July 2016

We all liked the winner of the John Moores Prize 2016 - so we are good judges

July 31, 2016 by Rebecca Collins   Comments (0)

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There are two art prize exhibitions that I go out of my way to visit: the annual Jerwood Drawing Prize and the biannual John Moores Painting Prize. I love the Jerwood exhibition for its contemporary take on drawing and for pushing the definition of drawing to the edges of credibility. I love the John Moore exhibition for providing an insight itno what people are painting now.

Since the John Moores exhibition started I've been meaning to take a visit to Liverpool. Finally today we decided to take a family trip up there (it is just over an hour by train). I will happily go to art galleries by myself but I do enjoy taking my children and my husband with me too. I like to see their responses and reactions and to compare those with my own.

We didn't spend a great deal of time walking around the exhibition, which is always held at the Walker Gallery. It is quite a small selection and very well-spaced out. However, shortly after we started looking around we all agreed on our favourite (or, at least, on the painting to feature in the top five of our family favourites) and this happened to be the winner of the prize: Squint (19) by Michael Simpson. We all loved it. There was something disquieting about it. Was it the staircase that doesn't quite reach the window? Was it the odd window? Was it the simplicity of the image? Was it the size of the painting? Was it the contrast of the yellow and black against the bland background? Was it the almost pop artiness about it? Or was it just the whole package? We didn't know what the image was of. There was no information in the gallery (or in the catalogue) about it. In fact, I've only just found out what it is of and what it is about but I don't think that matters. What is important is that it appealed ot all of us, from the age of 6 to 44. We all loved it. We didn't know why. We couldn't quite articulate what it was about it that we liked. We just liked it. Perhaps we are just getting good at this exhibition visiting lark, or perhaps we are good judges.

There were a lot of other paintings in the exhibition to get inspiration from. Including Mandy Payne's No Ball Games Here. I like this piece for its unusual painted surface: concrete. I admire people who go against the norm in some way, whether it be in medium, subject, style or material. I am attracted to apparent 'ugly' Bauhaus style 1960s architecture (I study in one of the best examples of Bauhaus architecture in the West Midlands - see below). It amuses me that this building depicted here is a Grade II listed building, and rightly so. To me, it has deep beauty.

John Stark's Beasts of England II was amazingly well-executed and full of atmosphere. I stood and stared at it for a long time. Selma Parlour's The Side-ness of In-Out was just plain weird. I love weird. The world is too full of normality. We need more inexplicable weirdness.

I felt very inspired today. Painting is far from a dying art. It complements this current age of the blurring of the real and unreal. It is on the up.

The watched are watching

July 17, 2016 by Rebecca Collins   Comments (0)

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Last week, while in London with a few hours to spare, I decided to take a trip to the Royal Academy to see the Summer Exhibition and the David Hockney portraits.

I first came across David Hockney’s work during my A levels, in the late 1980s. In fact, one of my favourite paintings of all time is a Hockney: Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy. When I went on a school trip to London in 1988, I came across this painting and fell in love with it straight away. There is something about that painting that hypnotised me: the light, the cat, the quirkiness, the perceived ease the figures have in each other’s company, the way they are looking out, the sunshine and the happiness infused in it. I love it.


So I was quite eager to see this new body of work. I don’t like all of David Hockney’s work but I was intrigued to see this exhibition as he had recently returned to portratiure after a long break from the genre. One thing that I have in common with David Hockney is a determination to champion the basics of art: for me, drawing and still life; for him, still life, portraiture and landscape. I admire his determination to do what he wants to do, even if it goes against the tide of fashion.

Entering the galleries housing the 82 portraits and 1 still life was like entering a jewelled Aladin’s Cave. The walls are bright red, the backgrounds of the portraits are mostly greens and turquoise, contrasting brilliantly with the bright red walls and the skin tones in the faces. The paintings are all the same size and orientation (except for one) and are spaced equidistant around the gallery rooms.

It felt simultaneously like entering a private space and a place of exposure (oddly it reminded me of how it might feel to live in the Big Brother house). The faces in the portraits are solemn, the eyes are sometimes piercing, something blank, sometimes staring, but they all look out at the viewers as they wander slowly around. Most of the portraits are sitting in the same or similar pose to each other. They are mostly in the same chair and in the same space. I felt stared at. I was staring, they were staring. There was a lot of staring.

This exhibition acts as an epic still life of many people (and of one grouping of fruit). Life has been arrested by the painting of these portraits.

I like anyone who uses subtle humour in art and David Hockney is well-known for doing that. He hasn’t been quite so quirky for a while but these portraits were definitely humourous. I loved the addition of the still life, painted as a result of the non-attendance of one of the sitters. What else was he to do with his unexpected free time? There’s something majestic about the fruit posing on a bench in a gallery full of people. It felt as if they are speaking out: ‘We are just as valid as all of these people so please appreciate us just as much as you appreciate the organic objects here.’

The exhibition is like a ‘This Is Your Life’ of David Hockney. The sitters are friends, family, friends of friends, colleagues, office staff, other artists, curators and gallery owners, and the odd child (my favourite being the rather important-looking Rufus). They comprise an eclectic mix of personalities. Some of them sit, determined to express something of themselves via their choice of clothes, glare or pose, others sit nervously dressed more soberly and some sit in the expected pose in their best dress, feeling lucky to be someone chosen to be painted by a master artist.

The common element throughout are the size of the canvas, the chair, and the background colours (with some small variations). It works extremely well. I spent a long time in the exhibition (probably longer than I should have). Sometimes I sat and stared back, willing them to blink. Often I just walked around, and around again. I also stood, and studied the paint, the brush work, the tones, the colours. I went around more than once, more than twice, even.

By the time I decided to leave, I felt calm and relaxed. This contrasts to how I had felt leaving the Summer Exhibition galleries an hour or so before, when I’d felt chaotic, energised and inspired. Leaving this exhibition, it felt different. I felt in balance.

I had studied and been studied.


A flicker of raw optimism at the Royal Academy

July 16, 2016 by Rebecca Collins   Comments (0)

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Last week I had to go to London for a two-hour long meeting at Bloomsbury Publishing. The meeting ended at 2.15pm so this gave me the opportunity to see some art before heading home. There was no contest as to where to go; it had to be the Royal Academy for the Summer Show (and also the David Hockney portraits). 

As soon as the meeting finished, I walked over to the Royal Academy, dodging the rain drops. It cost me £20 with my Art Fund card to buy tickets for both exhibitions. To my horror I only had half an hour between them and the Summer Show had been booked first. 

Half an hour is not even close to long enough to see and absorb everything in this amazing, compact, chaotic, overflowing exhibition. This was the first time I’d ever seen a Royal Academy Summer Show and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I'd seen a short video on the Internet so I expected to see a lot. However, the video didn't fully prepare me for the sheer volume of creative output that constitutes the Summer Show 2016.

My main response was awe. Awe at the draftsmanship and quality of painting that I saw, as well as quality of the idea. I think I expected more abstract expression of idea and less focus on detail and realism. The ideas were indeed there but the quality and subtlety in the expression of those ideas was something I wasn't quite prepared for and something worthy of admiration. 


I tried to make the most of my half an hour. It wasn't nearly long enough. Walking through the vast rooms filled with art, it felt as if my sense were straining under the pressure as the artworks were jumping off the wall screaming 'notice me!' 'No, notice me!' There was so much to see. My eyes flittered about from image to image to sculpture. Eyes followed me, faces stared, all willing me to feel an emotional response. I did feel emotional responses and it was hard to bear. It was a sensory overload.


The overall impression I felt was one of faint, almost intangible, optimism in a floundering world. I can't say that I felt great happiness walking around. The faces, the figures, the shapes, the colours, the buildings, the land- and cityscapes were all struggling and decaying. They seemed to be on the point of giving up, but not quite willing to. There was a real feeling of 'We are well into the 21st century now, but what is the world doing to us?'


My favourite piece was a silent video work by Peter Fischli and David Weiss called Büsi. The video was simple. It showed a cat lapping milk from a saucer, while bathed in bright light. I have no idea what it means. I cannot tell you what the intention is. It is slightly peculiar, and definitely quirky. When we are struggling to deal with reality, often we look for the absurd. It was a still life of sorts. A still life of a moment of a cat’s happiness. Or perhaps a moment of the cat’s greed? Whatever the meaning, I can tell you with more confidence about my response. I'm not sure whether this is something that everyone perceives or whether it is a synaesthetic response but when I see a soundless moving image, my brain 'hears' the noises that it imagines exist. This happened while I was watching this video. My brain could 'hear' the cats lapping and the cat's movements. Later, when I re-watched the video on my phone, I kept putting the phone to my ear to check whether there was indeed no sound and it was my brain playing tricks on me. It seemed to be. This interests me. I would like to know whether the blending of the senses is felt to different degrees by different people. Do I have more blending than others? I have letter-colour synaesthesia so I am perhaps prone to sensory blending.


Comhghall Casey’s Toy Caravan, a small still-life in oils, also caught my eye. Contemporary still life features largely in my artistic practice. I am interested in how still life is able to highlight the relationship between the organic (us) and the inorganic (things). The organic and inorganic, an animate and inanimate, are not as separate as was traditionally supposed. There is a blending. There’s something very moving I think about an object in isolation and an object stilled. Still life traditionally means the arresting of decay, and one of my interests is in how this arresting of decay can be applied to things and our current relationship to a thing. The real life is decaying, but in the still life is persevered in a moment. There is silence and calmness in that stilling.


I also noticed Jock McFadyen’s Pink Flats 2. Again, the theme of decay and arresting decay is evident here. To me, still life can include the larger object (in fact it could be argued that all representational art stills life). This painting made me want to know more about the object: what is its story? Who lives there? Why was it painted such a happy colour yet allowed to decay so badly? Does anyone love this building? What is its future?

Finally, I was impressed with how much of the artwork was in a raw state. It wasn’t over worked or over thought. By that I mean, raw making, painting and especially raw drawing. Drawing often gets lost under the radar of fine art and I don’t think it should be. Drawing is vital. Drawing doesn’t necessarily have to be just sketching. It isn’t just the starting point to something great. It can be great.


The art made me tingle, but that is good. Despite the overall pessimism I felt, with the odd flickers of optimism, I came away inspired. This exhibition made me realise how much creativity there is and how we should be celebrating it and fostering it but sadly, we aren't doing this nearly enough (in schools, at least). The demise of enthusiasm and importance given for the arts in education is a travesty that probably cannot be reversed now.


The only way is forward, as that flicker of optimism shows.



Jerwood Drawing Prize 2016 - punching above but why not?

July 7, 2016 by Rebecca Collins   Comments (0)

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Yesterday I drove from my home, Shrewsbury, to Aberystwyth and back. I dropped something off, and then had lunch on the beach, and then drove back. I arrived back home in time to pick up two of my children from school at 3.10pm (with a little bit of beach attached to my elbow).

I didn't go to Aberystwyth just to sit on the beach for two hours, I went to drop off a drawing at the Aberystwyth School of Art as an entry for the annual Jerwood Drawing Prize. It was a long way to go but it had been a choice between Cheltenham and Aberystwyth and Cheltenham doesn't have a beach so Aberysthwyth won.

I have long been an admirer of the annual Jerwood Drawing Prize touring exhibition. I was first introduced to it by my tutor at SCAT, Matthew Wood, who showed me the exhibition catalogue in 2013. Since then, I have only missed the annual touring exhibition when I missed it being close-ish to me by two days.

I dabble in lots of areas of art: photography, painting, drawing, video, sculpture. But my favourite medium by far is drawing. I love to draw whenever I can. I live to draw. I campaign to get more recognition for drawing. I think everyone should draw. Drawing amazes me. I've always been able to draw. Put a pen in my hand, and I will draw. Make me go to a meeting and also put a pen in my hand, and I will draw. I recieved detention at school for drawing (drawing teachers). Drawing isn't simply limited to pen or pencil. You can draw with sound, food, ice, steam, wood shavings, dance, scratches, moving images, sweat, grease, blood, cat fur, anything. This fact, fascinates me.

Last year, I contemplated entering the Jerwood Drawing Prize but I didn't have anything to enter and I ran out of time. This year, I decided to give it a go. All I had to lose was half a tank of petrol and a day's wages. That's quite a lot but I can make up the day's wages in the evening and at the weekend if necessary being a freelancer.

So that brings me back to yesterday and my drive to Aberystwyth. This year, I had a drawing to enter. It's nothing special. It's just what I wanted to do at the end of term. It's just something I created over a week. This is it. It is a bit scruffy. It is a bit scuffed. It is just a drawing.

This is a drawing made on a found peice of wood, of my favourite pieces from my balloon collection. The title is Balloons: A Collection. I created it using colour biros, my current favourite drawing tool.

I don't have much hope of being selected but the experience of trying is worth a lot to me. I am always telling my children that a lot of the competition game is about luck and timing but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try and keep trying.

At the weekend my middle son and I entered a 'paint the day' competition at the Newhampton Art Centre. He won a runner up prize. He wone this becuase his piece was different, eye-catching and pretty damn good. He had recently missed out on being selected for a different competion: a design a book jacket competition, so he was feeling quite down. At the time he told me: 'I'm never going to enter anything every again, I'm useless, I can't draw'. Of course I told him that, yes, he would enter somethign again. No, he was not useless. And, yes, he could draw. Two months later he has proved all of that.

So even if I don't get selected for the Jerwood Drawing Prize (I won't), I've given it a go. I will enter again next year, and the year after that. And I might even enter some other competitions. It is a little bit addictive.

And I did have a lovely lunch on the beach.