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.
Related links; Tomma Abts Serpentine exhibition review
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.”
Related posts; Tomma Abts Serpentine exhibition review
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.
Related posts; Tomma Abts Serpentine exhibition review
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.
Related posts; Tomma Abts Serpentine exhibition review
When I saw Christo’s new art project in Hyde Park London and read his quote, “A work of art is a scream of freedom,” I know I needed to tell you about how I see art contributing to society.
Every artist contributes to society in their own special way. Artists look to find ways to engage the wider pubic through their work to consider and reconsider the way they see the world. Whether it is contributing to overall health and wellbeing of our society by rethinking about what we are doing and considering in new approaches or by providing inspiration, interaction and joy to uplift the spirit.
Being an artist for me is a licence to look deeply; to follow my curiosity, to unpick and to make new connections with what I see. We live on this small rock in a massive universe without an accurate understanding of what it is all about. I perceive making art as a form of therapy to open up the world and open up people’s minds to a higher spectrum. To deal with and come to terms with everyday life.
“The first step to controlling your world is to control your culture. To model and demonstrate the kind of world you demand to live in. To write the books. Make the music. Shoot the films. Paint the art.” Chuck Palahniuk, American novelist and journalist
To my eyes painting is the best way to communicate and connect with others within a collective effort. I am not trying to convey the world as I see it. As an artist, I absorb it and try to communicate the world as it really is.
I have an intellectual curiosity and commitment to bring the truth to light. Through my art making, I want to be known for using my artistic creativity to widen and broaden the visual field. Therefore, reveal a whole new range of potential meaning.
There are many benefits of living in an exciting contemporary culture. I see myself as part of a community whose work can make a significant contribution to society and the world today. I want to contribute to human growth by joining into the conversation.
“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.” John F Kennedy
Related blog post; how I see art contributing to society
‘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.
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
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
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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
“Instead of having a career plan, make a list of everything you want to do and just do the next thing on the list.”
“Goals are like mountains in the distance.” Set them and be clear what they are.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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.”
“Write fewer emails, write [and paint] more.”
“Get out there and make mistakes.”
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.”
“Do the stuff only you can do.”
“You should enjoy it, let go and enjoy the ride. Don’t worry about the next deadline or the next idea.”
“Make up your own rules.”
“Pretend that you’re someone who is already successful… and pretend to be wise.”
“Make good art!”
“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.”
I have a modern house and l love having modern art on the walls. My art collection personal to me.
I also enjoy spending time in London visiting museums and galleries. I appreciate having time to look at a variety of artist’s work and considering their different styles and types of work. Artists are generally in the know and are usually very helpful. I also try to go to alternative spaces to meet artists. I learn a lot by talking to artists and uncovering who they admire and who influences who, and what they think about other artists. If the same name keeps cropping up l take notes and do my own research on them.
I often go online to find which dealers are working with particular artists. Sometimes I go on Artnet.com to see the prices that artists sell their work for, it gives me a better understanding of the art market.
I like to visit art school on their open days like the Royal College of Art or the Royal Academy Schools. It’s an added advantage to spend time in an art school, l may come across a piece l like and try to remember it’s been done before. Having knowledge of what has been done in the past is particularly important if you are looking to buy or make modern art.
I listen carefully to the advice l get from galleries, curators and collectors. Personally, I’ve never used art consultants but l have heard that they can be very helpful. I don’t follow trends, l like what l like. I am interested in art that is personal to me.
Related post to; An artist’s advice to finding art
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
As humans beings, we have an extraordinary ability to recognise an image and label it. A silhouette of a person is instantly recognisable. A two-dimension shape of the figure is not human, but we can read it as an image of a person. In the painting ‘Empire State of Mind’, I am interested in using this extraordinary ability to record and to explore the structure and nature of reality.
My new painting, ‘Empire State of Mind,’ has a lot to do with how my mind is working on and wondering about my instincts regarding perceptual information. I am trying to show and paint what I see. I’m not inventing but investigating how things look. I’m an image maker, painting the previously hidden nature of things. I receive an emotional response from an image as I discover an optical relationship and create a striking composition. I have stepped away from the conventional representation of reality in order to be competitive with it. The deeper I go into this practice of painting, the more mysterious it becomes.
Related links: The ideas behind, ‘Empire State of Mind’ painting
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.
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.
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 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.