Image: Jo Millet Overflow. Two screen video and sound installation 2014
The The Power of the Sea exhibition at the RWA is quite simply stunning. Moving between artists’ interpretations of the sea spanning more than two hundred years it evokes the sea in all its guises. The only thing it lacks is that distinctive fishy-salty smell of small boat coves at low tide. Otherwise it is all there. Downstairs in the Cube Gallery you can sit and watch Jo Millett’s mesmerizing video and sound installation,Overflow,in which waves run in all directions spilling out onto the floor in front of you – you almost feel as if you could get your feet wet. Upstairs you can watch a small wave machine and depending on your height and viewpoint, if you are not a good sailor, prepare to feel seasick! One of the most moving works in the exhibition is Ama by Rona Lee. Braille readings in English translation from Luce Irigaray’s Amant Marine: De Friedrich Nietzsche are read by a blind performer and interspersed with footage from deep under the sea. Despite the weightiness of Irigaray’s topic, the language is direct and poetic, the black-robed reader, against a stark backdrop is simple, yet powerful and poignant.
However it is not all film and video, the vast majority of the work is two-dimensional and wall based. The exhibition covers artists, from 1790 to the present day, who have in some way used the sea as a starting point. The inclusion of historical works on loan was made possible by the installation of climate control in the side galleries. Turner, Constable, Joan Eardley, Lanyon, Paul Nash and Paul Feiler are some of the big names in this section.
The organization of the historical works reveals the changes in style and subject matter that took place from 1791 to 1963. Pre world war one the works almost exclusively focus on waves, tumultuous seas, rescues and shipwrecks. The post 1920 works see a dramatic change away from realism to the more stylised paintings of Nash and Wadsworth leading to the almost completely abstract works of Lanyon and Feiler, which come back full circle to Turner. Paul Feiler’s Porthledden Blue is an early work made before his palette thinned and paled away from his early expressionism. Its luscious paint and vigorous execution open a wealth of possible narratives: spume spattered sea wrack, reflected racing skies and the tarred woods and blinded windows of Cornish fishermens’ huts. Turner’s abstraction is evident in the dramatic swirling skies and seas of Rough Sea with Wreckage.
Image: Paul Feiler Porthledden Blue. Oil on canvas, 50 x 35 cm. c. 1963
There is much social and political history in the early paintings. Walter Langley’s heart rending Disaster! Scene in a Cornish Fishing Village depicts the women of a fishing village as they watch their menfolk drowning, just out of reach beyond the sea wall. Major shipwrecks are recorded or the wreckers themselves, as they plunder a foundered ship leaving its sailors for dead. Three Constable sketches, in particular Seascape study: boat and stormy sky have that wonderful freedom and freshness that was often lost in his finished, highly polished canvases. The side galleries containing the earlier work have a reverential museum feel to them, partly because of the closed doors and lower light necessary to protect these valuable and more fragile works.
Image: John Constable Seascape study: boat and stormy sky. Oil on paper laid on board, 15.5 x 18.5 cm. c. 1824-8
The main gallery, full of dazzling light and space, shows the contemporary work to advantage. Apart from Len Tabner, 1987, Terry Setch 1990-91 and Susan Derges 1998 it contains works made exclusively after 2000. It takes marine art out of the bucket and spade mentality and places it firmly in the twenty-first century as part of an ongoing investigation of topical concerns, stressing the vital importance of working with the sea rather than fighting it.
Image: Anne Lydiat Underway. Archival gel ink pen on watercolour paper. 29 x 21 cm. 2013
Underway, Anne Lydiat’sdelicate drawings made remotely by a pen suspended over paper on a ship, records the movement of the sea in exquisite layers of thread-thin spikes of ink. In contrast Marian Leven’s bold blocks of watercolour, From the shore are land-based. They explore the movement and fluidity of their watery ‘medium’ in both senses of the word. From these small works it is a huge leap to the majestic canvases of Maggi Hambling, Kurt Jackson, Janette Kerr and Michael Porter. In Kerr’s Holding my Breath II the tumbling water and crashing waves seem complicit in the painting of their fury.
Image: Marian Leven From the shore. Watercolour, 9 x 29 cm. 2013
Image: Janette Kerr Holding my Breath II. Oil on canvas, 180 x 210 cm. 2013
There is a sense of inviting the sea to depict itself. Susan Derges Shoreline 5 October was made by immersing photosensitive paper in the sea at night so that when it was later developed in the darkroom the sweeping waves and drifting sand had photographed themselves. The pillow-soft blacks of etching and aquatint are perfect vehicles for dramatic seas. Storm tossed birds seem to have been hurled into the maelstrom of light and darkness in Norman Ackroyd’s etching, Inishboffin Sound and James Beale’s scratched and darkly worked Storm at Coast captures the more frightening aspects of the sea. There are calmer waters to be explored. Occupying nearly ten square metres of floor space, Annie Cattrell’s rippling waves of vacuum formed acrylic, Currents, flickers with an unearthly, undulating light. Photographs too by Andrew Friend and Thomas Joshua Cooper show a calmer but deceptively benign sea.
Image: Norman Ackroyd Inishboffin Sound. Etching 18 x 26.5 cm. 2005
Image: Annie Cattrell Currents. Vacuum formed acrylic, 245 x 245 x 200 cm. 2006
There are multiple voices and viewpoints in this exhibition. There are works in which the artists speak for the sea and others in which the sea speaks for itself. Derges, Lydiat and Millett’s works come into this latter category, and Jackson, Maclean and Setch seem to straddle both camps. Will Maclean’s boxed constructions in which he deconstructs and then reconstructs found objects are elegant and quiet. Redolent of the sights and sounds and smells of beachcombing under a low winter sun they nevertheless go far beyond a simplistic interpretation. Less the fury of a raging beast, rather they are musings on the deeps and soundings of the mysteries, rich narratives and mythologies of his subject. Terry Setch’s huge three-paneled work, Above and below the tide, is so heavily encrusted that it stands proud of the wall by several inches. Concealed figures and rusty forms lurk beneath stretched and torn latex casting the viewer onto empty tide-washed beaches strewn with the water-smoothed detritus of abandoned rubbish.
Image: Will Maclean Navigator’s Box/Stormfinder. Found objects wood and bone, 13 x 38 x 64 cm. 2013
Image: Terry Setch Above and below the tide. Mixed media on polystyrene, each panel 300 x 120 cm. 1990-91
For many of these Contemporary artists it is still the drama of the sea that captivates them, its power, unpredictability and its capacity for destruction. In this exhibition, against the solid historical background of marine art the contemporary artists relationship with the sea is informed by politics, concerns for the environment and the challenges of global warming. Artwork which pleads for the need to accommodate these vast tracts of water, to work with them rather than fight them. There is an anguished cry for halting the thoughtless use of the sea as a cesspit for plastics and other waste, behaviour which causes havoc in marine environment and to the sea birds that haunt this watery waste tip. But what this exhibition also communicates is the enduring romance of the sea, its mystery and its power and its continuing role as a place of contemplation, solace and extreme beauty.
Image: Kurt Jackson An Mor Kernewek. Mixed media and collage on linen, 200 x 325 cm. 2003
The Power of the Sea: Making waves in British Art 1790 – 2014.
Exhibition curated by Janette Kerr PRWA and Christiana Payne.
Royal West of England Academy, Bristol, 5 April – 6 July 2014. http://www.rwa.org.uk
The accompanying catalogue: THE POWER OF THE SEA Making Waves in British Art 1790-2014 edited by Janette Kerr and Christiana Payne. Sansom £25 pp159 is reviewed by Fiona Robinson in [Evolver] Issue 81 May/June 2014.
© Fiona Robinson 2014
Estonian born, New York based artist Jaanika Peerna is currently spending a year in Berlin and her first exhibition in Italy has just opened in Ravenna. Jaanika’s work criss-crosses the boundaries of drawing, light installation, performance, sculpture and video. These disparate disciplines are drawn together, meshed inextricably in a way that makes them undoubtably the work of one artist. Line, curved or straight, is an overriding element. It loops, flows, curves, folds back on itself, always with an elegance and grace, both of which qualities are also intrinsic to Peerna’s dance performances. Her work is achingly beautiful, evocative and ephemeral. The materiality of her drawings, two-dimensional and manipulated into three-dimensional objects have yet, an evanescent quality which echoes the flickering of light and the moving of images in her film and light installations. One after another images float in front of the viewers eyes only to disappear lost forever in a memory that cannot be truly recaptured by video: presence is essential. Like fleeting moments of sound and movement, the intangible senses of touch and taste, the energy of her performance lingers, an afterthought, an after image, which perhaps can only be recaptured through closed lids. The marks on paper, the residue of chalk on floors, the suspended strips of mylar, are evidence. They are the discarded clothes, the shed snakeskin, the beautiful detritus of something that no longer exists, which no longer holds its original shape but which is a beautiful reminder of it. They invade the space, possess it for a while and then leave, becoming like silence after sound.
Photo credit: Nelson Conde
I first met Jaanika Peerna in 2011 and below are extracts from a conversation centering on the work in her current show in Ravenna. Like all of her work the exhibition in Ravenna was part performance part practice/experimentation with the potential to be changed, developed, refined and anticipating the next exhibition/performance/event.
Photo credit: Rosetta Berardi
FR. Your work now seems much more to do with performance than it was when we first met in 2011. How did this come about? Has there been a gradual change of emphasis or was performance always part of your intention for your work?
JP. It is interesting that you are asking, since the performance part of my work is the biggest question mark for me right now. I wonder about the direction, need for it and the ways it relates to rest of my work a lot.
It has been an organic move towards performance though. About 5 years ago a former pro dancer came to my solo show opening and after experiencing the exhibition said: “Jaanika, I feel like dancing again!!”. I suggested her to work with me the next exhibition I had coming up and create her movement piece based on my drawings using them as movement notation. She did. I felt tight connect since when I draw I “embed” movement into my drawings…and here she was “taking it out” of my drawings and bringing it back to physical 3d space…the next step was for us to perform together at my exhibition opening where she “danced” my drawings and I was drawing her movements onto paper. Live, in real time. At some point I found myself performing on my own…kind of extending my exhibitions into movement. Often the performances take place in the context of my exhibition but lately I have also collaborating with light artist, musician and designer for example and those have been independent of my exhibition.
Photo credit: Lindsey Castillo
FR. How do you generate a drawing performance. what underpins the work? Is it a spontaneous response to what is happening on the paper or support as you do it – or is it planned in advance in a more considered way?
JP. It varies somewhat and as I mentioned in my last answer I am in a questioning and transition phase with performance work.
One option is the response to the movement of the dancer. Other options arise from a communication with a dancer, a musician or a line of light . On a few occasions it has been a pure response to the movement at hand and a sound coming from speakers. Another time I was responding to a dancer who responded to a group of drawings (not mine!) and we also had soundscape with sounds of drawing and electronics mixed in. Reflecting on my performance work it seems like I determine some rules, anchors, connection points and then let the piece evolve on it’s own determined by the communication with the surface, another performer, the moment at hand.
I also did a performance in Ravenna at my show opening there last Friday and am not very happy with it. It was solo and drawing with chalk on floor as well as interacting with the strips of tracing paper hanging from the ceiling above. The last one really made me wonder whether I should continue them and I am not sure even why I have the questions. People seem to really like them and yearn to witness a physical action in front of their eyes.
FR. Has drawing always been at the forefront of your practice? Or has it evolved from something else and if so what?
JP. I would say YES. I see all my work as drawing. Whether it be a video or light installation which I see both as drawing with light, placing works in a room, drawing in space, leaving lines on paper, traces of movement …and now performance which is focused on drawing.
FR. Your most recent work is sculptural. Was this just appropriate for this exhibition, this space or is your work taking a new direction?
JP. So true. Sculptural indeed. But still drawing. I start with drawing free hand as straight lines as possible on mylar and then use the drawings to create sculptural forms. I used to draw curvy lines on flat paper, now it is a conceptual shift and I am drawing straight lines and turn them into curves by physically bending them. Also I am considering the properties mylar has, how it bends when attached to a wall from the two ends. So again I apply simple rules and see what are all the options sticking with the rules.
I think this shift towards sculptural is just an organic transformation (perhaps getting closer to performance since sculpture is 3d and drawing 2d!) if you know what I mean.
I had visited the gallery space in Ravenna last October and knowing the space in that way did shape the exhibition a lot. I do have a growing interest in working with a given space, considering architecture, light of the location exc.. and the Ravenna exhibition shows that clearly.
I had exhibited a large drawing a year ago which started on a wall but ended on floor – (image below) – and I have made mylar wall works before where the mylar strips stick away from the wall so there has been the interest to push away form the surface of the paper for a while.
FR. Tell me more about the Quiet Storm image. It is very beautiful, very sculptural, crossing over between sculpture and drawing and even textile in a different way to the other three-dimensional work on paper. When was it done?
Very well put, Fiona. It is crossing over all those areas. It also has three programmed lights cast onto it. Each light is programmed to dim and brighten very slowly in its own rhythm.
I have a video of the piece in action but it really does not do justice to the actual effect the change of lights has – in reality is it a much smoother and slower process with shadows slowly ‘moving’ since the amount and the direction of light is in constant flux.
It is made of hand cut mylar strips. In both ends the strips are attached. There are about 6 ot 7 different units like it but they all are different lengths. I used push pins to attach the pieces onto the wall and was very interested in how the mylar strips bend and ‘fall’ in between the corners (where it is attached) creating various linear patterns. I also like that at times the shadows caused by the lights are stronger/ more visible that the translucent mylar strips causing the shadows. The white on white seems to disappear as the shadows rise.
I like creating works that seem to be in the process of becoming, transforming in front of the viewers eyes. I like the works to fall, to flow, to evaporate, to bend, to flow, to…. Few people have mentioned the fabric like quality of some works and I can see why although I am not consciously thinking of fabric or any meanings that it might bring to the works. But pushing and pulling between two and three dimensions has been of much interest to me and with the last show I seem to be taking another step within the theme.
Jaanika Peerna : solo exhibition of drawing and video installation
avanzare e arretrare / advances and retreats
21.02.2014 – 15.03.2014
Via Giovanni Pascoli 31, Ravenna ,Italy
for more info: Chiara Fuschini email@example.com
Ninapi Gallery is proud to announce the first solo exhibition of Estonian-born New York artist Jaanika Peerna in Italy.
For the exhibition Jaanika Peerna is transforming the three large gallery spaces into an all-encompassing site specific installation using large scale graphite drawings on mylar and video projections. There will be a live drawing performance at the closing of her exhibition on March 15th.
Peerna’s skillfully made dense surfaces of straight line drawings and video footage of natural phenomena turn into enveloping sculptural forms which every gallery visitor can navigate and explore from various vantage points. Drawings vary in scale from tiny 10x10cm to vast room-size surfaces which playfully integrate into the gallery spaces creating a sense of walking amidst canyons and flowing rivers. The borders between drawing, sculpture and video melt away—Peerna’s work is pushed by a strong sense of physical presence whether drawing in her studio, filming in the outdoors, or in the creation of her atmospheric exhibition designs.
Jaanika Peerna is an Estonian-born artist living and working in New York since 1998. Her work deals with transitions in light, air, water and other natural phenomena. She has exhibited her work extensively in the entire New York metropolitan area as well as in Paris, Tallinn, Lisbon, Sofia, Dubai, Honolulu, Berlin Rome, and Novosibirsk. Her work is in numerous private collections in the US and Europe and was recently acquired by Fonds National d’Art Contemporain, France. Her work is represented in the United States by Masters Projects in New York and ARC Fine Art in Connecticut, and in Europe by Haus Galerii in Tallinn, Estonia. www.jaanikapeerna.net
Galleria Ninapi è lieta di annunciare la prima mostra personale in Italia di Jaanika Peerna artista di New York.
Per la mostra Jaanika Peerna sta trasformando i tre grandi spazi della galleria in un’installazione onnicomprensiva e specifica per il luogo utilizzando disegni a grafite di larga scala su mylar e videoproiezione. Per l’apertura della sua mostra è prevista una performance di disegno dal vivo.
Abilmente realizzati da Peerna, dense superfici di disegni rettilinei e riprese video di fenomeni naturali trasformati in avvolgenti forme scultoree possono essere navigate ed esplorate da diversi punti di vista dai visitatori della galleria. I disegni variano in scala da piccoli 10x10cm a vaste superfice di dimensione della stanza che giocosamente si integrano negli spazi della galleria, creando la sensazione del camminare tra canyons e fiumi. I confini tra disegno, scultura e video si fondono – il lavoro di Peerna è spinto da un forte senso di presenza fisica sia disegnando nel suo studio, sia filmando in mezzo alla natura, o creando i suoi particolari allestimenti atmosferici.
Jaanika Peerna è un artista nata in Estonia che vive e lavora a New York dal 1998. Il suo lavoro si occupa di transizioni di luce, aria, acqua e altri fenomeni naturali. Ha esposto ampiamente il suo lavoro in tutta l’area metropolitana di New York, così come a Parigi, Tallinn, Lisbona, Sofia, Dubai, Honolulu, Berlino, Roma e Novosibirsk. Il suo lavoro è in numerose collezioni private negli Stati Uniti e in Europa ed è stata recentemente acquisita da Fonds National d’Art Contemporain in Francia . Il suo lavoro è rappresentato negli Stati Uniti da Master Projects di New York e ARC Fine Art in Connecticut. www.jaanikapeerna.net
mostra è supportata da Eesti Kultuurkapital e Eesti Kunstnike Liit
© Fiona Robinson and Jaanika Peerna March 2014
Polystyrene balls and shredded corrugated cardboard might seem an unpromising starting point from which to make sculpture but they are the raw materials of Aisling Hedgecock’s unnamable, language-defying work. From these waste products emerge organic, amorphous forms, which suggest mutations, bio geological growth, coral, or cell structure, stalactites and stalagmites. A garden of earthly delights of proliferating cells out of control, except that the whole structureless structure is exceptionally carefully controlled, from the selective coding in “colour waves” of the individual parts, to the sizes of the chunks of glued balls of polystyrene which are also graded in size, to the painted steel structures in which they are housed.
Post Royal College of Art, Aisling spent two years at the British School in Rome, as a Sainsbury Scholar followed by a stint in the hills of Andalucia where the simplicity of Moorish architecture was a significant relief from Roman Baroque churches and the Spanish landscape, a welcome change after the noise and excitement of Italy’s capital. She read Lorca’s essay on the Duende and the spirit of evocation and gradually the experiences of the southern Baroque settled into layers just below the surface of her conscious thought, digested and ordered, freeing her to explore both in her most recent work.
Recycling of materials is part of Hedgecock’s practice. The Third Stellation 2010/11, below, was constructed from ten years-worth of large monochrome drawings, cut, reshaped and remade into a spreading spiky form which crept across the surface of the floor of the Galerie Gabriel Rolt in The Netherlands in 2011.
She has used polystyrene since 2005 but the corrugated card is new as are the fabricated steel structures which she is using to contain her unruly forms. They still grow and appear to have a life of their own, escaping the bounds of their geometric constraints. Occasionally a skeletal hand-claw will attempt to clasp the bubbling teaming mass but it escapes between the stick-like fingers. Elsewhere dripping shards plunge into the forms or emerge from them hanging downwards like stabs of frozen water.
Inextricably linked to the sculptures are drawings of fluid dynamics, dendrology and Rorschachian blots which she develops using her signature language of comets, drips, dots and tails. They explore the concept of memories carried in physical world.
In her studio, a huge monochrome drawing fills a complete wall and has been growing in tandem with the new sculpture for months. Starting appropriately with the skeleton of a beaver, itself a creature totally at home in the water, she has been gradually building up the surface with marks and circles. The embryonic form is not quite contained within a grid, just as the sculptures are moving beyond the steel bounds, which are not really attempting to contain them. Drawing and sculpture seem to be having a conversation about balancing form and formlessness, accepting that neither achieves supremacy. The structures are open allowing the amorphous forms the flexibility to flow and develop, fall apart, disintegrate and respond to circumstance, just as water reacts to changes in atmosphere, weather conditions and erosion.
In her work Hedgecock explores formlessness and fluidity and things that are impossible to pin down, She plays with her audience and their expectations, offering a structure but deliberately allowing the coloured mass to escape, not even really letting the geometric cage of steel to challenge the thing growing inside it. She goes further, leaving gaps in the bars and distorting the rigid rules of geometry. There is something essentially anarchic about this work in its concept, in the way it is constructed and in the artist’s choice of and use of materials.
© Fiona Robinson 2013
Article first published in Evolver, May/June 2013
Aisling Hedgecock is a selector and invited artist for the 161st Royal West of England Academy Autumn Exhibition. Sculpture and and a large drawing will be on show at the RWA in Bristol from 24th November until 26th January 2014.
Nadja McDevitt After life dry 2
When the concept of art weeks was invented, Oxford and Dorset being two of the earliest, they generated huge excitement. Here was an opportunity to visit artists in their studios, to talk to them face to face about their work, their processes and their ideas. Art weeks and open studios have come a long way since those days. Every small town now seems to have its own art week event and anyone is able to participate. With new events happening every week, ironically, despite the choice many events lacked variety and the public was left unsure of where to go and what to see. What was needed was an injection of quality and new ideas. Somerset Art Works started hosting a biennial Art Week in 1994 and then in 2009 initiated a Festival event in the intervening year, consisting of small exhibitions in public spaces and non-art venues rather than in artists’ studios. This not only gave artists a break from the relentless march of feet across the threshold of their studios but also drew punters into cafes, shops, restaurants, hotels, pubs and anywhere else where the public might be likely to make a visit. A location based rather than studio event boosted the tourist trade and significantly increased the footfall in these venues and it also drew some of the commercial galleries back into the fold. Traditionally buyers have often seen Open Studios as an opportunity acquire works at a significant discount undercutting gallery prices. This culture is changing though, as artists and buyers begin to acknowledge the important role that many galleries play in supporting the arts and promoting the work of their stable of artists. Hauser and Wirth, a major player in international gallery terms, are currently constructing five gallery spaces for contemporary international art in Bruton and the director Alice Workman will be talking about their plans during the festival. This new complex is bound to raise the profile of Somerset as an art destination.
Somerset Art Works has continued to evolve, searching out new venues and innovative ways of bringing quality art to the public, encouraging people to leave the virtual worlds of laptop screen and ipad and go and look at something tangible. Maybe get their feet wet or even muddy in pursuit of art sited in a garden, a farm or a field. Autumn being the time of harvests and the mists of mellow fruitfulness, ‘abundance’ is an appropriate buzz word for Somerset Arts Weeks Festival 2013
Collaboration and inclusivity are important elements this year as the festival diversifies. The National Trust, the National Gardens Scheme, the RSPB, commercial enterprises, local suppliers and producers of paper, stone, willow, wood and leather have all been drawn into the mix. The Abundance Art Trail curated by SAW and developed in collaboration with the National Gardens Scheme will take visitors through a range of different experiences, making connections between the creativity of gardeners and that of artists through newly commissioned installations in eight different gardens. Schools are involved too. A ‘pop up’ garden full of wire and willow flowers, butterflies and bumblebees created by children from Taunton primary schools with the help of artist Freya Morgan, will appear at various locations in the town during the fortnight. The Brainwave Centre, which specializes in unlocking the potential of children with a range of disabilities, is showcasing artwork made by their children.
Many of the exhibitions and venues are multi layered. There are crossovers between architecture, food, plants and local communities. The Abundance Art Trail leads from the work of a plants man or woman, through an artist’s innovative response to the location of the garden, to the community surrounding it, through to the visitors who come from far away. Alison Cockcroft uses the walled garden at Cannington as a frame so that visitors actually enter the artwork rather than viewing it from outside. At Aller Farmhouse Leah Hislop creates a woven labyrinth, in response to the winding pathways of the garden itself and invites visitors to lose themselves in her created structure. Gillian Widden”s Horn of plenty at Little Yarford Farmhouse invites visitors to experience the six foot opening of the horn.
There is plenty of the standard fare which makes Art Weeks events appealing: landscape painting, colourful still lives, pottery, photography, glass and textiles. But these are balanced by other offerings that intrigue and entertain, ask questions and provoke. As an organization SAW delights in introducing visitors to new ways of looking at and thinking about art. In typically challenging fashion OSR Projects in West Coker are hosting an exhibition by a mystery artist group taking a sideways swipe at the celebrity culture at the top end of the art scene. As part of the Abundance Art Trail Sue Palmer takes as her subject a garden that no longer exists. She traces the journey of some of the seeds and plants, which were removed when Hadspen Garden near Castle Cary was dismantled. Her screen-based response can be seen at the National Trust Garden and house, Tintinhull. Some exhibiting groups like that at Shave Farm are already part of an existing studio complex and the artists’ work alongside each other all year round. But most of the groupings are a one off opportunity for artists to come together to exhibit for two weeks thus creating a new dynamic and making connections not only between themselves as practitioners but with the venue as well.
Melanie Tomlinson Left: ‘The Waiting Forest’ Praxinoscope and Right: ‘Somerset River’ Praxinoscope. Photos © Richard Battye 2013
In a specially commissioned SAW project ‘The Company of Cranes’, Melanie Tomlinson exhibits pre-cinema objects including zoetropes, revealing through illustration and the moving image, her journey from the collection of crane eggs in Germany to the eventual re-introduction of these birds, after an absence of 400 years, onto the Somerset levels. At Barrington Court, ‘Make the Most’ is another collaboration, between SAW, the National Trust and Craftspace from Birmingham who curated the exhibitions. Site-specific installations by internationally –renowned makers are scattered throughout the building and alongside these is an exhibition by more locally based makers. The inclusion of high profile artists and a range of work from cutting edge contemporary to quality crafts is a deliberate policy by SAW to raise the level of all the work on show and to encourage emerging artists to become involved. SAW is keen to continue to attract the public funding which is essential in facilitating many of the commissioned projects.
All this exciting stuff takes advantage of existing organisations, businesses and venues in Somerset. It places work of international, national, local and emerging artists in the same arena allowing a cross fertilization of ideas which is enriching for all those involved. This is part of an holistic approach which sees the work that artists do as part of the rich life that exists in a place. It is part of the cultural life of these rural communities, cultural life in its broadest sense so that it includes history, the changing seasons, the growth of plants and animals, the making of art and music and the fostering of delight and excitement in all these things throughout every age group and every strata of the community.
Kirsten Cooke Ship Shed, Footdee
© Fiona Robinson August 2013
This article was commissioned by Evolver for Somerset Art Works and first published in Evolver 77, September and October 2013
Road 7 (going home) Oil on canvas, 2012. 150cm x 130cm
There has always been a perception that train travel is romantic. The distant sound of soporific rhythms across a darkened landscape that accompany strangers as they journey through uncharted landscapes is something that has inspired poets and writers. The hard cold road travelled by speeding cars has inspired a grittier type of writing. A modern tarmac-smooth, fast track to somewhere possibly soulless, an urban landscape peopled by uninspiring vernacular architecture. This imagery is the starting point for Natalie Dowse’s new body of work. However the title of this sadly short-lived exhibition “Going Home” at GASP, Art Space Portsmouth attempts to pull a metaphoric comfort blanket around these unyielding landscapes, offering an alternative interpretation which is not evident from the image itself. Dowse has never been afraid of narrative but even as the images step back from imposing her interpretation, the title here invites the viewers to take ownership of the story being told. The acute perspective leads the eye inwards to the back of the picture plane but stops abruptly, preventing the viewer from seeing what is over the horizon, what the future holds. In this new work Dowse has changed direction. Gone are the anonymous faces and city dwellers that peopled paintings that she showed at the culmination of her year long Jonathan Vickers Award Residency. These stark works rely on the absence of human presence, albeit their presence is strongly suggested by the rigid road furniture of crash barriers and straight white road markings. Occasionally there is a car but no people.
Road 11 (going home) Oil on wood panel, 2012. 30cm x 40cm
Dowse has consistently experimented with alternative ways of making images. Her interest in the dichotomy between painting and photography has led her to focus on the pixelated image and the graininess that is apparent in newspaper photographs, security camera footage and on film. The large and very small paintings in Going Home are crystal clear in their execution; more photorealist than her earlier portraits and the blurring has disappeared. Where blurring of the image appears in this work, although it owes something to the acknowledged influence of Gerhard Richter, it actually has its genesis in intentionally poor quality photographs snatched on the move often on a mobile phone. Her interest in the breaking up of images into pixels has led her to show two small experimental pieces using cross-stitch on tapestry canvas creating a further link from painting, this time to craft rather than photography.
Given the gender specific nature of the materials she is using, and the way they are displayed, unframed, pinned to the backing board with steel dressmaker’s pins they struggle to escape a feminist reading. The smaller, in fact tiny, cross stitched image is simple, just a road disappearing into the distance and much more abstracted than the larger one and consequently appearing to be the more successful of these two experiments. However she is clearly aware of the dangers of mis-interpretation and in the larger, more complex and ultimately more interesting, Petrol Station she counteracts this potential gender orientated reading by introducing archetypal male iconography. The density of the image and the separation of its components into cross-stitches make it tantalisingly difficult to read, a further nod to Richter. Another dimension is added by the entirely process-based making. Once the image is set on the canvas the stitching becomes mechanical, very different from the constant decision-making in her painting.
A small quartet of monochrome paintings is the most abstract and most recent work in this exhibition. They revisit earlier ideas by muting the tones in a way, which, if pursued, would eventually achieve a visually destabilising opacity similar to that seen in some of Richter’s work. The largest painting in the show Road 7 (going home), shares with the four small paintings on wood panel Road 1 3 4 and 5, Dowse’s signature visual language. A smooth paint surface characteristic of the type of photorealism in which she indulges, but which magically manages to retain a painterliness, which seems a contradiction in terms but somehow is not.
This is in the nature of an interim exhibition, part of the process of exploring complex and challenging ideas and deciding which aspects to pursue. These works need to be seen in the flesh, since the beautifully painted surfaces are both sumptuous and seductive, qualities that are flattened and destroyed becoming too photographic when viewed on screen. They cry out deservedly for a wider audience.
Road 6 Wood on panel, 2011. 60 x 80cm
Going Home Oil on Canvas 2005. 80 x 142 cm
© Fiona Robinson 2013
Exhibition at GASP, Art Space Portsmouth
until 2 March 2013
Exhibition Installation shot
The sea in all its moods, complexities and challenges is an obsession for artist Janette Kerr. She is well known for dramatic expressive paintings that border on abstraction but more recently she has been making large figurative drawings of Norwegian fishermen.
Sea of Fish. Charcoal and graphite on vellum, 80 x 100 cm. 2013
Janette has always worked outside in extremes of weather and light using oil on small boards to record her instant impressions, as well as filling sketchbooks with charcoal responses full of movement. Markmaking regardless of surface or media is part of her language.
Spume and spindrift. Charcoal, chalk, graphite on paper, 58 x 120 cm, 2010.
For her recent drawings she has been working on what the Americans call Mylar, an opaque film similar to tracing paper in its slippery smoothness, but tougher. She likes the surface, in particular the way she can work into it with a rubber. Working for weeks at a time at the Institute of Marine Research in Bergen in Norway she has gradually been absorbing other types of language into her paintings. The tumbling lines of a graph drawn by a professor of mathematics recording the flow of water, currents and waves at different levels in the sea, set her off on this trajectory. She now incorporates equations relating to tidal motions and dynamics of fluid flow into her work, viewing them as another form of mark making: “which are as descriptive of sea as my paintings”. She is fascinated by the way oceanographers and meteorologists view the sea and how they analyse it, charting extreme wave movement, recording salinity, temperature and weather conditions. HMSO pamphlets of ships logs from the 1860s of journeys across the South Atlantic are another rich source of information.
Four square towards the land. Mixed media on board, 30 x 30 cm.
We the undersigned. Oil on canvas with photographic element, 100 x100 cm, 2011.
Recently she has been working on a new aspect of the project. Returning to Shetland, one of her favourite haunts, she has been immersing herself in observing the sea in all weathers from the land and surrounded by the water, from a boat. Moving to a different location every day she had accumulated written and visual observations of the longitude and latitude, photographs and water samples and intends to marry all this information with weather reports and emailed satellite images from the Oceanographers in Bergen. The results of these researches will be exhibited in April 2013 in the Coastal Museum in Bergen.
It was during one her frequent visits to the research centre in Norway that she came across a box of 19th century photographs of Norwegian fishermen taken on boats in the 1920s. The limitations of contemporary cameras meant that they were unable to freeze movement in those conditions. Consequently there are double images, blurred areas and confusion between the men and their catch so that “the fish and the fishermen almost become one and the same thing”. Intrigued by these images Kerr started her series of charcoal and graphite drawings, deliberately merging the fish and the figures.
Fish-men. Charcoal and graphite on vellum, 80 x 100 cm. 2012
Shocked by the number of hand injuries she had come across in the photographic material she talked to men who are still fishing in Shetland and took photographs of their hands. These pictures are now being incorporated into a book. They are also appearing with increasing regularity in her paintings, printed on Japanese tissue paper. The tissue paper is so fine it fuses with the paint, so the photographic image has a barely suggested presence.
Hold fast the sheet. Oil on canvas with photographic element, 100 x 100 cm.
All of this is leading to ways of bringing together the different strands both of her practice and her research. She is making connections between the Norwegian and Shetland fishing communities; interweaving scientists’ data from Norway with that of her own records and research and combining information from historic weather maps and charts with contemporary ones. In her use of materials she is merging paper with canvas, abstract with figurative, and potentially interleaving drawing and hand written text by the simple device of layering sheets of tracing paper. She doesn’t yet know where all this is going but she sees it as a way of connecting the historic and the contemporary, the two locations of Norway and Shetland and the men who fish the sea with the scientists who record it and “Trying to put my visual description of the sea with theirs.”
Brimfooster 1. Oil on canvas, 122 x 152 cm, 2010.
Fingers curled into the waves.
* Header Image: Battling with the villains of Ure. Charcoal, chalk, graphite and gesso on canvas, 116 x 200 cm, 2011.
© Fiona Robinson 2012
Edited version of article first published in Evolver 60 September/October 2012
Fran Norton arrived at Fine Art via graphics, film, photography and 8 years in the music business but it was during her Postgraduate studies at the Byam Shaw School of Art in London that she finally managed to embrace the open mindedness required for successful studio practice. Her interests there were body related and medical photography but it was, “when I started drawing that I felt that my work was really beginning to take off”. The combination of fine strands of hair with shellac varnish in her drawings of 2010 onwards unapologetically suggest bodily fluids and lead, with a certain logic, into the use of sheep’s tongues as printing plates, blood fused with ink. Her work has a history of references, intentional or not, to the body. In her 2007 piece ‘Unfilled” made from graphite on polymer clay, the object is organic and disturbingly suggestive of unidentified body parts.
Print and bradawl drawing
Lick 1. Print
The tongue prints came out of her interest in behaviour, particularly with the processes of licking within the context of maternal grooming. In French the word for window-shopping is lèche-vitrine, literally licking windows, with all the connotations of drooling over objects of desire. For Norton the concept of licking and tongues, became so invasive of her mind-space, that she was impelled to invest in sheep’s’ tongues, in the absence of any human ones to examine in such detail. She became aware of what powerful muscular organs they were and that the part used for taste, sensation and licking is literally just the tip of this large structure. The prints that she made, rolling ink initially onto the top surface and then the sides of organs that had been torn, ripped quite brutally from the body of a dead animal was an extraordinarily physical experience. The marks created by the printmaking process had a clear relationship to her earlier work and she worked further into the prints with a bradawl returning them to the stable of drawing from which they had come. So although she almost succumbed to the seduction of printmaking she remained committed to drawing. Despite the visceral nature of the subject and method there is an extraordinary delicacy, which is imparted by the tortuous marks of the bradawl, itself an instrument associated with holes, gouging and piercing. Visually, the pockmarked upper surface of the tongues related to the bursting bubble type marks of her bradawl drawings. The later prints, where she has rolled cow tongues from side to side arrive at further references to human backs and garments. The phallic references in these images are inescapable although it seems almost trite to draw attention to them.
Universality (detail) Bradawl drawing
There is a clear trajectory from the delicate bradawl lines which she had been making in earlier drawings, to the added marks in the sheep’s tongues prints. “A dialogue began to be played out between the visceral prints and the aesthetic qualities of the marks drawn through them into the paper surface.”
In her embossed paper works, it almost appears as if bubbles have burst on contact and left little craters, whereas the drawing is actually made using a much more grounded, physically exacting process, very different from their apparent airy lightness of touch. So what does her process say about her intention when its physicality produces something so evanescent. As she explains, “Literally drawing in, into and on the physical environment, my mark-making develops the interrelation of sculpture, found object and artist with the material world.”
In her new work, repetitive drawing is continuing as she pursues ideas of interior space examining the poetic in domestic life. How error is developed through repetition is an important area of this exploration and she is interested in examining this in the context of the crossover between domestic and working spaces. The physical space, the space accorded to her ideas and the marks that she makes on the surface of the paper, all become part of the same thing.
Initially she was working in books, unpeeling the layers of pages, cutting and tearing, to reveal an idea of the merged spaces where she lives, works and draws. Now she is starting to examin the traffic from one area to another and the obstacles whether, walls, doors, windows, funiture or human interaction, which impede this free flow.
Active Drawing. Ink on paper
She talks about space that she inhabits as being ‘physical and walled’, but it is clear that ultimately it is defined by its function and the function is fluid, constantly changing depending on who is in that space with her. Whether is is herself, family friends or strangers and this leads to the sense that she has of overlapping boundaries. For her research she sometimes records her space in a way that does not have her personal markmaking on it, ie pressing paper into the gaps between tiles on her kitchen floor, and yet ultimately she will select from these a ‘drawing’ which pleases aesthetically and which works both artistically and compositionally.
Rooms, windows, tables and me. Pencil on tracing paper
Within Fran Norton’s domestic space, private and public, professional and personal are all interlinked. She has been working on exquisitely beautiful graphite drawings on tracing paper using the pressure of the pencil to create secondary embossed drawings on the layer of paper underneath. These small, intense pencil drawings, little squares and rectangles delineating different areas and furniture are dark and shiny and confrontational because of the physicality of their making. They are like the public face of her work, whereas the hidden, secret drawings created by the pressure of the pencil are intriguing, quiet, private and they could, potentially, stay unseen and undiscovered. Possibly inadvertently, these drawings in two layers on two sheets of paper; have started to create a sense of separation into the public and the private, the visible and the almost invisible.
Untitled. Pressed paper
© Fiona Robinson 2012