Saturday, 26 November 2011

Review of Paul Noble: Welcome to Nobson at the Gagosian Gallery, Britannia Street

Paul Noble: Welcome to Nobson
Gagosian Gallery, Britannia Street
10 November – 17 December 2011

Oh to be inside the mind of the artist! Or, in this case, maybe preferably not… For Paul Noble’s mind must be a very peculiar place indeed. He has spent the past 15 years envisaging and designing Nobson Newtown, a Brave New World where Heaven (2009), enclosed in high brick walls with deterrent shards and empty plinths, has no way in or out, whilst Hell (2009) seems welcoming, with its art deco fencing and open gates. The concepts behind this dystopia are as skewed as the artist’s unsettling perspective, and the towering sketches (Welcome to Nobson, 2008-2010, the centre piece to the exhibition, is a massive 452 x 715 cm) loom over you, a mixture of empty space and intricate detail.

Drawn in gentle graphite, these architectural plans are precise and elaborate. No detail is overlooked. From the shadows of the fences to the toilet rolls and bin bags, the stones in the walls, each individually engraved, and the geometric accuracy of a2 + b2 =  c2 (2009) in which two enlarged slides, taken from the Escher-like playground area of the town, are placed in opposition to one another, forming perfect Pythagorian triangles. But if you look too closely, prepare to be disturbed, for this is a perverted vision. Balls and chains, manacles and hand-shaped paddles hang from the bare branched trees; a strange, dark, hooded sculpture lurks sinisterly outside the walls, a phallus protruding from his head; and inside the spookily empty space, worm-like creatures toil away in the bleak futuristic towers.

The main gallery is entered through a beaded curtain, heavy and foreboding, swallowing you into the labyrinthine world. The visitor is immediately dwarfed, not only by the size of the beads and the scale of the sketches, but also by the two monumental marble sculptures standing guard (Three, 2011 and Couple, 2011). Pink-tinged, with translucent red veins, they loom overhead like giant erect penises. Intimidating and unnerving, elements taken from the sketches made real in the here and now.

The most disturbing work of all, however, is undoubtedly Ah (2010). Hanging in a separate side gallery, along with a strangely ritualistic wooden bell, hung with carved hazelnuts (Wooden Bell, 2011), and the outline of a figure composed out of charred stones (Stone Figure, 2011), this Gordian phantasm concatenates all the most perverse elements into one debauched scene: pipes with faces; roving eyeballs; piles of excrement with limbs engaging in anal intercourse with one another, whilst simultaneously self-pleasuring and eating hotdogs with legs of their own; Orwellian pigs; horses with teeth and hats; guns; cannons; scarcely disguised Swastikas… Engraved at the centre are the words: “One hand on the plough, the other on the sword.” Is this the motto of Nobson Newtown? Where heaven is evil and hell enticing, a place of purgatory, from which there is no escape? By now I felt I’d hedged my bets long enough, and it was time to make my get away whilst the going was still good. 

Images: Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery

Friday, 25 November 2011

Review of Jonathan Lasker: The 80s at Timothy Taylor Gallery

Jonathan Lasker: The 80s
Timothy Taylor Gallery
19 November – 23 December 2011

Jonathan Lasker builds his paintings up like a collage. Matt backgrounds in pastel shades, smooth and merely decorative, provide the backdrop for frenzied black scribbles, vertical and horizontal lines which run away with themselves into frantic knots, overlaid in turn by thick and vibrant scrawls of primary reds and yellows, squeezed from the tube with only the slightest touch of the brush. Celtic knots, spaghetti tangles, balls of wools – repeated motifs detached from their background, gestural scrawls, a cacophony of voices. With titles such as When Dreams Work (1992) or Heavy Mental (1985) these works do indeed both evoke and elicit a screaming rush of thoughts – the noise of the mind, undeciphered, purged directly on to the canvas. Optical confusion, eye ache, mental exhaustion. And then the peeling back of shapes, like a Matissean cut-out, revealing a calm beneath. Biomorphic shapes, or “blobs”, flowing from one image to the next.

In their press release, the gallery suggests that Lasker’s paintings make us aware of how we look at art, by emphasising the paintings’ constituent elements, most notably the differentiation between figure and ground. I would suggest they do much more than this, making us aware of the differentiation – and overlap – of visual and verbal vocabularies and thoughts, of the conscious and the subconscious, the rational and the irrational, of conception and perception[1], and of silence and noise. Prepare to leave this exhibition with your head whirring and thoughts racing.

[1] The contrast between conception and perception was raised by Shirley Kaneda in an interview with the artist for BOMB 30/Winter 1990, available at (accessed 24/11/11).


Jonathan Lasker
The Big Picture (1988)
Oil on canvas
96 x 132 in / 244 x 335 cm
© Jonathan Lasker; Courtesy, Timothy Taylor Gallery, London

Jonathan Lasker
Cosmic Shorthand (1988)
72 x 102 in / 183 x 259 cm
© Jonathan Lasker; Courtesy, Timothy Taylor Gallery, London

Monday, 21 November 2011

Review of Gesamtkunstwerk: New Art from Germany at the Saatchi Gallery

Gesamtkunstwerk: New Art from Germany
Saatchi Gallery
18 November 2011 – 30 April 2012

With Germany’s ever increasing strength as the political and economic powerhouse of Europe, it is perhaps timely that the Saatchi Gallery’s latest offering should be a survey of contemporary German art, showcasing some 24 artists from or based in Germany, who, although perhaps little known in the UK, are making it big on the continental European arts stage. The title of the exhibition, Gesamtkunstwerk, can be translated as a “total, ideal, or universal work of art”, or as a “synthesis of different art forms into one all-encompassing masterpiece”. The term, first used by the German writer and philosopher K. F. E. Trahndorff in 1827, has been assimilated into the study of aesthetics, although it is perhaps best known for its Wagnerian associations, after the composer used the term to describe his ideals of artistic integration. Accordingly, an underlying theme of this show is the ongoing academic battle between a narrow concentration on art history and a wider, if somewhat undefined, field of visual culture, whereby the distinction between high and low art forms is lost, and anything image-based becomes worthy as an object of study. German post-war culture and society, politics and the media, consumerism, gender – all of these topical themes bear their mark on the show’s contents, which, in short, offers a rollercoaster ride (in the case of Zhivago Duncan’s Pretentious Crap (2010), quite literally) through the broken images and discarded scraps of every day life.

Upon entering the exhibition in gallery one, you might well be forgiven for thinking, however, you had mistakenly arrived elsewhere. This is a quiet room, at odds with rest of the gallery. Dimly lit, it is filled with wooden carvings and plaster sculptures by Markus Selg, displayed on plinths, and recalling the imagery of the classical era. Trauernde (2008) would not be out of place in a church, and Betender (2009), a kneeling white plaster figure, has a crib-like air to it, not just from its backbone of straw.

Proceeding through into gallery two, however, you remember where you are – this is, after all, the Saatchi Gallery, not the British Museum! Met with a cacophony of colour and pattern, André Butzer’s large canvases of street art style imagery depict highly impasto, hollow-eyed amoeba, recognisable icons of modern day life, or, as Butzer himself describes them, just “the kind of things Donald Duck would do when he paints”?

Another artist who plays with the concept of iconology is Julian Rosefeldt in his Global Soap (2000-1). A series of four headshot composites, taken from international TV soap operas and compiled according to expression, these studies of modern day melodrama reference German art historian Aby Warburg’s (1866-1929) systematic investigation of religious painting, and, Rosefeldt hopes, present the contemporary counterpart in an age where “soaps have taken over the function of the church.”

Celebrity life is further picked up by Kirstine Roepstorff in All Possible Experiences (2006), a collage in which she intersperses foil stars and newsreel images to create a map of the modern day media constellation. Another work by the same artist, You Are Being Lied To (2002), which, from a distance resembles an idyllic Garden of Eden scene, with trees, grass, water, flowers, and glitter, is, upon closer study, a rambunctious display of masculinity, with motorbikes, boats, fighter jets, sports and barbecue paraphernalia.

Josephine Meckseper counters this androcentric display with her politically engaged, feminist installations, confronting and reappropriating consumerist advertising imagery relating to the role and place of women. Shoes, stockings, fashion magazine adverts: a true 1950s woman’s closet, but, diffused with critical commentary, including a photograph from a demonstration with placards bearing “Fight the new Colonialism” and a toilet brush, her non-complicit standpoint becomes quite clear.

Charred remains feature heavily throughout the exhibition as well. In Dirk Bell’s Abgrund (Abyss) (2008), a gently painted grisaille of a naked figure, lit by a real neon light, the subject is half hidden behind a charred net curtain, and stands upon a ledge with shards of broken mirror and charred human bones. On the opposite wall, Friedrich Kunath’s First Life Takes Time Then Time Takes Life (2010), presents seven frames of ostensibly the same still life composition, consisting of a piece of toast leaning against a pineapple-shaped ceramic vase, albeit with the toast becoming progressively burnt from image to image – perhaps a warning of the continual destruction that so easily goes unnoticed in the world when you do not keep a close eye out? Finally, Thomas Helbig’s Jungfrau (2005) and Vater (2005) are riotous sculptures built from all manner of found (and burnt) materials: animal jaws and teeth, an eagle’s head and wings, an elephant’s trunk, and various delicately beautiful legs and arms, remains from classical antiquity. These works are so disturbing that I left the gallery hallucinating such monstrosities were emerging from the underground escalators to drag me down to their world!

More every day detritus is utilised by Ida Ekblad, who embeds “the discarded remains of contemporary culture” into wet panels of concrete. Isa Genzken, on the other hand, turns her castaway items into totemic sculptures, incorporating snapshots of her own and others’ pasts: toy cowboys and Indians, retro chairs, dolls, Christmas decorations… It is her polyptych, Kinder Filmen I (2005), with its mirrors, coloured strips, holograms and warning tape, all overlaying exquisite Renaissance images, which might, however, be seen as a summation of the whole exhibition. Colour, vibrancy, image, modern media and classical beauty, it epitomises the question of what precisely is the object (and subject) of art today. You will certainly leave this show with something to think about.


André Butzer Ahnenbild 2411 (2006)
Oil on canvas
280 x 460cm

Isa Genzken Geschwister (2004)
Plastic, lacquer, mirror foil, glass, metal, wood, fabric
220 x 60 x 100 cm

Courtesy the Saatchi Gallery, London

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Interview with Rachel Howard re. Folie à Deux at Blain|Southern

Rachel Howard: Folie à Deux
Blain|Southern, London
12 October–22 December 2011
Rachel Howard is not an artist to shy away from heavy subject matter; sin, suicide, madness, the fragility of the human condition. Trained at Goldsmiths, and studio assistant to Damien Hirst from 1992–1996, Howard is a widely exhibited and successful artist in her own right, recognisable for her trademark use of household paint, which she separates into pigment and varnish, to create a dragging effect of colour across the canvas. Her current exhibition at Blain|Southern, Folie à Deux, is named after the clinical definition for a psychosis in which delusional beliefs are transmitted from one individual to another. Studio International spoke to Howard about her inspirations and fears.
To read the rest of this review please go to:

Copyright © 1893–2011 The Studio Trust. The titles Studio International and The Studio are the property of The Studio Trust and, together with the content, are bound by copyright. All rights reserved

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Review of Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935 at the Royal Academy of Arts

Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935
The Sackler Wing Galleries
Royal Academy of Arts
29 October 2011 – 22 January 2012

Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, a new Marxist-Socialist state was founded under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924). With this came a brief but intense period of architectural design and construction, largely associated with the artistic ideals of the contemporary Constructivist art movement, and with the aim of breaking free from past imperial and bourgeois associations. State headquarters, radio towers, factories, social clubs, schools, colleges, and housing – the scope was broad, and the new style, governed by the principle that function should dictate external form, wholly reflected the ethos and optimism of the new state.

The Royal Academy’s latest offering, Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935, explores the synergy of the art and architecture of this period, juxtaposing vintage archival photographs of the most significant buildings with corresponding images taken by British-born photographer Richard Pare, who, over the past two decades, has collected nearly 15,000 negatives, reflecting both the architects’ intentions at the time, as well as the present day melancholy of the rapid state of deterioration of many of the structures. In amongst these photographic works are a selection of paintings and sketches, on loan from the Costakis Collection, Thessaloniki, by avant-garde artists including Kazimir Malevich, Vladimir Tatlin, Liubov Popova and El Lissitsky.

The exhibition opens with the first industrial structure to be built after the Revolution, Vladimir Shukhov’s Shabolovka Radio Tower, erected in 1922 for the newly established propaganda broadcasters, Comintern.  Inspired by Vladimir Tatlin’s proposed Monument to the Third International (1919-20), the tower was originally intended to dwarf even the Eiffel Tower with a height of 350m. Unfortunately, as with many of these projects, it had to be cut back, due to the limited availability of steel. Nevertheless, at 150m tall, this tower has become one of the most recognisable emblems of Socialist progress. Monument to the Third International, or Tatlin’s tower, as it came to be known, was, on the other hand, never built at all – at least, not in Russia. Back in 1971, a 1 in 40 scale wooden model was commissioned by the Hayward Gallery as part of the exhibition, Art in Revolution. Now, the same architect, Sir Jeremy Dixon, has returned and recreated a steel version for the RA’s Annenberg Courtyard – a symbol, as he puts it, of the Socialist regime’s optimism, which, in its attempt to “achieve the impossible […] absolutely captures the spirit of that moment.”[1]

The New Economic Policy of the 1920s saw rapid industrialisation, which brought with it an exodus from rural areas to the towns and cities of the newly formed USSR. This, in turn, necessitated a whole new provision of, predominantly communal, housing.  Moisei Ginzburg’s Narkomfin Communal House (1930) is a beautiful example of sleek white forms and flat roofs, whilst the family house designed by Konstantin Melnikov (1931) demonstrates both a geometrically patterned hexagonal fenestration, as well as a more basic grid formation, epitomised also in the Rusakov and Zuev Workers’ Clubs, centres for collective life and the realisation of Socialist values. These structures themselves compare directly with the intersecting forms in Liubov Popova’s Spatial Force Construction (1920-21) and her two Painterly Architectonics (1915-16 and 1918-19 respectively). 

The exhibition concludes with a room dedicated to Lenin’s mausoleum. After his death on 24 January 1924, a quick and temporary wooden structure was erected, designed by Alexei Shchusev. This was replaced by a more elaborate structure in the August of the same year, but, as the cult of Lenin grew, a permanent stone-clad mausoleum was commissioned. Finished in October 1930, and highly polished in dark red granite, marble, porphyry and labradorite, this impressive geometric structure was the last of its kind, marking the end of an era. The new Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), completely rejected all forms of abstraction, passing an edict to permit only Classical architecture, and ordering a return to representational art.

Pare’s own journey to complete his archive is a story in itself. Permitted just 30 minutes to enter the mausoleum with enough light to take his photograph, he was uncertain that his exposure would be long enough to come out with anything respectable. Busying himself with setting up another shot, so as to distract the guards from the fact that he was leaving the film to expose for a little longer than allowed, he could do nothing more than cross his fingers until he got home. Luckily for him, and us, the result was spectacular. Taking us on a journey from start to finish, this comprehensive exhibition thus offers an unparalleled opportunity to witness the development and cross-fertilisation of art and architecture during one of the most exceptional periods of the past century. Even without any knowledge of the historico-political situation, it might be enjoyed as a celebration of pure geometric form – the square, the circle, the line; intersecting planes; rough texture and the mere suggestion of volume. Simplicity, style, and function, both on paper and in 3D.

[1]Architect’s ‘recreation’ of Russian artist Vladimir Tatlin’s 1,200ft would-be monument takes pride of place at Royal Academy exhibition” by Andrew Johnson, Islington Tribune, 4 November 2011. Accessed from’s-‘recreation’-russian-artist-vladimir-tatlin’s-1200ft-would-be-monument-tak on 16 November 2011.


Liubov Popova Spatial Force Construction (1920-21)  
Oil and marble dust on plywood,  1123 x 1125 mm  
State Museum of Contemporary Art - G. Costakis Collection, Thessaloniki, Greece 

Reconstruction of Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International, known as ‘Tatlin’s Tower’, specially commissioned from Jeremy Dixon of Dixon Jones Architects, in the Royal Academy’s Annenberg Courtyard 
15 November 2011
Photograph: Robin Beckham

Richard Pare Shabolovka Radio Tower (1998)  
Photograph, 154.8 x 121.9 cm  
Richard Pare, courtesy Kicken Berlin  © Richard Pare

M.A. Ilyin Narkomfin Communal House - corner detail of residential block (1931)  
Photograph, 116 x 80 mm  
Department of Photographs, Schusev State Museum of Architecture, Moscow 

Richard Pare Rusakov Workers' Club- general view showing the three auditorium segments (1995)  
Photograph, 50.8 x 61 cm  
Richard Pare, courtesy Kicken Berlin  © Richard Pare  

Review of Barry Flanagan: Early Works 1965 – 1982 at Tate Britain

Barry Flanagan: Early Works 1965 – 1982
Tate Britain
27 September 2011 – 2 January 2012

Barry Flanagan (1941-2009) can be said to have leapt on to the international art stage in 1982 when his Large Leaping Hare was exhibited in Documenta 7, Kassel, after which he went on to represent Britain in the Venice Biennale of the same year. Indeed, it is for this and his many other bronze hares for which Flanagan is widely known, but his earlier career, spanning nearly 20 years, ought not to be overlooked. An equally prolific, if somewhat more private period, it is this era which is the subject of Tate Britain’s current retrospective. Although six of the works included belong in the Tate’s permanent collection, curators Clarrie Wallis and Andrew Wilson lament the fact that they are not often able to be shown in context. The aim of this exhibition then, is to introduce visitors to Flanagan’s lesser-known works, alongside drawings, diagrams, and writing, to give an insight into his interests and beliefs, and to show the logical progression of this key figure in the development of British and international sculpture’s work.

Flanagan’s early work shows a clear influence of Arte Povera and American Minimalism. It is as much conceptual as it is visual, and his link between art and language is seen not only in his titles, which denote what the sculpture is doing and how it is formed – e.g. al casb 4 ’67 (1967), which is accordingly constructed out of aluminium, canvas, and sandbags – but also in his larger vision of sculpture as a form of visual poetry. He works with basic raw materials, such as sticks, sand, rocks, hessian sacking and rope, allowing biomorphic forms to emerge. Process is prioritised over structure, and Flanagan attempts, insofar as it is possible, to take a step back from active involvement in this process, instead preferring to witness the effects of physics on the materials themselves. His work questions the idea of permanence, and both confronts and simultaneously exploits the sculptural orthodoxy of the time.

During his time at St Martin’s School of Art (1964-66), Flanagan discovered the work of the French playwright Alfred Jarry (1873-1907), with his logic of the absurd, or ‘Pataphysics. Defined by Jarry as “the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments,” its influence is evident in Flanagan’s reference to his sculptures as “shapes”, not “forms”, and, in particular, in works such as rope (gr2sp60) 6 ’67 and ringl 1 ’67 (both 1967), where, respectively, a length of rope and a ring of linoleum are used to demarcate space on the floor, themselves being understood as variations on a drawn line. Furthermore, although they were originally created as separate works, here they are displayed overlapping and interwoven as one, a continuation of Flanagan’s experimentation and focus on the process and transience of material products.

Another extension of the concept of drawing can be found in Flanagan’s cut out painted metal “sculptures”, VII 78 the corn’s up, VII 78 as night and VII 78 moon thatch (all 1978), where he plays with the distinction between 2- and 3D objects. light on light on sacks (1969), a mass of sandbags piled up in the corner, lit by spotlights, and casting heavy shadows both on themselves and the surrounding floor, likewise explores the sculptural properties of something usually regarded as a plane.

Developing from his earliest works of piles of sand and hanging or folded piles of cloth, no. 5 ’71 (1971) comprises a carefully constructed crisscross pyre of twigs, tied together by ropes in two corners, and interwoven with strips of purple, rust, and red felt. There is something almost ritualistic about this structure, not least reinforced by the choice of Church colours. Other works, such as the hanging canvas “pages” of and then among Celts N. W. ’77 and and then among Celts ’77 (both 1977), are more pagan, and perhaps a reference to his own place of birth, Prestatyn in North Wales. Similarly Celtic, Cornish BuB (1979), and various other stone works, incorporate spirals, echoing simultaneously the spiral on Ubu Roi’s belly (the anti-hero of Jarry’s plays), as well as the talismanic powers of ritual objects and magic in its wider sense.

It should come as no surprise then that Flanagan’s infatuation with the hare motif derived, in part, from a book exploring the mythical attributes of this mercurial creature throughout history.[1] His shift to working in bronze followed an invitation, in 1979, to try it out at A & A Sculpture Casting Ltd (now AB Fine Foundry Ltd) in the East End, a step which furthered his fascination with the role of the craftsman, borne of his visit to the marble quarries at Pietrasanta, northern Italy, in 1973. It is equally no great wonder that Flanagan should use the heaviest material available to depict an animal with such light, fast movement, balance, and poise. He is, after all, a man full of contradictions: 2D vs. 3D, artist vs. artisan, tradition vs. anti-tradition, orthodoxy vs. subversion – all of these oppositions had been touched upon in his foundational years, and each is clearly evidenced in the works on display here. Thus, having proceeded chronologically through the show, the visitor will not only have viewed some refreshing and playful art, but should also have reached a new understanding of the process, not just of the materials themselves, but of the artist and his concepts alongside, realising that his arrival at the hares in 1982 was not such a new departure after all. The curators should be proud not only to have put the early works themselves in context with one another, but also to have contextualised the later and better-known bronzes of this luminary artist.

[1] The Leaping Hare by George Ewart Evans and David Thomson (Faber, 1972).


Barry Flanagan leaping hare, embellished, 2/3 jan ’80 (1980) Tate © Estate of Barry Flanagan, courtesy Plubronze Ltd.

Barry Flanagan 4 casb 2 ’67  (1967) Tate © Estate of Barry Flanagan, courtesy Plubronze Ltd.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Review of Bruce Risdon: Contemporiz at Xavier White’s, Blackheath

Bruce Risdon: Contemporiz
Xavier White’s, Blackheath
29 August – 24 November 2011

Despite the gloomy autumnal day outside, it is far from glum inside Xavier White’s spacious Blackheath townhouse-cum-gallery. Well lit through its large bay window, looking out over the heath, the front room is filled with the saturated tones of Swansea-based painter Bruce Risdon’s ardent canvases, a higgledy piggledy hang spanning his ten years as a professional artist, including both landscapes and portraits, and his own distinctive blend of the two.

“In my work I try to juxtapose the old and the new, by taking a classical nude pose and painting it in a modern, vibrant way,” says Risdon in his artist’s statement.[1] “With landscape studies I take a similar approach […]. I like to place [a] figure in the landscape as a record of the experience of the surroundings.”

Thus we find the series Park Life, depicting figures lounging about in the sun, alongside recognisably Welsh scenes, such as On Top of Llangollen, where a girl sits atop the ruins of Castell Dinas Bran, and Sheep on the Edge, an imposingly large canvas with a heavily impasto rock face, overgrown with luminous lime green grass, and set against a brilliant blue sea and sky, capturing the sense of freshness, crispness, dampness and seaside air, unique to the Welsh coast. Another large seascape, quite different in tone, is the primary coloured Beach Nocturne, an altogether darker affair, with large, brash brushstrokes, red sand and buildings, both standing forth from the dark blue night sky, and reflecting into the equally foreboding sea, broken up with yellow dabs lighting up the windows and streets.

Ironbridge with Turbine could almost be described as a diptych. Portrait in orientation, this landscape scene sharply juxtaposes the technologies of the present day and yesteryear. The lower third depicts the bridge, traditional and more naturalistic than Risdon’s other works, whilst the upper two thirds, separated by a layer of cloud, show an almost surreal, detached and floating wind turbine, as unintegrated into its compositional surroundings as the structure itself into nature’s setting.

For me, however, it is Risdon’s portraits which are the stars of the show. Classical life model poses, reclining on a couch or chair, but contemporary in their use of the brightest and purest colours, these women either stare back defiantly at the onlooker, or remain anonymous through the obfuscation of their facial features. Albeit preserving some modesty by being clad in underwear, there is a distinct erotic undertone in the addition of stockings, gloves, and high heels, and the choice of red as the prevailing background colour. The tiny Lil Fairy is echoic of both Schiele and Degas, a young girl dressed in a purple fairy tutu and wings, leaning forward to do up her pumps, but, again, clad in black nylon stockings against a dramatic red backdrop.

Speaking of his work with models, Risdon explains that the majority of people who offer to pose are women, so, when he has an idea for a painting that requires a male model, he will often do the pose himself, “putting myself in the picture, not so much as a self portrait, more assuming a role in the painting.” And, indeed, his presence is felt, either explicitly or implicitly, in most of these scenes. In Sofa Study, a woman lies in her underwear, hand across stomach, on a yellow cushioned couch. To the left, a mirror reflects the artist, palette in hand, at work painting her, but seemingly also in a state of undress. One cannot help but let the imagination wander: What is the scene? What has just happened? Is she reclining in a post-coital state? Similarly, in Ariel with Wings, a woman lies on her bed, arms folded behind her head. Her head itself is tipped back so that you see her throat and chin, her full breasts heaving, and her legs crossed at the ankle, leaving us scope to almost, but not quite, glimpse up the skirt of her dishevelled red dress. If we take the viewing point of the artist, it seems we are looming down upon her, as if about to pounce, mid act.

Risdon’s paintings are highly suggestive, both in terms of their large, loose brushstrokes and gestural style, giving a mere hint as to the image being portrayed, and also in terms of their underlying eroticism and raw narrative. He argues against the objectification of his models, and, indeed, I concur, for as much as they are part of any imaginable scene, so too are we, as onlookers.  


Shelly on Red
Beach Nocturne
Ironbridge with Turbine
Lil Fairy
Sofa Study
Ariel with Wings

all © the artist

Thursday, 10 November 2011

GFEST GayWise Festival Visual Arts Exhibition 2011

GFEST GayWise Festival Visual Arts Exhibition 2011
Dreamspace Gallery
1-3 Dufferin Street (near the Barbican)
7 - 19 November 2011

"I am not an abomination!" proclaims the work of artist Paul Chisholm, one of the 20 artists selected to show in this year's visual arts exhibition, as part of the fifth annual GFEST. Taking place at venues across London, this LGBTQ arts festival tackles a range of themes relating to gender, sexuality, and identity, through the media of visual arts, short films, performances, workshops, and debates. Although not necessarily LGBT or Q themselves, the artists whose work has been included all deal with what can broadly be defined as queer subject matter. Not that this should be seen as limiting, or as uninteresting to the wider public - certainly not - after all, questions of identity, worries about which aspects of ourselves we choose to hide or reveal, and the reinforcement or suppression resulting from society's approval or disapproval, are issues which concern us all.

To read the rest of this review please go to:

Simon Croft (GFEST 2010 Artist)
Inside Out, Outside In 
Wooden dolls, paint, mirror 
40 X 30 X 20 cm (approx)

Review of Tracey Emin: The Vanishing Lake at 6 Fitzroy Square, London

Tracey Emin: The Vanishing Lake
6 Fitzroy Square, London, W1T 5DX
7 October – 12 November 2011

Following the huge hype of her recent blockbuster retrospective at the Hayward Gallery, Tracey Emin’s site-specific exhibition at 6 Fitzroy Square is an altogether more intimate affair, albeit equally expansive in terms of media and the fully comprehensive inclusion of her trademark themes and techniques.

Emin has a penchant for taking her art to historical settings, and has previously created works for the Foundling Museum and the Freud Museum. This month, however, she has taken over the second floor of a Georgian townhouse, originally designed in 1794 as part of a terrace by the neoclassical architect Robert Adam. The title of the show, The Vanishing Lake, comes from her new novel and refers to the lake near her home in France, which only exists from autumn to spring, drying up during the warmer summer months. Many of the monoprints included in this show of all new works are made on headed letter paper from that address. Typically Emin, everything is made as personal as possible.

As one might glean from the title, the underpinning thematic is one of transience, coming and going, and impermanence: “The vanishing lake is not a metaphor… It is a real lake… […] The only metaphor is often… This is how I feel.”[1] Emin is a writer, and, as ever, it is her words which cry out from the monoprints and embroideries: There is NO MORE ME; NEVER FORGET ME; SOMETIMES DEAD… Echoing her earlier work Little Coffins (2002), a set of five wooden drawers poignantly reappropriated as resting places for her lost children, the front room here is dominated by a steel bath, unsettlingly shaped like a coffin. Death recurs in many of the works on the walls as well, and, unsurprisingly, there is repeated reference to her experience of abortion. A new development on this longstanding motif is a series of three small-scale bronze sculptures, including Prayers for Mother (2011), each comprising crudely sculpted figures, rendered as if from plasticine, complete with finger prints as a further intimate signatory trace.

It is not all about death and loss, however, and the exhibition also includes a number of delicately beautiful ‘self portraits’, drawing from Picasso’s intimate representations of his mistress and muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter. Another recent addition to Emin’s repertoire is the experimentation with scaled up tapestries, made from her drawings and paintings, with the aid of the West Dean tapestry studios. Here we can see three perfectly translated versions of her lonesome masturbating figures, delicate and vulnerable in their pink hues, with the frantic nature of the activity captured by the recreation of her many tentative and overlaid outlines.

As always with Emin’s work, there is a show of immense vulnerability, but, at the same time, of almost superhuman strength. She is nothing if not a survivor. Say no to another broken heart, pleads one work, a monoprint and embroidery on fabric. Like the lake, no matter how many times you beat her down, Emin will return.

[1] Tracey Emin, The Vanishing Lake, Autumn 2011


Installation shots of Tracey Emin: The Vanishing Lake, 6 Fitzroy Square
© the artist
Photo: Todd-White Art Photography
Courtesy White Cube

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Review of Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2011 at the National Portrait Gallery

Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2011
National Portrait Gallery, London
10 November 2011 – 12 February 2012

It feels as if I am being watched. Myriad sets of eyes staring down at me: some searching, some questioning, some seductive. Individuals, couples, groups. Sixty portraits selected from over 6,000 submissions to this year’s Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, a rich celebration of contemporary international photography and all it can achieve.

Footballers, artists, celebrities. Children, teenagers, and a remarkable woman of 100 (Erika E., Born in 1910, from the series Happy at One Hundred, by Karsten Thormaehlen). Prostitution, war, death. The subject matter knows no bounds. The winner of this year’s £12,000 award is Jooney Woodward, 32, for her portrait of a 13-year-old girl protectively cradling her guinea pig, her ginger hair matching his ginger coat. The portrait was shot on film with a Mamiya RZ medium format camera. Woodward says: “I prefer the quality and depth you get from using film; unfortunately it’s a dying art. I don’t mess around with Photoshop so what you see is what you get. Enhanced images can portray a false sense of reality, whereas my work celebrates the people and places as they appear every day.”

This rings true for the majority of works on display – even those more instinctively of place than of individual remain true to their nature. No narrative is imposed, and figures are not so much placed as captured mid flow, as, for example, the teenagers sitting on and leaning against a wall in Edmonton, North London, clustered around the memorial flowers laid on the pavement in memory of their fatally wounded friend (Friends Mourn Negus McClean, by Antonio Olmos). The sombre atmosphere transcends the image and hangs heavy in the gallery space.

On a more cheerful note, there is a wide variety of portraits of couples, ranging from Claudia Burlotti’s elderly grandparents (Anna and Roberto at Home, Italy #6153) to two young women in Brighton, one dressed, the other naked (Colin Hampden-White’s Normio and Miss HK); from Monette and Mady, Rue de Partants, a set of identical twins in their 60s or 70s, who describe their relationship as inseparable, and stand together, joined in hand, with matching cream outfits and perfectly coiffed red hair, to Geoff and his equally heavily tattooed partner Joe, in Jonathan May’s The Embrace, from his series Hot Ink.

Disfiguration and shock raise their ugly heads in Jodi Bieber’s Bibi Aisha, a woman whose nose has been deliberately mutilated by the Taliban, and Tobias Slater-Hunt’s Closer to God xvii, which takes its inspiration from the Old Master paintings of Lucas Cranach, Matthias Grünewald, and Leonardo da Vinci.

My own favourite is Torben Åndahl’s image of Eike from his series The Bereaved, 30 portraits of relatives or friends of suicide victims. Straightforward and unstaged, Eike’s eyes speak volumes and her unmitigated pain sears your heart. When the art of photography was first being developed, it was valued for its ability to capture exactly the reality of its object without any necessary interpretation on the part of the intermediary. Regardless of the many more sophisticated techniques and trends open to exploitation for the modern photographer, this directness is still something unique to the medium, and remains as refreshing and breathtaking as all those years ago.


Harriet and Gentleman Jack 
Jooney Woodward
© Jooney Woodward