Month: April 2016

Artists Workhouse is setting for abstract painting exhibition

A new-ish gallery space is showing an exhibition entitled Windows, and it brings together two artists I’ve met running galleries in different places.

The Artists Workhouse in Studley is being developed by Dawn Harris, an artist currently studying for her MA in Fine Art at Gloucester University, and who previously was artist in residence at Ragley Hall where she also became Director of Ragley Gallery and Studios. There were several fun openings there, where visitors drove up to the stately home to enjoy drinks in the luxuriant setting, and then visit the exhibition in the atmospheric stable block.

This show is curated by Matthew Macaulay, a Coventry University art graduate who amongst other things set up the Pluspace Gallery in Coventry which made use of an empty space overlooking Broadgate and showed some good exhibitions, before he went on to work under the Pluspace banner for various other projects.

But good things at Ragley and Coventry city centre both came to an end, and Dawn has now moved on to establish The Artists Studio in Studley, which is being promoted as “an artist-led studio, gallery and project space benefiting from a collaborative environment”, with studios, workshops, events and exhibitions. And as Matthew put it, he was curated to curate the exhibition there.

window -3-

The show consists of 25 works by various artists from countries including the UK, Germany and Romania, and is over two floors at the venue.

The paintings are mostly abstracts, and include some by Matthew including the lagre and striking Southside (Lewis), a mostly-green abstract of his homeland.

Three works by Coventry University lecturer Graham Chorlton actually feature windows in the paintings; in one, bright blinds seem to stick out of a dull-coloured building, and another looks like it’s painted from within a building in another country, with wooden blinds and attractive architectural buildings visible through it.

window -5-

New works by another Coventry University graduate Mircea Teleaga, now studying at the Slade, both called Untitled (Night Clouds) are also different to previous ones I’ve seen, with dark blue/black swirls of what could be water or clouds. Damir Sobota’s criss-cross stripes of colour are a big contrast. Terry Greene’s ‘Water s very important for life but we need it to wash our hands’ has the longest title but is a smallish work with a U shape in blue, and Erin Lawlor’s small works seem to consist of several large brush strokes.

It’s an interesting exhibition in a good new space.

 

 

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From the ruins of ancient Rome to Coventry’s conceptual artists in one packed day in London

A day trip to London for a gig always means an early start and a late night for me, and the chance to fit in a few exhibitions.

I got around five this time, and they were certainly varied.

First stop, the British Museum for Francis Towne’s watercolours of Rome. Towne, who lived 1739-1816, visited Rome in 1780-81 and made a large selection of paintings of its famous landmarks and the surrounding countryside. He continued to work on them for many years afterwards, and some have clearly added extra pieces of paper on the side or bottom, with the scene continuing, or extra trees added later.

In the British Museum’s lovely cool print room with its muted lights the watercolours are lovely, delicate and somehow relaxing. However they were not really appreciated in Towne’s lifetime, though they were first displayed together in 1805; this is the second time. Towne tried several times to be admitted to the Royal Academy, but was always rejected; he was from Exeter and hated being seen as a provincial drawing teacher. Small comfort that we can now go and enjoy them and he is appreciated as a skilled watercolourist. The exhibition is on until August 14.

In the gallery leading off the print room, is Krishna in the Garden of Assam, until August 15. Subtitled the cultural context of an Indian textile, the main piece is the largest surviving example of an Assamese devotional textile, the Vrindavani Vastra.

The nine metre long cloth, made in 12 segments, is covered in detailed scenes from the life of the Hindu god Krishna. It was made in the late seventeenth century, but oddly found its way to the British Museum via The Times journalist Perceval Landon when he was covering the Younghusband exhibition to Tibet in 1903-4; it would be interesting to know both how it got there, and how he acquired it to bring it back.

A trip by Tube down to Tate Britain, and it’s almost from the sublime to the ridiculous. Conceptual Art in Britain 1964-1979 is less a visual feast and more a lot of reading. However you can become part of the art; in the first room, Roelf Law’s Soul City, a pyramid of oranges, gives you a chance to change the art by taking an orange.

An excellent small leaflet given out at the exhibition explains conceptual art simply and in a way that makes sense. Longer descriptions in the galleries left me more baffled. Some conceptual artists I get. Hamish Fulton and Richard Long’s documenting of their walks with photographs and descriptions seems to make sense. Gilbert and George’s performances as The Singing Sculptures appeal and make me wish I had seen them back in 1970.

There’s quite a lot of space devoted to Art & Language, the Coventry College of Art-based group who were so important to conceptual art, but also controversial, not least in the Lanchester Polytechnic they were based in. As one piece of information tells us: “Theorising here was not subsidiary to art or an art object but the primary concern of this art.” The show includes Hot –Warm-Cool-Cold, which was on exhibition at the Herbert in 1968, and consists of 43 pieces of paper on the wall, apparently on the theme of weather.

It’s a large exhibition with lots of info and a variety of work to serve as a good introduction, or to expand your knowledge. It’s on until August 29.

Also at Tate Britain, I popped into a BP Spotlight exhibition, Art and Alcohol, which is on until the autumn. It juxtaposes vastly different works and their different views on alcohol. There’s Gilbert and George again, with Balls: the evening before the night after – drinking sculpture 1972, 114 posed photos of the Balls bar on a night out.

Richard Billingham’s photo of his parents from 1994 shows his unwell-looking father being berated by his mother, and was groundbreaking at the time. There’s a Hogarth etching from 175 of Gin Lane, showing a drunken woman dropping her baby and other delights including violence, madness and a hanged person, showing the horrors said to come from gin drinking.

Other works are also morality tales. George Cruickshank’s enormous The Worship of Bacchus from 1860-62 depicts people celebrating life events with drink in the foreground, and then fighting and being destroyed by it behind.

It’s an interesting exhibition showing the move from trying to make a moral point to just depicting the facts over the years.

Back at the National Portrait Gallery until June 26 is Russia and the Arts, the age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky, which is described as a once in a lifetime opportunity to see masterpieces from the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. It focuses on the cultural heroes of the period 1967-1914, and the artists who painted them.

There are figures you may expect to see – Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Turgenev and the two named in the title, plus others I hadn’t heard of. The composer Modest Mussorgsky appears dishevelled and in a dressing gown, but this was painted a few days before his death in hospital at a young age from alcoholism.

Towards the end as time move on in Russia, contemporary life intervenes. The poet Nikolai Gumilev is depicted as he was known at the time, as a dandy, but he was executed two years later in 1921 for counter revolutionary activities.

It’s a sobering end to an exhibition which was smaller than I expected, but still had lots to offer, with a lot of information about both sitter and artist and often the relationship between them, in some cases the friendliness or contempt visible in the work.

Celebrate Shakespeare’s influence on artists through the ages in Compton Verney exhibition

Visitors to an exhibition celebrating the plays of Shakespeare in art may feel they are stepping on to the stage themselves.

The exhibition at Compton Verney is arranged in eight acts focussing on different plays. It has been designed by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Director of Design Stephen Brimson Lewis and this brings a dramatic air to the gallery spaces, and really enhances the exhibition.

Entering Act 1 brings a disorienting feeling and it’s quickly clear that’s from the different slopes to the temporary wooden floor, with light shining through it, representing the shipwreck in The Tempest, and the sound of the sea. Works on show there include a large dramatic oil, The Shipwreck by Philip de Loutherbourg, showing two figures clinging to rocks. In contrast, there’s Antony Sher’s contemplative self portrait from 2009 of himself as Prospero. Karl Weschke’s image of Caliban shows a strange misshapen figure on the beach.

Act 2 explores the deaths of Ophelia and Lady Macbeth, and is dominated by a dark, carpeted side room featuring Davy and Kristin McGuire’s Ophelia’s Ghost (below), a holographic projection on to water. Kristin was filmed multiple times under water ‘drowning’ for this work which now looks beautiful and ethereal, the image seen through bubbling water and colourful flowers.

Ophelia’s Ghost © Kristin and Davy McGuire, photograph by Electric Egg

Also featured are Simeon Solomon’s Ophelia from 1887, a Rossetti drawing of Lady Macbeth and Bryan Organ’s 1973 work, Ophelia after Millais, the drawing gird marks still visible. Above them all stands the dramatic tall portrait of a crazed looking Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth by John Singer Sargent (below). A spooky soundtrack adds to the ambience.

Act 3 celebrates the work of designer, director and writer Edward Gordon Craig, with some lovely, clean cut modernist woodcuts included. Act 4 features a new commission by Tom Hunter, in which he re-enacts Ophelia’s death in modern costume, in the Compton Verney lake. You walk below green foliage, and movements trigger audio recordings of plays in this gallery.

Act 5 shows more of his dramatic photos showing samba dancers, a thrash metal band and Pearly Kings and Queens playing roles from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; the gallery is split up with a wall with a chink in it, drawing on a line from the play.

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth

Acts 6-8 features King Lear, Macbeth and Henry VIII. Henry Fuseli’s paintings from the late eighteenth century stand out for their dramatic use of light and dark, especially in The Weird Sisters and The Vision of Katharine of Aragon. A room of his work features a silver floor and moving lights.

Paired with Shakespeare in Art: Tempests, Tyrants and Tragedy, is Boydell’s Vision: The Shakespeare Gallery in the 18th Century, which examines the history of John Boydell’s gallery which opened in 1789 in London, using the Bard to develop a national form of history painting. It contains prints and paintings from that period, plus a digital re-enactment of what the gallery may have looked like.

It’s interesting, but the main exhibition can take a bow for being an appropriately and enjoyably dramatic show.