Happy Birthday Pierre-Auguste Renoir

On 25 February, City Connect celebrates the anniversary of the birth of French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir who was a leading painter in the development of the Impressionist style. As a celebrator of beauty, and especially feminine sensuality, Renoir has been described by art critic Herbert Read as “the final representative of a tradition which runs directly from Rubens to Watteau.” Read Renoir’s biography below to discover more about the life and work of this great artist.

Self Portrait of Renoir, 1875

Biography

Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born on 25 February 1841 in Limoges, France, the child of a working class family. As a boy, he worked in a porcelain factory where his drawing talents led to him being chosen to paint designs on fine china. He also painted hangings for overseas missionaries and decorations on fans before he enrolled in art school. During those early years, he often visited the Louvre to study the French master painters.

In 1862, he began studying art under Charles Gleyre in Paris. There he met Alfred Sisley, Frédéric Bazille, and Claude Monet. At times during the 1860s, he did not have enough money to buy paint. Although Renoir first started exhibiting paintings at the Paris Salon in 1864, recognition did not come for another ten years, due, in part, to the turmoil of the Franco-Prussian War.

Renoir experienced his initial acclaim when six of his paintings were hung in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874. In the same year, two of his works were shown with Durand-Ruel in London. On 15 January 1882 Renoir met the composer Richard Wagner at his home in Palermo, Sicily. Renoir painted Wagner’s portrait in just thirty-five minutes.

Renoir’s paintings are notable for their vibrant light and saturated colour, most often focusing on people in intimate and candid compositions. The female nude was one of his primary subjects. In characteristic Impressionist style, Renoir suggested the details of a scene through freely brushed touches of color, so that his figures softly fuse with one another and their surroundings.

His initial paintings show the influence of the colorism of Eugène Delacroix and the luminosity of Camille Corot. He also admired the realism of Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet, and his early work resembles theirs in his use of black as a color. As well, Renoir admired Edgar Degas’ sense of movement. Another painter Renoir greatly admired was the 18th century master François Boucher.

A fine example of Renoir’s early work, and evidence of the influence of Courbet’s realism, is Diana, 1867. Ostensibly a mythological subject, the painting is a naturalistic studio work, the figure carefully observed, solidly modeled, and superimposed upon a contrived landscape. If the work is still a ‘student’ piece, already Renoir’s heightened personal response to female sensuality is present. The model was Lise Tréhot, then the artist’s mistress and inspiration for a number of paintings.

In the late 1860s, through the practice of painting light and water en plein air (in the open air), he and his friend Claude Monet discovered that the colour of shadows is not brown or black, but the reflected colour of the objects surrounding them, an effect today known as diffuse reflection. Several pairs of paintings exist in which Renoir and Monet, working side-by-side, depicted the same scenes (La Grenouillère, 1869).

One of the best known Impressionist works is Renoir’s 1876 Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (Bal du moulin de la Galette). The painting depicts an open-air scene, crowded with people, at a popular dance garden on the Butte Montmartre, close to where he lived.

Bal du moulin de la Galette, 1876

The works of his early maturity were typically Impressionist snapshots of real life, full of sparkling colour and light. By the mid 1880s, however, he had broken with the movement to apply a more disciplined, formal technique to portraits and figure paintings, particularly of women, such as The Bathers, which was created during 1884–87. It was a trip to Italy in 1881, when he saw works by Raphael and other Renaissance masters, that convinced him that he was on the wrong path, and for the next several years he painted in a more severe style, in an attempt to return to classicism. This is sometimes called his “Ingres period”, as he concentrated on his drawing and emphasized the outlines of figures.

After 1890, however, he changed direction again, returning to thinly brushed colour to dissolve outlines as in his earlier work. From this period onward he concentrated especially on monumental nudes and domestic scenes, fine examples of which are Girls at the Piano, 1892, and Grandes Baigneuses, 1887. The latter painting is the most typical and successful of Renoir’s late, abundantly fleshed nudes.

Girls at the Piano, 1892

A prolific artist, he made several thousand paintings. The warm sensuality of Renoir’s style made his paintings some of the most well-known and frequently-reproduced works in the history of art. The single largest collection of his works – 181 paintings in all – is at the Barnes Foundation, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Renoir’s work has been very popular with the American market, as is demonstrated by the large number of his paintings in American collections. In 1990, Bal au moulin de la Galette sold for $78.1 million.

Renoir died in the French village of Cagnes-sur-Mer on 3 December 1919.

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Biography text reproduced from Wikipedia under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Happy Birthday Henri Matisse

Today, City Connect celebrates the anniversary of the birth of French artist Henri Matisse who was born on 31 December 1869.

Henri Matisse

Biography

Henri Matisse was a French artist, known for his use of colour and his fluid and original draughtsmanship. He was a draughtsman, printmaker, and sculptor, but is known primarily as a painter. Matisse is commonly regarded, along with Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, as one of the three artists who helped to define the revolutionary developments in the plastic arts in the opening decades of the 20th century, responsible for significant developments in painting and sculpture. Although he was initially labelled a Fauve (wild beast), by the 1920s he was increasingly hailed as an upholder of the classical tradition in French painting. His mastery of the expressive language of colour and drawing, displayed in a body of work spanning over a half-century, won him recognition as a leading figure in modern art.

Around April 1906 he met Pablo Picasso, who was 12 years younger than Matisse. The two became life-long friends as well as rivals and are often compared; one key difference between them is that Matisse drew and painted from nature, while Picasso was much more inclined to work from imagination. The subjects painted most frequently by both artists were women and still life, with Matisse more likely to place his figures in fully realized interiors.

The Dance

In 1917 Matisse relocated to Cimiez on the French Riviera, a suburb of the city of Nice. His work of the decade or so following this relocation shows a relaxation and a softening of his approach. This “return to order” is characteristic of much art of the post-World War I period, and can be compared with the neoclassicism of Picasso and Stravinsky, and the return to traditionalism of Derain. His orientalist odalisque paintings are characteristic of the period; while this work was popular, some contemporary critics found it shallow and decorative.

In 1941, Matisse underwent surgery in which a colostomy was performed. Afterwards he started using a wheelchair, and until his death he was cared for by a Russian woman, Lydia Delektorskaya, formerly one of his models. With the aid of assistants he set about creating cut paper collages, often on a large scale, called gouaches découpés.

Blue Nude II

His Blue Nudes series feature prime examples of this technique he called “painting with scissors”; they demonstrate the ability to bring his eye for colour and geometry to a new medium of utter simplicity, but with playful and delightful power.

Matisse died of a heart attack at the age of 84 in 1954. He is interred in the cemetery of the Monastère Notre Dame de Cimiez, near Nice.

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Happy Birthday Paul Cadmus

Today, City Connect celebrates the birthday of American artist Paul Cadmus who was born on 17 December 1904 and died on 12 December 1999. Paul Cadmus is best known for his paintings and drawings of nude male figures. His works combined elements of eroticism and social critique to produce a style often called magic realism. Paul Cadmus painted with egg tempera.

Paul Cadmus

Biography

In 1934 Paul Cadmus painted The Fleet’s In! while working for the Public Works of Art Project of the WPA. This painting, featuring carousing sailors, women, and a homosexual couple, was the subject of a public outcry and was removed from exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery. The publicity helped to launch his career. “The Battle of the Corcoran” was a critical turning point in the career of the young, 29 year-old Greenwich Village artist who was suddenly thrust into national prominence. Involving elements of overt censorship, it was brought back into the limelight decades later.

The Fleets In (1934)

As a young scholar, Philip Eliasoph was given unprecedented access to work with Cadmus to record for posterity the biographical details of his career. Completing ‘Paul Cadmus:Life & Work’ Eliasoph realized there was a missing piece as Cadmus’ notorious sailor painting was created for the first New Deal art project, the P.W.A.P. and rightfully belonged in the public domain as Federal property. ‘The Fleet’s In!’ had been seized by Navy admirals at the behest of Roosevelt administration officials for the Corcoran’s premier event showcasing the first examples of New Deal art patronage, the sexually explicit painting was overtly censored. Secretary of the Navy Swanson stated the [painting] “represents a most disgraceful, sordid, disreputable, drunken brawl..” [Time, April, 30, 1934]. Cadmus defended himself: “I owe the start of my career to the Admiral who tried to suppress it. I didn’t feel any moral indignation about those sailors, even though it woundn’t be my idea of a good time. I always enjoyed watching them when I was young. I somewhat envied the freedom of their lives and their lack of inhibitions.”

“This, then, is my viewpoint – a satirical viewpoint: and I think I’m correct in saying that genuine satire has always been considered supremely moral,” Cadmus wrote in his “Credo”, a broadside for his first exhibition at Midtown Gallery in 1937. In the tradition of Hogarth, Rowlandson and Daumier, Cadmus felt the urgency to use his artistic expression towards exposing the “replusive” and “malignant” aspects of human behavior towards a “nobler” society. In preparing for the artist’s first and only national Retrospective tour in 1981, Eliasoph sought restitution of the painting. He sought out the counsel of Karel Yasko, Counselor for Fine Arts and Historic Preservation of the General Services Administration, in Washington D.C. Since the end of the New Deal, the GSA had been given supervisory authority for federal property created by artists. Cadmus showed Eliasoph evidence that his painting – which he had last seen when he delievered it to Juliana Force at the old Whitney Museum on 8th Street in 1934 – had been confiscated and sequestered in an elite private men’s social club in Washington. The Alibi Club on “I” street had received the painting from FDR’s cousin, Henry Latrobe Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and a club member. The second ‘Battle of the Corcoran’ ensued when Eliasoph commenced a legal campaign to recover the painting aided by Yasko’s threat to the club to seize it using federal marshalls. With amicable negotiations, and a public airing of this “censorship” matter in The Washington Post, the painting was legally transferred back to the U.S. Navy Historical Center in Washington, D.C. where it is now proudly displayed. It was not until the opening night of Cadmus’ retrospective, at the Miami University Art Museum, in Oxford, Ohio, that Cadmus was re-united with the work he had not seen in over 47 years.

The third “Battle of the Corcoran” took place decades later when the homo-erotic photographic exhibit of Robert Mapplethorpe was removed due to pressures about its funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. In a published letter to The New York Times, [Nov. 26, 1989] Eliasoph reminded readers of “The Other Time Censorship Stormed Into the Corcoran Gallery,” noting: “while members of the curatorial staff..might be too young to remember the history of their predecessors, an earlier storm of controversy forced the censorship and removal of an offending artwork from the very same institution 55 years ago… As in most cases of artistic censorship, Mr. Cadmus’ work seems mildly tame and lighthearted compared with today’s notions of sexuality as seen in magazine ads and music videos.”

Paul Cadmus worked in commercial illustration as well, but Jared French, another tempera artist who befriended him and became his lover for a time, convinced him to devote himself completely to fine art.

Jon Andersson, who became Cadmus’s longtime companion of 35 years, was a subject of many of his works.

In 1999 Paul Cadmus died in his home in Weston, Connecticut due to advanced age, just five days short of his 95th birthday.

Cadmus’ sister, Fidelma, was the wife of philanthropist and arts patron Lincoln Kirstein. Cadmus is ranked by Artists Trade Union of Russia amongst the world-best artists of the last four centuries.

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Biography text reproduced from Wikipedia under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Nostalgia – Part 1

We live, it would seem, in nostalgic times. Clothing now hailed as the height of fashion by critics and fashionistas, is more often than not, derivative of earlier times; usually the 1960s and seventies, sometimes earlier. Often this is regarded by cultural critics as referentiality; a self-conscious and ironic invocation of the past through the replication of familiar images, known as post-modernism, in which nothing is produced, merely reproduced. Yet behind such post-modern referentiality is a longing for better times that is anything but “ironic”. In Part Two of this article I will be exploring this contemporary tendency towards nostalgia, in the light of the success of period dramas such as Downton Abbey.

Nostalgia, however, is nothing new. From the mid-nineteenth century the Industrial Revolution, which urbanised the English landscape through expanding cities and the building of new factories, gave rise to a growing nostalgia for times past and for a forsaken rural idyll.

No artist epitomises this reflective mood better than the children’s illustrator and writer, Kate Greenaway. Greenaway harked back to the eighteenth century for the inspiration for her character’s clothing, drawing her ideas from the empire line dresses and pantaloons fashionable during this period. 

Kate Greenaway

Greenaway’s idyllic childhood paved the way for the idealistic portrayals of childhood depicted in her paintings and illustrations. To this day, Greenaway’s romantic rural images, of immaculately attired children playing in lush gardens on perfect summer days, symbolise a yearning for a lost innocence which while seeming a little sentimental in our cynical times, nevertheless still speaks volumes about the English attitude to landscape, essentially one of melancholia and loss.

Born in London in 1846 to an artist father and a mother who ran a gift shop, Greenaway, along with the painter Helen Allingham, was one of the most successful female painters of her day. Greenaway studied at the Slade School of Art, after which she began producing illustrations and had her first exhibition in 1868, at the tender age of twenty-two, which included a watercolour and a series of illustrations for fairy stories. Following this, interest in her work was such that she received a commission from the editor of the People’s Magazine. This led to her being asked to illustrate Christmas and Valentine cards for a company called Marcus Ward. These designs secured her further commissions and she began to achieve a modicum of success as a freelance illustrator and by 1871 her annual income amounted to just over seventy pounds, by 1877 this had reached around three hundred pounds. In addition she held exhibitions at the Royal Academy, as well as taking in regular commissions from the famous London Illustrated News.

Illustration from The Pied Piper of Hamlin

Her partnership in 1878 with Edmund Evans, ostensibly the finest engraver in London, led to the production of her first children’s book, Under the Window. This secured her position as the most famous illustrator of the Victorian age and by 1881 her annual income was in the region of £1,500, not a lot of money by modern standards but a sizeable amount in late Victorian times.

A study of her work reveals a surprisingly broad plethora of influences. While at an immediate glance we discern a traditional and rather sentimental Victorian fussiness, upon closer inspection this use of detail and sense of design owes much to the Pre-Raphaelites and the Aesthetic movement, both popular artistic fashions of the time. Her passion and the prevailing subject of her paintings was nature and the study of the natural world, a factor which aligned her with artists such as Rossetti and Lord Leighton, key figures in the pre-Raphaelite movement.

Greenaway led a relatively sheltered life and did not travel much, a factor which is reflected in her quintessentially English drawings, though she was friends with some of the greatest artists of her day, including the poets Browning and Tennyson, as well as the cultural critic John Ruskin, whose ideas would later influence Oscar Wilde.

One of Greenaway’s most interesting legacies is her influence upon children’s fashions. The high-wasted empire gowns depicted in her illustrations and paintings became the fashion for those who liked to dress their children in historic clothing. This paved the way for a romanticised ideal of childhood, in which freedom and play, expressed through the physical freedom of the loose flowing gowns, became central to the notion of a lost innocence, of a forsaken childhood.

What is noteworthy here is the link between the “innocent” childhood and the “historical” style of the clothing in which the children are depicted. From an adult perspective and in the popular culture of the day, childhood is mapped as the lost idyllic past, a factor that is borne out by images of clothing that refers back to an earlier time.

May Day

When something – such as childhood, or landscape – is perceived as irretrievably lost it becomes idealised, like the Eden myth, and we are barred from returning to it by the proverbial flaming sword. It gives rise to a yearning – to what I have elsewhere described as a “wound of lost community” (The Resurrection of Oscar Wilde, A Cultural Afterlife, Lutterworth Press, 2007) – a longing to be elsewhere; to be in a better place, somewhere other than here and now. Because we human beings are quixotic creatures we buy into the myth of the perfect past, of the lost Eden.

These days, Kate Greenaway’s paintings, along with those of her contemporary, Helen Allingham, are often to be found hanging in pubs and hotels, teasing us with the promise of Eden with their images of happy children playing in meadows in flowing gowns. In our cynical times the child in the sunny meadow is still a powerful image, one that resonates powerfully with those who lament the erosion of the natural environment and the ever expanding metropolis.

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:
Firstsite
Lewis Gardens
High Street
Colchester
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

Art Deco in Amsterdam

Amsterdam’s artisan design movement today could be seen as an extension of its Art Deco past. Once home to Dutch Art Deco movement’s forerunner – Jan Torooper, his influence can be seen everywhere. Torooper was born and part-raised in former Dutch colony of Indonesia.

His influence, and Indonesian past can be found in minute detail in anything from furniture and architecture still easily seen today, as well as clothing, jewellery and art found in vintage stores on the Nine Streets and in flea and antiques markets too. One of the most famous Art-Deco tourist attractions within the city is the Theatre Tuschinski, designed and built in the 1800s by Berlage – one of the city’s most famous Art Deco architects.

Art Deco as I live and bathe

A Sauna Deco

Two distinct styles are at work between the Sauna Deco and the grandiose Amrath Hotel (see below). The Deco sauna is kitted out with swirling, organic forms in a fanciful French art-deco style. Thanks to the former owner of the sauna, the majority of the lobby area’s breath-taking fixtures were rescued from the scrap heap when a Parisian department store decided to remodel, including a remarkable cast-iron staircase. Spot the difference: some pieces are from the Dutch school of art-deco however, including the tiles around the pool, salvaged from the city’s bank (another of Berlage’s designs).

Zuiderbad’s pool

Perfect for a Sunday morning swim, the Zuiderbad first opened its doors as an indoor cycle track over 100-years ago. The Zuiderbad first became a pool just a few years into its life, during the roaring twenties. Though there isn’t too much roaring going on there these days, it’s one of the most tranquil spots to enjoy a swim if you can’t make it to a spa. Mounted fountains and original art-deco mosaics covering the walls give the impression of a Roman spa. In keeping with the Roman feel, every Sunday the Zuiderbad is open to nude swimmers for an hour (imagine arriving at the end of that hour?).

The Theatre Tuschinski

Almost psychedelic, the interior and exterior features of the Tuschinski are suggestive of dream-visions or early sci-fi artwork, incorporating both Art-noveau and Art-Deco styles. The switches between organic and otherworldly aren’t at all subtle, but it is nonetheless a mesmerising building. The Tuschinski is by far one the best examples of the Dutch Art-noveau and Art-Deco styles, and happens to also be a fantastic place to catch a movie or see live music. Designed and built by Polish Jew Abraham Tuschinski, the structure survived the German occupation (though Tuschinski did not) by changing the name above the frontage.

Sleep in Art Deco

Eden American Hotel

Designed by Hendrik Berlage, who also designed the Amsterdam stock exchange building, the impressive exterior of Eden American along with its 1920s extension is a national heritage building. Setting back from the street, the grand façade and fountain create a magical setting for a dinner date – the classic-cool of the entrance lobby could be anywhere from Miami to Berlin. What really sets the building apart however is Café Americain, the hotel’s bar and restaurant, detailing both inside and out belies an artisan triumph in art nouveau and art-deco styles.

The Grand Amrath

Built in 1890 the Grand Amrath hotel stands as a slightly macabre monument to the nieuwe kunst (‘new art’) movement. Close to Centraal Station the Amrath’s dark brick creates a forboding fortress-like exterior, it’s monumental size conceals a number of the design features from the naked eye.

The Amrath’s interior is an entirely different story, warm tones and beautifully preserved original features are everywhere. In the hotel’s spa you’ll find colourful designs in the updated pool area. An astonishing skylight illuminating distinctive decorative features, creating a cathedral-like space in the hotel’s main stairwell.

City breaks in Amsterdam and other European cities with holidays to Amsterdam with easyJet holidays website mean luxury at the best price possible.

© Adam Spawton-Rice 2012

Images courtesy of the author

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.

Miró at Tate Modern until 11 September

Joan Miró’s works come to London’s Tate Modern in the first major retrospective here for nearly 50 years. Renowned as one of the greatest Surrealist painters, filling his paintings with luxuriant colour, Miró worked in a rich variety of styles. This is a rare opportunity to enjoy more than 150 paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints from moments across the six decades of his extraordinary career.

Miró is among the most iconic of modern artists, using a language of symbols that reflects his personal vision, sense of freedom, and energy. The exhibition includes many of the key works that we know and love. It also shows that, behind the engaging innocence of his imagery, lies a profound concern for humanity and a sense of personal and national identity. Extraordinary works from different moments of his career celebrate his roots in his native Catalonia.

The exhibition also traces an anxious and politically engaged side to Miró’s work that reflects his passionate response to one of the most turbulent periods in European history. Working in Barcelona and Paris, Miró tracked the mood of the Spanish Civil War and the first months of the Second World War in France. Under the political restrictions of Franco’s Spain, Miró remained a symbol of international culture, and his grand abstract paintings of the late 1960s and early 1970s became a mark of resistance and integrity in the dying years of the regime. Telling the story of Miró’s life and the time he witnessed reveals a darker intensity to many of his works.

This is a must-see exhibition for 2011, filled with astonishing, beautiful and striking paintings by one of the greats of modern art. To find out more about the exhibition and book tickets, please click here.

Image reproduced from tateondemand.com/collection/3420/miro

Treasures at the Fitzwilliam Museum

The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge has a fascinating exhibition on at the moment called “Treasure Under Your Feet” which runs until 4th September 2011 in the Octagon Gallery. The exhibition consists of displays of various discovered treasure from the East Anglia region which have helped archeologists understand the life and times of our ancestors. These precious objects not only look beautiful but they are a physical and emotional link back to the people who used them hundreds of years ago.

Exhibits in the “Treasure Under Your Feet” exhibition are from local public and private collections – such as the above jewel from Colchester Castle Musuem – in addition to pieces from the Fitzwilliam Museum itself. Notable items from the exhibition include a Bronze-Age torc which was a piece of jewellery worn around the neck, a Tudor jewel, hack-silver used by the Vikings as currency and gold coins from the English Civil War which date back to the 17th century.

The Fitzwilliam Museum was described as “one of the greatest art collection of the nation” by the Standing Commission on Museums & Galleries in 1968. It houses an extensive world-class collection of art and antiquities covering hundreds of years of history from ancient civilisations to the present day.

Highlights of the Fitzwilliam Museum include an extensive collection of British and European paintings from the 14th century to 20th century, sculpture, furniture, armour, European and Japanese porcelain, illuminated manuscripts, and antiquities from Egypt, Greece, Rome and other ancient civilisations from the Mediterranean and Near East.

After working up an appetite wandering around the museum, you can stop off for a drink and bite to eat at the Courtyard Café which serves sandwiches and light lunches together with morning and afternoon refreshments. The North Lawn Café is now open until October and serves al fresco refreshments for visitors who want to enjoy the open air when the days are warm and sunny.

Admission to the Fitzwilliam Museum is free but we recommend that you make a small donation which will pay for the maintenance of the galleries. The museum is closed on Mondays but is open between 10am and 5pm Tuesday to Saturday. On Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays it is open between 12pm and 5pm.

Image reproduced from Colchester Castle Museum

Cambridge Open Studios 2011

July is just around the corner which means that Cambridge Open Studios 2011 is not far away. The editors at City Connect absolutely love this time of year as we are treated to some amazing works of art and, along with the public, are kindly invited into the homes of the artists themselves.

For those of you who have yet to discover Cambridge Open Studios, it is an event which allows artists to collectively work together in the centre of Cambridge and some surrounding towns and villages. More often than not, you will be invited into the artist’s home and will be able to buy pieces you fall in love with even if they are not showing them in a working studio or exhibition.

To add to the magic of Cambridge Open Studios, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that some of the artists go the extra mile and offer you tea, coffee, wine or nibbles as you explore their beautiful works of art in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

The added bonus is that the artists themselves are on hand to talk to yo about their work and in some instances commission you your very own piece.

Cambridge Open Studios is often talked about as one of the highlights of Cambridge’s artistic year. You will undoubtedly be inspired and see some outstanding paintings in addition to other works of art such as batik painting, ceramics, pottery, drawings, illustrations, glass, furniture making, painting, jewellery, photography, sculpture, textiles, digital arts, wood carving, enamels and much much more.

To participate in Cambridge Open Studios, a good starting point is to pick up your free guide book which can be found at various venues around the city of Cambridge. This guide book is bright yellow and hard to miss and this year it boasts 240 artists and groups taking part at over 178 venues across the city and villages. For those of you new to Cambridge, the Cambridge Open Studios guide book includes a map to make finding all the studios as easy as possible.

Please note that not all artists display their work on each of the first four weekends of July when Cambridge Open Studios takes place. To avoid disappointment and to make sure the artist of your choice is exhibiting work on your chosen date, please visit www.camopenstudios.co.uk.

Cambridge Open Studios will be displaying work on:
2 and 3 July
9 and 10 July
16 and 17 July
23 and 24 July

Not that you need any more encouragement but Cambridge Open studios are free to the public. Just keep your eyes peeled for the yellow flags denoting participating artists and galleries so pop in and have a look. There is no pressure to buy at any time and you will often find the exhibitors are happy to talk about their work and inspiration.

If you need a little more culture in your life, other exhibits around that City Connect recommends are as follows:-

  • Byard Art – “Capturing Cambridge” showing until 19 June
  • Cambridge Contemporary Art – “Sir Peter Blake New Prints” showing until 26 June
  • Cattle’s Yard – “Andy Holden” showing until 10 July

Images reproduced from camcreative.net, camopenstudios.co.uk and artreview.com

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
Rendezvous
Margate
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
Brighton
East Sussex
BN1 1AG
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