Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Interview about Norman Cornish

Interview about Norman Cornish

Norman Cornish (1919-2014) was born into a mining family in Spennymoor, County Durham, as the eldest of seven children. Aged 14, he had to leave school and go and work in the mines. He was, however, also a keen artist, and, through sheer determination and drive, simultaneously forged a career drawing and painting. After 33 years in the pits, he retired due to chronic back problems, and was finally able to dedicate himself full time to his art. His sketches of workers in the pub, playing darts or dominoes, of locals queuing at the fish and chip van, and of his wife, father and children, paint the portrait of a place and time and are as synonymous with the northeast of England, as LS Lowry’s are with the northwest. Nevertheless, despite numerous honorary doctorates and an MBE for his contribution to art, his renown seems more locally bounded. This is something that his family hope to change, and, with 2019 being the anniversary of his birth, they helped put on an array of exhibitions and establish a permanent trail in Spennymoor, taking visitors to key sites where Cornish worked. 

I spoke to the artist’s son, John Cornish, about the celebrations – some of which are still ongoing, his father’s legacy, and his own memories of family life. 

Read the full interview here

Monday, 20 January 2020

Interview with Paul Mpagi Sepuya at Modern Art, Vyner Street, London

Interview with Paul Mpagi Sepuya

Paul Mpagi Sepuya 
Modern Art, Vyner Street, London
11 January - 15 February 2020

Paul Mpagi Sepuya (b1982, California) began his photographic career taking straightforward portraits. Even today, a decade and a half later, he believes the basis of his work remains the traditional studio portrait, which he always takes of friends and people he knows; occasionally also of himself. His presence in the image, which is often overemphasised in curatorial selections, is very much secondary, however, with the key focus being on the camera itself, and the act of photography. By placing the camera or tripod at the centre of the composition, and using mirrors, frequently tainted with smudges and smears, so as to make evident their presence, he deconstructs the process, as well, frequently, as the resultant image, which is cut into fragments, later to reappear in other works. Although the images themselves are now taken digitally – purely as a means of expediency – Mpagi Sepuya does no digital manipulation of his works whatsoever. Everything that appears in the shot is actually there in his studio.

While Mpagi Sepuya’s work has often been described as being about queer identity, this is, again, secondary to the camera itself. Here he explains how, although black and queer experiences are clearly conditions that lead to the space that makes the work possible, it is these conditions themselves that interest him more than making any overt declarations about gender, sexuality or race. The compositions are not planned but arise out of his living with the material until it finds its way into an image. While there are myriad layers to his works, and, in fact, to the layperson, they might seem incredibly complex, Mpagi Sepuya maintains they are little more complicated than a selfie, shot by a teenager in a bathroom mirror. 

I spoke to Mpagi Sepuya for Studio International ahead of the opening of his first solo UK exhibition, taking place at Modern Art, Vyner Street, as part of CONDO. Watch the interview here.

Friday, 10 January 2020

Review of In the Land of the Gods. Marc Chagall and the Greek World at the Musée National Marc Chagall, Nice

In the Land of the Gods
Marc Chagall and the Greek World
Musée National Marc Chagall, Nice
16 November 2019 – 27 April 2020

In the early 1950s, Marc Chagall (born 1887, Belarus) accepted the suggestion of his Greek publisher friend Tériade (real name Stratis Eleftheriadis) to illustrate a new edition of the second-century AD pastoral prose romance Daphnis and Chloe, attributed to Longus, and set on the Greek island of Lesbos, where the young shepherd and shepherdess fall in love. To get a feel for the country and its history and mythology, Chagall made two trips there, in 1952 and 1954. He also visited a wider range of tourist destinations, including Athens and Olympia. The Jewish artist was bowled over by what he described as “the land of the gods” – a country where every monument transports the visitor back several thousand years, yet with affinities to the ambience of the French Riviera, where he had made his home in Saint-Paul de Vence. What followed were series of illustrations, not only for Daphnis and Chloe, but also Homer’s Odyssey and Sappho’s poetry, and paintings, gouaches, ceramics and large-scale mosaics (for the faculty of law in Nice), and set and costume designs for the Paris Opera. Hellenic culture became mixed in with Chagall’s Jewish motifs and Old Testament illustrations and remained a prominent influence on his work until his death in 1985.

Read the full review here

Monday, 6 January 2020

Review of Josef Herman: Journey at Flowers Gallery, Kingsland Road, London

Josef Herman: Journey
Flowers Gallery, Kingsland Road, London
15 November 2019 – 25 January 2020

I don’t know what I will be
A poet or a painter
I don’t know whether I will speak
Through poems or paintings.

I like pictures in poetry
I like poetry in pictures
I don’t know what I will be
A poet or a painter.

Perhaps I will never be
A poet or a painter
And with unwritten poems
I will pass through life, a living picture.

(Josef Herman, age 12)

Born in Warsaw in 1911, Josef Herman, the subject of this two-floor retrospective, comprising works drawn from a career spanning half a century, was the son of an illiterate Jewish cobbler. He grew up in a predominantly Jewish working-class neighbourhood and had little formal education. Nevertheless, he was a voracious reader and well versed in what was going on in the wider art world. 

In 1938, Herman moved to Brussels to escape the onslaught of nazism. From there, he fled via France to Britain – first to Glasgow, then to London, then to Ystradgynlais in south Wales, then back to London, then to Suffolk, and ultimately to London again – where he remained until he died in 2000, age 89. Herman’s choice of the Belgian capital as his first port of call was significant, given the decision of so many other émigré artists to head to the artistic capital of Paris. As his son, David, writes in his contribution to a catalogue published by Ben Uri Gallery in 2014: “That generation of Jewish refugees, especially those from central and eastern Europe, divided into those who were by temperament insiders (for example, GR Elton and Isaiah Berlin) and those who were permanent outsiders. Herman was in every sense an outsider: he was from eastern Europe, passionately involved with Jewish culture and soaked in Yiddish writing, politically on the left. Above all, his artistic formation could hardly have been more remote from the central British traditions.”

Read the full review here