About Tony Foster

As a professional painter Tony Foster has established a reputation as a mural artist, portrait and figure painter. Working in a variety of styles and media he has a knack of bringing any brief to life, a trait honed back in his advertising days. After recently graduating with a Masters in Fine Art, his time is divided between his work as a practicing artist and teaching art and design at a Kent college. He also works on art projects with special needs students at the Canterbury Oast Trust. Recent commissions include murals and paintings for alpine ski chalets, character developments for an international branding consultant and interior canvasses for Stanley Spencer’s house in Cookham. For more details, check out www.anthonyfoster.co.uk

Art Review: Nigel Henderson & Eduardo Paolozzi – Hammer Prints Ltd

Colchester 02

On a wet and windy Sunday in Colchester I dropped by the new Firstsite Arts Centre with the intention of drying off and snatching a hot tea, but as I began to explore I found an unexpected gem of a show.

In a quiet Essex backwater in 1954, a design collaboration between artists Nigel Hendersen and Eduardo Paolozzi was about to declare war on interior design. Although brief, their venture produced a selection of gutsy, new wave designs embracing the new ‘brutalist’ movement under the aptly named workshop, Hammer Prints. They moved away from the safe, grey, post war era with works that showed imaginative, bold mark making and stark, inventive use of colour. Using their knowledge of photography and silk screening, images have been collated, copied and distorted creating patterns over a range of applications from wall paper to textiles and china wear. Early notes stated, “it is the objective of Hammer Prints that an attack be made on the craft field using the silk-screen as the media to be exploited.”

Colchester 03

Designs reflected their interest in science and technology and identified with international developments such as abstract Expressionism and Pop art, mass production and the technology of the day. So if like me, you’re a fan of 50s design you’ll be in for a treat.

Nigel Henderson & Eduardo Paolozzi – Hammer Prints Ltd.
Until Sunday 24th February 2013 at:
Lewis Gardens
High Street
Essex CO1 1JH
01206 577 067

Cliffhanger at the De La Warr

Richard Wilson installation at the De La Warr, Bexhill-on-Sea

A coach hangs precariously over a cliff edge, the gang at one end, the gold bullion at the other, its weight pushing them further over, but do they risk saving the gold or themselves by jumping to safety. Anyone who’s seen The Italian Job (original starring Michael Caine) will remember their dilemma in an ending which always had me frustrated, wanting the film to resolve itself one way or the other, but like the Richard Wilson artwork that’s exactly the idea.

The 1967 film was a flag waving romp with a bunch of our lads taking on Europe in a spectacular heist at a time when England, the world cup champions, still had a heavy car industry churning out the Mini, Jaguar and the Aston Martin. Now set in a recession weary Britain the coach seems well placed, looking over the channel to Europe where much of our economic future will be decided. The economy hangs in the balance and it’s anybody’s guess which way we’re going.

Richard Wilson’s intention is that the captured cinematic moment acts as a metaphor about the absolute limits of anything, an engaging moment. As a part of the London 2012 Festival the concept is brilliant, and the replica bus does rock backwards and forwards as in the film, but the massive supporting girders take away any sense of real danger. Standing any closer than from the car park, and the coach seems roughly made with no real attention to detail with silver painted panels instead of windows and roughly painted body work, but then maybe that’s the idea at a time when England has lost some of it’s shine.

Hang On A Minute Lads, I’ve Got A Great Idea… by Richard Wilson can be viewed at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea until 14 October 2012. For more information, check out the De La Warr Pavilion website.

Image courtesy of Tony Foster

Tate Modern Exhibitions: Damien Hirst and Kusama

Damien Hirst

I must admit that I was in two minds about seeing the Hirst exhibition, and after a long drive and walk through the tourist throng I was hoping for something new and surprising. But as I passed through the show I just couldn’t get a ker-ching sound from my mind which seemed to accompany the check list of shark, polka dots, other shark, pill cabinet, spinning paint disc, half a cow etc. And like a walk round stalls at a local funfair, although I didn’t come away with a furry gonk I had the feeling that I’d eaten just a little too much candy floss. The exhibition hadn’t gone any deeper to tell me something new about Hirst and didn’t go much further than the works that I’d already seen in other galleries.

A line of early wall mounted painted pots and pans (8 pans – 1987) did help to make a connection to the later spot paintings. But I found the early pots far more interesting than the later clinical formations of controlled colour. Hirst’s butterfly wing stained glass windows were impressive, creating rich kaleidoscopic patterns but then butterflies are beautiful and fascinating, stained glass too and yes, put together they make… a clever pattern using butterfly wings.

By the time I reached the turbine hall queue outside Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull For the Love of God I decided to move onto the other exhibition showing at that time.

As I sat in the upper café I found myself surrounded by giant, ketchup coloured polka dot balls, not Damien Hirst this time but just a part of 83 year old Yayoi Kusama’s retrospective for a career spanning 60 years. Focusing on the emergent moments of her defining works, the show charted her first paintings from post-war Japan, through to later sculptural pieces and her ongoing struggle with mental health. A difficult and traumatic upbringing in a patriarchal wartime Japan, and a promiscuous father led to a loathing of phallic symbols and the desire for a self-obliteration, later represented by covering herself and everything around her with her famous polka dots. Art appears to have been the therapy that has identified and delivered Kusama from her inner demons.

Early paintings were suggestive of strange, natural phenomena and baron landscapes, all painted with great attention to surface detail, a recurring theme in the artist’s vocabulary. A move to the US in the mid 60s heralded a move into larger, sculptural works and immersive installations. The stunning Infinity Net Paintings show an almost obsessive mark making of repeat semi-circular shapes on tonal backgrounds. The effect is an hypnotic mass of subtle points, reminiscent of a swarm of distant animals or billowing fields of wheat.

The Accumulation sculptural series of everyday objects and furniture covered in phalic shapes, growing like mushrooms over the surface, continue the artist’s fascination with obliteration. A single rowing boat covered in the phallic shapes like rampant sea anenomes sat in the centre of a room while the walls, floor and ceiling were covered in repeat black and white photocopies of the boat, apparently anticipating Andy Warhol’s Cow wallpaper by three years.

I’m Here, But Nothing, an installation of a furnished living room with every inch covered in luminous dots bathed in UV light, gave an unsettling sensation of the breaking up of everyday familiar objects. Moving on into the Infinity Mirrored Room Filled with the Brilliance of Life seemed to complete Kusama’s wish for obliteration as out of the darkened space, polka dots appear as luminous balls of light or stars that multiply exponentially into Infinite space, creating a magical effect as the viewer completely suspends the sense of themselves and considers the infinite.

Next to Kusama, Hirst’s work appeared gimmicky and straight off the production line. Rather than from an inner compulsion revealing hidden depths, Hirst’s creations are great stand-alone statements to grace the foyer of any large corporation, but won’t be attracting me back to a gallery any time soon.

The Kusama exhibition has moved to the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

The Folkestone Triennial 2011

If the town’s folk wouldn’t walk ten minutes up the prom to the Metropole (Kent’s pre-eminent contemporary gallery until its closure three years ago) traveling to another gallery to see a show would seem a pointless exercise. But when galleries can appear intimidating and highbrow, walking into a local church, library or just nipping in off the high street is much less daunting.

Folkestone was once a thriving Victorian seaside resort and latterly a ferry terminal for the Boulogne day-trippers until it’s closure in 2000, but now art is the reason to visit and the net being used to fish it out of the doldrums.

The town’s second Triennial has been introducing art into Folkestone via the Creative Foundation, a local initiative headed by ex Saga boss Roger De Haan, and Its everywhere you look. Fine for an arts enthusiast like me but many locals may quite rightly ask, what’s in it for them. The answer starts with some big names in contemporary art whose work is attracting cultural folk to visit and stay for a weekend; new restaurants are opening to cater for the newcomers, and the local coffee shops are bustling with visitors sipping cappuccinos and lattes.

Curator Andrea Schleiker has chosen to introduce an international selection for this years “A Million Miles from Home” themed festival. Balanced between migration, home and otherworld, many works reflect a sense of being in a strange place or on unfamiliar territory, while others speak of journeys and wanderings. All are sited in new and unusual settings, some in overgrown, locked up or previously hidden locations.

As an invigilator for the Triennial I’m happy to chat to strangers, and if i can help someone to understand a work then so much the better. Having invigilated half of the 19 works thus far, it’s easy to see those which stand head and shoulders above the rest on the popular vote. Hew Locke’s installation in St Mary and St Eanswythe’s church For Those in Peril On The Sea – a colourful display of model boats suspended above the nave receives well over 250 viewings each day, people returning with friends and family to share the experience.

Atop a large rock by a sandy beach sits Cornelia Parker’s bronze The Folkestone Mermaid. The body cast of a local woman is a direct reference to a stylised version in Copenhagen (The Little Mermaid) and like that iconic piece is one which will undoubtedly stay, adding to the growing collection of permanent works from the previous triennial.

At the far west end is Christina Iglesias’s Towards The Sound Of Wilderness, a sculptural piece of polished steel and green, textured bramble cast in resin. Creating an impressive viewing point or passage onto an eerily overgrown Martello tower and one which few local realized was there, the combination of rampant nature over the hidden ruin suggests a portal towards other worlds.

At the opposite east end of the town, the National Coastwatch station is showing a film created by Indian based arts group, CAMP (Creative Arts and Media Practices). In The Country Of The Blind, And Other Stories, a title taken from a story by the once local resident H G Welles, refers to the Dover Coast Guard’s blind spot of the Folkestone harbor area, and as in the country of the blind the one eyed man being king, alludes to the telescopic views which are echoed by the films framed presentation. The film is an hour long sequence of 50 edited clips of interesting, bizarre and everyday sightings, made all the more entertaining by the narration of the station’s volunteer group.

Other films in the Triennial include Promised Land by Nikolaj Larsen, screened in a disused bar by the beach in an area home to many asylum seekers. The film focuses on a group of migrants in camps near Calais at the end of long and dangerous journeys from Afghanistan and Iraq on their way to Britain giving an insight into their lifes and struggles just twenty miles away over the channel.

Light house In The Sea Of Time is a beautifully filmed and choreographed series of multiple projections of two Algerian lighthouses, built during the French occupation. Zineb Sedira has also included lighthouse keepers’ reminiscences of their life and love of the monastic lifestyle.

Smader Dreyfus’s film of Israeli classrooms, School, can be found in a series of darkened vacant offices above Boots. Each room has a screen, a representation of blackboards, where the spoken dialogue during lessons is projected as white text, the content emphasized in various font styles and sizes.

Upstairs in the main library you can find Charles Avery’s The Sea Monster. Skeletal remains of an unknown beast lays prostrate on the polished parquet floor, the combination of at least five different animals including horse, python and llama, and a continuation of Avery’s ongoing project, The Islanders. Illustrations help to decipher, but mainly add to, the visually cryptic clues of this strangely mysterious community.

One of those simple but brilliant concepts you wished you’d thought of is the Spencer Finch’s The Colour Of Water colour wheel. Most people when asked what colour is the sea would suggest one, maybe two colours at most. On various mornings I may text in my chosen matches of four different sea colours against the giant revolving pantone swatch, to be later hoisted as flags in the town centre.

A shop in the Old High Street has been chosen for the Boutique Kosovo, housing a rare and eclectic mix of traditional folkloric dress but presented in a fashionable clothes shop style. Erzen Shkololli has put together this collection as a reminder of the richness of traditional clothing design and their link to culture, whilst at the same time highlighting their fast disappearance and replacement by the bland uniformity of universal fashions through globalisation.

There are many others to be discovered and for me to invigilate, such as works by Tonico Auad, Hala Elkousy and Martin Creed. Some of which may perhaps be chosen to be added to the already impressive list from the first Triennial: Mark Wallinger’s Folke Stones and Tracey Emin’s series of Baby Things are just two. All seem to have been accepted by the community, and with a sense of pride as something important that belongs to the town.

Turner Contemporary – Margate

Tony Foster – City Connect’s art critic – visits the Turner Contemporary art gallery in Margate and reviews the gallery and it’s opening exhibition “Revealed” which brings together work by the visionary British painter JMW Turner and six contemporary artists. The exhibition runs from now until 4 September 2011.

The Lonely Planet Guide describes Margate as a town still striving to recapture its Victorian heyday of candy-striped beach huts, donkey rides and Punch & Judy puppet shows. But these days it’s more about amusements and chippies, and outside summer has the melancholy air of a town past its prime. That would just about sum it up except perhaps for the new arts influx.

Driving into Margate you can’t miss the collection of white angular boxes at the end of the harbour. Standing in stark contrast to the Victorian brick and Perspex, the Turner Contemporary (designed by David Chipperfield) appears clean and functional if a little clinical. Walking back from parking off the high road (the gallery car park is big but short on spaces) I was struck by the smaller detailing as I crunched across a path of white cockleshells and then the rubber entrance matting, spongy as a damp beach underfoot.

Apart from the far too small staircase to the main galleries the interior is well laid out. Inviting lots of natural light and sea views, the main entrance hall window sports an impressive yellow striped installation flanked by mirrors, Borrowing and Multiplying the Landscape by Daniel Buren.

There are to be no permanent exhibits at the Turner but regular shows throughout the year, a wise choice for its limited size. The opening show Revealed, is intended to link closely to the location and to Turner himself. Teresita Fernández’s work Sfumato, a glass bead pool and Eruption, wall mounted graphite fragments are both inspired by volcanic eruptions. Lava flows and reining ash clouds which in turn link to Turners own work close by, The Eruption of the Souffrier Mountains, in the Island of St Vincent. Both apparently refer to the explosive announcement of the new galleries opening onto the Kent art scene.

I was hard pressed to see any links to the Conrad Shawcross work, who’s impressive mechanical windmill with converging lights and spiral sketches all seem to follow their own rhythmical patterns. Although it was said Turner showed a great interested in mathematics, science and philosophy.

Next door, there could be no mistaking the direct references made by the artist Ellen Harvey. Propped up against a wall and in giant carnival letters the title of the piece Arcadia, stands outside a scaled down version of Turner’s own private gallery. Now turned into it’s own amusement arcade hang glass, etched and back lit views of today’s harbour, including empty arcades, chippies and tower blocks all glowing in the darkened space.

The final room is devoted to the work of Russell Crotty, surfer, amateur astronomer and artist. Three large painted orbs and giant sketchbook show ‘nice’ views of the local shorelines and incorporate his own thoughts as written responses to the landscape. The work seems lightweight but there is a clean simplicity, which is perhaps right for this show.

The new gallery is well worth a view if you’re local, but you’d have to be a keen art enthusiast to warrant the 90-minute train journey down from London.

City Connect Suggests

Situated on the North Kent coast, Margate is only a 90 minute drive or train journey from central London. The Turner Contemporary landmark gallery is just over half a mile along the seafront from Margate train station and close to all main bus routes in the town. The gallery is just a short walk from Margate town centre and the Old Town, where there are a number of artists’ studios, galleries and lively cafés and restaurants.

High speed trains from London St Pancras and Stratford International run every hour and take just 90 minutes. If travelling by car, there is plenty of on-street parking near the gallery on the Harbour Arm, as well as pay and display car parks close by at Trinity Square CT9 1HR and College Square (Morrison’s multi storey) CT9 1QA.

Admission is free and the gallery is open from 10am to 7pm every day except Mondays. However it is open on Bank Holiday Mondays.

Turner Contemporary
Kent CT9 1HG
Tel: 01843 233 000

Image courtesy of Tony Foster

John Cage at De La Warr Pavilion Until 5 June

Anybody who is familiar with the silent work 4’33” (4 minutes 33 seconds) will have some idea of the avant-garde style of John Cage.

I had heard of it but never listened, it’s just silence after all. But after visiting the De La Warr Pavilion, I found a performance on YouTube and discovered that there’s far more to John Cage than meets the eye.

Just like this exhibition at the De La Warr, look beneath the surface and you will begin to discover hidden depths of the man. As you walk into the main exhibition space you will find lesser known framed works in various media, pencil, etching, lithograph, aquatint etc; simple shapes and patterned abstracts.

It’s not until you sit and listen to the video documentaries that you begin to realise that the works, created through random but complex processes, point to a new translation of the world around us.

These are not works for those looking for energetic visual effects and quick sensationalism but if you have the time you will find art that deserves a deeper sense of thought and reflection.

A haunting, self-playing grand piano and works by a selection of artists inspired by Cage, appear throughout the building. Other events including live performances will be held throughout the season.

Image reproduced from International Review of Music
Video reproduced from YouTube / morbidcafe

Susan Hiller at Tate Britain Until 15 May

Having known little or nothing of Susan Hiller’s work (and travelling miles up from Folkestone) I was pleasantly surprised and relieved to find a show that was thought provoking and unique.

Hiller’s work excavates the overlooked and ignored aspects of our culture, finding meaning in the mundane and outlandish through collected images and objects, to reveal other meanings and contexts that take on a life of their own. Each work, the result of painstaking research and gathered data, rehashed and presented as something akin to a serious scientific study, invites the viewer to consider the oddities in life as something remarkable, even beautiful and definitely humorous.

Dedicated to the Unknown Artists 1972-6 gives unexpected focus to works of the forgotten artists who photographed, painted and hand-tinted seaside town postcards, at the same time reminding us of our obsession with weather. Hiller’s postcard collection features huge waves frozen in their full glory pounding British seaside coastal towns. When framed together, these otherwise discarded reminders of a not-so-hot holiday, have a dated, eerie beauty through their repetition and the use of sepia and muted colours of a by-gone era.

Walking into a darkened space empty except for what seems like hundreds of star like objects, are in fact speakers each suspended by wire from the ceiling. As their metallic surfaces shine out in the darkness and draw you in, there is a murmuring of distant conversation which rises and falls in intensity. You soon realise the speakers have their own individual voice each telling its own story, a witness’ encounter with UFO’s or alien being. Witness: 2000 has an almost religious feel, that of walking through a cathedral with the whispering of prayer echoing and rebounding, but here giving the usually discredited a sense of heightened belief and importance.

Magic Lantern 1987, a film projection and sound work, reminiscent of early trade test cards and colour eye tests, explores the body’s response to colour as a pure form. As I sat watching and listening through headphones as if a volunteer in some experiment. Scratchy sound recordings of an obscure Latvian scientist (who believed to have identified language in noises recorded in empty rooms) and Hillier’s own rhythmical chanting voice, added to the notion of my being part of a bizarre Pythonesque lab test.

Image reproduced from Tate Britain

Janet Cardiff at Fabrica Gallery Until 30 May

On a day when the Brighton anti-capitalist protest march was kicking off just outside the gallery, it may have not seemed like the best time to view some new artwork. But seeking sanctuary off the street in the former church, now Fabrica Gallery, had a surreal and spiritual effect as 40 angelic voices delivered the Spem in Alium (1573) by Thomas Tallis, one of the most influential English composers of sixteenth century. You can listen to an excerpt of the piece in the following video:

No live singers here though. The Forty Part Motet is a sound installation by Canadian artist, Janet Cardiff, based on the renaissance choral music piece by Tallis and sung by the Salisbury Cathedral Choir. It has been exhibited all over the world since its creation in 2001. Spem in Alium is not often performed, as it requires at least forty singers capable of meeting its technical demands. The piece is widely regarded as one of the best examples of renaissance polyphony and has been described as astonishing and magnificent, often having a profound effect on the audience.

Here each voice in the choir has been separately recorded and played through a circle of 40 speakers. Set to head height and surrounding the nave they act as representations for the human form. You can sit at the centre and take in the total effect, or freely wander along the line from one speaker (or voice) to another – when would you have an opportunity to do this at a live performance?

You can’t help but be moved by the strength of this music and the clever simplicity of the installation. Janet Cardiff is well known for her sound installations, working together with her partner and fellow artist, George Bures Miller. She has created an artwork that combines space with intimacy - a sculptural experience of the Tallis work where music connects with you in such a physical way that you feel enveloped by it.

On her website, Janet Cardiff is quoted as saying:
While listening to a concert you are normally seated in front of the choir, in traditional audience position. With this piece I want the audience to be able to experience a piece of music from the viewpoint of the singers. Every performer hears a unique mix of the piece of music. Enabling the audience to move throughout the space allows them to be intimately connected with the voices. It also reveals the piece of music as a changing construct. As well I am interested in how sound may physically construct a space in a sculptural way and how a viewer may choose a path through this physical yet virtual space. I placed the speakers around the room in an oval so that the listener would be able to really feel the sculptural construction of the piece by Tallis. You can hear the sound move from one choir to another, jumping back and forth, echoing each other and then experience the overwhelming feeling as the sound waves hit you when all of the singers are singing.”

City Connect suggests: The month of May is an ideal time to enjoy Brighton and while you’re there a visit to Fabrica to experience this installation is highly recommended. Brighton is approximately one hour from London by train. The Fabrica Gallery is within 15 minutes walk of Brighton station and the gallery is open every day between 7 and 29 May from 12pm to 7pm. Late night openings are on Saturday 7 May & Saturday 28 May until 11pm. The last day to experience this wonderful artwork is the Spring Bank Holiday on 30 May when the gallery is open between 2pm and 5pm.

Fabrica Gallery
40 Duke Street
East Sussex
Tel: 01273 778 646

Images courtesy of Tony Foster
Video reproduced from YouTube/theprof1958

Gabriel Orozco at Tate Modern Until 25 April

The Orozco exhibition, unlike Susan Hillier’s at Tate Britain (to be reviewed next week), has no constant themes. The accent is on diversity. Like Orozco himself his works are not rooted to one place, each is a focused response to a particular place and time resulting in a diverse approach to each work.

Yielding stone: 1992, a giant ball of plasticine sits on the floor as a brooding grey boulder in the gallery space. As an exact weight of the artist, it was rolled through the streets of New York collecting dust, dirt and imprints along its journey, a reflection of the artist’s movement at that time as a response to his life and the environment.

Sitting within the same gallery space sits Elevator: 1994, clean and illuminated on the inside, the open doors inviting the viewer to enter while its old rusting, rarely seen outer mechanical body provides a stark contrast. Orozco has cut away a section of the lift so as to relate it to the human scale as a sculptural piece. The work is a fascinating object, rarely seen in this way as a whale out of water, Orozco likened the piece in a gallery to “turning the peel of a half orange inside out”.

In a separate room stands a pool table named after the French variation,Carambole with pendulum:1996. Unlike any other pool table this one is oval and with no pockets. Two balls sit on the table while a third hangs suspended slightly above, challenging the viewer to try and hit it. There are no winners or losers in this game although the viewers are invited to make their own rules. The table applies some interesting physical laws including Foulcault’s pendulum that demonstrated the earth’s rotation whereas I only wanted to hit the dangling ball and almost succeeded in taking out an innocent bystander.

Image reproduced from www.indielondon.co.uk