Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Choctacular!

One of the tool-related unforeseen gifts from an a fab friend this Christmas 2015; chocolate tools by the Amazing Chocolate Workshop. From looking alone it is hard to believe they aren't real! I've had the pleasure of devouring many chocolate tools from generous/perceptive friends and family over the years but these are in a league of their own. I know little in the art of chocolatiering but I'd say these fall into the category of being art in their own right!
 
Enough said!
 
A worthy, delicious, albeit brief post to mark the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Happy New Year to all and stay tuned to A Spanner in the WorkZ for upcoming posts on my experiments in Silverpoint and the Drawing a Week Project 2015 review!
 
Happy Creative 2016
 
...and words in a sentence seldom used, "I'm off to eat these tools!"
 
 

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

"Nonsense is better than no sense!"

  I sell books therefore logically, I'm someone who fortunately enjoys books! I’m also an artist. I hope it goes without saying I love art. So anything that combines these interests very much excites me...
 
09:30am, Tuesday December 15th, a wave of euphoria descends upon the Mead in Taunton Somerset. The postman in accompanying van has just delivered a colossal-sized VIP parcel. The visual cornucopia, feast for the eyes, art extravaganza that is Hive 2# has landed!  
 
Hive 2# Outside Cover of Casing (left) and Inside Cover of Zine (right)
 
First swarming in March 2015, issue 1 of the celebrated visual arts zine (collectively known as) ‘Hive’ was formed, featuring the work of 12 ‘deliriously excited’ artists, each making work in response to the theme, ‘Track six’. Their work collated/distributed into the completed zine by issue 1’s editor, Stuart Rosamond.  See[http://spannerintheworkz.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/here-are-my-bees.html].
 
“With the ambition of publishing biannually throughout the year each issue of ‘Hive’ is guest edited by a different artist who sets the theme, collates the work, binds it and produces the cover plus any supporting content. The brief, that each participating artist produces a response to the theme on an A3 sheet of paper/surface in any medium of their choosing making either thirteen copies or originals of their work and sent to said editor. Each artist as a result receives a completed copy of ‘Hive’ featuring their page and that of the eleven other artists.”
 
Are we clear?!
 
15 Minutes of Fame. Selfie with Hive!
Nine months later and the second issue of ‘Hive’ has just been distributed to each of the 12 participating artists. They are; Nina Gronw-Lewis, Rico Ajao, Jon England, Malcolm Plastow, Frank Edmunds, Eileen Rosamond, Megan Calver,  Kevin Hawker, Stuart Rosamond, Tim Martin, Ruby Rowsell and me (Natalie Parsley)! Hive 2# edited by Frank Edmunds, has set the theme for the issue, ‘...the wrong side of 15 minutes’.                          
 
 What proceeded from first opening my copy of Hive 2 was a series of increasingly delightful surprises. Hive 2 arrives in its complete own ark, an almost zealously protective, bespoke, outer wooden case/sculpture complete with Dada-esque style collage of mousetraps, cuttings, painting and text. In the same way that Hive 1 had its own tailored CD of track 6 songs, Hive 2 has its own additions that includes an Andy Warhol, ’15 minutes of fame’ magnet! Whoop! It is like being a kid at Christmas, but a hugely refreshing reminder that art can be fun! Both uniquely different, both reflective of the characters/interests of their host editors. Inside Hive 2 features more accompanying Warhol quotes to the theme of ‘...the wrong side of 15 minutes’ which are dispersed throughout the pages in between the artists’ work. It reminds me of ‘The Jolly Christmas Postman’ children’s book which had the opening of envelopes and layers, of a book within a book within a book. This is a childhood memory and is something I’ve always taken delight in trying to incorporate in my own Hive contributions (my Hive 2 page includes a 15 piece jigsaw influenced by this very idea). Even in my offshoot zine, ‘Swarm’ [see: http://spannerintheworkz.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/keep-on-swarming.html] I have always been interested in the mechanics of books and book-making so that pages have holes in them, viewfinders, things to open and fold-out and are generally more interactive, tactile and open to discovery as art objects in themselves in addition to the content produced within their pages.

Snapshots of the Hive 2 Artists' work
From a Bookseller point-of-view it certainly seems as though the publishing industry has almost turned full-circle in recent years, in the wake of digital ebooks that threatened to topple printed book sales mixed with the recession and increase in online buying the publishing industry and booksellers have begun to fight back by recreating traditionally bound and special editions of books adding value with materials (surface design), quality of print, illustrations and more. Two brilliant examples being, the intricately designed fiction ‘S’ by J J Abrams that includes multiple inserts, recreated postcards, maps, notes and photos within its pages that become part of the storytelling and the elegantly produced, ‘The Strange Library’ by Haruki Murakami which combines imaginative typography and ladybird-style nostalgic illustrations. I digress but this tangent raises an important point on the imagination and creativity that can be involved in book/magazine design and I think is an important in the continued re-growth of physical book sales. Should more artists be making books? More artists involved in publishing?
 
The artist in me continues to be inspired and there is much to be enthused by in the zine process. They offer the collective opportunity to share/produce work with other artists/makers in a 2D exhibition that is sent through the post! Wonderful!


 
 

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

"I have gone where my passions have taken me."

Some blog posts are a chore, most a pleasure and then there are some which feel so significant, so important and so personal that writing them becomes a different experience entirely. This post fits into the latter and in its expectation and poignancy in influencing my own art practice has meant that collating my thoughts into writing this has been a slightly daunting process to begin!

I was the first to arrive. (Of course!) I’d booked my ticket in advance and arrived early as I’d never actually previously ever set foot in the Chelsea school of Arts, London. Luckily though through still looking like a student (I’m told) and some misguided snooping-around I had somehow found my way to the Banqueting Suite; a fairly grand wooden panelled room with large windows and ornately carved fireplaces that was originally part of the Royal Army Medical Corps officers’ mess. Now to wait...

I was there to listen to one man, possibly the most influential artist on my practice (and who should need no introduction to those familiar with my work). The date was Wednesday November the 25th 2015. The event, ‘A Conversation with Jim Dine’.   

The Banqueting Suite, Chelsea School of Arts London
Hosted by printmaker and Professor of Fine Art at UCA, Paul Coldwell, the evening was set to be a conversation into Dine’s practice, focusing mostly on his printmaking but also setting the context of the diversity in his practice; from the 60s origins in New York experimenting in performance art alongside Allan Kaprow and Claes Oldenburg to the artist’s recent ongoing print series, a History of Communism. Now turned eighty, Dine’s career as an artist has spanned, drawing, painting, performance, sculpture and printmaking. An artist who defies categorisation but who has and continues to make work that is deeply personal and intense using his own developed set of iconography that includes, tools, heart motifs, bath robes, Pinocchio and birds. In my own work, Dine’s tool drawings and prints have been a significant influence in both the importance and intensity I place upon the process of drawing, the choosing of tools as a subject and how I depict the objects [tools] themselves in the work.

In addition, Dine has always made numerous self-portraits and for those not familiar with these and his appearance, visualise, a more intense-looking version of Terry Pratchett minus the hat! I say this in reverence, for I was sitting as close to the front as I could get, minus the VIP rows (reserved largely, it would seem for the unfashionably late). The anticipation, for me at least, was immense!
  
Walking Dream with Four Foot Clamp (1965) Oil paint, charcoal & steel on canvas. 1524 x 2743 x 29mm















The evening began with a question from Coldwell asking Dine to give a flavour of what life was like during the 60s in New York; the beginnings of Pop Art and ‘Happenings’ performances. Dine replied that New York was without art collectors, dealers and gallerists, it "was a world we made ourselves" and quite literally in some ways with many of the performances including self-made sets and props from cardboard and found objects. He spoke of the ‘need’ to make work with Claes Oldenburg in what was a collegial atmosphere between the artists. It set the tone really for what became and still is the working ethos of Dine’s mentality to making art; prolific, bold and drawing upon the technical knowledge of others. The performance made-way for frenetic, gestural mark-making and has been the visual handwriting of the artist throughout his career. His work is charged with a psychological need, what could be described as a cathartic outpouring in the desire to make work and express oneself. Later in the conversation he stated, “I need to work with my hands...its physical for me”. 

Dine’s answers at this point were relatively short and matter-of-fact as I got the sense that they were questions he’d been asked many times before, but were in-part necessary for setting the scene. Although Dine didn’t continue with performance as an art form after the 60s, the qualities that came from the early happenings never really left Dine’s work, with some of the ideas about using everyday/found objects staying within the work and more significantly the way in which Dine continued to depict tools/inanimate objects as though they were ‘alive’ often positioning them erect as though standing or at other times framing the image as though they were substitutes for actors on the stage. Some of the aspects of 'performance' remained.

Elyria (2000) Charcoal on etching felt. 104 x 129.5cm.
Dine became more animated when talking about printmaking processes and drawing. Stating how he felt that when he tried silk screen whilst he was living in London, that the mechanical ‘flatness’ took what he called “...the life out of it”. As if to say that etching and lithography offer a much more hand-drawn type of mark. He went on to say that, Drawing is part of everything for me.” This is evident in his painting and even his sculptures which are as carved, angular and often feature the same type of harsh, hatched mark-making as the prints. From my perspective this was probably one of the most affirming quotes of the talk and echoes a belief I have long had toward my own practice, that nearly all visual thinking and creativity begins with drawing and that the more successful sculptors, films, performances and installation begin with some sort of drawing within their development. And for some the ‘drawing’ even becomes the work itself. Drawing is an embodied process and there is something of working with hands for drawing that is similar to working with the hand tools Dine depicts.

Tool Box 10 (1966) Screenprint on paper 603 x 478mm.
Many times throughout the evening’s talk I had the impression Dine was an artist that was very ‘real’, honest and not a fan toward some of the over-intellectualising of his work. This is refreshing and in-fact most times I have heard any artist talk about their work, they are nearly all often demystified as not being as academic and analytical about their own work as often reading about them alludes to. In part Dine’s compulsion to draw came from he admits his own dyslexia and that drawing was a way of expression without words. He said that it also helped him be able to work backwards, naturally, a skill useful in printmaking.

Dine spent many years growing up and eventually working in his Grandparent’s hardware store, which inspired Dine to use tools in his art. In what John Russell describes of Dine’s work: ‘Daydreaming amongst objects of affection’. Prolific in his depiction of many of the tools found there, the tools became a familiar iconography/trademark of Dine’s work. The tools reoccurring so frequently and with such intensity that Dine himself has stated they became self-portraits. The conversation moved to focusing on Dine’s ‘Winter Tools’ series of hand coloured etchings. Coldwell stating that these works have been said to compare to ‘Degas’ Ballerinas’ in their delicate line work and intent of placement within the ‘frame’ of the page. Described by Coldwell as, “Objects of desire/more alive than human”. They very much have a feeling of movement and life to them despite obviously being inanimate objects. The former statement met by much amusement to Dine, who tended throughout the eve to be very sceptical and apprehensive of interpretations of his work generally. I like his response better, “These tools are dignified...developed by guys who worked with their hands.” In many ways that’s what I’ve always been interested in too; there is a reverence and life of potentiality in tools as objects, their past histories and future possibilities charging these objects with a sense of purpose and in doing so shouldn’t be taken for granted.

[No title] From 10 Winter Tools series (1973) Lithograph on paper. 707 x 558mm.

Previous to this talk I hadn’t been that aware of some of the techniques and methods Dine uses to create his prints. He treats his plates like drawings, like paper. Speaking of the malleability of print and erasing as a way of drawing with power tools to sand/scrape back through layers in what was explained by Coldwell as, “...tension between classical print making and more urban approach.” Which slightly conflicts with the ‘hand drawn’ nature of some of Dine’s previous comments to which I suppose he still sees using the power tools as a way of making marks on a surface just not with a pencil or charcoal.

Braid (1973) Etching. 85.9 x 40.8cm.
Another aspect of Dine’s practice that I had previously mentioned earlier was that he is dyslexic and early in his education Dine used drawing was a way of communicating without words, a means of expression. This became apparent when the conversation turned to discussing the print ‘Braid’, Coldwell prompting discussion with the question, “Why write what it is?” To which Dine replied, “... it was about not having the confidence of being understood.” And even quite openly commenting in a good humoured, rather than remorseful way that, It [the text on the print] is kind of dumb...I am in your face. I definitely don’t think something has to be recognisable in order to be understood, instead this is an insight into some of the insecurity that perhaps Dine and I expect many artists feel in ‘wanting’ to be understood and have ones work understood by others (I've done the same thing myself in the past). Dine has always had links to poetry and words within his work and in nearly all his work there is an importance placed on the ‘recognisability of things’. Hearts, bathrobes, plants, tools are distinctive in his work but often semi-hidden or surrounded by intense, frenetic mark-making. It’s as though he is not content with being purely abstract and needs form to work from. Dine remarking that his ‘heart’ motif in many paintings/prints is simply a means of “something to hang the paint on”. As the viewer I want these hearts, tools etc. to mean more than perhaps Dine lets on, but at the same time I admire his tenacity to not want to over-complicate his work with his own brought meaning. Maybe much of the way these objects are represented owes something to Pop Art (though Dine may be reluctant to admit it) as there is a clarity, almost advertising-like way of presenting these familiar objects. 

A History of Communism (2012) Lithograph.
The evening ended with a discussion on Dine’s on-going series of prints titled, ‘A History of Communism’ made from reworking lithograph stones found in a former Socialist art academy in Berlin. Previous made work by print makers is added, edited and worked over by Dine who stated that he saw these works as, “landscapes” and as Coldwell observed that in these prints the tools really do become animated and like actors on a stage.  Dine references Pinocchio, a character often used in his work for its storytelling quality of what he calls, “a stick coming to life” which is in many ways, as I learnt this evening is a reoccurring idea in all his work. Coldwell notes that in the reworking of these stones that there is a contrast with the new life placed into these works with, “the deadening of the original lithograph”. Is it sacrilegious to appropriate/work into another artists work in this way? We don’t know the reasoning why some of these stones have been abandoned for many years by their owners particularly when it was created under conditions as repressive as those in Berlin before the wall came down (they’re estimated well over 25 years old). If anything the process is almost archaeological and their alteration reinvigorates them with new life and preserves them in a way they had previously gone unnoticed. The addition of tools and other imagery certainly adds a sense of the historical, the political and the confined which is also interesting given the circumstances when which these stones were originally worked into. Many artists may be offended at the idea of reworking someone else’s work but in this instance, I couldn’t think of anything more liberating and more flattering.  

After the talk had finished the audience were invited for drinks in the Green Room next door with the man himself. I’m delighted to say I got to meet him, but less so that after all my hype and anticipation, had absolutely nothing intelligent to ask or say! The evening wasn’t necessarily anything radically new or ground-breaking but reaffirmed many of my thoughts on the importance of drawing as a means of expression, the significance of a sense of life in inanimate objects, Dine’s commitment to his process/learning new techniques and above all his testament to shaping his career by following his passions/interests.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Conscientious Anarchy

It was only a few months ago that we were all queuing for Banky’s Dismaland in Weston to experience the anarchic spectacle as the artist unabashedly stuck the proverbial finger up at consumerist Capitalism and modern British political system. Now we find ourselves queuing again for Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy, London for the largest exhibition of the Chinese artist’s work in the UK to date. Whilst both are subversively political, challenge established ideas, question the cultural/financial values of art and are hugely successful at drawing the crowds there are still many things that separate them as unite them. I wonder though how many people will have seen both?
 
Weiwei’s art is anarchism that has found a conscience. If it’s possible for the two to work harmoniously together then Weiwei achieves it, in what are often very minimalist, conceptual and highly labour-intensive, ambitious sculptures/installations which subversively challenge human rights  in previously untold or censored narratives of events. It is highly emotive work and charged with the ongoing ethical battle ‘freedom of speech’ that has even seen the artist who was commissioned with designing Bejing’s Olympic Stadium and conversely also imprisoned by the state. Renowned Blogger and art activist, Ai Weiwei’s exhibition at the Royal Academy creates an interesting tension between the popularity of activism in 21st Century Britain and place within which political artworks sit within the institute of the art world.

Two open copies of Phaidon’s iconic ‘The Art Book’ (the A to Z of ‘significant’ artists from medieval times to the present day) lay open side by side. The English/American version features Ai Weiwei and the Chinese version does not. In omitting the existence of the artist in one but not the other probably does Weiwei’s notoriety more good than harm but also somewhat chillingly summarises what is the principle themes in Weiwei’s practice of control, censorship and the documentation of history.
 
'Straight' (2008-12) Steel reinforcing bars, 1200 x 600cm. 
If the meaning in Banksy’s work is a one-liner then Weiwei’s is a poem. Ideas and meaning unfold gradually and are open to many interpretations. In the installation, titled ‘Straight’, 200 tonnes of steel reinforcing bars lay in undulating rows atop one another creating a wave on the floor of the central exhibition space. It first reads as a work of minimalist sculpture. Whilst it is massively ambitious in scale it’s simplistic in design; made up of one essential material lain in a systematic, regimented form. The whole thing takes on new significance when you discover the detail and making behind the work (and I stress that the only real way to do this is with the exhibition’s accompanying free audio guide) that the bars are from buildings involved in the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 which have each individually been straightened by hand from their post quake twisted state. The waves in which the bars have been arranged now become shifting tectonic plates or waves off a Richter scale; each of the bars becomes symbolic of the scale of destruction and somehow quantitative to the number of lives lost. Even more worrisome upon the final discovery that the steel bars were taken from twenty schools whose construction was covered up by the Chinese government who after a forced investigation instigated by Ai they had to admit that corruption allowed builders to ignore safety codes when erecting the schools. Over 90,000 people were dead or missing as a result of the quake and it wasn’t until further investigation using social media and Ai’s blog that the names of the 5192 children who perished were published and in the exhibition accompanies the work ‘Straight’ surrounding it on the gallery walls.
 
[detail] 'Straight'
Ai Weiwei’s work is known for its use of traditional craftsmanship skills, influenced from Ai’s upbringing when the artist initially earned money fixing/making furniture. In the pieces in this exhibition such as ‘Straight’ the work utilises the power of many and communities who collected and reshaped the steel bars as well as assisting in the collection of data and names of those missing/deceased to be revealed. It is an empowering piece, the fact the bars have been re-straightened is in itself an act of defiance and resilience, an attempt to correct that which is broken. The architectural properties of the bars as well references not only Weiwei’s own relationship with buildings as an artist that has worked as an architect but alludes to the idea of architecture as a way of reinforcing control on people, upholding certain regimes or influencing behaviour. It is a theme which reoccurs in many other works in the exhibition, ‘Souvenir from Shanghai’ being an arrangement of brick, stone and rubble from the site of the artist’s studio which was built with permission from the Chinese authorities and subsequently ordered to be knocked down within weeks of its completion after relationships with the authorities and Weiwei had soured after the artist’s arrest and detainment in 2008. The authorities continue to survey and monitor Weiwei’s activities since.
 
For me, Weiwei is an important artist because he is one of a few contemporary artists working today that raises the importance and position of art in modern life and the power of artists within society. This is a concept which has been maintained by Weiwei in his blog and twitter feeds which the artist sees as an integral part of his artistic practice into the modern wider world. The role of the artist becomes a duty or obligation to the wider community or audience (but does not necessarily mean it has to lose its playfulness or questioning nature). It reminds me of other artists who similarly work within their communities/political systems such as, Gabriel Orozco, Mona Hatoum and Francis Alys.
 
'Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn' (1995) Triptych of black and white prints, 199.9 x 180cm 
Throughout history you had your Duchamps, Warhols and Rauschenbergs who somewhat arrogantly or playfully (depending on how you look at it) called anything that they signed, said, exhibited or mass produced; ‘art’ . They re-valued and reassigned what art could be and what the role of the artist was. Weiwei has stated being influenced by these artists in his own earlier works and in this exhibition presenting the piece, ‘Hanging Man’ made from a bent clothes hanger as a direct reference to Duchamp and Dada. Given a similar treatment are ‘Table and Pillar’, one of a series of works that explores combining two ready-mades from Qing Dynasty temples to create new forms and challenge the ‘value’ of history vs. the art object; ‘Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn’ and Weiwei’s coloured/Coca-Cola vases, again in which the values of cultural and financial work are questioned as well as the challenging of history, systems which it is documented/recorded and whom in society has the power to assign value to an object. The latter is an ideology is echoed in the beginning example of Weiwei’s omission from the Chinese Phaidon ‘Art Book’ to which Weiwei states a defiant truth, ‘The art always wins. Anything can happen to me, but the art will stay.’ Alternatively Weiwei’s intervention of historical artefacts is seen to some as a deliberate act of vandalism, but perhaps in a similar way to Banksy, the role of the vandal and the artist are subverted when both artists’ interventions often add a commercial and cultural value to an object? As well as questioning the nature of what vandalism is it empowers the makers as being in control of creating value to objects rather than being dictated by authorities or system within which the work operates.

[detail] 'Forever Bicycles' (2009-14)
At times all of this becomes a little heavy and one almost feels better not knowing of the injustice, corruption and atrocities. Ignorance becomes bliss, but I still acknowledge that they are truths that we should and cannot ignore. “Art is not supposed to repeat what you already know. It is supposed to ask questions.”* The show ends on a slightly more light-hearted note with the recently commissioned piece specifically adapted for the exhibition, ‘Forever Bicycles’, a chandelier  made up of Chinese bikes strewn with crystals  hanging from the domed ceiling. The idea of a journey, wheels in motion and circular routes in some ways mirrors the artist’s new found freedom of having his passport reendowed since it was taken from him by the government in2011. It ironically also raises the ethics of being an artist as whilst Weiwei is an ambassador for freedom of speech it could be viewed that in his chosen occupation he has to lose his own freedom in his commitment/celebrity-like status to his cause, “an artist is never free...an artist is bound by his gift, his vocation”**
 
Weiwei has more than once stated his belief that it is not possible to separate the art from politics in China and goes back to my own belief from earlier that he is an anarchist with a conscience, an artist who sees his role as not merely a matter of presenting the world but fundamentally trying to change it. 

 
Ai Weiwei is on at the Royal Academy until December 13th 2015
 
 
All text and images Copyright of Natalie Parsley©
*Kutlug Ataman from ’33 Artists In 3 Acts’ Sarah Thornton
** Andrei Tarkovsky ‘Sculpting in Time’

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Easy Glider - Peter Lanyon at The Courtauld

The Peter Lanyon show at The Courtauld in London is not as busy as it deserves to be! Perhaps though that gentleness is to its advantage and out of the four exhibitions I viewed during my recent art-binge it was one of the more enjoyable and certainly most dynamic. Seeing the St Ives born and Cornish-based artist’s work in the more urban restlessness of London was also something of a contextual surprise. If you have grown-up and/or been taught art in the South West at some point you’re almost definitely going to have come across Lanyon’s paintings; distinctly recognisable for their expressionistic depiction of aerial views of the Cornish landscape, mark-making and largely earthy, natural colours and tones. It is very interesting and relevant that he is being given this small but powerful exhibition at The Courtauld as one of Britain’s ‘leading post-war landscape painters’ raising yet more awareness beyond its 'St Ives School' roots.

 'High Ground' (1956) Oil on Board 48 x 72" 
This particular series of paintings, a modest 18/19 in total charts the progression of Lanyon’s paintings in response to his passion for gliding as a way of informing and inspiring his work. It begins in the late 1950’s and follows through until the artist’s death in 1964. A life cut tragically short as a result of injuries during a gliding accident.  In the early works, made when Lanyon had just started gliding such as ‘High Ground’ 1956 (pictured) the paint is very thickly applied; the colours more earthy and like Cornish stone, but also capture a sense of the weather or stormy nature of the elements almost attacking the landscape. The 'elements' of which become more prominent in later works. There are beginnings of playing with perspective and alternative/fractured viewpoints of ‘cell-like’ field shapes and harbour walls but overall the work feels blocky and more structured in a Cubist-sense of creating multiple viewpoints. In many ways they are abstract, though this is a label Lanyon strongly contested against stating that he was attempting to create an ‘experience of a place’ and what it feels like to be in that landscape rather than creating an abstraction from reality. He argued they were another form of 'reality', the 'lived experience' of being in a place. It is harder to pick-up upon this in the early glider works that feature more representational forms of landmass, fields, harbours and hilltops. They have the impression of being heavy and more grounded. For Lanyon his relationship with painting was very much about reinvigorating it, ‘painting has lost its vitality due to typically presented viewpoints’ and he sought to create work that was as dynamic and changeable as the environment itself; as he saw it, a ‘more modern, true relationship with nature’.

 'Soaring Flight' (1960) Oil on Canvas 60 x 60"
What better way to change one’s perspective than to literally change it by taking-flight and viewing the landscape not from the ground, hilltop, fishing boat or pier but from the skies above. A remarkable shift in Lanyon’s work begins to emerge with the introduction of the artist gliding. The landscapes he painted and knew so well from the ground became full of potential new shapes, colours and movement when viewed in the elements from the air. And it is fascinating to see how the painting becomes lighter and more sweepingly gestural with the more experiences he has gliding. In ‘Soaring Flight’ 1960 (pictured) the earthy tones of ‘High Ground’ are replaced with sea or sky blues, there is less densely packed structure and more space and areas of vastness that spill and stretch off the sides of the canvas into some other unknown limitless void. Lanyon even starts to put himself within these works, a hint of red referring to the wings of the glider. They feel as liberated perhaps as (one imagines) the act of flying itself and are full of a sense of movement, pace between areas of quiet and areas of busier mark-making activity. Though Lanyon doesn’t completely abandon painting the sculptural forms of the land there is significantly less of it present in the paintings made during the 60s. These feature more coves, skies and seas with hints of landmass in-between which could be a reflection of the greater heights and distances Lanyon would have covered with his increasing confidence and experience of gliding.

'Thermal' (1960) Oil on Canvas  72 x 60"
In other paintings such as ‘Thermal’ 1960 (pictured left) the work takes on more phenomenological qualities, the feeling of airy-ness/breath is created through the lightness of how paint is applied and painterly affects that look like meteorological weather maps and temperatures. This is even reinforced in the titles of some of the paintings, ‘Backing Wind’ and ‘Calm Wind’ which convey both the vortex disorientating trait of the wind as well as its gentle, uplifting side. The paint feels fresher, more immediate, done with the speed and energy of flight itself. In many ways they share similar qualities to Constable or Turner’s paintings in their attempts to capture the elements, the affects of weather and light in their landscapes. For Lanyon, however the weather along with the experience of flight became the content of the work itself so much so that some of the work begins to look almost minimal and less and less recognisable as being Cornish, see ‘Drift’ 1961.

'Glide Path' (1964) Oil & Plastic Tubing on Canvas 60 x 48"
Though it is interesting because I feel that Lanyon was always conscious that in all his experiences of gliding and the sensations it evoked that he was actually still making paintings; they had to work as paintings on a decisive, compositional and formal qualities level of thinking and never quite became in his lifetime purely experiential. In ‘Glide Path’ 1964 for example Lanyon uses bright reds and warm yellows amidst found jetsam and detritus in his studio. It could almost be an American Abstract Expressionist piece with its use of found objects and dynamic, gestural brushstrokes. The black plastic tubing acting as struts across the centre are used for both their formal qualities in the painting in addition to capturing something of the experience of being inside the glider looking out. If its possible to separate the two, I have always looked at Lanyon’s work as a painting first and an impression of a place or experience second but I also appreciate you cannot have one without the other.

In one of his last paintings ‘Near Cloud’ created in 1964 the work takes on an nearly unfinished quality, a zen-like realisation in the artist’s visual vocabulary where less-is-more, into the colour-theory based realms of other post-war artists like Patrick Heron and Roger Hilton. I still think Lanyon is actually the better painter and we can only speculate what direction his art may have gone in had he lived longer. This is a small gem of an exhibition in what is rapidly becoming one of my favourite art galleries. The catalogue alone is worth having as there is so little published on Lanyon’s work and even for those familiar with it, it is such a treat to see so many of his paintings all in one place! To all those not familiar it should be quite breath-taking!

'Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon's Glide Paintings' is on at The Courtauld until Jan 17th 2016

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Pineapple of my Blogging Career!

In the age of the email it is sometimes all too easy to forget the simple pleasures of sending or receiving a postcard in the mail. The ‘Wish you Were Here’ exhibition of over 200 artists’ postcards including Carl Andre, Richard Long, Dieter Roth, Bruce Nauman, Joseph Beuys, Yoko Ono, Ben Vautier, Gilbert & George, Susan Hiller, Gavin Turk, Ruth Proctor, Aleksandra Mir, Julie Cockburn and Mark Wallinger amongst many others collected by Jeremy Cooper should inspire even the most prolific instagramer that the humble postcard isn’t dead yet!
 
 
 A poll from 2012 revealed that only a mere
16% of British Holiday makers abroad sent postcards back home  in favour of social media.
Should we be concerned?  I presume environmentally speaking there is less carbon footprint to the electricity and power gone into sending an email than the air miles and transport required to send a postcard?(...It’s an interesting thought that I wouldn’t hazard guess how much it may influence people’s means of communication) Whilst not at the heart of its intentions,  ‘Wish you were here’ at Hestercombe in addition to presenting a showcase of artists’ postcards throughout history may also convince you that there is indeed still a place for both; that there is a skill and an art to postcards that supersedes digital modes of communication.
 
Peter Kennard & Cat Phillips 'Study of a Head XI' 2013
Despite my own interests in writing online I actually still do and enjoy sending postcards to unsuspecting friends as well as receiving them too. I even create my own to send! I think artists and designers have naturally continued and somewhat bias of me to say, but also naturally enjoy the creative challenge of either designing a card or writing on one. A traditionally A5 sized canvas of card or paper to work with, and even less room if one factors out the space for the address and stamp.
Is it possible to convey big ideas, thoughts and messages in such a limited space? You bet it is!
 Their less instantaneousness and time and thought that goes into their creation are in themselves skills that are worthwhile not neglecting. A postcard as Art offers fantastic parameters to make work, to be inventive and communicate. As such they continue to be used and inspire generations of artists today.
 
Such is the breadth of Cooper’s collection, some 200 of which are presented at Hestercombe Gallery as there is so much variety. As a whole it reads as a ‘Who’s Who’ of the art world, an anthropological archive of art history  from Robert Rauschenberg’s postcard featuring artist’s signature on a square of cardboard box, Susan Hiller’s ‘rough sea’ series of postcards of stormy British coastal scenes, Andy Warhol, Rachel Whiteread and Steve Butcher’s collage (pictured below right) mash-up of Piero Della Francesca’s ‘Duke and Dutchess of Urbino. Surely too many for one man to own alone so why not share them with an audience of many in what has been a nationally touring exhibition and book. There are cards here which are satirical, political, painterly, conceptual, minimal, jigsaw and place postcards. Postcards made of lead, toast, glass, with spoon and card crossing the whole art spectrum of media. It is a lot to see and take in! The show as a whole has a lot more to offer than pleasing nostalgia and though small contain some powerful art works that offer insight into broader ideas within a given artist’s practice.
 
Steve Butcher 'Wedding Portrait' 1989
I enjoyed some of the more word-based postcards in the exhibition, such as Graphic Artist Sarah Maxey’s ‘I’m at the Pineapple of my Career’ and many of the political cards such as 'Study for a Head XI' by Pat Kennard and Cat Phillips (pictured above right). Commercially speaking artists' postcards are a great art form to collect as they reproduce well in printed form and are easily portable. My only criticism is that it was hard to see some of the wall mounted framed postcards closely due to a double-hang and that’s not a reflection so much on my own height but the sheer number of postcards in the exhibition. The overall affect however is a joy because due to their familiar format they are artworks in which people can closely relate to. The scale and one-liner nature of many of them also make some of the ideas more graspable, the format is almost within most people’s means to have a go at creating themselves if so desired. I think it has the power to inspire a lot of people and generate an insight into artist’s ideas/practices. Incidentally, I am yet to find an artist who hasn’t at some point created an artist’s postcard so this is a collection that is set to continue growing! 

Currently not in Jeremy Cooper's collection, postcards from 'Routes, River, Rail' public art project in
 Taunton from 2010 in which I invited people to alter postcards of Taunton with what 'they would like to see'.
 (Pictured Tim Martin 'Where's the River?' 2010)
 
‘Wish you were here’ is on at Hestercombe House Gallery until February 28th 2016

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Keep on Swarming!

September 23rd 2015 marked the release of my own version of an artist-led visual arts zine, ‘Swarm’ #1. Here are some of the responses so far...

“...a fascinating compendium of cool!”
 
“The book has been beautifully produced and I am delighted to have been part of your enterprise.”
 
“It's really good, love the way you've assembled it!”
 
“It's always good to see the variety of work produced by a disparate group of artists (or, similar but not the same as you say), so that in itself is fascinating.”
 
“I've been showing it off to a select few people and they've all thought the whole thing was amazing!”
 
swarm (n)– a temporary collection of bees, containing at least one queen that split apart from the mother colony to establish a new one; a natural method of propagation for honey bee colonies.
 
Through a competitive, megalomaniac driven act of plagiarism, 'Swarm' visual art zine was born. A shameless hybrid off-shoot of its 'sister' zine 'Hive'! 'Swarm' is a compact version of 'Hive' in which a group of artists are united together in producing a visual art zine of their work to a set theme proposed by the editor (in this example, me). Each invited artist produces X number of copies of their page (X = total number of artists taking part) and sends them to the editor who compiles the zines and sends each artist a completed copy back in the post.
 
Maybe I got greedy, maybe too ambitious, but being part of 'Hive'* had feverishly inspired me and that what the art world was missing was, well more art! The aim was therefore to make my own zine with friends whom I'd met/known over the years who could 'Swarm' together and celebrate each others work! On a perhaps more sentimental level it was also an opportunity to showcase the talents of my peers to whom I owe a great debt of admiration and thanks for continuing to inspire me.

The theme for ‘Swarm’ 1# is ‘similar but not the same’ and features the creative juices of the following: (as pictured left to right, top to bottom) Chris Chapman, Phil Kingslan John, Mike Calver, Helen & Ama Gatland, Sue Hazelwood, Paula Forster, James Marsden, Elizabeth Earley, Erin Awon, Mike Cawthorne, Faye Dennis, Scarlet von Teazel, Natalie Parsley, Claudia Haffner and Graham Seaton.
 
 
 Each participating artist also received a 'Swarm' badge (pictured above) and there are only 15 copies of the zine itself as it isn't designed to be reproduced or sold. The physical copy exists as a way of owning and participating in something that is unique and quite intimately special. To those involved its purpose to provide a fun outlet to make work, share it and discover new artists! However for the first time I have also uploaded an online version so as to share the zine to a wider audience. The quality of image and printed feel of the physical 'real' book of course cannot be reproduced digitally but I hope it will perhaps inspire others for what I hope will be a future edition of Swarm! 
 
You can view the Online version of Swarm 1# by clicking here: http://spannerintheworkz.blogspot.co.uk/p/swarm.html
 

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Four Eyebrow-raisingly Good Reasons to Visit Us This Art Weeks

Somerset Art Weeks 2015 has begun and if you were wondering where might be a good place to start then look no further than Venue 1, The Old Brick Workshop in Wellington. Yes, I am exhibiting as part of a group show here, but if the allure of seeing my work alone isn’t enough (and why not?!) then there are plenty more ‘eyebrow-raisingly’ good reasons to make some time in your Art Weeks schedule and visit us...
 

1) A Brand New Brilliant Venue in Wellington, Somerset Set in a former Brick Works on the Poole Industrial Estate; I can confidently say we are as proud of the building as we are the exhibition within it. Under the enterprising vision of local business woman, Alison Cosserat the building has undergone a radical transformation, largely of which (and with many thanks) at the hands of local builder turned artist, James Marsden along with tireless hours spent by Alison herself, exhibiting artists and enthusiastic volunteers in the form of family and friends. The building now boasts nine sizeable studio spaces divided between the upstairs and downstairs areas, a community area/gallery space and purpose built exhibition space downstairs. Every gloss painted door, chiselled-paint removed brick, concrete floor and plaster boarded ceiling, spotlight and wall tells a story. We’d love you to come in for a nosey!
 

2) Loads of Art! This first exhibition features well over a hundred works by fourteen artists* including painting, printmaking, photography, sculpture, film and installation. In addition to our professionally curated gallery space there is also art work to be discovered in our corridors, upstairs and downstairs and in our community room gallery.  
*James Marsden, Anna Newland Hooper, Diana Pilcher, Debbi Sutton, Alex Conetta, Nicky Withers, Jane Mowat, Teresa Wilson, Ashley Thomas, Jane Kelly, Natalie Parsley, Alex Bangay and Judith Crosher 
 
3) We have Cinema Chairs in our film room! 
 
4) We also have a very fine looking propeller!
Duchamp's remark to Brancusi visiting the Paris Aviation Show, 1919; "Painting is over and done with. Who could do anything better than this propeller? Look, could you do that?"
Visit us and decide for yourselves?!
Venue 1: The Old Brick Workshop, Wellington is open now, everyday 11-6 until Sunday October 18th

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Art That You Really Really Will Not Have Seen Anywhere Else!

Yet another, but perhaps more self-publicising reason to visit our exhibition at The Old Brick Workshop this Art Weeks is to see twelve entirely new works I've created over the course of this year. After having a fairly substantial break from exhibiting anywhere, it is very exciting, enjoyably nerve-wracking  and important to me to have the opportunity to receive feed back and show new work again. They include some familiar themes of mine, namely tools as well as a few new surprises! [See: http://spannerintheworkz.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/art-weeks-2015-sneak-preview.html]
 
Apart from being a shameless plug for the exhibition this is the first in a series of posts I’ll be writing about that recent work in an attempt to understand it better and share a few thoughts on the making or thinking behind some of the work.

Natalie Parsley 'We Two Tools Together Clinging' 2015 Mono print and ink on paper. 24 x 32cm.

The more familiar tool related thread to my practice includes the work, ‘We Two Tools Together Clinging’ (pictured) inspired from Lee Lozano’s drawings of tools, depicted anthropomorphised locked in embrace or mortal combat [See: http://spannerintheworkz.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/post-lozano.html ]. The colour scheme unintentionally mirrors that of an early David Hockney painting, ‘We Two Boys Together Clinging’ whose title I have deliberately manipulated to fit my own. That is pretty much where the similarities end and recommend you visit the real thing as Hockney’s is an amazing painting!  Hockney’s references a headline from a climbing accident, "Two Boys Cling to Cliff All Night" which he propagandised into being about his own homosexuality at a time when it was taboo to shout about it publically/openly. I haven’t really assigned sexuality to the tools in my work, it could really be interpreted either way as I’m more interested in it being about a relationship of sorts rather than comment on gender specifically. The ‘clinging’ in the title of my work alludes to the human sense of ‘embrace’ as well as the function of clamps as a tool, to cling, hold or grip something. If assigning human attributes to inanimate objects in this work, the word-play of ‘tools’ could be read both literally about tools but also the derisive  slang of ‘being a stupid or socially inept person’. Rather than mockingly it can sometimes be empowering when such negative labelling is adopted by those it is originally intended to make fun of and there is a sort of strength in unity that these two ‘tools’ of any gender or social commentary have come together in a form of embrace. One could read it that way or of course, it could simply just be two clamps locked together! I enjoy discussion about the double or multiple meanings of art, how it is interpreted. At the very least that is what I attempt to do when I view or write about work I've seen. What is significant and important to me about this piece of my work however is that it is one of the first times I’ve used a title to manipulate the reading of a drawing I’ve created. That’s quite significant and interesting to me and will be something I think I will revisit again for future work.
 
David Hockney 'We Two Boys Together Clinging' 1961 Oil on Board. 48 x 60"
You can see my work as part of the exhibition at The Old Brick Workshop, Wellington. Open daily 11-6 now until Sunday October 18th

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Art Weeks 2015 Sneak Preview!

Exciting times ahead as we prepare for the opening of our Somerset Art Weeks 2015 exhibition at The Old Brick Workshop. I am exhibiting with twelve other artists but thought I'd give you a sneak preview of what my new work in this exhibition is about...
 
The exhibition opens 11am this Saturday 3rd October. Hope to see you there!
 
“Extremely weak. Fault of Pot. Seed”
 
On April 28th, 1992, Christopher Johnson McCandless hitched to the stampede trail in Alaska. There he headed down the snow covered trail to begin an odyssey with only 10 pounds of rice, a .22 calibre rifle, several boxes of rifle rounds, a camera and a small selection of reading material –including a field guide to the regions edible plants, the ‘Tana’ina Plantlore’. After surviving for more than 100 days McCandless perished sometime around the week August 18th from what was later believed to be starvation by poisoning. It is still uncertain whether the exact cause of his death was due to mistaken identification; the edible Hedsarum Alpinum (Eskimo potato) for the poisonous Hedysarum Mackenzi (wild sweet pea) or the mould which grew on these seeds during their storage inside a plastic bag. Despite the tragic circumstances of his death, McCandless’s story about how finding oneself sometimes conflicts with being an active member in society (actions which were deemed controversial to some) and inspiring testament to the search for enlightenment by immersing oneself into the natural world devoid of material possessions became the bestselling book, ‘Into the Wild’ by the writer and mountaineer Jon Krakauer.
 
 
Nineteen years later, I discover the book for the first time in the local bookshop where I work as a Bookseller in Taunton. Inspired by everyday objects, my work in recent years has been dominated by the tools found in my Grandfather’s tool shed. Taking that same fascination of objects and the possible stories they hold, I have created drawings of the objects that McCandless took with him on his journey. I speculate that I am curious too, not in the materialism he chose to abandon but in the significance and essentiality of the few items he chose to keep with him. Ultimately I believe it is about how books can be as informative, influential, misguiding or deceptive as the illusionary, interpretive qualities of art itself.
 
 Never trust an Artist. Never trust a Bookseller!
 
 You can see my work as part of the exhibition at The Old Brick Workshop, Wellington is open daily 11-6 from this Saturday October 3rd until Sunday October 18th