Sunday, 27 December 2020

Toby Deveson: embracing the most sacred depths of souls


Toby Deveson: embracing the most sacred depths of souls 

Dance as the narration of a magical story; that recites on lips, illuminates imaginations and embraces the most sacred depths of souls. [Shah Asad Rizvi]


Before becoming a photographer, Toby Deveson wrote music. ‘Avant garde, atonal and arrhythmic’ is how he describes it. ‘Jarring and jolting.’ Even his use of alliterative adjectives – whether intentional or not – has a sense of the lyrical, and, born and largely brought up in Italy, he is certainly a passionate Romantic, in the true sense of the word (originating from a Romance country). Although his photographic journey began as one of documentary, his preferred genre these days is landscape: always black-and-white, always analogue, always full-frame negative. Deveson, in part, still approaches these images as if they were documentary, however: he seeks to capture not a story, per se – that, he says, would be too simple – rather the emotions of the place and the moment, that je ne sais quoi which will provoke a reaction and, he hopes, move the viewer to tears.

Deveson’s photographic compositions are infused with his talent for musical composition, and his approach, too, is similar. He speaks of finding the geometric pattern in the viewfinder, abstracted to the point where you almost don’t see what it is; you don’t see the textures or the shape, you just see the overall jigsaw. As Henri Cartier-Bresson said: ‘Thinking should be done before and after, not during photographing,’ and Deveson, likewise, describes building a foundation – a solid and stable structure with science, knowledge and experience – on which to then let his instinct loose to do something ‘nebulous and creative’, to dance as the narration of a magical story. 


Musician Brian Eno uses the metaphor of gardening for his compositional process: ‘The gardener takes his seeds and scatters them, knowing what he is planting but not quite what will grow where and when’. Deveson, similarly, admits to not necessarily knowing why he pours a certain chemical where and when he does, why the result is as it is, or why it looks good (or not!) – he simply learned what he needed to know through time and habit – he is largely self-taught – and follows his intuition.

But his compositional process is not a solo dance, it is a pas de deux with a quite extraordinary and demanding partner – Mother Nature. Nevertheless, Deveson takes the leading role – after all, as Ansel Adams made clear, ‘you don’t take a photograph, you make it’. ‘You’re having to let what’s in front of you into the camera, but also put yourself into the camera from behind,’ says Deveson, who sees the process as a two-way conversation – indeed, a dance, or the intimate – and often intricate – choreography of a relationship. ‘It’s exhilarating,’ he adds. ‘A relationship infused with wonder and awe, passion and fear. A relationship with an undercurrent of playfulness and power and a constant sense of potential danger.’ As in any union, it’s a case of holding one’s own shape, while respecting that of the other – meeting midway, caressing, moulding a little to each other’s form, becoming a ‘we’, but ultimately remaining two ‘I’s. Deveson speaks of the immense challenge of placing his style and emotions on to something as vast and imposing as Mother Nature: ‘To not be engulfed by her, and to not rely on her to provide you with a stunning image, but to work with her and create something unique from something so universal’. 

To this end, Deveson travels widely, frequently driving for hours at a time, a vague plan half hatched, his route being steered, nevertheless, by his wayward dance partner. He seeks to experience as much of her as he can, to celebrate her gifts, to rise to her challenges, to capture that elusive moment in their relationship when everything changes, when something is learned and can never again be unknown. As with most significant realisations, these often only come later, when he returns to his darkroom and exposes the fragments of a partially recollected dream, reliving them all the more vividly for their bright monochrome. The dream as a whole, however, can never be fully resuscitated, leaving Deveson – and, in turn, his viewer – with the narration of a magical story, weaving in the unique stance of the present, and that of the individual’s past. Cartier-Bresson coined his famous term ‘the decisive moment’ to describe the fact that ‘photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression’. Just as no two performances of a given dance will ever be identical, the event itself is necessarily ephemeral, but the image Deveson makes represents the essence thereof, recites on lips, illuminates imaginations and embraces the most sacred depths of souls. 


© Anna McNay, 2020

Image © Toby Deveson, 2020

See also Spanish and Italian translations on the Metralla Rosa site

Monday, 21 December 2020

Interview with Katharina Grosse


Interview with Katharina Grosse

Katharina Grosse (b1961, Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany) is known for her large-scale, often site-specific and in-situ paintings, which draw the viewer in, disrupting and redefining hierarchies and boundaries, and shifting perspectives. For Grosse, there is no distinction between painting, sculpture and architecture. As well as her smaller studio canvases, she paints on found materials, cast-metal sculptures and lengths of draped fabric, creating fully immersive installations.

Currently showing as part of the all-women group exhibition Push the Limits, at the Fondazione Merz in Turin, Italy, Grosse talks to Studio International by email about her views on time, energy and meaning.

Read the full interview here

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Interview with Trulee Hall at the Zabludowicz Collection


Interview with Trulee Hall 

Following her sold-out opera commission just before lockdown in March, the Los Angeles-based artist Trulee Hall (b1976, Atlanta) has returned to the Zabludowicz Collection in London to create her first solo institutional European show. Comprising works from the collection (acquired from her major LA show last year), elements from and a video of the opera, and a number of new pieces, the exhibition is fully immersive and promises to transport visitors to an alternate reality – “Trulee’s world” – where dichotomies are set up, only to be broken back down and questioned, and layers of meaning are offered, to be peeled back and explored at the viewer’s whim. 

Hall spoke to Studio International via Zoom, offering insight into her musical background, her use of symbols – and the meanings associated with her golden corn-on-the-cobs – and what she thinks of her work being described as “erotic grotesque”, and following in the psychosexual artistic legacy of such artists as Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley.

Read the full interview here

Monday, 7 December 2020

Interview with Susie MacMurray at Pangolin London


Interview with Susie MacMurray 

Former classical musician Susie MacMurray (b1959) retrained as an artist during the era of the YBAs, but she is as far removed from their style of “one-liner” work as could be, focusing very much on the materiality and poetry of a piece, combining unconventional materials –  such as red velvet, feathers, wax and barbed wire – to create seductive yet misleading installations, which lure the viewers in, but then cause them to step away in surprise and ask questions. Vulnerability and resilience, danger and attraction, mystery and wonder, life and death – these are all present in MacMurray’s work, which, like a fairytale, centres on alchemy and transformation. 

With an exhibition at Pangolin London, including a site-specific installation – or “drawing in space” – and some new bronze works (MacMurray’s first time working with this material), made in the Pangolin foundry, the artist spoke to Studio International about her collaborative and repetitive way of working, her love of dualities, and her self-discovery as an artist later in life.

Read the full interview here

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Interview with Emily Jacir


Interview with Emily Jacir

Emily Jacir (1972, Bethlehem, Palestine) creates works of art across many mediums, exploring histories of colonisation, exchange, translation, transformation, resistance and movement. Books, libraries, etymology and the act of translation are also fundamental to many of her works, which are frequently diaristic in form, and impacted by direct experience, community interaction, and intense research.

Currently showing a large stone medallion as part of the all-women group exhibition Push the Limits, at the Fondazione Merz in Turin, Italy, Jacir talks to Studio International by email about the origins and meanings of this work, as well as some of her other key projects.


Read the full interview here

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Review of Toulouse-Lautrec and the Masters of Montmartre online at Victoria Art Gallery, Bath


Toulouse-Lautrec and the Masters of Montmartre 

Victoria Art Gallery, Bath

Available online


“They don’t pretend to be precious stuff; they’ll be torn down in a little while and others will be put up, and so on: they don’t give a damn! That’s great! – and that’s art, by God, and the best kind, mixed in with life, art without any bluffing or boasting and within the easy reach of ordinary guys,” said the anarchist art critic and aesthete Félix Fénéon.


This exhibition, comprising 80 colour “street art” posters by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and his contemporaries, including Pierre Bonnard, Jules Chéret, Alphonse Mucha and Théophile Steinlen, was long in the planning at Victoria Art Gallery in Bath. Sadly, it was open for less than two months before closing because of the Covid pandemic. The gallery, however, which intends to remain closed until next spring, has responded by moving nearly 50 works from the exhibition online: and not just the images, but also audio accompaniments for 16 of them, giving information about the artists, the bohemian celebrities of turn-of-the-century Montmartre, and background music to bring the atmosphere of the café-concert to life. 

Read the full review here


Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Interview with Paloma Varga Weisz


Interview with Paloma Varga Weisz

Born into an artistic family and classically trained in the traditional techniques of woodcarving, Paloma Varga Weisz, who lives and works in Düsseldorf, Germany, uses the mediums of sculpture, watercolour and drawing to explore a world of masquerades and disguises, revealing histories and creating narratives. Entering the art world in the heyday of the early 2000s, her career took off quickly, and she has exhibited widely internationally and received numerous stipends and awards. 

Her most recent exhibition, “Bumped Body”, was shown at the Bonnefanten Museum in Maastricht, the Netherlands, before traveling to the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, UK, where it was reinstalled in a completely new iteration, opened with a private view, and then closed due to the Covid-19 lockdown. One work, Bumpman, however, stood outside the gallery throughout like an omen or watchman. 


Varga Weisz is also preparing to install an eight-metre-tall female figure, Foreign Body, in the Joshua Tree National Park, in the Mojave Desert, as part of “High Desert Test Sites 2020”, curated by Iwona Blazwick—again, something which has had to be postponed for the time being.

Read my interview for Sculpture Magazine here

Friday, 13 November 2020

Interview with Arik Levy and Zoé Ouvrier


Interview: Arik Levy and Zoé Ouvrier 

Arik Levy (b1963, Tel Aviv) and Zoé Ouvrier (b1975, Montpellier, France) create works inspired by nature, but they do not simply attempt to interpret what they see; rather, they go beyond this, exploring, in Levy’s case, psychological and material polarities, and, in Ouvrier’s, feelings, emotions and narratives. Beyond Nature, then, is an appropriate title for this first exhibition bringing together the married couple’s works, and they are as excited as anyone to see what new conversations will arise as a result. 


I spoke to Levy and Ouvrier via Zoom from their new home and studio in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France. 

Read the full interview here

Monday, 2 November 2020

Review of Artemisia at the National Gallery, London



National Gallery, London

3 October 2020 – 24 January 2021


The Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-c1656) is well on her way to becoming as widely recognised an artistic icon as Frida Kahlo. Certainly in the era of #MeToo, her autobiography of being raped by a fellow artist, a friend of her father, at the age of 17, and enduring a seven-month-long trial, which included torture, to test the veracity of her testament, goes before her and makes her name – for better or worse – more well-known than her artwork. Of the latter, those paintings depicting biblical heroines as strong – and often vengefully violent – real women are the most beloved, and, in fact, generally the only ones known. I confess to having been oblivious to many of her more tender subjects until this long-overdue – and latterly delayed due to Covid-19 closures – exhibition at the National Gallery, London, finally opened its doors.

Read the full article here

Thursday, 24 September 2020

NA Meets: Øystein Ustvedt, Munch expert


NA Meets: Øystein Ustvedt, Munch expert

There is a small library of books on Edvard Munch, including several already written by the art critic, curator, and expert on the artist, Øystein Ustvedt. But his new publication, Edvard Munch: An Inner Life, is intended to offer a wide-reaching, all-encompassing introduction for the lay reader.


Ustvedt couldn’t be better qualified for the task. He is head of the Stenersen Museum, a curator at the National Museum in Oslo and has curated several exhibitions of Munch’s work. Ahead of the book’s publication, Norwegian Arts talked with Ustvedt about what this volume will offer that others do not, his personal views on the artist he has spent so much time researching, and how he would like to expand his horizons in the future.

Read the full interview here

Saturday, 5 September 2020

Interview with Alberta Whittle


Interview with Alberta Whittle

Alberta Whittle (b1980, Barbados) has had a phenomenal couple of years. The Glasgow-based artist, who works in film, sculpture, performance, collage and choreographed installation, was the recipient of the 2018-19 Margaret Tait Award and, this year, was one of the 10 artists to receive a Turner bursary award from Tate Britain, in place of the annual Turner Prize. She is about to show work in the Photoworks Festival in Brighton and in a group show at Copperfield in south-east London. 


The Liverpool Biennial and Art Night have been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, giving Whittle a little longer to finesse her works for these events, but equally raising new challenges as to how to adapt to the restrictions and changes in the way she can interact with her audience – something which, for Whittle, is key, since she seeks to pose questions and unsettle people from their positions of privilege and passivity. Key themes in her work include anti-blackness, legacies of slavery and apartheid, the erasure of black people and people of colour in everyday society, and also environmental issues.


Whittle spoke to Studio International about her practice and motivations, the effect of the pandemic, and the role of viscerality in her work.

Read the full interview here

Saturday, 29 August 2020

Interview with Kate Mieczkowska


Interview with Kate Mieczkowska 

Having graduated from Chelsea School of Art in 2018, Kate Mieczkowska was preparing for her curatorial debut, an exhibition of works by eight female-identifying artists at Bermondsey Project Space, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and the exhibition moved online. Mieczkowska was not in the least perturbed and is keen to see the positives of this outcome. In the run up to the week-long online event – which will afterwards continue as a permanent website – she spoke to Studio International about the ideas behind the exhibition, some of the links she has forged with artists here and in Saudi Arabia, and her own practice and career trajectory.

Read the full interview here

Friday, 24 July 2020

NA Meets: Kristin Hjellegjerde, gallerist

NA Meets: Kristin Hjellegjerde, gallerist

Following several years moving around the world, Norwegian gallerist Kristin Hjellegjerde and her family settled in London, where she opened her first exhibition space in Wandsworth in 2012.
Today she has established herself as one of the most successful gallerists on the international art scene, with a second UK gallery (in London Bridge), one in Berlin, and a newly-established summer venue in a former shrimp factory in the Norwegian fishing village of Nevlunghavn.

With a stable of 35 international artists, and a distinctive programme for each of her galleries, Hjellegjerde is busier than ever, unflustered by the global pandemic. Norwegian Arts spoke to Hjellegjerde about her familial approach to exhibiting art, what she looks for in artists, and how she has maintained momentum in trying times.

Read the full interview here

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Interview with Toby Deveson

Interview with Toby Deveson

Toby Deveson (b1971, Milan) was given a Nikkormat camera by his father when he was 16. For more than 30 years, he has been using the same 24mm lens he “borrowed” from his dad. Largely self-taught in photography, Deveson composes his images much as he once composed music: building a solid foundation and a structure with science, before following his instincts. His enigmatic black-and-white images are never cropped. Having started out working in documentary photography, in particular in the orphanages in Romania, Deveson soon discovered his love of landscapes and the “exhilarating relationship” with Mother Nature. His dream is to provoke reaction and move someone to tears with a landscape rather than with a dying child.

Deveson spoke to Studio International about his journey – both to places in all four corners of the globe and in terms of his career development – and his desire to leave a legacy.

Read the full interview here

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Interview with Andrew Litten

Interview with Andrew Litten

The self-taught figurative artist Andrew Litten (b1970, Aylesbury, UK) paints unsettling images, frequently depicting liminal states, or a vortex of raw emotions, set in a nightmarish realm of distorted technicolour. His exhibition Concerning the Fragile, now on show at Anima Mundi, St Ives, seeks to share stories of authenticity and vulnerability, encouraging empathy and connection. Litten does not shy away from difficult subjects, and his works directly address issues of addiction and dependency, as well as the death, by suicide, of his wife just last year. 

At a time when humanity has become painfully aware of its fragility and mortality, this exhibition could not be more relevant and honest.

Read the full interview here

Thursday, 9 July 2020

NA Meets: Ane Graff, artist

NA Meets: Ane Graff, artist

Ane Graff’s artistic practice is informed by feminist new materialism, with a focus on the human body as a system, health, and chronic illness. 

Born in Bodø in northern Norway, Graff now lives and works in Oslo. As well as making art, and being mother to a young child, Graff is a research fellow at the Academy of Fine Arts in Oslo, where she works in close collaboration with the Department of Biosciences at the University of Oslo, lecturing on microbiology.

In 2019, Graff represented Norway at the 58th Venice Biennale. Her work, States of Inflammation, consisted of three large-scale glass cabinets with smaller sculptures of plants and coral inside. It explored how all material bodies are affected by what they encounter, and, for humans, in particular, how pollution is causing the loss of bacteria that live on, and with, us. Accordingly, our bodies are changing into something new and unknown. 
Next year Graff will be exhibiting in the Liverpool Biennial (postponed from 2020 due to Covid-19). Norwegian Arts spoke to Graff about her varied research interests, her background and training, and life during lockdown.

Read my full interview for Norwegian Arts here

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Interview with Clae Eastgate

Interview with Clae Eastgate 

Clae Eastgate (b1968, Nottinghamshire, UK) is a largely self-taught portrait painter. For 16 years, she worked primarily as a commission artist, but her current project, Painting the Poets, sees her building a collection of portraits of female poets – a “legacy project”, she says, at “an unprecedented time in history, in terms of the growing cohort of female poets”. For Eastgate, painting a portrait is not just about achieving a physical likeness. For a portrait to be successful, it requires a balance of several elements – a sometimes elusive proposition – allowing the telling of a story through the visual representation of what is being communicated emotionally, or through the use of allegorical self-symbolism. Accordingly, each painting she makes will have its own style, echoing something of the sitter, as well as Eastgate’s own development as an artist. A perfectionist to the core, Eastgate, through this project, is learning a lot about the challenges and rewards of the art world, and hopes to present the portraits, not just as works in themselves, but accompanied by poetry recitals, and perhaps even live painting events, creating a much wider platform for women to express themselves artistically – and be heard. 

I spoke to Eastgate at her home in Shropshire.

Read the full interview here

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Interview with Matthew Burrows

Interview with Matthew Burrows

Matthew Burrows (b1971, the Wirral) is a painter through and through, even though his strategies for approaching his work include numerous analogies to try to free himself from the weight of art history. His canvases are built up with thin layers of paint, creating the effect of a textured piece, woven in and out, much like a basket. He likes to think of the horizontals and verticals as a play between a structure that is given and a process that is open.

Burrows is also the artist behind the enormously successful #ArtistSupportPledge, a simple idea, launched on Instagram just before lockdown in the UK, and now a worldwide phenomenon, earning many artists more than ever before, and proving to be self-sustaining for the community. Using the hashtag #ArtistSupportPledge, artists and makers post works for sale on social media, which must be £200 or under, with the implicit promise that, once they have sold £1,000 worth, they will buy a work by someone else, thus feeding back into the economy, creating a form of subsistence culture.

Burrows studied as an undergraduate at Birmingham School of Art (1990-93) and graduated with a master’s degree in painting from the Royal College of Art in 1995. He lives and works in East Sussex, where the landscape, and his endurance runs through it, form an integral part of his practice. 

Burrows spoke to me for Studio International about how the pledge came about, his hopes and plans for its future, his thinking about his practice, and how he hopes to return to being a full-time artist very soon.

Read the full interview here

Monday, 15 June 2020

Interview with David Downes

Interview: David Downes

When it became apparent that something big was approaching – that is, when deaths from Covid-19 started sweeping not just through China but also Italy – landscape artist David Downes saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to document this global pandemic, producing a work a day (or every other day), in the manner of a war artist. Mixing reality with surreality, familiar places with imagined representations of the virus – “Covids”, as Downes calls them – he has a growing series of pen, ink and acrylic drawings. Once there is more freedom of movement and he can return to his studio, Downes hopes to work some of these up to larger scale on canvas. He also has plans for an exhibition. 

Downes, who was born in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, in 1971, completed an MA in communication design at the Royal College of Art, London, in 1996. His first major contract, in 1999, was a commission from the BBC to record the corporation’s most important architecture at the turn of the century. He has since had numerous other prestigious commissions, including painting the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant from the roof of the Savoy Hotel in 2012, and, last year, creating a giant mural for the launch of a new ITV period drama, depicting the fictional coastal town of Sanditon, based on Jane Austen’s final, unfinished novel. 

Having been diagnosed with high-functioning autism at the age of 32, Downes is an active supporter of the National Autistic Society and has been a vice president since 2012. 

As I call Downes, one morning during lockdown, he is just about to start work on another large drawing, working from a spare room in the house he shares with his girlfriend and their dog, Winston, in Manningtree, Essex.

Read the full interview here

Friday, 12 June 2020

Interview with Studio Morison

Interview: Studio Morison 

Heather Peak Morison (b1973, UK) and Ivan Winston Morison (b1974, Turkey) have been working together for the past 15 years. Their collaborative practice incorporates aspects of art, sculpture, architecture and performance. They are co-directors of Studio Morison, an artist-led creative practice, and their blueprint for happiness. 

Studio Morison was selected last year as one of the artist practices to be commissioned by Wysing Arts Centre in Cambridgeshire as part of the three-year, region-wide arts commissioning programme New Geographies, funded by the national lottery through Arts Council England, which aims to bring contemporary art to unexpected places in the east of England. Their resulting work, MOTHER …, situated on Wicken Fen, is an interpretation of a traditional fenland hayrick, and offers a space for visitors to sit and shelter and be with nature. The work also engages with the connections between the natural world and our mental health. A series of four events, furthering this connection, has, in part, been postponed due to Covid-19.

I spoke to Heather and Ivan from Studio Morison, while under lockdown, about the ideas behind MOTHER … and the artists’ wider practice.  

Read the full interview here

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Q: Priscilla Coleman (courtroom artist)


Published in the summer 2020 issue of Art Quarterly

Feature: Supporting Islamic Art Expertise


Published in the summer 2020 issue of Art Quarterly

Book Review of Art is a Tyrant: The Unconventional Life of Rosa Bonheur, by Catherine Hewitt


Published in the summer 2020 issue of Art Quarterly

Review of Scandal and Beauty: Mark Gatiss on Aubrey Beardsley (BBC iPlayer)


Published in the summer 2020 issue of Art Quarterly

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Time Present and Time Past: the uniting of temporal planes in the work of Susanne Kamps

Time Present and Time Past: the uniting of temporal planes in the work of Susanne Kamps

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
[TS Eliot, Four Quartets]

‘Who would not, while looking at the painting of Susanne Kamps, think of Matisse, Dufy, Derain and the Fauves…?’ asks Christiane Dressler in her 2010 essay. Certainly this is the case with the four works submitted to the tenth anniversary of Cynthia Corbett’s Young Masters Art Prize last year, in particular the diptych Behind the Screen (2019), which specifically pays homage to Henri Matisse’s Interior with Aubergines (1911). The vivid colour palette, the fronds of palms, the shuttered windows and tilted perspective all nod indisputably in the direction of the artist whom Kamps admits to having taken as her greatest inspiration since the year 2000. However, it would be far too facile to look only to him, as Kamps’ knowledge of and sampling from art history goes much further, taking in not only specific artists, but also movements, motifs and devices – all of which she subjects to her own interpretation, rendering the finished works, as she terms them, ‘homages’, very much imbued with her own added flavour. Kamps neither copies nor steals (to reference the widely-attributed Picasso quote that ‘good artists copy, but great artists steal’): she absorbs, amalgamates and reinterprets, using the art of past masters much as she uses her collection of photographs, bric-à-brac from her beloved flea markets, and domestic objects – as, in the words of Matisse, a ‘working library’. For me, the artists who come to mind most when looking at her paintings are Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard, known for their style of ‘intimism’, or use of the domestic interior, along with the juxtaposition of pattern, planes of flat colour, and, again, the window motif. But there is also Kamps’ use of the diptych, which compositionally opens up the concept of past and present, as much as the looking back to art history for inspiration does on an academic level. 

Read the full essay here