A review of Sean Scully’s work by Stuart Bush – ‘Uninsideout’ exhibition, BlainSouthern London until 17th November
In a career spanning 6 decades, Sean Scully in 2018 has 10 solo shows around the world, including an exhibition of sculpture at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park until 6 January 2019. During this review of Sean Scully’s work at ‘Uninsideout’ exhibition at BlainSouthern in London, I want to discuss Scully’s approach to the use form and colour and the intensity in his work.
The Irish born abstract painter Sean Scully grow up in London. He later moved to New York where he established a studio. Sean’s work explores a grid structure as a way to interpret the urban and natural landscape.
Sean’s initial interest in art came from viewing Van Gogh ‘The Chair’ at the Tate every weekend for 6 weeks. The painting profoundly moved Sean. He admired how the painting was honest and direct. It lit a spark in Sean and lead to his early work.
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Sean’s approach to painting has a similar intensity to Van Gogh’s ’The Chair’. He responses to thoughts and emotions with genuine integrity. Sean’s grid structure enables him to capture the rough, falling down feeling of the city. The muted light and the geometry grid facilitates a way to capture the unique beauty of the subject.
Sean Scully explaining his work, “I am paraphrasing nature, I am making the grid which is an intellectual framework, that we have invented, in order to order our cities. I fill it up with information that is already in the world. From the sky, the trees, the rivers and so on, all those sensual forms of information are gathered into the work to inform it, to enrich it, to bring it into the human spirit.”
In advance of the act of painting, Scully carefully works out the drawing of the grid and his palette of colours. This takes away many decisions while painting, and leaves space for a surprising amount of freedom in the making. Scully can focus on the noise, movement and pattern of the surface.
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The paintings are inspired by the cityscape with blocks and forms, or by horizontal lines forms a natural landscape opening up space for interpretation and mystery to the viewer. Unlike conceptual art, where the intellectual idea is clean and has a resolution, Sean’s paintings are like open questions allowing the viewer’s mind to wander across its surface. This is because the thinking and doing are in-separatable, it causes the viewer to always fall short of understanding the artist’s direct experiences that inspired the art.
Scully has a sensitivity to colour. His palette is inspired by the colours of nature and space around him. They are always finely calibrated colours, consistently hushed and sombre tones echoing the landscape. There is always a sense of the material in the work.
In the painting ‘What Makes Us Too’ (2017) he uses a brighter palette of colours. This work inspires thoughts of the exuberance and rhythm of contemporary urban life, including sexuality, lipstick and power. This series of work, as a result, is more decorative than his usual work.
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Scully has said he doesn’t like using unsophisticated bright or brash colours. He much prefers rich, refined tones. Colours that are not there to make an encounter happen. The colours in Scully palette come with their own natural, highly developed meaning which is delicate and complex. They are less dominating and with subtle degrees of graduation.
I really enjoyed seeing the varied body of work in this exhibition at BlainSouthern. Through focusing on the surface, Scully is able to reduce the decisions he has to make. This way of painting leaves space to focus on the two crucial aspects of his painting practice. The first is the intensity of the art. Through having many of the decisions worked out in advance, Scully can concentrate on the distinct characterises. The precise meaning is brought into existence by amplifying how powerful and intense the painting is.
The other important aspect of Scully’s paintings is about how two things come together through a visual intelligence. As Scully explains, “This really is the human problem how we come together. How do the things in the world come together.” As Sean Scully says, “Abstract art really is like music without words.” Scully’s paintings allude and invoke the way we experience the landscape as a mental state rather than a conscious effort.
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Tomma Abts (1967) is a German-born painter who lives in London. In 2006 Tomma won the Turner Prize and has since gone on to exhibit in many institutions around the world. In this Tomma Abts Serpentine exhibition review, I want to discuss her interesting static compositions and consider what I think the artist wants to say through the work.
Tomma Abts’s quiet and unique work could never be described as pretty. Her strange visual illusions at first glance look like 1950s wallpaper. Each painting contains zigzags, puzzles and twists on her trademark sized 48 x 38cm canvases. Tomma worked mainly on canvases of this size for the last 20 years, only recently introducing, different sized and shaped canvas. The title of her paintings were taken from a German dictionary of first names, Uphe, Zebe, Mehm, Veeke, Meko and Noeme.
Tomma was attracted to the Sackler gallery rather than the main Serpentine Gallery. She quickly realised that by leaving the powder rooms at the centre of the gallery empty with only the brickwork showing she could put her work in a sequence around the outside. Laying out the paintings in a precise order enables her to control the sense of movement for the viewer; and links her work carefully to the architecture. The positioning and lighting emphasises the relationships in each of her paintings between the contrast of the foreground and background.
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Tomma begins each painting without any preconceived ideas about what the picture will look like. The first task is to use a quick wash of acrylic paint to the canvas. This is followed by an evolution of intuitive decisions in oil paint to create sculptural paintings that add depth to the two-dimensional surface.
Tomma says, “not knowing what the outcome might be is what makes me want to start another painting. I have no plans, sketches or preconceptions when I begin; it is just decision after decision – an ongoing process of putting something onto the canvas and then editing it, then putting something down and editing it again – and in that way slowly constructing something…The making itself leads the way. The image is the manifestation of the process.”
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It is a common theme in painting that when an artist changes their mind about a previous decision they often feel compelled to hide that journey in the painted layers. There is a very long phase of searching and discovery, and trial error can be seen in each painting. In overpainting, there are submerged shapes turning the painting into a record of compressed time and space in flux. Each painting has a life of its own and eventually arrives at a lyrical composition of colour and illusory space. The obscured passages of rifts and forms are like previous states of mind hidden in the surface.
The result is a painting that uses the way forms catch the light and shadows. Tomma says, “I can’t really say what it will look like or how it will finish or what will make it work. It’s a different idea or moment for each painting.” Each painting has a unique relationship and balance of colour and form.
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There is no content, leaving you wondering what point Tomma is trying to make. The paintings are a reflection of a process. The viewer skids across the surface, trying to get a grip but failing. The emptiness of the paintings captivate the viewer and invite reams of commentary.
The whole exhibition feels like an artwork in itself. My mind wondered into the thoughts of Corbusier utopian dreams for Paris. The artworks around the outside of the gallery are like the suburbs in the peripheral areas of the city. The inner architecture, the brickwork of the powder rooms is like the working heart of the city. The intuitive paintings, where one step leads to the next, come from Tomma’s inner architecture and soul. The lines, forms and rhythms offer a kind of purity, with each painting having its own unique sensation.
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‘All too human, Bacon, Freud and a century of painting life’ at Tate Britain, begins by following British painting after the Second World War. At this time in our history rumours about what had happened during the Holocaust were trickling into the media. During this period many books and essays were written as people tried to come to terms with what had taken place. This experience encouraged intellectuals to look inwards and ask hard questions about the purpose of human existence.
It was complexing to hear about the atrocities and then to consider how humans could behave in such a way. The central theme of this exhibition looked at what British representational painting achieved during this period. Artists including Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Stanley Spencer, Alberto Giacometti, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, R. B. Kitaj and David Bomberg amongst others explored whether painting life as it is had any answers. They took on the battle through the depiction of the figure, the flesh and the surrounding. The painters were asking, how after this experience, could art depict man with any conviction.
The lead curator Elena Crippa, and assistant curator Laura Castagnini from Tate Britain, laid out the show in chronological order. The hanging of the show highlights how the artists were influencing each other. The relationships and rivalries between teachers, mentors and friendships runs throughout this exhibition. The whole show contains approximately 100 works tracing the startling impact of this shocking time and the coming effect on following generations.
In the first room, I was drawn to the works of David Bomberg and Stanley Spencer. David Bomberg painted the rugged landscape of worn-torn cities capturing the light on structure and scenery. With his speciality handling of paint he tries to get a grip on the subject, simplifying what he saw. He records memories and emotional states in almost abstract shapes. Meanwhile there is forcefulness of the work of Spencer. He paints a representation of the life, of a person in the flesh. The direct and honest painting opens up the sitter to the viewer. The painting becomes about looking more deeply at the painting itself and the process of applying it.
Freud, ‘In Girl with White Dog by Lucian Freud’, 1950-1 sees life for the mystery it is. Freud highlights the estrangement and coldness of the body. He once said, ‘I want the paint to work as flesh does.’ It indeed does that under his intense observation. The romance is undoubtedly removed, and there is a feeling of distress in the compelling moment of the life of his sitter.
In Frank Auerbach’s painting, ‘Head of Jake,’ 1997 Auerbach tries to find a new way to depict life and capture the horrifying experience. He uses shapes and colours as symbolism to show what he saw. He created a vibrant, profound visual language that extends beyond the outer appearance. There is deep emotional charge in thick impasto style penetrating loss and depths of physical structures into evidence of the forgotten moments.
A lot of the work in this exhibition is influenced by the existentialist view that we live to suffer. Francis Bacon’s ‘Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud,’ 1964 depicts going beyond surviving and suffering through painting. Bacon sees art as “about trying to make something out of the chaos of existence.” He looks into the human condition like we are carcasses. He focuses on our alienation and disorientation of the visible world to stir emotions and tell the truth about the darkness of human characteristics.
At the end of the exhibition after seeing many great revealing and fascinating works of art, I felt I had learnt something about our purpose as humans in this world. For me, this exhibition highlights our existence while words can only fail to define it. When words are used to try and explain the physical experience they often come up short. Painting and art, in general, adds to our understanding in a substantial and meaningful way. Any outcome to these big questions without art is missing a truly more profound understanding.
The show concludes with a Lynette Yiadom-Boakye painting, ‘The Host Over a Barrel’ 2014 and Celia Paul ‘Painter and Model,’ 2012. Yiadom-Boakye invites the viewer to construct their own view of what she sees and ask questions about what painting is. While Paul’s meditative self-portrait captures herself as an artist contemplating and scrutinising her own form and presence as a painter of life.
I thoroughly enjoyed what this exhibition says about the human experience. This exhibition to me says yes to life. It questions life’s purpose and is like going into therapy. I would be interesting to know what the impact would be on an individual who has lost his way in life and whether they would say yes to life after visiting the show.
Sarah Sze is well known for her sculptures of large-scale installations. When l walked into the exhibition I was immediately meet by the flood of ideas. Sarah stimulating installations take the detritus from the frame, and her work appears to explode as if trying to escape. She instinctively relies on her painter’s instincts, as ‘Afterimage’ takes a closer look at the artist’s working practices as she looks at the relationships between objects in space and the contradictions between them.
Sarah Sze international art career started in the 1990s. In 2003 she won the won the MacArthur Fellowship. In 2013 she represented the USA at the at the Venice Biennale. She has exhibitions in many countries and her work is in many museum collections around the world.
The exhibition starts with her two-dimension work. These images are laid out like a collage on the wall. Everyday items from roughly torn images, photographs, string, sketches and more overlap. They are taped and stuck together as they continue to generate new thoughts and ideas. They gradually accumulate to turn the collage into part of the canvas. The paintings start with no definite beginning or end. They form a vast assemblage of content allowing thoughts to take off in many different directions at the same time.
One of the most intriguing parts of the exhibition for me is the presence of time and space. I realised the artist must have added to her works while in the room. This is engaging and stimulating. I felt like I was able to explore Sarah’s train of thought before, during and after the work was created. Sarah is communicating and documenting how we live in the present moment, how we are meant to focus on the present, but our thoughts are often elsewhere.
I found the contradictions in Sarah’s work absorbing. Not only do they show how time continues forward and backwards with videos, plants growing and decaying but also the presence and absence of form in the construction. As I interrupted the video projectors on the walls, I saw myself in the mirror and my silhouette appeared on the wall. However, Sarah is not interested in the objects themselves; her interest lies in the relationship between elements and what they say about us. She is showing us evidence, evidence of humanity’s impact. Giving an overall feeling of a laboratory where you are the witness. It reminds me of what Picasso once said, “Art is the lie that reveals the truth.”
In Sarah’s artwork, the individual objects have no value. However, Sarah creates value in the way the collage, painting and sculpture come together and the way the items are treated and placed. The physical relationship to the objects is familiar but this intimate experience of development and demise, in time and space, is encouraging us to reconsider everything again.
I found the exhibition very revealing about Sarah’s working practices. The exhibition asks questions about what we experienced before we arrived, what have experienced during the show and how this will change what we will see after we leave. The show left me thinking about the human race as a species and what evidence we are really leaving behind. I thoroughly recommend a trip to Victoria Miro to take a look.
External links to the Sarah Sze ‘Afterimage’ exhibition;
Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy, Tate Modern (8th March – 9th September)
The subject of this exhibition ‘Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy,’ is the influence of love, fame and tragedy on Picasso’s painting over a one year period. This year-long output is a rich visual diary which gives away a great deal about the artist; from his professional career to the way he worked and his personal life. There are more the one hundred pieces of artwork, showing his entanglements with love and fame, his convolutions with colour and form, and his intricacies as the 20th century’s most influential artist.
Using this review, I am seeking to unpick how a highly accomplished artist approached and explored form, colour and space in his work with the intention of helping me in my journey as an artist.
The first room of this impressive exhibition starts in January and moves forward throughout a particularly special year in Picasso life. Most of the work is referenced to a single day in 1932. My first thoughts were how impressive his daily output was. It is hard to imagine working at such speed day after day and producing such high-quality work. Picasso made his paintings feel like a grand and confident experiment. He gave himself permission to trust his instincts and senses. Rather than using direct observation, he preferred to work from memory, focusing beyond what he could see. The result was an operation of his mind. Picasso said, “I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them.”
Related post to: Picasso paints what he knows rather than what he sees
Picasso started each painting with a simple outline drawn on the canvas. The free and loose drawings of curves, contours and form feel as if they spring from discovery. They give his paintings a visual rhythm and a harmony of fragmented structures. The abstract shapes work independently but at the same time together, as they each have a direct impact on the next form. They all come together creating striking compositions, filled with movement.
In working this way, Picasso is always looking for a new way to read the world and express a new visual vocabulary. As my eyes wandered around his paintings l was amazed and intrigued by how effortless Picasso makes his beautiful pictures look. The colours and forms of the painting respond to each other.
Picasso was interested in colour and had the intention to outshine his closet friend and rival Matisse in all areas. After visiting ‘Matisse: The Cut-Out’, in 2014, and comparing the two artists work, in my view it is clear that Matisse had the upper hand when it came to colour. Picasso often used a joyful palette to create a warm and expressive ambience and at times with paintings like, ‘Seated Woman by a Window’,1932, Picasso’s use of colour creates dynamic energy and audacity of simplicity. But to me, colour came second in Picasso work. It is not a fundamental part of his work; instead, it is often an afterthought.
Picasso creative genius lays not in the use of colour as an integral part of his work, but in his ability to understand and manipulate form. Picasso could view the structure from multiple directions, clearly shown in his cubist work, and combine these many viewpoints. In capturing three-dimensional forms, in two-dimensional drawings, paintings and in his sculpture, Picasso clearly shows a highly advanced genius. His creative talent and mastery are distinctly evident in the subtleties of his advanced spatial awareness. Picasso plainly indicates he has the self-belief and confidence to push this as the dominant theme in his work and this is where he can outperform his friends and rivals.
I found the exhibition and following one year in the life of Picasso immensely successful. It enabled me to consider what was going on in many parts of his life and how through evident self-confidence in his own abilities he was able to handle all that life threw at him. This exhibition will have a significant impact on my work. I see similarities in Picasso’s processes and topics that I can learn from. I think the biggest take away for me from this exhibition is Picasso self-belief and confidence and how prolific and dedicated he was to his work. Picasso’s bristling energy unquestionably comes through.
From the radical simplification of a form, you can see the building blocks of abstraction. He uses his artistic skills to the full to capture three-dimensional understanding. Each shape seems to be the product of another shape. Picasso said, “Cubism is neither a seed nor a foetus, but an art dealing primarily with forms, and when a form is reloaded it is there to live its own life.”
Related post to: Picasso paints what he knows rather than what he sees
Quack, Quack, 30 November 2017 – 11 February 2018, Serpentine Sackler Gallery.
Rose Wylie was born in 1934 in Kent. She studied in Folkestone and Dover School of Art and at the Royal College of Art. After completing her MA at the age of 47, she started her career and since then has spent most of her time in the art world wilderness. In the last few years however, Rose’s career has taken off, and she is receiving deserved recognition. She has won the Charles Wollaston 2011 and the John Moores 2014 prizes and has her latest show at the Serpentine in the Sackler Gallery.
Rose Wylie’s work is a perfect case study in the importance of creative freedom. The title of the show ‘Quack Quack’ draws attention to her unique down to earth and unpretentious view of the world. In today’s world of the internet where naive first steps are often written about, filmed or photographed; Rose’s paintings are fresh and free from expectations. Her time in the art world wilderness away from a critical audience has allowed her work time to mature. Although Rose has always wanted her work to be accepted, she clearly has made no changes to meet public expectations or dogmas. Now the public has to take her and her work as they find her, trainers and all, and this I found it a refreshing change.
During the extended period of being unacknowledged, Rose has gained in confidence and learnt to rely on herself. She takes an idea straight from a drawing in her sketchbook, which is a definite extension of her life, and repeats on to the un-stretched canvas. Her actions whether they are rough pencil outlines, or the accidental drips and spills become part of the work. The work is understandably a daily challenge where her surprise enhances the process. If an area becomes bogged down or not to her liking, in a natural, carefree way, she cuts the section out of the canvas and sticks a new piece on top. There is no set of shared doctrines or beliefs. Her thoughts and ideas are distinctly spontaneous and instinctive. I’m sure the make do and mend approach comes from living through World War 2.
When Rose discussed her working practices in a recent BBC podcast, she said, “Working on the floor was less big boy art, big boy art is done on an easel. [Working on the floor] is a nice idea that is close to housework, what women do in a sense. You find yourself clearing things up of the floor, that is what painting is like. It is not work, it is not painting. It is something you do, but it is not painting. I’m not really a painter, as my canvases are not stretched.”
This plain-spoken and unsentimental approach to making art benefits Rose’s work as she is not overly concerned about the importance of her own personal role. Rose sees things differently and wants to communicate her feeling and sensibilities in a carefree way. She uses all her perceptions, not just her sight. Her paintings are rebellious, instinctual and organic. The process is as simple as one idea comes from another, creating a vibrant visual language with painted text and sketches from art history, tv, sport, magazines and movies.
In today’s art market it is refreshing to see an artist’s work that challenges society’s sensibilities. In comparing her painting processes to housework, Rose highlights how studio processes are just a vehicle to get an idea across. The references and potential narratives in her work aren’t relevant. Rose holds on to what is necessary to her. She allows a concept to exist, to show others how to break down the constraints and to be free.
Her results show the benefits of not fearing disapproval or of offending others. We all have the right to get our interpretations of the world out there. Rose comprehensibly shows that fulfillment in her practice is much more important than fear of achievement. Her work promotes and defends artistic freedom and the freedom of expression.
Little has changed for Rose since her work has started selling, apart from she is unable to work on the floor since her hip replacement and the canvases aren’t stacked to the ceiling anymore. Rose has no constraints; she doesn’t try to anticipate what will come. To me, her work embodies true freedom. She has learnt not to be concerned about what other people think. She allows her work to exist without feeling the need to justify it.
Rachel Whiteread was born in 1963 and grew up in London. After studying painting at Brighton Polytechnic she enrolled on a sculpture masters at Slade School of Art. Rachel takes casts of familiar objects like hot water bottles and furniture. She uses the traditional casting processes of plaster, resin, rubber and concrete to encourage the viewer to rethink their spatial relationship with everyday forms. In this review of Rachel’s exhibition at the Tate Britain gallery in London, I’m interested in exploring what it is that is so intriguing about Rachel’s exploration of space and what I can learn from her approach to making art.
Tate Britain is the home of British art from 1500 to the present day. Rachel’s exhibition at the Tate highlights the role of an artist in society. Throughout her practice, Rachel has taken previously overlooked subjects and turned them into an intriguing and insightful exchange of thoughts. The large room is full of sculptures of various sizes from throughout Rachel’s career. The raw appearance of the casts creates a distinct visual impact. My first thoughts are of shared histories in similar spaces. Her work made me think about memories of daily struggles and human connections. Her artwork is simple; but at the same time complex. The culminating feeling is one of surprise; of where beauty can be found.
Rachel was first nominated for the Turner Prize in 1991. In 1993, she became the first female to win the Turner Prize. This was the same year as her ambitious public project ‘House’ in Bow in East London. The project was centred around a Victorian, terraced house. Rachel created a concrete cast of the inside of the house before it was demolished, once the inside of the building was cast in concrete, the exterior was removed. The outcome was that Rachel had coagulated the air of the original house. This project lead to Rachel gaining international attention. The cast of the inside of the project in ‘House’ stood for 80 days.
Rachel seeks to make the space that we are familiar with. Post war furniture is immortalised in ‘Closet 1998’, along with her memories. As a child Rachel was locked in her grandmas wardrobe by one of her sisters. In Closet 1998 she succeeds in visually recreating these memories but it is not just the darkness of those memories that are recreated but also the sense of palpable fear that the total blackness invoked.
To understand what Rachel was trying to achieve with her sculptures, she wrote, “I want to mummify the space” about ‘Ghost’ (1990). Domestic space and empty quality of space as subject has previously been overlooked by the visual artist. Rachel however, found a way to focus on this one thing that enables everything else to exist. Her work stands out. Space isn’t normally given the opportunity to do this. Her work asks what is the essence of this space? Without confirming or denying anything she allows the audience to think it through. The result is portal to contemplation.
When I looked at Rachel’s work across the room in the Tate gallery, I wondered if she felt unbalanced and deprived by her relationship to life in general, and if her work comes from need to communicate this. In the age of information overload Rachel’s work is like an antidote and yearning for order and peacefulness. The sculptures are silent and serene. That stillness and harmony allows our minds space to think and mull things over. As Wilhelm Worringer put it in his essay Abstraction and Empathy, in our lives we have an “immense need tranquillity.” To me Rachel’s artworks feels like spaces for existential understanding as we reconsider the material world we live.
I often walk the streets of London and wonder about the space I am looking at and the transient passing of time. I wonder what I should take from my short lived fleeting moments. This is the subject of a group show at Parafin Gallery in London titled the ‘Transient Space’ as artists Mike Ballard, Nathan Coley, Keith Coventry, Tim Head, Melanie Manchat and Abigail Reynolds explore the space in the city.
Parafin Gallery just off Bond Street has been open for three years and shows emerging and established artists. While I was there, I felt that l had the two floors to myself in the slender venue with plenty of time to browse and enjoy the fascinating show.
Trying to make sense of transient space for many would seem futile. I’m sure the general public would ask why would you want to make sense of the space. Isn’t space just space, what possibly could be said about it? However, focusing on similarly unimportant and the overlooked is the role of the artist.
These artists are like particle physicists, interested in the basic elements of space and mass, and how are they created. Instead of trying to understand the world through science and maths they are creating a springboard to express ideas and emotions through art. By doing so, they capture the symphony of the city and together they fill the exhibition space, using their art to prompt a response and to allow the viewer to develop a better understanding of what has previously been overlooked. The French composer Claude Debussy said, “Music is the space between the notes.” This group of artists are focusing on just that, the space between the notes.
Many works caught my attention starting with Nathan’s Coley’s, Firas, Ido, Rere, Ruth and Rima from 2015 made out of aluminium and perspex and approximately 130 x 35 x 35cm each. Nathan Coley studied at the Glasgow School of Art from 1985 to 1989, and in 2007 he was shortlisted for the Turner Prize. Before I knew that Coley has said his sculptures, ‘refer to a state of being, architectures subjected to a physical shift and partially destroyed due to an act of conflict,’ I was enjoying the way the models were presented as simple constructions of architecture made in aluminium and perspex. This extra layer of information and with the handles on the sculptures it gives a protester the opportunity to raise the base of the pieces of sculptures aloft, elevating them, making the architecture into political statements. Nathan Coley believes these places have weight and value and he encourages the viewer to see the world from his perspective. These architectural placards instil belief, belief in the importance of humanised spaces and the visible landscape of architecture. It is a a declaration of sentiment that these places should be cherished and these precious spaces not blown up through conflicts.
Meanwhile, Mike Ballard’s work is interested in the grainy side of the city, his interest clearly comes from his time as a graffiti artist before studying at art Central Saint Martins. Through a fascination of his abstract marks in forgotten places, Mike turns the overlooked into a beautiful language and abstract art form. Not as a painter of original abstractions but by using the city as a readymade, balancing surfaces of concrete, wood and street signs with partly removed stickers and images into a visual noise of the spaces. They capture decisive abstract moments turning them into things of beauty. Mike’s work encourages you to focus on the fabric of the city, so you never see it the same again. After seeing his work, l feel encouraged to further my own understanding of taking a slice of the city in search of the poetry of the city. The show continues until 16th September.
The figure was a challenging subject after the war. For many artists, it appeared an almost impossible theme and one that Alberto Giacometti felt he had to take on in his art. The Swiss sculpture, painter, draughtsman and printmaker savoured the challenge of confronting man’s inhumanity to man with such determination that he spent his life working towards this goal in an endless strive for perfection. The exhibition at Tate Modern takes a fresh look at Giacometti’s modern art, asking questions about the success of Giacometti’s life work. In this review, I am interested in considering the competing advantages of working with a strive for perfection against settling for artwork that is good enough in a discourse that could help me with my work.
Alberto Giacometti 1901 -1966 was born in Val Bregaghn in Switzerland. He was the son of the successful post-impressionist painter, Giovanni Giacometti. Alberto Giacometti was interested in art from an early age, at thirteen he made his first sculpture of his brother Diego, and in 1922 he moved to Paris to continue his education as an artist. Giacometti was awarded the grand prize for sculpture representing France at the Venice Biennale in 1962.
The exhibition space at the Tate Modern starts with his formative years when Giacometti depicts what he sees from life. As the show progresses Giacometti experiments with cubist and surrealist sculptures such as Head-Skull (1934), Torso (1925) and Cubist figure (1926). The sculptures of this period have a real physical interaction; it is interesting to see that Giacometti is trying and struggling to get a grip of his extraordinary personal view of reality. The angular sculptures take on and contemplate the space around the figure. A cheek bone is not directly represented as a cheek bone. Instead, Giacometti creates a poetic essence of the form. This extract of essence allows the sculpture to be an object in itself, completely eye-catching and unmatched, different from anything else.
It is clear that Giacometti quickly realised that depicting only what he saw in life was limiting. The concept of these sculpture came from an alternative source when he saw fully formed ideas in his head. The forms have a power and force about them that relates to forms and shapes from primitive art. They contain a real freedom as if Giacometti was grappling with a concept and trying to put it in his work. It is a remarkably varied body of work. To me the work shows Giacometti at his experimental best. When he went for good enough and when he had not expected the public to see some this work. For me, this was a real highlight of the show.
Later in his career, Giacometti dedicated himself to mainly depicting men walking and standing, as well as busts and nude women. He became known for his sculpture of thin figures with, “just enough clay for the figure to stand up and nothing more.” This approach enabled him to pursue the question further as he considered the essence of man and his following work resonated with existentialist art lovers and collectors.
In his pursuit to capture the essence, Giacometti felt the need to limit access to what inspired him. A walk in the wood was too much for him to take in. A short walk looking at one tree at a time in Paris is all he felt he could cope with. Giacometti said, “Having a quarter of an inch of something, you have a better chance of holding on to a certain feeling of the universe than if you had pretended to be doing the whole thing…by trying to draw a glass [on a table] as you see it seems like a fairly modest undertaking. But because you know that glass even that is almost impossible.” By limiting his inspiration, Giacometti felt that it would give him a better chance of getting to the bottom of his goal and his continuous strive for perfection. By limiting himself to only having a handful of models enabled Giacometti to focus on developing a distinctive visual language that everyone could recognise as his. From this Giacometti felt he could go deeper into how, we, as individuals relate to others. He worked towards capturing the self-consciousness and the universal feeling of being alone in this world.
Each time Giacometti made a sculpture he always had a strong feeling of failure. Giacometti wasn’t looking for a way to lie to himself. He didn’t tell himself that what he was doing was good enough. He was after perfection and anything else fell short. This disparity between his objective and his implementation opened up a breathing space for his next work, often Giacometti then repeated his previous piece. Even though he knew it was impossible to create a perfect response, Giacometti said, “All I can do will only ever be a faint image of what I see.”
This later work grapples with getting hold of the essence of the figure and although this is where he truly becomes a master, the control of inspiration that he uses can lack some of this freedom of exploration. I have always had a high affinity with Giacometti’s work. In this exhibition I wondered what would have happened if he hadn’t focused on perfection. What if Giacometti had continued to make one-off pieces of experimental work through his career, producing work that is good enough rather than perfect? I wonder what else Giacometti could have produced?
There is an energy that comes out of Giacometti’s work that makes his work compelling. It was interesting to watch a video of Giacometti at work in the exhibition. He made heavily worked surfaces through squeezing, pulling, touching and pushing clay. It was surprising watching his unconscious creativity and his obsessive restless movements as he worked on the form. Giacometti was fascinated by the head and eyes in his sculptures; he felt they represented the core of human beings and life. By getting the eyes right the rest of the figure he believed would fall into place.
There is a lot to be said for comparing this to other artist’s practices. Mondrian’s repetitiveness allowed him to pursue his interest in how one shape of colour works in competition with black and white. If Mondrian had only made one painting of a black grid with white, red and blue squares, it would of never have got to the bottom of his interest in visual order. Without this repetitiveness, he would of never of been able to ask profound questions about the visual world and his belief that everything is an illusion. Mondrian thought that using repetition highlighted his belief that an abstract painting is truer to reality than a painting depicting the illusion of what we see.
Picasso, however, was well known for reinventing his art every few years, like his cubist works and blue period. Picasso used new approaches to get to the bottom of his desire to depict his personal view of the world. Matisse also reinvented his approach to making art several times, finishing his career with the biggest risk of all the cut out. I wonder about these different contrasting approaches and wonder what approach would suit me best my practice.
In my eyes, failures are as valuable as successes. Giacometti endlessly pursued, his search to find the universal poetic essence of a figure and the truth of our shared humanity. Giacometti did this by focusing on one tree in the forest at a time or one person in a crowd of millions. Through this approach, he captured alienation and melancholy of life. His engagement with searching for a truth that was always out of his reach lead him down a very restrictive path.
While it is admirable to focus intensely on, “a quarter of an inch of something.” I wonder if Giacometti’s approach of limiting his inspiration and his endless strive for perfection or whether a wider body of experimental approach would suit my approach to art making?
Giacometti created a distinctive visual language with his thin sculptures of man that enabled him to find success in his lifetime. Dreaming something up and executing it and working and stuff comes out are quite different approaches. The lightning bolt of inspiration doesn’t strike on demand. There is a lot to be said for starting to work and seeing what you can produce and where it takes you.
I think what I take forward for my practice from this Giacometti exhibition is that developing some kind of process is essential for removing too much thinking and self-doubt. It is not hard to make art that looks like other art; the trick is making art that doesn’t look like someone else. Giacometti achieved that. Pushing your art to where no one else is working is a lot more of a quest than striving for perfection. Problem creation with self-imposed limitations can easily be devised into a practice. In that practice, it can be a positive decision to limit your inspiration or choices. The only conclusion is in Giacometti’s approach is no matter what you try humankind is beyond human understanding.
Forms in Space…by light (in time), an installation by Cerith Wyn Evans
Tate Britain Commission, 28 March – 20 August 2017
When walking into the Duveen Gallery at Tate Britain in London, I was confronted with a juxtaposition of neo-classical architecture with a manifestation of neon lights in the space. I immediately felt the needed to stop and gaze in awe and give myself some time to take it in. Cerith Wyn Evans’s installation of apparently random curves, loops and lines is almost 2 kilometres long and is an exciting, surprising discursive experience that gives the viewer space to contemplate.
Cerith Wyn Evans was born in 1958 and started his career as an experimental filmmaker. He now uses installation, sculpture, photography, film and text within his work. Wyn Evans shows that drawing in space with chandelier sculptures of light influenced by concerns with space, melody, harmony and form is comparable to a piece of music or poetry. The work is inspired by Japanese Noh Theatre, and Duchamp’s [=The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (the Large Glass)] of 1912 to 1923.
The installation has a chronological feel that is translating movement into form, where boundaries of perceived time and space overlap. The three-dimensional drawing invites you to deconstruct a journey of dipping arcs and twists through space.
The sculpture appears to move as you move through the space. Distortion and torsion twist in space are like colliding systems and particles. Wyn Evans visited the Hadron Collider several times; I’m sure this must of made an impression.
Cerith Wyn Evan’s work is a materialisation of space and has a reservoir of possible meanings and ideas. The work creates a state of mind which is productive for thoughts to grow. The zooming trajectories collide with thoughts opening the mind of the viewer to complexities of life, creating a proposition to ponder your stream of awareness.