Sunday, 28 February 2016

Review of Death on the Nile at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Death on the Nile: Uncovering the Afterlife of ancient Egypt
Fitzwilliam Museum
23 February - 22 May 2016

Published in The Mail on Sunday, 28/02/16

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Interview with Chantal Joffe

Interview: Chantal Joffe

Chantal Joffe
Victoria Miro, Mayfair
22 January - 24 March 2016

The walls of Victoria Miro Mayfair are lined with faces: some overtly familiar, some less so, although they all have something recognisable about them, as if they could belong to your circle of family and friends. This is perhaps a reflection of how the artist, Chantal Joffe (b1969), feels about the assorted subjects – including Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Hardwick – who crop up in her paintings, and whom, after reading their confessional writings, she feels she knows. Indeed, mixed in among these “celebrities” are portraits of Joffe’s own family – herself, her daughter Esme – capturing the spontaneity of a summer snapshot, as the paint drips down the canvas, or is dragged horizontally in ripples and stripes. There is a tenderness, an intimacy and a liveliness to the pictures, both familial and historic.

Known for her often large-scale oil paintings, Joffe more recently began working in pastels, experimenting outdoors, and enjoying the vivid colour palette. She spoke to Studio International about her techniques, inspirations and recent directions.

Read this interview here

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Review of 12 @ MENIER at Menier Gallery

Menier Gallery
22 - 27 February 2016

Artist Sarah Jane Moon describes her role in 12@Menier, an exhibition featuring works by 12 contemporary women artists, as ‘organiser’, not ‘curator’. In tandem with Elizabeth Shields, she selected a further 10 artists, whose work she likes, and invited them to take part in the show. What works would be submitted was not known until the day of the hang. Somehow, however, it has worked – and worked well. The walls of the basement gallery – including some temporary partitions – are filled with familiar faces (if you know any of the artists involved, you are bound to know some of the models too!) and the odd landscape in between. No one work dominates and you can therefore take your time conversing with each subject and exploring the variously absorbing scenes.

Two of the artists are sculptors and so one aisle is bisected by a series of metal legs, Uta Brouet’s ‘One and Three’ (2016), the identical shapes seeming to kick rhythmically, dance, move, and create images in the imagination. On the ground, two aluminium wire dogs vie for attention, while, in the far aisle, Laurence Perratzi’s bronze ‘Circles’ hold dancers and acrobats, beautifully navigating the challenges of a confined, yet infinite space – a metaphor, no doubt, for life itself.

Moon’s own contributions include a detailed triple portrait, ‘In the Studio’ (2015), which she describes as “not just a self-portrait, but a portrait of relationships both lateral and triangulated”. A meditation on female sexuality, the body, nature, violence and nurturing, Moon represents herself as the artist, with paintbrushes in hand. The wall behind is decorated with pictures key to her identity, including Courbet’s ‘L’Origine du monde’ (1866) – an explicit painting of that place between a woman’s legs – and Marlene Dumas’ ‘The Painter’ (1994), which shows her young daughter, naked, hands covered in red paint, perhaps a reminder, throughout our adult upheavals, of the inner artist child.

Roxana Halls’ quirky portraits include ‘Sushi’ (2014), taken from her Appetite series of paintings of women eating, set on a sliding scale, with some scarcely daring to indulge and others displaying a voracious appetite: food, Halls explains, is a metaphor for life. Her reclining nude, ‘Liza’ (2011) appears simultaneously confronting, seductive and yet plaintive. The rich drapery, the make-up and the choker convey a sense of theatricality, inherent to all of Halls’ work.

Camilla Cannon, who appears as the subject in a couple of Susanne du Toit’s portraits, is showing a vibrant, abstracted oil of a woman in a yellow bathing suit, arms above head, unshaven pits bared to the world. The artist also famously painted the writer Emer O’Toole, after she caused something of an uproar by speaking out in favour of female body hair on ITV’s This Morning in 2012.

“The whole thing's been a really interesting experience,” reflects Moon. “A mixture of west end and east end, straight and gay, different classes, but all women. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop being able to put together a list of the painters and sculptors I admired most – and, happily, they all agreed.” Moon chose artists whose work she recognised as “very good formally” and whose manner of conducting themselves in the world as artists “suggested a kinship”. She sought artists who prioritise their practice and treat it as a vocation rather than an occupation. Also important was that they should be working within the figurative and representational genre with traditional materials.

Coinciding with Saatchi’s Champagne Life exhibition, showcasing the work of 14 women artists, Moon adds: “It's a well-known fact that women are hugely under-represented in the professional arts world and I wanted, in a small way, to do something to address this fact. Women are incredibly powerful when we work together. Together we hung the exhibition with a brilliantly collaborative spirit – there was very little ego to negotiate.” And that shows. If this were curated, one would say it had been well done; since it was not, then even better! Well worth a visit.

Artists included: Sophie Bayntun, Alice Boggis-Rolfe, Uta Brouet, Camilla Cannon, Susanne du Toit, Roxana Halls, Sarah Jane Moon, Laurence Perratzi, Olha Pryymak, Ilaria Rosselli del Turco, Elizabeth Shields, Adele Wagstaff.


Camilla Cannon
oil on canvas

Also published at DIVA online

Interview with Conrad Shawcross re Paradigm at the Francis Crick Institute

Interview with Conrad Shawcross 
Francis Crick Institute

In the final throes of putting together a new sculpture, Paradigm, to stand outside the Francis Crick Institute, near King’s Cross, London, Conrad Shawcross (b1977) is fulfilling the role of director – as well as creator – as his teams in both his studio and the fabricator Benson and Sedgwick endeavour to get everything ready in time.

Studio International was lucky enough to accompany Shawcross on a visit to Benson and Sedgwick, where he saw the sculpture, for the first time, in a nearly complete state. “It’s like being seven years old again and it being Christmas Eve!” he said, looking around excitedly with his camera phone out and a big grin on his face. The work, made of weathered steel, stands 14 metres high and is 5 metres at its widest point, but balances (albeit with some serious underground bolting, deeper than the height of the sculpture itself) on a base of less than one metre wide. The precariousness and audacity of the tetrahedral forms is breathtaking, even seeing the piece as it lay on its side.

We were also able to watch and film as the sculpture was installed at its new location, outside the Francis Crick Institute at King’s Cross.

Watch the interview here

Friday, 19 February 2016

Portfolio: Maya Chowdhry

Portfolio: Maya Chowdhry

“I’m an activist and an artist,” explains Maya Chowdhry. “Both are equally important to me: art is one way I’m an activist.” Integral to all her work – be it written or visual, installation or digital – is that the audience becomes involved in some way. “Through this interaction people become activated to do something, an action that contributes to changing the world for the better.”

Her recent work, Ripple, produced for GFEST in collaboration with Sarah Hymas, comprises three sculptures, made from paper collage, that link with an app, allowing the audience to hear poems in English, Urdu and Bengali. The piece explores the impact of climate change, provoking questions, while simultaneously giving the audience an aesthetically pleasing lyrical experience. It was recently short-listed for a 2015 Dot Award, given to a writer of fiction, creative non-fiction or poetry to develop a new work using the web and digital technology in imaginative and collaborative ways.

While much of Chowdhry’s work centres on her identity as an Asian lesbian, it reaches much further, speaking of themes that touch us all. “My sexuality can’t be extricated from who I am. My sister always says: ‘Oh, here’s another piece about identity,’ even when the work appears, to me, to not be about my identity! I once got feedback on a short film I wrote about reincarnation saying it had too many issues in it, ie. the central character was an Asian lesbian. I argued that it was a film about love transcending life and death, but to no avail. Now I make the work I want to make, it’s a platform to communicate to the world what I need to say. It’s still a problem if producers and funders pigeonhole me and my work, but I carry on regardless.”

See the full portfolio in the March 2016 print issue of DIVA magazine

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Interview with Maha Malluh

Interview: Maha Malluh

Maha Malluh (b1959) lives and works in Saudi Arabia and her art is infused with the culture that surrounds her. Her assemblages of discarded items, found in junk shops and flea markets, present objects imbued with cultural meaning and embedded histories. “My inspiration,” she says, “comes from my country, a land of contrasting images and ideas. Good art forces you to pause, to contemplate and think harder about your surroundings.”

Currently one of the 14 artists in the Saatchi Gallery’s first all-women exhibition, Champagne Life, Malluh has covered one of the gallery’s walls with an assortment of burnt aluminium cooking pots, traditionally used throughout the Arab world. The title of the series to which the work belongs – Food for Thought – Al-Muallaqat – makes reference to the pre-Islamic, sixth-century Suspended Odes or Hanging Poems, traditionally hung in Mecca.

Malluh spoke to Studio International about the potency of such objects as transmitters of cultural meaning, her views on gender, and the significance of women-only exhibitions.

Read the interview here