Thursday, 12 July 2018

Francis Alys 'The silence of Ani'

Francis Alys 'The silence of Ani'  13 minute HD video installation at Cast , Helston,July 2018

This video is in black and white, more stylish and beautiful than it would have been in colour?
The setting looks deserted and wild, spacious, grasses waving in the wind. There are fragments of masonry, something like a chapel, columns, carved words, an ancient site with no visitors, or only a few young people with bird whistles, making sweet trilling noises of various kinds, approaching and coinciding, falling into a rhythm and then then silence as they are seen lying down. 

Were they remembering some destruction? Were they reenacting deaths?

After a pause we see a drawing of the once large city of Ani, we read that this was a performance to imagine the place with birdsong revived, before a long past destruction. The bird whistle blowers were asked to perform until tired, when they lay down. Alys probably put forward his idea and it was selected by a  Turkish committee.

I was reminded of visits I have made to ancient sites, aware of lost long dead people, of the transience of life. I was enjoying the way the filming was done, the swaying of grass, some blurred shots, the mingling of various trilling sounds, the movement before stillness.

My companion would have liked the explanatory titles at the beginning rather than having been led to speculate but I liked being aware of my reactions before the information came up. I had been expecting more current conflicts to be referenced but instead the message seemed to be a universal one of time passing, civilisations falling, cities ruined but treasured for their ability to evoke history, an idea of people everywhere as fragile, as possessing a common humanity caught in the events around them.

I saw parallels with my favourite work  by Alys to date, the one where many red coated soldiers in London were choreographed to march around in formation, a gentle and fascinating  amusement using the image on many tourist postcards. A performance was made that animated the place and played with notions of empire, anachronistic bear skinned chocolate soldiers, patterns and rhythms and the break up of marching in step on the bridge.

We were lucky to see the video, kindly switched on for us even though I had misread the dates and arrived after this part of Groundwork was finished.

  The Cast building is an appealing old place with some desirably large studios and a pleasant light cafe. It's funded largely  by arts council grants and I suspect hardly any of Helston's inhabitants drop in for coffee or even know it's there just behind the car park near the Godolphin Buiding and very near the Museum. And only 50pence to park for an hour!
I wonder how much the artists meet? Do they? Do the artists in the studios get exhibitions also?
It seems idyllic, space, refreshments and interesting international artists brought in by Theresa  Gleadowe. 

A place worth keeping an eye out for if you want to be one of Cornwall's art cognoscenti.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Patrick Heron at Tate St.Ives May 2018

Patrick Heron at Tate St.Ives ,    May 2018

How great to be exhibited in the Tate but what a pity they couldn't arrange it before the artist died. Patrick Heron was however asked to design a window for the entrance which is marvellously colourful. I remember the artist giving a talk in front of it about how he designed it on a small piece of paper and how a German firm able to make a window with large expanses of glass was used. Although very famous and respected,Patrick must have been a bit nervous because throughout his talk he was jangling change in his pocket which made it quite hard to hear, but no one protested.

Like the subject of the last show in the new big gallery, Virginia Woolf, Patrick was a member of the Labour Party and committed enough to have large boards exhorting everyone to vote Labour put up at election times on the coast road outside his home, 'Eagles Nest' , a strange name to choose although apt for the wild location because it was also a house name used by Hitler for his mountain retreat. Perhaps Patrick didn't know that?  Or insisted on reclaiming it?

So, what of the show? Patrick's writing on art put the St.Ives artists into public view. All artists need writers to become known and to become part of the accepted 'canon' of art history.

It's very enjoyable with captions featuring remarks PH wrote about painting, about the need to achieve balance, about the way the edges of a painting are so important as the onlooker's eyes look from them to different points in the composition and back and to and fro.

Some influences from Braque, Rothko, Robert Indiana,  etc. can be seen and PH mentions looking at Bonnard. 
The early paintings are more figurative
Antibes 1949

Christmas Eve 1951

with a middle period of more solid coloured shapes that could have been cut from paper like Matisse, and then later looser ones with more space and calmer, lighter colour. I think these are the ones PH began thinking of them as entirely abstract but later realised how influenced he was by flowers in his garden.


I asked in the card shop if a favourite was emerging and they weren't sure yet, probably the ones indicating observation of St.Ives, maybe the one I chose 'interior with garden window' 1955 which is a complicated orchestration of shapes , colours and textures- enough going on to entertain you every time you see it and painted with what seems great aplomb possibly disguising the effort it cost him like watching a practised dancer whose arabesques seem easy.

Interior with garden window 1955

Crowds of children were being marshalled on the stairs and central area and asked to suggest rules of behaviour- not to run or knock sculpture over was being suggested  as I passed them. The Patrick Heron show is  going to suit the teachers because pupils will be encouraged to trust their instincts and enjoy themselves when they next get into the art room, as long as austerity allows enough paint and paper for their youthful exuberance. 

Perhaps this is PH's contribution, to enjoy the colours, shapes and fitting them into a rectangle.
He was doing this as art whilst I was learning it from a teacher, Mrs Roberts, who was in tune with what was going on, with Victor Pasmore and basic design exercises and that book teachers had that told you about good and bad design. How much more difficult to find a way to introduce the young to the fantastic array of art going on today. The influence of the PH sort of art is alive, very much so in St.Ives. Painters like Felicity Marr carry it on, most of the Penwithy art in the Penwith gallery down the road upholds it's aims, but there's so much more now, humour, politics, gender identity, ecology. After the Second World War 's carnage I think artists welcomed a refuge in a simpler world of art, art like music, form and colour, a rest from horror. I think our times cannot just keep that going, it's a new time.

However it's balm for the troubled soul to spend time in this show. I was visiting torn in two by the prospect of what disease can do to spoil our fun, on the edge of tears at the unfairness we all face at sometime, and it helped a little.

Thank you Patrick Heron.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Newlyn Society of Artists Drawing Exhibition, Tremenheere May 2018

Newlyn Society of Artists ‘Drawing’ at Tremenheere May 2018

I love going to an art exhibition especially if it’s free, there’s plenty of parking and there’s tea and cake available afterwards. Tremenheere has these factors in its favour although tea stops an hour before the show closes so I was lucky to get any.This time difference is of course traditional.

Unlike going to time based entertainments, at an art show you can spend as little or long a time on each of the contributions as you please and are not trapped while something you don’t like goes on and on.

So, I was very glad I went upstairs first and demolished metaphorically the pencil drawings of taps, the casts of tea spoon holding boxes and the shapes made of car body type sheets of metal. They were beauifully executed by Michelle Olson and Jack Davies but I wasn’t in the mood for them. 

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Downstairs there were a lot of works drawn in many ways and media. There wasn’t much really political or narrative.  Quite a lot based on landscape, gestural marks, lots of black on white. If you knew some of the artists you could spot whose was whose.

David Whitbread Roberts

A video was showing with each artist talking briefly about their use of drawing and I caught Suzannah Clemence explaining sometimes she drew to remember and sometimes to forget, which was interesting.

As you go in you are invited to take a stick with a pastel attached and draw on a large piece of paper hanging down. It was a bit frustatrating as there was no hard surface behind the paper and no way to draw satisfyingly but people were participating.

This is a gallery that allows work on paper to be pinned to the wall with no protection for its surface, making it seem so vulneraable if anyone should want to deface it or should even cough on it or have a child who might make a grubby mark with their hand. One such work was marked sold for £1600. It was Pippa Young’s ‘Judgement Day’ a very detailed portrayal of three RA judges, Grayson Perry, Cornelia Parker and a third one I don’t recognize, on a large sheet of paper.

I liked some of the works and as an exhibition it served to wake me up visually, to make me notice the world around me more, the exit signs and the loo signs, the flowers outside, the blueness of the distant sea.

Tremenheere somehow repells me as the most middle class place I can think of whilst I still like going there. A child of about 7 was letting their yellow dumper truck run across tables in the cafe outside area so that it repeatedlly crashed onto the stone chippings on the ground. I wanted their parents to stop them doing this, to tell them it would break, to require them to take care of it. Maybe they were too busy conversing intelligently to notice.

I heard that Ken Turner was so annoyed that his piece about refugees was refused that he has left the society. He was annoyed that they invited him to do a performance at the opening of a show for which his drawing had been rejected.

As always it would interest me to see the rejections, maybe on a slide show, or why not put the work closer together and get more in? Why were two artists given lots of space upstairs whilst the others were hung, some in academy style proximity and some more conventionally spaced?

Outside I noticed a rather chi chi use of placing things in threes, three pots, three cylindrical posts with acrylic tops and three huge pebble structures. A bit gardeners’ world.

Anyway it seems the Newlyn Society are alive and, if not kicking, drawing quite a bit.


Thursday, 3 May 2018

Virginia Woolf, a keynote lecture from Frances Spalding

Virginia Woolf, a keynote lecture from Frances Spalding at Tate St.Ives, April 2018

Virginia Woolf's study by Mary Fletcher

This lecture kick - started the weekend conference and I had forgotten just how enjoyable it can be to sit in a semi - darkened room with 40 other interested people while someone who really knows their subject inside out tells us about it and shows us pictures. Frances Spalding has a lovely voice and gave us a witty choice of anecdotes alongside more serious aspects.

Her title for the talk was 'suggestive images' which applied to Virginia Woolf's  writing as well as to visual art in the current show. 

Frances brought in reference to the present scandalous treatment of the Windrush immigrants and told us how Woolf was politically engaged. Virginia Woolf wrote in the 30's 'thinking is my fighting'. 

The development of buses in London helped women to travel unchaperoned and Woolf liked to wander in the city and observe people. When she was moved to Richmond with her husband Leonard because it would be quieter and more soothing for her mental health Virginia had written that in a choice between Richmond and death she would choose death.

The 'enduring resonance' globally of Virginia Woolf's writing today was emphasised. In 2016 there was an international conference in Seoul, S.Korea.

V.Woolf changed the emphasis in writing a novel, saying that in ‘The Waves’ the important thing was 'a rhythm not a plot'.

The importance of her contact with art by her contemporaries was brought out and also how her childhood holidays in St.Ives remained a vivid presence in her mind years later, mentioned in a letter to her sister,  written in France and received by Vanessa in Rome.

The lecture was in the newly contained space of the Foyle room, which I so much welcome as having acoustics suited to hearing a speaker, unlike most of the Tate spaces.

I studied art and art history at the same time as Frances Spalding at Nottingham University and reflected how differently my life might have gone if like her I had chosen a life of research, history and writing rather than teaching art in a school, becoming an art therapist and alongside all that maintaining my art 'practice' as its called, so much less a viable career but the one I wanted and continue to maintain, remarkably free of fame and fortune, but at last in my studio with 'a room of my own.'

Mary Fletcher.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Hummadruz- Newlyn Art Gallery 2018

The Batty Edge of Art

'Hummadruz',       Newlyn art gallery, March 3 to June 2nd 2018

Curated by Field Notes - Cat Bagg and Rosie Thompson-Glover.

'Hummadruz' refers to a humming sound heard by some visitors to ancient sites such as reported by Andy Norfolk in the periodical Meyli Mamvro as he and two friends experienced it at Zennor quoit, not far from Newlyn gallery.

My companion reacted to this by saying, 'sometimes you get a noise from the wind blowing through the long grass - it's a physical phenomenon - not some mystical crap.'

As the title is a Cornish word new to me I found I was calling  the show  'that stuff about the occult and magic' rather than the gallery leaflet's 'lived system embodied by both artists and communities'.

Unusually it was the video exhibits I found the most interesting. There is a circular tour round an Irish hill plus a black mark on the lens that the artist, Niamh O'Malley, thought necessary.

There's a beautifully filmed bright sequence of a Danish woman asserting her belief in the strengthening properties of a Rowan tree, by Gitte Villesen.

And there is a small child listening to remarks about the supernatural as he colours in and asks matter of fact questions. This last, by Susan MacWilliams has a warning in case parents do not want their children to be hearing the conversation.

In the 70s Monica Sjoo's works about the occult and the Bronze Age stone circles were complained about in St.Ives and removed by police.The curators have the account of this in the Daily Telegraph to entertain us but now no such fuss has been made as her paintings are shown here.

 I would have liked inclusion of her image of God as a woman giving birth which was shown in St.Ives church about the same time.

The American Mary Beth Edelson's use of nude photos plus pagan allusions from the same time are also here. Both recall an era when feminism had quite a yearning for times before patriarchal religions took control, women were excited to learn about early eras when there were goddesses, and had a fascination with the idea of an essential 'femininity' which claimed certain qualities for women's work.  Some appreciative visitors' comments indicated this may persist.

There are artefacts displayed from the Cornish museum of witchcraft.

There is rather a lot of small print to read, stuck not always quite straight on the wall and not as I would have liked available to read as a handout, sitting down to take it in comfortably.

Linda Stupart has spells to take away, one of them against the malign effects of Richard Serra's work and fame, a sign of men's dominance in the art world as macho wielders and welders  of big heavy objects.

So, there is humour, history and the batty edge of art, from Ithell Colquhoun's surreal vision of a stone circle 

to an artist new to St.Just, Lucy Stein, who says, 'Since settling permanently in St.Just I have become totally cosmic'. (2016)

Does this show provide an interesting change from the usual arts council fare? Another show all by women but not saying it is so as not to provoke complaint?  Is it a worrying rejection of science and reason in suggesting the ancient supernatural beliefs are live and flourishing? Is it adding to a Cornish touristy myth of a backward strangeness with romantic aura? Is it a themed show with art you probably haven't seen much of before? An examination of a tiny backwater?

It's all of that.

The slides weren't working, the tea was not being served and my camera batteries ran out.  

A jinx on this sceptical visitor or just bad luck this bank holiday Monday?

Monday, 5 March 2018

Virginia Woolf:An Exhibition Inspired by Her Writings.

Virginia Woolf:An Exhibition Inspired by Her Writings

At Tate St.Ives to April 29  2018

Curated by Laura Smith.

Lamps, Nicola L, 1969, drawn by Mary Fletcher

Looking into the large new gallery I can see that there is a lot to look at in this exhibition and as I walk around enjoying a lot of the paintings it slowly dawns on me that they are all by women. As its so rare to encounter over 200 works by women in a space and none by men I wonder why Tate do not make this clear. Is it fear of criticism or is it the intention that visitors become gradually aware of this ? Surely many will not notice - even the invigilator I checked with wasn't sure. Is this the point?

The curator appears to have thrown in a long list of women artists, including many living ones who have recently been in shows at this gallery. Their connections to the works of Virginia Woolf seem often to be tenuous, as though any woman artist is connected simply by being a woman. The prevailing mood of the works is quiet, personal, delicate, lacking in any stridency which rather perpetuates to my mind unfortunate stereotypes of femininity. 

The Judy Chicago sketch for including Woolf in her dinner party show, in which Woolf was like all but one of the women represented by a vaginal image is interesting but requires knowledge of that very important feminist exhibition. Often one bit of art, like the Louise Bourgeois sculpture included, seems meaningless on its own when that artist's work has usually been seen in installations where the visitor gets multiple impressions from many works that add up to an understanding of what the artist is saying. 
So this show is an accumulation of brief references and examples. 

Visitors, drawn by Mary Fletcher.

The atmosphere when I was there was of very quiet serious study. There were some very well behaved serious young children with adults who were really having conversations with them about the work. 
A few people were watching the videos, listening to through headphones, but probably rarely for the whole length of the pieces, which were often about 20 minutes long. As there is no where else to sit this will encourage some to take the opportunity of a rest and tempt them into getting involved with these pieces.

In general then much to enjoy - in my case the exquisite detail of the Gwen John picture of her room, the Laura Knight cactus picture, one of many of using a window, the crisp clear colours of a Winifred Nicholson painting of primulas, the Dod Proctor self portrait, alas too high up and badly lit.

There are all sorts of frames. There are all sorts of heights of hanging. There is wall decoration, documents in cases to read, quotes from V. Woolf here and there. There is enough for several visits. 

There isn't much about Virginia Woolf, or her writing, there isn't the rather surprising completely abstract painting by her sister Vanessa Bell that we have had in the gallery before

 I was asking myself, ' why put that it in? ' repeatedly. And also why not Rose Hilton, why not Felicity Marr etc...

It's enjoyable, a bit incoherent, but worth visiting for many individual treats.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Alternative Visions: Undiscovered Art in the South West

Alternative Visions. Undiscovered Art in the South West.

'Abattoir ' by Steve Burden

Falmouth Art Gallery, closed 9th December 2017

This show was first at Bristol. After Falmouth it is going to Cheltenham and then Poole. The inside back cover of the nicely produced catalogue reveals eleven logos of sponsoring bodies, including the Arts Council and Arts and Health.
Nine support days were organised and 310 artists submitted work, from which 20 were selected by four people , one an 'Outside  In' artist  award winner and three arts administrators, with each chosen artist having one work on the wall plus a rather lengthy caption and a video statement to be viewed in the gallery. In addition a group of artists with learning disabilities in Bristol had given responses to the works which  could be heard if you could work out how to work the audio system, which involved putting on headphones and inserting a microphone shaped audio device into a circular activating switch next to each painting. I think each device had one person's reactions to every piece. As I chose a very slow speaking respondent who didn't really grab my attention I gave up on this extra, which I had to get a member of the art gallery staff to explain to me.

'Wish Pond' by Pinn

All this detail about how it was presented I give because it shows that a lot of time, care and money was put into giving a lucky twenty an exposure in a mainstream municipal art gallery that maybe most would otherwise never have obtained. Seeing them on video some of the artists had a rough, battered by life quality. Many had no art education and used art as a therapeutic activity to relieve depression or other distress. Quite a few only gave their first names.  Some spoke of art being an easy thing to do  - something I felt most artists outside their sphere of mental or physical need would never say because it was so at odds with the narrative of effort and difficulty of which  artists usually speak. Some encouraged others to take up a brush or marker to try making art themselves, another thing you don't find artists who think they've achieved some status doing unless it's in a class they are being paid to teach.

If I tried to assess the work as if it had been in any mixed show say at the RWA in Bristol or the Newlyn Society I think no one would have seen it as unusual without the accompanying information about the artist's ill health or difficult life circumstances.

'Critical Mass' by Jeremy James Lovely

Some of the information would have simply been interesting but much of it spoke of problems, exclusion, mental stress.

'Pink rain and rain' by George J Harding

So, I am left with a mixture of feelings about the whole thing. It's as interesting as many shows. It wouldn't be there as it is if the health and art organisations didn't exist. It's in a way preserving a ghetto for outsiders but then again it's giving a few a treat of being seen, written about, encouraged.
'An Assortment of Characters' by Alex

What of the 290 not selected, left much as the refused of any group show, disappointed, told to try again?

'A Distant Echo over the Atlantic Ocean ' by Peter Matthews

Could the organisers have shown all the refused ones in a slide show? Should they have had a larger exhibition and been inclusive rather than reproducing the art world circumstances of some being chosen and no one knowing what criteria other than personal taste prevailed?

I took photos of some of the work. More selection and exclusion.
'Trip to National Portrait Gallery' by Peter Sutton

I was interested in the show and it made me think about the craziness of how anyone gets a break to show the world something they make.