The first time I visited the Centre Pompidou was as an innocent art student over 30 years ago. In the same year I had my first introduction to the works of Cy Twombly at a small gallery in Cork Street, London. His works reduced me to tears, and still do. It is fair to say my path through life has been forever steered by that time.
twombly (verb) :
To hover thoughtfully over a surface, tracing glyphs and graphs of mischievous suggestiveness, periodically touching down amidst discharges of passionate intensity.
twombly (noun) :
A line with a mind of its own.
Simon Schama: Cy Twombly at the Hermitage. 50 years of works on paper, 2004
Also on show in Paris are two smaller Twombly related exhibitions, both at The Gagosian gallery. The first, Orpheus, is a beautifully staged exhibition of some of Twombly's works on paper, which until now have not been brought together.
To complement these works, the Gagosian are also showing an intimate exhibition of poetic photographs by Sally Mann, selected from her time spent photographing Twombly and his studio: Remembered Light, Cy Twombly in Lexington.
In light of Twombly's death in 2011, and the knowledge that his studio will never again know his presence, Mann's photographs feel particularly intimate, and we are aware of the ability of a photograph to turn the present into a memory. Stunning.
1. caught in or as if in a tangle
2. involved in an undesirable situation from which it is difficult to escape
If there was an exhibition from which it would be difficult to escape, I can think of worse places to be trapped than the current exhibition at Turner Contemporary in Margate, "entangled" - an exhibition of over 40 international artists who explore materiality, particularly in respect of thread, stitch and fabric, in their work.
The works on show vary in scale from minute grass seed heads, to a ceiling high column made from taut horse hair, but all have something more important to say than their initial forms and humble materials initially suggest.
The first work to grab my attention was Geta Bratescu's Bound Fan - a wooden hand held fan, rendered impotent by being bound tightly shut by a single, delicate thread. There is something intriguing by the notion of the functional being rendered useless by such a gentle intervention. Susan Hiller's Painting Blocks echo this idea of contradiction - oil paintings on canvas, cut and bound with thread into a stacked block, so that the original painting is both present and absent at the same time.
Other notable exhibits include Karla Black's What to ask of others - a large sheet of pale pink polythene, draped and suspended in the gallery space. The work acts as both painting and sculpture, and we are forced to reexamine our understanding and expectation of a familiar, often disposable, material. Stunning.
Feeling under the weather with a cold doesn't generally offer many opportunities for creative practice. However, a recent dose of the dreaded lurgy gave me a much welcome opportunity to lay on the sofa, and indulge in my long-held desire to research my family tree. I knew some names and dates, but not much beyond my own parents and grandparents. We were from the East End of London (or so I thought), and aside from my parents and grandparents, I knew nothing of the occupations of relatives further back in my family tree.
But joy of joys ... what a great wealth of knowledge the census returns have offered. I am a fan of the BBC programme, Who Do You Think You Are?, and have watched as celebrities have variously found they are descended from aristocracy, royalty, or in one case I seem to recall, God! My background is far more humble, but to me couldn't be more relevant or exciting. Ladies and Gentleman, I introduce my first whoop of delight in this journey of self discovery. My paternal great grandmother, Esther Wilson, a paper bag maker. I couldn't be happier!
Oh Mr Therrien, where have you been all my life? Simple forms, found objects, honest materials - all 'nailed' to pristine white walls, and classed as sculpture (and not painting, despite their being hung and 'read' as such). This is my kind of language, and I thank the Parasol Unit for bringing these great works together. The show as a whole was bewitching. Familiar forms (clouds, keyholes, switches) and equally familiar materials (wood, metal, enamel, paint) lured me in, but the ultimate works hinted that they were quietly hiding far more than they were ever going to reveal. There aren't many works that affect me physically (Cy Twombly's paintings have been known to reduce me to tears), but in the ground floor gallery of the Parasol Unit, I could have happily found a quiet corner, slunk down to rest on the floor, and just sat ... for hours ... breathing quietly, amongst the sculptural presences, hoping to hear their silent dialogue.
When I planned this four day Summer School, I had no idea it would coincide with the exhibition at the Foundling Museum, curated by Cornelia Parker: Found. What perfect timing.
Every item, object or thing in the world is made with a purpose, serves a function and is part of story. Take away that purpose, stop that function and that something is lost. Starting with a hoard of the discarded and broken, the members of the group breathed new life into these objects. Strange and exciting relationship were forged from the eclectic detritus. Histories and narratives were discovered and invented, and by the end of the four days the shedio was full of exciting drawings, pairings, medals and tools. Such great work ... well done all!
I love this time of year ... with a host of students at BA, MA and PhD level, all coming to the end of their respective studies, there are great works out there to be discovered. This weekend saw the opening of SHOW 16, the annual graduate show of MA, MPhil and PhD students at the Royal College of Art.
Some of my favourites are shown below ... but none of the images capture the wonderful optimism, pride and ambition that seemed to fill the air as the students cast open the studio doors to step out into the wide, world. It was a great boost, and a timely reminder to not let self-doubt and sensibleness (is that even a word?) get in the way of being who we can be, and making what we want (even, if in the words of my darling brother, it is 'only' a 'beautiful, useless thing'). I need beautiful, useless things in order to think and make sense of the world ... and in that case, they're not useless at all!
Spring is here (despite the sleet and hail!), so it's time for students at the shedio to dust down the watercolours and indulge in some glorious colour to hail in the new season. There have been a couple of timely exhibitions in London recently - The Royal Watercolour Society and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour - and a closer study of the entries shows that the definition of watercolour is definitely changing. No longer the preserve of traditionalist, purist painters, this wonderful medium is now being used (and abused) by a new generation of artists who are more than happy to challenge the rules. White watercolour (yes white!) was evident, along with plenty of abstracted compositions that allowed artists to revel in the wonderful haphazardness of trying to paint with coloured water. Full respect goes to the wonderful students this week for embracing these, and many other ideas ... the course is still ongoing, but I couldn't resist showing their fabulous work so far. Well done guys x
It's been a hectic couple of weeks, but I've finally got a chance to share some photos of the great work students produced at the Thing Big, Draw Bigger workshop I held in March. I've often thought that if we work in a domestic space (i.e. at home), then our work is destined to be domestic, if not in subject matter, then certainly in scale. It was lovely, therefore, to open my studio doors wide and let students unleash their larger scale ambitions.
Day One started with white, white everywhere ... paper covered walls and tables, with drawing materials and small, random objects scattered about. Mark making, exploring lines, media, colour, texture and energy were the themes of the day ... gradually increasing drawing size from postcard size up to A1.
Day Two, and the sun was shining. A3 sketchbooks (opened to use the full A2 spread) were clipped to drawing boards and we headed out to take a line (or two) for a walk. Back in the studio, these drawings were used as starting points for larger scale, studio based work.
Day Three - lots of discussions had taken place over the previous couple of days on what makes a drawing 'accurate'. We had explored tactile self portraits (eyes closed, feeling our face with one hand while recording what we felt with our drawing hand), working with emotional marks (spiky and brittle, dramatic and flamboyant), and although I don't believe there is ever a single 'right' answer, it's great to pose the questions and use drawing to try to find solutions. In the words of Pablo Picasso: "To draw, you must close your eyes and sing". By the end of day three, my beloved shedio was full of drawings that sang out loud and clear! What joy.
Waking up to a light dusting of snow, and my thoughts jumped straight to the Shedio ... or more specifically, how to warm it up! Three fires on maximum setting, a host of crochet blankets and rugs, hot tea and coffee on constant supply, and we were soon warm and toasty (well, warm-er!) and able to get to work. Today's workshop was a 'back to basics' session looking at drawing with pencil, graphite and charcoal - and encouraging students to build their own vocabulary of marks. As always, they threw themselves into the challenge with great gusto and produced some fantastic drawings - at least 9 each!
What do a conservationist, a knitter, a medical college dissecting room, a darning mushroom, a criminologist and a photograph of Judith Scott have in common? All, it would seem, have something to say on the question "What Do I Need To Do To Make It Ok?" - a current touring exhibition curated by Liz Cooper, and more specifically, at the accompanying symposium held at the Crafts Study Centre yesterday.
So, in no particular order, are some of the highlights, favourite images and thoughts from the day (which was fabulous).
Bouke de Vries. Wow. Bouke's practice sits in both contemporary crafts and fine ceramics conservation work. Exploring the changing fashions of repair in conservation - from once ensuring the repair was invisible, to more recent preferences of proudly displaying broken shards of pots embedded in forms made from a neutral material, Bouke takes these ideas to extremes in his own practice. His exploded works appear to rejoice the fact that the original item is broken, and instead of reconstructing (as a conservationist), he uses the same skills to deconstruct (but this time as an artist). The ceramic object has a new status, with new values, and a new narrative that allows the life of the object to continue. And in case you were wondering, Bouke was keen to reassure that he only works with already broken ceramics, or as he said "no pots were damaged in the making of this work!".
Dr Charlotte Bilby, Senior Lecturer in Criminology in the Department of Social Sciences at Northumbria University, raised the question of the impact of the work undertaken by prisoners via the organisation Fine Cell Work. Is prison a place of punishment or rehabilitation (repair)? There is growing recognition of the positive impact on mental health of slower, meditative crafts such as knitting. And I am certainly 'guilty' of sitting down to crochet just one row, only to find myself still snuggled in a comfy corner hours later. To a prisoner, the irony of getting lost in time while mindfully working on a complicated stitched work is not lost, but contradicts the very nature of 'serving time' as punishment.
Before I go any further, I need to thank Freddie Robins for taking me back to warm, comfortable afternoons when time seemed to stay stuck forever. You know the times - when you're not long in from school, shoes off, toes wriggling in socks, tea time smells are coming from the kitchen, there's no homework to be done and Nelly is knitting a ridiculous contraption to solve the latest problem encountered by Noah and the animals in the BBC series, Noah and Nelly. Rather than learning from a mother, aunt, or grandmother, when I heard that it was Nelly who introduced Freddie to knitting, suddenly her practice makes a lot of sense.
“ 'It’s not perfect, but who cares?' Well I do. I enjoy imperfection in you and yours but not in me and mine. I am very attracted to the imperfections, failings, and roughness of the material world. I enjoy the evidence of human hands, the inevitable wear and repair of objects. I love the obviously hand-made. But I suffer from being a perfectionist ... Perfectionism is associated with good craftsmanship, something to aspire to. I aim for perfection in all aspects of my life, my work and myself. It can be very debilitating and exhausting and it is of course, unachievable". http://www.freddierobins.com
After much laughter throughout Freddie's presentation she left us with this simple, yet sobering thought:
"What can you do to make it ok?".
Well, sometimes, you need to accept that you just can't.
So, that's the conservationist, criminologist and knitter covered (albeit briefly)! It's now shoe kicking off time, which can mean only one thing ... Noah and Nelly! I'm off to track down old episodes on youtube now ... I may be some time!
Thoughts, works, adventures and responses from the shedio and beyond