Monday, 24 July 2017

Gillian Ayres at the Museum of Wales

It takes a certain degree of chutzpah to be this bold and huge with your work, but if you like your abstracts eye-wateringly bright and best viewed from as far away as the gallery space will afford, then this is the show for you.

Cardiff plays host to Gillian Ayres this summer. I'm not entirely sure why, but the National Museum decided to hang the show in reverse chronological order. Something of a pointless gesture if you ask me. I resisted being directed in this way and saw them in the order of making, preferring the earlier to the later, as well as her works on paper.

It was a welcome refuge from the more or less constant rain of the last two weeks, but I did feel sorry for all that day's graduands and graduates taking shelter in the museum as a good back drop for their photographs.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Grayson Perry at the Serpentine Gallery

 The tongue in cheek Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! is indeed proving so, given that I made the school girl error of trying to get in on the first Saturday afternoon after it opened. But the 40 minute queue was worth it.

I love Grayson Perry, and so it seems does everyone else. Who would have thunk it that a transvestite potter, as he describes himself, would become a living national treasure, yet he and his alter-ego, Claire, have.

Yes, he makes some obvious points, but they are ones worth making and his affectionate portrait of the nation is one we need to look at in these troubled times.

Thinking about the great inequalities in our country, whilst celebrating all its eccentricities is the order of the day in everything from the pair of Brexit pots, one of which is ever so slightly bigger than the other, to the wall sized tapestries, such as the stereotype map of Britain and the even larger one portraying our urban landscape complete with a traffic jam, burning car in a scrubby field, and grafittied skate park, to the personalised motorbike and cycle, to his sketch books.

The Serpentine has packed its three rooms with much to consider and the irony of buying a The Liberal Elite fridge magnet was not lost on me.

Monday, 24 April 2017

David Hockney and Queer Art at Tate Britain

So, OK, David Hockney is the fastest selling show, the longest opening, etc. and he seems the most popular living British artist. And yes, I do enjoy his work from the earliest through the swimming pools, to the Californian and East Yorkshire landscapes to the latest ipad work, the colours, the confidence with shape, all well exemplified in this major retrospective.

But at this point I am thinking it is all a bit over-hyped. Go in your thousands if you must, but I think I have seen rather too much of his work. I am jaded and cynical.

Queer Art was something else. It is a melange of homoerotic art, hidden messages and work by queer artists to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary this year of the decriminalization of homosexual acts. All very laudable and some of my favourite paintings were there, especially Vita Sackville-West in her red hat.

But, it was too much of a mishmash for me: a wide swathe of chronological time, a disparate collection of images and objects. I spent far too much time reading things in order to be told their significance. That is not the mark of a successful art exhibition. I am meant to be swept up in the work, not having a lengthy history lesson in order to appreciate it. Still, worth a peek if you are passing.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Hidden Paris - Fontainebleu

Hidden in the sense that it is not in Paris at all, the Chateau taking up the central part of the genteel town of Fontainebleu is a 40 minute train ride from Gare de Lyon, but it was a fabulously sunny day and definitely time to get into the green after winter's grey.

Smaller and older than Versailles, this palace of the French monarchs is undergoing some building restoration work at present so the Pope's rooms, so called, were closed, but the rest was open; room after room of gorgeousness, a veritable feast and a study in royal interior design over the centuries, including throne rooms, a ball room, library, reception rooms, Marie Antionette's bed chamber (another one), and many of Napoleon's personal effects, dinner services, campaign tent, jewels.

The gardens are extensive for strolling, picnicking, boating, and the like. A great day out when you want to escape the traffic fumes and Tom Cruise filming helicopter chases for Mission Impossible 6 in the skies of Paris.

Hidden London - Brixton Windmill

Not to be confused with the famous music pub of the same name, the windmill stands in a little park just a stone's throw away. Ashby's Mill, as it is more correctly called, is a little remnant oasis of the countryside before it became built over and turned into South London.

By the end of the nineteenth century, with the wind blocked by buildings it fell into disuse to be resurrected for another thirty years until 1934 by the installation of a steam  and later gas engine.

Open inside occasionally, but viewable all year round, it's one of those quirky things we flaneurs rather enjoy finding on a sunny day.

Concrete Poetry - the iconisation of language

There's a new exhibition in LA at present, not that I shall be seeing it as I am nowhere near. The last in London to my recollection was Poor Old Tired Horse at the ICA in 2009. Worth a rethink? Perhaps.

So, what exactly is it? Is it art? Is it poetry? Is it neither? Is it the bridge between the two? Are any of these definitions useful?

Firstly a very brief potted history - people have been making words look attractive on the page for hundreds of years before the Concrete Poetry movement of the 1950s-1970s. For example, all of those beautiful illuminated mediaeval manuscripts; the Books of Kells, books of hours and so on, through to Elizabethan Labyrinth poems, to elements of Sterne's Tristram Shandy, Lewis Carroll's Mousetail from Alice in Wonderland, and the work of Pound and cummings. What are these all about?

In the simplest terms the words are turned into a picture or representation beyond just their letters, the purpose of which is to enhance the effect of the poem for the reader.

This seems to be one kind of possible extension to any poetic practice of considering the way the words look on the page either through formal poetry, or choosing the lineation in free verse, such as more recently Philip Gross' Amphora.

If all forms of poetry try to do this, then all poetry is concrete in this sense. However, much of what we consider to be concrete poetry lacks something: read it out loud and the effect is lost, as it is essentially a visual form, lacking sound and often meaning.

But what might make it art? Its visual nature, certainly, and the fact that it uses words and typographical elements rather than colours or images, does not reduce its status, even if no pictorial representation is produced.

Thus we might conclude that it is neither poetry nor art, or both as some kind of hybrid, which for me points to the rather otiose nature of such definitions. As an entertainment for the eyes, a provocation of ideas and a demonstration of wit, let's just enjoy it, shall we? Here are just some of my personal favourites (more to follow, so check back soon):

 Ian Hamilton-Finlay (very hard to choose just a couple!)

Mary Ellen Solt:

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Hidden Paris - Basilica St Denis

It's difficult to hide the world's first Gothic building, but if you put it in a northern suburb of Paris with a certain reputation, then it's hardly surprising it has taken me five years to get around to visiting it.

Joking aside, this is a magnificence that everyone should see at least once: huge vaulted ceilings, beautiful rose window, and the main draw: the fabulous, mostly marble, tombs and mortuary effigies of the Kings and Queens of France.

Word of warning. It may be 20 degrees outside, but the church is absolutely freezing, especially the crypt, so wrap up unless you like you want to catch you death, so to speak.

Fascinating to see and a real test of my memory as I didn't take the rather time consuming tour and had to drag up my rather shaky knowledge of French history. Noses and staffs broken during the Revolution, the grim tale of Henry IV's head, and the real mummified heart of Louis LVII await you.

I was particularly taken with the lions and dogs on which the monarchs and their spouses rested their feet. Some were comical, such as dogs pulling on their mistresses cloaks, and some were down right odd, as if the sculptor had never even seen a real lion, which indeed, he may not have. One was even a ferret.

Coffee in the sunny square afterwards before heading back to line 13 was not only welcome, but essential.