Monday, 24 June 2013

What's cooking in Ilminster?

Last Thursday I visited Mark and Tracy Nesbit's exhibition, 'Physicality and Metaphysical Expressions' at Ilminster Arts Centre featuring mixed media paintings, sculpture and mixed media work from the two Somerset-based artists.
The work, isn't intended to necessarily be anything to do with cooking, as my blog post title may suggest; just that I cannot help finding comparisons in the work, its processes and materials, that remind me of some sort of alchemical cooking experiment. Mark in his paintings mixes and layers pigments, metallic elements (perhaps for added mystery?), hair, lime, plaster and more into rich almost 'baked' looking surfaces. They are scraped-back, flattened, cracked, heavy-looking and worn making them look quite industrial or urban (except the few which are portraits) and strongly remind me of Tapies' paintings which I had the pleasure of seeing in Barcelona earlier this year. I'm pretty certain Mark is aware of this analogy and would want him to take it as a compliment as in fact, I enjoy some of his paintings more than Tapies'. Personally, I am a fan of the industrial cogs, wheels and solid, angular lines and mark making in Mark's paintings and the way in which layers are revealed and placed over one another and connected as though stapled together by line. In a way that also makes them quite sculptural paintings. It occurred to me the other day that paintings that look sculptural, a 2D surface that is given treatment as though it were 3D is an interesting concept and illusion that I would like to explore further (but for another day!).
Tracy's sculptural works in some cases do actually use food and baking (see bread sculpture below) that she stitches and creates intriguing shapes and forms, no two of which are ever exactly the same. There is a sensitivity to the way she uses materials and how their handling, for me anyway evokes memories and nostalgia of baking and sewing with family members. I wonder if the other pieces containing remnants of scrunched tissues and slate with latex images stitched inside hold similar associations with ideas of loss and memory. At this point, I'm beginning to think I should have paid more heed to the artist statement accompanying the work, but was too curious in looking at the work itself. The work is more conceptual in nature, but I don't think it has to be 'read' in order to have affect or meaning as the work is tactile and visually creative. Materials such as tissues, lead, slate, latex and wood have been used inventively and thoughtfully. It does however raise the question and make me wonder if Tracy thinks through making or makes through thinking i.e.. does the material and process dictate the idea behind the work or is an idea formulated and then a suitable material and process found to fit it? I'd hazard a guess that its the first of those or perhaps a combination of the two.
It is really exciting to see such a diverse array of work in this exhibition that showcases Mark and Tracy's skills as makers as well as thinkers. I look forward to seeing what they'll cook up next!
(above) Mark Nesbit 'Old Hundreth' Plaster, emulsion, soot, metallic elements and compounds on canvas. [detail]
(above) Mark Nesbit 'Anvil' Plaster, lime, ash, metallic elements and compounds on canvas
(above) Mark Nesbit 'Human Construction' Plaster, lime, ash, metallic elements, human hair, boot polish and compounds on canvas.
(above) Tracy Nesbit 'Freebie' Perspex, lead, compressed tissues
(above) Tracy Nesbit's bread sculptures
(above) Tracy Nesbit
Catch Tracy Nesbit and Mark Nesbit's exhibition, 'Physicality and Metaphysical Expressions'
 until 29th June at Ilminster Arts Centre at The Meeting House,  09.30am-04.30pm daily

Monday, 17 June 2013

"The highest I will ever be in Taunton." -Somerfest 2013

Saturday 15th June marked one of the most spectacular and surreal experiences I have ever had; dressed in red, I set out in Taunton town centre to co-ordinate the volunteers taking part in the Somerfest parade. I had hoped that I may also be able to take-part in the parade myself instead of adopting my usual position of viewing and documenting from the side-lines. A vantage point, I'm all too happy to take, not being a performer. Still, I figured I could cope with maybe a little cycling on one of the several cycle powered vehicles taking part in the Somerfest parade. wrong was I! 
Those of you not familiar with Somerfest or wondering what I'm talking about, then read the info and view the images below.
For the rest of you, as it turns out, I wasn't going to be watching this one from the side-lines. In fact, I wasn't even riding one of the bikes. This time and maybe the only time, I was going to ride the tower! (see fourth image down) "Inconspicuous," thought my sarcastic mind. But also, "Amazing!" And "I don't exactly have a good head for heights!" Initial apprehensions aside, how wonderful it was to be let loose on a massive battery powered tower riding around the streets of Taunton! Finally, I could actually SEE the parade in progress, and not only see it, but BE in it as well!
The atmosphere was fab, the music was loud, the performers were entertaining and even the rain could not dampen our spirits. The commitment and enthusiasm from all the artists and volunteers was inspiring to be a part of and got me thinking; one, that we really need to do this every year and two, how similar the 'performing arts', music etc. is really the same as the visual arts or Fine Art. Why do we bother with all the labels, when at the core of what we are all doing is often the same or very similar, albeit to communicate an idea, express oneself, celebrate, challenge or question. A massive thank you needs to go out to all the volunteers, musicians, performers and makers that took part in making this event happen; Tim Hill, Dave Young, Tarn Aitken, Mike Pattison, Fuse, The Big Noise Band, Fork Beard Fantasy, the audience that came to watch and more!
And surely this is the point of parades and festivals, to involve the local community on mass; all ages and backgrounds. Perhaps what's more involving those,  like me, who don't normally do things like this, its slightly out of their comfort zone, but it also gives a sense of empowerment in that kind-of nerdy/fairy-tale-like way, that for one day of the year, even I-a mere bookseller can ride-on-high in a parade through my home town. I may never walk down the town centre and feel the same way ever again. Hopefully our audience will remember when a horse-like dragon came and tried to steal their hat, when a majestic boat and horn came sailing down from the Castle hotel, when the sounding of trombones reverberated off the walls of shops, when giants came and danced amongst jugglers and for me, well maybe when I was the highest I'll ever be in Taunton. And that is the power and perhaps a little magic of the parade!

"Somerfest is a celebration of Taunton, Somerset and green technology that includes an afternoon parade with splendid array of cycle powered vehicles , beasts and machines, banners, street bands and street performers.

The parade included a machine based on the winning design of a design competition together with vehicles seen in last year’s Para-Olympic games and Taunton’s Olympic Torch celebrations. There were also performances from Fuse Performance Company, the Space and Street Linx, The Big Noise Street Band and the Trinity Primary School samba band."

Somerfest and the events supporting it have been made possible by support from Taunton Deane Borough Council, Arts Council England and Somerset County Councils Creative Industries Fund.

The event has been organised by Tim Hill, Tim helped put together the Olympic Torch celebrations and runs street band events, shows and celebrations around the country
Preceding the parade on June 13th will be a conference on parades and processions, featuring presentations from leading makers of parades from England and Ireland including Bridgwater Carnival.

Tarn Aitken and the beast during rehearsals at Taunton's Firepool.

The astronomer's tower that I rode during the parade. Built by Mike Pattison, crashed into The Castle Bow by Natalie Parsley.

Two willing volunteers test out another one of Mike Pattison's creations on The Castle Green.
Like what you see? There's more. Check out the link below: 
And a history of some of the vehicles present in Somerfest at:

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

London exploits: Whitechapel Gallery and Saatchi exhibitions

A few weeks ago I went to London to ‘help’ hang the third year Fine Art degree students’ exhibition at the Truman Brewery, Brick Lane. I say, ‘help’ when, in fact most of it was hung and looking fabulous by the time I got there (and a good thing too, seeing as I was giving my time for free!) Anyway, those are the circumstances, which meant there was time left over for me to embark on some proper London adventures...drinking....meeting friends and well, seeing some art!

First time on Brick Lane! Busy, but not the same stressful sort of busy that the centre of London feels like. There was some great street art too.

Naturally, as it was my first visit to Brick Lane, it was also therefore my first visit to its’ neighbour the Whitechapel Gallery. A lot bigger than I had thought it would be, it also boasted an impressive art bookshop!

Gert and Uwe Tobias:  paintings, prints and collage at Whitechapel Gallery. Pictured here is one of their massive prints, whose organic, flat and surreal shapes reminded me of the visual shapes, symbols that Miro used in his paintings. Whilst they were fun and colourful (I could imagine would be a source of much delight to some) the work felt a little bit too flat and simple for my liking. The typewriter drawings/collages which were also present in the exhibition were smaller and more understated but in my opinion far more successful. The letters on the typewriter were layered on top of each other creating a surface with much more depth. Along with the introduction of collage in these images, they were a lot more curious looking and intriguing than their large print counterparts.

Karl Blossfeldt: photographs at Whitechapel Gallery
At first this may seem a complete contrast to work downstairs; monochrome, scientific prints of plants. However, I can see a connection with the way in which both Gert and Uwe Tobias and Blossfeldt are both in different ways inspired by organic shapes and forms in nature. Perhaps unintentionally they complement each other rather well. The images in this exhibition were fascinating and many. There was almost too many to see to pay enough time and attention to each image individually and I was surprised as whilst botanical photography was nothing, ‘new’ these images were really interesting, as the sharpness of the photo, its intensity and extreme close-up of its subject matter meant that it really enhanced and emphasised the architectural qualities of plants.  

It seemed that a lot of galleries were between shows when I visited London during these four days so I will have to wait to see the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and Patrick Caulfield at the Tate Britain, which were yet to go up when I was there. Instead, I paid a long overdue visit to the Saatchi Gallery exhibiting, ‘New Art from Russia’ and ‘New Order: British Art Today’. Rather than reviewing both of the exhibitions in their entirety I have chosen to write about a few of the works that stood out to me.

New Art from Russia: Valery Koshlykakov mixed media painting, ‘High-rise on Raushskaya Embankment’ (2006)  

 Koshlykakov’s mixed media paintings depict a dystopian take on classic architecture. Using overlapping cardboard  as a canvas, Koshlykakov’s paintings are notably more temporary  and ‘throw-away’ than the buildings painted on them. This exact contrast between the political symbolism, strength and robustness of the buildings against the fragility of the material it is painted on is the intended reading that the artist was going for. A collapsing utopia, the buildings appear fragmented and melting as though falling into disrepair or becoming held-together by cardboard scaffolding. These paintings are much more abstract close up than maybe one would expect making this work engaging from close-up as well as from afar. I thought it was subtly more subversive than some of the other work in the exhibition some of which was too obvious in the way it was talking about politics or political issues.

Love it or hate it, the one good thing that can be said of the Saatchi Gallery is that it is inherently different to a majority of contemporary art galleries in London in its choosing to display emerging artists at the start of their career and not opting for the, crowd pleasing sell-out shows that the Tate and National Gallery are known for. ’New Order: British Art Today’ does what the Saatchi brand ‘says on the tin’ and presents, in the first of a series of exhibitions, an entire floor of 17 emerging artists who showcase their work. On the whole I found a lot more to be excited about in this show than in the Russian one downstairs, but the painting, with the odd exception, in both exhibitions being amongst the weakest mediums represented.

James Capper ‘Nipper (Long Reach)’ 2012
It was a no-brainer that I would find this piece appealing, so much so that it is the only one I have drawn since in my sketch book. Sculptural and an excellent example of how taking familiar and putting it in a different context can create a new sense of awareness around the chosen object. Apparently the artist also uses some of these objects to draw with? Which also sounds interesting but I could only find images of hydraulic machines that leave traces from where they’ve moved along. I need to research more, but to some extent I’m reluctant to over intellectualise this work when it is intriguing enough as a piece of sculpture in its own right; looking both man made and like some weird creature/insect at the same time (and yes, a recurring theme in my own practice).

Alejandro Guijarro (From top to bottom) ‘Cern I’ 2012 ‘Cambridge II’ 2011 ‘Berkely II’ 2012

So, these are C-type prints; life size photographs of blackboards from different universities who teach quantum mechanics. If you’re like me maybe you’re thinking, so why take photos of the blackboards when you could bring in/recreate the real thing? The illusion and question of whether it is/is it not a blackboard is in itself almost as undecipherable as the symbols on the boards themselves and I suppose on reflection it is that same sense of uncertainty and mystery that is present in the laws of probability and enquiry that surround quantum mechanics (...?). Maybe?!
Or at least a searching for truth is present in both the concept of the illusion of the art image and scientific enquiry. Even formalistically I find these images a joy to look at, each with its own variations and as the catalogue points out they act as an observed and everyday real-life version of a Twombly, Pollock or Rothko. But is the artist trying to draw our attention to the formal qualities of the blackboards or more to the debate of what is art? A shift in thinking from the idea of not being able to create any art that is truly ‘original’ or new when maybe we don’t need to be creating anything new but instead noticing art in the world around us, i.e. we don’t need to create Twombly-like works anymore but may begin to notice Twombly style mark-making around us on walls, blackboards etc. So, there is less emphasis on ‘creating’ the next new thing and more about observing the world around us. That’s my hypothetical thought anyway. I found these images to be intriguing both visually and conceptually.

Nicolas Deshayes ‘Soho Fats’ 2012
Ripples, curves and waves are carved into Styrofoam using a hot wire cutter. At first I thought they were marble or cast from plaster so it was an interesting use of material and created a surface and finish that looked far more polished and precious than the ‘cheap’ throw-away stereotype that surrounds a material like Styrofoam. It actually reminded me of textured ceilings or wallpaper at first, but then I thought maybe it was mimicking the patterns created from the ebb and flow of the tide against the shore. Turns out it is more to do with ‘the human subject and residual traces’ and fat in the title, ‘Soho Fats’ referring to the fats in London’s sewers.  Really? That’s a connection too far methinks. Still, as far as materiality and process go, I thought this work was different and had I given it more thought maybe I’d have eventually come to some connection with human traces, but then does that really matter?

Gert and Uwe Tobias and Karl Blossfeldt are on at Whitechapel Gallery until 14th June
Gaiety is the most outstanding feature of the Soviet Union: New Art from Russia has now ended but New Order: British Art Today is on at the Saatchi until 29th September.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

"Wish you were here" -Contains Art

Looking forward to the opening of 'Contains Art' on Saturday 6th July. The launch or perhaps, anchoring of several artists' studios made from shipping containers on the east quay on Watchet harbour. Artists include Angela Wood, Melanie Deegan, Sue Lowe, Jenny Barron, Alison Jacobs, Tria Raffield  and Victoria Ward.
To mark the opening Contains Art are inviting the public to send them a postcard. Please see my own response below -as you can see it has nothing to do with boats, the sea or any such-like and it doesn't have to be. The more unusual the better. 
"Contains Art provides flexible, affordable space for artists, designers and makers to develop and showcase their work and to connect with the creative and wider communities of Western Somerset. "
"SOLD" red dots on Fernand Leger 'Still life with a beer mug' 1921-2

We must all welcome these iron ladies into Somerset, and what better
way to celebrate their convalescence than a decent prescription of art!

So sharpen those pencils, fluff those bristles and send us an art
post card, draw it, sketch it, scratch it, snatch it, burn it and wax it,
just go create and post it to Contains Art, The Harbour, Watchet, ready
for the opening exhibition in May. But don't just send one, send eight,
send in a whole darn crate, but make them fabulous for all to see for
the launch exhibition will be made of these.
Just follow these four steps...    

Prepare a postcard (A6 148mm x 105mm
in size)

Be creative with the postcard - paint draw, 
sketch etc.            

Post card to:
Contains Art, The Harbour,
Watchet, TA23 0AH

Attend exhibition and studios
Saturday 6th July
where a selection of cards will be
displayed for the launch exhibition