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.]

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Alfred Munnings at Penlee, Penzance

Alfred Munnings at Penlee House, Penzance, Cornwall, UK 2019 , 15 June - 7 Sept.

Alfred Munnings (1878 - 1959) is known for his reactionary speech as President of London's Royal Academy, 1949, in which he dismissed Picasso and Matisse as worthless.

His own work shows great powers of observation and is executed with a lively panache. His caricature of himself shows him full of verve as he attacks a canvas with outstretched brush.

He was inspired to live in Cornwall by Laura Knight's painting of 1909. 'The Beach' and he fitted into the Newlyn painters' convivial scene. He had sight in only one eye following a boyhood injury and therefore was rejected for WW1 service although he later became a Canadian war artist depicting horses in action.

Horses were Munnings' speciality. It jars now to see a trio of hunting scenes and Penlee try to minimise this by a caption saying that Munnings once had an exhausted fox set free. In a jolly Christmas cartoon he showed a fox standing on a stool joining in dinner as an equal hunter with the two human huntsman.

My favourite work was a painting of a blue stockinged young Phyllis Crocker looking very modern and pensive, seated on rocks with dark hills behind her.

There is a lovely illustrated poem showing a woman riding,with the words, 'My many cares I then forget In wide and peaceful eventide.'
I can't help but see this as a sad allusion to his having married a wife who tried to kill herself on their honeymoon and subsequently fell for his friend, Captain Gilbert Evans, who left to serve overseas. She then succeeded in suicide. Munnings magnaminously gave his bravura painting of her on horseback to her lover. Later he married again, choosing another woman who looked very well on a horse.

The exhibition includes works by other painters of the Newlyn artists' colony plus letters written by Munnings. Thus his work is placed in context and he comes to life as a person, excelling in his painterly realism whilst unable to comprehend the way modern art was developing in France.

Then as now there were many competent and worthwhile arists who leave us interesting observations without aspiring to be avant-garde ground breakers.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Helicopter Art ;Another hurling of the silver ball, Allard van Hoorn, St.Ives UK 2019

Helicopter Art:  'Another Hurling of the Silver Ball.'  Allard van Hoorn Sat 22 June 2019 St.Ives

Allard van Hoorn was chosen by Tate St.Ives to come and make a performance work around the town.
The practice of bringing in artists from elsewhere to seize on some, usually obvious and well known aspect of a place and develop work based on it is sometimes refered to as 'helicopter art'
Earlier in the year Anna Boudighuan had been to the town, seized on tin mining and Virginia Woolf and produced installations on these themes. A symposium in Redruth had recently discussed the phenomenon, it's curious characteristics, difficulties and absurdities.

Now a Dutch artist who nomadically makes presumably his living and his reputation by these means came to St.Ives Archive Centre and in one afternoon read about the town's two hundred year old ceremony of the mayor throwing a small silver ball, 

smaller than a cricket ball, for which the children of the place  scramble, returning it in the grasp of a small toddler to claim a prize before the Mayor and Town Councillors throw pennies to the assembled crowd.
Way back this somehow developed from the hurling games that occurr in other towns. 
As I think GK Chesterton said, a tradition is something that happens but no one can remember why.

So van Hoorn decided to make a vastly larger ball 

and in June rather than February, to organise  it's rolling around the town from the community orchard and skate park to the recreation field, through the graveyard and the  narrow streets, across the beach and to the outdoor rotunda  of the Tate St.Ives, where his sound composition was broadcast and can now be heard faintly from loud speakers.
He involved community organisations to help with this physically rather than to conceive the plans. The ball was not manufactured locally but imported from China. Local musicians, disguised in the folk tradition, 'guised' under net curtain veils, played a traditional tune and children were organised in a serpentine dance which others then joined in. However, this music was not recorded in the film made by Alban Roinard, who lives in St.Ives, partly using drones, which forms the subsequent display in the gallery. Rather than this van Hoorn made a background of repetitive sound recorded and manipulated on his digital equipment. The video is projected at large size for 20 minutes and the small silver ball belonging to the town is exhibited in a vitrine. However there is absolutely no explanation of what the whole caboodle is about, which a friend I showed around brought home to me is to leave  a visitor to the gallery who has no knowledgeable guide with them completely baffled.

My first reaction to the project was that these things are fairly ridiculous and rather than arising from the community are imposed on it for the greater glory of the visiting artist and Tate. It made an interesting record of what the town and people looked like in June 2019.

Then, when I attended part of the event I enjoyed it along with a lot of other locals who alerted by leaflets and publicity came out to watch or join in. It made a memorable day although I would say that anything happening in the street that gave occasion to meeting others and enjoying a pleasant sunny day would have been enjoyed equally. No one at the time I was watching knew why the musicians were veiled. Was it a reference to Muslim culture and burkhas I  joked impudently?

Of the video work people have asked if it is the work of Alban Roinard or of Allard van Hoorn? I heard a visitor say no one who wasn't living here would be bothered to watch the whole thing, which people like to do to spot friends or themselves having a brief moment of screen time.

I can't classify this as art involving the community, rather it uses them and entertains numbers of them.
It cost a lot it is rumoured in insurance and I have been told will not be repeated. 
I felt the urge to kidnap the big ball, claim it for the town and roll it next year without permissions, guards and gloved attendants , spontaneously and subversively.

It's an example of art being organised to provide spectacle but devoid of readily grasped meaning. Greater examination of the event I do not believe will reveal  more significance.
Artists are encouraged to spend a lot of time applying for grants or prizes or commissions that require them to move around, like mad tourists glimpsing shots of local culture as light entertainment and responding by manufacturing something rather quickly which is superficial.

I wrote to the local Echo newspaper and volunteered to go to Holland and make something on  a theme of tulips or go to Egypt to give a quick reaction to the pyramids.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Steven Clayden talk St.Ives July 2019

Steven Clayden talk at Porthmeor studios St.Ives. Cornwall, UK July 25th 2019

Steven Clayden drawn by Mary Fletcher

Steven Clayden, born 1969,  has exhibited widely. He has now moved to St. Just near St.Ives where he has been a resident at the famous Porthmeor Studios, which have allowed artists to enjoy space and time for work since the nineteenth century.

We saw slides of some work, which used a variety of materials, e.g. money in one penny pieces , gold plated camera lense shapes, resin painted to ressemble wood and squid ink.

He used a lot of highfalluting expressions such as ‘the onion skin of materiality’ and ‘an efficacy that extends beyond their materiality’, ‘poetic unknowability’ and ‘the work authors itself wth me as an assistant to it’.

He seemed to know much about many subjects, speaking in a slightly manic way, cutting a Beuysian figure without the clarity on politics. He cultivates ambiguity.

He made it seem as if his work is rather mysterious, compelling and highly significant as he proceeded with what he called a ‘conversation’ although it was a monologue.

Two of the audience had been impressed by his shows but it was impossible to grasp their content at this distance.

After 45 minutes I had had enough and luckily he finished then, battering us into a dazed state of puzzlement and making me wonder if those who, like him, speak of authenticity have the least of it.

Talk about Barbara Hepworth July 2019

 Talk about Barbara Hepworth,[1903-75],  Porthmeor Studios, St.Ives, Cornwall, UK  25th July 2019.

Sara Matson drawn by Mary Fletcher

Sara Matson gave a lively illustrated talk to a crowded room at the renovated Porthmeor studios, near to the famous Hepworth Garden of sculpture and the Museum now in the house where the sculptor lived.

The Hepworth marble sculpture ‘Magic Stone’ which belongs to the Penwith Gallery in her beloved St.Ives, is being lent to the Rodin Museum in Paris for a large show of her work from November this year to March 2020.

It seems Hepworth’s reputation is gaining much interest worldwide as a pioneer of Modernist, abstract, direct carving, unlike Rodin, who used modelling and casting.

We saw slides of the plans for the show and were invited to see Hepworth’s place in art history and her work’s special qualities as it developed.

Shirley Beck, in the audience, who knew Barbara, was able to tell us how Hepworth campaigned successfully to stop the St.Ives’ cobbled Fore Street being tarmacked and to stop the Island promontory of grass and rocks being entirely made into a car park. Hepworth welcomed children climbing on her sculptures, which are now usually protected from touch except where, as in St.Ives, they are out in public spaces as Barbara gave two to the town.

These aspects of Barbara Hepworth as local to St.Ives and yet known globally were interestingly juxtaposed.