William S. Burroughs (Can you all hear me?)

William S. Burroughs (Can you all hear me?)
October Gallery
London WC1... until 7 February 2015

I don't think I've ever read any Burroughs. I may have read The Ticket That Exploded, as that one popped into my mind.  I'll have to check Robin's copy and he will have a copy, that's for sure. My other half has been into Burroughs in a very big way for many years and that may explain why I've neglected him; Robin's kinda read him for me.

So, anyway, it was Robin's birthday and what better way to celebrate than to take ourselves to an exhibition of some of his artwork at the October Gallery. This was the first gallery to show Burroughs' work in Britain in 1988 (which Robin went to). We had already been seeing each other since '87 so I don't know why I didn't go at the time.

We cycled into town to mooch around the gallery and then go for a bite to eat but on arrival we found ourselves outside a rather closed looking gallery. We looked at the opening times, 'Closed', they said, so we walked away disappointed, saying "why didn't we call to check?" etc. But I decided to go back, unable to accept this change in our plans. I rang the buzzer and a woman answered telling me that the gallery was closed, I cheekily replied "But it says you're open on your website". She replied "Stay there I'm coming down" and low and behold she opens up, lets us in and turns on the lights for us. This is a most unexpected and delightful change of events.

Detail from Space Door 1987

Two fair sized rooms contain the work which consists mainly of pieces using spray paint, some in rather garish colours. There are also works made of wood with shotgun holes and a sculpture made out of a door that has been collaged.

Untitled Triptych 1993

Of course we know that Burroughs was fond of the gun so the shotgun pieces are no surprise really. I think they're good and reminded me of Nikki de Saint Phalle's "shooting paintings" of the early 1960s. Other artists also came to mind such as Johns, Rauchenberg, Polke and Warhol, who Burroughs does a great portrait of. It's this piece that is probably the most memorable for me. It is ghost-like and at the same time suggests a sci-fi vision sent through space TV, if you know what I mean.

Warhol, A Portrait in TV Dots..., 1992

Burroughs, primarily a writer, made a pretty good stab at art, but you can see that he's been looking at other artists' work to find ways of creating certain effects.

Included in this centenary homage are works by Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Shezad Dawood and Liliane Lijn, all UK Artists whose work relates in some way to Burroughs' literature and his use of the use of cut-up technique invented by his friend Brion Gysin.

We spent a really nice hour or so in this gallery followed by coffee and cakes and a visit to an old buddy that still lives in the centre of town (very rare these days).

If you fancy seeing this exhibition it's free to get in but do check the opening times, unlike us.

Victor Pasmore's drinks cabinet at Tate Britain

Tate Britain BP Spotlights - New Brutalist Image 1949 - 55 (24 November 2014 to 4 October 2015 Free)

These displays fall into two categories. One which takes you on a journey through British Art, and 'Spotlights', which explore a theme or artist in depth.

I've fallen in love with a drinks cabinet which I saw in one of the spotlights of the BP Walk through British Art at Tate Britain. I'm partial to making furniture which I have done on many occasions. Most modern furniture is pretty simple to make as it's just a series of boxes really. Over the years I've made record stacking units, wardrobes, bed bases, coffee tables and other storage units. I have eight pieces in my home that I've designed and made, I can't help myself really, I like doing it even though my carpentry is not that good. Robin groans when I say I want to make something as he knows I'll rope him in for the build but after lots of cursing it's a very satisfying achievement.

But, back to the Tate spotlight on the exhibition Parallel of life and Art which was created in 1953, being the joint effort of the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi, the artist and photographer Nigel Henderson and architects Alison and Peter Smithson. This group collaborated on the design and building of the architecturally famous Hunstanton School in Norfolk, conceived by the Smithson's in 1949. The display of their work in the form of photographs drawings and sculptures is contained in one room.

Roland Jenkins's office at Ove Arup & Partners was the hub for the ideas of this group and it was in this office that the drinks cabinet resided which was made for him by Victor Pasmore.

I covet this wonderful object. It is sophisticated but simple and has human proportions, unlike a lot of furniture today. The way the hinges can be seen and the edges of wood revealed, the use of perspex and geometric shapes on the doors and the way these shapes are different on each door is something that I feel makes it a superb piece of furniture and art, but it is still fully functional and is obviously made by hand. It has made me think about the greater possibilities for my furniture making and possibly some customising too. 

I enjoyed this room very much and the other spotlight room on Marlow Moss who I will probably discuss later on.

Collage: 1969 Baby

Jane Pearrett 2014
1969 Baby
A4 Collage
Vintage images, graphite and gouache on black paper

Collage: Fire Cracker

Fire Cracker
A3 Collage
Vintage images, woven paper, graphite and gouache on black paper

Collage: Queen of the Night

Jane Pearrett
Queen of the Night 
A4 Collage 
Vintage Images and text, graphite, metallic paint

Sigmar Polke - Alibis: 1963 - 2010 at Tate Modern


Sigmar Polke - Alibis: 1963 - 2010 at Tate Modern... on until 8th February 2015
Nothing is out of bounds for Sigmar. To see his work is to realise just how conservative we can be in our appreciation and in our making of art. His work is really inspiring, especially in his use of materials. All kinds the surfaces are up for grabs, even actual material i.e. fabric instead of canvas. Of course there is a lot more going on in his work. Most of all I loved his strong sense of humour, but do be careful, this humour is often a veneer to a much deeper message.
Fantastic, and going back for seconds!


Modern Artists on Art

Modern Artists on Art: Second Enlarged Edition (Dover Fine Art, History of Art) paperback -1999
by Robert L. Herbert (Editor)

My resident book hunter-gatherer brought this beauty home and I've been tucking in with a great appetite with just one essay left to consume. I didn't think I would manage them all at first but found myself returning every night to read essays by a diverse selection of 20th century artistic innovators such as Kurt Schwitters, Max Ernst, El Lissitzky, and Fernand Leger. Also, Le Corbusier and Ozenfant on Purism, Klee on Modern Art, Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger's presentation of Cubist theory, Mondrian on plastic art and Beckmann's unique description of his art. I've got one more to go which is Henry Moore. I've put him off until last.

I hadn't really thought about it before but most of the stuff we get to read about art theory and artists is written by other people who are not themselves artists. To get the thoughts and ideas from the 'horses mouth' makes really interesting and enlightening reading, or at least it has for me. Each essay has a strong identity, as you would expect, and they're crammed with insights as to what the artist was trying to achieve and how they might go about it. There is a broad spectrum of artistic opinion and theory with some being easier to tackle than others. It makes for powerful reading as it's full of excellent ideas wherever you choose to open the page.

This is an inspiring and empowering read which I've really enjoyed and would recommend it to anyone interested in art and the process of making it. I will also be re-reading some of my favourite parts as there's plenty more juice to be squeezed from it. 

Jeff Keen

I've been enjoying some Jeff Keen films recently as Robin has got a box set. I thought I would share one with you, I hope you enjoy it. 

GRAD Private View: A Game in Hell. The Great War in Russia

We had an invitation to a private view of A Game In Hell. The Great War In Russia at GRAD. That's the Gallery for Russian Arts and Design I wrote about previously on this blog. As we enjoyed the last show there we decided to check it out again as they were showing the work of some of our favourite Russian artists, such as Malevich, who I've also written about on this blog. So we met up for dinner and had fish and chips (probably a good idea considering what we drank later) and then took ourselves along to Little Portland Street (just behind Oxford Street).

I intended to studiously take notes so I could blog about it but things soon started to go awry when we were offered some distinctly Russian cocktails made with Vodka; one being the 'White Russian' and another one made with ginger beer, the name of which I have forgotten. Mmmm, yes, these were very nice indeed!

However, due to this general imbibing I didn't quite achieve what I wanted but here's a bit of an idea of what it's all about...

The exhibition aims to show the response to the First World War in Russia with satirical prints, cartoons and illustrated periodicals. The subject matter is often heavily politicised depicting Allied victories or vilified enemies and acts of great bravery. Various vehicles put these ideas across in the form of books, poetry, prose, collage, woodcuts and watercolours. Often these pieces are traditional in execution but reveal radical and experimental ideas and strong tendencies towards Russia's artistic avant-garde.

A lot of the exhibition is viewed under tabletop glass, and there are photographs, films, large posters and a really great historical timeline on the surrounding walls, which also relates to what was happening in European art around the same time. The photographs and films give a personal touch to the forgotten histories of the people who fought in the war.

Work can be seen by Kazimir Malevich, Olga Rozanova, Aleksei Kruchenykh,Velimir Khlebnikov and Pavel Filonov and Natalya Goncharova amongst others.

We particularly liked a futurist book titled 'Explodity' by Aleksei Kruchenykh from 1913 made with watercolour and ink on paper.


We couldn't help thinking afterwards about how extreme hardship can produce such creativity, it brings to mind this quote from Harry Lime in the film, The Third Man:
   “In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had five hundred years of democracy and peace and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock.”

This exhibition is on until 27th November and would be well coupled with another show on at the Photographers' Gallery which is just on the other side of Oxford Street  This one is on until 19th October and called Early Colour Photography in Russia where you can marvel a pieces like this one below.

'BE READY!' 1932
Photomontage by Vavara Stepanova

53 Million Artists Interview Me

Here I am answering a few questions put to me by the people from 53 Million Artists.  The interview wasn't planned and afterwards I realised there were many more things I would have liked to have said but I guess it's always the way when you're put on the spot.  I can talk for England when I get going so it's just as well that the batteries were running out in the camera.

The Russian Revolutionary - Zaha Hadid on Kazimir Malevich

Following on from my post about Kazimir Malevich here's a documentary about the way Zaha Hadid's vision for her architecture was inspired by his work.

Collage: Mother and Child

Mother and Child
A3 Collage
Vintage text, gouache and graphite on paper.

Malevich at Tate Modern

On until 26th October 2014

Kazimir Malevich
Born: 1879 Kiev, Ukraine
Died: 1935 St Petersburg, Russia

I read somewhere that Kazimir Malevich wasn't a particularly good painter. I've been looking for this piece of wisdom today and typically I can't find it. I wanted to see what was meant by it because after going to the first ever retrospective of his work in the UK, at the Tate, I disagree with this statement. Strangely though I think my low expectation was partly why I was so impressed and moved by this show.

I think Malevich is a shining example of what a painter should be. He was constantly experimenting in his early career with various forms of abstraction. His exploration through the European movements in the early stages of his painting career show him trying out Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism etc whilst at the same time using the native Russian people and workers as subjects. This early work is interesting but as I moved through the next few rooms I felt that he was really starting to find his own unique vision and working increasingly at the cutting-edge.

The big change happens when he becomes involved with theatre and collaborates with avant-garde poets and musicians to produce the futurist opera called Victory over the Sun in 1913. My friends and I were quite amazed by how modern this piece was for the time. He starts producing work for the stage, and it is this that leads him to the level of abstraction of which the pinnacle becomes the renowned Black Square. This is also the starting point for his new approach to art which he called suprematism.

Around the middle of the exhibition there is a room that replicates an exhibition held in 1915 called The Last Exhibition of Futurist Painting 0.10. There is one surviving photograph of this (see below) which the curators have used to evoke the original room with nine of the twelve original paintings.

The original exhibition

This is the point where the exhibition gets really interesting. Even though there are many works with simple forms I really felt drawn in by so many of them and kept on noticing things such as a red square on a whitish background (see below) but with one edge going off at an angle, raising the question as to why? Also, on close inspection odd textural finishing when filling in forms which take on the appearance of something soft like fur or suede but definitely not trying to represent these things, all very odd but compelling. I feel that some of these works have a strange hypnotic or contemplative effect that definitely cannot be experienced without seeing them up close and in the flesh.

 Red Square(Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions) 1915

The most elemental geometric forms are the most contemplative and have a stillness but some of the works become more dynamic with coloured geometric shapes interacting with each other and often floating as if in space.
Supremus No.55 1916

It's hard to imagine but well worth baring in mind that this work was done during the height of the war and that Malevich was a reservist who spent time with his unit during 1916. By 1917 the old regime collapsed and the Revolution was transforming the political climate which sought to change art to fit the new and equal society. Malevich seems to reveal this change, visually dissolving and fading forms by placing white on white or fading edges.

Yellow Quadrilateral on White (Dissolution of Sensation) 1917-18

I found this fading quality quite emotive and was surprised at myself for feeling this but this is precisely why I think Malevich is such a great artist. He can move you when you're not expecting to be moved and with something as pure and simple as the piece above.

From 1919 Malevich became a teacher, eager to promote the principals of suprematism for the home and the workplace. During the 1920s, he took suprematism into three dimensions with his architectons. These are like a cross between sculpture and architectural maquettes.   

However, by 1924 Lenin had died and gradually Stalin succeeded him and this brought about another change where avant-garde art was seen as elitist. Socialist realism became the authorised style of the Soviet Union. This didn't prevent him from painting though as by 1929 he's producing new works blending abstraction with figuration.

Woman with Rake

This exhibition is large and covers twelve rooms in all but with this you really get to see how prolific he was and you also get a real sense of a whole life shown in art. It feels personal and strangely as if I had known him. I would like to thank my friend Myka for treating us to this one.

Favourite Sculptures: Rock Drill by Jacob Epstein

Number 1

Rock Drill by Jacob Epstein 1880-1959

Constructed between 1913 and 1915

This sculpture still astounds me, it's so utterly different from virtually all other sculpture from the period. I think it is beautiful with it's elegant lines but at the same time it depicts an ugliness that I associate with war. The humanoid figure strides the actual rock drill like a sentinel on horseback, the angular head with its visor scanning the ground in search of something, possibly me or you. It's very imposing and threatening.  

During it's construction the First World War began but also War of the Worlds, the science fiction novel by English author HG Wells first appeared in serial form in 1897. To me Epstein was referencing both this fictional and the real war in the same work with great success.

The rock drill you see in the picture was the genuine article of the 'machine age' with the American manufacturers number printed on the side, and was in effect a 'readymade' and contemporaneous with Marcel Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel. With the added figure on top this piece towered to over three meters tall.

On close inspection one can see a small amorphous shape revealed within the central torso of the figure. Was this suggestive of a new race born to take over from the existing one? Below Epstein gives his own account of the work.......

Writing about the piece in his autobiography he said: “I made and mounted a machine-like robot, visored, menacing, and carrying within itself its progeny, protectively ensconced. Here is the armed, sinister figure of today and tomorrow. No humanity, only the terrible Frankenstein’s monster we have made ourselves into…”
No mention of War of the Worlds there but to me the machine-like robot with long legs and extensions shows strong links with images depicting HG Wells's creation.

Epstein was born in America but became a British Citizen in 1911 after a period spent in Europe. He was not a Vorticist but was closely linked with the movement. Wyndham Lewis the leader of this movement remarked, 'one of the best things he [Epstein] has done. The nerve-like figure perched on the machinery, with its straining to one purpose, is a vivid illustration of the greatest function of life.'

Sadly Epstein dismantled this work, sold the drill and truncated the figure showing a new Torso in Metal in 1916.  This piece can now be seen at Tate Britain.  It's still great but seems only to have half the power of the original, quite literally.

Grayson Perry- Reith Lecture No.1: Democracy Has Bad Taste

I know Grayson Perry isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I have to say, I think he's a very good speaker. I enjoyed all four of these Reith lectures back in 2013 and I've just listened to the first one again, so if you didn't catch them here's the first one. He talks very knowingly about Contemporary Art with much wit. The lecture is about half an hour long followed by questions.


Gallery for Russian Arts & Design: Work and Play Behind the Iron Curtain

Just around the back of Oxford Street, Little Portland Street to be precise, is a small gallery called GRAD. If you take a trip there or find yourself in this area before 24th August 2014 you can treat yourself to a small confection of  design objects from Russia with some history thrown in; just in case you're getting rusty.  The exhibition is called Work and Play Behind the Iron Curtain.

You'll experience the changing face of Russian Design within a historical context from the 1917 revolution to perestroika. Loaned pieces are from The Moscow Design Museum and AMO-ZIL

There's quite a few galleries popping up around the back of Oxford Street where there were once wholesalers from the fashion industry...what does this mean?..Please discuss.

It's free to get in so you can spend the money on tea and cakes; that's what we did anyway.

3-4a Little Portland Street, London

Here's a selection of photographs taken by my assistant...Robin.

Secretarial Telephone with Rotary Dial and Keypad (date unknown)

'Molniya' (Lightning) Table Clock 1966

Saturn vacuum cleaner 1967

The Vortographs of Alvin Langdon Coburn

As you may have seen I've posted a photograph of Wyndham Lewis on this blog.  He was the dynamic leader of the Vorticist movement in Britain that commenced in the summer of 1914. Due to my interest in him I have discovered something I didn't know existed: Vortographs. These were the photographs taken by Alvin Langdon Coburn, who was connected with the movement. I only discovered these recently so I know little about them or him but it's great to find something which is new to me, so I thought I would put a few examples here.  He was born in Boston, Massachusetts and was an amateur photographer until he met with Edward Steichen.  In 1903 he joined with Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Gertrude Kasebier and Clarence White in forming the Photo-Secession group.

Around 1904 he came to London and subsequently met with the Vorticists. This group included Percy Wyndham Lewis, Helen Saunders, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Jessica Dismorr, Charles Nevinson, Dorothy Shakespear and William Roberts.

Gelatin silver print from 1917

During this time he began experimenting with photographs of crystals, using a triangular mirror called a Vortoscope. This experimentation resulted in images of angular forms which echo the Vorticist aesthetic of abstract angles and planes. They were the first completely abstract photographs ever taken. Through this work he pioneered non-objective photography, however, he didn't stay with the technique for very long.

The Eagle 1917
Gelatin silver print

Gelatin silver print from 1917

Here's an early self-portrait of him from 1905 looking a bit moody.

Alvin Langdon Coburn

Collage: La Poupée

La Poupée
A3 Collage
Vintage text, gouache, graphite and crayon on paper

Wyndham Lewis/John Heartfield

The reason for this post is to share photographs that I particularly like of certain artists. I've added just one of their creations as an example of their work.

Wyndham Lewis 1882 - 1957  English Painter and author.
Vorticist and editor of Blast Magazine and others.

Mr Lewis has got plenty attitude, that's for sure. In his face, there's a trace of a smile but also aggression, the hair a little unruly but at the same time groomed, the neat bow in his neck counterbalanced by the casual cigarette. He looks vicious, rakish, hard, challenging, compelling and possibly a bit of a joker. I'm a bit obsessed with him at the moment. The painting is called Timon of Athens (1923)

John Heartfield 1891 - 1968)   German Dada Artist and designer.
I love this photo for revealing such strong feeling.
John Heartfield used art as a political weapon. He was known for his political photomontages containing anti-Nazi and anti-fascist statements he also designed book jackets and stage sets. 

Collage: River God

Oil, photocopy, graphite and original drawing on canvas.

Quick Summery of Exhibitions

I've compiled a quick summery of the exhibitions I've been to over the past year or so.  Some occur before I started the blog, some of these are still on and so in no particular order................

Sigmar Polke - Alibis: 1963 - 2010 at Tate Modern... on until 8 February 2015
Nothing is out of bounds for Sigmar. To see his work is to realise just how conservative we can be in our appreciation and in our making of art. His work is really inspiring, especially in his use of materials. All kinds the surfaces are up for grabs, even actual material i.e. fabric instead of canvas. Of course there is a lot more going on in his work. Most of all I loved his strong sense of humour, but do be careful, this humour is often a veneer to a much deeper message.
Fantastic, and going back for seconds!

George Grosz - The Big No at Highgate Gallery - (Hayward Gallery touring exhibition) On until 9 November 2014.
Highgate Literary & Scientific Institution, 11 South Grove, London N6.
Such and eye-opener into the chaos of 20s Berlin in this show of two portfolios of Grosz's work; 'Ecce Homo' ('Behold the Man'), 1923 and 'Hintergrund' (Background), 1928. This free exhibition lets you get up close and personal to Grosz's drawings of a collapsing society and all that goes with it. It's funny, it's dark, it's dirty, it's crazy and vice ridden...but what a draughtsman! 

Kasimir Malevich - Tate Modern.  A Revolutionary of Russian Art. On until 26 October 2014. This is the first ever retrospective of his work in the UK so it's definitely worth a visit if you're into Suprematism as I am. 

Radical Geometry - The Royal Academy.  Modern Art from South America. On until 28 September 2014. Progressive geometric art spanning a fifty year period, starting in the 1930's.
I enjoyed it and I've written a piece about it, which you can read here.

Jake and Dinos Chapman - Serpentine Gallery.
Nihilistic and very amusing.

Joseph Albers - Waddington Custot Gallery
Very Beautiful, especially on close inspection. See my post on this.

Richard Hamilton - Tate Modern.
Impressive body of work, preferred the earlier pieces though.

"Uproar!" The first 50 years of the London Group (1913-1963) - Ben Uri Galley.
 Early British Modernism............... subtly anarchic.

The Bride and the Bachelors - The Barbican.
Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauchenberg and Johns.
Marcel Duchamp's American legacy resulting in a seismic shift in the direction of art in the 1950's and '60s.
Very good,  I could do with seeing it again as there was quite a lot to take in.

Pop Art Design - The Barbican.
Exploring ideas going back and forth between artists and designers in the Pop age. Great to see women artists represented such as Pauline Boty, Judy Chicago and Jann Haworth. (See below)
Big and colourful pieces as you would expect.

Musee d'art Modern, Nice. (France)
Exploring the relationship between New European Realism and the American tendency towards the Art of Assembling and Pop Art.
Great to see work by Niki de Saint Phalle, especially one piece that reminded me of the Chapman Brothers' work.  I wondered if they had been influenced by her, (see close-up of painting below and above)......... great to see work by Yves Klein too.

Picasso Museum, Antibes (France)
Lovely location right on the sea front, excellent holiday and art appreciation-location combo.

Renoir's House, Cagnes-sur-Mer (France)
Very pretty but found the work there quite boring, expected more.

Fondation Maeght, Saint-Paul de Vence (France)
Really impressive building and grounds, quite a lot of kinetic sculpture.  Lots of Miro, Giacometti, Calder etc. Don't go to the South of France without visiting this place, it's wonderful.  The actual village of St Paul de Vence is loaded with artists studios and very lovely but unfortunately there is quite a lot of poor quality work on display there, probably due to tourism.

Hannah Hoch - Whitechapel Galley
Large exhibition, very inspirational female Dada collage artist, working in the Weimar republic during the war........ I must get the scissors out more often!

Russian Avant Garde (1910-1932) - St Petersburg Gallery (Closes 20 September 2014)
Wonderful examples, a bit rough round the edges, which is something I love about some of these works, they're not too clean-cut. I may go back for seconds before it closes.

The Show Is Over - The Gagosian, Britannia Street, London.
Exhibition about abstraction and the end of painting, often proposed but never concluded....thankfully!
I found this sequence by Robert Ryman very inspiring.  These pieces are on aluminium with vinyl polymer acrylic paint.  He said "I am not a picture painter. I work with real light and space." 

Schwitters in Britain - Tate Britain
Exhibition showing the later work of Kurt Schwitters, covering the time he spent in Britain as a refugee after fleeing Germany where his work was condemned as degenerate by the German Nazi government.  He was a significant figure in European Dadaism and invented the Merz concept which deals with the equality of materials for making art.  I have decided to show one of his sculptures here as I remember being particularly taken with them.