Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson, A Continuous Line, has just started at Tate St Ives. Gallery 1 focuses on his earlier works including faux-naive paintings, which I am not too keen on. His white and coloured reliefs, which I think are superb, came as a dramatic change of direction in the 1930's.
Relief, 1934, (left) is a classic example that is crafted from a single piece of wood (the later ones tend to be built up in layers). It is the hand carving that brings humanity to this work, it is not attempting to show the qualities of the material, it is the light and shadow that are important, they are an intrinsic part of the work. Simplicity of form was also a major concern of these elegant pieces.
Painted Relief (right) is a built up piece in which the subtle colours evoke the Cornish landscape, red from the iron oxide so common around the local tin mines, yellow ochre from the kilas of Gwithian and the brown/greys of the all pervasive granite composed of layers of colours successively applied and rubbed of to create greater depth of texture within the colours. The white has variously been seen as representing the light and the crashing seas of the area.
February 28 - 53, (Vertical Seconds), left, was produced in the famous Porthmeor Studios where he had the space to produce larger works and develop his still-life's. The textured backgrounds and hints of landscape offer a tie-in with the natural surroundings but the primary focus is abstraction. At first the blues, reds and yellows can seem out of place but a visit to the St Ives harbour reveals the brightly coloured fishing boats to be a source that Nicholson would have encountered daily.
This is an exhibition that I shall visit as often as possible. Also showing is work by Leach and his circle and Luke Frost, Artist in Residence.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Curiouser and curiouser . . .

Curiouser and curiouser. . . was the title of the UCA Learning and Teaching Conference at the British Library on 23rd January. As an MA student it was a fascinating privileged to attend this conference and gain an insight into teaching and learning from the tutors point of view. Six of us had been invited to attend in order to contribute to the workshop Imagined Communities: Using Technology to support MA students at UCA Farnham.
The first workshop that I attended was Learning Through Teaching, led by Sue Shearer from Epsom. Sue and her team had been working with a group of blind and visually impaired students to find ways of allowing them to engage with the world of visual art. All of the participants on the workshop were blindfolded before being led into the room and remained that way for most of the workshop in order to give us an insight into the problems encountered by those who have limited or no sight. One of the most fascinating points to emerge was the difference between those who had lost their sight (as we had done temporarily) and those who had been blind from birth and never experienced the visual world. How do you explain light, dark and tonal variations to someone who has never seen them? An extremely stimulating experience that caused many of us to question how we would cope if deprived of our visual abilities.
Rebecca Skeels, Jewellery and Metalwork Technician at Farnham, led the next workshop; Encouraging peer learning: why did you do that,how did you do that? As part of her Post Graduate Certificate Rebecca had instigated a series of peer learning groups amongst the undergraduates that she helps to teach. The aim (and outcome) was to foster a groups support system amongst the students so that through discussion of their work they could problem solve and inspire as well as forming a community that might last beyond their college years. It would be good if this small beginning could be built upon in other departments, I am aware of how much this years MA intake benefited from having second year part-time students as induction assistants and how the integration has helped to link the two years together. The Peer Assisted Learning programme at UCA is being co-ordinated by Tine Bech.
After lunch came Imagined Communities, led by Sarah Sutherland (assisted by Leigh Garrett). Sarah's highly entertaining talk focused on the needs (and wants) of the 'non-traditional learner' and how the MA cohort was drawn together to form a community by the gentle introduction of the use of technology. (If I can set up a blog then anyone can!). The MA students then spoke, briefly, about our experiences of the Virtual Learning Environment and how it had enhanced our experience at Farnham. (I cannot remember the last time that I shook so much but I lived to tell the tale.) This was followed by a practical, light hearted, demonstration of the use of the Quizdom audience response system which went down extremely well.
An extremely positive experience.

British Library Conference Centre

Spiral Sheaves, 1991, by David Nash is a beautiful piece set in the stairwell of the conference centre at the British Library. I first came across the work of Nash in 2004 at Tate St Ives where he was exhibiting a number of pieces from the 'Sheaves' series. It is interesting to consider, in this piece, whether one sees the wood or the form first and how one's reading of one is influenced by the other. I love natural wood, my father having been a cabinet makers I have always been surrounded by beautiful wood, but I can see how relating to the wood itself which has had a life of its own can distract from the appreciation of the form. This must always be a paradox for sculptors who shape wood but allow its former nature to remain undisguised.

Thames Slipway

Walking back to the tube from the Tate, I noticed this old slipway, below the OXO Tower, that had been uncovered by the falling tide. Having read about Mark Dion's 'Archaeology' project at the Tate and seen the Time Team programme about the Thames foreshore I would love to know more about this slipway; when was it originally built? Who built it? What for? When did it go out of use? How was it constructed? What is it constructed from? Perhaps I'm just nosey, and this is certainly not a good time to start trying to find out but perhaps someone else has had the same thought and I will be able to find out from them at some time in the future.

MA visit to Tate Modern

As there was no lecture this week Sarah Sutherland very generously brought tickets for the MA cohort to see the Rothko exhibition at Tate Modern. I spent a good deal of time in the 'Black and Gray' room contemplating two of the works that I particularly like. Giving them the extra time was well worth it - the longer I looked the more I saw. The subtleties of tone and brush stroke began to emerge and the paintings took on a greater depth.
Several other galleries were explored and favourite works revisited. I'm very keen on Elsworth Kelly, especially his early works, and could spend hours viewing 'White Curve' (1974) from different angles and enjoying its apparent changes of proportions and the way the lighting affects the surface of the white painted aluminium.
The work of Joseph Beuys gave much food for thought, though I did find the height at which his felt suit was displayed rather distracting. The vitrines (Untitled 1983 - right) were of special significance to me as I have recently been considering collections and their display in museum/gallery spaces, also their link to the work of Andrea Gregson. Vitrines always put me in mind of looking into tombs or reliquaries at the remains of saints.
Untitled 1972 - Copper, enamel and aluminium - by Donald Judd was visually stunning, with an almost pulsating glow emanating from within. I was interested in the two quite different pieces of writing that accompanied this piece. On the official label was 'industrially fabricated to eliminate any trace of the artists hand and bring out the innate qualities of the material' which are indeed beautiful. Beside this was an Artist's Comment by Thomas Demand - 'However to me it also represents a cenotaph - a metaphor for an open grave.' Two quite different takes on the same piece but I can see the relevance of both.
In the Surrealism galleries it was Untitled 1979 by Jannis Kounellis that really drew me to it. I've enjoyed it before but somehow this time it seemed even more poignant, the jackdaw and hooded crow, that have been seen as symbolising the death throes of imaginative freedom, appeared more tragic than ever.
Thirty Pieces of Silver, 1988-9, by Cornelia Parker is a piece that I have seen so many times in books but had never seen in the flesh when as I expected it is so much more powerful and being able to move around it (if only on two sides) brings more than just a different angle to view it from. All of the pieces of silver have been abused by flattening them with a steamroller but they have been further traumatised by the drilling of holes to attach the suspension lines. The pieces are literally a shadow of their former selves and it is often the shadow, cast on the floor, that gives the clearest indication of the original state of the piece. Again I have the interest in the display of materials, this work would have looked inappropriate in the Silver Gallery at the V&A but here it is viewed in quite a different way. I am also interested in the effect of the suspension lines,in some pieces they can become obtrusive but here they are grey and barely catch the light becoming more like a veil on reality.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Designer Crafts at the Mall

The Society of Designer Craftsmen show examples of both traditional techniques and the use of new and exciting mediums in their annual Exhibition. The show includes work from established members and Licentiates, including those chosen for admission from last years Graduate Shows.
Thrilled to see the work of fellow MA student Beverly Ayling-Smith not only prominently displayed but also on the publicity literature. Beverly uses materials traditionally used for burial to create works exploring loss and decay. My favourite was 'Disruption I', in which a lead casing had been peeled back to reveal layers of excavated linen. I don't have a picture of this piece but 'Burial' (detail, above) shows the delicate beauty of the linen.
Set in the jewellery cabinets was the work of Sunderland glass artist Criss Chaney. Although her jewellery didn't particularly thrill me I was bowled over by her art-glass pieces, especially 'Deep within' and 'Diamond in the rough'. Again no pictures of the actual pieces but 'Brass Fossil 2' gives the general idea.
The ceramics of Bonnie Kemske were fascinating, it's rare that you are invited to sit down and fondle the ceramics. Bonnie's sculptural pieces challenge the dominance of sight, 'seeing is believing, but feeling is the truth.' Cast hugs is the rather quirky description of these pieces and they are intended to engage the body in grounded sensuality, a charming idea.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Forest Gardens - Kurt Jackson

Messum's of Cork Street, London are currently holding Kurt Jackson's latest exhibition. Titled 'Forest Gardens' it reflects his long held view that man can be an active participant in natural ecosystems rather than merely an external manipulator.
I am, as always, drawn primarily to Kurt's seascapes, 'No appletrees on Appletree Bay then' Tresco, September 2008, 57 x 62cm, mixed media (above) is no exception. This is the Scillies that I love, the rocky foreshore rather than the picture postcard white sands and the low mounds of islands that can be so hard to distinguish from the sea, especially when the sun is on it. There are not many seascapes in this exhibition as it focuses primarily on orchard ecosystems including almonds, olives, cork oak and Cornish apples.

The series of paintings from around the Mediterranean are redolent of the heat, sounds and smell of summertime. 'Warbler twitter, almond scent', painted in Andalusia in spring 07, is a small (21 x 21cm) mixed media piece that screams the hope and vitality of the new season. Not the sort of thing that I am usually drawn to but this is just so full of joy.
There are a number of sculptures in the exhibition I was particularly taken with the ones featuring bronze 'fruits' set on a piece of wood of the relevant tree. Mountain Almonds could definitely have found a home with me.
As usual most of the works had red dots from the private view, even with the recession on, I did hear that they had sold five works that morning so some people still rate art as a good investment.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Carbis Bay Beach, New Years Day

New Years morning dawned overcast but reasonably mild so dog walking on the beach was the ideal occupation. Recent high tides had washed up large quantities of seaweed but little else of interest, no sign of the missing Basking Shark tag that people have been asked to keep a look out for.
New camera for Christmas so I thought I'd try it out on the rocks around the addits (from the copper mine that ran under our house) to see how it coped with the colours, macro and focusing on wet rocks. Quite pleased with the results.
On the way back up the hill I noticed that as well as some early daffodils this camellia was in full bloom, unfortunately a heavy frost is forecast for next week so the blooms will soon be looking very sad, in our garden we still have penstemons and osteospermums in bloom and the primroses are out in the hedge.

Eden Project

Between Christmas and New Year is a great time to visit the Eden Project, it's not too busy but is still lively with lots of interesting things going on.
This years central Christmas tree was made from recycled plastic carrier bags, this seemed very appropriate in a year that has seen the most dramatic change in attitude to the excessive use of plastic bags by both the buying public and the shops who supply them.
Inside the tropical Biome the Totems have been restored. Created by West African sculptor El Anatsui, the wood came from the charred timbers from a part of Falmouth docks that had been destroyed by fire. They started their life as trees in West African and have been restored by James Eddy.
I was really surprised to find that it has been over a year since I was last at the Eden Project, I stay fairly up to date with what is going on via the local newspaper but had no idea how overgrown the tropical Biome had become - much more 'wild' and natural now. Some areas are still planted up with crops and the bananas, which were new last time I visited are now well established, I loved the growing habit of the recently planted vanilla plants.
The once bright copper of the Education Centre roof has now dulled to a subtle brown with tinges of blue which is much more in keeping with the surroundings. Inside it was my first opportunity to see the 'Seed'. I had heard about the finding of the rock, design, carving and installation process (1 hour 45 minutes to lift it in by crane) but had not actually seen the real thing. It's beautiful, there's something quite serene about it as it sits quietly in its nest at the heart of the building. It's obviously being handled on a regular basis, as you can see the difference in colour, but I think that this is a good thing as it's bringing people into physical contact with a piece of granite that is millions of years old and will hopefully make them consider how precious a resource it is.