Sommerville in the late 50s, together with binaural beats, which are meant to stimulate Alpha brainwave levels. These brainwaves are connected with higher levels of creativity that typically are found in artists, musicians and creative thinkers, whilst the flashing lights of the Dream Machine are meant to induce a hypnagogic state.
So going back to the sculpture installation in Venice entitled It Was Only a Matter of Time Before We Found the Pyramid and Forced It Open, the pieces were produced under the influence of this hypnotherapy session and the results of this artistic enhancement, directly putting in practice its effects. Following the slightly tongue-in-cheek tone of the video, I see the space as a sort of therapeutic “healing area”, where visitors are confronted by enigmatic primordial or possibly science fictional totemic formations, whilst being able to absorb this artistic enhancing aura before leaving the Biennale.
The sculptural pieces are shaped by forms informed by the petrified trees of the Lava Trees State Park on Hawaii Island. This park preserves lava moulds of the tree trunks that were formed when a lava flow swept through a forested area in 1790.
How do you feel your work responds to Macel’s overall curatorial theme for Viva Arte Viva, an exhibition focusing on art and artists via a story told in nine chapters ending in the Pavilion of Time and Infinity where your work sits? I find the following statement by Macel especially poignant of your practice: “Art is the realm for dreams and utopias, a catalyst for human connections that roots us both to nature and the cosmos, that elevates us to a spiritual dimension.”
Christine mentions my work in the press release, whist talking about ideas and questions related to our relationship with time: ‘In face of the lagoon, the artist disappears or reinvents himself as “improved”, through the power of hypnosis.’ I suppose questions about time and the lapse of it in my work are always present; it is a time that is never defined, always having a diffused, temporal presence. As a viewer, you are always faced with that question, confronted with a present that could be a beginning or an end or even an obsolete future that is now almost nostalgic.
I also agree with your reading of the works; it is definitely something I suggest and especially with the pieces presented at this year’s Venice Biennale. Their strong relationship to nature is evident through the use of a natural material like clay manipulated in order to become nature again, but in this case nature has become fetishised as in the lava trees’ totemic presence. Also, by glazing the resulting shapes with impenetrable iridescent colours and giving this sculptural installation the title It Was Only a Matter of Time Before We Found the Pyramid and Forced It Open, I make a direct connection to my continuous obsession with the monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I like the idea that the unwary “worshippers” are confronted with these sentinels, the idea that their gaze is somehow reciprocated but these impenetrable totems, spouting out of a magmatic matter coming from a distant future or past, have found a home in the Biennale’s ground staring at the unwary art crowd...
As with the rest of my works, these new pieces are connected to my ongoing fascination with nature as a theatre for rituals, worship and self-induced trance states, employed to make a connection with something above us.
You created these new materially stunning sculptures at the highly respected Ceramica Gatti, founded in Faenza in 1928, joining a coterie of art and design world stars who have created their own ceramic masterpieces there (including Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Marc Camille Chaimowicz and Ettore Sottsass among others). Placing large glazed ceramic sculptures outdoors is a very brave proposition given the conservation issues and risk of cracking. What was this production process like?
Well to begin with, I decided that I did not want to sit down and show something I had already done; instead, I treated this invitation to the Biennale as a reason to push further my practice and to take some chances. Probably a bit crazy, but I felt it was the right attitude.
Ceramica Gatti has been a place of excellence since 1928 and they are in some ways unique... It was very special to be working in such an amazing place full of history! To start with, I suppose there would not be so many places that would have agreed to collaborate on such an adventurous project, especially with such a short production window. Imagine that we started these monumental pieces at the beginning of January…. And if you consider the nature of the material, drying times and possible failures, it has been complete lunacy! Among all of this frantic work, we had to consider their positioning outdoors for several months and several changes of weather, so we had to research some new protective materials, some of them so new in the market and advanced that these new works almost felt like they were arriving from the future. The research part of the work also took a lot of our energies. But deep down, I quite like the idea that some changes might occur; it somehow makes sense working with a material that originally comes from nature itself.
Your work is very much inspired by forms found in nature and science but why the obsession with the totem or phallic form? What does this shape or symbol represent to you?
I suppose it pertains to the presence of phallic forms in nature, but this shape, in several cultures, religions and mythology, often expresses connections to spiritual realms. I see it as a shape that in itself symbolizes a peak... an ascension to something above us.
In your artist video for the Venice Biennale, you state that you like to think about your work “functioning like the pages of an Atlas of confusion, a kind of hallucinated, meaningful nonsense.” Is the viewer’s emotional response to your work important to the success of each artwork you create?
Oh totally! I always aim to create a relation with the viewer to somehow create an experience for them. This is why my exhibitions always use a myriad of different mediums. I would like my works to engage with the viewer in different layers, initially through seduction and then slowly to entice the viewer into a territory that somehow might become unfamiliar or difficult to comprehend, whilst playing with symbols and meanings.
How important is the staging of your ceramic installations? You have created a myriad of different modes of display for your ceramic sculptures – traditional plinths of different shapes and sizes, floor-based displays and purpose-built tables, each of them responding to their architectural surroundings and producing a different texture and atmosphere to the exhibition.
I suppose I like to be playful with traditional modes of display. I somehow enjoy subverting them but also using them as a device in order to create or add to possible narratives, which the sculptures might suggest initially. I also like to be challenged by the architecture of where my work is displayed and to play with it. I remember once I had to explain to a curator, how excited I was about the space he proposed as he kept apologizing because it was far from a white cube... who needs a white cube!
Viva Arte Viva, 57th Venice Biennale, Venice (13th May – 26th November 2017): http://www.labiennale.org/en/art/exhibition/macel/index.html
Artist video for 57th Venice Biennale: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWNnxoZ8g6c
Artist’s website: http://www.salvatorearancio.com/index.html
Federica Schiavo Gallery, Milan: http://www.federicaschiavo.com/Artists/Salvatore-Arancio
All images courtesy of the artist and Federica Schiavo Gallery, Milan unless otherwise stated
Images 1, 3 and 4: Salvatore Arancio, It Was Only a Matter of Time Before We Found the Pyramid and Forced It Open, 2017, glazed and unglazed ceramic, epoxy resin, 160 x 90 x 270 cm, Photo: Andrea Rossetti.
Image 2: Salvatore Arancio, MIND AND BODY BODY AND MIND, 2015, video still, looped video with sound, 16 min 37 sec.
Image 5: Salvatore Arancio, (from left) Ai-Laau; Pele; Pii, 2013, glazed ceramic, installation view at Centre d’Art Contemporain La Halle des Bouchers, Vienne, France.
Image 6: Salvatore Arancio, installation view at The London Open exhibition, Whitechapel Gallery, 2015. Courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery Archive, the artist and Federica Schiavo Gallery. Photo: Stephen White
Image 7: Salvatore Arancio, And These Crystals Are Just Like Globes of Light, glazed ceramic, dimensions variable, installation view at Kunsthalle Winterthur, Switzerland.
Image 8: Salvatore Arancio, Fashioned to a Device behind a Tree, 2015, glazed ceramic, dimensions variable, installation view of performance at Camden Arts Center, London.
About the Artist
Salvatore Arancio (b.1974, Catania, Italy) lives and works in London. He received his MA in Photography from the Royal College of Art, London in 2005. Selected exhibitions include: Synthetic Landscape, Weston Park, Ludlow, UK (2017); And These Crystals Are Just like Globes of Light, Federica Schiavo Gallery, Milano, Italy (2017); In the EarthTime. Our generations of Italian ceramics and the Faenza Prize, Gyeonggi International Ceramic Biennale, Icheon, Korea (2017); Viva Arte Viva, 57th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy (2017); Tropical Hangover, Tenderpixel, London, UK (2017); Evolutionary Travels, Foundación Arte, Buenos Aires, Argentina (2016); Travelling Circular Labyrinths, Museo Civico di Castelbuono, Castelbuono, Palermo, Italy (2016); Oh Mexico! Kunsthalle Winterthur, Winterthur, Switzerland (2016); Fashioned to a Device Behind a Tree, Camden Arts Centre, London, UK (2015); Drawing Biennial, Drawing Room, London (2015); Cathedral, AV Festival, NGCA, Sunderland, UK (2013); PROJECT, Maureen Paley Gallery, London, UK, (2013); Curiosity: Art & the Pleasure of Knowing, Hayward Touring UK (2013); Alternating Layers of Contrasting Resistance, Rowing, London, UK (2013), Solo Presentation, Art Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands (2013), The Little Man of the Forest With the Big Hat, Federica Schiavo Gallery, Rome, Italy (2013); Cyclorama, Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City, Mexico (2013); Relatively Absolute, Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge; The Little Man of the Forest With the Big Hat, MCZ-Museo Carlo Zauli, Faenza, Italy (2012); An Arrangement of the Materials Ejected, Spacex, Exeter (2011); To See an Object to See a Light, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Guarene d’Alba, Italy, (2011);Vedere un oggetto, vedere la luce, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Guarene d’Alba, Italy (2011); Sentinel -PPS//Meetings#4, Palazzo Riso - Museo d’Arte Contemporanea della Sicilia, Palermo, Italy (2011); SI-Sindrome Italiana, Le MagasinCentre National d’Art contemporain de Grenoble, France (2010); Catastrophe? Quelle Catastrophe!, Manif d’Art 5, The Quebec City Biennial, Engramme, Quebec City, Canada (2010); Prague Biennale 4, Karlin Hall, Prague, Czech Republic, (2009); and I giovani che visitano le nostre rovine non vi vedono che uno stile, GAM-Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Turin, Italy (2009). Selected residencies include: Camden Arts Centre, Ceramics Fellowship, London, UK, 2014/15; Résidences Internationales aux Recollets, Paris, France, 2013; European Ceramic WorkCentre, SG ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands; Wysing Arts Center, Cambridge, UK; ISCP, New York, 2009; Art Omi, New York, 2011. Arancio is represented by Federica Schiavo Gallery, Milan, Italy.
As seen on FAD Magazine: http://fadmagazine.com/2017/05/18/marcelle-joseph-interviews-artist-salvatore-arancio/
Digital artist Kate Cooper presents a new body of work as part of her first solo exhibition in the UK at VITRINE in London entitled Ways to scale. Cooper’s artistic practice, consisting largely of computer-generated (CG) imagery in both video and digital print form, critiques the ubiquity of the flawless CG female in our consumer capitalist society and the labour used to create these glossy digital bodies that are almost obligatory in today’s mass-advertising campaigns.
Since winning the Ernst Schering Foundation Art Award in 2014, which granted her a solo show at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin that same year, her work has been exhibited extensively across Europe and the US. This Liverpool native now divides her time between London and Amsterdam where she is currently undertaking an artist residency at the Rijksakademie. In addition to her own practice, Cooper is also the director and co-founder of the London-based artist-run organisation, Auto Italia South East, that commissions and produces new work in direct collaboration with emerging artists.
On the occasion of her solo project at VITRINE (28 April – 18 June 2017), Marcelle Joseph talks to Cooper about hypercapitalism, feminism and the digital body.
Congratulations on your latest solo project in London! I assume that it is a unique and trying experience for an artist to make work for a space enclosed entirely behind glass windows that can only be viewed from the surrounding external public space. Saying that, it seems like the perfect locus for your work. When I approached Bermondsey Square, I was confused – am I looking at an off-site avant-garde window display for Harvey Nichols? Is this slippage important to this new work?
My work over the past few years has been focused on interrogating my relationship to these hyper-commercialised images, my desire for them but also their inherent violence - through the presentation of perfect bodies that perhaps exist beyond the realms of reality for human capacity. I’m interested in exploring how these CGI models can function and what new forms of agency these images might provide: can they create new possibilities or politics for our physical bodies? I’m interested in how they create their own realities through the production of this fictional space and what possibilities these might offer. Sometimes, I feel that the aesthetics related to these images are misread; we are all pretty tuned into these languages and what they can do, and I’m interested in how we might ‘read’ these images - and the embedded infrastructure they might contain - through their production and distribution.
What was interesting with this installation was this combination of the work and where it is situated within such a public space. This space like many others is a marker of gentrification within London and has a particular aesthetic. VITRINE Gallery is next door to a supermarket, cinema and luxury apartments, which means these CG figures I’m working with perform this double function, being at once totally readable as models of selling ideas, products even but also as faceless and unreadable. This slipperiness is interesting to me - to want a possibility to exist with a particular coded space but also want to integrate that. I think the complete removal of people from lower socially economic backgrounds in this area really speaks to the state of the city at the moment. I was thinking of my work within this highly gentrified space and how it is coded; what this form of presentation does and can do here and how it might be read or misread.
Your new show consists of one work - a billboard of sorts, depicting various jellyfish, a seated woman garbed all in white with her head cropped out of the picture plane and another disembodied flayed figure holding a vacuum cleaner. All rendered using hyperreal CGI technology. Could you talk me through the different pictorial elements and what they represent?
I’m kind of uninterested in the traditional ways we ‘read’ work. This whole part of my practice is looking at how things have shifted and how this material actually works in the world, which includes considering how my work can be misread.
I’m more concerned with the mechanics of how the image comes to be – how it works and what it does. For me, the process of ‘reading’ becomes redundant when we think about how machines read and communicate through images and code– it’s beyond how we relate to things and creates new ways for these to develop a language and go beyond our symbolic, basic understanding. I’m interested in considering more radical reproaches to reading images and how they might perform. I always think about the approach to my work as a hacking and how to tackle these things in new ways – how to work with the material that surrounds you. I want to find a freedom in exploiting that. The speed in which images are distributed means we need to shift from reading them symbolically or attempting to discern inherent meaning to thinking more about what they do and the speed by which this happens. This might not all be taking place in my work here but it’s definitely how I’m influenced.
Having said that, of course, I’m working with particular material and a decision process happens in which I’m using it – in this piece, the material being a faceless female body, a sick, half-dead body. I wanted a way in which these CG bodies could refuse their own image – this inherent idea of perfection within these rendered digital bodies - and how there might be ways to sabotage that. I wanted to work with images that always perform work through the image itself, leaving space to create new connections and positions with our real bodies and the labour they perform. The jellyfish is part of a family of creatures that can mutate, even change the structure of their DNA. I liked this as a speculation for rethinking our own images and our own bodies. The jellyfish here becomes a prototype of how to be.
Flawless skin, hairless bodies and perfectly honed limbs… all objects of physical attraction and aesthetic beauty. And all co-opted by our hypercapitalist society in the name of commerce. As a female artist, how do you relate to these images of the virtual female body that you create? Are you further objectifying the female in order to make an over-arching feminist statement? Or is it a commodification of the female body itself?
As I already touched on, I’m uninterested in these outdated ‘readings’ of female forms of representation. I think we all realise that we live in a world where both images and the infrastructure in which we act as a political subject and how we situate itself go hand in hand. There aren’t these binary readings, I feel that as artists or political subjects we need to be agile, especially in our current climate. I’m interested in how these CGI objects of women might be able to form different and speculative ideas towards our own bodies and create new relationships to labour, particularly female forms of labour and how we might perform as workers. I feel we are in a moment where we need to re-think traditional ideas towards representation and propose structural changes. Of course, there are moments when a clear, forward-facing representation is necessary and vital, but I think fundamentally this isn’t a stable, solid, unmoveable thing. Things are changing so rapidly at the moment; coming up with new languages and ways to approach a position is important, and something I’m constantly thinking through in the work.
We haven’t really touched on the elephant in the room: the dominance of the white patriarchal hegemony. Who demands, creates and pays for these idealised representations of the female body? Besuited white guys pulling the strings at the world’s largest multinational corporations… Are the bodies you create attempting to create a new kind of “capital”?
Yeah for sure. I mean, of course, the world is dominated by white rich men but sometimes there is a level of tokenism. Of course, most marginalised people want structural change, with new ideas, new bodies that collectivise. Through my solo work, I’m concerned with experimentation and forming new relationships to representation to consider what agency our own political bodies might have within these highly coded spaces of hyper-capitalistic forms of representation. How these CG bodies in turn have a relationship with our physical bodies and how the infrastructure of these spaces need to be re-thought and remade. I feel like, for the past few years, working with this material seemed the most important way to think through these ideas.
Prior to your solo show in Berlin in 2014, you were working largely on collaborative projects as part of Auto Italia South East’s commissioning programme. Was it a difficult transition to start working alone on your own artworks? Do you collaborate with other people in the creation of your CG prints and videos?
I think there is always a misunderstanding with how work is made, and the creative labour involved in making and producing. I love collaborating and I’m currently the Director at Auto Italia along with Marianne Forrest and Edward Gillman. It’s important that there are spaces for younger artists to be supported and work through ideas, find forms of alliance in such difficult times. I mean there is a huge crisis in London at the moment within the artistic community and supporting each other is completely fundamental to creating forms of care and empathy and also just making space to particulate and be able to experience incredibly interesting and exciting work.
In my practice, I do collaborate with my partner Theo Cook, who is primarily a camera operator on feature films and also has a background in photography. We discuss the role of image making a lot and work together to produce work. I also always talk about my work to other friends and artists, and sometimes work with friends on the sound design. I’m currently developing some new collaborations with friends this year which I’m particularly excited about.
As one of 45 artists in residence at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, has this year been a time of research and experimentation for you? What has been the highlight of your time there?
I honestly think the other artists who I have met have been the most rewarding part of the residency. London is unfortunately very white and very privileged, and though there are many artists there who are exceptions to the rule, in my own experience of living and working in London, I have never met so many peers from so many different countries as here at the Rijksakademie, including Indonesia, Pakistan, Israel or Turkey amongst many others. Of course, through Auto Italia, I had worked a lot internationally before, but here you have to spend a huge amount of time with each other, forming really strong friendships; it does make you question your process, the role of art within your own cultural heritage and what politics affect you. Even if it is engineered, it feels like a breath of fresh air to be surrounded by so many different nationalities, especially as we see the rise in support towards fascism across the West.
As seen on FAD Magazine: http://fadmagazine.com/2017/05/15/marcelle-joseph-interviews-artist-kate-cooper/
- (lead image) Kate Cooper, We Need Sanctuary, 2016. Video still. Courtesy of the artist.
- Kate Cooper, Ways to Scale, Installation View, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and VITRINE.
- Kate Cooper, Ways to Scale, Installation View, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and VITRINE.
- Kate Cooper, Rigged, 2014. Video still. Courtesy of the artist and KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin.
- Kate Cooper, Rigged, 2016.Installation view. Courtesy of the artist.
- Kate Cooper, On Coping, 2015. Digital Still. Courtesy of the artist and Auto Italia.
- Kate Cooper, Experiments in Absorption, 2016. Installation view. Courtesy of the artist.
VITRINE exhibition: http://www.vitrinegallery.com/exhibitions/kate-cooper/
Auto Italia South East: http://autoitaliasoutheast.org
Rijksakademie Artist Residency: http://www.rijksakademie.nl/ENG/residency/
About the Artist
Kate Cooper (b.1984, Liverpool, UK) lives and works in London and Amsterdam. She is the Director and co-founder of the London based, artist-led organisation Auto Italia and is currently a resident at the Rijksakademie Amsterdam. Solo exhibitions include: Piece Unique, Cologne, Germany (2016); Care Work, Der Würfel, Neumeister Bar-Am, Berlin (2015); Experiments in Absorption, ABC, Berlin (2015); and Rigged, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2014). Group exhibitions include Commercial Break, The Public Art Fund, (2017); Insomnia, Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm (2016); Spending Quality Time With My Quantified Self, TENT, Rotterdam (2016); The elegance of an empty room (Film Screening), Kunstverein Hamburg (2016); Public, Private, Secret , International Centre of Photography, New York (2016); Glamour, CAG, Connecticut (2016); Secret Surface, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (with Auto Italia) (2016); The Long Progress Bar, Lighthouse, Brighton (film screening) (2016); How to live? Future images yesterday and today, Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Mannheim (2015); Body Me: The Body in the Age of Digital Technology, Frankfurter Kunstverein (2015); Cookie Gate, Ellis King, Dublin (2015); Egress (with Colleen Asper) K,P!, New York (2015); Under the Clouds: From Paranoia to the Digital Sublime, Serralves Museum, Porto (2015); Liebe Deine Maschine, Kunstverein Hildesheim (2015); Humain Trop Humain, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (film screening) (2015); Jerwood/FVU Awards, What Will They See of Me? What will they see of me?, Jerwood Gallery London, CCA Glasgow (2014); and Total Body Conditioning (Film Screening), Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw (2014). Forthcoming projects include Art in the Age of the Internet at ICA Boston in 2018. Cooper was the recipient of the BEN Prize for Emerging Talent, B3 Biennial of the Moving Images, Frankfurt (2015) and the Schering Stiftung Art Award, Berlin (2014).
After spending three months at the British School at Rome at the end of last year, Grant Foster returns to London in top form, presenting a solo show at Tintype Gallery (on until 3rd June 2017). Entitled Ground, Figure, Sky, this exhibition features a new series of paintings that have a mocking nostalgia for the past while sending up our current popular penchant for curated beauty. Often depicting children and executed in Neo-Classical lines, these artworks can push the viewer into uneasy terrain, suggesting narratives from Grimms’ fairy tales or a creepy fixation with child portraiture, a tradition that dates back to the 18th century in the UK with the likes of Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Joshua Reynolds, George Romney or Thomas Lawrence. Spanning painting, sculpture and works on paper, Foster’s practice borrows from the traditions of British Romantic painting while touching on the absurd with one fanciful brushstroke and then flitting forward to an uncertain, sinister future.
It has only been a few months since you returned from your fellowship at the British School at Rome. Do you see a marked change in your work pre-Rome vs post-Rome? For me, the new work feels more drawing-based, the brushstroke less laboured and more spontaneous and the colour palette more vibrant. Could this be the Rome effect?
I don’t know if I’d call it the Rome effect but things did change. A group of us visited the Roman Forum in our first week, and there was a discussion that came up which stayed with me. The Forum is a vast archaeological site that is thought to be the beginning of Rome. However, it was suggested that there’s actually another civilisation underneath the Forum itself which dates back to the Etruscans. We ended up having a discussion about why the Romans wouldn't want to excavate any further. It was suggested, speculatively, that perhaps the Vatican wouldn't want to contradict the narrative of Roman history. Even if this is true or not, it got me wondering — maybe time runs alongside truth and we can delineate this vertically? Imagine you’re standing at the base of an archaeological site and you look up, way above you — you’re not just looking up — you’re actually looking up at the present day from where you stand in the past. Perhaps the idea of time travel could be arranged on a vertical axis. This very simple idea really struck a chord with me and became the title for the show at Tintype; Ground, Figure, Sky.
The studio itself at the British School was massively helpful and actually facilitated these new paintings. The larger paintings were made very quickly; the image itself generally executed in one go — this is the new shift. I painted them on the floor, and my body moved over the surface in a different way. It always takes me a bit of effort to hold back. My temperament is geared towards pushing an image as far as it will go. I remember painting three large paintings in a few days, mostly at night, and feeling totally manic and alive doing so.
I guess this is what you mean by spontaneity. Yes, some of the paintings do appear like that but in my mind it was more complex than that. With hindsight, I realised I’d actually made some of these images in notation form, either through text or sketch years ago. I’d bought a few old notebooks with me, and the larger paintings originated from drawings within these. That was the spontaneous moment if you like, realising that I had direct sources with me and the paintings didn't need working out from scratch. That was liberating — here’s an old scribble from a notebook of a balding-youth-man cutting down the last remaining tree on the planet. Right, let’s make that a big painting at 2am.
The child is a central motif in this new series of painting as it has been in the past. What does the symbolic child in your work represent or stand in for? Are they naughty or nice? Instigators or angels?
Originally, I started painting children to find out if this was an okay thing to do. Was this somehow beyond the pale? But I soon came to think of the associations of the motif as more complex than the question itself — it’s almost as if children are the reason we bother to uphold our own morals and decency. You think about how adults behave when they’re around children — once the kids are sent off to bed, the booze comes out and everyone starts shouting at each other — or at least for me, that’s how it was when I was a child!! It’s as if the very presence of children forces us to behave differently as to how we act in their absence.
But then there’s this other edge to the imagery which I find terrifying. Yesterday, I was watching the news, and there’s this report about the upcoming French presidential election. The French National Front have a huge popularity with the under 25s. I found that amazing. Just visually. Imagine all these fresh-faced teenagers bouncing down the shopping mall, banging on about sovereignty and decentralisation. And then it dawns on you… what we’re witnessing over such a short space of time is a profound shift, with what I thought were accepted attitudes. I feel like that is unprecedented. I’m approaching my mid-thirties now, and I’m starting to see the fault lines develop between my generation and those who came after who don’t know life without the Internet.
I’ve actually started to think of the newer paintings as less about the idea of the child as a cipher for morality — I feel the figures now have undetermined ages. Yes, they’re youthful but they’re not children. That opens the narrative up, and the readings become less prescriptive perhaps. I feel like I’m pushing the works into something that’s akin to fable — you know the way in which fables offer fantastical things but direct you firmly back into the real world. A good friend told me about a book, The Notebook by Agata Kristof — it’s clever as the language is very stark, almost like a fairy tale and yet the most terrifyingly sickening things happen. It's as if the fairy tale, in its stark simplicity, becomes the method for you to suspend your disbelief. I’m becoming more interested in this. I mean, how else are we supposed to process the bizarre things that are happening in the world?
As an artist whose main medium is painting, it is incredibly difficult to distance yourself from the weight of art history. Is this a burden or a benefit for you? What artists inspire your own practice if I may ask?
I wouldn't say it was a burden. I find history liberating. It’s through history that we’re able to synthesise our present moments. And what I mean by this is that I'm not necessarily talking about binary information like dates and historical facts, but a sense of who we are, where we've come from and what we face - history alerts us to this and it’s often uncompromising.
Regarding who inspires me, it’s a difficult question for me to answer with any real accuracy. It's evolved as I've grown older. I used to love Hockney when I was younger but now I think he’s a bore. I have always passionately hated Howard Hodgkin but now that he’s dead, I’ll probably warm to him. It changes. I think Andreas Hofer (Andy Hope 1930) is really interesting. He messes around with time by presenting superheroes who are pitted against figures of historical evil — it makes you think about the complexity of good and evil as he questions whether they’re absolute. Picabia has stuck with me for a long time — the way he continued to shift everything, to me, showed a real lack of concern for a bigger picture. That lack of concern for the bigger picture became the bigger picture if you like — and I’m into that attitude. As an artist, I think the goal is to reach a point where you can actually make whatever you want and it makes sense — like a form of perception that intuitively links seemingly disparate ideas.
Your subjects appear steeped in the past given their mode of dress – like a character from a Neo Rauch painting but without the overlying historical narrative. Could you talk about the kinds of source material you use in your practice?
I remember around 2013 the Tories were pushing this idea of the pastoral — David Cameron was photographed feeding a baby lamb, and Iain Duncan Smith was talking about getting on your bike and riding ten miles to work. There was this insane crossover between benefit sanctions and Victorian values.
Around that time, I’d come across a book of children’s illustrations from around 1920 by a publisher called Blackie and Son — it seemed to chime with the images I was seeing in the news. These illustrations are bucolic and sometimes racist. I couldn't help connecting those images with what I was seeing in the tabloids and therefore the wider political climate. It felt and still feels like nostalgia is being used as a tool to suck us backwards. In a sense, because my paintings don't have the same overt historical narrative of Rauch, it’s because I feel like I'm dealing with the present. They just appear to be of an unspecific past — it excites me to think of how they’ll age.
I catalogue the source materials in chronological order, inside folders which are mainly newspaper cut outs, images from the internet and these stiff little children's illustrations. Recently I've been looking through the folders, and I've noticed there’s less and less photography and more drawing. This wasn't really conscious. I guess the sources evolve as the painting does. In Rome, I was working directly from drawing — the aim is to synthesise both sets of information. On the one hand, the papers keep you up to date with whatever grim perversity is happening, and then the drawing refines and personalises it somehow.
There is one painting in your current show that I would love to know more about. “Beside the Boot, the Truncheon Rests” depicts a voluptuous figure in black face, wearing tall black boots and a cobalt blue jumpsuit, with a long blonde mane braided into a noose. Pray tell…
It was originally a figure flying a kite but I felt as if that wasn’t enough. I reworked it, and the composition led to these three velvety black points in the painting — the arm, face and boots. Once the painting had settled down, I started to understand it, as if the other were taking back their power — through whatever means necessary. The painting isn't about blackness or womanhood - perhaps those ideas are hinted at. But because the painting, like all my works, is essentially an extension of allegory, I feel like that prevents the work from being understood didactically — I'm not interested in presenting one singular meaning.
I mean, I grew up in a small English seaside town within a single mother West Indian Catholic family. In that context, we were the outsiders. But the context we’re perceived in is fragile and susceptible to change. For instance, my mother holds very old school British views and yet she’s West Indian by birth — she makes me realise that context is highly nuanced and difficult to pinpoint. I think, in many respects, meaning operates in this way.
To me, that painting summarises how I felt about Rome. During the days, I would wander around and I noticed the police wore these incredibly stylish black boots. With all people who choose a position of authority, there’s this sinister-authoritarian energy — dressed in jackboots and tight trousers. Stylish violence felt very palpable. And then you come across these huge, compositionally dynamic statues; however beautiful, they seem to border on the celebration of state sanctioned violence. In many ways, I consider that painting to almost be a monument to the nuance of revenge, violence and otherness.
You also make sculptures alongside your painting practice. How does your three-dimensional practice intersect with your two-dimensional practice? Does one inform the other? In past shows that feature both paintings and sculptures, it feels like pictorial elements from your paintings literally pop out from the canvas into the space as three-dimensional objects.
I never really have felt like I was one of those easel-kisser painters — slogging out a painting for months and months. I was behaving like that for a few years but it eventually became laborious — and I felt like I could see that in the paintings. So the sculptures developed out of this fear — if I was in the studio and didn't feel like painting, making sculptures seemed like an obvious step.
Generally, I’ve always tried to keep them as low-fi as possible, partly because I want to be able to do the work myself but also because I'm interested in this idea of informality. I think of the sculptures like drawings, in that they’re of specific things. Therefore, there’s little deviation from the initial impetus, which is profoundly different to how I approach painting. Consequently, they seem to have a relationship of co-dependency.
I made a wax bust of Aubrey De Grey, who I'm slightly obsessed by. He’s a life scientist who believes ageing is a disease that can be treated. With this paradigm shift, he raises the prospect of future generations living well into their 500th year. He also looks like a depiction of God in one of those free handouts you get sometimes when you walk into the tube — with this huge beard and furrowed brow. I liked the idea of him promising the nearest thing to eternal life and then placing him alongside my paintings of children. It seemed kind of poignant to me at the time.
1 – Grant Foster, Vanity, 2016, charcoal, glue, pigment and oil on canvas, 36 x 28 cm.
2 – Grant Foster, Ground, Figure, Sky (exhibition view), Tintype Gallery, London, 2017.
3 – Grant Foster, The Prisoners’ Dilemma, 2016, glue and pigment on canvas, 70 x 50 cm.
4 – Grant Foster, Popular Insignia (exhibition view), Galleria Acappella, Naples, 2016.
5 – Grant Foster, Tomorrow’s Hero Today, 2016, charcoal, glue, pigment and oil stick on canvas, 180 x 135 cm.
6 – Grant Foster, Beside the Boot, the Truncheon Rests, 2016, charcoal, pigment, glue and oil on canvas, 180 x 135 cm.
7 – Grant Foster, Salad Days (exhibition view), Ana Cristea Gallery, New York, 2015.
Tintype Gallery: http://www.tintypegallery.com/exhibitions/ground-figure-sky/
Artist’s website: http://www.grantfoster.org/index.html
About the Artist
Grant Foster (b. 1982, Worthing, UK) lives and works in London and graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2012. Foster’s recent solo exhibitions include Ground, Figure, Sky, Tintype Gallery, London (2017); Popular Insignia, Galleria Acappella, Naples, Italy (2016); Salad Days, Ana Cristea Gallery, New York (2015); and Holy Island, Chandelier Projects, London (2014). Recent group exhibitions include Mostra, British School at Rome, Rome (2016); The Classical, Transition Gallery, London (2016); SPORE, Kennington Residency, London (2016); Carnival Glass, Block 336, London (2015); Rx for Viewing (with Jesse Wine), Ana Cristea Gallery, New York (2014); and Bloomberg New Contemporaries, Spike Island, Bristol and ICA, London (2013). Grant Foster was a prizewinner in the 2008 John Moores Painting Prize in Liverpool, and was awarded the Rome Fellowship in Contemporary Art at The British School at Rome in 2016.
As seen on FAD Magazine: http://fadmagazine.com/2017/05/04/marcelle-joseph-interviews-artist-grant-foster/
Artist Devlin Shea draws and paints everyday vignettes that she observes on the street, in the bedroom or on the net. A sideways glance here, a loving embrace there, a quick masturbatory feel... all depicted in black and white either on canvas or transparent acetate film and often with metaphorical animals layered over the human elements... two dogs fighting over the same bone, monkeys frolicking over the naked back of a a tearful woman, a cat jumping on the face of a sleeping girl. Shea depicts intimate moments in time or quick gestures that are more cathartic than visually telling, producing amorphous feelings in the viewer rather than providing clues to any sort of narrative or allegory. Her work can be seen currently as part of the group exhibition at Chapter in Cardiff entitled These Rotten Words (on until 11th June 2017). Later this year, you can see her work at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and the ICA in London as she has just been chosen as one of this year’s Bloomberg New Contemporaries.
After seeing her work last year at the Slade’s MFA Degree Show and then visiting Shea in her studio in East London last month, I was interested in delving deeper into her artistic practice.
Given your work's monochromatic palette, how critical are the other formal qualities of painting to your practice: cropping, perspective, composition, light and shadow?
Cropping plays an important role in how I construct my compositions – I want to isolate and cut off peripheral meaning, zeroing in on parts that are important, detaching sections of gestures and bodies. Revealing the whole would be too brazen or literal. Through these narrow selections, I want to hand over the construction of the unknown fragments to the viewer, to construct through one’s own subjectivity. For me, when I see a hand being tugged, I feel a hand being tugged; when I see a whole portrait of a woman having her hand tugged, I see that woman experiencing that feeling – I am outside. When I crop, I want to focus on this moment of feeling that is pushing or pulling … grabbing or tugging. I want to capture all the layers that go into those ‘relationships’ and how there is an echoing of the past, present and future in that moment. I might go as far as saying that it is an anti-narrative gesture, but who knows.
In regards to perspective, my paintings are very flat. There isn’t a depth of field or an invitation to step into a pictorial space, which is perhaps connected to the use of a monochrome palette. I suppose with light and shadow, at least in some of my paintings, there are these negative spaces that are created by the figures’ shadow; they are ambiguous areas and could be read pictorially, creating a ‘where is it?, what is it?’ type of ambiguity - somewhat similar to the idea behind the cropping. Maybe this aspect could be a relief for the viewer? When everything is so on the surface. But really, I don’t think any of the aforementioned elements are mutually exclusive in my work; instead, light, shadow, perspective and cropping act together to assist each other.
Is narrative important to your figurative subject matter? Or is your work more metaphysical in emotion and temperament?
The loose narrative in my work is normally layered and truncated. I imagine it to be like a still from a movie you never saw but that is familiar. This ‘still’ is like the moment after exhaling when all the air is now outside the lungs and you are about to take a breath back in. Those are the moments I’m working with, more than an actual narrative: corporeal passages contained in the now, cycles that end, then start again; lungs filled with oxygen or empty. It’s a physical feeling as opposed to the logic of a whole.
Not to contradict myself, but there are also definite narrative choices to my selections - moments where there is some sort of perceived tension or gestures that reflect on the internal state of the figures. The idea of support systems, intertwined figures and intimacy are strong motifs within my work. Nevertheless, these are meant to be archetypal, perhaps even symbolic; there is an edge of the allegorical in the larger plastic works, for example. I think that’s why there has been interest in my work in Asia where there is a history, familiarity and acceptance of many different narrative times existing within one image. I think my work approximates that tradition of condensing many dimensions onto one single plane.
Perhaps I’m trying to reveal in some way the accumulation and confusion of being human. I’d say it leans toward universal ideas and perhaps that could be read as having some ‘metaphysical undertones’. Really for me, the narrative lies in the tensions that exist between the figures - tensions that also exist in the reading of the work. Strangely, I use parts of the figure in a way to avoid talking about the figurative. I mean, it is figurative… but biography is not used as a narrative tool. I guess I’m trying to forget about a dominant narrative and to just break down the body in order to see beyond it.
I adore the more recent addition of animals to your picture plane. They are often layered over the human elements and appear to be linked to the figures' subconscious or dreams. Could you talk about how you think about these animals and what sparked this development?
The first time I used animals in my work was because of a dream I had. I was in the kitchen of the apartment I lived in years ago in New York, I was on the phone, and I looked up to find a wild cat in the tree outside my window about to pounce on me. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, this is really convenient’. I was on the phone so I could call for help, but I was so petrified I couldn’t speak; this visceral fear had taken over. There are these visceral reactions we have because of our evolutionary presets, things layered in from long ago. So when animals make it into my painting, they could have this primordial role, or perhaps the animal is a totem that stands in for basic parts of the self.
In Emotional Giants, the monkeys came from a conversation with a friend who was talking about how hard it was to change a pattern. He used the idiom ‘monkey on my back’. My work in some respects comes from the logic of the idiom, which isn’t sequential narration; instead, it’s pieced together, and the combination of words makes new sense. So Emotional Giants was inspired by this friend wrestling with himself. I suggested he lay out a banana - it seemed a logical way to break the struggle. The monkeys are trying to hold on but also eyeing the banana presented on the belly of the woman lying and watching at the bottom of the scene.
Animals are always going to bring up symbolic readings, which I think is interesting but maybe not precisely what I intend on doing. Part of me thinks less complexly, like how people watch cat videos or follow famous Instagram dog feeds. They go to those feeds to have an emotional release or experience ironic glee; this cutesy love we get by watching funny furball videos - there is something about that in my work too. I wonder if my interest is as close to that space of catharsis as it is to the symbolic.
Your use of long sheets of transparent film for some of your paintings plays with scale and finish and references cinema as they scroll down the wall. Although each of these paintings only depicts one scene, so to speak, does cinema inspire your practice in any way?
Cinema definitely has had some influence on my practice, and the acetate I use for the larger works is very similar to celluloid in its qualities. On a personal level, I grew up going to the movies a lot. There was this movie theater across the street from where I lived. In summer, we would sneak in to see movies back to back to stay in the air conditioning for as long as possible. It is a somewhat nostalgic influence - those early experiences of losing myself and viewing intimate moments blown up larger than life. You never normally experience intimacy that way; you never experience a mouth 50-feet-tall and time slowed down so you can see minute shifts and twitches. I’d say I use scale as a device to do a similar thing with this contradictive intimacy. You have to get up close to my small paintings, get intimate; but then I blow these up to gigantic proportions (such as with the plastic works), creating a contradictory feeling of intimacy like the cinematic does. Showing them together, minute and gigantic, pulls at emotional proximity. It’s like when I was living in Iceland - how the landscapes made a figure even tinier and vulnerable but also more pronounced and perhaps braver, crossing the vast monochrome snowscapes.
You recently completed your MFA at the Slade School of Fine Art in 2016. Shortly thereafter, you set off for China to embark upon a three-month residency at (). How important do you feel residencies are for early career artists? How has your experience in China contributed to the ongoing development of your artistic practice?
Residencies can be such significant times for growth. I think, after an MFA, they can provide the time to solidify some of the development that has happened during the degree. It is such an amazing opportunity to be plunged into a new culture, and to not have to balance any freelance work to pay rent for living or studio. It is so important to keep the momentum going from the degree show and to be productive right away if possible. I was in Hong Kong for most of the time but I did go to mainland China for a week to install a show at the Wuhan Art Museum organized by the gallery that represents me there.
My studio was at the campus of the Academy of Visual Arts; I got to take part in the community of students, tutors and technicians there. It was great experimenting with and discovering totally new types of plastics and fabrics, getting knowledgeable advice and using the large facilities to try things out. I made a group of large paintings on a new plastic and worked on small works exploring color and some collage elements. I also made a small edition of artist books that I rushed to finish in the last days on a fantastic Riso printer they had there. There was a sense of ease knowing I had the time to make a body of work for my upcoming solo show in China and that I would take back with me to London the momentum and skills I had developed.
Curator George Vasey has included your work in his current group show entitled These Rotten Words at Chapter in Cardiff, alongside artists David Austen, Anna Barham and Joanna Piotrowska among others. How do you think your work fits into this show about the physicality of language, voice and gesture?
I was so pleased George included me in These Rotten Words - it is such a great group of artists. I have always been attracted to the ways people communicate and perhaps more specifically with the veils, blocks, habits or crutches that people subconsciously rely on in their communication. I think this is the ‘gesture’ that I am fascinated by. Gestures seem to be the way these pre-words and pre-verbalizations get spoken - though gesture communication is read physically rather than through the translation of language.
It was an exciting framing for the work. I will use a quote from George’s essay from the exhibition to describe how he sees my work fitting the topic. …
“….. Devlin Shea’s paintings present the body as a series of fragments. The face is often concealed and it is the body that is tasked with the job of speaking. The surface of these paintings, at once reticent and reworked, feels particularly intimate. Shea’s paintings often portray moments of tenderness between unclothed couples and the vignettes often feel simultaneously specific and nebulous.”
Artist’s website: http://devlinshea.com
Chapter, Cardiff website: https://www.chapter.org/these-rotten-words
About the Artist
Devlin Shea is an American artist who lives and works in London. She completed an MFA at the Slade School of Fine Art, London in 2016 after finishing her BA in Painting and Video at Alfred University, Alfred, New York in 1998. Recent and upcoming solo shows include those in Wuhan, China (2017), Sólon, Iceland (2013), and Stockholm, Sweden (2010). Recent selected group exhibitions include: On Drawing: Apperceive of Liberation, Wuhan Art Museum, Wuhan, China (2016); Screen Time, Assembly Point, London (2016); Imagine, Londonewcastle Project Space, London (2015); Skymning, G Gallery, Houston, Texas (2014); Special Guests, Sardine, Brooklyn, US (2013). Shea has been awarded the following residencies: Academy of Visual Arts, Hong Kong (2017), Nes Artist Residency, Skagaströnd, Iceland (2016), Banff Centre for the Arts, Alberta, Canada (2009), Vermont Studio Center, Vermont, US (2009).
As seen on FAD Magazine: http://fadmagazine.com/2017/04/27/marcelle-joseph-interviews-artist-devlin-shea/
For her first solo show, Welsh artist Sarah Roberts travels to the Costa del Sol, creating an all-enveloping five-dimensional monochromatic installation at BLOCK 336 in London entitled Torremolinos-Tableaux-Tongue-Twister (After Sun) (on until 6th May 2017). This site-specific immersive exhibition is the second act to a 2016 day-time version of the beach in Torremolinos that was exhibited at HaHa Gallery in Southampton. As day moves into night, colours change. The pink flesh of bodies on the beach mutates into red – suggesting sun-burnt skin, red neon outside a nightclub or a spectacular sunset. In this exhibition, the viewers’ senses are completely overwhelmed with dozens of different surface textures they want to touch, atomisers spewing out the scent of sun cream, a sound piece of waves crashing on the beach and the ruddy pigmentation of the entire space. Red LED lights from above illuminate hundreds of objects that are either laying on the floor, leaning up against the wall or reclining on plinths, all of which are scarlet-tinged (including two tons of rubescent gravel poured onto the floor in the shape of a tongue). The objects include hand-cast plaster pieces, found objects, hand-printed textile pieces, glass, rubber and glitter. Living between London and Wales, Roberts writes poetry as well as makes sculptural installations that are obsessed with their surfaces and how they mirror the everyday world, recalling architecture, landscape and body in form and colour.
Congrats on your first solo show at BLOCK 336 in Brixton! As a viewer, it was a mesmerising experience for me, playfully engaging all of my senses. Instead of looking at each of the individual objects, the monochromatic aspect of the show forces you to dwell on the entirety of the installation. As the artist, how do you intend the viewer to interact with this all-consuming installation? Do you attempt to curate the viewer’s experience through the employment of excess?
Thank you! This has been my first opportunity to create something on this scale, and something that is in turn a fully encapsulated immersive experience so its nice to hear that your senses were aware of being catered for in the journey through it.
In terms of leading the viewer – I’d like to think I’m not directing their journey through the installation beyond the physical pathways that are created; maybe I’m more researcher and set designer. I want to lead the viewer to a space that’s akin to a [very present] stage set of the everyday made anew, somewhat credible and entirely real, part unfinished and very much made for a viewer to discover themselves, and in that act of discovery, to activate it.
When I’m researching for new palettes, I seek out places that show me their edges, their constructedness, facades, or ideas of underneaths. I don’t see these faces as veneers or fakes but as very real material surfaces, the actuality of things. The plastic paradise of a truly blue hotel spa, furred up purple carpet tiles, pinks plastered on walls as dripping renders, wet sand furrowed and grained, pressed into with bony fleshed out toes - all up for grabs. I’ve loved Vegas casinos, desert landscapes, Welsh hinterlands, and now here – the sun-down-lit strip of the Costa del Sol that is Torremolinos.
And about the excess, well yes, maybe if left alone with less, the viewer may have time to start making sense of things, to covet the object, to attribute the value of artwork to things; whereas here in the conversant and non-hierarchical material repeats, I hope viewers will focus on looking at the materiality of things or at best wanting to touch.
Personally, I was very drawn toward the hand-crafted objects in the installation – the screen-printed textiles and wall vinyls and the cast plaster pieces. Do you see these as able to exist on their own as individual artworks outside of the installation context? Or does your practice only allow for an installation type of presentation?
No, not at the moment. I actually find words or collage easier ways of representing ideas in smaller utterances. I use collage a lot in the preparation for a piece; it’s key in my research process.
Once I start making, the connectivity between the excess seems essential. It’s like the pieces all form an alphabet, and trying to exist alone, they are just the beginning or end of some sentence, never the core of it - they really are surfaces. Maybe this can change as my vocabulary strengthens, but for now, once things become 3D matter, it gets trickier; things gain this unwarranted value, trying to make sense and coming back senseless.
My practice as a maker has a focus on labour and production. I produce multiple repeats in a day, all different takes on a sensation, all chatting, and all growing into some overall sense of a new place. I am my own factory, and I access others who operate out there in the ‘real world’ of manufacturing to create things as well, and these are of equal stature, getting something absurd made to spec - where you can hardly notice it’s bespoke without closer inspection - is something I adopt a lot.
I have a special and fleeting relationship with each piece I make, and then each piece slips a little into the next and into the whole. I want that thing I have hand-cast to sit, with a sense of purposeful slippery belonging, alongside found plastic objects or those bespoke manufactured absurdities - all equals, all matter. I think this is what throws us into an experience of looking - me out there on the promenade in Torremolinos, and the viewer here in its Tongue-Twister counterpart at Block 336.
For this show, you wrote a free verse poem that was included in the press release. When planning an exhibition, what comes first for you – the poetry or the visual components of the show?
I use words at all stages of the process - to record places and their sensations. I write emails to myself, like material memoirs, hashtag haikus. Much like the materials of the installation, they get sculpted, become a collection of collisions, and seek to perform a function but slide into phonic performance kept together by proximity of placement and somehow making sense even at points of disjuncture. I began writing this poem in a café in Torremolinos and finished it on the tube after a site visit to Block 336.
In this poem, the opening line is “Her tongue twisted around names and melting ice pops as the dark closed in on the pinks and the sky clouded into sticky reds”. It is an incredible introduction to the show, giving the reader many clues to what they are about to encounter visually as well as aurally and olfactorily. Is it essential for the viewer to engage with your writing before or after viewing your work?
The poems are gobbets, non-narrative descriptions of the material encounters rather than a map of this new space. So no, they are not essential; they are not a precursor nor an afterthought. They are simply another thing.
In the past, your artworks had a strong tie to your own Welsh heritage, possessing titles in both Welsh and English and exploring the chroma of the Mid Wales countryside. How important is your own autobiography to your practice?
I believe Welshness runs through me and my practice like a granite seam. The older I get, the more I experience a sense of hiraeth [which translates as homesickness but more as a sense of longing for the land] when I spend too long away from Wales. The landscape back home is as tactile as it is visual. I grew up in a small town, a strip village nestled between rock and sea right in the middle, right on the coast. In the face of epic variegated terrain, tiny terraced dwellings become impotent teeth in crumbling pinks and blue hues against a backdrop of grey and green. We didn’t have iPhones in the early nineties, just skinny legs, mountain bikes and a sense of owning the rock from our bunk-beds whilst waiting for the summer season.
I now live and work between Wales and London. It’s perfect. Each place is as intense and revelatory as the other, and they keep each other blindingly visible. I think this has an undeniable effect on my practice. I will never get bored of working with Wales.
Given that words are part of your artistic metier, is the Welsh language something you wish to preserve in this world of disappearing languages?
Welsh was my first language; as a child, I barely spoke English, and now I lose words daily. My accent is unrecognisable. It’s an upsetting sensation of loss, both of belonging and of the fragility of our ability to communicate. It’s also fascinating; my words have become more material than ever as they trip and tumble from my mouth. I’m obsessed with the awkwardness of Google Translate and its limitations. I think being bilingual as a kid helped me to articulate. I chose words for their meaning, but also their phonics, their performativity. I circumnavigated them from the other tongue like one might a sculpture. I do this when I write, often using translations in texts or titles. In fact, I seem to love the imagery of tongues too!
I’m definitely interested in preserving language, and not for nostalgic reasons. I genuinely believe that multiple languages can add to our ability to perform proper attempts at articulation. I’m relearning my mother tongue to an adult grade now. It’s like my vocabulary was fixed when I left Wales at 18.
For your installations included in The London Open at the Whitechapel Gallery in 2015 and Saatchi Art New Sensations in 2014, a single colour was not the focal point; instead, a panoply of surfaces, faux and real, barraged the viewer. From a white plastic electrical fan to a scattering of hand-cast plaster bowls in a rainbow of colours and from a roll of LED strip lights to wallpaper and swatches of silk printed with a photographic image of polystyrene, texture seems like a key driver in your practice. Do you agree? Could you talk further on this point?
‘Barraged’ is a nice way to put it. That’s how I feel when I find these places in the first place. Buffered by winds, accosted by colour. Dribbling internally at the sheer deliciousness of the surface textures.
My practice centres around this collection of the actuality of the surfaces of the world; when researching, I collect images of walls, floors, sand - all texture, colour or form. The distilling of these textures starts here. I don’t see it as a reduction to colour, texture and form – its more like a making visible of it. The images are repeated into forms, poured into plasters, smoothed into ceramics and printed on various substrates with sliding scales, sound, scents and more. For each place, the representation I create is led by the overall sensation of that place as I record it - sometimes places seep into a hue, other times their apparent colour blocks stick out shouting, and sometimes the air smells like sun cream.
AMPERSANDS (Fairbourne a& Margate a&) (2015), shown at Whitechapel, is a piece centered around excess, additions and the power of visually driven connections. This piece collides two palettes through a forced additive connection and is slightly more frenetic and unnerving as a result. It’s full of of peeled-off textures of Margate’s visible arcadia and a bleak palette from a Welsh strip village that is slowly returning to the sea. This insinuated theme park of edges and collisions of made matter, in multicolour hues with washed out rocky accents, hopefully makes us consider these created visual contexts.
ETO O Borth – Again from Borth (2014), shown at New Sensations, is from a hinterland in Mid Wales, a more direct presentation of one palette, a strip of terraced houses exposed to the land and the sea. Its flimsy curtained ‘walls’ pull at the edges, suggesting Borth’s precarious positioning on the coastline and observing our belief in those tiny multi-coloured terraced invaders of the landscape.
Here in the reds at Block 336, this heavy lidded half light is an integral part of the encasing shell of the work. I’m fascinated with the idea of our experience of colour being waves reflected off the surfaces. That we are making it red, SEEING RED. I’ve included light in many previous works as a material, a light, a bulb, a colour. This is the first time I have really considered its impact on our ways of seeing colour, its ability to shift the palette of a place depending on the time of day.
I tried to fix that moment of light into an experience of colour, and I love how its unfixable and slips away from your eyes. I’m fascinated by this idea that the objects in a place can be different visible versions of themselves at different points in the day. The red is all-encompassing when you first encounter it and then fades as your retinas adjust to the light into salmon and oranges. The lights were the first things I installed so I could get a real sense of this new space – I had to keep going back out to the white light so I could see the reds again. You are very aware of your place within it and your experience of the colours changing whilst you are in it - this apparent colour cover-up that is in fact a revelation of textures.
BLOCK 336, London: http://block336.com
Artist’s website: http://www.sarahrobertsfa.com
About the Artist
Sarah Roberts is a Welsh artist currently living and working in London and Wales. She studied Sociology at the University of Leeds (BA 2001) before finishing a second BA in Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art and Design, London in 2014. Recent group exhibitions include SellYourSelf, East Street Arts, Leeds (2017); I’M Feeling So Virtual I’m Violent, HaHa Gallery, Southampton (2016); P A N D I C U L A T E : The Joy of Stretching, The Koppel Project, London (2016); The London Open 2015, Whitechapel Gallery, London (2015) and Saatchi Art New Sensations, Victoria House, Londn (2014). Roberts was selected for the Into The Wild Residency Programme, Chisenhale, London (2015-16) and the ACAVA/ArtQuest Lifeboat Residency (2014-15), and was awarded the Parasol Unit Exposure Award in 2014.
As seen on FAD Magazine: http://fadmagazine.com/2017/04/13/marcelle-joseph-interviews-artist-sarah-roberts/
Sculptor Rebecca Ackroyd could be described as a millennial Rosemarie Trockel, discovering disparate materials with considered ease and strength of purpose. From plaster bandage to welded rebar and from cast wax to silk and tulle, these are a few of the materials that Ackroyd employs in her artistic practice that has an underlying feminine elegance delivered with a prickly, tough attitude. At its heart, Ackroyd’s oeuvre centres around a hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves, materials-focused approach to artmaking that is intimate and bodily. Currently, her work can be seen in the United Kingdom at her solo exhibition at OUTPOST in Norwich (on until 16th April) and a group show curated by George Vasey and entitled These Rotten Words at Chapter in Cardiff, Wales (on until 11th June).
You are currently showing a brave new body of work at your solo show at OUTPOST, combining sculpture, photography and drawings all displayed on a pub carpet in dim lighting and installed in an enclosed space draped with dark felt curtains. The show is entitled ‘House Fire’ and feels very personal and autobiographical with many links to your family and your childhood home. How did you approach this show in an artist-run space far away from the environs of the London art world?
The opportunity to show at a space like Outpost has been really important to the development of this body of work, as they gave me complete freedom to make the show however I wanted. I felt that away from London I could really test these new ideas and see how I could push the work into more personal territory. The show as a whole feels much more vulnerable and maybe a bit nervous, or maybe that’s just how I feel about it; it’s more revealing than anything I’ve done before.
The OUTPOST show feels very experiential and moody. The lighting is so dim that you must get very close to the drawings on the wall and bend down to discover the subtle details of the floor-based sculptures -- like the dripping wax and the back-lit window in the shape of witchy eyes. Is this important to the conceptual framework of the show?
Yeah, it was really important. I wanted the show to feel a bit like the back room of a pub you stumble across and have to wait for your eyes to adjust to the light and have a sense of familiarity. I wanted the sculptures to almost become shadows or voids on the carpet and for everything to absorb light and emerge gradually. I thought about spotlighting the drawings but I felt that it turned them into ‘art’ too much, and I liked the idea of having the densely worked images that peer through the darkness and invite a closer encounter.
Since your degree show at the Royal Academy Schools in 2015, you have made several figurative sculptures using your signature plaster bandage and chicken wire process. They started out as stand-alone, two-metre-tall, pearly white legs, adopting cheeky stances and grouped together as if standing around at a Hole concert. Since then, they have changed colour – from a dirty beige at the Kinman Gallery show you co-curated in 2016 to an industrial grey at the group show at the Sara Zanin Gallery in Rome in 2017. They have also increased in scale and become part of the fabric of the exhibition space, attached to the wall and incorporating air conditioning ducts and window vents. Has the thinking behind these sculptures changed since 2015? And will this series be something that you continue to reprise in the future?
I like the idea of having a material process that allows the construction of large-scale architectural works that are made quickly and that have an urgency. I see these pieces in a similar way to the process of drawing and feel they retain some of that energy and immediacy which is also important in how they are ‘active’ in a space. They have changed from being the evocation of a confrontation or an attitude through a stance or posture to providing an architecture within a space. I want them to suggest the innards of a building and have an echo of former use, which is implied by the air vents I insert in them. I’m still interested in developing them but for the Outpost show I felt that the drawings inhabited the figurative space in the work in a similar way to these sculptures.
The current group show at Chapter in Cardiff entitled ‘These Rotten Words’ ‘embraces language that is more contingent and intimate’. What are you showing there, and how do you see the intimacy of your own sculptural language?
I’m showing three large-scale limb works that drop down from the ceiling or through walls and along the floor, a bit like abandoned parts of a venting system. Intimacy is something I think about a lot in the work -- how close you let someone get to the work and how it’s revealed. I’m interested in creating spaces where scale shifts to create a distancing between the work and the viewer as well as moments that invite a closer look.
Since the group show you participated in at Herald Street in London in 2016, you have exhibited drawings alongside your sculptures. How does drawing fit into your overall practice?
I started using drawing as a way of making something immediate that isn’t restricted by materials or scale in the same way making sculpture can be. They’ve developed alongside my other works, and I’ve always seen them as equally important, as they both inform and provide a context for some of my other works. The more recent drawings I’ve done feel to me more like paintings and have as much weight as the sculptures I make. I wanted to use the show at Outpost to build relationships between the works on paper and the objects I make.
Rebecca Ackroyd: House Fire, OUTPOST, Norwich (on until 16 April 2017): LINK
These Rotten Words, Chapter, Cardiff (on until 11 June 2017): LINK
About the Artist
Rebecca Ackroyd (b. 1987, Cheltenham, UK) lives and works in London. She graduated from the Royal Academy Schools in 2015 after completing her BA in Fine Art at Byam Shaw School of Art in 2010. Ackroyd has shown her work at solo exhibitions at OUTPOST, Norwich (2017) and in London at Hunter/Whitfield (2015), Kinman Gallery (2014) and Marsden Woo Gallery (2013). Recent group exhibitions in 2015-7 include: These Rotten Words, Chapter, Cardiff (2017); Walled Gardens in an Insane Eden, Z2O Sara Zanin Gallery, Rome; Modest Villa Immense Versailles (co-curator), Kinman Gallery, London; At Home Salon: Double Acts, Marcelle Joseph Projects, Ascot; Bloody Life, Herald St, London; All Over, Studio Leigh, London; Is it heavy or is it light?, Assembly Point, London; With institutions like these, Averard Hotel, London; Opals, Galerie Opdahl, Stavanger, Norway; Royal Academy Schools Degree Show, London; Works in Residence, David Roberts Art Foundation, London; and The London Open, Whitechapel Gallery, London. In 2013, her work was included in Bloomberg New Contemporaries (ICA, London and Spike Island, Bristol).
Image 1: Rebecca Ackroyd, installation view of work in Walled Gardens in an Insane Eden, Z2O Sara Zanin Gallery, Rome, 2017.
Images 2, 3 and 6: Rebecca Ackroyd, exhibition view of House Fire, OUTPOST, Norwich, 2017.
Image 4: Rebecca Ackroyd, exhibition view of Royal Academy Schools Degree Show, London, 2015.
Image 5: Rebecca Ackroyd, installation view of work in Bloody Life, Herald St, London, 2016.
As seen on FAD Magazine: http://fadmagazine.com/2017/04/06/marcelle-joseph-interviews-artist-rebecca-ackroyd/
British artist Samuel Zealey explores physicality and materiality through his large-scale sculpture practice that is based on a love of physics and engineering. His work can currently be seen in two exhibitions in London but you need to be quick. His solo show entitled Planes is on until 8th April 2017 at the Cob Gallery in Camden, and his work is part of a group exhibition at the Hackney Wick studio of fellow sculptor Luke Hart entitled Sculpture in Public (on until 2nd April 2017). This group show questions the traditional idea of “public sculpture” and is a reprisal of an earlier group show in 2012 entitled Fabricators at the Hannah Barry Gallery, featuring the same five sculptors, James Balmforth, James Capper, Alex Chinneck, Luke Hart and Zealey. After 7th May 2017, you will be able to see a public sculpture by Zealey outside the Bracknell train station in Berkshire. Titled Onyo, the West African word for “precarious”, this four-metre tall sculpture consists of scaled-up Jenga bricks made from different materials that correspond to the historic timeline of technological advances in materials. Starting with the most humble materials on the bottom from the Stone Age (granite foundation boulder) and continuing up through the metallic stages corresponding to the Copper, Bronze, and Iron Ages and finishing off at the top with the more advanced metallic alloys such as aluminium, stainless steel and mirrored stainless steel, this leaning public sculpture will question the continuation of our civilization in its current form.
Congrats on your solo show at Cob Gallery called Planes! You are showing your Folded Steel Plane Series, a humorous, tongue-in-cheek exploration of materiality, gravity and engineering. What is this series all about in your mind? What were your inspirations?
This new body of work Planes reflects ideas I have always held important to my visual language, such as invention, form, weight, malleability, accessibility and pushing materials to their absolute limits through a scientific understanding and material intelligence.
I have always considered myself a bit of a purist with respect to how I use and finish materials because there is such a stark and powerful beauty in the colours and textures of nature. This acceptance reflects much of my ethos with regards to my respect and love for this planet and the environment as a whole. Humanity should employ these virtues -- to become humble once again in life, and live in equilibrium within a system being destroyed by our very existence.
For me, the Planes resemble a humble intelligence and understanding of basic aviation and flight, which is learnt from a young age. Usually, a folding technique is nurtured by a loved one whereby a particular style of plane is repeated over and over again. This act becomes a type of muscle memory. These Planes are as much about nostalgia as they are about the future. They hold a timeless aesthetic as a static relic and homage to the power of one’s mind; be it young or old, these objects are relatable and accessible to every culture of the world. These Planes are a symbol of human unity.
I initially saw your work back in 2012 at the Fabricators exhibition that sculptor James Capper curated at the Hannah Barry Gallery in London and was blown away by your infatuation with physics, engineering and new technologies. This show took place shortly after you graduated from the RCA. How has your practice developed since then?
2012 was when I focused on the theory side of my practice. I wrote an essay about the rules within my work which I called The Matriarch and I; this text is the foundation of my current practice. From a young age, I have always been fascinated by many different philosophies, but I have always been particularly inspired by physics, which is heavily apparent in all of my work. The Integrate of Fertility, shown first at the Hannah Barry Gallery in the group exhibition Fabricators, was a huge breakthrough in my sculpture practice and a catalyst to where I am now. This piece brought together my love for science, form, weight, balance, nature, environment and art into one static moment of time. I learnt from this piece that I am mostly interested in the potential of energy and the beauty in stillness and how to make this a physical form which demonstrates the elusive. I have pursued timelessness and learned to be subtle yet loud and never to force the issue because this can destroy a piece very easily. My goal has been to make a sophisticated, thought-provoking visual language that looks effortless and grounded, yet cutting edge and dynamic.
Tell me about Sculpture in Public, the group exhibition of sculptures by five artists in the Hackney Wick studio of sculptor Luke Hart. What did you make for the show? How did this show come about?
Luke Hart recently found out that he would be losing the Hackney Wick workshop that he has been resident in for the past eight years in April. Instead of being defeated by this situation, Luke decided to make good out of a bad situation and proposed to James Balmforth, James Capper, Alex Chinneck and me to put on a group exhibition, transforming his old studio briefly into a warehouse style exhibition space for the show entitled Sculpture In Public curated by Luke Hart and George Marsh of William Benington Gallery.
Most of the artists involved in this exhibition took part in the Fabricators exhibition back in 2012 at the Hannah Barry Gallery so we knew, as a collective, our sculptures worked well in a space together. We all see the importance of making ambitious thought-provoking large-scale sculpture that poses questions about ideas around “public art” and how to push these ideas to new levels. I think I speak for us all when I say that the ideas which are inherent to public art are dated, stagnant and, in some cases, boring, so we are all trying to purposefully redevelop the foundations of what public sculpture should be and can be. This show echoes this ethos. For this exhibition, I developed the sculpture Cross Wing which is number five of the Folded Steel Plane Series.
You have won two large public sculpture commissions over the last few years – one in Bracknell in Berkshire and another in Spitalfields in London. As a maker of large scale sculpture, is this the only way to survive as a sculptor in today’s art world? How does public sculpture differ from making work for a gallery exhibition?
Personally I would say no. I make a lot more capital gain from my gallery practice than I do the public sculpture commissions I have won. This is because, in the most part, materials that are made to last outside are very expensive and a lot of public sculpture commission budgets are not fantastic. For my practice, it is probably something to do with how ambitious I am with regards to bending and breaking the rules because I want to challenge what public sculpture can be.
Saying this, winning public sculpture commissions is a great way to grow as a sculptor and really appreciate the ins and outs of what sculpture is, what it can be and what you don't want it to be. Public sculpture gives one an edge and a sophistication with materials that might not have been possible without the commission. If anything, it’s just really good practice to take on large-scale projects because you learn to manage many different parts of a creative operation.
I enjoy showing in galleries because it allows an artist to be really experimental, exciting and vibrant. The red tape disappears to an extent because health and safety is managed differently. It’s a lot easier to push the limits and challenge the gallery system as well as one’s practice within a gallery environment because an artist’s work is within a more controlled setting. Essentially, what I am saying is that there is a lot more freedom to be creative in the gallery environment.
Your artist’s statement mentions your interest in the environment and your desire to find sculptural ways to combat global warming. Can you talk about this strand of your creative practice and how you have attempted to battle against these environmental issues affecting our world today?
Many of my ideas that translate to visual culture are metaphors of ways that we could or should combat the problems humanity has posed upon this planet. For instance, the Bracknell Public Sculpture Commission Onyo is a statement about humanity’s neglect of the most important issues facing our kind in this current day and age.
If we are not able to combat these problems that we have inflicted upon ourselves, our reality will inevitably topple. I also use sculpture as a vehicle to invent what some might consider in physics to be absurd. This is because the laws of the universe state it to be impossible but I believe that there could be an alternative working model that, in turn, could combat such things as global warming. These ideas are all works in progress.
Being a sculptor seems like a difficult artist to be…. High production costs, reliance on fabricators, difficulty in luring collectors to buy three-dimensional work, finding places to display outdoor sculpture, etc. What advice would you give to a young artist training to be a sculptor at art school?
If sculpture’s your medium, you have to believe blindly in your vision because it’s the hardest path in the visual arts to take and it’s all about stamina. As you have already stated, production costs are high, and collectors prefer, for the most part, to buy two-dimensional works. You can eliminate one logistical problem by cutting out the reliance on fabricators by becoming a fabricator yourself. This requires having a studio workshop fit for the sort of work you produce. Although setting up a large sculpture workshop is expensive at first, it becomes cost effective over time. I've found over the course of the last eight years that having a serious and effective sculpture workshop puts confidence in the minds of individuals that invest in the arts, such as collectors, because it shows how serious you are about your own practice. This confidence can lead to investments in an artist’s work, and good professional relationships can flourish.
Another important aspect to remember is to always keep your dearest friends that make sculpture close because they will be the most loyal and supportive people in your life. They will pick you up when you're down, cheer for you when you are up, and give you the advice you need at anytime. Never be a shark, be a wolf!
Planes, Cob Gallery, London (on until 8th April 2017): LINK
Sculpture in Public, William Benington Gallery London Projects, Hackney Wick (on until 2 April 2017): LINK
About the Artist
Samuel Zealey (b. 1986, London) is a sculptor who lives and works between London and Essex. Since completing his MA at the Royal College of Art in 2012 under the tutelage of Richard Wentworth CBE, he has shown in group exhibitions including ‘Sculpture in Public’, William Benington Gallery London Projects, London (2017); ‘Fabricators’, Hannah Barry Gallery, London (2012); ‘Disappearance’, NAM Project, Milan (2013); ‘Sound Track Festival’, Geffrye Museum, London (2013). Solo exhibitions include those at Cob Gallery, London (March-April 2017); William Benington Gallery, London (2015); Merrymeade House, Brentwood, UK (2014); and Tim Sheward Projects, London (2013).. Zealey has won several awards including the Bracknell Public Sculpture Commission (2015) and the Spitalfields Public Sculpture Commission Award. His work is featured in the collections of Channel 4 John Nole Management, Bouke de Vries (patron of the Contemporary Art Society), the Museum of Mechanical Art & Design, Kinetica Museum and the Broomhill Sculpture Foundation.
Images 1, 2, 5 and 6
Samuel Zealey, installation views from Planes, Cob Gallery, London, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Cob Gallery, London.
Images 3 and 4
Samuel Zealey, installation views from Sculpture in Public, William Benington Gallery London Projects, London, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and William Benington Gallery. Photo: Nick Paton. Third image above features works by Samuel Zealey, James Capper, James Balmforth and Luke Hart.
As seen on FAD Magazine: http://fadmagazine.com/2017/03/30/marcelle-joseph-interviews-sculptor-samuel-zealey/
‘Buzz’, ‘Snap!’, ‘Rockit’, ‘Up all night’, ‘Cheeky, cheeky. Naughty, sneaky’, ‘Dance the dance, dancing feet’ - a few of the titles of artworks Rhys Coren has made over the last year. These titles are telling glimpses into this multidisciplinary artist’s creative practice that is inspired by 80’s electronic dance music, jazz and disco as well as his own experiences as a dancefloor habitué. Coren works across animation, writing, performance and painted marquetry, each medium flaunting its affinity with rhythm and the artist’s undying love affair with drawing. Form, colour and texture are integral to the strength of Coren’s painted, wall-based panels of interlocking board. The wall works may contain cartoon-like clouds broken up by grids of spray-painted colour and texture, overlaying the works with a cheeky sense of humour.
On the occasion of Coren’s first solo show at Seventeen (10th March – 15th April 2017), Marcelle Joseph talks to Coren about life as an artist in London.
You had a big break between your BA and your postgraduate studies at the RA Schools where you graduated in 2016. Now you’re grafting away alone in your studio in Elephant & Castle. What’s life like in the real world as a working artist after your cushy three-years in Mayfair at the RA?
It was quite a big break, yes. But I was always making art and always trying to contribute to whatever community I was part of. I worked collaboratively mostly, with different independent and artist-led initiatives, even curatorially at times. But I was always working. I needed that time, though, as I was a bit of a slow-starter.
Those years after my BA, first in Bristol then in London, juggling all manner of shitty jobs and debt as I also tried to educate myself further on art… contribute to whatever… and build myself a practice… were terrifying and financially very stressful. But they allowed me to appreciate more the things I already loved, and I began to make work about those things as a result… indulging my pleasures in music, animation, design and sub-culture. I also began to lean more on skills and techniques I enjoyed most, encouraging a DIY, self-sufficiency. This was a huge breakthrough for me.
Getting into the Royal Academy came soon after this breakthrough. This was seven years after completing my BA and I was 30 years old. I’d made the first body of work that I was truly proud of, and I’d managed it whilst living in London with next to no money and no formal structure whatsoever. All I could think about was how much more I could do with the support the RA offered. So, once there, I spent every day of those three years like it was my last. I lapped up everything I possibly could - everything about the school, the library, the student-run bar, the Royal Academy itself, the statue of Sir Joshua Reynolds, the postcode. It was amazing. It blew my mind, and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
Despite this, leaving the RA was almost as exciting as getting in. That may sound surprising coming from someone who waxes lyrical about the place at every opportunity, but life there is about this intense introspection and analysis. Your week is heavily timetabled, and you have a responsibility to the rest of your year group to be present and engaging. That’s not always the most productive environment for outright making. That’s what I am ready for now. The Royal Academy defined who I was for a long time, but really it was just a phase, like the phase before. Now, this new phase is the Elephant and Castle phase… The Plaza Plaza phase. A phase I’m loving, working from a small, independent, artist-run studio with an exhibition space out front, tucked away off the New Kent Road. Glen Pudvine carrying on the great work of the now USA-based Jesse Wine, the artist who set it up in 2011.
I think it is important to dispel this myth that the RA or Mayfair is ‘cushy’ for everyone. As a student there, you are definitely one of the lucky few. But getting into the RA by no means ensures an easy time, either. It’s a total headfuck coming from a modest background and being surrounded by the most extreme wealth. Its location, for many, means long and overcrowded commutes and never before experienced problems getting materials. Some students really feel the pressure of the wider RA institution, and you are all different ages and at different stages in your development (though, weirdly, these were some of the things that drew me to it). But, one thing the RA can ensure is it will do everything it can to support you, and you will almost certainly be a better artist for going. How much better depends on you. The more you give it, the more it gives back.
As for the ‘real world’, even when I was doing the bare minimum of the shitty work required to pay rent, like painting a warehouse floor at 5am, or cleaning a nightclub wall at 4am, I felt lucky. To have a focus… to have the option to make and think about art… to avoid the ‘real’. I don’t think I’ve been in the real world since my first day of my Foundation Diploma at Plymouth College of Art in 2001.
Your wall-based works are feats of engineering genius with the most amazing textured colour. Could you explain your process and how music and drawing fit in?
I feel uncomfortable thinking of these things as genius. I would agree that the work has a strange eloquence once it is finished. Something I find ‘strange’ because I know about all the stages leading up to it hanging on a wall. They’re really quite modest and scrappy, even.
The process is one that, instead of trying to fight my odd, compulsive behaviour, completely embraces it through compartmentalising the picture making process. It makes a weakness a strength. To break everything down into stages, then to break the picture surface down into pieces; it’s a way of working that I find so much more productive, whilst also allowing me to care for every individual part of a picture. Every graphic component can be held in my hand, slowly textured and pigmented, allowing an intimacy with the work I hadn’t really felt before.
Music has been material, content, motivation and fuel for the work. By that, I mean that early works were about actual songs or memories experienced during specific music. Animated work often has music in it. And, even when the work is inspired by something entirely different, listening to music helps me work. Hoping that the rhythm of the music can creep into the imagery. Music has also been a handy metaphor for understanding how to make and relate to a picture, too. Thinking about tone, texture, harmony, rhythm, pitch.
I am just as much inspired by the written and spoken word, traveling around London, design and old animated films as I am music. It’s just that I listen to music, a very certain type of music, for most of the time I am in the studio. Occasionally, watching old films as I work, especially animated ones. But the music I listen to is music that has the power to cast a spell over your body and alter your mood. People who make dance music know they have made good dance music through the involuntary reactions the body makes. The same can be said for people who write comedy. Art doesn’t have anything quite so specific or exaggerated in terms of bodily response. It can be far slower burning, too. I guess I like the idea that a work can make you dance or smile before you yourself have even worked out if it interests you on a more conscious level.
Last year at the RA Schools, as part of an Open Studios evening, you presented a performance where two jazz musicians improvised an arrangement according to the rhythms of a two-screen animated video you made. Was that an important and pivotal work for you – mixing live music with your animated video work? Do you plan on continuing in this vein in the future?
Yes and yes. I actually staged that performance again with a saxophone player in the summer, and I am working on a new animated work to be scored by musicians. But, rather than it be one, continuous piece, it will be broken down into chapters with different music and musicians depending on the character of each chapter. I can see it taking a few years to do.
The musicians I worked with were Gary Crosby, Moses Boyd and Binker Golding of Tomorrow’s Warriors (amongst other projects), a huge youth jazz orchestra who are based at Southbank Centre. I sometimes stop for a wee there on the way home and had the luck to hear them one day. Working with them was one of the most inspiring and humbling experiences I’ve ever had. True magicians. Their dedication to their craft has taught me a lot.
In December 2016 at a solo show in Paris at galeriepcp, you presented a new animated video work alongside your wall-based works for the first time. At a studio visit, you mentioned to me how it was important for the two media to be presented in different spaces in the gallery. Can you talk about that and why the separation is important to you?
I can’t read a book when the TV is on or music is playing. I find that the imaginative space I enter to read is very similar to how I would look at a painting. So, by that logic, I find it hard to look at a painting whilst moving image or sound is playing close by. I feel that literal, real-time, durational work snaps me out of my own imagination. But, equally, the hypnotic, transformative qualities that moving image and sound have are something I feel very excited about. It is just that the real-time sort of bullies the imaginative. There may be room soon to deliberately butt the two together at some point, finding energy in the clash. Who knows? But, for now, I feel there is much more to gain from keeping one over here, and one over there.
How did you approach your first solo show at Seventeen entitled “Whistle Bump Super Strut”? Given that your wall-based work has a vibrating pulse of its own, is the curation of the works across the space important to you?
Very much so, but in a space this large… or ‘spaces’ plural, I should say… it is less about a rhythm created through the quick succession of works in a line or circumference. That’s something I have played with in the past, as each work is generally quite individual and a sequential reading can be interesting. But, the larger size and dividing wall at Seventeen allows each work to have a huge amount of space around it. So I have thought about the show in terms of connections between works in the two different rooms, each one sharing one or more characteristics from another work in the other room. It is like a puzzle in my head. A little like the surfaces of the individual works. It isn’t meant to be a puzzle that needs solving. It’s more of a gentle guide from my end, to help ease the work into an otherwise quite daunting space.
There’s a Dave Hickey idea that crops up in both Air Guitar and Pirates and Farmers, about how artists should ‘think in shows’. That really struck me. And, since leaving the RA, it is an idea that has really influenced my thinking. For both the recent galeriepcp show, and the Seventeen show, I made mock ups of the space, so that, at the very least, I had a subconscious blueprint guiding the individual works. This doesn’t cement the works in any sort of order, either, but creates a set of moves should something not work or need to be swapped over. There’s a balance I look for.
Your next outing is Frieze New York in May… As an artist whose work is presented to different global audiences, do you think about that when making the work? Can the history of a place where you are showing impact on the work (e.g., New York is where disco was born)?
Generally… no. I think that, whilst my practice is largely described as abstract, almost all the work is in some way rooted in something real; something inextricably British or perceived through the lens of Britishness. But, over years and years of reduction, I seem to be left with the essence of an image or sound – a sort of familiarity without being able to directly pinpoint the reference. For me, then, it is interesting to see how that is received abroad. Whether or not the work can translate. Maybe it is more accurate to say that I do think about it, but that the history of the place I am showing the work in doesn’t directly affect what I make, although I think I feel less inhibited because it isn’t in London, seen by my closest friends and mentors. I massively underestimated the effect of that pressure for Whistle Bump Super Strut. By the end, I’d lost all objectivity and developed both a Berocca addiction and nervous twitch in my left eyelid.
HOWEVER, New York is probably the one exception, as it is somewhere I think about a lot. I think it affects what I make anyway. Growing up, my favourite music was from there, my favourite artists were from there, and my favourite BMX and skate videos were all set there. I think NY is special like that, in that you can feel you know it without ever going there. So, when I finally got the chance to go in my mid-20s, instead of the Empire State or Statue of Liberty, I made little tourist trips to the sites of Warhol’s Factory, the Cedar Tavern, Brooklyn Banks, Studio 54, The Loft, Paradise Garage, CBGBs and the corner of 53rd and 3rd from The Ramones song. New York exceeded my wildest expectations, and I have been infatuated with it ever since.
We found out that we got into Frieze late last year, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that infatuation added a little optimism to the work for Whistle Bump. The summery feel of disco emanating from a wintery basement in London. Maybe, then, for Frieze New York, I need to take a slice of drizzly, grey London to even the score.
Individual works and installation views from Rhys Coren’s solo exhibition, Whistle Bump Super Strut, at Seventeen, London (10th March – 15th April 2017), courtesy of the artist and Seventeen, London, Photo: Damian Griffiths.
About the Artist
Rhys Coren (b. 1983, Plymouth, UK) is a London-based artist who completed a Postgraduate Diploma at the Royal Academy Schools, London in 2016. Recent solo exhibitions include those at Seventeen, London (March 2017), galeriepcp, Paris (December 2016), Jerwood Project Space, London (2014), Horatio Jr., London (2014), and SPACE, London (2013). He recently curated the group exhibition Cuts, Shapes, Breaks and Scrapes at Seventeen, London alongside Gabriel Hartley and he has co-founded curatorial projects including Opening Times and bubblebyte.org. Selected recent group exhibitions include: Walled Gardens in an Insane Eden, Z2O Sara Zanin Gallery, Rome (2017); Beyond the Cartoon, Cassina Projects with ARTUNER, New York (2016); Royal Academy Schools Degree Show, Royal Academy of Arts, London (2016); Studio Leigh, London (2015); Drawing Biennial 2015, Drawing Room, London (2015); E-Vapor-8, Site Gallery, Sheffield, UK (2014); Symbolic Logic, Identity Gallery, Hong Kong (2014); Stop / Action, Test Space, Spike Island, Bristol, UK (2013); Young London, V22, London (2013); and Magic 8 Ball, FOLD, London (2013); The Response, The Sunday Painter, London (2012); Happy Accident, Wandering Around Wandering, New York (2012); VIDEO PROGETTO, Grand Union, Birmingham and 26CC, Rome, Italy (2010). Coren is represented by Seventeen in London and will present a solo booth for Seventeen at Frieze New York in May 2017 and a special screening at Kunstall Stavanger in Norway later this year.
As seen on FAD Magazine: http://fadmagazine.com/2017/03/23/marcelle-joseph-interviews-artist-rhys-coren/
Discovering the Estonian artist Kris Lemsalu initially at her durational performance at Frieze New York in 2015 and then again at CONDO (a collaborative exhibition by 36 galleries across 15 London spaces in January 2017), Marcelle Joseph is super excited to speak to Lemsalu to learn more about her multidisciplinary practice that melds ceramic sculptural installation with performance.
Her work can be seen across Europe in a travelling group exhibition titled Metamorphosis and curated by Zdenek Felix that starts at KAI 10 | Arthena Foundation, Düsseldorf (4 March – 20 May 2017) and Galerie Guido W. Baudach, Berlin (10 March – 22 April 2017) and then travels to SVIT, Prague (May – June 2017). For those in the UK, you will have to wait until the autumn when Glasgow gallery Koppe Astner hosts her first solo exhibition there.
Having studied ceramics at the Art Academy in Estonia, Lemsalu often mixes traditional materials (such as porcelain) with found natural materials (such as fur, leather and wool) to create humourous, ironic multilayered installations that flirt with notions of life and death. These uncanny installations often act as a stage for Lemsalu’s own performances with parts of the sculpture becoming a costume of sorts. A juxtaposition of high and low brow materials combined with a rough finish attribute a cynical element to her work that mocks art’s desirability in today’s overly moneyed global art market.
I initially spotted you at Frieze New York lying face-down on a waterbed under an enormous ceramic turtle shell sculpture for a four-hour long performance entitled Whole Alone 2 (2015). Do you often inhabit your own sculptural installations? Is their performativity important to the work? And on the flip side, is the presence of your body and its interaction with the viewer adding another element to the installation?
With some of my works, yes - they require my presence and contribution, a kind of baptism to continue their independent life and stay up late.
For CONDO in London at Southard Reid (January – February 2017), Koppe Astner presented a series of your Phantom Camp works, consisting of a porcelain dog’s head peeking out of a cheap polyester sleeping bag. These sleeping bags were dotted around the floor as well as hung at different heights on the wall with the sleeping bag trailing on the floor. The dog had his tongue hanging out and human hands covering his eyes. What captivated me the most about this installation was the combination of materials – refined porcelain with multi-coloured lustrous glazes and bargain basement sleeping bags. Can you talk about your approach to materials and their hierarchy?
There is a playful and very visual process going on in my head while thinking about a new work. Basically I need the materials to float on the same level and the value given to various materials does not exist in my head so I try to give the same consideration to each of them. I work very fast and have developed easy ways for casting and dealing with ceramics. I have come to terms with the fact that heat has its own plans -- what comes out of the kiln may it be broken or exploded. Mostly I don't want any of the materials to sit in the back of the bus.
The porcelain dog’s head with human hands and feet appears often in your sculptural installations going back to your work Father is in Town (2012). Who is this anthropomorphic dog and what does he or she represent?
It shifts in meaning; it can be your best friend, an omen of death and all things in-between.
When thinking about your work, the “cabinet of curiosities” and the “uncanny” often come to mind. What inspires your art production?
My life and works are very much intertwined, so as long as I'm alive, I don't particularly need to search for inspiration.
As a multidisciplinary artist, what comes first for you? The performance or the sculptural installation? The idea or the materials?
First of all, it's the desperate need to communicate that makes me do what I do, so it depends what needs to be said. Lately my work feels more like a lone man's smoke signal at sea, trying to find other humans.
Many young contemporary artists are breathing new life into the medium of clay. What inspires you most about the use of ceramics in your sculptural practice?
I've worked with clay since I was 12 when my mother took me to a ceramics workshop with all the other neighbourhood kids. I took a break when adolescence kicked in, but after high school, I missed the material and decided to study ceramics at the Art Academy of Estonia. After that, I made some more attempts to abandon the material, but never managed to for too long. Clay is my healthy addiction and a physical need that lures me back to the studio - my Paul Simon.
What shall we look forward to seeing in the travelling group exhibition, Metamorphosis in Dûsseldorf, Berlin and Prague this spring and summer? Do you identify with the show’s theme based around Ovid’s tales of transformations among gods, heroes, humans, plants and animals in your own practice?
I look forward to seeing the other artists - Habima Fuchs, Thomas Helbig, Renaud Jerez and Mary-Audrey Ramirez again and for the rest … we shall see.
Artist website: LINK
Koppe Astner, Glasgow website: LINK
Temnikova & Kasela, Tallinn, Estonia website: LINK
Metamorphosis at KAI 10 | Arthena Foundation, Düsseldorf: LINK
Metamorphosis at Galerie Guido W. Baudach, Berlin: LINK
Courtesy of the artist, Koppe Astner, Glasgow and Temnikova & Kasela, Tallinn.
- Kris Lemsalu, Car2Go, 2016, metal glass, plastic, brick ceramic and fabric, dimensions variable, installation view at Galerie Guido W. Baudach, Berlin, 2017.
- Kris Lemsalu, Whole Alone 2, 2015, porcelain, eggs and egg crates, waterbed, metal, hair, dimensions variable, installation view at Frieze New York, 2015.
- Kris Lemsalu, Phantom Camp, 2016, porcelain and fabric, dimensions variable, installation view at CONDO 2017, Koppe Astner at Southard Reid, London, 2017.
- Kris Lemsalu, Father is in Town, 2012 ceramic, lamb fur, wild pig fur, foam, dimensions variable, installation view at Galerie Tanja Wagner, Berlin, 2012.
- Kris Lemsalu, Samsonite, 2012, autoportrait.
- Kris Lemsalu, Phantom Camp (detail), 2016, porcelain and fabric, dimensions variable, installation view at CONDO 2017, Koppe Astner at Southard Reid, London, 2017.
About the Artist
Kris Lemsalu (b. 1985) is an Estonian artist based in Tallinn, Vienna and Berlin. She studied ceramics at the Estonian Academy of Arts in Tallinn and sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Lemsalu has shown widely both in Estonia and abroad. Her recent and upcoming solo and duo exhibitions include: upcoming solo show, Koppe Astner, Glasgow (2017); upcoming duo exhibition together with Merike Estna, curated by Thomas Cuckle, Tallinn, Vienna and Berlin (2017); CONDO collaborative exhibition, Kendall Koppe at Southard Reid, London (2017); "Afternoon Tear Drinker", curated by Hemma Schmutz, Kunstraum Lakeside, Klagenfurt (2016); "Beauty and the Beast", (together with Tiit Pääsuke), curated by Tamara Luuk, Tallinn Art Hall, Tallinn (2016); “Blood Knot Step By Step”, Bunshitu Gallery, Tokyo (2015); “Fine With Afterlife”, Ferdinand Bauman Gallery, Prague (2015); “Lord Got To Keep On Groovin”, Temnikova & Kasela gallery, Tallinn (2013); “Top Sinner”, Pro Choice, Vienna (2012); “Evian Desert”, Tanja Wagner gallery, Berlin (2012); and “Being Together” (together with Edith Karlson), Temnikova & Kasela gallery, Tallinn (2012). Selection of Kris Lemsalu's recent and upcoming group exhibitions and performances: "Metamorphosis", curated by Zdenek Felix, KAI 10 / Arthena Foundation, Düsseldorf; Galerie Guido W. Baudach, Berlin; and Galerie SVIT, Prague (2017); "Les Urbaines - 20th edition", curated by Elise Lammer, Les Urbaines, Lausanne (2016); "Winter Is Coming (Homage to the Future)", curated by Maria Arusoo, Georg Kargl gallery, Vienna (2016); Performance together with Gelatin, Manifesta 11, Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich (2016); "On Disappearing & For Vanishing", curated by Sten Ojavee, Tartu Art Museum, Tartu (2016); "Jumanji", Soft Focus Institute, Ghent (2016); "The Ultimate Vessel", gallery Koppe Astner, Glasgow (2015); "Sequences", real time art festival, Reykjavik (2015); “I’m A Painting” curated by Merike Estna and Kati Ilves, KUMU art museum, Tallinn (2014); “Urschleim”, Fauna, Copenhagen (2013); “is my territory.” curated by Monica Bonvicini, Christine König Galerie, Vienna (2013); and “Jeden Tag Gelatin”, 21er Haus, Vienna (2013).
British artist Jessie Makinson paints exquisite multi-layered figurative compositions that drop art historical references as well as borrow patterns and motifs from other times. These flights of fancy that contain only female figures are nostalgic of the boudoir of Marie Antoinette circa 1775 with a colour palette to match the legendary cakes of the then Queen of France. In June 2016, she was named the main prize winner of the Marmite Painting Prize V shortly after finishing the two-year Turps Painting Programme in London. Her work can currently be seen in a group show organised by Hamish Pearce and Will Rees called "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose its Flavour (on the Bedpost Overnight)?" at J Hammond Projects in north London (until 18th March).
Your paintings are densely populated with aesthetic stimuli – from art historical references to fashion and interior design elements. How do you start your creative process, and how do you go about structuring these layered compositions?
My practice is led by and revolves entirely around drawing. I draw at every stage of my process. I draw to think, to remember, to understand. For me, drawing is the first step in making thought physical. All the motifs, compositions and imagery originate from a kind of automatic drawing that I do. I find drawing and painting to have the ability to make sense of the information I have absorbed. When it comes to the paintings, they are not planned. I will mix up pigments and paint a large drawing all over the canvas, forming a pattern-like structure. This embeds the drawing and composition into the surface of the painting, creating a flow and relationship to the space of the surface that planning can't allow. I then look for imagery within the under drawing, referring back to my sketches, books, photos and notes. I like to work quite intuitively, allowing the narrative to be found in the act of making the painting. As each face, shape, line, colour is added, it informs the next and the narrative shifts. References to art history are also found in the painting. As I draw from and look at a lot of historical painting, I trust my experience to create associations within the work. I have always been interested in the flexibility of time within a painting, and the ease with which narratives can be non-linear. Making the paintings, I aim to find the balance between intuition and control.
The figurative elements in your paintings are always women, save for the occasional animal or bird. Why the fixation on the female body?
The figures depicted in the paintings are usually women, but there tends to be a male presence perhaps off the canvas, as a shadow figure or an animal. I feel that an absence can often suggest something indirectly and leave room for multiple narratives. Early on when I began focusing on women, I was asked 'but where are all the men?' I found that men and women ask the question differently. I often shift back and forth, considering the women as just a means to make the painting or conversely the whole purpose. I like the idea that painting could encapsulate these two ideas simultaneously. Can something be both things or neither? I like that painting accepts that things are not black and white.
Colour and motif appear to be tightly bundled together in your work. What comes first? Does the motif or pattern inspire the palette or the other way around? Do you set the work in a specific historical time period which may influence the spectrum of colour?
Currently, I am looking at Rococo palettes, but different series tend to be either held together by a colour palette or informed by it -- with palettes often borrowed from patterns or painting. My colours seem to simultaneously evoke both the past and the future, often referencing time periods or places, but they are obviously not the traditional palettes of those periods. They can have a very 'English' quality to them whilst also suggesting an 'otherness'. I am interested in the ability of painting to create a sense of a time or place that I have never been to -- a fictional place that is recognisable and known, but is conjured from memories of writing, film and stories. Recently, I have been looking at Japanese Shunga wood prints as I saw a reflection of my own work in the humorous, sexual, patterned images of couples in interiors. I am interested in pattern saying something about the character of a figure as well as the nature of the space within the painting. The relationship between clothes, pattern, women and interiors reflects my interest in the reciprocal nature of space. The idea of ‘space being the other half of us’ is something that has echoed through my work for many years.
Are the titles of your paintings revealing in terms of creating some sort of narrative in the work? I particularly like the titles, Swamp Fox, French Girls, I Never Liked You and Get Your Own Pillow.
I am a complete thief when it comes to titles. I gather them from everywhere - from conversations, books, music, anything. I recently made them impossible to read, collecting hundreds of titles from books by taking words out of context; 'Door a crack', 'Saw a strange', 'Serious crush', 'la giggles', 'King me', they start to read like a sort of poem. This is something I plan to play on a lot more in my next show. They often have double meanings, suggest narrative possibilities or are something I find funny. I see titles as an opportunity to be playful and a chance to not take the painting too seriously.
You have had a diverse fine art educational background – from Edinburgh College of Art to The Royal Drawing School and from a three month residency in Tuscany to the two-year Turps Painting Programme in London. How do you compare the different art school approaches and which training has been the most valuable experience in terms of your current artistic practice?
I had five years out before the drawing year [at the Royal Drawing School], so when I got there, I knew what I wanted to do with my work. I just had no idea how to do it. The Royal Drawing School really opened by eyes to historical painting and drawing from it. This was extremely formative for my practice as it is now. It is not as academic as it is considered to be – I still have no idea how to draw traditionally. You learn through doing. I learnt the ability to find, in the world around me, things that belong in the world of my painting. I learnt to edit the things I see, so that when I'm making an observational drawing, I am making the drawing I was always going to make. The content is not necessarily my subject matter. When I came to Turps, I didn't really know any other painters in London, and our year had so many great painters on it, so it really changed my life in that respect. Turps from the beginning felt how art school should be -- the location next to other artist studios, the tutors and the ethos. There was a huge energy to work hard, to change and to take risks.
Congratulations on winning the Marmite Painting Prize V in 2016. How important has this award been in terms of exposure and opening up doors for you?
Thank you. The Marmite Prize was a fantastic show to be a part of and a good reflection of the land of painting. It's hard to know how much it has helped me directly. I've met a lot of great people through it, particularly painters.
You are currently undertaking a six-month residency at City and Guilds in London. Is this a time of experimentation or research for you? What do you want to achieve while there?
I'm very excited about the residency as it offers a studio and access to all the workshops at the school from glass, metal, carving, ceramics and printmaking. I will still paint whilst I am there but have plans to experiment: making objects in different mediums resulting in a tactile installation that inhabits my paintings, wall drawings and the objects I have made over the residency.
Artist’s website: LINK
J Hammond Projects group show (until 18th March): LINK
About the Artist
Jessie Makinson is a British painter living and working in London. She graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 2007 with a BA in Drawing and Painting, before attending The Drawing Year at The Royal Drawing School in 2011. In 2013, she was awarded the school’s fully-funded Moritz-Heyman Artists’ Residency in Tuscany, Italy and later received the Sir Denis Mahon Award 2014–15. Jessie finished the two-year Turps Painting Programme in London in 2016. Later that year, she was the winner of the Marmite Painting Prize V which also entailed exhibitions at Block 336, London and Highlanes Gallery, Drogheda in Northern Ireland. Her work has been shown in a number of solo and group exhibitions at notable galleries and museums including, among others, solo shows at Roman Road, London (2016), 9B Projects, London (2015) and The Princes Drawing School, London (2015) and a group show entitled Captain Lightfoot Presents... at The Glasshouse in Edinburgh, part of the 2014 Arts Festival.
Emma Cousin is a British artist, curator, writer and poet whose humorous and surreal works on canvas and paper have already featured in London in two group shows, a solo show and a two-person show in the first two months of 2017. Her work can currently be seen in group shows at The House of St Barnabas in Soho until 5th July 2017 and at Transition Gallery in Hackney until 4th March. Legs are the subject matter of choice of Cousin’s oeuvre that examines the human condition and the history of painting through a mixture of figurative and geometric elements rendered in a distinctively painterly style using a bold colour palette and with particular attention to the symbolic meaning of the visual forms depicted in her work.
So let’s talk about legs… You have been painting and drawing legs for the last few years. You have spoken about these body parts representing a visual vocabulary of sorts. Can you explain more about your use of this representational motif in your work?
The leg represents a stand-in for humans that we can all relate to and 'read'. Its value is its agency; it implies movement and effect. Linguistically, there are wonderful wordplays originating from it that stoke powerful imagery and humour when taken literally 'leg up, leg over, legless' and highlight the complexity and absurdities of our semiotics. As a repeatable element, the leg provides a unit in which to explore the formal concerns of paint- the ground vs the ground we stand on, the weight, the form, pattern and so on.
There is also the tension between corporeal presence and absence of a fragment. A limb/a leg. This also suggests vulnerability – perhaps fragment as representative of part or whole in a process of substitution. And something unique and multiple which nods to identity. And a part of a social engagement, society as a whole.
As such, the leg offers a structure:
- to 'build' a painting with (thinking about our brief parallel to systems painters);
- a representational device for humans and social behaviour reflection (links to how we are with one another but also how we live and fit in, in terms of space and architecture); and
- a system through which to think about paint on the support, which is the canvas/wall/frame/gallery/geometry.
Emma Cousin, Ugly contest, 2016, oil on canvas, 140 x 100 cm.
You were the artist in residence in Painting at the Wimbledon College of Arts last autumn. What did this residency entail? From your blog, it looks like you collected all sorts of photographs of, artworks related to and poems about legs as well as hosting a programme of workshops, film screenings and talks. You presented a solo show of the work and research from this residency in February at the Delta House Gallery. What did you present and do you think this residency will foster any shifts or new developments in your painting practice?
The residency involved being immersed in a studio within the student studios with an open door policy. I encouraged this by asking the students or anyone that saw the poster (staff etc.) to 'bring me a leg' which I built into a body of research alongside my own that was pinned to one wall of my 'in situ' studio. In exchange I gave them a banana -- emphasising the possibilities of liquidity and exchange that aren't based on capitalism. I also invited my peers to post or make or send me responses remotely, like writings from Louise Ashcroft and Paul Carey-Kent. I added the ballast of my existing 'language' with drawings, collages, cut outs, line sketches and found things. It grew organically and humorously, enabling me to step back and take stock of all the 'chapters' involved in order to view the complexity of the stand-in -- all the things the leg could evoke, embrace, engage and refer to or represent.
At the the same time, I put together a series of workshops that ran weekly throughout the residency to think about our messed up semiotics as humans - i.e., language, sign, symbol, image, allegory, inherited information and so on. For example, one workshop was on the body and gesture, thinking about recent politics, stances and language. I invited the brilliant artist Holly Slingsby to develop this workshop. We used contemporary dance and performance techniques to guide playful games to think about our stance as young artists and how we can use what we have around us to assert or investigate this position. We also held discussions on how to sustain artists’ practices post-study, which is a demonstrative aspect of the artist in residence.
Alongside this, I gave a few full days of tutorials, which I loved, and was one of the best aspects of the residency. These exchanges inspired a series of paintings about the balance between fear and thirst for knowledge that the students currently there seem to embody absolutely. Bananas also feature in some of them (!) and Morandi who is increasingly important to me.
The library was a real treat and a chance to explore my increasing interest in dance and the body through theory and fashion history. Access to the foundry and print facilities meant I could play myself and realise a series of bronze 'trophies', which are a very exciting development. The materiality of the foundry excited me too, and I would like to work further with silicon and shellac which I learnt how to use. Drew, the technician there, is exceptional and very patient!
Essentially, it allowed me to zoom in and then out and then in again and see the body of work as a whole in order to see where it could go next. It also provided the room and support to collate all the research (drawings, writing, painting, etc.) together, which has formed a book called Legwork, which is what I called the residency. It is a sort of visual and verbal exploration of the leg language and its evolution. The book will be launched at my solo exhibition, 'Sick Little Monkeys', featuring basic video and sound, wallpaper, paintings, the trophies and possibly a carpet of legs that I've made..!
That was a long answer but it was a very dense time!
For the group show EARS FOR THE EYES curated by Paul Carey-Kent at Transition Gallery (10 February – 4 March 2017), you are presenting a painting entitled “Falling on Deaf Ears” as well as a poem entitled “Hearing aids”. How does writing and poetry fit into or inform your practice?
They are essentially parallel forms of exploring our semiotics as human, visual and linguistic, and using both sets up the opportunity to make unexpected and often numerous connections and to explore the depth of an image, sign or idea. ‘Falling on deaf ears’ was the phrase that inspired both the work and the writing. This phrase originally came from a drawing I made ages ago with this title. Observing my grandparents fuelled the poem 'hearing aids'. That writing then gave me some missing information for the painting, such as palette and emotion, though the physicality (painting style and composition) had been drawn from the initial word play, ‘falling on deaf ears’. I often like to think of these absurd statements literally and use a visual form to see what happens. It's a fun way to start a painting. This one was slow though as it seemed like I had to write the poem to resolve the painting and then revisit and edit the poem again. It's a constant to and fro and at the time, the writing and the painting seem like two different things. I think that the brain and its inherited semiotics make the connections intuitively first. Sometimes, there are poems with no paintings, often in fact. And vice versa. The real link is that both are ways of looking, reflecting and understanding.
In 2015, you founded and organised the exhibition programme for a year-long project space in your gutted and soon to be refurbished home in Brockley called Bread and Jam, working with over 100 artists during that period. What were some of the highlights of that project and did this curatorial experience have any spill-over into your own practice?
The highlights have to be the artworks. And the social aspects - the performances, readings, workshops, the library - that all reached out to the public in an audience ranging from House and Garden magazine to our neighbours and their kids! Watching the shows evolve and trying to work organically with them to guide and gently curate something cohesive whilst remaining true to our ethos of play and experimentation was very challenging and exciting. I learnt that if you ask for help and the project is interesting, people generally say yes! The baker, Coopers Bakehouse, that I contacted sponsored every show from the start with free warm loaves of bread cycled round on the eve of the private view. So we could feed everyone that came to see a show. Again, this was an important social element. Over the course of the programme, we showed a video by a seventeen year old, showed a piece which went on to be shown at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, housed poisonous flowers in a sculptural installation that featured milk (Miriam Austin) and premiered sound pieces by established artists. It was a rollercoaster of learning and creativity and fun and chaos and collaboration. I remain indebted to Emily Austin and Rebecca Glover for supporting my initial idea and working with me to realise it. They remain good friends and Emily and I continue to collaborate. This is a precious outcome of the project. I have also gained confidence and feel less fearful. The worst that can happen is that is doesn't happen at all.
You co-curated a wonderfully researched and presented group show called “It’s Offal” in December 2016 at ArthouSE1 in London, featuring historic as well as contemporary artworks by 29 artists, from Hermann Nitsch, Piero Manzoni and Helen Chadwick to early career artists such as Nils Alix-Tabling, Jane Hayes Greenwood and Nicholas Hatfull, exploring what lies within – from excrement to innards. How did this show come about and what inspired the curatorial theme?
Well, firstly thank you! Ha! This is funny as the real answer is the food itself, offal! Emily (Austin, a brilliant collaborator) and I ate a lot of offal at Bread and Jam before the invigilating started on the weekend (the benefit of living in the show is that you can cook for and eat with everyone all the time! This became a massive part of Bread and Jam). So we just started talking about it and why we loved it so much and assessed the reaction this habit received from other artists. It raised questions on value at the beginning, what we throw away (offal comes from abfall which means throw away), which is one of my concerns in my work. Quickly, it became a discussion about the body, one of my rooted interests, and I liked the fact it made me think about the 'bodily' nature of painting, the materiality of the stuff. As a student at the Ruskin, we had fab lectures on Gina Pane and Marina Abramovic whom I became a little obsessed with so when we revisited these women and their actions in the history books and through private collections and found that the contemporary rhetoric has morphed into a new territory, it spiked our interest. We researched the show for eight months, focusing on exploring the theme as fully as possible, talking to people, visiting greasy spoons and eating liver and gravy, interviewing older people who had different notions of its value, reading about beauty and ugliness, pleasure and repulsion, innards and excrement and discussing the idea with other artists. In the end, the show was pretty expansive with 26 artists including 10 private loans, two new films and many contemporary works made for the show in response to the theme. We also commissioned two performance artists to make new work and they performed at the private view and symposium, where Patrick Brandon's commissioned poems in response to the show were showcased. It was brilliant. It also shows you how long it takes to really put on a show on that level.
What’s next for you in 2017?
After a very busy start, I am happy to be back in the studio and in my painting routine again. I am currently working on a piece about looking at painting. Which is really, just about painting. What it's for and why we do it or look at it. It's hard. I am also re-reading as much John Berger as possible. My contemporary dance education, both physical and theoretical, also continues. I love it. And Emily and I are also planning and discussing two possible shows in the future. It's going to be fun!
Artist’s website: emmacousin.com
EARS FOR THE EYES at Transition Gallery, London (until 4th March): LINK
Wimbledon College of Arts Residency: LINK
Bread and Jam Project Space: LINK
About the Artist
Emma Cousin graduated from the The Ruskin School of Art, Oxford in 2007. She was recently Artist in Residence in the BA Painting Studio at Wimbledon College of Art with a solo show of the work and research in February 2017 at the Delta House Gallery. Other recent selected shows include: Mudhook, a two-person show with Milly Peck at Tintype Gallery, London (2017); The Other Side, a group show at The House of St Barnabas, London (2017); Ears For The Eye, a group show at Transition Gallery, London (2017); The Marmite Painting Prize (in which she was runner-up), London and Ireland (2016); making the nature scene, The Tannery, London (2016); Seven Painters, a group show at Arcade Gallery, Cardiff (2016); Lucy in the Sky, Transition Gallery, London(2015); Luck and Chance and Foule Parliament, both touring group shows in 2015. Cousin was selected for the Lynn Painter Stainers Prize and shortlisted for the Anthology Prize, both in 2016. Emma Cousin and Emily Austin recently co-curated It’s Offal, at Arthouse1 Gallery, London (2016). Cousin also ran the curated project space Bread and Jam in her home in Brockley, London for a year in 2015-16.
As seen on FAD Magazine: http://fadmagazine.com/2017/03/02/marcelle-joseph-interviews-artist-emma-cousin-legs/
Holly Hendry doesn’t do anything by halves. After graduating from the Royal College of Art in July 2016, her work has been exhibited at a group show commemorating The Royal Standard’s tenth anniversary in Liverpool (30 July – 11 September 2016), alongside more experienced practitioners such as Jonathan Baldock, David Blandy, Celia Hempton, Liliane Lijn and Jess Flood Paddock. Hendry’s work is currently on display at Kunstforeningen GL STRAND in Copenhagen at EXTRACT, an art prize exhibition presenting seven young rising stars newly graduated from art academies in Beijing, London and Copenhagen (21 January - 5 March 2017). Even bigger news is that a new body of sculptures by Hendry is the focus of a solo exhibition at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, running until 24th September. And please look out for upcoming exhibitions of Hendry’s work at Limoncello, her new gallery in London.
Taking this splendid occasion to speak with Hendry, Marcelle Joseph attempts to get to the bottom of what drives Hendry’s materials-focused sculpture practice.
Congratulations on your solo show at the BALTIC that opened last week! Just reading through the materials you used for this show – jesmonite, plaster, foam, wood, steel and water-jet cut marble, I am exhausted… What drives your choice of materials?
Thank you! The materials you list originate from a long line of tests and collections as well as computer drawings (which I transfer into water-jet cut elements) and collected objects (which I remake in a different type of material). Most of the time, the material tests and the final forms come from an investigative process, where I’m trying to get closer to the characteristics of something; it’s specific qualities that make it what it is. For example, the marble cut elements relate to the ideas behind the work – a connection to the ground and compression of substances, layers of time and fragments and bodies. I’m interested in these sites of production where we mine these sort of materials from the ground, creating cavities in their absence, and the way they are primed and polished and finished to be used to coat the inside of homes, like a kitchen counter. I’ve cut some of these slabs into squiggly shapes that are inlaid into the work, and together they look like worms or the insides of our bodies, so it’s a lot to do with systems of regurgitation, of a cyclical nature, almost cannibalistic. It relates to bodies and things turning into stuff again, perhaps recounting Freud’s death drive where he says we desire to return to the indeterminacy of an inorganic state.
I have also used jesmonite combined with other materials to create textures made up from materials that exist around us – new types of composites that seem so far from archeology. They contain spat-out bits of chewing gum, soap, plastics, cosmetics, cat litter and fish tank rocks to name a few. These materials are agglomerates that form new types of stone from our environment, stuff that is circulating and accumulating with nowhere to go. The work itself is a lot to do with making and the making is very tied up in the thinking behind the work so it’s crammed with these details that have meaning to me, which are very tied to the materials they are made from.
Looking at your multi-layered luscious sculptures, for me, it is one-part wedding cake to two parts geological strata in pastel candy-coloured hues. How do you achieve this incredibly moreish effect? Could you describe your process and use of casting?
It’s a process of working back to front and inside out. The physical making is a combination of casting, pouring and fabricating which cohabit as one – lots of invented methods and material combinations. The layered sculptures begin with a negative mould - the crate - which dictates the shape of the work, as the materials are formed within this. For my Gut Feelings work, I have used the example of an endocast to help me speak about my making of and thinking about the work - an endocast being the internal cast of a hollow object. Natural endocasts, which are a type of fossil, are formed when the remains of an organism dissolve in the ground, and the remaining organism-shaped hole is later filled with other minerals and sediments in the internal cavity of that organism – creating a positive from the absent shell of the original object and a trace of something that existed. It’s about time and change but also the filling of a negative space – I think the endocast does a good job in encapsulating my interest in this membrane that surrounds us and other things, and points when these contours shift and morph, and turn inside of themselves.
Your works have a monumental, architectonic stature. When we first met, I found out that your father is an architect. Has that upbringing influenced your own art practice?
Yes he is – my whole family are very creative. I grew up in a house that my Dad designed and built with his friends, so space-making and building were part of my vocabulary from when I was young – seeing this hands-on experience of a living space emerge. I think there is an interesting relationship between the spaces you shape and build, and in return, how these come back to shape the way you live. I love the weird things that happen when you know a space so well – like the way that you can navigate it in complete darkness, purely through touch. So yes, these ideas of building big and taking on a space feel pretty natural to me in terms of making.
You often work in a site-specific fashion and make sculptures that explore different ways of containing and constructing space as if these inanimate objects were living, breathing organisms. Are you always thinking about contemporary society’s use of space when making your work?
I like to challenge these spaces, and this provides challenges for the work. My approach to space relates to edges, usually using the building as a skeletal container as the starting point. The works themselves also use architectural elements that refer to our use of space in a wider context. These forms mimic elements from design or public spaces as well as furniture or medical equipment - generalized body forms, inspired by the shape of things that are designed to fit our bodies like a sun lounger’s curves or the indents on a handle that show us where to grip – physical instructions for our bodies to fit to. We have lots of distractions that distract us from looking at architecture, and there are public devices to make us subconsciously move and live in certain ways. I think these devices are fascinating, as well as the function of the architecture itself, and its material makeup. So in a sense it’s what we’re not thinking about, that I like to think about.
In opposition to this, my approach to architecture is pretty physical; it’s an embrace where succulence and sensation are introduced into the sphere of architecture, which is usually bound by a more intellectual critique. I really enjoy this physical interaction. The spaces where I show my work are usually the solid frameworks or edges where more compulsive engagements and chunks of materials and processes can exist within, but it’s a real engagement between both things. These spaces seem to have the same role as the crates (or moulds) where my materials and layers are poured into – with fixed boundaries, but totally essential in the concept, production, display and form of the work.
Your use of colour is ingenious and is often grounded in a research-based conceptual framework. What inspired the colours for your BALTIC show?
Previous research has delved into the theory of institutional interiors and the effect of such colours on your physiology. The colours for the BALTIC show are similar to my more recent works in their slightly deadened candy coloured hues, but this show in particular uses colours more specific to medicine – the colours of the thermoplastics used to make splints and the minty green of scrubs – light blues, greens and purples. This might not be completely recognisable, but it is the origins of my choices. I have been looking at a lot of medical cross sections in my partner’s anatomy books, as well as cross sectional cuts in architecture and diagrams of ships, where the colours are used to name and divide.
There is also a cartoon element in their sweetness which I feel is important in relation to the murkier subject matter. I like the way that the colours evoke a reaction which targets the senses – through taste, smell or even touch – so combined with these ideas of digestion or decomposition, there becomes some strange implied cycle – material, mineral and vegetable breakdown and reformation- partially brought on by our relationship with the colours.
You embarked upon a yearlong residency at BALTIC 39 studios after winning the Woon Foundation Prize for Painting and Sculpture in 2013. What does it feel like to go back to Newcastle to show your work at the BALTIC? Can you give us a brief synopsis of the show?
Newcastle is an amazing and vibrant city and I am so pleased to be back up here showing work at BALTIC, it feels very important to me.
The exhibition brings together new works, which I’ve made for the level 2 space at BALTIC. There are variations of surfaces and planes, where holes are cut in walls and one section of the floor is almost extruded up to form a platform where toothy-boney sculptures tower above. There’s a shifting of macro and micro where people are brought up close to the forms that speak of the underneath – whether that is under our feet or under our skin. It’s a closer look at impressions of objects, bodies and ‘stuff’.
All photos: Holly Hendry, installation view of 'Wrot' at The Baltic Centre For Contemporary Art, Gateshead, 2017. Photo: Mark Pinder/BALTIC. Courtesy of BALTIC and the artist.
EXTRACT at GL STRAND, Copenhagen (21 January - 5 March 2017): LINK
Wrot: Holly Hendry at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead (18 February - 24 September 2017): LINK
Artist's gallery website: LIMONCELLO
Artist's website: LINK
About the Artist
Holly Hendry (b. 1990, based in London) gained her BA Fine Art at The Slade School of Fine Art (2013) and her MA Sculpture at the Royal College of Art (2016). Recent solo shows include those at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead (2017); Limoncello Cork Street, London (with Kate Owens); Rice + Toye, London (both 2016); Bosse & Baum, London (2015); The Oval, London; and Gallery North, Newcastle (both 2014). Recent group shows include Kunstforeningen GL Strand (2017); Copenhagen; VITRINE, London; The Royal Standard, Liverpool; CBS Gallery, Liverpool; Cowley Manor, Cotswolds (all 2016); Turf Project Space, Croydon; Chesterfield House, London; Salt + Powell, York (all 2015); S1 Artspace, Sheffield; and Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah (both 2014).
As seen on FAD Magazine: http://fadmagazine.com/2017/02/23/marcelle-joseph-interviews-sculptor-holly-hendry/
On the occasion of the opening of the group show, Parallax scrolling, at Breese Little in London on 26th January 2017, Marcelle Joseph interviews the British artist Lauren Keeley. Her work is featured in this exhibition alongside that of fellow British artists Nicholas Hatfull and Jackson Sprague. Keeley’s practice encompasses many processes of image-making including painting, photography, printmaking, digital design and rendering software, melding the hand-crafted with the digital age to create intricate, meticulously designed artworks of unadulterated beauty and reflection.
When I think of your work, the first word that springs to mind is “motif”. Your blend of cropped figure, pattern, objet d’art, furniture, interior architectural details and exterior landscape is curious as there does not appear to be any hierarchy among these pictorial elements, rendering the figure just another motif in the tableau. How do you think about “motif” in your practice?
Motifs are certainly really central to my work, I use them ornamentally, as symbols but also as a theme or idea with which to structure the imagery. So, for example, a frequent motif in my work has been the window which I’ve been drawn to because it acts as an intermediary between an interior and exterior space but is also a metaphor for the image, the framed view. I then like playing with these zones of space, shifting the emphasis between the interior and exterior across works and using cropping to give a sense of incompleteness — that there is more to see beyond the frame.
Motifs that are used in these interior and exterior spaces are mostly decorative; there is an element of needing to fill or decorate the pictorial space, whether that be furniture in a room or plants in a garden. For some of the elements, they are included to create textures and detail across the surface of the panels, through using a mixture of inlay, screenprint and coloured fabrics. Then there are often a few elements which have a role of creating points of focus in the image to interrupt the familiar interior/exterior setting. For example, figures and animals are often used to move between spaces, whether this be within the pictorial space or beyond the frame entirely. And then I might include a picture or a mirror to create further pictorial spaces. The picture opens up an extra space and the mirror is reflexive, reflecting the depicted space from beyond the frame.
You’re right in saying there appears to be no hierarchy amongst the elements. Whilst some have a stronger part to play in creating moments of focus across the composition, generally it is about creating visual patterns and textures and points of detail, and I may pay more attention to the herringbone brickwork pattern of a floor than I do to a figure. I quite like this because even though the works are very elaborate and filled with various materials and processes, there is also a real flatness, almost an emptiness that sort of nulls everything.
Lauren Keeley, Flurry (2015), acrylic, linen and wenge on board, 168 x 126 cm.
You describe yourself as a painter and a print maker on your website and your work often sits on the wall but your process is very different from a traditional painter. Could you describe your intricate process of layering laser-cut wood either painted, printed, left in its raw state or covered in linen?
Yes, the work is made up of wooden panels which are layered together to create a relief; whilst portraying imagery, they are physically very sculptural, acting as a sort of frieze on the wall. Each panel is a combination of coloured linens, hardwood elements and screenprint. The first stage of the work is digital. I design the imagery in Illustrator editing software, and from this flat illustration, I can decide how the work will be structured, how the various elements will be treated and to work out the palette. From here, I reduce the imagery to simple lines which get laser cut across various thin plywood panels to form the basic jigsaw puzzle of each work.
Once I have the laser cutting, the rest of the work is very manual. It’s a case of building the panels so initially there is a lot of woodwork involved, and once the panels are made up, they then are stretched in fabrics. On each panel, there may be a variety of fabrics, sections that are shaped instead of straight edged, hardwood inserts and some elements may have screenprints on them too, so the surface of a panel will be handled in a variety of ways. I do this by inlaying separate parts into the surface, so I can treat the various sections differently which then comes together like a big jigsaw puzzle in the end.
Your work explores many periods and styles from neo-classicism to rococo, post-war modern to contemporary style. When I visited your studio, you were in the middle of researching ceramics at the Victoria & Albert Museum. How do you start on a new body of work? Where do you find your period references?
The initial motivation for a new body of work often comes from a rather vague place; it might be a small detail from a film, artwork or book, or be something that I’ve seen that sparks an idea. To use the word motif again, there is often a theme or structure I am drawn to that I feel could form the basis for a body of work. From there, I am much more focussed and research histories and narratives I find that connect to the idea. I often visit places that could provide useful visual source material, so for example if I know there is going to be a garden element in the work, I will go and visit interesting gardens, taking lots of photos and looking for any elements I could extract and use. Barbara Hepworth’s garden in St Ives formed the basis for a few previous works; I was really drawn to the connections between the forms found in her garden and those seen in her art. It really is a place where art and nature mix and merge.
Once I’m quite sure of an idea I start working on the drawings in Illustrator and do a lot of image collecting. It’s very much like sourcing props for a stage set and normally there’s a to and fro between the drawing and these props. They both inform each other. I generally don’t have a set idea for the drawings before I start them; they are quite intuitive and will change an awful lot before I settle on the final fixed idea. Because the paintings are then entirely based on a composition of laser cut panels, there's little flexibility, so the drawing stage is really important for the final result. There have certainly been instances where a drawing hasn’t been entirely resolved but I’ve gone ahead with a work anyway and had disappointing results. I’ve just had to learn that even though there's not much to physically show in this stage of the work and it can feel a little intangible, it’s a really crucial part of the process which needs to be fully resolved before the work is started physically.
Lauren Keeley, Ode on an Urn (Newcomb/Wedgewood) (2016), linen, acrylic, walnut and wenge on board, 32 x 45 cm.
At Frieze London in October 2016, you presented your first pieces of sculpture in the form of these incredibly vibrant and humorous painted tables and chairs reminiscent of those found in a traditional Italian trattoria. Was this a difficult transition or a natural progression from your flattened three-dimensional wall paintings?
It did feel like a natural progression and something I’ve been wanting to explore for some time. The group presentation and trattoria theme for the booth became the perfect occasion to try this out. If you imagine with the paintings before they are layered together, they exist as parts so there will just be lots of shapes and sections lying around the studio. It’s almost like this all gets flattened in the final stages of making the works. So there’s always been this ‘what if?’ in terms of venturing into the floor space, because in the studio the works do exist as objects until the last minute. Having said that, I definitely think in a very 2D way and so it did take me a while to understand how I would construct the tables, and I was terrified they wouldn’t balance or be level! But once it made sense, it did feel like an extension of making a painting -- just a little more deconstructed and with a few more angles.
What are you showing at the Breese Little exhibition? And what relationships do you feel your work has with that of Nick and Jackson?
I’m showing three large staircase works which are designed to be legible vertically; the imagery moves upwards. I liked the idea of the staircase as a structure used to transition between spaces, with itself becoming a liminal space. In the works, there’s little suggestion of anything beyond, rather that the staircase might just keep escalating. The imagery would be most coherent if the paintings were stacked on top of each other but of course in the gallery space they are presented in a horizontal formation. However, I really like them as a horizontal group, and there was a lot of careful designing so that they would work in this way too, the composition of the two end works are reflections of each other so there’s a sort of symmetry. I like that, when reading the sequence in this formation, your eye has to zig zag across the works, interrupting our inclined left-to-right way of reading images.
The show itself has been a really enjoyable and involved experience, and it’s been great to become more familiar with Nick and Jackson’s work. At first, there wasn’t a strict idea as to what the show would be about and how our work formally interrelates, but through meeting as a group and long email exchanges, the crossovers in our work gradually revealed themselves. I think there are connections but also a lot of differences between our practices, which I found made the process more interesting. I feel my work links with Jackson’s in terms of craft and how we make our work, with both of us often working digitally towards getting something fabricated, which then goes back to the studio to become very manual again. I think for both of us there's a lot about the translation between the hand and the machine. With Nick’s work, there’s again a huge interest in the motif; his work is full of signs and symbols, but they are more from the everyday. His work mixes and restructures the symbols we encounter in the commonplace.
Rebecca Lewin, who curated the film programme and who also wrote the essay for the show, was brilliant at joining the dots and bringing our three practices together a little more coherently. The show is titled ‘Parallax Scrolling’ which is a technique used to create the impression of distance and space, mostly used in computer graphics. It’s essentially a process that places distance between flat layers so you get an impression of depth, a bit like a stage set, so it’s about creating space in imagery in a very different way from the conventional use of perspective. I think each of us sits on a different point of the spectrum with regards to this idea. The space in Nick’s paintings often feels very compressed; there’s a coherence in the way he collages his imagery but also an abstraction and disjointedness. And Jackson’s sculptures bring this idea into the 3D. I find his large sculpture in the show particularly amazing to look at; from some angles, it really fills space and has a commanding physical presence, and from another aspect, it is very slight like it has morphed or vanished in the space somewhat. My work probably sits somewhere in the middle. Of course, it has a 3D physical aspect, but it is still very flattened with just a small distance between each layer.
Lauren Keeley, Halfway Down (2017), acrylic, linen and stained walnut on boards, 184 x 127 cm, courtesy of Breese Little, London.
Does your thought process change when making work for a group show as opposed to a solo presentation?Yes absolutely. Because I like to play with the framing and cropping in the works, often having elements that start on one piece and lead into the next, the work is suited to a series and so the opportunity of a solo presentation gives me that space. I enjoy having repetitive motifs which are approached in different ways across separate works, and so working across a group allows me to do that. I think too with larger projects, you have time to really think and let ideas develop. I’ve realised that I find it more difficult making one-off works; I think the single frame is too restrictive for me, and I am not able to research and mull over a single image as much as I do when working on a series. Instead, I’ve thought that having my own ongoing studio projects might be a solution to this problem so when you visited my studio, you saw the beginnings of a few paintings based on ceramics. There is no end goal in terms of showing these works, but I really enjoy researching and adding to the series. It feels like there’s an ongoing dialogue there, which is important for me. However, with the Breese Little show, and another group exhibition I was part of last year called GranPalazzo, I’ve been able to make a significant body of work, which has given me that time and space, so I think group shows where I’m able to have a substantial participation are really appealing and more suited to the way I work.
What’s next for you after the Breese Little show?
I’m going to have a solo presentation at LISTE in Basel with Frutta in the summer so that is my focus now and will pretty much fill up my schedule. I’m really looking forward to starting this project and being able to focus on a large body of work again.
When we last spoke in your studio in 2016, you spoke about the gentrification of New Cross and how that was going to affect you in terms of having to find another studio and most likely in a less central location. Has Brexit delayed that move? Do you think that government should get involved in some way to prevent the mass exodus of creatives from London due to sky-rocketing rents and gentrification?
Brexit is definitely delaying the process; there’s development signs all over the area but it does seem to have stalled. We’ve just had the lease at my studio building extended until the end of the year. Of course, I would like there to be more stable and reliable work-space options for creatives as I think the city is really important for a lot of artists. By its very nature, having a studio practice is very solitary so you need the city to counteract this, to keep connected and uphold a community. I will definitely have to move further out next year, most likely more south. This is OK but I do think when you are a young artist just starting out, having that one studio visit can really change things, and so if you are in an even less accessible area, is someone going to be put off from coming to see your work?
It’s fantastic that Sadiq Khan is recognising this as a problem in London and hopefully things will improve, but you also realise there is a general squeeze on the city in terms of housing and resources, and gentrification is a double edged sword. You want to see an area flourish and improve but it’s difficult when there are groups of people that get pushed out as a consequence.
Parallax scrolling runs from 27th January – 18th March 2017 at Breese Little, Unit 1, 249 – 253 Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 6JY.
About the Artist
Lauren Keeley (born 1986, Milton Keynes) lives and works in London after graduating with an MFA from the Slade School of Fine Art, London (2014) and a BFA from the Ruskin School, University of Oxford (2010). Recent group exhibitions include Frieze Art Fair, London; Slate Projects, London; GRANPALAZZO, Rome (all 2016); and Milton Keynes Gallery, Milton Keynes (2013 and 2011). She has had recent solo exhibitions at Frutta, Rome and Supplement, London (both 2015). Keeley is represented by Frutta, Rome.
As seen on FAD Magazine: http://fadmagazine.com/2017/02/09/marcelle-joseph-interviews-artist-lauren-keeley/
Sebastian Stöhrer, Ceramic, 2016, fired clay, glaze, 72 x 116 x 48 cm, courtesy of Carl Freedman Gallery, London.
On the occasion of Sebastian Stöhrer’s second solo show at the Carl Freedman Gallery in London, opening on 1st February 2017, Marcelle Joseph interviews the German artist to find out what drives his ceramic sculpture practice featuring vases of all shapes and sizes that resemble either corals from the deep underwater reaches of the sea or peculiar creatures from an alien planet.
Almost every one of your alluring ceramic sculptures contains a well or trough of some sort but I would not describe these objects as vases or water vessels. They look more like creatures from a science fiction film with bodily orifices. What inspires the form of your artworks? Do you work with any source material in the studio?
It's a division of work. I have a vision of how the work should look, and then I get help from the clay. It tries to give itself a shape, it leads me. I try to create something alive. It’s important, no matter if it is abstract or figurative, that I create new creatures that populate the world. I don’t work from source material. I only work with the forms as they are shaped in the moulding process - I use a personal language of form that I have developed over a long period of time.
Let’s talk about your glazing techniques. You use an exquisite mix of colours for each sculpture, with one lustrous hue bleeding into another to create the most sumptuous striations or mottled bands of colour. How do you achieve this effect?
The first time I mixed my own glaze, I was making one for low temperature. I burned it by accident at an extremely high temperature and have kept using that mistake up until now. Because of this mistake, the glazes are very brilliant and flow very strongly into one another; they have the character of high burned stoneware. The glazes have their own mind. I decide the colours and give a direction, but I cannot predict the exact finished picture. If working with clay is more of an intuitive process, then working with glazes is a more scientific one. It is a productive experimentation with a lot of accidents. All the glazes are developed by lots of series of tests.
Your creations have been described as surreal, eccentric and humourous and Daniel Birnbaum, Director of Moderna Museet, Stockholm, has compared the genius of your works to that of the American science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. Do your own perceptions of your work align with those of your viewers?
I do not have anything like that in mind whilst I am making the sculptures. However, if the viewer finds a nice, appropriate link to a theme or idea I like, I am happy with that.
Sebastian Stöhrer, Ceramic, 2016, fired clay, glaze, 70 x 60 x 40 cm, courtesy of Carl Freedman Gallery, London.
You often incorporate bits of wood or twigs into your sculptures that resemble legs of an animal or insect. What attracts you to this material and are you interested in their zoomorphic qualities?
I have always been fascinated by the simplicity and beauty of the bent willow furniture from the south of the USA. There was a lucky opportunity to bring these ideas into my work - when a sculpture needs help because of an unstable base, I support it with a stick. Also, the ash of the willow tree makes a perfect glaze. Wood and clay are nearly the same, just in a different physical condition. They fit together.
Having studied at the Städelschule Frankfurt in the 90’s and later under the tutelage of Professor Thomas Bayrle, were you the only student breaking ground and working with clay as a sculptural material back then? Or did ceramics come later for you?
I have worked with other materials in the past, but the focused use of ceramic began three years ago. I still like mixing materials: stone, metal, wood and clay.
About the Artist
Sebastian Stöhrer (b. Freiburg, 1968) studied at Städelschule Frankfurt (1993-1999). He lives and works in Frankfurt. Recent solo exhibitions include those at Carl Freedman Gallery, London (2017 and 2014); Hallerstabe 6, Hamburg, Germany (2016) and Kunsthalle Lingen, Lingen, Germany (2015). Selected group exhibitions include: Lift Itself, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden (2016); Sublime Bastards, Avlskarl Gallery, Copenhagen, Denmark (2016); Hamburger Bahnhof Power Gallery, Hamburg, Germany (2013); and Abendlandadieuvorkommnissen times a fugue entgehalten, Kunstverein Offenburg, Offenburg, Germany (2013).
As seen on FAD Magazine: http://fadmagazine.com/2017/02/02/marcelle-joseph-interviews-ceramic-artist-sebastian-stohrer/
You will be seeing artist Henry Hussey's name come up a lot over the next few months. For The Dark Wood group show at Transition Gallery in London (14th January – 4th February 2017), he wears his curatorial hat for the first time. For Contemporary Visions VII at Beers London (20th January – 4th March 2017), Hussey’s artwork features in this annual open call exhibition and was chosen from that of over 4,100 applicants by a judging panel consisting of curator Philly Adams, gallerist Kurt Beers, collector Carlyle Byron, artist Byzantia Harlow, arts writer Hugh Montgomery and Artsy UK liaison Gemma Rolls-Bentley. At Sketch, a restaurant, bar and exhibition space in Mayfair, the artist’s work is presented in a solo show in the Parlour, courtesy of a collaboration with Presenza, a curatorial platform bringing contemporary art to unique public and commercial locations outside the gallery space. Last but not least, if you happen to be in New York in March, you can also see his work in his London gallery Coates & Scarry’s solo booth at Volta New York (1-5 March 2017).
Marcelle Joseph interviews Hussey to delve deeper into what drives his rich and emotive textile practice that incorporates text, imagery and embroidered and printed fabrics to create exquisitely detailed and boldly coloured works with an ominous aura. The artist’s work often mines his own familial history, becoming a visual autobiography with expressive figuration and confrontational narratives.
The Dark Wood opened on 13th January at the Transition Gallery, your first foray in curating. What inspired you to curate a group show? And what is this show about? It sounds rather sinister.
The initial idea for the show came from a visit to Johnny Höglund’s studio last summer. Johnny had been ill and I saw him shortly after treatment. He showed me a work titled Time Capsule which he made during this period. The power of the piece and the emotions it evoked were staggering as it was made during such a dark period where you could easily lose yourself, yet it had a defiance and sense of purpose.
From this, I wanted to curate a show around the first canto of Dante’s Inferno and this oppressive environment of The Dark Wood where you are forced to look inside yourself and be challenged to move forward. The intention was for each artist to have experienced in some way this place and to make works in response to this experience. For me, it has been hugely enthralling to see themes and motifs emerging between each artist, the most intriguing of which is the lack of faces in the show and how this element has been concealed and removed.
Continuing with the Dante’s Inferno theme, what has been the dark forest in your life that drives your artistic practice forward?
I definitely experienced The Dark Wood after my solo show last summer as I had reached a plateau where it was difficult to aim any higher in terms of techniques or equally to avoid becoming repetitive. I have always wanted to organise an exhibition and curate it as a director would work with actors, having each of them play their roles in order to explore an over-arching narrative. For me, I look at the exhibition as a whole and consider it to be my own artwork with the dialogue between the works giving them a newfound meaning.
This process has been hugely beneficial, as it has made me reflect on my own creative practice. Through channeling their work, it has given insight into creating the exhibitions that I want to achieve for myself. By not just simply installing works, I want to achieve an atmosphere and a space that envelopes the viewer to the extent that they lose themselves and enter an environment which they have never encountered before.
You originally trained at the Royal College of Art for your MA and the Chelsea School of Art and Design for your BA, majoring in textile design. When did you decide that your calling was fine art instead of design and why?
While studying at the RCA where the MA is over two years, I became incredibly lost during the first year and was making vacuous and soulless work. I spent this time reviewing my creative practice with the dissertation being instrumental in this as it was essential in making me engage with what I was trying to express and the essence of my work. I came to the realisation that I wanted to make highly personal pieces that were a true representation of my emotions, which were in no way false or fabricated.
When I look back over my second year at the RCA, it is evident that I was no longer making design work -- it was fine art. What solidified this transition was being chosen for Bloomberg New Contemporaries in 2014, as this made my work unquestionably fine art. To an extent, Laura Davis who is in The Dark Wood is in a similar situation as she studied Jewellery at the RCA yet is now making sculptures, and so she is transitioning herself from design to fine art.
Let’s talk about process. Your work is incredibly labour-intensive, bringing together vintage, hand-dyed and digitally printed fabric, embroidery, beadwork and lacework among other things. How do you approach a new work from the process standpoint? Are each of these elements linked to the subject matter of the work in some way as you often work with heavily researched themes?
To a large extent, the process begins with how can I make the message of my work as direct and striking as possible. I build spectacle into my works, as I intend for them to be dramatic and have such presence that they cannot be ignored. The labor-intensive aspect of my work adds to this intensity, focusing on what I am trying to convey and giving it purpose. A historical reference point I do draw upon are union banners and those used during the UK miners’ strikes as they had such palpable conviction and guttural impact.
A style of work I have developed are my word pieces. They are the most reduced and raw version of my process as they are sheer emotion and need no other imagery to reinforce the narrative. This is how I want to pursue my work moving forward to confidently reduce the level of content and strip everything back until only the bare essentials of the message are left in order to achieve clairvoyance.
Returning to subject matter, your work often delves into your own autobiography, including your fraught relationship with your father. The embroidered text in the work you are presenting at BEERS London states, “I fucking see him once every six months, catch a glimpse of him like our paths cross but they never quite. I have this grave driveway at my house so I hear this crunching of gravel whenever he is approaching. It’s this fucking thing looming outside. I can’t get rid of it.” I can only assume that this work is about your father. On this topic, do you feel your art-making has a therapeutic, healing dimension for you?
The works about my father were made as a way to expel my growing anger towards him for not acknowledging me as his son. Before I started making these works, this anger and mounting frustration had no outlet and became corrosive. Thus I chose to do something constructive with it by doing performances with theatre actors in order to tackle this personal turmoil and get that sense of confrontation. Then, from these theatrical performances, all the imagery and dialogue acted as a foundation for the works.
I have found making this series cathartic and it has formed me as a man, taking hold of my birthright and giving me a newfound resolve. I find it fascinating that victors dictate history so through the depiction of these events, I have chosen how they will be perceived. Through documenting these past encounters with my father, I have formed history in a manner I see fit so now when anyone questions these events, I have autonomy and power over what happened.
Your colour palette is varied and often quite vibrant and intense. I love the way you striate the faces in your work with a rainbow of different hues that for me link to the emotions underlying the work. How do you approach colour? Does your background in textile design inform your colour choices in any way?
It is irrefutable that my study of textiles has laid the foundation for how I utilise colour. I endeavour to tell colour stories so throughout the work, the use of colour will either reinforce the narrative of the pieces or reveal other dialogues coursing through them. The use of bright colours comes from the desire for spectacle and having the works become almost intrusive. I came to the realisation that I work in a static medium that can easily be passed so by using explosive colours you have no choice other than to take notice.
In a recent work in which I screen-printed the American flag, I wanted the text to not only have urgency in terms of meaning but also a visual urgency. An inverted American flag signals distress so by inverting the colours of the flag and screen-printing on top of the flag, it now verges on abstraction and the colours conflict with each other, creating a level of confusion and tension which emboldens the overall messages conveyed.
Henry Hussey, Post-Truth (2017) (detail).
Congrats on being chosen for the Contemporary Visions VII show at BEERS London! As an artist, what do you think about open call exhibitions? Do you think they are a successful and necessary platform for leveling the playing field and objectively identifying current trends in contemporary art?
Yes, to a degree, as they allow artists the opportunity to exhibit with galleries that they may not have had the chance to -- either through not being brought to their attention or not fitting the galleries’ programme. I think open calls work at their purest when an artist who has never exhibited or has not done so in a certain country is given this opportunity. Objectively, I do feel that they can be dangerous when they are done by a gallery to simply make money and not done with the intention of bringing new artists into the gallery with perhaps a view of bringing one of them onto the roster and continuing a relationship. Regardless of open calls, I do think it would be beneficial for any gallery to have a group show each year, introducing new artists and seeing how they are received. A gallery that presents only solo shows seems very inaccessible to an artist outside the system.
About the Artist
Henry Hussey (born 1990, London) lives in Surrey. He completed his MA in Textiles from the Royal College of Art, London in 2013 and his BA in Textile Design from the Chelsea College of Art and Design in 2011. His work was chosen for Bloomberg New Contemporaries (ICA, London, World Museum, Liverpool, and Newlyn Art Gallery, Penzance) and the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 2014. Recent exhibitions include a solo show at Coates & Scarry, London in 2016 as well as group exhibitions such as Multiple Choices, Simmons & Simmons, London; The Names, Transition Gallery, London (both 2016); Anthology, Charlie Smith Gallery, London; Hands Off, NAM Project, Milan; Chelsea 10, Chelsea College of Art and Design, London (all 2015); Fabric, Collyer Bristow Gallery, London; and Young Blood, Cat Street Gallery, Hong Kong (both 2014). Hussey is represented by Coates & Scarry, a gallery in London that has featured his artwork at art fairs such as Volta New York, Art Central Hong Kong and ART15 London.
As seen on FAD Magazine: http://fadmagazine.com/2017/01/26/marcelle-joseph-interviews-textile-artist-henry-hussey/
Sara Berman’s poised and urbane figurative paintings will feature in two upcoming group shows in London this month: Young Gods at Charlie Smith London and Dark Wood curated by fellow artist Henry Hussey at the Transition Gallery. To find out more about Berman’s artistic practice and how her former career as a women’s fashion designer informs that practice, Marcelle Joseph speaks with Berman.
Congratulations on being selected for Charlie Smith Gallery’s 10th edition of Young Gods curated by Zavier Ellis! And for being the only painter in this group show featuring eight recent graduates or postgraduates from London art schools!! Ellis has described your work as recalling at once Matisse, Hockney and Katz. Does he have it right? Which artists from the past are you most inspired by?
I do look to all three of those big boys and many more besides. I love Schiele, Kitaj Beckmann, Paula Rego, Alice Neel - the list goes on and on. I didn’t have a typical art school career so when I arrived at the Slade for my masters, all my skills had been learned through copying those artists I admired. This was great in some respects but problematic in that I was simply a very good copyist. My struggle throughout my masters was to work out what my own paintings actually looked like. I was pretty surprised by what came out.
After studying fashion design in the golden era of the 90’s at Central Saint Martins, how was it going back to study painting at the Slade in 2014? How do the two types of education compare?
Poles apart! Firstly, doing a BA at CSM at 19 years old was a fairly hedonistic experience. I didn’t think so much about why I was making certain work - I just sort of went with the flow, enjoyed the scene and allowed my handwriting to develop in a very unselfconscious way. My Slade MFA at 40 felt much more considered. I had the weight of my past behind me and wanted to spend a lot of time digging around in there to understand what work I made and why I made it. Painfully self-conscious. Actually the biggest stumbling block to developing as a fine artist at art school was the total lack of boundaries. This simple given of any good art school education was for me, creatively paralysing.
Your delicate but super-stylised paintings play with pattern, design and motif in cropped compositions that include a female figure in a curated interior space. What source material do you look to for inspiration? Does your approach to painting differ from how you approached a new collection for your eponymous fashion line?
I love this question as one of the real turning points for me at Slade was when my tutor asked my why I couldn’t approach my artistic practice as I would have approached a collection. It was like a light going on in my head and allowed me to relax into the work with confidence. I realise that there are big differences between working as a designer and a fine artist, but I suppose a part of me had romantically assumed that without the constraints of a business built around commerce, I would be free to make wonderful work. However, without anything to push against, I found I didn’t have any way of going deeper into the work and developing it. This was as frustrating as a game with no rules. Once I started to use the ‘boundaries’ I had enjoyed working with as a designer and reconsidering them as a visual artist, I found some traction. I use much of the same source material I always did. Certain books, magazines, Internet sources. Photography is very important to me. I think that coming of age in the 90’s hardwired certain aesthetic values in me which are pretty evident in my compositional decisions. I have recently begun to consciously ‘merchandise’ my paintings. When designing a collection, there comes a point when you need to stop looking at each garment in itself and start considering how the collection works as a whole. When the collection goes down the catwalk or is merchandised for the buyers, it needs to hang together in a balanced and considered manner - much like a composition. I love the idea of merchandising a painting.
Your choice of furniture and domestic interior settings for your paintings could be considered ‘aspirational’. Are the aspects of desire, commerce and design important to your practice?
Absolutely. Before working as a designer, I spent a number of years earning my holiday money as a model. Whilst being the worst model in the world, I did learn a huge amount about constructed identities and how to deliver on being something someone else wanted me to be. It also made me fall in love with clothes. I realised their potential for self-invention and telling stories. When I had my own label, it was all about the stories - the constructed self. Branding and ‘lifestyle’ came into its own in the 90s and then the realisation that this constructed identity had spread to every conscious, discerning decision we made about the things we surround ourselves with. I am interested in a particular idea of lifestyle, how those ideas are delivered to us and how we absorb them. Authenticity is something we strive so hard for. No one would like to think that they are inauthentic or fake. Yet, the moment we attempt to consider our authenticity, it is negated by this self-conscious act. Ironically, it is design that seems to me to be the most honest of all our constructions. The interior spaces we occupy - in particular the domestic - become extensions of self. They contain the things we have chosen to gather around us as well as the practical mundanities of everyday life. It is like a display of the patterns of commerce and consumerism tempered by personal choice and legacy. Our own little museums of self. However lightly we touch them, our mark is somehow made and within those marks, patterns are formed. The same dress discarded on the floor, draped over a chair or on the body has different qualities. Or the same bag held, open or hung is the same but different. The same object experienced different ways becomes a sort of abstracted pattern. Our spaces absorb the regular alterations and shifts of our use. Patterns of human behaviour played out through objects.
Your colour palette is a beautiful muted one that I would describe as ‘mid-century Modern’. How do you approach colour in your paintings? Do you intentionally limit your palette to certain set of colours or is it more about your comfort zone or trying to create your ‘stamp’ on the picture?
This is a two pronged concern for me. Recently, I have enjoyed basing my palette on a pre-prescribed ‘colours for the home’ catalogue. I like this idea of following prescribed ideas of good taste (something I don’t really believe in as an authentic concept). But actually it is just another way of limiting myself. I play lots of games within my paintings. I am trying to narrow my field as much as possible in order to concentrate more on the ‘how’ and less on the ‘what’.
The female figures in your paintings are often nude with no hierarchy given to them relative to the other objects in the picture plane. Your paintings appear to focus more on the details of the furniture and flooring of the depicted interior space. In fact, often the patterns featured in the room can be seen through the translucent flesh of the figure. Is this a way to distance yourself from fashion and clothing the female body or it is a celebration of the human form?
Generally, an object designed to be used by people, such as a handbag or a chair for example, have a bodily aspect. In anticipation of serving the absent body, it can act as a stand in for the very thing it is there to service. We can read spaces in the same way that we can read clothing, as a set of signifiers that go some way to describing the bodies that exist within them - even when the body is absent.
And then this makes me wonder about the liminal spaces between us, our stuff and our places. Do they exist in equal balance, each informing the other in a continual and harmonised dance? Or is it possible that one is there necessarily for the other? And in that case, it becomes like the chicken and the egg question. As a painter, this matters. I can choose where to emphasise or hold back. Do I let the figure into the space? Or just her stuff? Or is the stuff enough? Or too much? What is the value of the figure? What is the worth of the stuff? Is the figure there as a prop to make sense of the stuff, or the space? Or is the space only existing because the figure exists in it? Or perhaps the space ceases to hold the stuff or the figure, allowing the solid base of understanding to fall away before our eyes. These are my choices, my concerns. What matters and how much.
Let’s talk about plants. Your paintings often include luscious green botanical species that become almost erotic appendages to your female nudes. What role do these house plants play for you?
Plants and leaves in particular are nature's perfect design. I enjoy inserting this indisputable truth into my curated interiors. I also, very simply love painting them. I have done it so many times that there is a real freedom in the sweep of the brush and also a risk with such strong pigment at such speed, especially in contrast to the sometimes very careful and deliberate handling of other parts of the work. It is a rush, a pleasure.
One last question - What advice would you give to jaded or struggling creatives in the fashion, architecture or design fields who wish they could back to art school and become fine artists like you have done?
I would love to merrily advise everyone to grab the bull by the horns and give it all up to go to school but actually I am aware that I was in a very privileged position to be able to do this. It wasn’t an overnight decision and took two years of planning and hard work to get the business in a place where I could make the switch. It then took me a long time to realize that the foundation of my work as a fine artist is my background in fashion. I feel incredibly lucky to have such a rich seam to mine!
About the Artist
Sara Berman (b.1975) lives and works in London. She completed her MFA at Slade School of Art, UCL, London in 2016 where she was awarded a distinction and the Audrey Wykeham Prize for Painting. Previously, Berman worked as a fashion designer and consultant. After studying fashion design at Central Saint Martins, she founded her eponymous fashion brand that operated from 1998 until 2012 and worked as a design consultant to a variety of fashion and design companies. A long and deeply held interest in the conversation between design, commerce and identity informs her artistic practice. Recent group exhibitions include Young Gods, Charlie Smith Gallery, London; Dark Wood (curated by Henry Hussey), Transition Gallery, London (both 2017); topophobophilia, Gallery 46, London; Slade Graduate Show, London; Names, Transition Gallery, London (all 2016); Imagine, Londonewcastle Project Space, London; Symposium for Drawing, BAK Museum, Utrecht; BP Portrait Prize, National Portrait Gallery, London (all 2015); Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Mall Galleries, London (2014).
Dancer, choreographer, visual artist and teacher Florence Peake is in for a busy 2017. In December 2016, Peake was awarded funding from the second edition of the Jerwood Choreographic Research Project to start her research into the sculptural interpretation of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring through dance and building with clay. A few weeks later, Peake flew to Athens to teach the Skinner Releasing Technique form of dance. And in quick succession, Peake’s work will be featured in two groups shows, one opening in London in January and one in Rome in February. Opening on 12th January and running until 25th March 2017, the Bodikon exhibition at Belmacz in Mayfair alludes to a late 1980s fashion phenomena and will present artworks by 11 artists that explore narcissism, physicality and elegance. Opening on 9th February and running until 25th March 2017, Walled Gardens in an Insane Eden, a group exhibition at the Sara Zanin Gallery in Rome, will feature Peake’s ceramic artworks and a restaging of her performance entitled The Voicings on 10th March. In this performance, Peake actively channels both physically and orally the personal losses and political concerns of various audience members, acting as a conduit between imagined and material place as she embodies a spirit, entity or personality from another space or time.
Congratulations on the funding from the Jerwood Choreographic Research Project! What an honour! Can you tell us a little bit about what your artistic interpretation of Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring will entail? Will this funding enable you to stage this work as well?
This funding is to research a sculptural interpretation of The Rite of Spring through choreographed movement and building structures with clay. I also want to research how the themes that drive the musical score are politically relevant to current unrest in the world and to use them as a response to an arguably fascistic moment we are in. I am hoping for production to be in Spring 2018.
It is just over one hundred years since Diaghilev and Stravinsky's infamous first performance, which sparked a riot in Paris in 1913. I am curious about this timing perhaps being historically connected to today also. I want to give significance to the riotous and primal body as a manifestation of protest and as a catalyst for positive change as we see growing turmoil in the world as well as exploitation and repression of people and the environment. I would like to explore the proposition of how the performance of The Rite of Spring could be a protest -- an action for this time. I am excited to work with five dancers, including Katye Coe and Susanna Recchia, and the dramaturge, academic Martin Hargreaves to pick this all apart. For some time, I have longed to delve into this haunting and uncompromising musical score with its insistent, formidable rhythms that seem to ambush its audience. I intend to work with wet sculptural materials in live performance. It feels like a Herculean task but I think the musical score demands to be met in this way.
You dance, choreograph and teach as a performing artist and you paint, sculpt and perform as a visual artist. Is there a dividing line for you in your mind or are all these things just forms of expression in your practice?
I enjoy a promiscuous relationship with how ideas get expressed so I will pick up the discipline/medium relevant to the idea. However, I am very loyal to my movement practice and the somatic dance community which does influence all my work in some way. I can feel quite spooked if I haven’t connected for a time with other bodies moving in a studio and with a particular kind of intelligence that somatic practices provide. Teaching and choreography keep that exchange between movement body and other dancing bodies alive. I always feel a sense of huge privilege when dancing in the studio with other dancers. Painting is very important as a more private practice and perhaps more psychological; it still requires a kind of sensuality and embodiment in terms of the translation of ideas onto a two-dimensional surface. Sometimes I get close to the sense that the process of painting is doing something similar to what a live performance can do - like the exhilaration of dancing and the kinaesthetic empathy that can occur….how painting cannot just emulate but actively participate in a kinaesthetic experience.
What work will you be presenting in the Belmacz’s Bodikon show in London this month and how do you feel it will respond to the ‘body conscious’ theme?
I am re-staging objects produced and used from a previous performance The Keeners presented in London Fields with SPACE in 2015. The objects (part of the mirrored stage and a mound of clay) had actions impressed and acted on them as emotional and physical gestures. Five dancers worked with the notion of keening losses from cultural life through a public call, keening these losses into clay and using a mirrored stage as a platform for catharsis and grief. For Bodikon, the objects are presented as relics from a more ritual like performance but re-staged for a new audience/bodies to interact with by walking on the mirrored stage, changing it and impressing on it again. These objects then become a gesture and a space for new actions to be layered onto but perhaps to articulate something in their history as objects onto other bodies.
When I visited you in your studio last year, we were looking at your new paintings. With your extensive training in dance, I remember asking you whether you were a self-trained painter. What have been your main influences?
My route as an artist within the visual arts has been unconventional without a formal art school training. The more traditional forms of my dance training required such immersion and then the Skinner Releasing Technique training I undertook in Seattle was demanding. So even though I was drawing, painting and working with sculpture and installation, to have included an art school training with that I think I would have had a nervous breakdown!! My father (Fabian Peake) has been influential in my painting practice but he also has a practice similar to my own in terms of its diverse methods. My dad has been in some of my performances and I would love to work with him again, especially with his poetry. I admire his particular approach to rhythm and layering of images and his text balancing weighty concerns about form combined with humour and absurdity.
In March, you are restaging your Voicings performance in Rome in response to our new post-Brexit, post-Trump, post-Italian referendum world. How do you feel this change in venue and country will affect this performance?
Setting up the preparations with the audience will require care and attention as Voicings involves audience participation and much of the performance is forming a collective and temporary community with the audience for the brief duration of the performance (45 minutes). Bringing a direct subject to this work challenges me to approach the environment, locality and community with sensitivity and care. The act of ‘channelling’ which Voicings centres around can be adapted and is versatile but it is important to not take for granted what is local/cultural vernacular and impose that on another culture. In particular, the themes of appropriating spiritual practices and psychic phenomenon for performance to a visual art context with a political comment could be like mixing oil with water, exciting! I am taking American cultural references from ‘new age’ preachers. This might need adapting to what the Roman version is even though YouTube ‘channellers’ like Abraham Hicks seem to be widely known. There is a lot of heat, heartbreak and potential destruction with the recent political results. How then can performing ‘channelling’ approach these times as we feel it globally and personally? I hope with humour and cathartic expressions, I can respond to my audience’s personal concerns surrounding recent troubling events.
Your performance work often explores the relationships between the moving body and different sculptural materials. Can you talk about what you want to convey to your audiences through these relationships? Is it a comment on the built environment and how it impacts our daily life or is it more about the internalised struggle that goes on within our hearts and minds?
My use of objects and materials is continuously changing especially when transferring them into a live and performative context. In 2006- 2009, I wanted to think about how objects have their own inner life, a subjectivity that I can imagine onto the object. I also thought about how the physicality and its subjectivity can be directed to my body and then also how my intentions can imbue the object with meaning. This relationship can be given meaning. I think I inflict a lot of longing onto objects, and I want them to perform for me. Then, the loss and recovery of this relationship can be generative. A lot of my work with objects has to do with discovering what methodologies are intrinsically within that relationship and how the object, body and then the site or environment all meet, constellate and form a particular dynamic score to be performed. In 2010, I developed a work called MAKE, which was a new thinking about performing with materials. I was concerned with the theatricality of making, the handling and tactility of making with materials and revealing gestures and actions behind the sculptural product. From working as an artist’s assistant, I was curious about the factory likeness of making - the repetitive choreography and machine likeness of the body behind a sculptural product. I like working with the absurdity of inflicting our will onto materials, how they are disobedient to my desire, how materials behave awkwardly, I think this is a metaphor for a lot in human relationships. Recently, I have wanted to use the action of live making as a vehicle for the audience to project/transfer their own more psychological, symbolical sense of self or as a way of forming connections personally with the audience both collectively and individually. This has included more figurative forms and wet materials. At times, I get sick of objects/materials and I like to do away with them altogether and work with just the live body; it can be a relief but then I get lonely and need objects, the other, that tactile relationship to something non- human again. But it is hard to discern where the line is… objects/materials quickly become human and dancers transform into vibrant objects, this is a whole discussion about presence…
What is the hardest thing about being a performance artist as the work is ephemeral, experiential and time-based, disappears once performed and often entails working with several collaborators? Are you reliant on commissions and videography
There are propositions that performance isn’t as ephemeral as assumed or as it appears and I like to approach performance in this way. Otherwise, I am privileging the material elements over its relational experiences. And that it is not just valued in monetary and material exchange – maybe a romantic idea that it can have more impactful reverberations beyond this. Also that the materials I use in performance then do not get performed in a literal linear way- whatever remnants are left are the result of a gesture, I like to think they could be actively transformed and can resonate into something else. I think objects left over from a performance can look dead, empty - they need to be re-staged, and find an autonomy beyond the performance they took part in. I am more sensible these days about documenting work for record purposes. Videography or filming performance can also be an interesting element to work with how to take it out of a literal relationship. Commissions are exciting to receive but there is often a lot of compromise. So drawing on old work, adapting old work to make things financially work can be interesting. However, relying on commissions to make work or try out new ideas is not really what is on offer. The recent JCRP funding means I can really explore new material and work with a really ambitious idea. I don’t like to think that work is restricted to finances, and when I was younger, I could make ambitious things happen but now it’s too hard to do that. Back then, I could get away with being skint but now after 20 years of performing and making performances, it’s too much to work one’s arse off and not have enough to put on your Oyster card. It is really important to pay dancers in my work and to pay them well. I think that is still something that institutions find hard to make happen, and this has been one of the most difficult things.
As seen on FAD Magazine:
About the Artist
Florence Peake is a London-based artist who has been making work since 1995. With an extensive training in dance and a background in painting, Peake's performance practice uses drawing, painting and sculpture materials combined with found and fabricated objects placed in relationship to the moving body. Site and audience, live and recorded text, wit and humour are key to her work. Recent performance work has taken themes from popular spiritual practices and appropriating them to interact intimately with audiences, exploring a range of states of being to test what is assumed of reality. Her painting work with mixed media attempts to capture the live experience of performing, the performers’ inner states and memory of a given performance, re-performing the live works through large scale canvases and fresco works. Ceramic explorations also include performance as the subject, making clay forms through the live performance to extract new autonomous sculptural works. Recent work includes; The Keeners, SPACE, London (2016),Voicings, Serpentine Gallery Offsite Project, London (2016), Lay me down, NoTT Dance Festival, Nottingham, UK (2015) and Modern Art Oxford, Oxford, UK (2015), Swell the Thickening Surface of, Hayward Gallery, London (2014), MAKE, BALTIC, Gateshead, UK (2013) and Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Yorkshire, UK (2012); REMAKE, Baltic 39, Gateshead, UK (2012) and Lanchester Gallery, Coventry, UK (2012); Chorus; Swell the Thickening Surface of, Tintype, London (2013); Paper Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, London (2010). As a performer, Peake works with filmmakers, artists and choreographers, including Joe Moran, Gaby Agis, Serena Korda, Nicola Conibere and Gary Stevens, and tours with Station House Opera’s Roadmetal and Sweetbread. Peake lectures at leading dance conservatories and at Camberwell School of Art in London, and is a recent recipient of the Jerwood Choreographic Research Award.
Carla Busuttil’s third solo show at Josh Lilley in London entitled The Super-Suburb Defence Authority touches on all of the ills that have infected South Africa since its colonial era. As a South African artist growing up under apartheid but living and working outside her home country since moving to London to attend the Royal Academy Schools in 2005, Busuttil is able to look back on her native land with a dispassionate and impartial lens, picking up on all of the developments and setbacks of a country struggling to cleanse itself of its apartheid history.
Consisting of painting, sculpture, video and bespoke artist wallpaper, this exhibition actively engages the viewer, whether interested in the politics or not, as the installation is a master class in exhibition making and the politically and culturally-charged subject matter is understated, drawing the viewers in instead of slapping them on the face. In the first room of the exhibition, there is a large seemingly innocent painting of six school boys in their uniforms painted in a lurid yellow colour, with their school’s motto printed on the top left corner of the canvas: “Our motto is achieve. And success we will achieve.” Inspired by a school photo of the artist’s husband’s secondary school class in South Africa where he was forced to learn the Afrikaans language that only 13% of the South African population understands, this painting is quintessential Busuttil – revolving around the human form, painted in an abstract contemporary style, using a painterly brushstroke, and touching on the political landscape of a vibrantly coloured South Africa. In the same room, the viewer is confronted with four thickly-impastoed primitive faces reminiscent of African masks but painted on vintage cricket pads found in thrift shops in England, subtly pointing to South Africa’s colonial past. Presented on traditional gallery plinths, these sculptures are all titled Nightwatchman, alluding to the overall theme of this exhibition exploring the South African private security industry that employs more people than the police force and army combined.
In the downstairs gallery spaces, another thought-provoking painting of a car park guard intrigues the viewer as the man’s face is painted blue, matching the painting’s ground and hinting at racial tension, social unrest and the giant chasm between the rich and the poor. Continuing this leitmotif, Busuttil presents for the first time in the UK the video she produced after extensive research in Johannesburg called Mosquito Lightning, a parody advertisement of the private security firm the artist founded while on a residency there earlier this year. Presented on top of bespoke artist wallpaper, this video work is equal parts humour and terror as the entire private security industry profits from fear and its amplification in order to fulfil its corporate promise to eradicate it. This emphasis on the fear of the “other” in society has universal applications at the present moment, whether it be president-elect Trump promising to ban all Muslims from entering the United States or the British majority who voted for Brexit this summer in order to stop immigration into the UK. So through Busuttil’s window with a view of suburban South Africa, the viewer has a glimpse of its own political realities in present-day London.
All in all, this exhibition is definitely worth a visit (on until 23 December 2016) for Busuttil’s tantalising painting technique as well as for its transporting qualities – from a grey wintry day in Fitzrovia to a colour-saturated, bright day in a privileged Johannesburg suburb.
About the Artist
Carla Busuttil (b.1982, Johannesburg, South Africa, lives and works in Oxford) studied at the Royal Academy, London, and University of Witwatersrand, South Africa. Solo exhibitions include Choice. Click.Bait, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, 2016; A Change of Tongue, Space K, Seoul, 2014; and Generation V, Josh Lilley, London, 2013. Group exhibitions include We see (in) the Dark, Museum of Africa Design, Johannesburg, 2015; Creative London, Space K, Seoul, Gwacheon & Gwangju, 2012; and Newspeak: British Art Now, Saatchi Gallery, London, 2010.
After several other exhibitions in London this year, Glasgow-based France-Lise McGurn pulls out all the stops for her solo exhibition at Bosse & Baum in Peckham (on until 18th December 2016). Presenting her signature wall and floor paintings alongside her figurative paintings on canvas and a more experimental sound piece, McGurn titled the show Mondo Throb, referencing both the 1970’s mondo genre of exploitation filmmaking as well as excited, inflamed body parts. In stark contrast to her earlier work that fragmented the human body with a more innocent vibe, these paintings are erotically charged with the viewer treated to a parade of bodies and body parts, from one seated nude gazing upon a topless woman in repose to another nude woman masturbating. The titling of the paintings is revelatory as well (e.g., Aerobics gives you herpes, Betty batteries and Hermione Hormone).
The presentation of the paintings on canvas on top of the wall paintings brings to mind an orgy of limbs or a subtle nod toward club culture, an area of activity where McGurn is incredibly active in Glasgow. She runs a club night residency at the poetry club in Glasgow, in collaboration with Katie Shannon, called DAISIES, where they invite DJs and artists to contribute to the décor and installation. The floor paintings and artist-rigged lighting in the gallery space further contribute to that club ambience with the random squiggles of paint on the concrete floor suggestive of the stains and detritus left behind after a wild and crazy night on the dancefloor.
McGurn’s work is developed from her personal archive of collected imagery and moving image files. For this body of work, ecstasy was the focus, and the artist culled imagery from multiple sources from film, television, music and visual culture – from softcore and sexploitation films such as Emanuelle (1974) and Nine and a Half Weeks (1986) to illustrations for Happy Families decks of cards (1939). A visit to this exhibition is strongly recommended whether you are looking for carnal ecstasy or divine ecstasy. It is a visual feast for the eyes.
For those living in Glasgow, look out for McGurn’s work at the Pipe Factory in February 2017.
All photos courtesy of the artist and Bosse & Baum. Photo credit: Oskar Proctor
About the Artist
France-Lise McGurn (b. 1983, Glasgow) lives and works in Glasgow. She graduated with a BA from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in 2005 and with an MA from the Royal College of Art in 2012. Selected exhibitions include: Nomadic Vitrine, Recent Activity, Birmingham (October 2016); Felicity Black, Vertical Vulnerability, Caustic Coastal (October 2016); The Old Things, Crévecoeur, Paris (July 2016); Sexting, Kate Werble Gallery, New York (July 2016); At Home Salon: Double Acts, Marcelle Joseph Projects, Ascot (May 2016); Only with a light touch will you write well, freely and fast, Supplement, London (2016) and David Dale Gallery, Glasgow (2015); NEO-PAGAN BITCH-WITCH! Evelyn Yard, London (2016); 3am (solo), Collective Gallery, Edinburgh (2015); A collaboration with Marianne Spurr, Studio Leigh, London (2015); Nos Algae’s, a performance at Tramway, Glasgow (2014). She was part of collaborative performance Amygdala N.O.S with Kimberley O’Neill and Cara Tolmie at South London Gallery (2015), for the launch of Love your Parasites, edited by Camilla Wills, which she also contributed to. Upcoming exhibitions include France-Lise McGurn, Zoe Williams & Urara Tsuchiya at The Pipe Factory, Glasgow (February, 2017).
Crimson balloons festooning the ceiling, a black and white checkerboard dance floor under foot, shimmery white curtains partially covering views of the Manhattan skyline… I could be walking into a cocktail party of an Upper East Side socialite married to a one-percenter. Instead, I find myself in the gallery space of Arcadia Missa under the railway arches in Peckham for Amalia Ulman’s latest solo show entitled Labour Dance (until 5th November 2016).
Ulman, an LA-based Argentinian artist who grew up in Spain before moving to London to attend Central St Martins art college, is widely known for her Excellences and Perfections durational Instagram performance in 2014 where she played the part of a beautiful, vacuous young woman in LA doing the things that beautiful, vacuous young women do in LA: shopping, dating, exercising, having a boob job – all documented daily by selfies taken with her blinged-out iPhone camera. Call her the Kim Kardashian of the art world. As the vanguard of the social media performance practice, Ulman has taken to Instagram once again this year for a six-month performance entitled Privilege where a purportedly pregnant Ulman and her pet pigeon Bob mime office politics from her studio in a downtown LA block of offices filled with lawyers, accountants and beknownst to them an art world superstar.
Whether Ulman’s feathered co-star is her boss, colleague or alter ego is open to interpretation. Each Monday, Ulman posts a hand-drawn cartoon inspired by New Yorker cartoonist Charles Barsotti of the artist dressed as a clown with Bob often perching on her head.
Going IRL from URL is often tricky but Ulman pulls out all the stops for this exhibition, creating an immersive installation in a square space that mimics the format of her Instagram feed that is diligently followed by 126,000 people and counting. A coherent colour scheme runs throughout the online artwork and gallery space as if the artist was advised by a corporate branding executive – white, black, red and shades of grey.
Video clips from her Instagram performance are looped on two chunky TV screens placed on the floor of the gallery, largely critiquing the dominant aesthetic of power and legitimacy that drives today’s capitalist engine forward. Deflated red ceramic balloons are scattered around the space, referencing the state of a woman’s breasts post-childbirth. The ‘labour dance’ of the exhibition’s title becomes clear when I glance at the press release that features headlines and social media feeds about pregnant women ‘dancing their babies out’. One headline particularly piques my interest: “Pregnant Lady Twerks til her water breaks TOO FUNNY”. With Ulman’s Privilege performance due to end on election day in America, I cannot help but wonder what the climax will be: Ulman dancing to Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ and giving birth to a miniature Donald Trump covered in grey feathers?
With museum shows at Tate Modern and Whitechapel Gallery earlier this year, Ulman returns to London, all dressed in red and turning her nose up at capitalist society’s obsession with slaving away in office cubicles to afford the ‘Gucci lifestyle’ of celebrity culture. Make sure you do not miss this exhibition.
All Photos: Courtesy of the artist and Arcadia Missa
About the Artist
Amalia Ulman (born 1989, Argentina) lives and works in Los Angeles, CA after graduating from Central St Martins in 2011 (BA Fine Art). Recent solo exhibitions include: James Fuentes, Los Angeles (2016); James Fuentes, New York, Mama, Rotterdam, and Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Salt Lake City (all 2015); LTD, Los Angeles and Smart Objects, Los Angeles (both 2014); Marbriers4, Geneva, Future Gallery, Berlin, and Steve Turner, Los Angeles (both 2013). Selected group exhibitions include: Berlin Biennale, Berlin, Performing for the Camera, Tate Modern, London, and Electronic Superhighway, Whitechapel Gallery, London (all 2016); The St. Petersbourg Paradox, Swiss Institute, New York, Poetry will be made by all, LUMA FOUNDATION, Zurich, and DISOWN, RedBull Studios, New York (all 2014). Ulman’s work will be presented by Arcadia Missa at Paris Internationale 2016 (19-23 October 2016).
Artist Laurie Nye’s other-worldly paintings filled with omnipotent female cyborgs and organic geometric shapes feature at the current group show at The Dot Project in London entitled “Figure It Out” (until 13thNovember). On the occasion of her European debut, Marcelle Joseph sat down to talk to this LA-based Memphis-born artist about her painting practice and inspirations.
- Your paintings offer a vision of an alternate reality or a fantasy world ruled by women and for women. Could you talk about your subject matter? Is it utopian or feminist in focus?
I’d say my paintings are conjured from a feminine gaze and lean toward a visionary type of pictorial space. I do like to reimagine myths, turning them on their ear and offering a different perspective, flipping roles of hero vs heroine. I feel compelled to look beyond the reality I live in as a woman and a creator in a patriarchal world where I see a history strewn with cruelty, greed and environmental exploitation. I collaborate in an alternative reality with invented muses, which are powerful, intelligent, empathetic and hybrid female energies. That sounds either utopian or escapist, when you think about it.
- Are there narrative threads weaving through your paintings in general? I see for your 2015 LA solo show you transformed the myth of Andromeda, recasting it to empower female characters. Does this theme continue through the works presented at The Dot Project in London?
I was raised in the deep south in the U.S. and southerners do like narratives. I love allegorical painting so I tend to be drawn to ideas and themes. The theme of Andromeda continues to inform my latest work as I consider ways to depict a fantastic realm empowered and shaped by female hybrid beings. I see my work as an ongoing collaboration with these nature-loving muses. The idea of the cyborgian figure and the intermixing of geometric versus organic form continues to evolve in strange and surprising ways in my recent paintings.
- You paint exclusively female figures. Do you consider yourself a feminist or do you just prefer the female form for formal reasons?
My art practice is defined by a strong educational foundation in figurative drawing and painting. I love being a woman, painting women who rule in a reality I’d want to exist within. So far, the main subjects in my paintings have been female, not necessarily to the exclusion of other sexes. If envisioning a galaxy run by women is considered a feminist ideal then I’m a card carrying member.
- Do you use source material or do these female figures come from your imagination?
I enjoy looking at weird sci-fi illustration and I hoard art books and random ephemera. Over time, much of what I’ve collected and researched in the past has been internalised. I draw a lot straight out of my imagination. I’m very in tune with the internal world and I do a lot of paintings from simple pencil drawings of ideas that come to me.
- Let’s talk composition. Your picture plane is dense and crowded with imagery filling up every inch of the canvas. This convention lends an immersive quality to the work for the viewer. What are your intentions as the maker?
As for composition, I want to suck you in beyond the lateral plane of looking at a surface. It’s not enough for me to move your eyes around; I’m interested in a transformative space for the viewer to wonder about over time. The paintings have indeed become more shallow in depth which offers a more intimate space to the viewer and to my mind creates a more complex, figure/ground relationship.
- How do you approach your colour palette as the colours are vibrant and saturated? Do you believe that colour can provoke certain feelings in the viewer?
I’m very much interested in the emotive experience of colour. I think about colour a lot and my colour mood shifts. My last series was, to me, like my neon impressionist phase. Now I’ve returned to black as a marker of emphasis. I love the use of black in Manet’s paintings. I get excited and go through colour stories. I want to go dimmer, deeper, but I keep conjuring these exuberant, velvety, sort of weird palettes. Lots of yellow, pink, blue, red and black. I have ways of layering the colours to make them sing. It’s a balance and sometimes it really hits the right note. When you figure out how to make colours react to each other, a painting will draw out a visceral feeling.
- With your use of motif and pattern, your work is reminiscent of the great Swedish abstract mystic painter Hilma af Klint (1862-1944). At some point, do your figures become abstracted motifs/shapes/forms as well?
*Wow, thank you for the compliment, I have the highest regard for Hilma af Klint’s transcendent paintings. Her work is out of place, out of time and I definitely identify with that. She painted in a vacuum and in a way it seems like a gift to me, to have that autonomy and singularity of space in which to carve out a vision. To answer your question, the figures in my paintings are invented around the idea of hybridity, a changing body which can shift and morph. In my paintings, the figures/creatures/colours/forms are all able to meld and become indistinct from each other and their environment if they so choose.
- You attended the world famous Cal Arts, completing your MFA in 2002. How has your educational background played out into your current practice, if at all?
Cal Arts is becoming a more distant, yet idyllic memory. That place was a hotbed for boundless creative and intellectual experimentation. I was so fortunate to work with many wonderful brains, including the revered conceptual artist and thinker, Michael Asher. He was not an aesthetically minded artist, completely anti-visual and I learned a lot from those rigorous, all-day critiques. I was naive and I benefited from sheer dumb guts to speak up for myself. Many professors back then were anti-painting. That was how I began my passage of grad-school, “why painting?”. Sheesh! I made it out of there feeling I’d achieved an exclusive badge of honor alongside my fellow MFA comrades. We fondly call each other “Martians”. It changed me forever, giving me a broadened dialog outside of my painting practice.
About the Artist
Laurie Nye (b. 1972, Memphis, TN) lives and works in Los Angeles. She earned a BFA from the Memphis College of Art in 1995 and a MFA from the California Institute of the Arts in 2002. Nye’s work has been featured in one- and two-person exhibitions such as Andromeda, 5 Car Garage, Los Angeles, CA (2015); The Crystal Eaters, Statler & Waldorf Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2013); Nature Diamond Figure, Parker Jones Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2011); So Forgotten, Material Gallery, Memphis TN; and Laurie Nye and Paula Cane, Karyn Lovegrove Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2007). Her work has been included in thematic exhibitions including The White Album, Richard Telles Fine Art, Los Angeles, CA (2014); Material Anthology, Material Gallery, Memphis, TN (2013); Unfinished Paintings, LACE, Los Angeles, CA (2011); Like a Soft Summer Rain, Post Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2010); Boo, Karyn Lovegrove Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (2007); and Sugartown, Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York, NY (2005).
For the coveted gallery exhibition slot during Frieze Week, Hannah Barry chose two stalwarts of her stable: James Capper and Shaun McDowell, presenting solo shows of new work on each of the two floors of the South London gallery space. Due to unprecedented interest, their solo shows have been extended to 30thNovember so hurry over to Peckham to see James Capper’s EARTH MARKING EXPEDITION: Film, Mobile Sculpture, Component Parts and Shaun McDowell’s Navigator – new paintings from the studio in Redhill.
Capper is a sculptor whose artworks adopt the techniques, materials and actions of industrial objects: hydraulic pumps, cutting blades and ploughs. These monumental steel objects function as mark-making tools, interacting with various terrain during performances that result in abstract compositions in the landscape. For his solo show, Capper presents three earth-marking machines, Hydra Shuffle II, Hydra Stepand Telestep as well as the full family of teeth for the latter two machines, all meticulously arranged in a lush light yellow purpose-built sledge.
For the artist who grew up working on his neighbour’s farm in Kent, these mobile sculptures may seem like a natural progression for Capper, but to tackle these complex problem-solving processes of innovation and engineering, the artist has had to develop his own unique sculptural language. As moving machines that draw on the landscape, these sculptures are conducive to starring in their own films so save time to watch Capper’s film, JAMES CAPPER TELESTEP A GUBBIO! featuring his six-legged mountain-climbing Telestep in the Italian Apennines of Umbria. Although shown inert in the gallery setting, these walking hydraulic gizmos are able to burrow into the viewer’s imagination with their zoomorphic characteristics – one looks like a caterpillar, another a Jurassic spider. All powder-coated in a variety of yellows and blues, these sculptures recall real-life tools used in industrial applications but hint at the inventive mind of a very special contemporary artist.
On the more intimate first floor of the gallery, a group of seven small square abstract oil paintings by McDowell hang at museum height around the four walls of the room. McDowell, the master of the gestural brushstroke and the genius colourist, outdoes himself here at his fifth solo show at Hannah Barry Gallery. After working solidly over the last year in his gargantuan double-wide mechanic’s garage-cum-artist’s studio in suburban Surrey, McDowell presents a well-edited selection of new paintings. Always painted at the same time on the floor of his studio, McDowell moves from board to board, painting layer after layer of lusciously coloured abstract marks, some transparent, some opaque, all curvy or swirly, never straight. The movement in the process is key as the finished works are alive and vibrant, both in colour and expressiveness. Each painting has the adequate space around it for the viewer to take in its unique vitality. Assembled as a whole, Navigator is a pleasurable assault to the senses.
All photos: Courtesy of the artists and Hannah Barry Gallery, London.
Marcelle Joseph’s Instagram page: @marcelle.joseph
About the Artists
James Capper (b. 1987, London) lives and works in London. He received his B.A. in Sculpture from the Chelsea College of Art and Design and his M.A. from the Royal Academy of Art, London, where he was presented with the Jack Goldhill Award for Sculpture. Recent solo exhibitions include those at Hannah Barry Gallery, London (2016, 2015 and 2011), Vigo Gallery, London (2016), Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York (2015), CGP LONDON/Dilston Grove, London (2015); Cass Sculpture Foundation, Goodwood, UK (2015); Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Yorkshire (2013); and Modern Art Oxford, Oxford (2011). His works have been included in other important exhibitions at Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin (2014); The Moving Museum, London (2013); Saatchi Gallery, London (2011); and Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2013). In 2017, Capper has upcoming solo shows in Bath (UK), Oaxaca (Mexico) and New South Wales (Australia).
Shaun McDowell (b. 1981, Sussex) lives and works in Redhill, Surrey. Recent solo exhibitions include those at Hannah Barry Gallery, London (2016, 2014, 2012, 2011 and 2008); and Brickhouse at Nutbrook Studios, London (2011). McDowell takes an active role in curating group exhibitions in his Surrey studio space under the moniker Dynamite Projects (2015-6) and has also curated or co-curated EE=MC2, Evgenij Kozlov, Hannah Barry Gallery, London (2015); Save yourself! Hannah Barry Gallery, London (2014); PeckhamNewYorkParis, Galerie 104 Kleber, Paris; Martos Gallery, New York; and 88 Friary Road, London (all 2013); and Nothing Fixed, Marcelle Joseph Projects, London (2011). Selected group exhibitions include: What’s up 2.0, Lawrence van Hagen, London (2016); Confuses Paroles, Le Cabinet Dentaire, Paris (2015); Figure this Out, Assembly House Studios, Leeds and Passage Choiseul, Paris (2015); Degree of Darkness, Rook & Raven Gallery, London (2014); En-trée, Middlemarch, Brussels (2014); Visible, Invisible: Against the Security of the Real, Parasol Unit, London (2010); and Peckham Pavilion, 53rd Venice Biennale, Venice (2009).
Crampton’s approach to craft and making is a perfect fit with Muggenburg’s finely crafted pieces of jewellery on display. The structures that Crampton has built for the presentation of her sculptures also mimic the display strategies often employed by high-end boutiques and fashion brands. Reminiscent of the work of the Memphis Group of designers in Milan in the 1980’s, in colour, form and materiality, Crampton’s new works slyly straddle the line between craft and fine art, hinting at functionality and playing with various textures and materials. Since she graduated from the Royal Academy Schools in 2014, Crampton has continually surprised viewers with her mastery of new skills – from welding steel and beating copper to woodworking, designing light fixtures, throwing pots and knitting, embroidering and upholstering various textiles.
Featuring three sculptures that resemble shade trees spreading their branches in all directions, the exhibition entitled “Bowers: from form to public” invites the viewer to perform a dance of sorts under the arbour created by these sculptural forms, like a bird fluttering around a garden looking for its hatchling. Accompanying this exhibition are three commissioned poems by Daniel C. Blight. Picking out a few choice lines of verse, Crampton’s work comes alive.
“In movement we will live
A place in the garden
Below the sky
Cancel the summer.”
With her unique sculptural language, Crampton is a confident young artist whose work demands to be seen.
About the Artist
Coco Crampton (b. 1983, London) lives and works in London after graduating from the Royal Academy Schools in 2014. Recent exhibitions include RA Summer Exhibition 2016, Royal Academy of Arts, London; All Over (five-person show), Studio Leigh, London (2016); Gradation (recent graduates of the Royal Academy Schools), Art First, London (2016); Gardeners & Astronomers (a two-person show with Nicole Vinokur), Caustic Coastal, Manchester (2016); Kingly Things (a two-person show with Agata Madejska curated by Gareth Bell-Jones), Chandelier Projects, London (2015); Handles on Romance & Other Girls also Common Tongue, a solo exhibition at The Minories in Colchester (2015); Cassius Clay (group exhibition curated by Marcelle Joseph Projects, London) and Protected Space (two-person exhibition with Jonathan Baldock), Belmacz Gallery, London (2014).
Surrounded by large canvas filled with floating geometric shapes overlaying slashes and other transparent forms of colour, my eye is attracted to the drawings of the human figure contained within these otherwise abstract paintings – the body, crossed fingers, a head that appears to be looking backwards. The colour palette of this suite of new paintings by British artist Alice Browne is particularly appealing. Some paintings are exercises in a single colour – one neon green, another grey/black; others explore a more diverse palette from thin washes of pastel pink and blue to more opaque patches of magenta and purple. Scattered across the burnt red concrete floor of this former printing press is a collection of what the artist describes as ‘photo-objects’ – black-and-white images of indeterminate forms that reference the practice of cleromancy, the casting of lots as a means of divination, such as the rolling of dice.
Aptly titled, Forecast, this solo exhibition in Limoncello’s new London location, questions mankind’s desire to predict the future. Containing figurative depictions for the first time in Browne’s practice, this new body of work was inspired by Botticelli’s illustrations (c. 1485-1500) of Dante’s Divine Comedy (c. 1308-1320), particularly the punishment given to the diviners, astrologers and magicians in Hell of having their heads on backwards. Forced to always look behind them, Dante’s futurologists were physically prevented from predicting the future. In Browne’s paintings, she magically expresses the anxiety of the unknown through beautiful layers of paint that together form a visual paragon of virtue. Browne need not cross her fingers for luck as this new body of work is more Paradise than Inferno.
Browne’s paintings will also be featured this week at the Frieze London booth shared by Limoncello and Taro Nasu, a commercial gallery from Tokyo.
Alice Browne, Forecast, Limoncello, Unit 5, Huntingdon Industrial Estate, Ebor Street, London E1 6JU, 29 September – 5 November 2016.
About the Artist
Alice Browne (b. 1986) is a British artist based in London who completed her MA in Painting at the Royal College of Art, London in 2016 and her BA in Painting at Wimbledon College of Art, London in 2009. Selected recent solo and group shows include: Limoncello, London, UK (2016); OUTPOST, Norwich, UK (2015); Prosjektrom Normanns, Stavanger, Norway (2014); Limoncello, London, UK; annarumma, Naples, Italy; Fjord, Philadelphia, US; Interno 4, Bologna, Italy (all 2013); dienstgebäude, Zurich, Switzerland; Supercollider, Blackpool, UK (both 2012); APT Gallery, London, UK (2011); and A Foundation, Liverpool, UK; ICA, London, UK (both 2010).
Great opening night at House of St Barnabas for Selma Parlour! She has created a luminously beautiful site-specific painting installation in the Soho Room of this Grade I-listed building in London. It is open for a year so please stop by. The room functions as the members' club restaurant so please visit before lunch or dinner hours for maximum viewing pleasure.
London-based sculptor Jonathan Trayte mines the tropes of today’s food obsessed society in Polyculture, his first solo exhibition in a public gallery in the UK. After showing his work at the Royal Academy of Arts in 2015 as one of the five finalists of the Converse x Dazed Emerging Artists Award, Trayte’s work rises to new heights at The Tetley, a centre for contemporary art and learning, located in the former headquarters of the world-famous Tetley Brewery in Leeds. Having worked his way through university in Canterbury in one of the UK’s first daily farmers’ markets with an on-site food hall and restaurant using only locally-sourced produce, Trayte draws from his culinary background, creating beautifully made, voluptuous and often vibrantly coloured casts of food in bronze, ceramic or concrete that comment on contemporary society’s production, marketing and consumption of food. Trayte is particularly fascinated by the global food packaging industry and its attempt to entice us, which results in his own work having a highly glossy finish, recreating the industry’s similar attempts to create a seductive appeal. For this exhibition, in fact, Trayte picked the brains of Professor Charles Spence at the experimental psychology laboratory at Oxford University, to understand how consumer decision-making is manipulated in commercial environments using various means, materials, lighting and temperatures.
Interested in cutting-edge contemporary art but fancy a late summer day in the English countryside? Make your way to Hauser & Wirth’s outpost in Somerset at Durslade Farm for Martin Creed’s What You Find exhibition (until 11 September 2016).
Turner Prize-winning artist and musician Martin Creed had the pleasure of residing at this idyllic, rural farm for two months this spring before the opening of his solo exhibition in May 2016. Not wanting a press release for his show, Creed gave his gallery the following quote: ‘You find yourself here in this world with feelings and thoughts. It’s difficult to accept what you find you do. But if you can it seems to help.’ This quote is indicative of what is to come in this exhibition, having a little bit of everything from all strands of his conceptual art practice and including new paintings, films, drawings, sculpture, spoken word and performance as well as the release of a new album by his band. From a neon confronting his phobia to cheese to a giant abstract painting made by young local people recruited by the artist, Creed’s work is always equal parts art and life. Other works include a series of portrait paintings made by Creed when blindfolded, a tree in the garden hung with plastic carrier bags (N.B. Creed never throws anything out) as well as an exquisite and hysterical film with a backing track of Creed’s music, featuring the artist at least twenty different times, each time with a different hair style and costume – like the male version of Lady Gaga but with the voice of The Proclaimers. Another highlight is an installation of two vintage Fiat cars and one van from the artist’s burgeoning Fiat collection, each containing a painting in the boot that complements the lines and colour of the respective vehicle. This exhibition is a rare gem as it gives a snapshot of the inner workings of this conceptual genius’s mind.
London-based artist Nicolas Deshayes creates some heat at his debut solo show, Thames Water, at Stuart Shave/Modern Art in London (1st – 24th September 2016).
Upon entering this gallery space housed in former printing works in Clerkenwell, you immediately notice metres and metres of industrial silver piping running across the walls of this pristine white cube with peaked skylights providing lashings of sunlight against the minimalist interior. On closer inspection, these amorphous anatomical concrete-grey protuberances pop into focus, scattered here and there on the walls like three-dimensional drawings made of cast iron. Once you get closer, you feel the heat emanating from these uncanny objects. The epidermis of these warming sculptures is bumpy and scarred, with their forms resembling flattened earthworms or the small intestines of the human alimentary canal. Architectural support and spatial placement seem vital, as these functional objects are hung at radiator height and operate by attaching themselves to the existing water pipes in the gallery.
Akin to Adele naming her latest album “25”, Norwegian artist Ann Cathrin November Høibo turned 36 this year and has titled her third solo show at STANDARD (Oslo) that same number. The expression goes that ‘age is just a number’ but in the press release for this exhibition, the artist references what 36 means in mathematics, measurements, science, religion, culture, sports and other fields. Did you ever know that 36 is the atomic number of krypton or the number of vehicles that run in each race of NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series? In the exhibition itself, the viewer starts to understand the significance of 36 to Høibo.
The group show “Carpet for a Lord” at the Berlin gallery of Supportico Lopez takes its name from a 1991 work by Henri Chopin (1922-2008), the avant-garde artist, poet and musician, and features the work of eight artists, including early career artists, Charlie Billingham, Than Hussein Clark, Daniel Milvio, Jill Mulleady and Ola Vasiljeva, and established artists, Judith Hopf, Ettore Spalletti and Haim Steinbach. Opening on 8th September and running until 22nd October 2016, this exhibition aspires to create a melody, from the references and forms of the artworks, about aesthetics, representation, enigma, personality, past, future and death.
Kunsthaus Zürich until 25th September 2016
A "kaleidoscopic series of art experiences," says Marcel Duchamp of his lifelong friend Frances Picabia's artistic career. This retrospective exhibition of the work of Frances Picabia (1879-1953), organised by Kunsthaus Zürich and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, will be the first-ever comprehensive survey of the artist's career in the United States once it opens at the MoMA on 20th November 2016. Born in Paris to a French mother and a Cuban father, Picabia led the life of a nomad and a chameleon, adopting a myriad of different styles as an artist from his first Impressionist paintings to Cubist paintings, in and out of the Dadaist movement and then on to technical diagrams, citation from demanding literary works, appropriation from kitsch erotic magazines and quasi-monochrome abstract paintings (the precursor to Damien Hirst's dot paintings). In 1923, Picabia said, "Each artist is a mould. I aspire to be many. One day I'd like to write on the wall of my house: "Artist in all genres."' Throughout his life, he wandered the globe, living in Paris, the French Riviera, New York, Switzerland and Barcelona and reinventing himself as an artist again and again as well as writing poetry, publishing Dadaist magazines and organising galas. Of these wanderings and his complex oeuvre, he mused in 1924, "I am neither a painter, nor a writer, neither Spanish nor Cuban, nor American (...) nor Dada, I am alive." Picabia, a passionately discussed personality and one of the greatest artists of the twentiety century, deserves as much attention as Picasso. Consisting of over two hundred works dating from 1905 and 1951, this is an exhibition of a lifetime. Make sure to seek it out in either Zürich or New York (20 November 2016 - 19 March 2017).
Thomas Dane Gallery, London
Cecily Brown’s homecoming exhibition, Madrepora, at her new gallery Thomas Dane, is an absolute delight. After leaving the UK in 1994 for New York, the British artist, a contemporary of the YBAs, returns to London with an exquisite two-part show in both spaces that Thomas Dane commands on Duke Street in Mayfair. The palette, the gestural brushstrokes, the hints at figuration and flesh, the immersive large canvases… sublime. Brown may have felt more at home in New York over the years given her non-conceptual practice but this show is a return to glory - Britain’s own Willem de Kooning but with an erotic feminine perspective instead. Sexy, luscious, inviting. Madrepora, the title of the show, is a genus of corals found in tropical locations and refers to a passage from Proust, capturing the act of looking at a group of girls on the beach. Taking the artist’s quote from the press release for this show, I leave you with this final clue into the artist’s psyche. “I want there to be a human presence without having to depict it in full.” – Cecily Brown. The exhibition is on until 23rd July.
Victoria Miro Gallery, London until 30 July 2016
Some dots have gone astray when approaching the Victoria Miro Gallery on Wharf Road, as a woman passes by covered in red polka dots. It is a premonition of things to come… The signature style of Yayoi Kusama (born 1929 and calling herself the “Priestess of Polka Dots") includes dots as well as mirrors and pumpkins. As Kusama states: "Since my childhood, I have always made works with polka dots. Earth, moon, sun and human beings all represent dots - a single particle among billions. This is one of my important philosophies, which is accepted by many people." The world around Kusama is recoded in a repetitious and seemingly obsessive manner as she explores themes of infinity, universality and the cosmos in her over sixty-year body of work. Now one of the most widely known Japanese artists in the world, Kusama has long been on the margins of the international art scene. Gaining recognition in New York in the 1970's through the happenings she organized, it wasn't until much later that her work could be seen in museums and institutions around the world. She long stood on her own, braving the art world as a single Japanese woman who committed herself to a mental institution in Tokyo over 40 years ago. The exhibition at Victoria Miro features recent works, such as Where the Lights in My Heart Go, a mirror box permeated with round holes through which daylight gleams and of which the reflections are endlessly multiplied. Other works that are presented include her Infinity Net paintings, a project that she started in the 1950's. as well as other installations featuring her oft-repeated motif of pumpkins covered in polka dots and another mirrored room installation featuring several crystal chandeliers. (Written by MJP intern Anna Bisperink and edited by Marcelle Joseph) Definitely a show not to miss this summer...
At Stour Space in Hackney Wick
Today I visited the Stour Space in Hackney Wick for the first time. It is a proper hyphenated all-purpose space. Artist studios-exhibition space-shop-hipster café. First the art... I went to see the solo exhibition of Thomas Langley entitled "Art type stuff". Tom is a multidisclipinary artist who is currently studying at the Royal Academy Schools. Presenting sculpture and painting in the exhibition, Tom explores the universal truths of the artistic condition with text paintings like "Buy My Mum a House" and anti-aesthetic gloopy sculptures made from bits of coloured polyurethane, wood and foam. My favourite work is a sculptural work called "Blaggers" that incorporates a framed text work on paper that says "The canapés will be great" (see image). Artist NIgel Cooke wrote the exhibition text. My favourite bit of that text that I think appropriately describes Tom's work -- "a contemporary ambivalence made physical, a vacillating question turned into a brute fact". Now on to the food, please visit this space on an empty stomach as the Counter Café - located on the ground floor and spilling out onto the River Lea on a floating wooden terrace - serves a delicious all-day breakfast. My "Veggie Breakfast" had all my faves - poached eggs on sourdough bread, avocado, portobello mushroom, grilled haloumi and roast potatoes.
Last work installed...
...after a full day of angle-grinding. Don't miss this sculpture hidden in the forest in the back garden by Andrew Mealor.
France-Lise McGurn's vinyl floor painting
Our makeshift nightclub space is coming alive thanks to France-Lise McGurn's vinyl floor painting. Work-in-progress. At Home Salon: Double Acts opens on Saturday, 14th May in Ascot, 6.30pm until late.
at The Serpentine
My new heroine - Hilma af Klint, making abstract paintings in the early 1900's before all the big boys of abstraction.
at the Averard Hotel
Three of my favourite artists all under the same roof. Stefania Batoeva, Emma Hart and Zadie Xa.…