Monday 29 October 2012

Review of Susie Hamilton & Inguna Gremzde: Vacant Lots at WW Gallery

Susie Hamilton & Inguna Gremzde: Vacant Lots
WW Gallery
10 October – 10 November 2012

Modern society is defined by consumerism and mass consumption of the commodity. The most visited destination is the supermarket, where the overwhelming array of choices between myriad near identical alternatives leads to what the American psychologist Barry Schwartz describes as the “paradox of choice”, and the incessant drone of background music, broken up by advertising bulletins for the latest deal, is the ubiquitous soundtrack to contemporary living. WW Gallery’s current exhibition, Vacant Lots, both celebrates and exposes this dystopian landscape, assaulting the viewer with the bright colours of Susie Hamilton’s shapeless and featureless shoppers, as they traverse the neon supermarket aisles, and with Inguna Gremzde’s repetitive and detailed “life through a lens” studies of shoppers and their trolleys, painstakingly painted on to plastic bottle tops and yoghurt pot lids.

Opening with Hamilton’s Shopper, a six minute long looped video made up of four small screens – one following shoppers as they trawl round outdoor market stalls; the others inside, with consumers inspecting and selecting goods, marching almost mechanically up and down the aisles, and standing listlessly at the check out – we immediately recognise our surroundings and, despite the anonymity of the store at hand, know exactly where we are. The gallery is eerily silent, however, countering our expectation of piped music, and thus keeping us cleverly at one remove, as we proceed, nevertheless, to potter along, looking at both artists’ repeated characters, pushing their trolleys through the banal environment.

Gremzde’s shoppers are clear victims of Schwartz’s malady, scratching their heads and chins, distractedly studying the endless rows of products, hands thrust deep in pockets, as they struggle to make their selections. The shelves on either side of the aisles recede to a distant vanishing point, swallowing the shoppers up in their vortex.

Confronting us both small- and large-scale, with characters pared down to basic shapes and bright colours, but easily recognisable, like logos from an advertising campaign, Hamilton’s canvases, displayed en masse in grid formations, capture the anonymity and “everyman” nature of the modern shopper. Their titles only serve to reinforce this dehumanising aspect, with examples such as: Red Shopper, Asda/9, Lidl/3, Yellow Freezer, and Mauve Aisle. In the latter, a grey-coloured woman is bent almost double over her trolley, demonic black eyes staring out from her otherwise featureless face, whilst in the oversized Shopper, a gloomy canvas in varying shades of brown, a depressed, stooping, and overladen woman steps out from the garish in-store lighting, back into the grim reality of a cold, hard outdoor world. The weight of her bags is tangible, and the monotony of her humdrum routine hangs equally as heavy. She may have escaped the store for now, but her return is imminent: an inescapable part of her weekly routine. What is saddest of all is that this short escape from the grey reality into the hyperreal aisles, full of what is both the shopper’s dream and her nightmare, might still be the highlight thereof.


Installation shots from Vacant Lots
Courtesy the artists and WW Gallery

Review of Victoria Kovalenko: Pulse of a Sequence at Frameless Gallery

Victoria Kovalenko: Pulse of a Sequence
Frameless Gallery
22 October – 3 November 2012

Time never stands still, and one of the joys of photography is its ability to capture and preserve fleeting moments of transience. Yet Siberian born photographer, Victoria Kovalenko, seeks to move beyond this fragmentation, and to portray the flow of momentum, or, as she terms it in the title of her current exhibition at Frameless Gallery in Clerkenwell, the Pulse of a Sequence. Influenced by Eadweard Muybridge, her beautifully shot and painstakingly collated images document transition, overlaying instants, just as we experience them in real time, and telling a narrative. After all, “that’s how our brain works,” she explains. “It always wants to see the pattern, the story, it can’t help it.”[1]

Her works are large scale, since they seek to celebrate beauty. Water is a recurring theme, for example in Wave and Between Borders, where it is seen from above, swirling in perpetual motion, like the waves of time, continually in flux, and in her various pieces depicting surfers as they ride and crash through the breakers. Kovalenko works initially with a digital camera and then puts in a lot of postproduction hours, working, re-working, and examining every inch in minute detail so that the joins between the images are seamless. Looking at the resulting works, it is not a surprise to hear Kovalenko describe herself as a perfectionist.

Dance is another common motif, with Trisha Brown Studies paying tribute to the choreographer of its title, a pioneer in contemporary dance, as it captures a dancer recreating the seven moves which made up one of her early performances, comprising repetitions of just these moves. Downstairs, A Day Yet Without Me represents movement through colour, with eight repeated images of a girl poised in an arabesque, each subtly different in hue.

Calendar looks at the passing of time at a slower rate, with 31 circular shots of a girl’s exposed torso, top rolled up, hands in jeans pockets, each with light falling from a slightly different angle, corresponding to the phases of the moon. Next to it, Song Without Words also comprises 31 discs, each of which freeze frames a moment in time from a film of a pianist at play. The effect is like the display of the pages of a flickbook, or a zoetrope unfolded and spread out on the wall.

Other mediums depict ideas, but photography explores reality,” says Kovalenko. And yet her works are both real and unreal at the same time: moments of reality, telling a true story, even presented in the correct sequence, but, somehow, because we see them all at once, simultaneously, in a way in which real time would never permit, intriguingly impossible.


Victoria Kovalenko 
Beyond Borders 
© Victoria Kovalenko  
Victoria Kovalenko 
© Victoria Kovalenko

Victoria Kovalenko 
© Victoria Kovalenko

[1] See video interview with Clare Clinton at [accessed 28/10/12]

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Review of Mitra Tabrizian: Another Country at Wapping Project Bankside

Mitra Tabrizian: Another Country
Wapping Project Bankside
21 September – 2 November 2012

Born in Tehran, the photographer and film-maker Mitra Tabrizian has lived in London since 1977. As such, she is one of the nearly 3 million individuals making up the Iranian diaspora worldwide. It is perhaps not surprising then to find that her work deals primarily with the themes of displacement and exile, and that her most recent series, Another Country (2010), currently on show at Wapping Project Bankside, focuses on the politics of everyday life for Muslim communities in the UK. 

To read the rest of this review, please go to:

Review of Who is Ana Mendieta? at Space Station Sixty-Five

Who is Ana Mendieta?
Space Station Sixty-Five
22 September – 4 November 2012

“To die, great god, to die!?! Without leaving anything after me? To die like a dog, like a hundred thousand women whose names are hardly engraved upon their tombstones!” (Marie Bashkirtseff, artist and diarist, 1858-1884)

Ana Mendieta (1948-1985) was a “brown-skinned, female, immigrant artist,” sent from Cuba to the USA at the age of 12, by her politically prominent parents, as part of the United States-assisted Operation Peter Pan, to escape Fidel Castro’s regime. The trauma of this forced exile, and the ensuing years of mistreatment in a group home for disturbed children, three foster homes, and boarding school, informed much of her later artistic output.

Monday 22 October 2012

Review of Luc Tuymans: Allo! at David Zwirner

Luc Tuymans: Allo!
David Zwirner
5 October – 17 November 2012

What better way to inaugurate American gallerist David Zwirner’s new London space (his first European location, and happily placed in a Georgian townhouse in the heart of Mayfair) than by loudly hailing “Allo!”? Belgian painter Luc Tuymans (born 1958) is the one who has been appointed to carry out this task, with an exhibition of his haunting scenes, inspired by the 1942 film, The Moon and Sixpence, itself an adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s 1919 novel, loosely based on the life and Tahitian travels of Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). Albeit with none of the tropical colour of Gauguin’s own works, these dark and deliberately unfocused scenes nevertheless greet the visitor with flair.

Friday 19 October 2012

Review of Paul Housley: England Sleeps at Poppy Sebire

Paul Housley: England Sleeps
Poppy Sebire
14 September – 20 October 2012

In an art world brimming with prolix paintings overstuffed with historical hyperawareness, the appropriation here constructs a refreshing picture of self-doubt within knowledge.” Such was ArtReview columnist Nigel Cooke’s comment on Paul Housley’s Self Portrait as Picasso’s Last Self Portrait (2011).[1] Clearly Housley must have a large dose of self-doubt then, as his current exhibition, his second solo show in two years with Poppy Sebire, is largely made up of further such appropriated portraits – depictions of himself as an artist, both through the act of making a painting, and in his alter-ego guise as Picasso, fully kitted out with beret, paintbrush, and “the Spaniard’s regulation school-of-Paris stripy shirt.”[2] Yet is it not a contradiction to contrast such work with a “historical hyperawareness”? Is this not precisely just such a case in point?

Housley’s works are virtually all cases of appropriation – be it of subject, image, or object – since he works primarily with found artifacts. His studio contains an ever-growing collection of strange and intriguing paraphernalia, bric-a-brac, and discarded works. Whereas previous exhibitions have largely comprised paintings of these objects themselves, this one is filled with appropriated images painted on to found canvases and frames, often spilling over the edge so as to unite the two components in their reincarnation. The works deal with the nature of what it is to be an artist, and, in their play on this, as well as in their homage to Picasso, several have spawned multiple eyes, including the small and dark Artist Wearing a Blue Beret (2012), and, most extravagantly, Totally Wired and Cranked Up Really High (2012).  At slightly larger than A1 size, this is by far the biggest work by an artist who prefers to produce pictures on a smaller-scale, thereby forcing his viewer to come closer and thus confront his own self-image head on with the image in the portrait staring back.

If one were to risk further artistic comparison, it is possible also to recognise an element of George Condo, but without the grotesque or cartoon features, and, of course, the famous pose of Matisse’s Nu bleu II (1952) is unmistakable in Green Thinker (2012). The paint is scratchy, messy, and seemingly carelessly applied, with a lurid pink skin tone, like something a child might pick out of a box of crayons. Nevertheless, there is an appealing quality to these simplistic images, which certainly are not as naïve as their surface appearance would suggest, carrying a deeper meaning and discourse, expressing both self-doubt and self-confidence, for it is surely not just anyone who would be audacious enough to take on the style of masters such as these.

[1] Nigel Cooke, “Now Hear This”, ArtReview, September 2011
[2] Ibid


All images © the artist and courtesy of Poppy Sebire

You Ain't No Punk You Punk
Oil on canvas
35 x 25.5 cm

Artist Wearing A Blue Beret
Oil on canvas
26 x 20 cm

Woman Showing Joy
Oil on canvas
60 x 45.5 cm

Review of Billy Childish: Frozen Estuary and Other Paintings of the Divine Ordinary – Part II at Hoxton Arches, Arch 402

Billy Childish: Frozen Estuary and Other Paintings of the Divine Ordinary – Part II
Hoxton Arches, Arch 402
9 – 21 October 2012

Billy Childish (born Steven John Hamper, 1959, in Chatham, Kent) is a longstanding figure in the art world. His raw, expressionist woodcuts, graphic works, and paintings have been produced in cycles over the past 35 years, alongside the publication of five novels, more than forty volumes of poetry, and over 100 full-length music albums. It is only recently, however, that the anarchic artist has begun to show up on the radar of more mainstream collectors, something he has, and continues, to resist with some vehemence.

His latest exhibition, Frozen Estuary and Other Paintings of the Divine Ordinary – Part II, takes him back to his roots, growing up near to, and working as an apprentice stonemason during his teens at the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham. It features eighteen new works, a mixture of large-scale oil paintings and smaller watercolours – something fairly new in Childish’s repertoire, and a response to his success, ensuring that he still has work available which can be sold at lower prices – created over the past year whilst he had an artist’s residency at the Dockyard.

“The stories I heard as a youngster have remained the most potent with me,” says Childish. “They are what grips the imagination.” And this series of work grew out of stories he was told, during his time as an apprentice, about the big freeze of 1947. When he recently stumbled upon a photograph of ice-bound ships from a similar big freeze back in the 1890s, his memories were rekindled, and, after some further research, he found additional photographs from both winters, from which, adding in elements from his own memories and imagination, he produced his new works.

The paintings have an unfinished look to them, with bare patches of canvas showing through. There is a sense of their having been painted in haste, perhaps in an attempt to finish them before the scene thawed. The bare areas are jagged and angular, like sharp juts of ice, and the oil paint drips and glistens like melting ice crystals. The palette is limited, with aquamarines, maroons, yellows and browns, offset against a startling white which reflects every bit as brightly as real snow. The shivers of intense cold permeate not only the worn and weary dockers, despite their full-length wading boots, coats with upturned collars, and caps, but the gallery visitors too.

In amongst these large canvases hang smaller watercolour sketches of the same scenes, bright in their watery blues and purples; clean, crisp and cold. A couple of almost sentimental images of Childish with his toddler daughter break up the collection of labour and toil, infusing the series with a sense of light-hearted childlike enjoyment of the snow, back in the days of innocence and easy enchantment, as Childish puts it, “knowing less of the boundaries of the world.”

Finally, one immense, larger-than-life portrait canvas looms, depicting a full-length, naked Childish, drawn in charcoal, with a cross around his neck. His head is leaning forward in an almost challenging manner, as if he were exclaiming: “Look at me! I’m here!” And, indeed, he is. Despite his long time coming, Childish has now hit the art scene big, and, I predict, is here to stay.


All images courtesy the artist and L-13 Light Industrial Workshop

Frozen Estuary - Oyster Smack, Caroline, 1947 (violet series)2012
oil and charcoal on linen
122 x 183 cm

Frozen Estuary - River Roach, 1947 (watercolour)
watercolour on paper
22.5 x 33.5 cm

Father with Daughter Walking (watercolour)
watercolour on paper
22.5 x 33.5 cm

charcoal on linen
244 x 122 cm

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Review of Frieze London 2012

Frieze London 2012
Regent’s Park
11 – 14 October 2012

This past week was one of the busiest weeks and highlights in the arts calendar, as Frieze London 2012 came to Regent’s Park, marking the tenth year of one of the most important international contemporary art fairs. Once again taking place inside an imposing temporary structure, designed by architects Carmody Groarke, the fair welcomed over 175 galleries from 35 countries, as well as launching the new Frieze Masters, with a further 90 galleries showing works made before the new millennium, and hosting a mixed programme of Frieze Projects (five site-specific commissions), Frieze Film, Frieze Talks (a line-up of international artists, filmmakers, curators and cultural commentators), and a free-to-enter Sculpture Park in the English Gardens, curated by Clare Lilley, the Director of Programmes at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. 

To read the rest of this review, please go to:

Review of There’s Something Happening Here at Brancolini Grimaldi

There’s Something Happening Here
Brancolini Grimaldi
14 September – 10 November 2012

Curated by James Reid (photography director of Wallpaper) and Tom Watt (art director of ArtReview), There’s Something Happening Here is a group show with a difference. Each of the 17 artists on display either do, or have done, editorial work or fashion shoots, hence being on the curators’ radar, but, brought together, their experimental works for this show explore themes of angst, identity and fragility, as well as playing around with the subjectivity of photography itself. 

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Monday 15 October 2012

Review of Ian Robinson: Collections. Artist in Residence 2012 Solo Show at the Muse Gallery

Ian Robinson: Collections
Artist in Residence 2012 Solo Show
The Muse Gallery
11 – 28 October 2012

“Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories.”[1] Whether one subscribes to Walter Benjamin’s view of the objects of collection as “treasure-houses of memories because each […] object evokes the precise memory of where it was acquired and under what conditions,”[2] or whether one agrees more with Jean Baudrillard and his assessment of the act of collecting as the “pathological need to sequester the love object”[3] and to inscribe it into a series, thus destroying its context of origin, and rendering it merely part of the collection, it is clear that there is a level of obsessionality displayed by the collector, and a sense in which the object becomes fetishised and elevated, representative of far more than its original use value would imply.

For artist Ian Robinson, his photorealistic “portraits” of the objects of collections began when he was still at college, and he started to paint pictures of his own record collection. Upon moving to London, he suddenly found he had access to numerous other collections, including those of Sir John Soane, Cassiano Dal Pozzo, and Aby Warburg, and his focus switched from music to literature. He would visit the collections, make drawings and take photos, and then scale these up, sometimes by hand, sometimes by projecting the photograph on to the canvas, and paint them in minute detail over a period of months. The results are documents of documents, catalogues of catalogues, copies and replicas, or “models of a real without origins or reality: a hyper real.”[4]

Following a year’s residency at The Muse Gallery, Robinson is now showing a collection of his works (and, since Benjamin suggests that “of all the ways of acquiring books, writing them oneself is regarded as the most praiseworthy method,”[5] so, similarly, creating a collection of paintings of collections by painting them oneself must also deserve its share of praise), lovingly drawn and painted images of vinyl records, CDs, books, documents, albums and manuscripts, tattered and dog-eared, wrinkled and creased, generations of recorded media, families, lineage and heritage. The sketchy Bookend (2011) appears like a photograph of an old beloved grandfather, and Richard Prince Photobooks (2011) (itself an homage to an artist who collects), has the air of a family portrait, posed and poised, some members worn and aged, some younger and/or better preserved, each with its own value and its own history, but all coming together as part of a greater whole.

More recently, Robinson has returned to collections of music, and has spent time at the Ministry of Sound and at Rough Trade Records. His red chalk drawing of a mixer at the former was inspired by seeing an exhibition of red chalk works at the Scottish National Galleries, and the air of antiquity bequeathed by this choice of medium echoes a sense of loss with the disappearance of a format and the death of a generation – Robinson himself regrets that he no longer buys vinyl today. Technics Turntable (2010), a black and white biro and pencil drawing on paper, positions the machine floating in space, with no ground whatsoever: a pure celebration of the object itself.

For nineteenth century French collector Edmond de Goncourt (1822-1986), who, along with his brother Jules (1830-1870), brought about a revival of eighteenth century Rococo style, the aristocratic lineage of an object was an important part of its value, and for Robinson as well, the history associated with an object or a collection is of great significance. Part of his work involves researching both the collector and the collection, and gaining some insight into their inner world and psyche. Their obsession becomes his, and their complete collection a unique object in his pictorial one. Baudrillard is keen to point out that the series in a collection must always remain open and incomplete, for “lack is the guarantor of life: to complete the series is to die.”[6] Robinson is a young man, with talent and a passion for his work, and so I can only surmise that his series will continue to grow.

[1] Walter Benjamin, “Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book Collecting,” (first published in German, 1931), in Illuminations, ed. H. Arendt, London, 1970, p60
[2] Naomi Schor, “Collecting Paris,” in The Cultures of Collecting, eds. J. Elsner & R. Cardinal, London: Reaktion, 1994, p252
[3] Ibid, p257
[4] Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation: The Body in Theory, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1981, p80
[5] Benjamin, 1970, p61
[6] Schor, 1994, p258


Ian Robinson
5 Studies
Oil on canvas
45cm x 32.5cm

Ian Robinson
Oil on Board
25cm x 18cm 

Ian Robinson
Richard Prince Photobooks 
Oil on Canvas
37cm x 40cm 

Ian Robinson
Technics Turntable 
Biro and pencil on paper
39cm x 26.5cm 

Saturday 13 October 2012

Review of Telling Stories: Hastings at Hastings Museum and Art Gallery

Telling Stories: Hastings
Hastings Museum and Art Gallery
22 September 2012 – 13 January 2013

If a photograph can capture a moment and preserve it for eternity, it is unsurprising that most of the 14 artists showing work in Telling Stories: Hastings, the second exhibition in a project which began in Margate last year, have chosen to use this medium when inviting us to share the stories of their lives. 


Cathryn Kemp
Installation shot of Sleeping Beauty 
iphone photographs as composite on 5mm aluminium DiBond, exhumed nightgown, constructed oak cabinet and stand
Photo: Alex Brattell

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