A Happy Coincidence

As well as that exciting news from Rheged I also had a rather exciting meeting with a lady called Christine Hurford that opened up yet another opportunity for me. Whilst volunteering with Jo at C-Art, I was told there was an exhibition on downstairs in the Old Fire Station. (The office space for Eden Arts is located in the Old Fire Station- Penrith.) I went along and was really surprised to find the exhibition displayed eerie photographs of a previous obsession of mine- abandoned buildings. I began talking to one of the Artists- Christine about how she gets into these buildings- from previous experience I know the difficulties you can be faced with. It’s well worth it though. The photographs were fantastic- cleverly mounted onto fencing well recognised as a symbol to keep out. The images Christine Hurford and Jane Peet exhibited in ‘Dereliction’ complimented one another’s investigation into the unknown brilliantly.

As the conversation went on, Christine became interested in my own art practice and later revealed she’s soon to have another exhibition at Greystoke Church- which she wondered if I’d be interested in showing some work. I was, of course, honoured to be asked- having something to work for gives any artist the drive to start making again. So as I set off up the stairs with a spring in my step, I became even more excited when I then remembered something that’s been playing on my mind for a while now. A family member of mine had posted something on Instagram about my Great-grandparents (her grandparents.) It was a newspaper clipping commemorating their 50th Wedding anniversary- and what church where they married in? – None other than Greystoke Church, Penrith. What are the chances? I’m not from Cumbria; I move here for work each summer and it’s only recently that I’ve found out that my ancestors lived here in this area. I’ve been considering making some art about this happy coincidence- and well now I have no excuse.

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Cumbrian Artist of the Year 2015

I was asked by Eden Arts to write a review about their latest show so here it is!CumbrianArtistoftheYear

Cumbrian Artist of the Year

25th April 2015 to 28th June 2015

Walking into the space on the top floor of Rheged’s award winning visitor centre, I immediately began to look for a theme surrounding the artist’s work. However, be it that the nature of the exhibition is searching for Cumbria’s Artist of the Year, it doesn’t allow for a running theme between artists. The work varies. Its Cumbria’s crisp of the crème. The exhibition shows its visitors that contrary to popular belief not every artist in Cumbria is painting their neighbouring landscape.

This notion is no more present than in the winning artist- Sarah Tew. She may not be subscribing to the traditional landscape painting, but her work is never far away from her roots in Cumbria and its remarkable backdrop. Tew was selected by an expert panel, one of which (Rory Stewart MP) observed this of her work- ‘the winner offered a fresh and engaging take on how we interact with landscape, and I am sure will create a strong reaction from local people.” Tew’s two pieces ‘Blade Printing’ and ‘Stone Mould Series’ on first inspection could easily be dismissed. Being the only floor work, they both demand the space, yet I imagine, often get overlooked by the general public. ‘Blade Printing’ especially, as I watched people walk by dismissing it as a small patch of lawn. Many it seemed thought Tew’s work ostentatious and unworthy of the prize. Ultimately though it was her concepts and wider contemporary practice that made her stand out. Mark Devereux, another of the selection panel, confirming- ‘Sarah Tew is an upcoming artist, her work both within this exhibition and also within her wider practice, displays a deep routed interest in interrogating the rural landscape. Encapsulating both an aesthetic but also a conceptual framework to her practice, we feel she is not only a worthy winner of the Cumbrian Artist of the Year Award but hope this will enable Sarah and her ongoing practice to flourish.’

Not everyone though seemed to agree with this statement. The general public didn’t buy into Tew’s patch of grass becoming a work of art, they desired the skillful and atmospheric work of Alan Stones. Echoing this in feedback- “Alan Stones work is magical and looks at landscape in an insightful way. He should have won the prize. I found Sarah Tew’s work pretentious nonsense.” With an outstanding number of votes- Stones was the People’s Choice winner. He blew the public away with large canvas paintings, displaying incredible talent and just enough narrative to entice his viewer. The painting’s compare with former Turner Prize nominee George Shaw. Particularly his piece ‘Clearing’, in this work he captures an eerie setting, a peopleless painting of a deserted forest. This piece is timeless, without a figure it’s freed from any time or any place. Whereas in his adjacent painting; ‘At Low Tide’, he twists this concept- a figure is present at the forefront of the painting, carrying with him a narrative and something for the viewer to ponder.  It’s these large scale paintings that captivate Alan Stones’ audience. His smaller portrait in the exhibition ‘Father and Son’ is dwarfed by these paintings, so much so I would have thought to leave it out in order to focus on the two prominent landscapes.

So who was my Cumbrian Artist of the Year? I noted earlier that this exhibition diverged away from the common place belief that not every artist in Cumbria is painting their neighbouring landscape, and yet still, I’ve predominately wrote about two artists who are very much influenced by Cumbria’s unforgettable location. My shortlist of artists however have resisted the urge to divulge in this subject matter and confronted other subjects close to my heart- time, place and people. On the wall opposite Alan Stones paintings was my favourite space in the exhibition. To the left was a huge acrylic painting by Alison Critchlow. I was drawn to the painting to inspect the brushstrokes and the remarkable textures of paint. Critchlow’s subject matter being wholly different from the Cumbrian landscape the title explaining this- ‘Drifting Iceberg’. To the right were three small oil paintings, framed by white wood, they narrated scenes of a typical British home, the title informing the viewer that this place was ‘Sandringham Road’. Sandringham Road allowed it’s viewer a brief glimpse into what I suspect is the artist’s home. A real tribute to the notions questioning private v public. My Cumbrian artist of the year however is awarded to Beatrice Hasell-McCosh. I nearly missed McCosh’s extraordinary piece, an unusual fabric piece, the floral fabric is mounted onto canvas and worked into with oils. Drips of paint and a subtle painting of what appears to be a steeple is unassumingly painted onto fabric. The work creates a time and place of its own, it evokes the memories of the Artist and allows the viewer to input their own- be that in Cumbria or elsewhere.

Gallery Hopping

Now I’m back home I’ve been visiting all those friends and relatives I’ve been missing so much- both in Manchester and Nottingham. Whilst I was there I managed to chuck some art in too. I was a little disappointed by Nottingham Contemporary’s offer; although there were many well-known names, there was nothing really that sparked anything. The most noticeable piece for me portrayed a map of the world drawn in flags by Alighiero Boetti. At the Manchester Art Gallery I was pleasantly surprised to find an exhibition on my favourite… home design. The piece here that caught my eye was Richard Hamilton’s Interior. Since doing by scrapbook collage has become more and more appealing to me. Even if it starts just as a way to generate ideas- I’m thinking this might be a starting point to begin making new work again for me.

A balloon for Britain

Whilst on the travels, as you can imagine, I visited a great deal of galleries and saw lots of amazing art. They were a great source of inspiration for me as well as being any travellers dream… a fantastic free activity! The most memorable visit has to be in Melbourne at the National Gallery Victoria. Being an extremely well established gallery; I got to see the likes of William Morris, Mark Rothko, Picasso and David Hockney, plus a really amazing piece of art by Jeff Koons- Puppy Vase– a real tribute to the working class objects of my grandma’s living room. But the piece which really hit home for me (please excuse the pun) was by Scott King- A balloon for Britain. The piece framed 10 grainy photographs of Britain’s 10 poorest towns and cities. Above each image was a brightly coloured balloon symbolising the gentrification/regeneration of these towns using public art. And low and behold was an image I recognised.. I’d passed that same building each day for 8 years as I passed it on my to school/college. There was my home town of Blackburn! Seeing Blackburn depicted, (be it not in the kindest of lights), in the National Gallery of Victoria was a mile stone for me. It symbolised where I’d come from and re-established that notion of working class roots within my work.

Thirty Six Views of Castle Hill

Yesterday I went along to Perc Tucker’s exhibition opening of Sue Smith’s 36 Views of Castle Hill. In some ways it felt like I was jumping back into the saddle again, back into the world of art, and in Australia none the less. Rather selfishly on my part it seemed like an extremely fitting exhibition reflecting Townville and opening my eyes to see Townsville in a different light. It felt exciting to be part of the crowd, with a glass of wine and listening to Sue Smith explain her paintings. As a visitor to Townsville, not a resident, I didn’t share what many there did, concerning their memories and their knowledge behind the history of the city. But I saw my own journey in the short month I’ve been here, I recognised the places I’ve been and the humour Sue was portraying in her somewhat surreal paintings. Sue revealed to us that this surreal style was indeed referencing Japanese painter Hokusai, her obvious homage to his 36 Views of Mount Fuji. An obvious influence to her series of paintings, although alike in its ideas, Sue Smith personalises her 36 views with the symbol of Castle Hill at the heart of her collection. Castle Hill is at the centre of Townsville, an ever looming figure on the city. Smith narrates the presence of the hill in each scene she paints, whether it be the central image or only just visible through the handle bars of a young girl’s bike, the hill dominates the attention of the viewer. As we search out the hill in each painting we get the sense that Smith is encouraging us to reflect upon our own lives surrounding the hill. Our ever changing lives in flux as the hill remains a constant in the backdrop of our lives.

The Vanity of Small Differences- Grayson Perry

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of visiting the Manchester Art Gallery, each time I go it never seems to disappoint, and this time was no exception. I came out the gallery feeling like my practice could move forward into another depth, a depth of class and in particular social class taste. I walked into Grayson Perry’s exhibition The Vanity of Small Differences and was greeting by vast tapestries; vibrant in colour and rich in detail. The Adoration of the Cage Fighters was the first tapestry which demanded my attention and I immediately noticed the décor, the pattern style of wallpaper, the carpet style, the fireplace, the fake flowers and of course the ornaments! Grayson Perry captured the very essence of that room. With impeccable detail and accuracy he absolutely nailed the room he was portraying.  The panorama view displayed on the tapestry captured every detail of that room and included yet even more accurate text of the working class people he was portraying. Embedded within the images the text starts; “I could have gone to uni..” and ends with “A normal family, a divorce or two, mental illnesses, addiction, domestic violence… the usual thing.”

Directly opposite, was the tapestry: Expulsion from number 8 Eden Close. Yet another scene I could completely relate to. The tapestry featured the typical new housing estate with matching houses and matching cars, people trying to keep up with Jones’, yet on the other side was the cultural middle class with their fancy food of olives and wine, and the William Morris wallpaper. Grayson Perry depicts these situations in such a clever way, it’s his attention to detail that really swings the humour and the accuracy. The way he uses the Cath Kidson bag in the next tapestry; The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal, and The Guardian displayed on the table, it’s so simple yet makes the image what it is. Grayson Perry portrays the image of the present in these tapestries, like the renaissance painters he so admires; he creates the tapestry of life.

Within my own work I’ve been scared of what the implications of taste can do to a piece. In my latest piece- Untitled (Ornamental Figure) the piece was heavily referred to as a statement about class- which was something I hadn’t given a second thought! But now after seeing Perry’s exhibition, it seems like there is something there, something really big there. I don’t need to be scared of what a particular taste of wallpaper can say about a piece I need to embrace that.

4th Plinth

The plan with these ornaments, as it was before; I want to place them on plinths, placing art works on plinths is a very “fine art” thing do. This was something that was mentioned when getting feedback on my piece; Untitled (Ornamental Figure), again the titling; a very fine art thing to do. I agreed with the majority that generally I don’t like works being Untitled however for this piece they kind of liked it. It’s very fine art way of titling, yet it was almost emphasizing the setting that the piece was in. They said that it was a statement about being made by an artist- for a contemporary art setting. When I began making the work, the use of the plinth was about taking these figures out of their home context yet bringing back somewhat of their original context by using the wallpaper. This is what I intend to bring through in the next series of  plinthed ornaments.

When I began thinking about the plinth some more I remembered the 4th Plinth; situated in London’s Trafalgar square. The plinth was originally intended to hold an equestrian statue of William IV, but remained bare due to insufficient funds. Since 1999, the plinth has become a home to temporary contemporary art works. Contemporary artists are commissioned to make works for the plinth. Some of these artist include Antony GormleyYinka Shonibare and one of my faves Rachel Whiteread! Her piece Monument is pictured above. The newest addition is Katharina Fritsch’s: Hahn/Cock. The big blue cockerel also pictured above. I really like the idea behind the 4th plinth and I think it relates really well with what I’m doing here with my wallpapered plinths.

I found some really interesting articles about it too: This one about Rachel Whiteread: http://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2001/may/27/features.magazine47

and this one about the latest Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock where it says; For Fritsch, colour is what transforms a sculpture from a naturalistic ornament into a symbol. “It evens it out, makes it abstract – like a visual sign, an icon. That is important: my work is always on the borderline between a detailed sculpture and a sign.  http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/jul/24/katharina-fritsch-fourth-plinth-cockerel-sculpture

Rotations, Zimoun @BACKLIT

I had the great pleasure to see Zimoun’s- Rotation exhibition at Backlit this Friday just gone. Zimoun is described in the info provided as a “Swiss sound architect”, a phrase which I love! It perfectly describes the scene I walked into, into the installation of Rotations. The entire room was filled with a multitude of cardboard boxes, all the same size and height, they were all covered in the same box tape. Identical in their appearance; their movements were their individuality. Because indeed every one of the cardboard boxes had inside it a motor which allowed the box to move on its axis. The boxes jiggled around franticly as if they had something inside them bursting to get out, or they had a personality of their own and all they wanted to do was move, almost dance. As the audience we were allowed to walk in and out of these boxes watching their movements, our eyes trying to follow their quickness. We question the reality of the space. How can these boxes be moving? The constant buzz of the motors act as a reminder of the reason behind their movements but also becomes a constant hum; sending you into a trace with these boxes.

Nottingham Castle and the Contemporary

Super keen art day yesterday! Went to two gallery openings! Saw the new show at the Castle and went to the opening night at the Nottingham Contemporary. Geoffrey Farmer’s; Let’s Make the Water Turn Black was a fantastic show, some really great lighting/sound and I saw some great use of domestic objects! You really got immersed into the space. I also managed to get a few sneaky photos at the Castle of a few of my favourite pieces there.

I particularly liked Karen Fraser’s work. She’d photographed three ornamental figures, which from the titles- Charity Shop Decollation No.1, 2 and 3; I can presume she collected from charity shops. I was really intrigued by the way she chose to document these works; firstly her process of beheading the figures; choosing only the head to photograph and secondly her choice to photograph the objects and not show them in there original state. Something I could perhaps consider; photographing my objects/empty spaces as a way of documenting and presenting? I was also really excited about this piece because recently my grandma has decided to move house which means many of her unwanted ornaments will we coming my way! It’s funny how she kept them all this time but she no longer wants them?

Other artists whose work I liked were Bob Robinson and Chloe Ashley. I liked the sculptural miss-match of Robinson’s objects; something I hope to do using furniture items! I liked the subject matter, seemingly of the domestic which Ashley portrayed in her photography, I particular enjoyed the way in which she presented the photograph. The doubled up paper protruded the image into something much more than the original image.