Thursday, 26 September 2019

Otobong Nkanga and Mikhail Karikis at Tate St.Ives,

Otobong Nkanga and Mikhail Karikis at Tate St.Ives,

21st September 2019 to 5th January 2020

My heart sinks as I walk into the preview.

It's a big room and the work doesn't really visually dominate it. It reminds me of a town planning exhibit. Lots of photos, information, diagrams.

 The themes are very worthy, mining, colonialism, exploitation. There are some impressive tapestries in glowing colours with some glitter woven in and bold patterns.

I have read of occasions years ago when audiences derided Impressionism or rioted at the first performance of Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring' Now the audience at a preview at Tate St.Ives are so quiet, respectful and loth to react spontaneously that they stand motionless, politely uncomplaining whilst the director and the artist Otobong Nkanga speak in a room so accoustically unsuited to enable people to hear that no one can have understood anything of what has been uttered.

Then they circulate examining everything quite carefully, not willing to commit themselves to an opinion other than that it's very interesting.

The artist has created something to do with the place and the mining of tin. It's not the first time we in St.Ives find the latest visiting artist has seized on this theme.

Otobong Nkanga has exhibited in prestigious places and does a lot of research. I feel she wants to say something heartfelt but her mode of expression is so dry, so unpoetic, so dull, that I can't stomach it. She is there, looking beautiful, wearing a sort of work person's jumpsuit and in bare feet, talking earnestly.

Her tapestries are remarkable, substantial and much the most enjoyable part of her show. Maybe as she goes on, now having got onto the global success circuit, she will find her way and make work that is not simply worthy but that sings.

On the way out I encounter the much less publicised work, a film 'Children of Unquiet' by Mikhail Karikis. It's 15 minutes long and shown in a room with only one short bench so I sit on the floor to get the back support of the wall. Despite these very unfavourable cinematic conditions people are watching rapt with attention. It's about a disused geothermal energy plant in an Italian village. This doesn't sound that promising a theme for poetic treatment but it turns out that every frame is beautiful and eloquent, every word of subtitle counts. There are lovely shots of steaming ground, dripping machinery, cooling towers and orchids. Children are choreographed to shout and stamp or they read out statements about bees or wasps and about love.

I am so very pleased to find something so visually stunning, so all of a piece, so full of meaning and contrasts, so worth rewatching.

Douglas Lyell at Redwing Gallery, Penzance, Cornwall, UK

Douglas Lyall at Redwing Gallery, September 2019, Cornwall, UK

St.Michael's Mount is a tourist landmark island off the Cornish coast, subject of many souvenirs and a book of photographs of it from many angles by Trevor Burston ' Floating World' 1995.
It is owned by a Lord and topped by a castle, legendary as having been thrown into place by a giant, and a place of pilgrimage situated on a ley line.

I never expected to be surprised by a painting of this subject but Douglas Lyall has produced a number of exciting images of it. These are wildly lacking in detail, fauvist in their unnaturalistic colour and energetically sloshed on the canvas with panache, leaving the drips.
The artist told me his vision is not A1 and he paints accordingly.
His self portrait at first seems indecipherable but there is a face, a crushed camera montaged onto the rough surface to form one of the eyes.

Douglas himself is an impressive figure and is widely read about art and ideas. His statement on the wall demands freedom and speaks of opposing fascism. He disconcertingly refers to himself in this statement as 'we' and refers to a fifth reich. I approached him with caution but he was ok to talk to.

I was uncertain why he chose a font for his titles that reminded me of German right wing posters in the 30's and of heavy metal musicians' tee shirts, a sort of heavy Gothic font. However the artist said it was chosen because people call him old fashioned in style. It's an old English font and also he is interested and perturbed by the current prevalence of tattoos, which often use this script.

The paintings are rough in surface texture, dramatic in their simplified energetic impact. They are memorable.

Prices all paintings £200 each.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Naked Attraction-poem inspired by this tv program.

Naked Attraction - a tv Programme

Crazy tv
6 men, 3 views,
Toes to hips
Then chest
Then face

The cheerful tv lady makes it sound ok

Young woman choosing
Doesn't like one's toes
What sort of scrotum?
Not those balls
Oddly not shown his bottom
Until, dismissed, he goes.

Whittled down, she meets one man for dinner
The one with the smile I like is not her winner

And then they part
He says no spark

With all revealed
Their sad lost souls are not concealed

They look more human clothed
Maybe there is a reason
We traditionally remove clothes
In less public places

And start with faces.

MA Illustration Falmouth 2019

MA  Illustration authorial practice. 
Falmouth 2019 September

The show looked quiet visually. I needed to slow down to take it in, sit down to read things and enjoy meeting some of the artists - Illustration being a refuge for those who can draw and have things to say.

There were several who spoke of dementia in their work. 
Everything was done with attention to detail and well displayed although rather too small a font chosen for some notices for my eyes.

Alia Sinha, from Delhi, had designed her own tarot cards which were attractive and colourful and she invited visitors to do their own private 3 card  reading and consult her booklet about the images. 

She also offered a choice of masks to don and view in a mirror with significance ascribed to each that was only visible when you removed the mask from the wall. 

I was gratified to have selected 'art'. She explained her objective was to stimulate in a playful way and engage her audience. I was tempted to buy a set of her tarot but also to make my own.

Kristine Sundsdal, from Norway, 

had been flaneuring around Penryn and made dark brooding and complex images.

I was very happy as a fellow flaneur to discuss this phenomena with her. She has ambitious hopes to form an art collective in future to encourage artists and be inclusive and make a contribution to Norwegian culture.

Nigel Baines' images were bold and clear and he had made a book about life, his working class family and the impact of dementia.

 He also provided a comfortable chair and I found the book so interesting and such a fascinating combination of words and images that I decided to buy one for further enjoyment.

All the other students had very personal and expressive projects that were impressively thought provoking and made me glad this MA  has survived the lamentable cull of courses at Falmouth and continues to thrive with Steve Braund in charge.

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Noel Betowski -I mmersive Pattern and Decoration in St.Ives.

Noel Betowski 'In The Fold 2' Penwith Gallery, St.Ives, Cornwall, UK
31st August to 28th September 2019 Monday to Saturday 10 - 5

Entering this show of 66 paintings done from 1979 to 2019 is an overwhelming experience. Noel Betowski is 66 and this is a celebration of his remarkable use of pattern and decoration which whirls round the room, on zigzagging concertinered panels, a device used to get them all into a gallery which seems made for their proportions. There are open door shapes, circles, swirls, all colours of the rainbow it seems but particularly vibrant orange and dusky blue. 

The edges of the canvasses are also decorated with his characteristic energetic pattern. 

There are sharp edges of bright hues and also blurred passages of complex murky mixtures.
What does it mean? What does he mean by reference to 'entropic phenomena?'

I note that Noell Betowski's formative period was the 70's when in America Miriam Schapiro and others worked in the ' Pattern and Decoration' movement which was largely seen as feminist and has been mentioned by Anna Swartz in 'Hyperallergic' June 13 2018' as having a resurgence recently, partly as an alternative to the preponderance of work about political issues and 'relentless address of injustices'.

Alongside the paintings are woven panels made by Pamela Betowski, Noel's wife, to compliment the paintings in their proportions and colours and she writes of the influence or parallel rhythms of music. These weavings are brightly coloured but calmly ordered. This couple perform wonderfully adept and lively folk music on violin and guitar regularly in Cornwall.

Prices are from £200 to £1800 with many prices on application.

On the way in a few paintings by Willie Barns Graham are shown which show a similar fascination with pattern with lots of deep red and black. 

I had not seen these before and thought they must have been chosen to parallel the Betowskis. Willie Barns Grahams are from the 60's and 70's and are priced up to £18.000.

Whereas the Barns Graham's are deliberative, concise and each self contained statements, the Betowski works make an immersive environment, abstraction on acid, as if attempting to express all the fizzing life and energy of cells and DNA.

Whilst I often feel St.Ives and the Penwith in particular are stuck in a time warp forever in homage to Ben and Barbara and an illustrious modernist past, here I have to admit that Noel Betowski has here made an original and astounding event, his life's work and an impressive original cavalcade of riotous forms which are both a rushing torrent of pattern and decoration and something that could repay lengthy contemplation.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Wild and Unruly in St.Ives, UK

'Wild and Unruly', Crypt Gallery, St.Ives, 18-30 August 2019

Gary Rogers, Suzi Gutierrez, Graham Pullen and Ant Viney were exhibing for two weeks and their take on how to use this space was novel. They had cleaned the bottle glass windows to increase the light, placed Gary's cheerful coloured pots, made of something he mixes up, on the ledges, which I have not seen used before, left some paintings leaning on the walls from the floor, and mixed the hang which I like rather than splitting the show into individual territories.

After a while I could recognise the work of each of them. Ant Viney's were abstract with some poetic additions, airy, light and expansive.

 Suzi Gutierrez had a mixture of subjects both narrative and abstract and use of titles that added interest.

She shares a liking for animal ears with the wild and unruly performance video artist Fred McVittie, also in Cornwall.

Graham Pullen used screen printing and pattern in a lively and subtle way.

Gary Rogers 3D mosaic inlaid whimsical animals and colourful groups of vessels animated the whole enjoyably.

Most unconventionally each day someone was given a piece of art, something that questions the whole art world commerce which generally rules and absorbs every creative act into our capitalist conventions, even though looking is free. In this edge of Brexit from the European Union anxiety ridden climate people are fairly careful about buying anything. I see Robert Peston is writing about a post capitalist vision so maybe be the free circulation of some art could develop further in future.
Meanwhile prices ranged from £30 to a around £1500.

The title for the show indicates an aspiration to rouse excitement and be unconventional which is hard to live up to but the exhibition is lively and the suspects unusual in St.Ives.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Artists from United Arab Emirates in residence in St.Ives, UK

Visitors from the United Arab Emirates, Porthmeor Studios, St.Ives, Cornwall UK

On August 16th 2019 Afra Aldhaheri and Asma Belhamar, two young women, gave a talk about their work, having been artists in residence at these famous studios.
The began by showing a map of the Emirates, which are self governing states, once inhabited by pearl divers and fishermen but since the discovery of oil, and increasingly since 2000, developing with astonishing rapidity into wealthy places with hugely built up cities and a consciously developed art industry imported from the west and concentrating on intellectiual conceptual art, installations etc. produced almost entirely by women artists from an elite educated class.

Afra's work, seen in the subsequent open studio, is very precise and delicate and uses the forms of concrete buildings dominating mountainous terrain. Whilst in America she was nostalgic for the cranes and construction sites of her homeland. She made a loom, unusable with concrete weights, alluding to a past when women were at home weaving to pass the time, whereas now it seems there is no time to learn these skills.
Her students in UAE were shown, all women in black with head coverings which are the conventional dress. The artists were bareheaded at the studio visit but headscarved at the talk. 

A writer and artist with them, Gaith Abdulla, told me these women would not want their parents to see them with their heads uncovered. One of the two female curators accompanying them told me figurative art is ok in UAE but not nudity. Gaith is standing for their parliament, daring to defy convention by using brightly coloured posters and with a progressive program of being anti exploitation of migrant workers and anti domestic abuse of women. He seems to be both a serious candidate and in his country an undeclared user of this event as an art performance.

Asma's art in the studio reminded me of Paul Klee and used interlinking shapes and subtle colours. 

Both UAE artists' work was very restrained, controlled and lacking exuberance or expression to my mind but elegantly done.

The Emirates are a conservative Monarchy where homosexuality is illegal for both sexes. 3Parliament has a rule to be half female and education is equal but ordinary women have little political education. They described the art world as a 'top down' system in which it would be social suicide to openly rebel so that a soft touch approach to criticism of the politics and society is necessary.

In the traditions of these artists' communities poetry and music were said to have predominated. Getting interested in visual art via painting seems to be a brave move for them and they were glad to be in a relaxed artists' arena where life in Cornwall moves traditionally at a slowish pace.

I had done some work about women wearing burkhas and garb that only reveals their eyes, which I took to show them at the open studios but I felt gently rebuffed by the PhD student who was with the artists and had introduced them because she said burkhas are not worn in UAE and the head covering is seen as a tradition not a religious duty. It's clearly a subject for them with nuances that I am unlikely to easily grasp as my experience comes from UK and a brief visit to Tunisia.

The talk was all too short considering the wealth of ignorance I felt about UAE and the number of questions that might have been raised. The audience dispersed to enjoy eating dates and other deserts with delicate tastes and colours, delightful textures and decorated with almond flakes. There was coffee and rose wine and a buzz of gentle conversation. The layout of the seating in a U shape was explained as a reference to the hospitable traditions of their home countries.

More artists are expected to visit later.

This cross cultural meeting was an unusual event in St.Ives and I thought a refreshing initiative from the Porthmeor studios organisers to expand beyond the usual St.Ives art scene which often seems either stuck in a time warp of landscapey abstraction or on a conveyor belt of whatever the
Tate dishes up from its unseen lists of the newest international establishment in- crowd of artists who arrive to surprise us here.
As the Porthmeor events are subsidised, and this one was a free treat, they are truly accessible at least to the arty cognoscenti.

I would have liked more - some opportiunity to work alongside these visitors, to talk more, since they spoke perfect English, but at least some meetings and good intentions were established.

Subsequent research online re-affirms to me that UAE have a regime inclined to imprison its political critics without trial.

[The United Arab Emirates has a presidential, federal, and despotic monarchy. The UAE is a federation of 7 different constituent monarchies, which include the Emirates of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Ras al-Khaimah, Umm al-Quwain, Ajman, and Fujairah.]