Critical Writing/Exhibitions

JERWOOD OPEN FOREST
Jerwood Charitable Foundation
The Forestry Commission England
In the Jerwood Space
In an introductory essay Richard Mabey says of the painters of the Barbizon school that their work was ‘about, rather than of the forest.’  The opposite is true of the work exhibited in the Jerwood Space between January 15 and February 23, 2014.  The artists Juan del Gado, Adam James, Amanda Loomes, Semiconductor, Chris Watson and Iain Pate, in this inaugural exhibition, were selected from a nation-wide call seeking bold, broad-thinking proposals for a new £30,000 commission to be realised anywhere within England’s Public Forest Estate.  The stated idea of the Jerwood Charitable Foundation was to influence others to create opportunities for critically engaged work in environments outside the usual gallery or theatre settings; ‘work that resonates with or challenges context and offers new perspectives.’

There is something uneasy about bringing this work into a gallery.  The fact that it is in a gallery runs contrary to the original intention of the Foundation in making the open call for work.  Therefore how should the work be viewed?
There is no sense of forest, of enclosure, in how the works were curated.  In her accompanying essay Michaela Crimmin quotes Mabey writing of a sense of ‘organic connectivity’ that artists have with the land and with nature.  However, there was a lack of connectivity in this exhibition.  That is not to say that the work itself lacks connectivity.  It is a multi-sensory show which charts the five projects over a six-month period of research and development in various forest settings.  While the extensive text in the accompanying leaflet was helpful, the exhibition was hard to follow without it.  The theme for my BA degree show was ‘Connectivity’ and my work ‘How Many Miles from Barbizon?’ reinterprets Corot’s ‘Four Times of Day’ which is based on Fontainebleau Forest outside Paris.  My interpretation of forest is closer to the Chinese tradition in which experience is extrapolated, unlike this work in which the experience becomes the art.  However, it was difficult to get the full sense of what the artists experienced, because of a lack of signposting which would have contributed to a greater understanding of the work.

RUIN LUST
March – May 2014

Tate Britain

I came to consider matters of quality as I walked through this exhibition, questioning the inclusion of ‘Forum 1961’, a not-very-good John Piper. Its weakness was emphasised by its proximity to what was, for me, the best work in the exhibition, Graham Sutherland’s ‘Devastation 1941: East End Burnt Paper Warehouse’ in which the destruction that leads to ruin is expressed in unearthly colour and ragged, chared paper.(shown above) The idea of bringing together this eclectic mix of painting and photography on the pretext of ‘the ruin’ had great possibilities.  Confining the selection to British art limited the scope of the exhibition when it could have included the work of SITE from the US in which ‘ruins’ are a integral part of their architecture and imagery of the Twin Towers in New York.  It did include Rachel Whiteread’s ‘Clapton Park Estate’ demolition which was shot between Oct. 1993 and June 1995.  Its inclusion made me wonder why ruins resulting from other deliberate acts of destruction were missing, such as the bombings in Manchester, London and Belfast.
In scale, Jane and Louise Wilson’s huge ‘Azeville’ 2006, a black and white print of a gun emplacement, competes with John Martin’s ‘Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum’ and Constable’s ‘Hadleigh Castle’.  Powerful though these works are, a series of black and white photographs by Paul Nash carry a quiet, uneasy resonance which they lack. His ‘Swanage (Steps in a Field)’ 1936 sets up a scene upon which many narratives can be written.  Nash suggests endangerment without depicting it explicitly.  He suggests.  John Martin goes beyond suggestion to alarm.  I reference John Martin, formally, in my most recent work and Nash’s ability to suggest the inner ‘magic’ of landscape, as he referred to it, continues to be a reference point for my own interpretation of landscape.

 

ESSAY BY SLAVKA SVERAKOVA
From the catalogue of the exhibition
The Faraway Nearby
March to May 2014 F. E. McWilliam  Gallery and Studio

Some years ago when I was reviewing art and theatre for The Guardian, I received a letter telling me to stop showing off.  It was from a former tutor at Edinburgh College of Art, Anne Henderson.  And of course she was right.
It is the kind of advice I would like to give to Slavka Sverakova.  The publication accompanying The Faraway Nearby exhibition, in which her essay appears, purports to shed light on the works, as well as the themes of the exhibition, described in the curator’s introduction, as ‘the transient nature of influence’. The cross disciplinary work dated from 1886 to 2014 and was selected from public and private collections in Northern Ireland to reveal visual and formal affinities and methodologies.
Of the thirty-two artists selected, among them Joseph Beuys and Willie Doherty, only eight were women, something that was not explained by the curator or mentioned by Slavka Sverakova.
She writes at length about the curatorial approach of Fergal O’Malley, spiraling off into a long discourse about Nicholas Serota’s Walter Neurath’s Memorial Lecture: Experience and Interpretation, the Dilemma of Museums of Modern Art.  She moves on to Baudelaire, Aristotle, and Socrates before getting to the work.  Even then she digresses into a musical analogy about Strauss’s revenge on the critic Doktor Dehring.
She failed entirely to pick up on the personal aspect of influence through friendship exerted, for instance, by Beuys on the artist Tony Hill, and Hill’s subsequent influence as a tutor on several generations of artists, many of whom were represented in this exhibition.
While many of Sverakova’s diversions were interesting they did not transmit her experience of the work but rather obfuscated interpretation.  She failed to draw links between Willie Doherty’s work and that of Dan Shipsides, both routed in landscape and of interest to me.  It would be an interesting exercise to ask someone to read her essay and then attempt to say what the exhibition was about.
CONTAMINATED GEOGRAPHIES

The David Roberts Art Foundation March 2014

 

 

 

 

 
“…there is not one geography but many, and they are contaminated,”  according to Alexander Scrimgeour in his notes for this exhibition of work drawn from galleries in Amsterdam, Milan, Paris, Los Angeles, New York and London.  As the title suggests this show was about detritus of one kind or another, and included work made from the kind of objects that are discarded as valueless, such as Sam Lewitt’s ‘Credit Wipe’, made from the swiping mechanisms for credit cards.  The exhibition addressed surface, real and virtual spaces, digital imaging and analog staging in the face of technological change.  Given the geographical spread of this work, it was all alarmingly similar;  redundant objects are much the same everywhere.  That in  itself is a comment on the depletion of experience, an erosion of the richness of difference.
Geographies of Contamination was not organised by categories, and eye level bias was abandoned for horizontality so that many of the works were exhibited on the floor resulting in a number of clashes as visitors circumvented the work.
By contrast a complementary exhibition in the same gallery, ‘Study No. 5. Study of Shattered Red Tiles With Old Bricks and Decaying Wood’ by the Boyle Family was a focused case study of a single work from the DRAF Collection.  It is part of the Boyle Family’s lifetime project of ‘Earth Studies’ which has been ongoing since the 1960s.  Randomly selected squares of the earth’s surface were isolated and then recreated in mixed media to present the sites as accurately as possible.  The works could be dismissed as pastiche, but there is obviously an aesthetic judgement at work which makes them immediately comprehensible.  While I have been considering the ‘big picture’ of landscape in the traditional sense, the Boyle family’s work reminded me of Therese Oulton’s bird’s eye interpretation of land as opposed to landscape, suggesting another avenue of interpretation for me.

PRACTISING (IN)UNCERTAINTY COLLOQUIUM
Chelsea College of Art

 

 

 

 

 

 

On reading my notes on the Practising (in) Uncertaintly Colloquium at Chelsea College ofArt I found it difficult to pull them together into a coherent assessment.  There were many streams of thought running through the presentations.  In a live link up with the Macintosh School of Art in Glasgow, the Colloquium explored how artists both practice, and practise in uncertainty, in this case the uncertainty of the disputed phenomenon of climate change. While Edwina Fitzpatrick proposed that there was an implied sense of being lost in both methodology and practice if artists are meant to make sense of radically ambiguous situations, the presentations from Justin Carter, David Cross, Heather Ackroyd, Tania Kovats, Nick Edwards and Mark Wilson were really a record of journeying; the journeying of shifting contexts; landscape onto apparel, sea into bottles, trees onto tables, meadows onto barges, bears into museums. These were socially conscious personal journeys, exemplified ironically, by journeys not taken, for instance, by David Cross who has stopped flying.  As well as shifting contexts, Nick Edwards talked of shifting perspectives in his search for Dollis Brook, finding the exotic off the North Circular Road.
The ocular nature of art was discussed, however, the amalgam of presentations questioned what it is to be an artist today and suggested that there is a reluctance to be aligned with eco politics.  The suggestion that it is ‘up to us(artists) to tell scientists what the issue is”  drew the response  “Who is speaking when we say we? A question that this colloquium was not designed to answer but one which made me think about my own practice.  Lingering in the air was the thought that perhaps it is time to come off the fence, although nobody actually said so.
All of the presentations at this symposium were of interest to me because they dealt with the central concern of my practice which is, the disputed phenomenon of climate change and its affect on landscape.

 

JOHN BELLANY
AN EPIC JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
A RETROSPECTIVE EXHIBITION
Beaux Arts, Cork Street, London
6 March – 6 April 2013

Work by today’s Royal Academicians from Anish Kapoor to Zaha Hadid, exhibited at the Royal Academy under the title ‘RA NOW ‘ included the work ‘Domenica’ by John Bellany. (www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibitions). I was shocked by the timidity of it.  That may seem a strange thing to say given the highly saturated colours he used to portray a sunlit Italian scene.  It is timid only in comparison with the powerfully expressionist, and tormented, earleir works subsequently shown in ‘Epic Journey Through Life A Retrospective Exhibition’ at the Beaux Arts gallery in Cork Street (www.beauxartslondon.co.uk).  This consisted of a selection of work from’A Passion for Life’, a major retrospective of Bellany’s work currently running in the national Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh. (www.nationalgslleries.org/whatson/exhibitions/johnbellany).

Bellany’s gestural brush strokes are there in ‘Domenica’ but the paint is thin, unlike the impasto of works such as ‘My Grandmother’ of 1971.  It’s as if the stuffing had been knocked out of him and in some sense it had, through ill health.  What is missing in the later Italian landscapes is his lexicon or symbolic repertoire through which he expressed the Calvinist guilt that ran through such woks as ‘The Fish of God’ of 1970/71 and through which he explored grand themes of good and evil on a huge scale.

These early paintings carry more meanings than can be deciphered at any one time, in contrast to the simpler single view italian works.  To look positively on these later works they could be described, in their lightness of expression, tone and hue, as life affirming.  Where do his puffins, gulls, fish and monkeys fit in to sun-drenched Tuscany?  Of course they don’t.  Without them the Beckmanesque depiction of his introspection is missing.  In these late works he becomes an observer of, rather than a partaker in life.

BETWEEN TWO WORLDS
David Crone, Mark McGreevy and Dougal McKenzie
The F.E.McWilliam Gallery and Studio, Banbridge
22 June – 31 August 2013
(www.femcwilliam.com

‘Shop Window’ by David Crone, 1979, oil on canvas
144 x 216 cm
I couldn’t help comparing the language of these three painters with three writing modes:  letter writing, emailing and texting.  The letter writer holding the grammar together is Crone.  McKenzie is the emailer and McGreevy the texter.  Crone is the eldest of the three and tutored the other two at the University of Ulster. Two are Irish/Northern Irish and one is Scottish.  Those are the links that brought this exhibition about.

The work of all three hovers between abstraction and figuration but in very different ways.  There is an apparently uncontrolled exuberance in McGreevy’s scrubby brush strokes, flat colours, and multiplicity of half-recognisable shapes – only so because he gives them names such as ‘Dry Wall’.  McKenzie’s work is more controlled, with very obvious evidence of PhotoShoped images as a source particularly in ‘Waiting for Colonel Pole (Culloden No. 3)’ and ‘Last of the French Night Marchers (Culloden No. 4)’.  Crone is an intuitive painter who engages with his medium, stands back, takes note and responds to what his subdued palette, with glimmers of highs, is saying to him.

To James Elkins (www.jameselkins.com), author of ‘What Painting Is”, paint is liquid thought.   His statement is exemplified in Crone’s fluid brush work as it  weaves and interweaves.  It is impossible to discern which mark was laid down on top of which as images float in and out of one another.  The change in his thinking over many years is strikingly told as his palette lightens with a move from Belfast to the country.  In the more recent work the sobriety and somberness of the reflections of wire fencing in  ‘Shop Window’ is replaced by ‘Field Objects’ in which his improvisation plays with the expanded space of the countryside.

In contract McKenzie’s canvases, tied to historical subject matter, at times seem confined by the canvas edge.  It is hard to imagine another world exsisting beyond them even though they are concerned with real life incidences as in the case of the Culloden series and with an imagined visit to Edouard Manet’s studio.

The letter which can be discursive  has given way to the email which tends to be abrupt and it in turn has given way to the text message which is often so incoherently spelt that it is difficult to understand the message.


JOHN BYRNE ART AND LIFE
By Robert Hewson
Published by Lund Humphries, Surrey, 2011

In the foreword to ‘Writers on Howard Hodgkin’ Enrique Juncosa, Director of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, says of Hodgkin’s work that it “was a well kept-secret outside Britain until the mid 1980s.”  There follows a series of tributes to Hodgkin from such luminaries as  Bruce Chatwin, Bruce Bernard, Julian Barnes, Colm Toibin and Susan Sontag, among others.  Many of the writers were friends of Hodgkin, or knew him – apart from Tobin who writes the most insightful essay of the ten, full of honesty and observation about his reluctant subject.  So, in no way is the book a critical appraisal of Hodgkin’s work.

‘John Byrne Art and Life’, although written solely by Robert Hewison, starts in similar vein.  “John Byrne has still not had the recognition he deserves.” Hewison describes the book as the first critical monograph to be addressed to the Scottish painter’s art.  A point is made of the fact that Byrne’s painting was ignored in Alexander Moffat, Alan Riach and Linda McDonald-Lewis’ Arts of Resistance (Moffat et al.2008) which debates the contribution of the arts to Scottish identity.   So right from the beginning I knew what to expect from this book.  It is a good read, full of detail about Byrne’s early personal life, his upbringing in Paisley’s tough Ferguslie housing estate,  his mother’s mental illness,  his Irish Catholic background on both sides.  There is little of the breakup of his first marriage when he ditched his wife to follow Tilda Swinton to London, or of his new relationship with Jeannie Davies.  These details came to be expected because all of his other relationships with Billy Connolly, Gerry Rafferty and Robbie Coltrane are documented.   They all figure in Byrne’s paintings like characters in a melodrama.   Hewison describes Byrne as an outsider:  figurative when figurative art was unfashionable; a graduate of Glasgow, not Edinburgh; of the Catholic minority in Protestant Scotland.  He argues that while Byrne’s talents have brought him in from the margins, he deserves to be at the centre.  As a critical monograph this book will not achieve that.  Instead of concentrating of Byrne’s art Hewison attempts to explore the relationship between word and image, writing and painting.  If anything Byrne is better known in Scotland and beyond for his plays ‘The Slab Boys’, ‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’ and for his work in Scottish theatre.  Television and broadcasting have brought greater recognition for him than his painting.   Personal recognition seems important to him. He is his own favourite subject if the number of self portraits in the book is anything to go by.   They certainly demonstrate his skill as a draftsman alongside his covers for Penguin Books, but they tip over into decoration and illustration too often to suggest facility but little depth.   Undoubtedly he could paint, as can be seen in his commission to paint the Trustees of the Hamilton Bequest.  However in the sheer plethora of work illustrated in this book somehow his unique voice is lost.  It might have served Byrne better had Hewison written two books:  one about his art and a second about his writing.

EXHIBITIONS VISITED
Geographies of Contamination
DRAF
Richard Hamilton
Paul Klee
Tate Modern
Karen Walker
The MAC, Belfast
Almost Bliss
Derek Jarman
Interalia

Grenville Davey
Chelsea Space
Richard Deacon
Tate Britain
Body Language
The Saatchi Gallery
Mariza Merz; Adrian Rojas
The Serpentine Gallery
Liu Xisodong
Tatsuo Miyajima
The Lisson Gallery
Daniel Silver
Artangel
Tacita Dean
Frith Street Gallery
The Master’s Bouquet
The Adam Gallery
By Richard Cartwright
Adristorical Lands, Europe House
A photographic exhibition of the landscapes on the Adriatic
Sarah Lucas, The Whitechapel Gallery
Australia
Daumier
Bill Woodrow
John Carter
Francis Bowyer
Royal Academy
Klee, Tate Modern
Art Under Attack: Histories of British Iconoclasm
Painting Now
Tate Britain
Between Two Worlds
David Crone, Mark McGreevy, Dougal McKenzie
The F.E.McWilliam Studio and Gallery
Witnessing the Wilderness, Space Wimbledon, Ian Brown, Layla curtis, Geraint Evans, Simon Faithful, Dan Hayes, Paul Harrison, John Wood, James Ireland, Marko Maetamm, Aleksandra Mir, Jacques Minki, George Shaw, Helen Sear
Wimbledon College of Art BA Show
Chelsea College of Art BA Show
Royal Academy Schools Show 2013, Royal Academy
Reading the Surface: Nina Beier, Ryan Gander, Bob Law, George Henry Longly, John McCracken and Maaike Schoorel, the David Zwirner Gallery
Donald Judd, the David Zwirner Gallery
The Bloomberg Commision: Giuseppe Penone: Spazio de Luce (space of Light),
The Whitechapel Gallery
Black Eyes and Lemonade, The Whitechapel Gallery
Made in Bow, the Nunnery, Bow
Reuben Colley, the Alpha Gallery
John Bellany. Epic Journey Through Life.
A Retrospective,The Beaux Arts Gallery
Danny Markey, The Redfern Gallery
Tom Hammick and Tai Shan Schierenberg
the Flowers Gallery
Critic’s Choice 1950 – 2000 chosen by Andrew Lambirth,
Browse and Darby Gallery
Alf Lohr, the Adam Gallery
Jan Dibbets, Alan Cristea Gallery
Robbi Walters, Waterhouse and Dodd Gallery
New Order. British Art Today, the Saatchi Gallery
Ellen Gallagher, AxME, Tate Modern
Gary Hume, Tate Britain
Patrick Caulfield, Tate Britain
Meet British Art, Tate Britain
Morandi:Lines of Poetry, Estorick Collection
Lichtenstein A Retrospective, Tate Modern
The Light Show, The Hayward Gallery
The Bride and His Bachelors. Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenburg,
and Johns at the Barbican
Schwitters in Britain, Tate Britain
Manet, Portraying Life, Royal Academy of Arts
Works on Paper, Art Fair, The Science Museum
Constable Gainsborough Turner and the Making of Landscape,  Royal Academy of Arts
RA NOW, an exhibition of work by today’s Royal Academicians from Anish Kapoor to Zhah Hadid
A Bigger Splash,Tate Modern
Almost Real Art, Royal Academy of Arts
British and Modern Contemporary Art, London Art Fair
Long & Ryle Group ExhibitionTricia Gillman, Emily Marbach, Simon Casson, Gisela Kohn, Mark Entwistle, Ramiro Fernandez Saus, John Monks
New Editions and Acquisitions, Alan Cristea Gallery: Gilian Ayres,Christiane Baumgartner,Gordon Cheung,Michael Craig Martin, Dexter Dalwood, Ian Davenport, Edmund du Waal, Jan Dibbets, Richard Hamilton, Marie Harnett, Howard Hodgkin, Ben Johnson, Allen Jones, Ian McKeever, Julian Opie, Vicken Parsons, Lisa Ruyter, Joe Tilson, Tom Wesselmann, Paul Wynstanley
Victoria and Albert Museum: Dr. Susan Weber Gallery:  new furniture gallery
Marc Vaux, Full House: Paintings from 1964, Bernard Jacobson Gallery
Whitechapel Gallery: Mel Bochner:  If the Colour Changes
Hales Gallery:  Bob and Roberta Smith.  The Art Party USA comes to the UK
Peer: Keith Coventry . Deontological Pictures. Series of Ten Multiples
Kate McGarry.  Artsoska Macuga
White Cube: Runa Islam
Wimbledon Space: Visionary: Contemporary Fine Art from China Central Academy of Fine Arts. 971 Horses. Head Room. Spaced Out
Liverpool Biennale:  John Moore’s Painting Prize 2012, Walker Gallery,  Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2012, City States 2012, Lisbon Air Print, John Moores University (Post Office Sorting Office Building), The Unexpected Guest, Bluecoat Gallery, Sky Arts Ignition: Doug Aikenn at Tate LiverpoolChristies South Kensington: I Love 3D, The Royal British Society of Sculptors: James Balmforth, Barnaby Barford, Claudia Borgna, Mark Davey, Suresh Dutt, Sian Griffiths, Nick Hornby, Yoshimi Kihara, Simon Linington and William Mackrell, Julie Major, Anna Sikorska, Katie Surridge
Peter Doig, Imaginary Places at the MAC, Belfast
Mary McIntyre, A Contemporary Sublime at the MAC, Belfast
The Parallax Art Fair, Chelsea, London
Breaking the Ice:  Moscow Art 1960-80s, the Saatchi Gallery, Chelsea, London
Olympia International Art Fair 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back To Journal/Research