Re-evaluating our relationship to space – Richard Wilson, Stealing Space, exhibition review

©Richard Wilson Block of Dering (2017) wood 353 x 250 x 268 cm Stealing Space exhibition

 

When l saw an image of the installation of Richard’s show l was intrigued and decided to visit.   Richard Wilson, the Turner Prize-nominated artist, has been exhibiting for 35 years and has won universal critical acclaim.  In this review of his exhibition ‘Stealing Spaces’ at the Annely Juda Fine Art gallery in London l was interested in how he uses different materials and ideas to draw attention to our relationship with space.   His work titled, ‘20:50‘ (1987) is an installation of oil in a room up to waist height and helped draw attention to his practice which uses methods of engineering combined with his interest in architecture. 
 
This quote from ‘Richard Wilson’ by Simon Morrissey, Tate Publishing 2005, page 7, gives us an insight to his way of thinking.
 
“I need that initial thing from the real world because I’ve always been concerned with the way you alter someone’s perception, knock their view of kilter.  And to do that I need to start with something we think we understand.”
 
This idea that you can ‘alter someone’s perception’ is something I can completely relate to and try to achieve in my own work and is the reason I find Richard’s work fascinating.  In his work Richard encourages the viewer to reconsider and re-evaluate common spaces, thereby opening up a very rich and productive exploration of physical space.
 
I believe that Richard’s work shows the importance of the artist’s role in finding a humble idea that has previously been overlooked, and make it into art by develop it into a life-long practice, elevating it up to something purposeful and meaningful and thereby adding wonder. 

 

©Richard Wilson Stealing Space exhibition all rights are with the artist
When I first saw the two large sculptures made from familiar materials squeezed into the white rooms they made me wonder how he achieved the aim of getting those big structures up the stairs.   When viewing, Space Between the Landing and the Gallery (2017) plywood on wood and metal, 310 x 740 x 101 cm, my attention is drawn to what I took for granted when I walked up the four flights of stairs moments ago.  While viewing the installation I wanted to re-consider my short journey up the stairs.  I did not notice the interesting details from the stair banister and steps, the significance of the space created and my relationship to these spaces.  My thoughts lead me to contemplate, Marcel Duchamp’s, ‘Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 (1912) oil on canvas, in a new way.  I thought how a person moves through space and they ascend and descend stairs and I found this interplay of connections and ideas intriguing.

 

Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2, 1912 – ©Marcel Duchamp – All rights belong with the artist
I can see why Richard makes a minimum of 3 sketches a day as I found his small framed drawings compelling and it is clearly the primary foundation of his ideas and practice. If I had one criticism of the exhibition, it would be that I would have loved to see the original sketchbook drawings to discover how Richard’s ideas started and progressed rather than just the finished sketches and finished installation.  I would have been very interested in understanding how he developed his ideas and this would have taken this exhibition to another level.  
 
The installations, models and drawings in the show made me take another look at the external and internal space, the positive and negative space, and to reconsider my memories and experience of moving through space.  This exhibition of Richard Wilson’s work has forced me to reassess architecture’s relationship and my response to space.  I realised I am overlooking the beauty of the familiar, the layers of meaning as I walk through a space and the resulting memories of the journeys I take. The exhibition, as a result, was one of surprise and delight and I walked away feeling I had learnt a great deal about using and understanding art and space.
 
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The secrets of art and creativity

©Stuart Bush The inception of an unexpressed thought part 1, coloured pencil on paper 22 x 29cm
©Stuart Bush The inception of an unexpressed thought part 2, coloured pencil on paper 22 x 29cm
©Stuart Bush The inception of an unexpressed thought part 2, coloured pencil on paper 22 x 29cm
©Stuart Bush The inception of an unexpressed thought part 4, coloured pencil on paper 22 x 29cm
Art is about using your creativity to make new connections from things around you.  The intention is to reconsider what you previous thought to give you a better understanding of what life is really about.  
 
Creativity in art is really about playing and experimenting. Taking two random things and letting things happen.  Being overly self-critical or self-conscious can prohibit a breakthrough.  You’re not trying to re-invent the wheel; you need to encounter discomfort and ignore any fears and tell yourself, this is for me and try not to worry what other people think.  
 
You could connect something banal like house bricks, reflecting coldness and the mundane, as a wake-up call to the excesses of capitalism like Carl Andre and his artwork, Equivalent V.
 
You take on some of the big topics, like immortality, life and death by linking the cycle of life, with flies living and dying in a glass box like Damien Hirst, titled ‘A Thousand Years’ (1990).
 
Or you could take up a skill like drawing, painting or pottery and just get making and see where it takes you.  The trick is once on a path, you’re bound not to know where the work is heading. If you thought you knew where your ideas are going, your artwork is probably stillborn or dead and lacks any inside energy.
 
The Helsinki Bus Station Theory by photographer Arno Rafaela Minkkinen explains some interesting and worthwhile advice:
 
 
The Helsinki Bus Station: let me describe what happens there.

Some two-dozen platforms are laid out in a square at the heart of the city. At the head of each platform is a sign posting the numbers of the buses that leave from that particular platform. The bus numbers might read as follows: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19. 

Each bus takes the same route out of the city for a least a kilometer stopping at bus stop intervals along the way where the same numbers are again repeated: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19. 

Now let’s say, again metaphorically speaking, that each bus stop represents one year in the life of a photographer, meaning the third bus stop would represent three years of photographic activity. 

Ok, so you have been working for three years making platinum studies of nudes. Call it bus #21. 

You take those three years of work on the nude to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the curator asks if you are familiar with the nudes of Irving Penn. His bus, 71, was on the same line. Or you take them to a gallery in Paris and are reminded to check out Bill Brandt, bus 58, and so on. 

Shocked, you realize that what you have been doing for three years others have already done. 

So you hop off the bus, grab a cab (because life is short) and head straight back to the bus station looking for another platform. 

This time you are going to make 8×10 view camera color snapshots of people lying on the beach from a cherry picker crane. 

You spend three years at it and three grand and produce a series of works that illicit the same comment: haven’t you seen the work of Richard Misrach? Or, if they are steamy black and white 8×10 camera view of palm trees swaying off a beachfront, haven’t you seen the work of Sally Mann? 

So once again, you get off the bus, grab the cab, race back and find a new platform. This goes on all your creative life, always showing new work, always being compared to others.

What to do? 

It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the f*cking bus.

 
 
So play and make random connections.   These new connections you make are only significant if they generate new meaning.  Use your intuition to sense which have potential and to figure out the best to communicate this idea to someone.   Make art from what is around you and try to make a comment about the world.  
 
When telling a joke, the funny part comes when two different separate ideas connect, generating a new meaning, similar to connections within a successful work of art.  Remember art is wonder!  It doesn’t matter if someone else likes it or dislikes it.  What is important is that your audience can’t stop thinking about it.  The possibilities are endless.  And remember to stay on the f*cking bus!
 
 
Related posts

Productivity in the artist’s studio

©Stuart Bush, sketch book study 78, oil and charcoal on paper
 
I am taking positive steps to make me more productive in the studio including things like planning and reviewing what I am going to do in the studio before I arrive and creating some studio ground rules.
 
I have a list of current projects and series of work l am trying to complete. Before l go to my studio I write down a short list of next steps l need to take, often between two or three depending on long each one will take.  This brief list is hand written in my diary, so it is clear to follow.  This way I know what my first task is, therefore avoiding beginning with an extended period of uncertainty.  Of course, uncertainty when painting is always present, but I try to remove it at this stage with preplanning.  
 
To choose the right tasks, I ask myself a series of questions; If l only achieve 2-3 tasks in a day what would these tasks be and would l be satisfied if l only get these done? If I made only one work of excellence, which one would make an enormous difference and have the greatest consequences? 
 
To help keep my mind clear and on creative studio time I write down all the distractions l might encounter on a to-do list.  Plus l avoid all office and business related tasks while in the studio to avoid all low-level activities.  Even if these task are urgent, I still try to do them after my creative block of time of one to three hours.  The creative time must come first.
 
The rules I have put in place while working are;    
Phone on silent, select music quickly (if I choose to listen to any at all), no tv or video, no newspapers, no friends dropping by, no emailing, no internet research unless it is related to making my next work therefore, hopefully, no diversions and distractions from the creative task ahead.
 
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Michael Craig-Martin’s book, ‘On being an artist’ – book review

All rights are reserved and are with the artist. ©1973 Michael Craig Martin, An Oak Tree (1973)

Michael Craig-Martin’s book titled ‘On being an artist’ is a collection of thoughts and notes that Michael has written and collected over the years. The book presents an interesting and insightful account of aspects of an artist’s life, the central themes of Michael’s work and the way he sees the contemporary art world. The book covers Michael’s experiences that he has gained as an art tutor at Goldsmiths, teaching, Damian Hirst, Julian Opie and Gary Hume and as a successful international artist.

In the book, there are 151 texts written in an informal and sincere style. They are easy to understand and read, ranging from chapter titles such as, ‘On advice for aspiring artist,’ to ‘On British attitudes to contemporary art.’ The personal account and practice information is for art students as well as professional artists.  I am sure the book would also be interesting and engaging read for anyone who interested in creativity and the daily thoughts and practice of an artist.

Michael’s clear and concise explanation of conceptual art through discussing, “An Oak Tree” (1973) one of the many interesting parts of the book.  The artwork creates a suspension of disbelief and highlights how conceptual art doesn’t exist in the object itself but in the mind of the viewer.  ‘An oak tree’ is a mental concept like all conceptual art that becomes a trigger to encourage contemplation.  The work highlights how art is a place inside your head where you can go, on your own and process the world and it’s complexities.

I enjoyed the clear and concise ideas, and concepts explained in a friendly and helpful manner.  It interesting to hear about the highs and lows of being a successful international artist and the difficult and challenging journey of finding your own path. I would highly recommend it for any aspiring artist.  Michael is certainly honest, and I found that very refreshing, “I would never advise anyone to become an artist. If you have another option, take it.”

A dialogue between me and my work

©Stuart Bush, Strange Heart Sings, oil on board 30 x 40 cm

I have an inherent need to communicate and express something. I am constantly looking for a new way to read the world to understand the physicality of forms. I see my practice as an exercise of being a painter/curator of moments of our lives; reclaiming a more agreeable melody, restoring, reordering and decluttering to focus on what is truly important.

By focusing on the space and the possibilities of structure and composition, I hope to emphasise the beauty and harmony from the chaos in the city, to invoke a new reading of its noise, movement and pattern. By revealing things through a slow open process, my work uncovers the importance of the positive and negative space. Where rhythm, colour and form play off each other, and each shape takes it configuration and meaning from the next, as a metaphor for the qualities of a seductive poem or an intriguing piece of music.

There is truth in the paintings as I try to deal with the present tense and how these ephemeral junctures were for me. A situation and context where discoveries and revelations happen. There is a layered time as I grapple with evidence of awkward moments, aspects of failure and changes of direction. Leaving the physical traces of responding to mistakes, that relate to intrinsic qualities of being human.

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Starting a day of creativity in my studio

©Stuart Bush, He has never been in love, he doesn’t even know what love is, gouache on cartridge paper, 43 x 24 cm – £350 +shipping (unframed) enquiry

When I arrive at my studio for a day of creativity, I always feel like I have lots going on in my head, lots of external noise in my life that also needs processing. I have personal errands, from checking my bank account, paying bills, checking and responding to emails, following up on loose ends, researching things of interest on the internet plus personal messaging and social media messages. If I walk through the door and allow myself to have unplanned time; a cup of tea, put some background music on and wait for a great wave of creativity to come; it never does. So, I have come to realise this is a very ineffective way to start my studio time, and if I am not careful, I will be waiting all day and possibly all my life for a lightning bolt of creativity to hit me.  
Over the years I have read and researched ways to be more productivity. I have learnt a lot about self-control but I still think I have a lot to learn, however, I am getting there…slowly. I still have lapses of unplanned time, but I continually look to make improvements. For example, I am currently reading, “Daily Rituals: How artist’s work” by Mason Currey, which so far is a fascinating and helpful book. Once I have finished reading this book, I hope to establish a daily routine/ritual that will work for me. I plan to write about my routine here shortly.

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An artist’s complicated journey of generating ideas and new work

I like documenting the world with a camera as a way to stimulate my visual imagination.  By viewing the world like a voyeur, I can focus on aspects to home into, capturing a moment in the viewfinder. I am constantly looking to find a way to make the invisible visible.
 
I don’t think you can ever underestimate the use of play and intuition at this point.  The following work from the photos can go in almost any direction, finding ambiguity in the work is essential.  To stimulate my imagination and generate new ideas I sketch with an open mind in paint, pencil and mixed media. The work itself often directs a change of medium.  This long process is different every time, it involves searching, analysing, selecting, editing, improving and rejecting the photographs, and the prep work, combined with other visual and textual information in the studio creating a multifaceted sketch book.  
 
The paintings come out of drawings, and a significant amount of labour takes place behind the scenes.  The work is often a struggle, and as an artist, I am often overwhelmed with self-doubt.  Afterwards, the work may look as if it was achieved quickly without effort. But I am aware that a reductive sketch, that may seem effortless, can often signify ability and skill.
 
©Stuart Bush, Study for Law of the Jungle
During the problem-creation stage my thoughts and skill are juxtaposed with accidents of the initial rough ideas.  When I was trying to get my thoughts down on paper I recognised the potential in this study above straight away, even though it is a simple coloured wash made in a few strokes that came about by chance.  It is too easy to lose the potential when trying to repeat it or refine it and knowing how to turn it into a finished work.  Over working and excessive labour can remove the movement, action or expression.   At other times it is not easy to recognise potential straight off.  This is where time helps and why I move my work so I can’t see it for long periods of time.
 
The space for play and chance to expand conceptual ideas is part of a process, as work passes through many physical processes.  The challenge of creating a finished work from the prep work is repeating and keeping the problem-creation open.  Often when the process does not allow imprecise marks, smears and stains to inspire radical changes at any stage of the process, the work can be still born and dead.  All the works l make are biographical and very personal.
 
©Stuart Bush, The Law of the Jungle, oil on aluminium panel, 38 x 76 cm – £3000 + shipping enquiry

If you would like to read what other artists have to say on this subject please take a look at;

https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2012/jan/02/top-artists-creative-inspiration

10 Reasons to Keep a Sketchbook

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/04/sketchbook_n_6096058.html

Please comment below about your thoughts and experiences related to this post, ‘An artist’s complicated journey of generating ideas and new work’

The search for originality in the artist’s studio

©Stuart Bush, Nobodies fault, oil on board 70.2 x 50.4 x 3.6cm – £1400 + shipping enquiry

 

A space to play, where anything is possible is such an important place for a creative person.  Having a space to go to and process the world and its complexities is extremely valuable and I feel very lucky to have the freedom around my full-time job and family life.

 

There is something very special about making work with just a few strokes with an open mind in an instant.  A pencil or brush in my hand with an open mind allows me to be transported to a place where ideas are instinctive, intuitive and spontaneous.  Accidents from unintended foot prints, rings from coffee cups, photocopiers, spills and accidents all have their place.   These studio sessions often leaves my thoughts uncovered and on display in their raw state where my ego is left aside.

 

These ideas can be explored and refined but at this point the conscious self comes back into the room.  The energy and emotions in the preliminary drawings and paintings that came from this outburst of freedom can often be lifted onto another sheet for further refinement. The open-ended problem creation can often be more prized than the problem solving finished work that follows.

 

I find that at this point, just after the preliminary studies, I don’t know what I have got.  I often find a place to store this work and revisit it at a later time.  This time lapse helps me to realise what I have really got.  This is when l contemplate the potential and hopefully uncover original ideas.  After all, everything has been done before, very little is original.  New work is often a shadow or an echo of what the artist has seen or experienced before.  This process can also often lead to selecting, editing and reworking, to look for originality.  The artist’s studio is also a place for destruction, recovery and transformation.

 

Chuck Close, the New York painter, has this to say,  “We often don’t know what we want to do, but we sure as hell know what we don’t want to do.  So the choice not to do something is often more important than the choice to do something.”  

 

I find problem creation as a process is much more effective in finding interesting art than a problem-solving approach, Duchamp said: “the artist has only 50% of the responsibility, and that is to get the work out, it is completed by the viewer.”

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Colour is for squares – Exhibition review of Josef Albers, ‘Sunny side up’

©Stuart Bush, When it is advisable to be wrong, oil on board 45.7 x 60.1 cm – £1000 + shipping enquiry

Through painterly questions of scale, content, colour and form I’m interested in expressing physical and emotional vigour of the human body in the city. I often work with and against the silhouette of the figure in the city.  I capture the ephemeral with assertive gestures inspired from poetry and music.   My process draws attention to the edge of things, to what is already there.  I look to create a visual poetry with energy and motion arrested in space by simultaneously hiding and revealing our world to us and focusing on the void in between the things.

Exhibition Review

Color study, n.d.
Oil on paper
11 1/4 x 4 7/8 inches (28.6 x 12.4 cm)
© 2017 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London.

Josef Albers is known for his Homage to the Square.  He uses a series of variations of the square that illustrated how colours affects each other. His book titled, ‘The Interaction of the Colour,’ is a studio course for teaching and studying what happens between colours.   Josef Albers was born in Bottrop in Germany in 1888 and died in New Haven, USA in 1976.  He taught at the Bauhaus and at Yale.  I came to the exhibition of Josef Albers’s work at David Zwirner in London and was looking forward to seeing more of his work and hoping to develop a further understanding of Albers basis modernist theory of colour.

 

The show spread across 2 floors, contains just over 30 artworks. The title of the show ‘Sunny Side Up’ gives you positive expectations of an uplifting experience.  There is plenty of space to view each small artwork, and they are certainly is uplifting especially because on the day I went, there was a protest march against Donald Trump going at the end of the street on the drab wintry day.

 

I was surprised to find lines that were clearly crafted by hand and sometimes the areas of colour show the marks from the palette knife that was used to create them.  The paintings are studies which show that perfectionism is not significant to Albers.  The little colour swatches on card, with writing on them, show Alber’s thought processes like a sketch book of ideas where he worked out what he was thinking. 

 

I expected the flat plains of colour in the artwork to feel empty. However, the squares are like little doors into another world, the world of the sublime. I felt I was being pulled in the squares and into a deep abyss of sunshine.

Color study for Homage to the Square, n.d.
Oil and graphite on blotting paper
13 x 13 x 1 1/4 inches (33 x 33 x 3.2 cm)
© 2017 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London.

This exhibition acknowledges the importance of Josef Albers and the contribution he has made to the timeline of art and colour education.  The man-made squares of different sizes of yellow, orange and gold make you think more deeply about colour and help develop a deeper appreciation of abstract art.   My experience of the show was stronger because of the gloomy weather outside and contributed to increasing my enthusiasm to continue learning about the uses of colour in my work.  There are is so many variables that can affect the impact of the square of colour and Albers is clearly the master, as Albers says, “If one says ‘red’ and there are 50 people listening it can be expected that there will be 50 reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different.”

Color study, n.d.
Oil on paper
11 1/4 x 4 7/8 inches (28.6 x 12.4 cm)
© 2017 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London.

When the need to be creative gets inside of you

©Stuart Bush, The Quality of Absence, oil on aluminium panel 80 x 112 cm – £4000 + shipping enquiry
When you see a successful artist or creative person doing their thing, are you inspired and wish you could do what they do?  Instead of believing in yourself does self-doubt, or the risk of rejection, ridicule or humiliation stop you?  It might be the creative act itself or taking the artwork to the next level and letting other people see it that stops you.  However, the need to be creative is a powerful force.  When I haven’t been to the studio for a little while l feel its loss.  I’m sure many people reading this can relate to the need to be creative and also the need to hide their talents.
 
Have you heard about the sad story about a lady called Vivian Maier who lived in Chicago?  http://www.vivianmaier.com Vivian spent most of life working as a caregiver.  When she died, there were over 100,000 negatives found in a storage unit in her name. Throughout her life, she hid her passion from the outside world.  There is lots of speculation about why she did this, but no one will ever know for sure apart from Vivian herself.  Since her death, Vivian’s work has been compared to the world renowned photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson.
 
I think we build up self-doubt in our heads and it becomes a mindset that is often overwhelming.  It seems that Vivian hid her gift from the world because of her vulnerability.  I have also been trying to find a way to overcome the self doubt problem.  I found these words of advice from successful artists useful:
 
Vincent Van Gogh; “If you hear a voice within saying I cannot paint by all means paint and that voice will be silenced”.  
 
Susan Hiller; “To a young artist, I would say: just go day by day and see what happens. Don’t worry about other people’s judgment.”
 
Rachel Jones; “Ultimately, you have to understand who you are making your work for: it should be for you, that is the first thing.”
 
This is all very good advice but life isn’t that simple.  Questions like how to find time, how to keep positive while keeping your vision and integrity are extremely challenging.
 
In Eric Fischl’s book, ‘Bad Boy’, he gives some interesting advice, “Art is a process and a journey. All artists have to find ways to lie to themselves, find ways to fool themselves into believing that what they’re doing is good enough, the best they can do at that moment, and that’s okay. Every work of art falls short of what the artist envisioned. It is precisely that gap between their intention and their execution that opens up the door for the next work.”
 
And Chuck Close said, “‘Bread crumbs’, by working, stuff comes out of working.  That is very different from dreaming something up and executing it.  Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us show up and get to work.”
 
One further explanation from John Cleese.  Most of the time we are in a closed mind, think when we are at work.  There is a tension and pressure to get the work done.  There is lots to be done, and we have to get on with it so there is little humour.  It is purposeful time but not creative time.
 
Then there is the open mode, where we are relaxed and playful in what we do.  We follow our curiosity as we are not under pressure.  Through play we find what we like and want to do.
 
Do you have any thoughts on this subject?  What do you do to enable yourself to carry on when self-doubt creeps in?  Do you have any words of advice to help overcome self-doubt and procrastination?  Do you feel held back from following your creative instincts? 

All comments most welcome!!!    Please join in the conversation and make a comment.

©Stuart Bush, The Quality of Absence (in progress) – enquiry