Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Vispo/Collage: Unrestrained Living x3

collage, digital, vispo, print

Three variations on an original theme/piece first thought of as a comment on the overriding bourgeois mindset/materialist domination of the art world which I then considered insignificant in relation to the art I and others working in the 'invisible' arena make, therefore hesitated to even continue before going ahead since it was virtually complete. It's tempting and easy to complain about what we perceive as The State Of Things (galleries/curators/dealers etc) but it pays to step back and realise that their world is actually another one entirely and not a place we should even concern ourselves with. Which is not to say that small salvos we may fire at Them are a waste of time, even if only to make ourselves feel better. I'm fully aware, however, that like the person who constantly complains about, say the government, without realising the ineffectiveness of their voice only results in bitterness which make them miserable. 

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Two Recent Works & The Meaning Of An Image

digital art, collage, print, meaning in art

Voluntary Servitude, RTomens, 2017

We Will Kill Images With Meaning, RTomens, 2017

"But what does it mean?" we may ask whilst staring at an object or arrangement of objects in a gallery, the meaning of which is not obvious - so Conceptual Art has us by the short and curlies - dammit! (the artist, meanwhile, chuckles). Tom Wolfe wrote of the 'painted word' phenomenon and the Need To Explain wherein what was said about a work became more important than the work and so on - at least, as I recall from reading the book long ago (which translates as a couple of years which, as you know, is the equivalent of twenty in the pre-internet era).

I spoke of 'meaning' with friends recently having shown them We Will Kill Images With Meaning. By 'friends' I mean Facebook friends, of course; my audience of mostly actual strangers, which is no different from strangers visiting a gallery showing your work, when you think about it. In fact, it's preferable, isn't it? At least I 'know' them a little, if one is able to glean anything about a friend's posts. Perhaps it's possible. I consider myself quite astute at 'reading' character. We used to have more clues in the old world, such as conversation face-to-face, body language, expression etc. Today we must become adept at reading them another way. To paraphrase the bible: by their posts ye shall know them. Or not.

As I said to them and I'll say to you, dear stranger, there is often 'meaning' in my images and it will be subtle or obvious. There may be more than one and they could also be contradictory. In another sense, the most important meaning in my work is almost invisible. It's what is behind the picture, in my head and heart. That meaning may emerge in texts right here on the blog. Or in the interview (see tag at the top). Otherwise, I know what I mean. perhaps you do too...

Monday, 11 September 2017

Identity And Individual Will x4

collage, digital art, 

RTomens, 2017

RTomens, 2017

RTomens, 2017

RTomens, 2017

Who are you? What or who are you becoming? What about me? What are our material relations to each other, to ourselves, and to others in history? What historical epoch is it that we are both within and ceaselessly remaking in some ways, but not other ways? 
- Stephan Pfohl

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Invispo? The partially hidden piece...

vispo, concrete poetry, digital art, collage

RTomens, 2017
Untitled...that bugs me, a little...part of me wanting to come up with a pun around the word 'blinds', another wishing to leave it be, unnamed. I used the term 'vispo' although it's actually almost invispo, as you can see, or partially see. It started with the vispo piece behind the 'blinds' but I wasn't entirely happy with it so I began a masking process with the horizontal lines which, accidentally, took on the appearance of blinds and so they became blinds as I created them, opting to leave them partially closed and raised a little. They are, of course, representative rather than a literal depiction. Still, I was a lot more pleased with the partially hidden piece rather than a fully exposed one. Sometimes the hidden is more interesting than what's in the open.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Skill In Art

collage, print, digital art

X Marks The Spot, RTomens, 2017
Lying in the bath listening to Resonance FM the other day the DJ played the Portsmouth Sinfonia 'live' at the Royal Albert Hall and since The Proms is about to end I thought about how such a madcap venture as the Portsmouth Symphonia probably wouldn't get to play there now.

The orchestra, of which recognised composer Gavin Bryars was a founding member in 1970, comprised of students from the Portsmouth School of Art. Anyone could join despite not being musicians and those who were had to play instruments they were unfamiliar with. Sun Ra did that with his Arkestra in 1966, resulting in Strange Strings, surely the 'strangest' 'Jazz' album ever made. He stopped short at using non-musicians, though.

Unskilled as they were, the Portsmouth Symphonia became a big phenomenon in the 70s, because they were unskilled, obviously. That could be seen as a precursor to today's Britain's Got Talent anti-skill phenomenon wherein the blatant 'failures' are successful. That, in part, annoys the hell out of some, myself included. Yet on the other hand, there's something about the audience's support of the 'talentless' that I find...interesting, even commendable. Those who took the Portsmouth Symphonia to the heights they reached were obviously precursors to BGT voters today.

I was sharing a joke about 'skill' in Art with Facebook friends the other day. It's a subject that's long been debated in the art world. Not only have critics used their idea of skill as a reason to slate conventional painting, but the apparent lack of traditional, formal training displayed in many other art forms also raises hackles. Unfortunately, some can't help but be shackled to tradition to the point of declaring, of an abstract artist: "He can draw, really, he just chooses not to!". As if being able to draw qualifies an artist to not use that skill. The old 'learn the rules before you can break them' idea.

Yesterday I opened a 'canvas' with a view to improvising, knowing I would, at some stage, do some drawing. Despite what a friend said last year upon receiving some of my drawings in the post, I really don't consider myself skilled in that area. Here we have to remind ourselves that 'skill' is relative. If I can render something that looks a bit like an elephant, those who couldn't even scrawl a resemblance might think me 'skilled'. 

The point of X Marks The Spot was to make marks, so the title's meaning is twofold. Not just marks, of course, but one thing lead to another and my idea of drawing couldn't help but be reduced to more of an idea than actual action by my preference for found material. The 'horse' that is my lack of traditional skills no doubt came before the 'cart' of what I make. Had I studied at school, things would be different. Naturally (?) our secondary school art teacher wanted to instil in us the traditional skills. If a revolution in art teaching evolved during the 70s, he wasn't having any of it. 

I maintain, though, that art should be a free experience. By which I mean it should be play first and foremost, not study, graft or hard work. When art is reduced to the same level as the sciences or History, it loses all potential for magic and wonder. If those words sound a little romantic, I simply mean the thrill of creation in its purest form. How many children (and adults) are robbed of the pleasure of Art because they're deterred by the supposed skills needed to create anything worthwhile? 

Any artist equivalent of the Portsmouth Symphonia is unlikely to gain their degree of success. Having said that, the products of many successful contemporary artists might cause serious doubts about the degree of skill on show from some critics. Regardless, I believe we should all be like the orchestra in our attitude. Let's play on and to hell with what others think.

Friday, 8 September 2017

You Can't Hide From Yourself?

Self-esteem, selfies, selfishness, self-belief - the self may be inescapable but so to are the selves of others as we encounter them on a daily basis - some we may even call 'friends' on Facebook, despite knowing next to nothing about them and so it seems to me the explosion of The Self via the social network is inevitable since online is our chance (at last!) to be 'stars' for 15 seconds or the time it takes your 'friend' to scroll past but it is better than nothing and nothing is what we had before the internet, only meat space friends, those smelly, fleshy, physical manifestations of human beings sat opposite in the bar, perhaps, or even on your sofa at home where, perhaps, should you feel emboldened, you may produce examples of your art on paper or canvas for them to see and squirm over (should they be appalled) as they try to think of a diplomatic response and so today's relative anonymity affords the artist the opportunity not only to manufacture themselves as they would like to be seen but, should they wish, remain totally invisible, perhaps in protest against the idea of The Self, preferring, as they like to think, to let their work speak for them or at least represent something of themselves and that may be better than a parade of selfies (photos) or not, depending on your opinion of privacy, vanity etc. Either way, The Self (mine and yours) is here to stay and as Teddy Pendergrass says in this Philly classic, one of the best soul records ever made, you can't hide from it...

The So-called Utopia of the Centre Beaubourg: An Interpretation by Luca Frei

A so-called utopia? Despite the note of cynicism inherent in the title, Albert Meister's first-person account (originally published in 1976) is an enthusiastic telling of how the imaginary Beaubourg centre evolved underground (literally) in Paris. The artist, Luca Frei, has done a fine job in translating although it is not officially a 'translation', but rather an 'interpretation'. As Frei told me recently, it was 'intended to be different than if it would have been translated professionally. I always thought of it as a book to be shared and experienced collectively, and I tried to work the English as if it was in fact Meister himself who would read out loud from the book.' That is exactly how it reads.

Far from being a dry theoretical exploration of this Utopian ideal, Meister's account is frequently satirical without mocking the central concept. He is, after all, supposedly a founder member. I say 'supposedly' to remind you (and myself) that it a is all fiction, but like the best fiction, is wholly convincing as a creative illusion. Recounting developments without dialogue, Meister reveals the problems as well as the positives. Money is discarded and inhabitants are encouraged to act for themselves rather than look to leadership. Naturally, not all visitors are beneficial to the cause, therefore the 'parasites, male chauvinist pigs, lazy windbags, hyper-aggressive psychotics' must also be dealt with.

If the Beaubourg centre world sounds hellish to those of us who baulk at the idea of even sharing a flat with strangers, that's partly the point; to challenge notions of ownership and separation as fostered by a capitalist society driven by the idea of private possession, material accumulation and ultimately isolation. The centre is ungoverned, the anarchist ideal in one large structure. As such all the problems encountered simply mirror life Above but with one crucial difference in that unlike our world this one is not fashioned by powers with ulterior motives that are detrimental to our well-being.

All this may be far-fetched fantasy yet it can't help but cause the reader to look at her/his own life and society in general. We may be trapped in the 'real world' but don't we all sometimes dream of escaping? Some look to reinforce political beliefs by reading the 'wisdom' of others, yet as Meister says, commonplace 'revolutionary' ideas, shackled to the political system, are only playing the same game as their enemies. Until people fundamentally change themselves, all efforts to change society will be futile. 

To Frei's mind, this is an 'art book' but it's quite unlike any other you'll encounter. On the subject of art, the beaubourgians want nothing to do with 'the Cultivated' and their chosen artists, 'these surrealist suckers aiming to shock the bourgeoisie'. Meister rightly pillories the art world and society's division into 'the clans of those who make and the clans of those who look'. Just as the political elite thrive on divide and rule, so the art world beneficiaries cultivate their own caste system in order to maintain control.

I highly recommend this book. It's a little pricey now but worth getting. Alternately, you could visit the Beaubourg centre where you may be lucky and find a copy, which you'll be able to take, for free.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power at Tate Modern

Black people made art - who knew? It's wonder that had time between all that rioting, eh? Sarcasm aside, Tate Modern's Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power is worth a visit; firstly, for me, since Romare Bearden's collages fill a wall of the first room and they're fantastic (first two pics). A master of composition and figurative construction.

Secondly, Norman Lewis' America The Beautiful, which as you can see manages to depict the KKK in an ironically beautiful yet sinister, semi-abstract fashion...

Another stunning piece is Timothy Washington's One Nation Under God...

The Devil And His Game by Kay Brown brilliantly combines paper and acrylic...

Walking through time from room-to-room it became clear that the work I enjoyed most was the earlier stuff, cut-off point being around the turn of the decade into the 70s. If you like fluorescent colours, you'll think otherwise. I found few of the straight paintings to my taste. The sculpture room was good, especially this, I've Got Rhythm by Betye Saar...

As we emerged (therefore truly being 'emerging artists) the shop was playing Gil Scott-Heron's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, which sounded a little out of place in Tate Modern, a little too wannabe hip, but what the hell it is one of the crucial records of the era. I couldn't help wondering how many Tate Modern types knew the tune but it gave them a whiff of revolutionary chic, eh? cynical. 

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Vispo print: 99 / art show No-Go electronic Info age gallery

vispo, print, colour Pop Art, concrete poetry

RTomens, 2017
Here in the electric information age we view art as thumbnails, smartphone-sized gallery visits or full screen desktop framing or Tumblr whatever or Facebook scroll post content or whatever and as with PDFs some people actually want real books, as in pages they can flick, spines they can bend (or try not to) so many would rather see art in the flesh - we all would - but in this gallery without walls that is not an option even if a show should be offered me I would not be able to afford to get all those prints made (boo-hoo) as I told an Established Artist the other day in an email without response because why should he care about my problems, the problems of showing in London and the problem of even wanting to show in London, where you might hang some pictures that would not get bought before taking them down again (too negative!) and wondering what the hell all that was about but at least you can then say on your Artist CV that you showed at blah, blah - a proper exhibition, which nobody will realise that very few people attended, so that's all right...

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Collage: The Sleeper

collage, paper & card, pop art, print, photography

RTomens, 2017
Back in paper collage, where it all began for me and history (OK, paper & paint, if you like). It was fun rebooting the olde technique last week-end, which has lead to a renewed enthusiasm for using scissors and glue. Like vinyl, we know the pleasures of the material as opposed to digital or, in my case, enjoying both. It's stupid to pit one against the other or state that one is better but as is the way of folk some will proclaim the validity of classic collage material over technology-based methods and visa versa. All art-making has one foot in the past. The old adage 'make it new' may be a noble sentiment but is it really possible? More to the point, is newness a worthy goal in itself? Surely the goal for any artist should be to make the best work they can. What is the alternative?