Monday, 28 January 2013

Distinct lack of snakes in an exhibition of ladders at The Brewhouse...

Ladders, ladders everywhere you look. Hmmm...I think it’s fair to say there is a clear theme in Andy Davey’s exhibition currently on at The Brewhouse! The show features over 30 mixed media drawings, three massive paintings as well as several actual ladders on the wall – if merely looking at a ladder gives you feelings of vertigo then look away now!

As a fellow artist whose own work features agricultural and hand tools, I can understand how easy it is to become obsessed with drawing/and re-drawing the seemingly mundane. The simple fact of the matter is, the more you spend time looking at these objects [ladders/tools] the more reason you find to be fascinated by them. Initially for me, it was the formal qualities of tools that appealed to me; their shape, texture, colour and surfaces were something I wanted to make art about. My ‘relationship’ with tools in my own work later gained greater significance as I developed my practice and began to question it more whilst studying. With Davey’s drawings [some of which more fragmented and abstract than others] I get the impression that it is also the formal qualities of, in this case, ladders that is the basis for his work. The negative shapes and spaces in and around the ladder are deconstructed and reassembled amongst the (also fragmented) forms of the ladder itself.

Part of me did wonder if maybe Andy starts these drawings by chopping up an actual ladder and sticking it back together. Regardless of the exact process he may use the results are exciting, dynamic and lively compositions that almost quiver with a sense of movement and rhythm more familiar to the design of jazz posters than a ladder. These kinds of work, I anticipate, possibly leave your average viewer thinking, ‘What? That’s a ladder?!’ Who ever knew that the humble ladder could be so dynamic! Despite the places my work has taken me, what has always appealed to me about art has always been the same and that’s arts ability to give new perspective on things that we know well/are familiar with. So it is very refreshing to be reminded of this in Davey’s exhibition of work.

If anything the exhibition isn’t really about ladders at all, it’s about drawing and as the title suggests, ‘work’ and ‘surface’ which Davey has done even to the extent of drawing on the gallery walls themselves! The painted surfaces are layered, dragged and scrapped through revealing and disguising the structure of the ladder in the work so despite the dominance of the ladder as a ‘grid-like’ structure the work doesn’t look as geometric and slick as you might expect. They are much more gestural and expressive with the ladder often emerging out of a cloud-like vapour. Yet despite all the symbolism that the ladder and the cloud-like forms in some of the drawings could suggest I don’t, personally, read too much into them metaphorically. They could quite easily become, ladders to heaven, ladders to earth, Jacob’s ladder and many other sorts of associations (and maybe to some people they do) but for me they are more formal than that, a more compositional thing used to create an image/mark making/expressive. Who knows? Maybe they have personal significance or attachment to Andy, we’ll find out at the artist’s talk on February 6th (see note below). I find myself making links between Davey’s drawings and the work of,  Jasper Johns, Larry Rivers and Richard Hamilton’s paintings all of whom have depicted objects in their work but they’re [the objects] are always a kind of trace of the whole thing and it’s often not entirely clear what you are looking at. I prefer Andy’s more black and white drawings, as I’m not so keen on some of the colour combinations on some of the coloured works –which could just be down to a matter of taste. I’d like to know how he does choose his colours, a question I will save for Wednesday 6th. The only other thing was that I wouldn’t have minded a ladder of my own so I could see some of the drawings close up as they are hung high (mostly because there are so many and the hanging also mimics the height of the actual ladder on the adjacent wall) but then maybe I just need grow taller!
 Andy Davey’s, ‘Work : Surface’ can be seen at The Brewhouse until, February 23rd. Or come along on Wednesday 6th February to an artist’s talk, with the artist himself! More details can be found on:

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Pecha Kucha at the Brew

Have a look, have a listen as 15 artists talk about their work over ten slides in 2 minutes (oO-er!)
Click on the link here:
Then have a read of my thoughts on the whole thing (plus some more info about what a pecha kucha actually is) below!
"This Pecha Kucha formed part of the Reveal Artist Dialogue Session at The Brewhouse, Taunton on 9 Jan 2013. 15 Artists presented 10 images for 10 seconds each. The aim was to pair up artists to make collaborative work over the next 6 months. Although some artists saw potential pairs others were looking for specific types of artists from different disciplines, i.e. digital media, that weren't present on the evening. Various ways forward were suggested - to put out a call for others to come forward, to look at other forms of collaboration that may not rely on locality or specific practices? One such suggestion was to look at collaborating remotely either through correspondence or by the web? Next steps - For artists to use the comments section to suggest ideas, pairs, ways forward. These ideas will be reviewed by the group in early February."
Funny, I don't seem to have much problem with making impromptu speeches at various art/none-art, formal and informal occasions. But for some reason the prospect of having only two minutes to explain succinctly my art practice of the last six years absolutely terrified me! After finally having installed a fairly decent capability to talk about my work in depth, I am now in a situation where I have to condense, refine and whittle away to the few key issues. There'll be no time to warbble on Heidegger, waffle on Merleau-Ponty or pontificate on epistemology here! And maybe, I should be happy - 'how refreshing, how liberating to be free from the ties of theory and over explanation that art is sometimes endanger of over-doing'...The images aka 'the art work', should really always speak for itself. Easier said than done!
Nonetheless, the challenge appealed to me and maybe there is a 'zen-like' wisdom to be gleaned from the whole experience. So the events of the evening of Wednesday 9th Jan transpired in an experience that I can only imagine must be similar to speed-dating (but with art instead of the romance, obviously!) in the way it felt difficult to 'take it all in' when the only thing really on my mind was trying to remember what the heck I was going to say and how I was going to fit it all in two minutes! Still, when my time finally came to speak, apart from what was, at the start, the fastest bit of talking in the history of pecha kucha's I eventually found my pace before speeding up again towards the end. Sigh! Delivery aside, the content of what I wanted to say was there (just about) and hopefully the images did most of the talking. Good, so we're still learning. I think if I ever did one of these again I'd just say some words or write a poem or something and really reduce it down to the key ideas. Less is more?...
Having the opportunity to re-listen and see my fellow artist, pecha kucha-ers again on the blog link (above) has been so useful. Perhaps a flaw in the pecha kucha process is that there is much emphasis on actually, 'doing' the two minute talk when in fact the art of listening and processing what is being said in those two minute talks is also a skill -and to be frank, one I was incapable of under the pressure of having to talk myself. I wonder if any of the other artists also felt this way? It may come as a surprise to some people, that I actually prefer to listen than to talk (yes, really!) and would have possibly preferred the role of an active viewer, listening intently and thinking about what was being said. I doff my hat to anyone capable of processing all what was said as well as actually doing a talk themselves.
So, after all this reflection, let's watch this space and see who 'pairs' up with who. I'd certainly like to collaborate with someone, Andy Davey being so far at the top of that list, as I think there's lots in common in terms of the drawing nature to both our practices. However, there is also the debate of whether working with someone completely different to your work, is equally if not more insightful? I don't know, I'm not particularly looking for a radical new change but want to improve and keep rekindling the path I'm already working on. All food for thought. We shall see with eagar anticipation what happens next...Although I would also interested in hearing from anyone who looks at the blog and has suggestions of which artists they'd think would be good to put together.
Let me know! 

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Currently showing...

I've recently hung a selection of my work at Somerset College in the White Space of the Arts and Design building:

The work presented is a selection of mono prints and drawings made during the course of my MA in Fine Art with Plymouth University from 2010 -2012. Whilst the theme of the work [tools] remains the same throughout, the exhibition also highlights the evolution in my thinking and ideas from the more representational depiction of tools to (what also became my final body of work for my MA) using the tools themselves to draw with and make marks.

Featuring mono prints from the tool collections at Somerset Heritage Centre.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Can the can! Book review: Chris Chapman '100 Cans'


So, welcome to the blog! Anyone who used to read my exploits on the SAW blog will be familiar that every once and a while I used to create a post that reviews a new art book. Therefore, it is with great pleasure that I bring you those same proceedings here on 'spanner in the workZ'! This first review is very special as it features a self-published book by an artist Chris Chapman. I'll make no apologies for my obvious bias for the simple fact that Chris is a good friend of mine and peer whom I studied Fine Art with at Somerset College. Nonetheless I wish to (as objectively as I can) pay dues, review and acknowledge in the public realm her work presented in this unique and professional book.

Titled, ‘100 Cans’ this book, pardon the pun, is literally what it says on the tin! 100 photos of cans found on roadsides, picked up by the artist and photographed. Sounds simple, and in a way it is, but therein lies its beauty. Who when out on a walk or in a car ever stops to look at a squashed beer can discarded in a hedge? Its rubbish, why would we ever pause to look at it, yet alone admire it? And you can forget about thinking about picking up someone else’s can, you don’t know WHERE it’s been! Chris Chapman DOES go picking up those cans, in fact she actively goes out specifically in search of them. Whilst most artists (and I hold my hand up to being in this category) are in the studio making mess from bought materials she is outside making it from the stuff that others have thrown away. It’s an exciting philosophy and one that has resonances of alchemy and the idea of ‘turning something out of nothing’. The intention certainly isn’t to make those who prefer the studio, like myself, feel guilty. I do, like many others, my fare share of recycling and don’t go around throwing my rubbish anywhere other than a bin, but it does highlight the issues of waste and how through an art practice of looking at something seen as ‘waste’ as ‘art’ can possibly be beneficial in pricking the conscious of our consumerist society and how we think about litter.

In Chapman’s words the project is fully titled, “100 cans after Andy Warhol. This book is one of a series highlighting the issues of waste, litter and flytipping in the local environment.” Art history fans amongst you will need no explanation to the reference this work has with Warhol’s silkscreen prints of Campbell soup cans in the 60’s-70’s. Back then consumerism, shopping and spending were the holy grail of American culture, the lifestyle, wealth, business and popularity that surrounded it. Supermarkets were galleries and galleries were like supermarkets to Warhol. Less than thirty years later and we began to see the affects of our consumerist and throw-away lifestyles. The glossy advertising, colours and logos of Warhol’s cans are replaced by the reality of their used, crushed, rusty counterparts in Chapman’s photos. In a painful irony Chapman’s cans look more like Warhol’s ‘car crash’ screen prints than his soup cans, but if anything it shows that despite his consumerist tendencies that Warhol was also all too aware of the fragility of man-made  objects. Perhaps in a way Warhol also had the right idea in highlighting the ‘beauty’ of packaging with his soup cans and brillo boxes showing a reverence for the packaging as to its contents. Maybe in ‘waste’ terms if we all had a similar respect or at least awareness for the packaging around the product instead of just its contents then maybe Chris would have to find another subject matter for her work?!
What’s interesting ,if not also depressingly accurate is that Chapman doesn’t need to put a context to these images in the way of saying where exactly they were found because they could be found anywhere. They are a common if embarrassingly familiar site on any road, park or hedgerow. Like the American artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles who swept the streets of New York as a piece of environmental art activism, Chapman is another one of that category of artists doing a service for society whilst also collecting the discarded cans that become the subject of her work.
For me, the images of cans in this book are depicted like ancient archaeological relics (each one coated in specks of dirt, encrusted with weathered signs of age, leaf litter and rust) are given the prestige of its own page, glistening against a white background. Some are almost unrecognisable as a can and become jewelled fragments each and everyone unique and of different shape. No two squashed cans are the same shape, the same contortion or the same rusting. It is easy to see how one can become obsessed with the formal qualities of these objects as each is so unique.
Walking to the shop for the paper this morning I saw several cans along the roadside and instead of not ever really noticing them at all, I began to first attempt to identify them like an urban can-spotter. I then actually picked several up and put them into a bag, ‘every little helps’. I can’t say that I’ll have the time or conscience to do this every time I leave the house, but at the very least I am more aware of cans and indeed litter than I used to be and if I can’t beat them by picking them all up then at least I can learn to appreciate them.
If you’re interested in contacting the artist then please email:

Or you can buy ‘100 CANS’ and other books by Chris Chapman at:

Sunday, 13 January 2013

New Year's Resolution

It's simple. One diary, one drawing, every day for one year. Challenge accepted!
A smaller than A5, possibly A6 (?) sized moleskin diary in fetching red.
Things have started off well, its just a matter of making it part of my daily routine. On depending how things progress I might publish the drawings in a daily blog for next year. Watch this space!

I'm aware it isn't the most original of New Year's resolutions, but I'm not doing it out of originality, I just think I'd like to improve my drawing by doing it more regularly and being more spontaneous about what I choose to draw (so don't expect too many, if any, tools!)