Month: May 2016

Coventry University art degree show preview – don’t miss this year’s exhibition


It’s that time of the year when the studios and classrooms are thrown open, and Coventry University final year students welcome in their guests to see what they’ve created after several years of study.

This year I’ve had a sneak preview of what’s on offer ahead of the Friday opening night, and there’s some interesting stuff (in the top floor and basement anyway – I confined myself to just the two floors).

On the top floor a warning about content unsuitable for the young or easily offended is the first thing you see. The works nearby of Cheuk Man Li, from Hong Kong, are quite shocking and vivid in their depictions of strange human-like people contorting their naked bodies and interacting unpleasantly. Scenes of torture come to mind. For once the warning is valid!

Children may also need to be kept away from the collaborative works by Ryan Williams and Liam Pattison who are also showing individually in the basement. Described here as Pat and Willy, with the work called Ourinal, it features five urinals on the wall, with film of them together above. One holds a heavy tool over the other laying on the floor, they pass the tool to each other endlessly, they play a game in their underpants and more – it’s daft and fun.

Less shockingly, there are some good paintings. Emma Phillips’s acrylic paintings are all about atmosphere and show empty rooms and settings seemingly waiting for some action to appear.

Renata Juroszova’s work concentrates on femininity and domesticity, with scarcely-formed or glimpsed women dressing or bathing.

Decay features quite strongly, with Amelia Horton rescuing a rotting chair for part of her work, and designs on tiles coming away to add to the distraught look of the work. Natalie Seymour has created a digital photo collage of falling down and rotting buildings entwined in an attractive and impressive display which makes you want to keep looking deeper.

Cheuk Hin Li (brother of the first artist mentioned) has followed his sibling’s interest in political matters but less obviously shockingly, doing a number of attractive, sympathetic portraits of a young woman who is apparently a student leader in Hong Kong.

Rebecca Stansbie is from the Black Country and has created some small watercolour and fine liner works depicting buildings in Cradley Heath; some are homely but many are showing wear and tear, or outright dereliction. They’re very attractive works.

Daniel Smart’s large paintings show people, scenery and large areas of dense painting; they’re intriguing and make you want to linger. There’s one at the top of this blog, and one here.


Zoe Harwood has termed herself a walking artist, and uses ‘socially engaged practice’ to explore areas with her father and record them in pictures and documents.

In the basement, the sight of the first work makes you think you’ve wandered into the wrong room. Rob Hamp’s massive installation, which you can walk around, is in some ways a woodworker’s studio, with benches, clamps and tools, but some boards are bent over in a very stress-inducing way. It’s called All He Wanted Was a Garden.

Ryan Williams has created another installation of a small child, his sides filled with home DIY filler, staring up at a climbing frame which is painted with anti-bill posting paint. Gillian Dixon’s work is a contrast, small ceramic forms hanging over a pattern in seeds.


No one’s going to walk off with Liam Pattison’s work (above) easily. There are two walls, with hands reaching out from each to shake, and more filler, plus a model of himself naked entombed in a concrete block. I hope someone’s worked out how to lift it upright by Friday!

Bethany Jones has memorialised her grandmother with old photos and text, and a recreation of a comfy sitting room, with ceramic balls representing thoughts. Abigail Dixon has refashioned her room as a lot of metal frames, removing all the material in between to strip it down to basics.

I was privileged to have two expert guides on my quick sneak tour of the exhibition which might have enhanced my experience more than the plastic cup of wine I usually tour it with on opening nights, but these two floors anyway seemed to offer a really good mix of works, with lots of different and interesting ideas.

Don’t miss it!


Á lui le pompon!

Paysage- G-rard Mermoz

“My first painting in 30 years!” says Gérard Mermoz, with an enigmatic smile, referring to Paysage, which has won the Coventry Open 2016, now on exhibition at the Herbert Art Gallery.

In fact, Mermoz – artist, curator and provocateur – has subjected the notion of painting and the aura of the individual work of art to multiple levels of deconstruction, with the crucial involvement of the exhibition’s organisers at Culture Coventry.

The work is an appropriation – a ‘found’ painting complete with indecipherable signature, subjected to some interventions by Mermoz, chiefly with a sharp implement. For the exhibition poster, and the brochure, the gallery has severely cropped this rather small painting, converting it from landscape to portrait format.

Then, in his speech at the opening Chris Kirby, director of exhibitions at Culture Coventry, called the work ‘Passage’ – a term freighted with significance. This is not so much a work in the Coventry Open, as a work involving the Coventry Open.

The neo-conceptual project, with its subversion of the art object, is widely regarded as having long ago run it course. This splendid collaboration suggests that there may still be just a flicker of life in the genre.

(This was an intervention in the landscape of this blog.)

Fun is sadly over but flamenco exhibition is still on show

I was going to suggest a visit to two small exhibitions, but after a wander past today I see one had closed two days earlier than expected.

Mask, in the Glass Box opposite Drapers, had been due to stay up until Monday, with works on show by a number of artists, and was meant to be a reference to masks used in ritual ceremonies, combining art with fun. It was curated by Matthew Macaulay and Gwennan Thomas and when I looked in today there were still leaflets there but no art – hopefully it wasn’t the worry of an EDL march passing close by that led to the early closure.

The other exhibition was opened on Wednesday, as part of the Flamenko Coventry 2016 festival (sic) at Coventry University, also not without problems, and is entitled the Iconography of Flamenco, Small Moons With Attitude, and was curated by artist Frieda Van de Poll. The works will be on show in the Alan Berry Atrium Gallery at Coventry University (opposite the Cathedral) for a couple of months.

Flamenco furniture

The interior of peña flamenca in Montellano, a village in the province of Seville, that features on one of the posters

The exhibition uses as its source the collection of Marcos, a flamenco artist and senior lecturer at Coventry University. Marcos has been collecting instruments, recordings, posters and other objects on a flamenco theme since the 1960s, and they are photographed and shown in themed posters here.

There’s flamenco furniture, such as the straight-backed, usually rush covered chair the musicians prefer. There’s Marcos’s big collection of capos, or cejillas, photographed.There are photographs of alcohol, and information about the flamenco musicans’ love of a drink, and the information that “flamenco people don’t eat, they only drink”.

There are seven inch single designs for iconic singers such as Paco de Lucia and Camarón, and an entertaining section about The Looks of a flamenco singer, and the importance of the way he enters a bar, checking to see if there are any rivals there.

Unfortunately the exhibition opening was not without hitches, as three posters had been disappeared during the day, apparently by workman carrying out jobs in the building; hopefully they will return before this small but fascinating and educational exhibition is over.

Look closely to find religion and sex in the suburbs in new George Shaw National Gallery show

The School of Love

The School of Love, 2015-2016, Enamel on canvas, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London

Allusions to paintings by great masters, and to seedy going on in the woods, combine for a fascinating new exhibition by George Shaw.

There’s also a set of fairly surprising new works that hit you when you walk in to My Back to Nature in the Sunley Room at the National Gallery.

Fourteen charcoal drawings entitled The Sadness of the Middle-Aged Life Model bring us a naked George in all his glory posing in the position of the stations of the cross, which he would have seen in the Catholic church of his upbringing. All the religious paintings in the National Gallery, where he has been Rootstein Hopkins Associate Artist for the past two and a half years, have clearly made quite an impression, though I remember a number of (less revealing) self portraits from his youth in his exhibition at The Herbert.

They create a good, surprising, introduction to the exhibition.

The Sadness of the Middle-Aged Life Model

The Sadness of the Middle-Aged Life Model (10), 2015, Charcoal on paper, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London

George said he found the National Gallery rooms nearly all contained scenes from woodland, women parading around and many had Jesus. So with the self-portraits, all three elements of that can be seen in this exhibition.

The paintings are a mixture of sizes, all in the usual Humbrol paint but with a move on to canvas rather than board. Thee Afternoons (Study for Drunken Silliness), The Tossed and The Lost are small works focusing on finds in the woods – abandoned colour pornographic photos, empty bottles, leaves concealing things.

A Revel Before Half-Term features a large canvas with the trees standing darkly round, cans scattered about. The Heart of the Wood shows a small circle of bricks as well as the signs of recent partying; is it the base of a fire, or some more sinister black magic practices? The trees aren’t talking.

Studies for Hanging Around are three single trees, a reference to the crosses of the Crucifixion, and another clear influence from the residency, where he said he had become obsessed with the wood on the cross. The Foot of the Tree is a wooden stump left behind and Verso and Recto are reminiscent of some of his earlier works, with muddy paths leading away. The Uncovered Cover shows a blue cloth partly covered with leaves and concealing – anything or nothing?

The Old Master

The Old Master, 2015-2016, Enamel on canvas, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London

Another section of the gallery, George said at the press preview, he saw as the Adam and Eve corner.

The Old Master and The Old Country represent the male and female – or as George put it “someone’s gone into the woods and painted a cock on a tree – then there’s a very suggestive tree”. Ok ….

The graffiti is crudely and unnecessarily-added amongst the wooded scene, a reminder that it’s not in the depths of the woods but just yards from a Coventry housing estate. The tree has a deep, gaping crevice painted with care and attention.

The School of Love is a painting of an abandoned mattress, dumped and unloved now, deep in the greenery.

Another work is an unusual self-portrait – George seen from behind up close to a tree: “I’m looking at the Observer Book of Moss,” he joked. “It’s called Call of Nature – what else?”

You’ve Changed is a set of nine small paintings of trees, all different, all with holes in their trunks somewhere, or cracked open; George referred to Youtube references to men who liked sexual liaisons with trees, finding the sexual in the suburbs.

George’s three paintings in the style of Titians Diana and Actaeon works command one wall.

A tarpaulin he found in the wood, hanging like a soft, sensuous material over one tree, represents the pulled-aside curtain, and the work is called The Rude Screen, a play on the rood screen which pre-reformation separated the church congregation from the priest.

The Rude Screen

The Rude Screen, 2015-2016, Enamel on canvas, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London

A hollybush stuffed full of pornographic pictures that he saw as a child – “I have no idea who put it there, it was almost like a branch of John Menzies” – was the inspiration for the painting representing the bathing beauties and is called Möcht’ ich zurücke wieder wanken . Hints of naked flesh and raised clothes can be seen on the images.

The third painting, representing the killing, is entitled Every Brush Stroke is Torn Out of My Body, and shows red paint randomly daubed on a tree, with another tree displaying a target. Again, it’s the imposition of the urban, peopled world into what is supposedly natural.

There is also a film of George at work at the gallery, talking about his influences, and visiting a wood (though unfortunately not the Tile Hill one), which is definitely worth seeing.

It’s a long time since we’ve seen a new body of work from Shaw but it’s been well worth the wait, and also made me eager to go back to some of his inspirations in the rest of the Gallery.



Great Masters and naughty goings on in the woods combine to great effect in George Shaw exhibition

The Foot of a Tree

The Foot of a Tree, 2015-2016, Enamel on canvas, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London

Two and a half years spent amidst some of the best art works in the country has resulted in a stunning new exhibition for Coventry-born artist George Shaw.

George has been the National Gallery’s Rootstein Hopkins Associate Artist – and the exhibition he has produced as a result shows the influence of time spent among the Old Masters, but also growing up in Coventry.

George’s paintings, which saw him nominated for the Turner Prize in 2011, focused on the urban landscapes of Tile Hill in Coventry, where he grew up, plus some of its back paths, semi-derelict garages and surrounding woods. Further works showed the remains of buildings such as pubs which have now been lost.

Here, there’s not a building in sight, but still plenty of evidence of human intervention in nature. The exhibition is called My Back to Nature, which can be read several ways, and is certainly a title George has thought about and played around with.


George Shaw in his studio, Photo © The National Gallery, London

At the press preview, the typically plain-speaking George talked about his first feelings at being asked to take on the residency. He said: “The initial reaction was complete mystification – how did I make the list. The second drove me to the toilet and I don’t think I have been off the toilet since.

“I spent about six months wishing I had never been asked. But I could hear a 14-year-old boy [himself] saying do it, that’s why you have been doing this for more than 30 years, or it’s been a waste. And I could hear my dad whirring round wherever he may be saying do it.

“It’s a very humbling experience, it’s like having your trousers pulled down in the shop window and you have to stay there. The bullshit of contemporary art slips away but you can’t hide behind vague theory, you have to be in the firing line.”

He shook his head, slightly in amazement still: “Setting up this exhibition, I had Velasquez staring at me – while I was pinning my drawing on the wall Velasquez was on the other side of the gallery.”

George had been a regular National Gallery visitor since he was a child. He said: “My first visit would have been when I was eight or nine years old and came down with mum and dad on the coach, walking through St James Park from Victoria, and my first stop was the National Gallery.

“My parents met in London and knew London quite well and they were aware that if you wanted to see art the National Gallery would be the place to come. We would have come here first then we would go to the newly-opened London Dungeon. I saw no distinction between the two.”

In one cabinet in the exhibition there is a drawing after a work by Piero Della Francesca, from 1984 – and when you remember George was born in 1966, then there’s the proof he’s been a long-time visitor.

He added that, like the 1970s cartoon character Mr Benn who always returned from a journey with a souvenir in his pocket, whenever he ventured away on an adventure to an art gallery, he would come home with a reminder in the shape of a drawing of a painting: “It was more I made a record of my time spent in front of the pictures. I am very aware of the anxiety of time passing, and I am aware my paintings and drawings are very about the sadness of time passing and sadness has a strong relationship with beauty. That’s where art lies, in the gap between sadness and beauty.”

In the Heart of the Wood

The Heart of the Wood, 2015-2016, Enamel on canvas, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London

George says in a film showing with the exhibition that he came into work every day like the other Gallery staff, but in his case to a studio to paint. Colin Wiggins, Special Projects Curator at the National Gallery, said in the film: “He’s got this pose that he’s just a working man, doing a working man’s job.”

But this job involved studying masterpieces, and he found unlikely connections with his previous inspirations in Tile Hill. One example he cited is The Triumph of Pan by Nicolas Poussin. As strange creatures and beasts frolic semi-naked, food and drink vessels lay abandoned on the ground; not dissimilar to scenes found on weekend mornings in Tile Hill woods, he thought.

He said: “I realised that there wasn’t a room in the gallery that didn’t have a woodland in it and there wasn’t one without a lady parading round in it, and very few that didn’t have a Jesus in it.

“It seemed to be the opposite of nature, to go into the woods take your clothes off and run around being half man and half animal and have sex with anything that will come along. I thought that quite exciting. I quite enjoyed the chance of that – I missed out on it when I was young because I was painting. I was never invited to that party.

“My return to nature was where I bring everything with me.”

The Tossed

The Tossed, Enamel on canvas, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London

He felt everything seemed to be happening on the outskirts of towns, in the woods, away from the culture. Along with scepticism about going back to nature to find yourself, he decided he had his back to nature – hence the exhibition’s title.

But how does he fit into the great tradition of British landscape painting, he was asked by National Gallery director Gabriele Finaldi.

“I was told I don’t. I don’t find landscape painting the most exciting part of painting, I find painting Jesus Christ being tortured on the cross, or sexual activity or nudes more exciting. The big question is why don’t I do that – because I can’t.”

He said the teenage boy who didn’t get invited to the exciting parties dreamt instead of being Van Gogh or Rembrandt, and he’s still striving for that, saying about this exhibition: “My reference point was six Rembrandt self-portraits, the way he painted them was the way I wanted to paint a tree.”

The more he looked at the National Gallery works, and the woods around Tile Hill, the more he started to use elements in the landscape figuratively and physically. Three trees together started to be the three crosses at the Crucifixion, at Calvary.

The young George had always loved Titian’s Death of Actaeon at the gallery, and by the time he became Associate Artist the gallery also had Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto.

George said: “Death of Actaeon is one of the greatest paintings in the galleries and it’s one I go back and look at and it’s always impressed me on many different levels.

“I knew I wanted to deal with that subject in a way. I am drawn to the subject of the story.”

In the story, the hunter goes into the woods, finds a curtain which he pulls aside to reveal women bathing. One is Diana who turns him into a stag, and his own hounds devour him – and in the Titian painting she is seen raising a bow and arrow for good measure.

George added: “Maybe coming from Coventry the subject matter attracted me, the tradition of Lady Godiva protesting about taxes in the city and Peeping Tom has his eyes burnt out for being drawn to her.

“I went into the woods as a young man and my dad was pointing out all the finer points of flora and fauna and I was more drawn to the copies of Penthouse magazine blowing around. I thought I would come back later and get it.”

Every Brushstroke is Ripped From My Body

Every Brush Stroke is Torn Out of My Body, Enamel on canvas, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London

When George ordered three canvases, 178×198 cm, Gabriele said it only meant one thing – they were the same size at the Titian works, and he was going to create his own version. A chance find to take the place of the curtain helped.

“I found a builder’s tarpaulin in the wood. When I saw it I thought are you joking me, I feel I am being set up here.”

George still paints in the Humbrol enamel paints he started using about 20 years ago, and said they become unusable very quickly “It’s very difficult. I enjoy it – I don’t know if that’s really my Catholic upbringing, if you enjoy something it must be bad.”

The paintings are created from photographs, drawings of the same scene and then he varies what is there to suit what he wants, and said by working in the National Gallery he’s been glad to get away from the feeling of his photos bullying him.

He has also tried painting on canvas for the first time. “The gesture and mark making became a little more free form, shaking off my British anal retentiveness.”

In the film also on show at the exhibition he’s seen laughingly fretting about paint running on one of the big works, then he notices more: “It’s like Zulu, they are all coming!”

Most of the painting went on at the National Gallery studio, though there was quite a lot of travel between the “Bermuda Triangle” of London, his home in Devon and Coventry, and some of the smaller paintings travelled with him to be further worked on.

He revealed: “I don’t like my work. I wouldn’t have it because I always see it may be better. When I had about six months remaining here I wanted to be around for another year because I had not made a great painting yet.”

The exhibition is on in the Sunley Room at the National Gallery until October 30 for you to judge for yourself.

The Old Country

The Old Country, 2015-2016, Enamel on canvas, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London