Monday, 20 November 2017

Art Gangs / Digital Collage

Out and about today, checking out the charity shops - fortunately, for my bank balance, I found nothing. It's a very rare occasion when I return with a bag carrying no more books than when I left. As you can see, I took Art Gangs : Protest and Counterculture in New York City by Alan W Moore with me today - worth a read if you want an overall picture of names involved and the dates they did things.

I quite fancy starting an art gang - trouble is I'd be so fussy about who could join that it would only have about four members (including me). I suppose, out of desperation, I'd loosen up and allow painters in - ha-ha! But what would we do? I don't know. make posters to stick around town? Give away art? (Surely not!). 
"What are you rebelling against?"
"Nothing. And everything!"

Here's a recent piece called Destiny And Predestination, one of several versions. TTFN

RTomens, 2017

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Monk's Mood - The Art of Thelonious Monk - Music While You Work

Do you listen to music whilst making art? Yes? What do you listen to? Some Mantovani, perhaps, to put you in a relaxed frame of mind...or John Zorn's Naked City metal mayhem to liven you up? My creative soundtrack tends to consist of avant-garde electronic music, or Jazz. Speaking of the latter, Thelonious Monk has been in my life for over 30 years. Just the other day I was listening to the Brilliant Corners album, which after all this time is still an amazing listening experience and actually seems to grow in stature.

To honour Monk and this being the centenary year of his birth, I decided to start a series based on some of his tunes. Shown here are details from three variations on Monk's Mood. 

Wednesday, 8 November 2017


If the American space age dream was one of sleek, shiny automation, silver suits and intergalactic supremacy, it's fitting that Russian artist Ilya Kabakov's 'science-fiction' should be a whole lot more grim. Staring into his installation, The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment (1985) I was struck by several things, not least the shabby mess left behind by the DIY Soviet cosmonaut. Propaganda posters are plastered all over the walls, an obvious reference to State-authorised utopia... 

...abandoned shoes, the crude 'bed'...and that hole in the ceiling, his supposed point of departure, defies logic, depicting as it does the force of something dropping into, rather than being thrust out of, the room. In case you're wondering how he also got through the roof of the apartment block, it was wired up to explode upon lift-off. Here's the whole story...

To view the installation is an ambiguous experience, light glimpsed through the boarded up door being inviting, like cosy living-rooms glimpsed from streets at dusk, yet there are warnings in the form of drab overcoats on pegs outside in semi-darkness. Warnings of what? The dark heart of the story? I presume it's intended as an optimistic tale of escape, yet looking into the room it struck me as tragi-comic. This is no fairy-tale grotto. The catapult is a joke. 

Yet how else would a poor Russian travel into space? This is not a result of HG Wells-style grand late-Victorian adventure, a magnificent machine built through ingenuity and empire-emboldened confidence. It is a catapult and as such represents only the most basic device an oppressed citizen could build. It's both insanely optimistic (like the Russian revolution) and a foolish dream (if considered in the cold light of reality). But the poor of Russia knew that reality all too well and who is to say that in their minds some did not dream of a better place Out There, far from Cold War rhetoric and communist reality?

Elsewhere in the exhibition there are paintings such as these (covered in sweet wrappers)...

...and I Catch the Little White Men, which really caught my eye...

...along with Model for Where Is Our Place?...

The other stunning installation is Not Everyone Will Be Taken Into the Future...

...which instantly reminded me of Tarkovsky's Stalker, if for no other reason than it's overriding atmosphere of desolation and the site of rail transport. Whilst Ilya Kabakov's vision is not the incredibly detailed poetic griminess of Tarkovsky's, it carries equal weight in terms of a sinister prophecy of things to come. Here, though, along with the possibility of applying the slogan to all Russian citizens grounded in the bitter reality of contemporary society, it refers explicitly to artists neglected by mainstream authority and the artist's legacy in general. It contemplates the future of everything made by artists whose works will not be given retrospectives by galleries. Perhaps even the fate of the relatively well-known who cannot predict the place their art will take in the future.

I've only scratched the surface of what's on offer in this exhibition (there are many more paintings, artist's books, sculptures and the intensely personal installation, Labyrinth (My Mother's Album) which, I must say, like so much work here, suggests a duality; in this case, the womb-like comfort of close family memories with the claustrophobic potential of such memories). If you can get to Tate Modern before this show ends I urge you to do so. 

Friday, 3 November 2017

A child could do that! Easy art & Ignorant Criticism

"Why can't you say it's easy?" asks the guy behind the counter in the Oxfam shop in discussion with a woman who'd just bought an artist's monograph which he'd flicked through, casually appraising certain works, appreciating the amount of skill involved, gradually luring her into a debate about 'easy' art versus 'skill', which she reluctantly engaged him in, whilst I flicked through the albums as he continued complaining that no-one's allowed to say "That's easy" about a piece of art, meaning, for instance, Abstract Minimalism, although he didn't use the term, he described a simple coloured line against another colour, by which time I couldn't help but interject, saying most people who deride minimalist abstraction are philistines, which really got him going, thinking that's what I was calling him, which I was, in a roundabout way....

...I know this guy and have argued art with him before, so on we went, him bringing up Picasso's simple line drawings, the woman and I countering by suggesting that such things aren't as 'easy' to draw as some think, me saying he put years of experience into them. Then he drew a face on a piece of paper, shoved it forward and we both examined it - 
"That was easy!" he declared "But is it art?"
"If you say it is," I replied.
"I'm an artist," he'd said earlier, to which I replied "Good luck to you."
He later declared himself a poet too, but suggested that people reading his work might think it "a load of nonsense". I couldn't argue with that, teeth clamped on my tongue to prevent offence with my general attitude toward amateur poets. 
"But words on the whole tend to have specific meaning, whereas abstract art can be open to interpretation," I said.
He said nothing. Previously he'd informed me (the woman had given up and fled) that he wrote about the existence of a 'higher being' in his poems. My teeth sank into my tongue again. If I'd unleashed my thoughts on that idea he may have banned me from the shop.

So it goes on, the same old arguments, still, in 2017! When I told him that the wanton display of ignorance masquerading as criticism isn't valid he got rather angry. Personal taste that evolves over time having studied a lot of art is another matter, but I didn't get that idea into the discussion. I couldn't get him past ancient debates regarding notions of 'skill'. I should have asked him what was wrong with 'easy' too, but didn't. He's stuck somewhere back in time when it was thought that skill was essential to making art, as in being able to draw/paint/build well. Even the woman fell into that trap with the classic counter: "Picasso was actually a really fine draughtsman", words to that effect, thus adhering to another old line which says you must 'learn the rules before you can break them'. Or, it's fine to create abstract works as long as you can really paint! What? Landscapes? Portraits?

At one point he told me a friend wanted a piece of his printed and would pay for it. I asked where he was getting it done...
"Snappy Snaps."
The hint of a smile played across his lips. He was a little embarrassed. Recognising that, I said there was nothing wrong with that. I should have reassured him that in rejecting the Fine Art print for high street services he was at the cutting edge, being anti-bourgeois materialistic Fine Art snobbery. I don't think he'd have understood my point, though.

Artprice Global Index

RTomens, 2017

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Nicolas Schöffer 'An Implosion of Time' at Maddox Arts

Cybernetic serendipity: two weeks after cybernetic music-maker Roland Kayn's box set arrived I spotted this exhibition. Attendance was a must. 

Nicolas Schöffer's CYSP 1 (1956) is thought to be the first cybernetic sculpture in art history yet he was not one to party (a non-smoker/drinker), i.e. ever mix with an in-crowd, therefore, perhaps, remained less well-known by not making the connections to promote himself or his work. Just a theory, as discussed with the curator, who agreed.

Staring into one piece proved a 'trippy' experience, suggesting to me that his active light works predicted the psychedelic light shows of the 60s. 

It seemed criminal to me that this show wasn't packed with the same kind of people who might flock to a Pop Art exhibition, but so it goes. The cybernetic art movement would take a far more obscure/hidden route through art history, I suppose. Microtemps (1964) rattles and hums as the lights revolve in a marvellously clunky fashion; primitive by modern tech standards, perhaps, but all the more charming for it. Elsewhere, Spatiodynamique 19 stands magnificently untouched by the passing of time, a beautiful constructivist sculpture in steel. 

His treatments of film, Variations Luminodynamiques 1, done 'live' by manipulating the cathode ray, were on view. The visual interference of dancers and a Jazz band are especially effective.

There were also prints, executed using a minimal palette of prime colours, yet incredibly powerful in their logical geometry.

We were shown a large book of more prints from the series, which included a grid from which Schöffer worked out the proportions of the shapes. If it all sounds rather dry and scientific, the results are anything but. LJ took a short film of one piece...

As of writing the show closes on Nov 4th but an extension is hoped for. If you can make it I highly recommend a visit to Maddox Arts in London for a rare chance to see Schöffer's magical art in motion.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Digital Collage: Prize

RTomens, 2017
Created from a photograph taken a couple of months ago. Award yourself a prize today! Just for being you. It can be anything from a posh bar of chocolate to the Roland Kayn box set.  Go on. Do it.