Login

June 2016

The artist looking out to the artist looking in - Francis Bacon and Maria Lassnig in Liverpool

June 12, 2016 by Rebecca Collins   Comments (0)

, ,

Last weekend, the weekend before the final show at Wolverhampton and a likely week of stress, I decided that a family trip was required. I needed to see some art and get away from home for a while so I dragged my three children up to Tate Liverpool to see the Francis Bacon exhibition which I’d seen advertised.

Before we got to the Bacons, we stumbled across a retrospective exhibition of the work of Maria Lassnig. I hadn’t come across her work before, except in passing, so it was interesting to view her work without any preconceptions at all. I’d vaguely heard of her and I knew she was a little eccentric but innovative, but that was all.

Her work consists mostly of painting and video. What I admired about the work on display was the consistent sense of a twisting of reality in her paintings and animations. Nothing was quite right. It wasn’t completely abstracted either. It was almost as if it was challenging the viewer to find a place for it between abstract and representation. It was hard to place. Her paintings, especially, seemed to blend different known states or concepts without showing either in full: organic and inorganic, human and object, abstract and reality. Nothing was as it seemed and everything was just on that edge of disturbing. I was intrigued.

I also had a very strong impression that she was looking out at the viewers from the paintings and the animations. She features in a lot of them. And she has very solid features and very steady, serious eyes. I felt watched as I walked around the gallery, her eyes following me. It is an odd sensation, a hair-on-the-back-of-neck-standing-up one.

The highlight for me came at the end of the exhibition in the form of a video called Kantate or The Ballard of Maria Lassnig. My six year old son was particularly transfixed by this. This video is a 7-minute long part animation, part real video of Lassnig’s life from birth to old age sung in verse, and sung in German. It was compelling viewing. It was sad, yet funny. It was serious, yet light. It was full of irony and gentle satire on the art world and the people in her life. It was a fitting tribute to the life of a very interesting personality who I regret not having come across before.

Then we moved on to the Francis Bacons. We walked straight into a room full of Bacons: gaping mouths, twisted faces, and painful and contorted limbs. We were suddenly surrounded by bodies locked in frames, bodies against vibrant angry colours, and bodies trapped in colourful suspension. It was like stepping from the happy madness of the artist looking out (Maria Lassnig) to the hysetrical madness of the artist locked within (Francis Bacon). I had moved from being stared at to staring at. It was disturbing. I found the Francis Bacon exhibition an uncomfortable place to be. I admire the work of Francis Bacon for his ability to convey  strong emotion through composition but it is just too intense to be around en masse. I feel anxiety in his paintings, and loneliness, and I guess that was his intention (or part of it). But a room full of Bacons? It was just too much and I had to leave.

Having said that, I would recommend a visit to anyone reading this. Both exhibitions had an impact on me and I'm still thinking about them a week later. I would like to find out more about both artists, who probably never imagined they'd be put together and have anything much in common. Oddly, they do.

35 Degrees of Impact: colouring outside the lines

June 11, 2016 by Rebecca Collins   Comments (0)

, ,

I'm not sure I am qualified to write a review of the Wolverhampton School of Art Fine Art (BA) Degree Show as I was in it (albeit it as a not-yet-graduating student capacity) but I'm going to anyway. Or perhaps this is not so much a review but more of a 'You Must Go And See It' not-at-all-biaised plug because that is what I would think even if I hadn't been in it (of course, you do believe me, don't you?).

Last night was the Private View and the culmination of many stressful weeks. And it was the first chance that my family had had to go to the art building. They had heard a lot about it and they'd seen pictures of what to expect from the catalogue but they hadn't yet been there. They had a good time, they told me after I repeatedly asked them on the way home. They liked the fact it had seven floors (nine if you could the Lower Ground which of course you should do) and they enjoyed the nibbles in the Visual Communications (Annimation) room. But more importantly, they enjoyed the artwork. My six year old has been to many art exhibitions in his short life and is therefore an excellent art critic for his age. I asked him what he liked the best. His response was: 'I like the Far Art on the 7th Floor' which was the right answer as far as I am concerned as I am a Far Art student on the 7th Floor.

I think the phrase that best describes the exhibition for me came from one of the students who was interviewed about the exhibition earlier in the week for the University website. She said 'I wanted to colour outside the lines'. To me, there was a lot of colouring outside the lines. It is something I like to try to do too. Even though I have worked alongside these students for 10 months now I was still impressed to see the variety of creative output in the exhibition in their final pieces, and how far the boundaries of fine art had been pushed (yet while retaining, and very much earning, credibility).

I felt inspired and energised walking around, showing my three children and seeing their reactions, and I can't wait for next year to begin so I can work towards my final show.

I hope that over the next two weeks lots of people go to see the work. The exhibitions runs until the 23rd June. A lot of hard work and thought has gone into the pieces on display, everyone who is graduating deserves the attention. I wish them well in their future careers and I will miss them next year. I think we chose the right title for the show, for impact has most definitely been made.

Lost and Found

June 3, 2016 by Rebecca Collins   Comments (0)

, , ,

While in London last weekend, after visiting the National Gallery and stopping for lunch, I paid a visit to the Found exhibition, curated by Cornelia Parker at the Foundling Museum. I had heard about this exhibition on Radio 4 the week before and my ears had pricked up with interest as lost and found objects feature hugely in my art practice (at least they have of recent years). Currently, I am searching for the lost and abandoned balloons of Britain (and there were some abandoned balloons in this exhibition - read on).

The Foundling Museum itself is a fascinating place, started off as a place for foundling babies of the early 18th century. It was founded in 1739 by Thomas Coram to care for the abandoned children of London. Many of the mothers who left their children at the hospital would leave an object with which to identify themselves with and as a keepsake for their child. They simply couldn't give up the hope that they might be able to return and reclaim their child. These objects are on display in the museum and they are very poignant and also fascinating in their own right for providing a glimpse into the lives of these mostly impoverished 18th-century women.

The Found exhibition itself came about as Cornelia Parker was asked to respond to the museum's collection in some way as part of her role as Hogarth Fellow. She decided to ask artists from all sorts of practices (including music) to lend the museum a found object of theirs for display. The object could be an actual object they themselves had acquired, or an object they were given, or an art work in response to an object. Some of the objects chosen are intangible - such as sound pieces. Some of the submissions were video in response to an object. But most are just things.

What is it about the notion of the 'found' object that excites people's imagination so much? I think it is an innate desire to share a love of something, or a story about something, with others. We feel such joy at the ownership of our rare objects that we feel the need to share that feeling.

The notion of the found object is interesting because even before we acquire the object, it has gathered a history. I believe that objects are full of narrative. They absorb our stories and those stories stay within them, perhaps locked away, for ever. But there is some glimpse of that story we can feel through those objects, that is the 'trace' that Derrida talks about. Once you own an object, you are adding your own narrative to it. Along with that narrative goes emotion. We put emotion into objects and that is where the pull of things comes from. We also use objects as a proxy for our emotions. Perhaps there is something we are not ready to face head on, so we put that into the object. Those strong emotions stay with the object and move on as the object moves on to someone else.

When I see such objects I find it hard not to feel moved. This was certainly the case with the Foundling Hospital foundling objects left by the mothers. They almost screamed with longing and the pain of separation.

To me, the Found exhibition is about the human obsession with recognising something emotional in objects. We all have a part of ourselves that is lost through the things we have become detached from. Those little lost parts of ourselves of us are adopted by the new owners. Generally we connect the idea of emotion with living beings, however, there is a huge amount of emotion in the things around us.

There were many pieces in the exhibition that touched me. I won't go into too much detail here because I hope that anyone reading this will be intrigued enough to go and see the exhibition themselves. My personal highlights were contributions from Christian Marclay (for bottle tops substitute balloons), Guy Turk (bronze casting on a monumental scale), John Smith (my current favourite video artist - I loved his piece), Rachel Whiteread (another bronze casting), Bob and Roberta Smith (creating a story on a found object), Mark Wallinger (found sleeping people), David Shrigley (humour in the lost) and Graeme Miller (another obsessive street collector).

The exhibition is quirky and eclectic and is thought-provoking about the role things play in our lives.

Just before I finish, I need to get something off my chest. Cornelia Parker is a big fat copy cat! One of her 'found' objects was a collection of three balloons.

And afterward, I wondered out into the park in Russell Square and found this. I wonder who lost it?

 

Nature in all its nakedness: George Shaw 'My Back to Nature' exhibition

June 2, 2016 by Rebecca Collins   Comments (0)

, ,

Last weekend I went to London, and what do most art students do in London? Go to an art gallery.

Ever since I first stumbled across George Shaw's work when at Shrewsbury College I became fascinated with staircases I've been a bit of a fan of his and I've sought out his paintings whenever I could (one in Coventry and another in Liverpool). So when I heard he was exhibiting at the National Gallery after a two-and-a-half year residency I knew that I had to go. This would be the first time I'd ever get to see more than one of his paintings in one room at one time.

The exhibition is called 'My Back to Nature' and it is in response to the collection at the National Gallery. George Shaw, known as a painter of gritty scenes from a modern estate, and the National Gallery, seem odd bedfellows.

The paintings and drawings of the exhibition are displayed together in one section in the centre of the museum. They are circled by centuries of great masters. And being the National Gallery (steeped in tradition and Britishness), the rooms are dark and foreboding, just like the subject matter: the woods.

Stepping into those rooms was like stepping into woodland in the middle of West London. The paintings themselves were beautiful and much larger than I expected (the previous two paintings by George Shaw I'd seen had been tiny in comparison so somehow I'd expected the same). The colours were vibrant and luminous.

On one level, George Shaw has created paintings of contemporary scenes of woodland on the edge of suburbia. They speak of our modern relationship to nature. We use it to hide in, to experiment, to relax, to be alone or to be together. The woodland scenes he has painted are beautiful but are punctured by signs of human activity - tarpaulin, cans, pornographic magazines.  As with many of George Shaw's previous work, human presence in these paintings is conspicuous in its absence.

However, there are many more levels to these paintings. They are utterly absorbing. Looking at them, I felt part of myself being absorbed into them. I could feel a sense of history in them, as if they weren't in fact showing contemporary scenes but scenes that have been played out for centuries. They were somehow able to suck energy from me. I found it hard to leave them.

The scenes, although very real and spontaneous, are full of symbolism: trees (memory, age, history, ghosts), blood (death, femininity , religion, sacrifice, horror), cloth (modesty, secret, religion), blue (a very strong colour in these paintings: innocence, water, purity, cleanliness), texture (imagery, abstract, sexuality, nakedness). These paintings are about much more than a look at the woods of today.

For inspiration for these paintings, George Shaw took himself back to his teenage self who used to come to London from his hometown of Coventry and spend time at the National Gallery (it was free) and walk amongst and sketch some of the great, immense artworks of Titan, Pollaiuolo and the like. Their works had a great impact on him and this comes out strongly in this collection. The My Back to Nature works link back to the symbolism and the voyerism of those other works. The younger George Shaw would admire these old paintings and wonder at the staging of them, the significance, the narrative and the meaning of the objects depicted in them.

I felt so many emotions looking at Shaw's paintings: the child exploring the woodlands and stumbling across some grubby pornographic magazines (yes, that really did happen to me and I remember running away in case the 'dirty old man' came back); the teenager hanging around the woodlands waiting for horror to happen, warmed by the taste of cheap cider; the adult annoyed by the spoilt natural beauty; and the artist creating the narrative behind the objects and the textures in the paintings.

I found it interesting that the only 'man-made' colours in the images are traditionally deeply symbolic of Catholicism: red, blue, flesh. Was this a conscious decision? The painting of George Shaw pissing up a tree has him in blue. The tarpaulin is blue. The tree is marked by brilliant red (blood, paint?), the magazines are flesh.

The number '3' appears a lot as well: 3 paintings, 3 trees, 3 cans, 3 points of the tarpulin.

There was also something auto-biographical about the works. At the entrance to the exhibition are a number of self-portrait life studies which show a raw nakedness of the artist that oddly connect to the tree paintings and that element of being with nature when surrounded by nature. It is almost as if he is saying: This is me. These paintings are about me. I am back to nature in my nakedness.

I was very moved by it all and I'm sure there are more levels to the paintings that I didn't get. I was absorbed into them. I want to go back.