Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Portfolio: Chila Kumari Burman


Portfolio: Chila Kumari Burman

A Scouser and a Desi. A Hindu Punjabi. Chila Kumari Burman, who grew up helping her dad with his ice cream van on Freshfields Beach, went on to become one of the first British South Asian women to study at the Slade. Her work – which she describes as challenging the notion of the Asian woman caught between two cultures, instead envisioning herself as beyond two cultures – is now held by the likes of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate and Richard Branson.

Among her influences, Burman lists Bollywood, Dada and Surrealism, Hindu philosophy, Indian comics, popular culture and her mum. She works a lot with prints, layering and relayering, printing and reprinting. Texture is unimportant; the focus is on colour. The initial image becomes a blur. Burman likes to work with “girlie junk” – bindis, make-up, hair accessories, flowers, buttons and beads – as well as pictures of Bollywood stars and Hindu goddesses. Words are superimposed from sources as diverse as an erotic fridge magnet set and the New Internationalist.

Sexuality and forms of female sexual desire are intrinsic to Burman’s work, all of which might be seen as a series of self-portraits, even the larger-than-life ice cream cones sculptures. Everywhere there is plenty of glitter and sparkle – and there couldn’t really be a better reflection of the artist’s effervescent personality. One grinning black and white photograph of a young Burman is scribbled over with the thought bubble: “Gonna be an artist, y’know?” Well, girl, you certainly made it!

My Rangila Merry-go-round
Embrace Arts, Richard Attenborough Centre,
Lancaster Road, Leicester, LE1 7HA
20 February – 19 April 2015

To see the full portfolio and enjoy the images, please see the April 2015 print issue of DIVA magazine 

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Review of Gideon Rubin: Delivering Newspapers at Rokeby Gallery

Gideon Rubin: Delivering Newspapers
Rokeby Gallery
22 January – 26 March 2015

Gideon Rubin (born Tel Aviv, 1973) is a painter. Or is he? Certainly he uses paint, but his source materials are photographs – both from family albums and old magazines and newspapers (all found at flea markets, featuring anonymous strangers) – and his recent finished pieces, painted directly on to these images, often leave as much – if not more – of the original underneath to show through. Even upon close study, it is not always easy to tell whether the pattern on the shirt is painted or photographed and whether the colour of the hair ribbon is as it was or changed. Rubin deliberately obscures and obfuscates, blurring the boundaries between painting and photography and questioning the very nature of truth, so often unwaiveringly placed in the eye of the camera.

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

Interview with David Best

David Best: interview
In recent years, Californian artist David Best’s temples have become synonymous with the annual Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada, USA, where he first built one in 2000. Their burning on the final night of the week-long event offers a more peaceful and contemplative finale after the previous night’s burning man extravaganza. Over the years, Best’s temples have grown in size and attracted increasing numbers of visitors – many of whom bring personal artefacts, letters, photographs and items of clothing to pin to the interior or place at the altar, seeking, in the ultimate fire, a sense of release, often from violent and turbulent events, such as rape or suicide.

This March sees Best’s first grand-scale international temple being constructed – and ceremonially burned – in Derry~Londonderry, Northern Ireland, a place where bonfires have a significant past of their own dating from the Troubles. Studio International met Best (born 1945) in London shortly before construction began.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Review of Maggi Hambling: War Requiem & Aftermath at the Cultural Institute, King’s College London

Maggi Hambling: War Requiem & Aftermath
Cultural Institute, King’s College London
4 March – 31 May 2015

“I can remember hearing Britten’s War Requiem on a record quite soon after it had its premier in 1960-whatever-it-was and I was pretty stunned by it, by its strangeness and its grandeur and its pathos,” says Maggi Hambling (born 1945), speaking of the piece of music which has inspired a whole exhibition, currently on show at the Cultural Institute, King’s College, London. “It was like first hearing Oscar Wilde and that voice coming from another place. It was the same sort of feeling.” Certainly, after sitting through three loops of the extract selected for Room 2 of this exhibition – an installation called ‘War Requiem II’, since the original ‘War Requiem’ is now part of the permanent collection of Aldeburgh Music (on view at Snape Maltings, Suffolk, from 27 March – 3 May) – I understand what she means. Accompanied by Hambling’s thickly painted, tumultuous works, hung in a line around the bare wooden walls, interspersed with mirrors, which bring you into the present, making you somehow complicit in the atrocity, the effect is overwhelming and brought tears to my eyes. The burning and resplendent oranges and yellows echo the male voice singing about “moving, moving into the sun”, capturing both hope and fear. And if you look closely at the smaller paintings, allow yourself to be absorbed, you can start to make out molten faces – “victims”, Hambling labels them – all painted from imagination, yet strikingly real. Once you have seen them, you cannot return to enjoying the glory of the swirling colours, innocent of their reference. The sight of them becomes traumatic, the weight of death and loss unbearable.

“The point is,” Hambling continues, “war seems always to have been and it doesn’t seem to stop. And we all sit there and watch the news on television and it just goes past us: people being killed, houses being burnt and all the rest of it. I still have this belief that oil paint can do something that photography can’t.”

Next door, in Room 1: War, another oil painting captures an intimate image and renders it eternal – two skulls cuddling make clear how, when you really love, you love forever, way beyond “til death do us part”. This all-encompassing aspect of love is further brought to the fore in Room 4: You are the Sea, where, to accompany a large canvas from Hambling’s recent Wall of Water series, a sound installation emanates from a deep well, with the crashing of waves, the roar of the ocean, and the words of a poem she wrote, describing how one dissolves into love, is washed over by it and swept away. You – my lover – are the sea.

The rich and tightly curated exhibition also includes a short video of a bronze called ‘War Coffin’, now held by the Tate and deemed too fragile to be lent out. Reminiscent of a rocking horse, the hanging head-shaped pendulums strike one another as the piece tilts and swings, their clanging echoing the tolling of the death bells in Britten’s requiem, just audible through the wall. The ghostly movement, apparently without human intervention, could perhaps be the work of a hand beyond the grave?

And then there is Aftermath. This is represented by an extensive collection of strange bronze shapes, placed on plinths, the length of the hallway and in a final, eerily lit, side room. These disturbing effigies, painted in luminous colours, stand to attention like soldiers – or fallen soldiers’ graves in a cemetery. They are cast from found pieces of dead wood, whose gnarled shapes spoke to Hambling and conjured up associations. They speak, she says, of “a time after war or after death”. There are animal heads, fleshy slabs of meat, a baby elephant, a drowning polar bear. They represent things Hambling feels strongly about (such as the melting of the polar caps), but, she insists, “the titles are only suggestions really. That’s why I’ve used small, not capital letters. People can see whatever they want to in them.” Freud would probably have had a field day. They are the building blocks for dreams – or nightmares – they are, in Hambling’s words, “those mysterious things that remain.” After experiencing the works in this exhibition, there are many things, which remain. Its powerful impact, like the wave of an ocean, has left a resounding aftermath in both my heart and soul.

The monograph Maggi Hambling: War Requiem & Aftermath, by James Cahill is available from Unicorn Press, rrp £30.


Victim XXX
oil on canvas
12 x 10 inches
© Maggi Hambling
photograph by Douglas Atfield

Wall of Water XIII, war
oil on canvas
78 x 89 inches
© Maggi Hambling
photograph by Douglas Atfield

Aftermath (Polar bear drowning)
bronze primed and hand coloured
h24 x w34 x d31cm
© Maggi Hambling
photograph by Douglas Atfield

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Interview with Sheila Hicks at the Hayward Gallery

Sheila Hicks: interview 

Sheila Hicks: Foray into Chromatic Zones
Hayward Gallery Project Space
23 February – 19 April 2015

Despite having turned 80 last summer and boasting a successful 50-year career, Sheila Hicks (born Nebraska, 1934) still considers herself an “outsider” artist. In fact, as she talks about this status, it is clear that it is something she wears like a badge of honour and is keen to hold on to for the freedom it gives her.

Hicks studied in Yale under Josef Albers and then won a Fulbright Scholarship (1957-8) to travel in South America. During her travels, both here and later in life, Hicks observed people working with fibres – wool, yarn, thread, and so on – as both a pastime and a way of life. She observed the vibrancy of different cultures and ways of life, of different terrains and cityscapes. She observed people making things. All of these influences can be found in her work today.

For her first solo exhibition in a UK public art institution, Hicks has filled Dan Graham’s Waterloo Sunset Pavilion in the Hayward Gallery Project Space with huge pigmented bales – in an attempt, she says, to create something as exciting as London zoo. Accompanying this is a selection of her more museum-friendly works, including some of her intimate minimes (small studies) and fibre-based drawings.

In a conversation very much led by Hicks, and accompanied by the Hayward’s chief curator Stephanie Rosenthal, she explains more about where her inspiration came from, the importance of photography to her when she was travelling alone, and the difference between carrots and radishes.