Friday, 30 October 2015

Interview with Bob and Roberta Smith at William Morris Gallery

Interview: Bob and Roberta Smith

Art Is Your Human Right: The Artistic Campaigns of Bob and Roberta Smith 
William Morris Gallery
16 October 2015 - 31 January 2016

Bob and Roberta Smith’s art has long been of a political nature. In 2013, he hosted an Art Party conference in Scarborough, seeking to advocate the benefits of the arts. In the UK’s recent general election, he stood against Michael Gove. His text-based works, often referred to as “slogan art”, comprise placards and banners, letters to MPs (in large, bright lettering on boards rescued from skips) and golem-like structures. With London’s mayoral elections approaching, Smith is once again pounding his drum. This time, he is not taking the frontline, but sees his role as, first, encouraging others to become involved and, second, heckling politicians to include the arts in their manifestos.

Read the interview here

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Marguerite Horner: Bringing the Sublime into the Mundane

Marguerite Horner: Bringing the Sublime into the Mundane

The Sufi master Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan once said: ‘To bring the sublime into the mundane is the greatest challenge there is’. The sublime, ideas of which are generally dated back to the first century AD, when the Greek critic Longinus wrote an aesthetic treatise on the subject,1 is largely associated with greatness, awe and something exceeding human understanding or representation. Kant suggests it has the power to transform and uplift, to make human reason transcend sensibility, by confronting it with something at first seemingly incomprehensible.2 His focus – as well as that of his predecessor Edmund Burke3 – is upon nature and the divine as sources for the sublime experience, and this can also be seen in contemporary 18th and 19th-century artworks by artists such as Caspar David Friedrich, JMW Turner and John Martin.

Marguerite Horner’s paintings might therefore appear to depict the polar opposite of the sublime. Her suburban streets and highways, deserted parking lots, cars, telegraph poles and wires, largely inspired by her experiences of small town America, are the stuff of the everyday – mundane, quotidian, manmade. Yet, with their grisaille palette, fluctuating between being crisply focused and blurred to the point of obfuscation, there is something uncanny about these otherwise easily recognisable scenes. They are familiar, yet strange – estranged. Freud delineates the uncanny as ‘that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar’,4 as ‘nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression’.5 He drew a distinction between the uncanny and the sublime, by imbuing the latter with solely positive attributes, ‘rather than with the opposite feelings of repulsion and distress’. The uncanny, on the other hand, he classed as those things ‘which lie within the field of what is frightening’.6,7 This is false on two counts: (i) his interpretation of the sublime is somewhat rose-tinted, since it is often associated, in the first instance, with terror and horror, and (ii) this very process of alienation and repression, which Freud attributes to the uncanny, is what leads to Kant’s transcendental encounter with the sublime.

Consider, for example, the incident with the madeleine in Proust’s Combray. Describing the moment of tasting the known-but-unknown delicacy, Proust writes: ‘…this new sensation having had on me the effect that love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was me. I had ceased to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal.’8 His description is of a form of self-transcendence, an encounter with the sublime, triggered through an encounter with the alienated and forgotten, the known-but-unknown, the uncanny. In the same way, Horner’s paintings serve to trigger a memory. In their veiled state, they seek not to represent, but to signify. They seek to fill their viewer with an essence. This realisation and resultant introspection then suggests that Horner’s paintings have succeeded in meeting the Sufi master’s challenge: a seemingly mundane image, like the simple madeleine, can contain the seed, or essence, of a memory or state, that can lead the viewer to transcend his or her physical being and cease to feel ‘mediocre, contingent, mortal’.

Simon Morley, discussing the distinction between the beautiful and the sublime, notes that beauty is static, that we are charmed, seduced and captivated by it, while the sublime transports, moves and dislocates us from our self. He references how Arthur Schopenhauer ‘explored the fissure that lies at the heart of being, and envisaged a self that can in certain situations observe itself in the very act of confronting a fearful inner abyss’.9 It is this inner abyss that Horner captures so strikingly in her paintings: a sense of loneliness and emptiness, a far greater and more terrifying phenomenon than anything nature can offer. As Derrida observes, contrary to Kant and Burke: ‘The sublime is not in nature but only in ourselves’.10 Horner herself speaks of taking inspiration from Jung, when he declared a similar, if reversed, observation: ‘For the only equivalent of the universe within is the universe without’.11 She says: ‘In my paintings, I strive to capture the meaningful dialogue between my internal and external realities, which are metaphorically portrayed, by using images intuitively taken from my passing landscape’.12

To return to Morley’s notion that the sublime transports, moves and dislocates us from our self, we begin to understand the latent symbolism of Horner’s cars: parked or frozen in movement, they are vehicles of transcendence, transporting the viewer from within to without, from without to within. Her use of blurring, reminiscent of Gerhard Richter’s use of the squeegee, has dual effect. Firstly, it suggests transience – a sense of passing by, of motion. Secondly, like the veiling of the greyscale palette, it reduces the image to the bare minimum – the Proustian essence. Richter, speaking of his own use of the technique, says: ‘I blur things to make everything equally important and equally unimportant. […] I blur things to make all the parts a closer fit. Perhaps I also blur out the excess of unimportant information’.13 In terms of the sublime, these blurred passages represent what Lyotard terms: ‘a cleavage within the subject between what can be conceived and what can be imagined or presented’.14 They are the physical, painterly manifestation of this fissure.

Derrida, in his essay ‘Parergon’, focuses attention not on the object of contemplation (the work, or ‘ergon’), but on its boundary. He speaks of the need to frame something to prevent it from becoming merely monstrous. Horner’s paintings are full of frames within frames: the grey skies, streets, and parking lots are bisected by bright white road markings, lamp posts, trees, and telegraph wires. In Boxed In (2010), the block of flats is set in a vivid red square, restricting the main frame of reference to a fraction of the composition, with the mundane continuing all around. Within this red frame, a myriad windows – further, smaller frames – push up against one another. Each offers a different (albeit the same) viewpoint, a reflection of the outer world. This segment could be seen from any angle, upside down, it would make no difference. Pixelated imagery, like reflections on the retina, multiple tiny photograms, just prior to being interpreted into a coherent image by the mind. Horner speaks of a constant dialogue between the mark and the inner eye in the process of her painting. The same is true for the viewer as he or she interprets it. Horner is providing just the ingredients – the flour and lemon juice of the madeleine – and asking viewers to reconstruct their own memories – to recognise in the universe without, their own universe within and to confront and transcend this inner abyss. In so doing, she is bringing the sublime into the mundane.


1. Longinus, On the Sublime, available online as part of the Project Gutenberg, EBook #17957, trans. by HL Havell, 2006, (accessed 11 October 2015)

2. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Aesthetic Judgement, 1790, trans. by JC Meredith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911)

3. Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, 1757 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)

4. Sigmund Freud, ‘The Uncanny’ in Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. XVII, 1917-1919, ed. and trans. by James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1955), pp219-252, p220

5. Ibid, p241

6. Ibid, p219

7. See also Jessica Wren Butler, ‘What is Literature?: The sublime/uncanny as a conceptual framework for answering the answerless, and the problematic quest for certainty,’ essay available via (accessed 11 October 2015)

8. Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time, vol. 1, Swann’s Way, 1913-27, ed. and annotated by William C Carter (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013), p51 [my emphasis]

9. Simon Morley, ‘Introduction: The Contemporary Sublime’ in The Sublime: Documents of Contemporary Art, ed. by Simon Morley (London and Cambridge, MA: Whitechapel Gallery and The MIT Press: 2010), pp12-21, p16

10. Jacques Derrida, ‘Parergon’ in The Sublime: Documents of Contemporary Art, ed. by Simon Morley (London and Cambridge, MA: Whitechapel Gallery and The MIT Press: 2010), pp41-46, p44

11. Carl Jung, Collected Works of CG Jung: The First Complete English Edition of the Works of CG Jung, vol. IV, 1953, ed. by Sir Herbert Read, Michael Fordham and Gerhard Adler and trans. by RFC Hull (London: Routledge, 2015) p1482

12. Personal communication with the artist, August 2015

13. Gerhard Richter, Text. Writings, Interviews and Letters 1961-2007, ed. by Dietmar Elger and Hans Ulrich Obrist (London: Thames & Hudson, 2009) p33

14. Jean-Francois Lyotard, ‘The Sublime and the Avant-Garde’ in The Sublime: Documents of Contemporary Art, ed. by Simon Morley (London and Cambridge, MA: Whitechapel Gallery and The MIT Press: 2010), pp27-40, p36


You wont find it by yourself 
oil on linen 

oil on linen 

oil on canvas 

Boxed in 
oil on linen 

All © the artist

Review of Miranda Donovan: Metaphors for Mankind at CNB Gallery

CNB Gallery, London
7 October – 12 November 2015

Deep beneath the ground in the heart of Shoreditch, a basement brims with hooded figures; pithy, stencilled statements; exposed bricks; graffiti tags and corrugated steel sheets. But these are not crude scribbles on a cellar wall; these are carefully crafted paintings – worth a bob or two, at that – by Miranda Donovan, a City and Guilds-trained artist, who refers to her deeply layered and textured works as “sculptural paintings” and who, through her own self-exploration, questions and challenges the viewer’s concept of the human condition.

The venue is the CNB Gallery – formerly Cock and Bull – named after the infamous Damien Hirst tank containing a Hereford cow and a cockerel, preserved in formaldehyde, and elevated above diners in the centre of the former electricity generating station, now Mark Hix’s Tramshed restaurant, directly above. Donovan and Hix first collaborated in 2009, when the artist was commissioned to create a bespoke mobile for his Soho restaurant. They have continued to work together on and off ever since.

Read the rest of the review here

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Interview with Derek Boshier at Flowers Gallery, Cork Street

Derek Boshier: Rethink/Re-Entry
Flowers Gallery, Cork Street, London
7 October – 7 November 2015

Derek Boshier (b1937) came to prominence as one of a generation of pop artists emerging from the Royal College of Art in the early 70s. He left the UK soon after for Texas, initially to teach for one semester, but ultimately remaining there for 13 years, before moving to Los Angeles, where he now resides. Boshier has embraced a variety of media, most recently adopting the iPad as his at-the-ready tool for capturing images and ideas, which go on to become parts of his films and works on paper – all of which the artist describes as “collages”.

Boshier is associated with a number of great musicians and has produced imagery for, among others, the Clash and David Bowie. His falling man motif used in the design for Bowie’s 1979 LP Lodger has become iconic, as have many of his other images.

The current exhibition at Flowers Gallery shows sketches for much of Boshier’s songbook and LP graphic design work, as well as some of his early photographic series and spoofs of right-wing national newspapers. Recent collages, with thick black outlines, contrast with earlier ones, confronting consumerism and the dehumanising effect of mass culture. A film from 1973 plays on a loop with three films from 2014, made after he rediscovered the earlier work and decided to retry his hand at that medium.

Rethink/Re-Entry is co-curated by Paul Gorman, who is also the editor of a new publication of the same name, presenting an overview of Boshier’s work, accompanied by essays by leading academics, critics and curators, as well as a foreword by David Hockney.

Watch the interview here

Interviews with artists from British Art Show 8 at Leeds Art Gallery

British Art Show 8
Leeds Art Gallery
9 October 2015 – 10 January 2016

Now in its eighth year, the British Art Show is the largest and most ambitious touring exhibition of contemporary art in the UK, bringing together emerging artists worth watching with those who have been working for three or four decades.

Over the years, the British Art Show has captured numerous significant moments in the nation’s art history and has promoted the careers of many who have gone on to become household names, including Anthony Caro, Lucian Freud, Gilbert & George, Steve McQueen, Chris Ofili and Damien Hirst. This year, the exhibition, curated by Anna Colin and Lydia Yee, comprises work by 42 artists, 26 of whom have made new commissions and many others of whom are presenting works that have never been shown in the UK.

Studio International spoke to five of the artists involved.

Ciara Phillips – one of last year’s Turner Prize nominees – is a Glasgow-based Canadian artist who uses printmaking as a way of bringing about socio-political discussions. With a curatorial focus this year on collaboration, BAS8 has provided Phillips with an opportunity to run community print workshops and create a publication based on the Irregular Bulletin, a newsletter produced in the late 50s/early 60s by radical educator and artist Corita Kent and her colleague, Sister Magdalene Mary.

Laure Prouvost, the London-based French artist who won the 2013 Turner Prize, is showcasing three of her “interruptions” – sound and light pieces that turn on and off at intervals, humorously giving voice to a range of objects, including a hard drive, a fan and a croissant.

Ryan Gander, who lives and works in Suffolk and London, is displaying a range of works including sculpture, film and a wallpapered diorama, comprising notes he makes to himself on his studio walls. His carved pieces explore the concept of still life, like Prouvost’s, bringing together improbable objects into imaginary dialogues.

Feed Me is the first feature-length film work by Scottish artist Rachel Maclean. With Maclean playing all of the characters, with wild and wacky costumes and facemasks, the plotline veers from the saccharine to the horrific, tearing down contemporary society and its vices along the way. Pop culture references abound and the Disney-like effect is a facade for the Grimms’ fairytale beneath.

Last but not least, Martino Gamper is a London-based Italian designer who describes his artisanal approach as “conceptual and functional”.  His participatory project, Post Forma, has been commissioned by Yorkshire Festival and Hayward Touring, in partnership with Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle and Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring Programme. Gamper’s mixture of craft, design and art – furniture-making, cobbling, weaving and bookbinding – fits this year’s curatorial emphasis on materiality and the importance of objects, not just as objects, but as vehicles for narratives.

Watch the interviews here