Review of ‘All too human, Bacon, Freud and a century of painting life’ Tate Britain

 
Stanley Spencer, All too human, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Stanley Spencer, 1891-1959 Patricia Preece 1933 Oil paint on canvas 839 x 736mm Southampton City Art Gallery, Hampshire © The Estate of Stanley Spencer/Bridgeman Images
‘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.  
 
Francis Bacon, All too human, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Francis Bacon, 1909-1992 Portrait, 1962, Oil paint on canvas, 1980 x 1415 mm, Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen. The Lambrecht-Schadeberg Collection/Winners of the Rubens Prize of the City of Siegen © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. DACS, London.
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.
 

Related review to All too human

Picasso paints what he knows rather than what he see
 
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. 
 
Lucian Freud, All too human, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Lucian Freud, 1922-2011
Girl with a White Dog 1950-1
Oil paint on canvas 762 x 1016 mm © Tate
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.
 
Frank Auerbach, All too human, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Frank Auerbach, born 1931 Head of Jake 1997 Oil paint on board 613 x 508 mm Private Collection © Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art
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.
 
Francis Bacon, All too human, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Francis Bacon, 1909-1992 Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud
1964 Oil paint on canvas 1980 x 1476 mm The Lewis Collection
© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. DACS, London
Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd.
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.

Related reviews to All too human

Hodgkin says goodbye to absent friends - Howard Hodgkin exhibition review at the National Portrait Gallery in London
 
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. 
 
Celia Brown, All too human, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Cecily Brown, born 1969 Boy with a Cat 2015 Oil, pastel on linen 1092 x 1651 mm Collection of Danny and Lisa Goldberg © Cecily Brown Photo: Richard Ivey
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.
 

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The inspirational work of Egon Schiele

The inspirational work of Egon Schiele, Stuart Bush Studio
Egon Schiele, Green Stockings, all copywrites remain with the artist

One of the artists that I found the most inspiring as a student was the inspirational work of Egon Schiele. At aged 16, Egon enrolled in the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. He died at the young age of 28. In those few years, he made some of the most enduring and intriguing work. I am very interested in understanding what it is in Egon Schiele’s work that encouraged me to follow my interest in art.

Egon Schiele was known for drawing mainly portraits and self-portraits. He worked in a striking graphic style that challenged the notion of beauty. Egon had a concise way of working, similar to a poem to conveys rich experiences and emotions.

It would be easy to have a fleeting look at Egon drawings and mistake them to be only about sexual arousal or pornography, but that misses the intent and the reason why I am drawn to his work. Egon not only shows sex as beautiful, but he also demonstrates how he questions and adores life through his work.

Egon was a prolific artist making over 3000 works over his short life. There is satisfaction from the artistry, extracting something from the seductive delights of life. Each one has an intensity and beauty capturing our physical existence and our desperation in being a person.

Related links to the inspirational work of Egon Schiele

https://www.theartstory.org/artist-schiele-egon.htm

Egon showed a unique and anguished look at our situation. I enjoyed the cropping of the frame with low direct angles in his drawings. The tortuous crooked fingers and appendages ask questions about our function, design and purpose. Each artwork generating meaning in its own way I have really enjoyed returning to look again at the work of Egon Schiele. I understand why his work gave me a purpose to be an artist. Egon Schiele’s fact-finding mission to record evidence about what life really with anger, sexual frustration and bewilderment helps you to remember how you saw the world as a young adolescent. Creating a porthole to a greater understanding of the human condition and the beauty of life.

In Egon’s drawings, he cultivated his own unique view to add to deepen our understanding of life. I continue to find his work easy to identify with and through writing this, I have a better understanding of why I followed the path into becoming an artist.

Please share with me the artists that have given you direction, purpose and sense who you might become. I recommend you check out Egon Schiele’s if you haven’t already.

Related links to the inspirational work of Egon Schiele

https://www.egon-schiele.net

What I see in the work of Jeff Koons

 

What l see in the work of Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons, Play-Doh, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Jeff Koons, Play-Doh (1994—2012) Newport Gallery All right reserved by the artist
 
It is easy to be impressed by the work of Jeff Koons. He has an impressive art career and has gained international success. Koons has developed a secure grip on the art market and he can make whatever he wants.  He often turns the popular; Michael Jackson with his pet monkey or scoops of Play-doh; into an expensive ceramic or stainless steel sculpture. 
 
Plus, Koons is not afraid to make work that could potentially alienate him. It is easy to sneer at his works based on topics like guilt and shame. After all, we are all bound by our own unconscious and conscious signals.  He openly encourages opinions on his art saying there is no right or wrong interpretation.  His art challenges the idea that art needs emotional depth and taste. Koons work, whether your ambivalent about it or not, it clearly reflects our age and society especially his gazing balls and balloon dog.
Jeff Koons Balloon Monkey, Stuart Bush Studio Blog
Jeff Koons, Balloon Monkey (Blue) 2006-2013 Newport Gallery All rights reserved by the artist
 
 
Jeff Koons describes Balloon Dog: “It’s very mythic. There’s a sense of the interior to the piece, which is a bit like a Trojan piece. It’s very now – it’s like a balloon from a birthday party, and because it’s inflated, you imagine the birthday party was recent, not 20 years ago. A normal membrane of a balloon from 20 years ago would be completely deflated. At the same time, there’s a mythic and ritualistic quality; you can imagine people going around Balloon Dog in a sort of dance. A tribalistic quality.”
 

What I see in Jeff Koons website link

http://www.jeffkoons.com
 
However, instead of just enjoying his work I am often distracted by the hype that surrounds it. He takes a couple of things from contemporary life that are somewhat one dimensional then puts them together to try to create a new meaning. They become carries or cyphers as Koons seeks to get you to think. Nevertheless, I feel his work lacks empathy and intellectual curiosity.  Once you understand the idea behind a piece of his art, there is no hidden depth.  For me, his wealth has become the spectacle and not for the right reason. 
Jeff Koons, Acrobat, Stuart Bush Studio blog
Jeff Koons, Balloon Monkey (Blue) 2006-2013 Newport Gallery All rights reserved by the artist
 
Koons has taken the idea of turning art into a business to a whole new level. He has developed a style of work that does not include the ‘original’ artistic hand. Instead, he employs specialist highly skilled artists and craftspeople to bring his concept to life while he focuses on micromanaging the output.
 
In doing so, Koons creates a new religion for art that celebrates the shallowness of capitalism and celebrity as his ego seeks to promote himself as the modern-day equivalent of the great artists of the past.  
 
Whether you like his work or not his art does come across as uplifting and joyful.  But I am sceptical about the broader intentions of such art. This leads me to find what he does and his unflinching confidence and self-belief admirable, while at the same time, disagreeable.
 

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15 things I learnt from Neil Gaiman’s Make Good Art speech

©Stuart Bush, The Kingdom, oil on canvas 150 x 85 cm
 
In 2012 Neil Gaiman gave a commencement speech for the University of Arts in Pennsylvania.  Neil Gaiman is a writer of novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre and films. He was born in Hampshire, UK, and now lives in the United States near Minneapolis. Neil’s most notable works include The Sandman, Stardust, American Gods, Neverwhere, Coraline and The Graveyard book. He has also been honoured with many international awards.  His speech is packed full of helpful advice for creative people.  
 
I thought I would write this blog post and highlight many of the learning points l found in it.
 
  1. “Instead of having a career plan, make a list of everything you want to do and just do the next thing on the list.”
  2. “Goals are like mountains in the distance.” Set them and be clear what they are. 
  3. “Do things that feel like an adventure. Learn to write by writing. [For a painter, learn to paint by painting]. Stop when it feels like work.”
  4. “A life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles, open it and read it, and put something back in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. But you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back to you.” 
  5. “Nothing I did where the only reason for doing it was the money, was ever worth it.”  If you do things you’re proud of and if you don’t get paid, at least you will be proud of your work. 
  6. “The problems of success. They’re real, and with luck, you’ll experience them all. The point where you stop saying yes to everything is because now the bottles you threw in the ocean are all coming back, and you have to learn to say no.”  
  7. “Write fewer emails, write [and paint] more.”
  8. “Get out there and make mistakes.”
  9. After you have finished copying things remember,  “The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”    
  10. “Do the stuff only you can do.”
  11. “You should enjoy it, let go and enjoy the ride. Don’t worry about the next deadline or the next idea.”
  12. “Make up your own rules.”
  13. “Pretend that you’re someone who is already successful… and pretend to be wise.”
  14. “Make good art!”
  15. “And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break the rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.”
 

Here is the full speech:

https://www.uarts.edu/neil-gaiman-keynote-address-2012

If you would like to learn more about Neil please click this link below. 

http://neilgaiman.com/About_Neil/Biography

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Hodgkin says goodbye to absent friends – Howard Hodgkin exhibition review at the National Portrait Galley in London

Portrait of the Artist Listening to Music by Howard Hodgkin, 2011-2016, Courtesy Gagosian © Howard Hodgkin Portrait of the artist by Miriam Perez. Courtesy Gagosian.

Ever since I was interested in art, I have always seen Howard Hodgkin as one of my artists whose work resonates strongly with me. In this review of Howard Hodgkin’s Absent Friends exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, I want to explore, understand and put into words (if that is possible) what it is about Hodgkin’s paintings that have managed to turn mere paintings into objects of contemplation and hold my curiosity for so many years.  At the same time say goodbye to another great artist; Howard Hodgkin died on 9th March 2017, two weeks before this show opened.

 

Howard Hodgkin was born in 1932.  He studied at Camberwell School of Art between 1949-50 and Bath Academy of Art between 1950-1954.  In 1985 Hodgkin won the Turner Prize and represented Britain at the Venice Biennale.  Since then he has gone on to exhibit across the world and has his work is in many private and public collections.

Mrs Nicholas Monro by Howard Hodgkin, 1966 – 1969, Private Collection, London © Howard Hodgkin

The art I expect to see at the portrait gallery normally refers to an anatomical likeness of a person in the traditions of pictorial realism.  However, in this show, the paintings are titled as portraits that capture a memory of a person and a moment as a dematerialised idea imprinted on the mind.  They are described by Hodgkin as ‘representational pictures of emotional situations’.  The paintings capture realism as a complete expression of individuality, of both the artist and what he sees.  Paint and colour refashion the world as he sees it.  Hodgkin sees more than an individual likeness; he sees how the light falls to create abstract forms of intense emotion.  He paints his thoughts from memory with swirls and splashes as a response to the flux of the world.  The paintings are like a recording that captures a feeling, that took place between him and the person in the title.

 

Hodgkin once said, “Painting is like putting a message into a bottle and flinging it into the sea,” Observer article, 2001.   Howard Hodgkin believed his paintings talk for themselves and often was reluctant to discuss the meaning behind his work.  He was always happy for the viewer to see and interpret what they like from his deeply cherished moments.  

Waking up in Naples by Howard Hodgkin, 1980 – 1984, Private Collection, London © Howard Hodgkin

The paintings are more like artefacts or an object rather than just paintings.  Hodgkin worked slowly producing a maximum of 10 paintings a year.  He laboured and agonised over them in an intense process, which is evident from the dates of the work and from listening to him discuss the torture he injured when painting.  His artistry clearly lies in making something that took years to look like it was made in a couple of hours.

 

“It’s very hard to keep all the things going on in a painting, the feeling, the emotion, the memory; they have to turn into something else. The problem really is making the painting stand up by itself.  The memory has to turn into a thing, into an object. And that is a very slow process for me.” Howard Hodgkin, BBC Radio 4, Desert Island Discs.

 

It was always clear to Hodgkin when a painting was finished and complete, as it captured his original idea that triggered the picture.  He painted on used blackboards, kitchen worktop and old picture frames rather than canvas.  He liked pieces of wood that already had an identity and a life.  When walking through the chronological hung exhibition, it is evident to see how Hodgkin developed a confidence with colour through his career.  Each painting has a strong, unique, distinctive character of swirls, curves, dots and lines in vibrant pigment, a collision of pattern and forms.

The Spectator by Howard Hodgkin, 1984-87, Michael P. Green © Howard Hodgkin

The painting that sums up Hodgkin’s painting practice for me is ‘Mrs K’, 1966-7. It is a portrait of Jane Kasmin.  It reminds me of being in a dark room as someone enters from the far end through a closed door.  The sun floods into the dark room, and a bold form of a figure interrupts the light, as you adjust your eyes.  The painting opens up heartfelt sentiments of solitude and vulnerability.   The painting challenges your visual psychological space, it encourages you to learn something new about the world about what realism could be or should be.  In my eyes, the painting is a more accurate and truthful interpretation of human perception than traditional pictorial realism.  

 

The impressive show with many well-lit rooms of high-quality work was a pleasure to visit.   The exhibition delves deep into Hodgkin’s practice of painting, asking questions about our human construction of reality in this seemly meaningless world.  Every single one of the paintings in this show feels like a battleground between the artist, materiality and reality.  They are an expression of individuality of the artist and its subject; they are self-portraits of the artist and subject portraits wrapped up in one.    Hodgkin created paintings that outlast the subject and the artist himself.  A makeover of the world in paint, with the paint being the carrier of vibrant and radiant feelings. It is a joyful farewell to an outstanding artist.

Portrait of the artist by Howard Hodgkin, 1984-87, Private Collection © Howard Hodgkin

 

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How do I begin an artwork? What equipment, materials and techniques do I use?

 
 
©Stuart Bush, You don’t understand me part 1-4, 2015 gouache on paper – 

Beginning an artwork

My work starts with street photography. I wander the streets as a Flaneur.  Charles Baudelaire, the nineteenth-century poet described a Flaneur in his essay ‘The Painter of Modern Life’ as a stroller and loafer of the city streets observing modern life. Likewise, l wander around the city like a man of leisure as l try to take it all in. Following my intuition and hunches, I take pictures of what seems important to me. I look to capture that important element in the frame of my viewfinder, the essence of the importance of life.
 
The photographs I take allows me to record a rich visual diary. By having this source material I always have something to return to if inspiration is running low and I need to revisit my original ideas and intentions.
 
The next stage is in the studio with a blank sheet of paper or a blank page in my sketchbook. The main thing that happens in this first stage in the studio is reducing and simplifying the rich source l have gathered and extracting important elements to use. As well as painting and drawing, l sometimes print the photos to create collages or put layers together in a photoshop.
 
Things come together slowly, often my ideas and sketches don’t go anywhere at first. The next time I’m in the shower or going for a walk, or the next time I am in an art gallery I realise how I can use these snippets of life l have gathered! I then return to the original photographs and sketches and try to refine and develop my ideas.  
 
Often I come to dead end. Then l try to be patient and wait and allow ideas to develop. Allow my mind to bring ideas together. This normally happens when I am not particularly thinking about artwork, but when my mind is open and free to wander.
However, once l feel I am on to something, I look to develop a process and repeat the format in order to create a series of work. 
 
This is an ongoing and forever changing process.

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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 to things around you.  The intention is to reconsider what you previously 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 theory: 

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!
 
 
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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 by 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 affect 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.

The interaction of colour iPad app 

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 sketchbook 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 into 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 with 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.

 

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Laura Owens exhibition review

Laura Owen’s exhibition at Sadie Coles HQ in London gives a broad overview of her current work. In her paintings, she uses a range of digitally created images and painted marks in abstract compositions. Laura Owens was born in 1970 in Ohio, she began her art career in the 1990s, more recently she opened her LA studio as an exhibition space called 356 Mission in collaboration with the art dealer Gavin Brown.
Installation view, Laura Owens, Sadie Coles London. Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
 
I was curious to learn more about Laura Owens’s work after I read that Laura Hoptman, a Curator of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA in New York believes she is a Caposcuola, (the founder of an artistic movement) due to the way she ‘assimilates digital languages into painting’.  In this review I want to explore some of the ideas in her work, and consider her use of newspaper clippings, screen printed on canvas, cropped shapes with drop shadows and impasto mark, all combined into photoshop, and ask whether this is a worthy subject for painting?
 
Sadie Coles HQ offers an ample white space and second small second room for some of Laura’s notebooks.  The large exhibition space with its white walls is an excellent backdrop for the busy paintings. The gallery is well lit, and the show includes a lot of work.  If I had one criticism of this show, it would be that there is too much work to focus on.  Viewing the exhibition starts well, but there is a repetitiveness of painted digital imagery, and after twenty or so large canvass the show as a whole feels overwhelming.  I did wonder whether that was intended because it is so obvious.
 
I see Owen’s work as a way of creating a dialogue about the man-made visual world, and focusing on technology that turns everything into pixels and data.  A visible world where we can find new ways to tune in through our portable devices which are constantly changing.
 
The use of technology in paintings originated with Pop Art, from Warhol’s screen prints to Hamilton’s and Blake’s collages took art in a new direction.  Laura’s use of sources makes me think about Matisse’s cut-outs and his use of collage and the way a composition is composed of editing, refining and manipulating shapes.  Laura’s pictures appear to be predetermined on the computer before they arrive on the canvas including the painterly gestures such as washes, dabs and swipes.  I was curious whether there is a space for spontaneity in her process.
 
Owens method like Matisse, Hamilton’s and Blake’s is a form of semiotic play.  There is a decorative element where a shape is cut out and put into a composition creating a visual rhythm and visual language.  There is a laying of images on top of each other where the contrasting elements with particular colours and elements in space give the work a striking ambience.
 
The result is a play of tension and expansion to create dynamic pictures.  It is a system for thinking about shape and composition and expanding the possibility of what we visually consume, which I find it exciting and playful.  It is very visually engaging and brings up many questions about Laura’s reliance on printing techniques, where her ideas come from, and the freedom of viewer to make associations in a picture.  As a result her work is undeniably a commendable subject for painting.
 
However, I believe that Laura’s work would be stronger if seen smaller doses as there are too many elements in the exhibition as a whole.  I don’t feel the need to revisit the exhibition for repeated viewing as I do after seeing a Francis Bacon exhibition.  Maybe this is because the compositions appear to be predetermined on photoshop, but possibly it is more to do with the overwhelming number of paintings on view.
 
Laura has created a vehicle to show what she sees, the work in the show is undeniably a visual sensation. Her work asks new questions about the most important kinds of processes of expression.  One of the most interesting things about this exhibition and why I recommend seeing Laura Owen’s work is that it is a critique of abstraction and about seeing the things in between the obvious stuff.
 

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Abstract expressionism at the Royal Academy of Arts, London

Over the years of visiting art exhibitions, few exhibitions have had such an impact on me as the Abstract Expressionist exhibition did at the Royal Academy.  I was staggered by the amount of impressive and inspiring works.  The first few galleries are hung in chronological order, then the order in the galleries changes and the work is hung related to styles and approaches, some rooms have work by more than one artist.  This changing approach works well as it easy to understand the relationships and contexts between the works in each room.
 
In one of the largest rooms, I found two of David Smith’s sculptures and one of Jackson Pollock’s drip painting next to each other, it was a stimulating experience.  David Smith’s sculptures ‘Hudson River Landscape’ 1951 (welded painted steel and stainless steel), and his ‘Star Cage’ 1950,  (painted and brushed steel) sat opposite Jackson Pollocks’s drip painting ‘Summertime number 94’, 1948, (oil enamel and commercial paint).  What was so intriguing and absorbing was how the lines in the three different works were so alike.  Pollock’s dancing splats of paint over the surface were heightened and intensified by the Smith sculptures. I have always delighted in interesting and complex spatial compositions and having these works next to each emphasised their associations.   While Smith calls his work, ‘drawings in space’, Pollock presents his as ‘energy and motion made visible, memories arrested in space’.  This juxtaposition of two and three-dimensional space was enlivening, inspiring and delightful to experience.
 
Jackson Pollock, Blue poles (Number 11, 1952), 1952. Enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, 212.1 x 488.9 cm. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation ARS, NY and DACS, London 2016;

 

David Smith, Star Cage, 1950. Painted and brushed steel, 114 x 130.2 x 65.4 cm. Lent by the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. The John Rood Sculpture Collection. © Estate of David Smith/DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2016
David Smith, Star Cage, 1950. Painted and brushed steel, 114 x 130.2 x 65.4 cm. Lent by the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. The John Rood Sculpture Collection. © Estate of David Smith/DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2016;

 

Later l found work by Frank Kline.  I always appreciate looking at Franz Kline’s work and this was the first time I had seen ‘Vawdavitch’ 1955 and ‘Andrus’ 1961, (both are oil on canvas).  The simplicity of the subtle change in the colours and the spatial harmony is very enjoyable.  I think Kline’s work has a strong relationship with poetry and music.  When I look at Kline’s work it always amazes me how ‘less is more’.  I always think of the Mies Van der Rohe quote when looking at reduced and distilled work where simplicity is beautiful.   It looks like Kline used a wide brush to create ‘Andrus’ 1961, he uses a few simple brush gestures in layers of mars black, cadmium orange, crimson, cerulean blue and deep purple mixed with different amounts of white.  The simplicity is intriguing and really sparked my imagination.
 
Franz Kline, Vawdavitch, 1955. Oil on canvas, 158.1 x 204.9 cm. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Claire B. Zeisler 1976.39. © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2016. Photo: Joe Ziolkowski;
Franz Kline, Vawdavitch, 1955. Oil on canvas, 158.1 x 204.9 cm. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Claire B. Zeisler 1976.39. © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2016. Photo: Joe Ziolkowski;
 
If I had a criticism of the exhibition it would be that you need more time to see everything, I found it challenging to select only a few pieces of works to discuss in this review as I really did feel blown away by seeing so much artwork of such a high standard.  After a couple of hours, l needed a break.   Having spent so much time with the works I have mentioned and looking at some of the pieces by other artists I felt guilty walking past further great pieces of work because I felt my eyes and brain needed a rest.  It would be great if you could revisit the exhibition on the same ticket on a different day.  I would happily go again.
 
If you would like to read more, there is an interesting review here on the Saturation Point site written by Paul Carey Kent, after visiting this show and the at the Museo Guggenheim, Bilbao: 3 Feb – 4 June 2017 and comparing the shows.
 

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