Archive for the ‘Art and Creativity’ Category

This is The End

The End by Heather Phillipson

The 4th Plinth on Trafalgar Square has proved to be a brilliant lens for Britain to look at itself through. The commissions are so varied that taken together they are also a rich record of British identity and state of mind at different times. Each commission takes into account the resonance of the location and its relation to surrounding public art, buildings, environment and the history linked to them. 

Heather Phillipson’s ‘The End’ is a worthy addition to the chain of public art that has temporarily inhabited the free plinth. It looks particularly good against blue sky and the collapsing gobbet of cream topped by the falling cherry matches the colours of the Canadian flags behind it on Canada House / La Maison du Canada. 

On one side is a huge fly, undermining any initial joy at the prospect of some kind of knickerbocker glory. On the adjacent side is a drone, on a different scale, with moving propellors.

a backdrop of the National Gallery

What does it all mean? There’s a sense of imminent collapse. An indication of rottenness. And a strong hint of surveillance.

The stalk paralleling Nelson’s Column

‘The End’ officially took up residence on the plinth on 30th July 2020, the 13th commission there (the first was in 1998). At 9.4 meters height it is the tallest so far and one of the brightest. 

The drone transmits a live feed of Trafalgar Square at www.theend.today Here’s what it looks like right now, the eye of the sculpture itself:

What’s the legal status of those two people? Is it legit to spy on them for artistic rather than security reasons?

The artwork reflects Trafalgar Square’s heritage and function as a place of both celebration and protest, as well as its highly surveilled state.

VE Day (8th May 1945)
Anti-Lockdown protest (26th September 2020)

Phillipson came up with the idea in 2016, in the shadow of Trump’s election and Brexit. 

“For me, we’ve been at a point of some kind of entropy for a long time. When I was thinking of this work there was a sense for me of an undercurrent that was already there … this feels like a continuation of that.”

It was unveiled in the middle of Covid19 year, delayed a few months by the pandemic. The perfect temporal setting for the piece. 

This is the end

Beautiful friend

This is the end

My only friend, the end

Of our elaborate plans, the end

Of everything that stands, the end

No safety or surprise, the end

I’ll never look into your eyes again

Can you picture what will be?

So limitless and free

Desperately in need

Of some stranger’s hand

In a desperate land

Jim Morrison & The Doors ‘The End’

Despite the title the artist does not envision the work as a dead end. 

“In the end there is the possibility of something else forming. There’s the chance of radical change inside any ending… there is potentially hope for something else.”

The artist

‘The End’ ends in Spring 2022.

The End

The hidden beauty of the world

“Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Defence of Poetry and Other Essays

The same is true of street photography and Instagram at its best. And of Art in general.

Shot on my phone on exiting the BBC – both men have ciggie in hand

Pictures for Finn

After Lunch (1975) by Patrick Caulfield [1936-2005]

After Lunch (1975) by Patrick Caulfield [1936-2005]

Foyer (1973) - Patrick Caulfield

Foyer (1973) by Patrick Caulfield

The Splash (1966) by David Hockney [1937- ]

The Splash (1966) by David Hockney [1937- ]

A Bigger Splash (1967) by David Hockney

A Bigger Splash (1967) by David Hockney

California Bank (1964) by David Hockney

California Bank (1964) by David Hockney

Ed and Mariane (2010) by Julian Opie [1958- ]

Ed and Mariane (2010) by Julian Opie [1958- ]

Graham Coxon (2000) by Julian Opie

Graham Coxon (2000) by Julian Opie

Darcey Bussell (1994) by Allen Jones [1937- ]

Darcey Bussell (1994) by Allen Jones [1937- ]

Art School was Rock School

A couple of years ago I went to a meeting at University of the Arts/Chelsea College of Arts to discuss a programme idea about Art Schools in the UK. Waiting in the cafe bit near the entrance I was really struck by the proportion of Chinese and South-East Asian students in the packed room – a sign of the times. In 2016 I was teaching on an MA course at the Royal College of Art, set up by designer Neville Brody (of ‘The Face’ fame) – I had helped him shape its curriculum. Of the 18 students in the room, one was British – most of the others were European, a couple from South-East Asia. My point is about the mix and the absence of young Brits (rather than the presence of students from abroad).

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Brian Eno in Roxy Music

In February 2017 I went to an event in Cecil Sharp House, Camden Town at which Brian Eno was interviewed by Tanya Byron (with whom I worked on ‘Bedtime Live‘ [Channel 4]). He talked a lot about his teacher at Ipswich Art School, Tom Phillips (a signed print of whose is sitting on this desk, just behind my screen, a present from my mum – we went to collect it from Tom’s house together). His teachers there had a formative role in his development as a musician. There’s a good account of their relationship here.

Today I was reflecting again on the vital contribution of Art Schools to British music, not least in the punk and post-punk era in which I was a teenager.

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malcolm mclaren & vivienne westwood

What those schools represented among other things was a space for experimentation, to figure out what you want to do with your life and art, to come across & play with ideas. No nine grand a year debt hanging over your head. They were also a place for people who didn’t fit the mainstream tertiary education system – or rather it failed to fit them.

Paul Simonon The Clash by Sheila Rock

Paul Simonon of The Clash [photo by Sheila Rock]

This is the first of a two-part article on the subject – I want to round off this introductory part with a (kick-off rather than comprehensive) list of musicians who went to art schools around the UK to give a sense of the enormous impact of these places on music across the globe:

  • John Mayall – Regional College of Art (Manchester), 1955-1959
  • Charlie Watts – Harrow Art School, 1956-1960
  • John Lennon – Liverpool College of Art, 1957-1960
  • Keith Richards – Sidcup Art School, 1959-1962
  • Jimmy Page – Sutton Art College, 1960-1964
  • John Cale – Goldsmiths, 1960-1963
  • Viv Stanshall – Central St Martins, 1961-1962
  • Ronnie Wood – Ealing Art College, 1961-1964
  • Eric Clapton – Kingston Art College, 1961-1962
  • Pete Townshend – Ealing Art College, 1961-1964
  • Ray Davies – Hornsey College of Art, 1962-1963
  • Cat Stevens – Hammersmith School of Art
  • Syd Barrett – Camberwell College of Art, 1964-1966
  • Roger Waters – Regent Street Polytechnic, 1962-65 [architecture]
  • Nick Mason – Regent Street Polytechnic, 1962-65 [architecture]
  • Rick Wright – Regent Street Polytechnic, 1962-65 [architecture]
  • Bryan Ferry – Newcastle College of Art, 1964-1968
  • Brian Eno – Ipswich Art School, 1964-1966 & Winchester College of Art, 1966-1969
  • Malcolm McLaren – St Martin’s & Chiswick Polytechnic & Croydon College of Art & Harrow Art College & Goldsmiths College, 1963-1971
  • Ian Dury – Royal College of Art, 1964-1967
  • Freddie Mercury – Ealing College of Art, 1966-1969
  • Joe Strummer – Central St Martins, 1970-1971
  • Adam Ant – Hornsey College of Art, 1972-1975
  • Jerry Dammers – Lanchester Polytechnic, Coventry, 1972-1975
  • Mick Jones – Hammersmith School of Art, 1973-1974
  • Paul Simonon – Byam Shaw (London), 1975-1976
  • Marc Almond – Leeds Polytechnic (Leeds Beckett University), 1976-1979
  • David Ball of Soft Cell – Leeds Polytechnic (Leeds Beckett University), 1976-1979
  • Andy Gill of Gang Of Four – Leeds University
  • Jon King of Gang Of Four – Leeds University
  • Sade – Central St Martins, 1977-1980
  • Jarvis Cocker – Central St Martins, 1988-1991
  • Graham Coxon – Goldsmiths, 1988-1989
  • Damon Albarn – Goldsmiths
  • Alex James – Goldsmiths
  • Justine Frischmann of Elastica – Central St Martins
  • PJ Harvey – Yeovil Art College, 1990-1991
  • Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian – Stow College (Glasgow Kelvin College) 1995-
  • Stuart David of Belle and Sebastian – Stow College (Glasgow Kelvin College) 1995-
  • Fran Healy of Travis – Glasgow School of Art
  • Corinne Bailey Rae – Leeds University
  • Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine – Camberwell, 2006-2007
  • Paloma Faith – Central St Martins

Damon Albarn of Blur by Julian Opie

Damon Albarn of Blur by Julian Opie

If you know other British musicians who came out of art school, please add them in the comments below.

Finishing art works [quotation]

Glen Head Glencolmcille watercolour painting by adam gee

Glen Head, Glencolmcille

When I was on a painting holiday in Glencolmcille, Donegal in the summer I found myself thinking about how do you know when you have finished a work of art? When are you just noodling? It’s a key question for artists in all disciplines.

The French poet Paul Valéry put it well and WH Auden boiled down Valéry’s words to this:

‘A poem is never finished; it is only abandoned.’

Paul_Valéry_french poet -_photo_Henri_Manuel

Paul Valéry – photograph by Henri Manuel

W H Auden English poet

WH Auden

Background on this quotation and its attribution.

I recently heard, in connection with my Art Vandals project, about the occasion when the French Impressionist painter Pierre Bonnard in his later years was arrested in the Louvre with a small palette and brush, retouching one of his paintings. The security guards grabbed him – he was shouting “But I am Bonnard! It’s my painting!” – and they responded “The painting is in the Louvre. It’s finished!”

Quotation: Working at Art

emile zola quotation

It ain’t easy…

Or is it for some people?

10,000 hours…

Or the right gene combo?

Quotation: the merit of craft

“First learn to be a craftsman; it won’t keep you from being a genius.”

Eugène Delacroix

picasso-early-work Self-Portrait 1896 age 15

Picasso – age 15 (1896)

pablo-picasso-self-portrait 90 years old June 30 1972

Picasso self-portrait – age 90 (1972)

 

Picasso self-portraits chronology

Artistic Devices: Hockney in London 2017

I was working at Chelsea School of Art in Pimlico recently and took the opportunity, after a meeting about a prospective TV programme, to nick into Tate Britain which is directly opposite and see the David Hockney exhibition.

To mark the occasion of this major retrospective, entertaining if a little rammed, I’d like to dig out my Hockney Picture of the Month, Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices, which is in the show of course.

Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices - David Hockney

Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices (1965)

And to add an extra something to celebrate the exhibition I’d like to highlight some other artistic devices in evidence in this show. For the significance of ‘artistic devices’ I’ll quote from my earlier post:

The person portrayed is partly obscured by a pile of (obviously painted) cylinders. Above his head is a shelf on which are a selection of large brushstrokes. The cylinders are crude 3D representations, obvious devices or techniques, which stand out as abstract in a still figurative world of suits and rugs and shelves. The shelf is just a 2D line. The strokes on the shelf are more flat, abstract components of painting, exposing the technique and undermining the illusion. The pile of cylinders is actually painted on a sheet of paper glued to the canvas to leave the viewer in no doubt as to the artifice, physical materiality and flatness of the endeavour.

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Sunbather (1964) – water devices (although it’s complicated – Hockney had painted lines on his pool floor)

A Bigger Splash 1967 by David Hockney

A Bigger Splash (1967) – plant devices & more water devices

david-hockney-henry-geldzahler-and-christopher-scott-1968

Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott (1969) – glass devices

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy 1970-1 by David Hockney born 1937

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970-1) – carpet devices

Sound & Vision: 4 of the best from Bowie’s art collection

I had a bit of an art blow-out earlier this week with three thoroughly enjoyable exhibitions in a day:

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View from a beanbag

You Say You Want A Revolution? at the V&A which looks at “records and rebels” from 1966 to 1970 – I went with my friend Kathelin Gray who was present at many of the events showcased and knew many of the people referred to, including Allen Ginsberg who is the person who first brought us together when I was on sabbatical writing in 2013-14. Walking through this excellent display with her certainly added a special, personal dimension. For a while we kicked back on beanbags to watch highlights from the Woodstock movie, including Jimi Hendrix’s era-defining rendition of the Stars & Stripes, perfect for US election day.

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Endless Highway off the beaten track

The Path Beaten at The Halcyon which for the second time in as many years brings together in London a collection of Bob Dylan’s paintings and sculpture. The images which most appealed were ones like ‘Endless Highway’ which seem of a piece with his songs and how they capture the essence of America. Also perfect for an election day when that could easily get lost.

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Sandwiched between was a visit to Bowie / Collector at Sotheby’s, a last viewing of Bowie’s personal collection (minus the stuff of sentimental value) before it went under the auctioneer’s hammer on Thursday 10th and Friday 11th November (yesterday and the day before). I went with my friend Doug to whom I picked out a single painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat as The One. As it turned out that canvas went for £7.1M, the top price at an auction which raised double the expected revenue, in this case more than doubling its top estimate of £3.5M. So I reckon I’ve got a good eye. And what that good eye spied on the day were these…

ONE Lot 22: Jean-Michel Basquiat – Air Power (1984)

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Jean-Michel Basquiat – Air Power (1984)

For all the bullshitWar(se)hol(e)hype around Basquiat, the young man was a really dynamic artist with a beautiful sense of colour. Bowie played Warhol in Julian Schnabel’s biographical movie. The canvas displays Basquiat’s usual mix of lively paint (acrylic) and fat chalky lines (oilstick) looking like the bastard offspring of a blueprint and a Brooklyn wall. The white ladder shape on the chest and body of the main figure reminds me at once of one of those bone breast decorations Red Indians wear and a railway line reaching westwards. In other words JMB seems to really capture that essence of America.

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TWO Lot 4: Peter Lanyon – Trevalgan (1951)

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Peter Lanyon – Trevalgan (1951)

Hot on the heals of the excellent Lanyon exhibition, Soaring Flight, at The Courtauld last Christmas, Bowie/Collector afforded an encounter with another group of Lanyon’s fresh, original landscapes, of which this stood out the most. Trevalgan is a landmark work in Lanyon’s journey of reinvention of landscape painting, tilting it up to become a fusion of map, aerial photo and abstract expressionist take on the Cornwall countryside, the horizon curved around the picture surface on which sea, fields, cliffs and sky are transformed into a gigantic emerald of England.

Peter Lanyon – Picture of the Month

THREE lot 43: Patrick Caulfield – Foyer (1973)

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Patrick Caulfield – Foyer (1973)

I’ve always had a soft spot for Caulfield as one inclined to a very graphic style in my own drawing and painting. This large acrylic captures much about modern life in a bland space of the hotel lobby variety (which is not much variety) – to get to anything of interest or colour you have to penetrate to the bar, a small bejewelled space of coloured glass and decorated alcoves, tucked away small in the background distance of the image.

FOUR Lot 101: David Jones – Crucifixion (c.1922)

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David Jones – Crucifixion (c.1922)

I suspect Bowie bought this one because the artist shares his real name, plus of course Jones was a highly accomplished religious artist in the vein of Eric Gill. This sparse, stripped down pencil and watercolour drawing captures the agony of the Crucifixion, remembering even to bloody the knees, not just the stigmata. He achieves something truly ancient and in touch with the roots of Christianity.

I felt two things as I left the exhibition. (i) There was so much of it. Too much for any one person to own. It made me feel a bit sick being amongst so much. It must have been a relief for Bowie and his family to offload All This Stuff. David Jones #1’s Christ departs with just a delicate blue loin cloth and a crown of thorns. (ii) Having gone to so much trouble assembling some very fine sub-collections among his overall Collection (mainly of the 20th Century British Art I really love) I wonder why he broke it all up again? Why didn’t he donate little groups to museums to keep them together? I suspect his family don’t really need all £33M of the proceeds.

What Bowie did give – from my little perspective – was an introduction to my ideal drawer and one of my favourite artists, Egon Schiele. I heard him talking about this artist (who I, like most people at the time, had never heard of) on Radio 1 around the time of his Lodger record, the last of the Berlin trilogy. From there a life-long love sprouted. If Bowie had any Schiele’s he kept them back from the sale. The nearest is a single Oskar Kokoschka litho and an Eric Heckel woodcut figure with long boney hands. He certainly had a heroic eye for art. (Though he could have gotten arrested by the design police for his taste in furniture.)

 

 

Rhodes Must Be Remixed

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All Rhodes lead to remix

Here’s my solution to the Cecil Rhodes statue controversy in Oxford. The Rhodes Must Fall campaign wants to have the statue of the in many ways rather nasty imperialist taken down from Oriel College, Oxford, his alma mater and beneficiary of his largesse. Rather than tearing down the statue like some dodgy authoritarian regime and airbrushing out history like a bunch of old Commies, let’s add another layer to it like the Brixton-based artist Hew Locke (son of a Guyanese sculptor and a British painter) did on the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol. Or put adjacent to it a bigger statue of, say, Nelson Mandela. Let’s add and be constructive…

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Hew Locke – Edward Colston from Restoration (2006)

Locke draped Colston in trading beads, coins and other accoutrements of empire. (Or to be precise, he draped a photo of the statue in this 3D mixed media – but why not do it directly on the statue itself for good (in both senses)? )

You can see some of Locke’s works in the last room of the ‘Artist and Empire’ exhibition currently [until 10th April] on show at Tate Britain (ironically – the Tate & Lyle sugar fortune having been arguably built on slavery).

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Edward Colston naked/unremixed in Bristol city centre

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Nelson Mandela slightly remixed with bird-shit, Parliament Square, London

Hew Locke talking about Restoration [2 minute listen]

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