Sunday, 27 September 2009

‘Talk about Quiet’ – Humphrey Ocean

Public lecture at the University for the Creative Arts, Canterbury - 23/9


Humphrey Ocean’s lecture ‘Talk about Quiet’ was inspiration for critical and creative minds. There was something about his eloquence and wit with words that communicates with such clarity. Ocean’s well-put phrases lodge as you scurry needlessly to record them by pen. This made me ponder how it always seems to be that the best artists also make the greatest of speakers and authors. Ironically, midway through, he stated, looking himself up and down, ‘I can wave my arms and try to explain things, but I’m irrelevant and redundant,’ and this was the most resonating thought projected. Appropriately that was the concept behind the title ‘Talk about Quiet’ and is the argument I’ve introduced in my Re-Presenting art discussion - art must speak for itself. He later proclaimed, ‘the worst possible thing is language’ because we all die, and then only the art is left and not the commentary.


Humphrey was introduced as being a contemporary artist despite his deceptive timeless appearance, and use of outdated tools and materials. A man in his late 50s, Ocean interestingly made no declaration of finding inspiration from outside of his own lifetime. Many of his most recent works are of residential buildings around his home in South London. Beautiful cornices from hundreds of years gone he said he cannot relate to, but a 1960s semi-detached home, built in his lifetime, he can understand, he can connect with. Similarly with ruffs he is not bothered, because T-shirts are his standing point. He does not hide his age.


Secondly, he paints as well as thinks like a contemporary artist. Pointing up to the projection of a portrait from his new series Peggy’s Birthday, he claims his art is the nearest thing to a colour photograph demonstrating the wit of a 21st century artist. He continues: ‘…just through my eyes and not hard steel and glass.’ His interpretation of the subject – a seated figure is not an outline and inner detail, it is areas of colour only, which form a form. Also as though delirious he claimed, ‘The only difference between me and Gainsborough is that I can go 60 miles per hour and he couldn’t.’ Ocean refreshingly doesn’t refer to standards in art. I am still baffled to the inclusion of that in relation to his talk.


For me he embodies my ideas about artists and not just because he reminds me uncannily of the principle at the Ruskin, Oxford. His appearance is stereotypical – tortoiseshell wayfarers come Harry Potter spectacles; healthy dark and expressive eyebrows; a farming flat cap, despite professing his love of urban London; and a long fashion-less black coat. Furthermore, he talks of people and places as if he knows the most important, most intimately –Clyfford Still, Paul and Linda McCartney and Richard Hamilton. This did not lead me to conclude arrogance on his part because we were reminded of the description Nick Hornby gave of him - ‘almost too gentle and polite to have talent,’ which seems to me to be a strangely comic and true observation about the art industry.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Re-presenting Art - Measuring: Originality

My fascination over ‘What is Art’ 

As pointed out in the previous article – Hotham Court is the work of an architectural and development firm. This company produce buildings such as this like a factory. They are not original, however they are adapted for their purpose and setting. 


There must be originality in art. Firstly, in terms of quantity. I think there must be just one of something to be art. An H&M cardigan is not art, however Victor Stiebel’s ‘Day Dress’ 1947, on display at the V&A is art. It is unique in terms of number.


There is the matter of mass-production to consider, as discussed in the film, ‘Mona Lisa’s Smile’ when the students at Wellesley are challenged by the invention of paint by number to achieve Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers.’ Julia Robert’s character states that the product is removing Van Gogh’s originality. As Van Gogh himself did not produce many of the same, and distribute them amongst his (few) friends and family to be sold on, Van Gogh’s work by my definition is still art.


Originality, as alluded to, has a range of semantics. The other popular one and very important to this discussion is originality in concept or idea. To clarify my definition of originality, will hopefully stop this area of discussion being clich├ęd or vague. For me, originality is not new completely, that would be an unfair pressure upon artists. To be original is to approach a problem differently and to bring new life. It is true and right that we associate this adjective with an individual – it is not to be unique, but it is to bring the artist’s uniqueness to it. It is a right warning that my lecturer stated today “It is a fine line between being influenced by, and being a poor imitation of a work in the canon…every artist’s work is a reaction upon the one before…you need to add to their argument.”


Finding new concepts is relatively difficult. For example Di Vinci thought about flying in the 16th century, half a millennium later the Wright brothers thought again about flying and this time did. Art is certainly being altered by technological developments. But in terms of concept, I think as humans we’ve altered little.


Of the most original works I’ve acknowledged of late, these are mostly unique in their medium, or use of media.  Land-art came from using materials in their rawest sense and setting – a tree branch and not a panel of wood. Roni Horn’s Icelandic water in test tubes and again, Marc Quinn’s blood creations.


Originality again brings interest. While I recognise that originality in thought and media is important to make art interesting, I believe only originality in number is a true measure of what art is. 

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Re-presenting Art - Measuring: The Name

My fascination over ‘What is Art’ 

Hotham Court is not art because, shallowly, it has no nametag that makes it so.  You can’t name drop or name spot. There can be none of this celebrated celebrity culture.  Hotham Court has no famous designer – It is no Zaha Hadid, or Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano.


When I am choosing a film to watch, I will always consider who is starring in it. First I will ascertain the genre and general emotional aura of the film, and then the story line for originality. The deciding factor however, will often be Brad Pitt, or Julia Roberts because they are known actors/actresses whose work as a whole has been acclaimed. Though, it is fair to say that in most of these A-listers’ careers, there will be a film, or 2, that do not reflect their reputation. As Tracey Emin is a known artist for example, all that she will create in her career will be art. It probably will matter little what it is. She is an artist, and so she creates art.


It shouldn’t be, and can’t physically begin being about the name that is attached to a work. Else, how would artists ever begin to become artists, and their work art? On account of their own work, no-one is born famous.  Despite a tradition of continuation of a business and career from one generation to another, in the West at least, anyone can embark on a career as an artist. ‘Anyone’ that is on account of their background, sex, age (to an extent) and religion.


My concluding point on this measure therefore is, not all art is created by artists with a name. Yet once a name is gained, and practitioner gains recognition or fame, all their work will be art. 

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Re-presenting Art 2

My fascination over ‘What is Art’

Before I disillusion my readers and self into thinking I may begin to answer the question ‘What is Art’, I am going to state this - It is better, or perhaps the best that I can do, to simply ask more.


Under today’s subjective standards, it is hard to argue ready-made and other pieces I would call ‘camouflaged into life’ not to be art. I would easily dismiss a cupboard, a blockbuster film, or bathrobe, because it does not fit into my categories of high art paintings, sculpture or architecture. Yet, we accept far more than this as art and exhibit it as such – for example Installation art, Earth/Land Art, Kinetic forms and Performance art.


I will clarify this concept through the case of architecture. We would accept that architecture is an art and this can be validated because it is included in the History of Art. But when is a building architecture? When are functional student halls such as Hotham Court – a block of brick flats - architecture and thus art? All the students, even the overly conceptual thinkers amongst the fine artists, would not think to consider this building Art.


How can we measure art? If we cannot define it, we must at least try to ascertain the crucial point on our continuum of the exclusive traditions of art, to everything existing, physical and visual being art. Through examples that are and are not inarguably Art, a judgement will surely be made. 

Friday, 18 September 2009

Re-Presenting Art

My fascination over ‘What is Art’ – probably the first of many articles.

Traditionalism and appreciation of beauty has, in the past, held me back from embracing ‘modern art.’ Yet I am over time becoming fascinated by seeing how art has developed and into this.  As I create art, I often feel creativity empties out of me, stolen away by a history of creativity that leaves me lacking individuality, and thus other’s interest. I look back to the turning points – to the birth of modern art in Manet’s style, and I wholly understand how dissatisfying it must have been, and it is to see the world and interpret it in the way a number of artists have prior to you.


Art is no longer an expression of love to God, or a narrative of Chinese tales. One purpose doesn’t exist alone, in fact in each painting, sculpture, building, or ‘other, many aims often exist. Welcome to the Aladdin’s cave. The artist is more present than ever. She (let’s decide) is not just a craftsman; she is the God of her creation. The artist’s ideology is the truth. She is an artist, an intellect, a philosopher, and a maker. She is as many things as her output.


Art no longer seeks to be one thing to one set of people. It is not just for the upper classes and the educated, it is in free galleries for any willing member of the public. Moreover, it is being taken onto the streets and into a widening range of settings. Art’s place in society has developed and been altered.


Art is indistinguishable. It is decided by the individual. No one person lays down the law, no one governance sees over all. Art has more possibilities than ever before. It that not exciting?


I have been challenged by Banksy’s recent exhibition Banksy vs. Bristol Museum – and the content, which includes the masters’ work recycled, and graffitied, and ready-made composites that make me think of him as a neo-Dadaist. But does he hate art – no, he wishes to engage in it, and add a new dimension to it. He wants to join the international discussion. He wishes to alter Art’s identity – to give her a facelift and bring new life. To raise questions and make art exciting for those who don’t think it is.


I read this week about Marc Quinn’s latest bloody creation – a sculpture of himself made of blood, which has been frozen and put on display at the National Portrait Gallery. Never do I believe artists have been so creative. Especially, in terms of media.


To evaluate art you must do more than open your eyes to art past and present. You must open you eyes to the world.  In the world there is so many possibilities and artists are reaching further. Is everything in the world able to become art? Is it art already – does it need alone a plinth and some attention? Or, does it need a concept as well?


Friday, 11 September 2009

The BP Portrait Award 2009 at the National Portrait Gallery

I never cease to be inspired by modern day representationalists. For me, a portrait that captures their sitter, and often occurs through great precision and accuracy, cannot be bettered. A landscape and a still life may speak of a desirable lifestyle, and may symbolise life in nature, or death to come, but a portrait is of life, and can bring an outline of a figure to life. As author Charles Juliet said about philanthropist Giacometti, ‘For Giacometti, reality meant, above all, fellow man. “One thing alone interests man” Pascal stated, “and that is man.” This is why we are continually fascinated by how an artist represents his fellow man. And why each year the National Portrait Gallery welcomes the best of those artists.


This exhibition is a must-see. Whether you care a little or a lot about art, and whether you know a little or a lot I can almost, not so foolishly, guarantee you will enjoy it. It speaks into the truth that seeing art first hand is always worth the journey. If you were to simply browse the website, you would pass many of the entries without pausing - they are that good.


This is the bittersweet beauty in super-realism. You need to be astounded when you can see on close inspection that these are not just nicely composed and well-lit photographs. You need to calculate the correspondence between a brushstroke and an image so alive. To begin to conclude how artists are creating the perfect balance between expression and imitation. This is beautiful art. It is not restricted; it is free to fill the outlines of a silhouette with the style of its creator. And yet it reveals the style of the sitter’s creator – God’s masterpiece.


More and more, artists are making every face into a masterpiece, into art. Individuality is being recognised and praised in art. Every emotion, state, shape and race is being shown to be beautiful and worthy of documentation. It is exemplified in the range of subjects. This exhibition repeatedly speaks of racial, cultural and sexual identity.  Though above all it speaks of art that is accessible but not basic.




BP Portrait Award 2009 is at the National Portrait Gallery until September 20


Monday, 7 September 2009

Futurism at the Tate Modern

The Futurists were, and still are a fascinating group of distinct individuals to gain even a brief insight into. The exhibition at the Tate Modern, does just this. Through relevant and perceptive comment, it not only explains who the movement were, but aligns your modern brain with their futuristic ideals.

The exhibition contains works from just 4 exhilarating years (1914-18) in the art of Italy, France, England and Russia, indicating perfectly the pace at which their ideas were progressing and the modernity of the movement.


Upon entering the first of many rectangular rooms, you immediately see the iconic sculpture, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space by Umberto Boccioni, which comforts all visitors that they know something of the less mainstream Futurists, and of which regulars to the Tate Modern will know from the copy displayed in the permanent collection. Leant up against the nearest wall was a board that dwarfs many of the paintings in that room, and outlines the very important Futurism Manifesto of Filippo Tomasso Marinetti, February 2009. Vital is this introduction, because the sense of these paintings is lost without their aim. I would say it is fair to conclude, that the Futurists, led by the highly politically poet Marinetti, had a mind of their own. And to establish what it is that makes them unique is to look beyond the visual, as quite literally they did.


The Futurists admire all of which interests me little. They praised man-made over God-made. They had a very masculine need for speed, weightiness and shiny metal objects - all of which do not suit my femininity. However, the way they displayed such completely abstract emotions, forces and supernatural sensations is brilliant.


Boccioni evidently understood the complex connection between the visual and his ideas, in the compelling States of the Mind. The beauty of the modern brushstroke is so sinewy here. I remain thankful to Rembrandt for what he began in his innovative impasto technique – launching a trend not to conceive the brush stroke. The force of the person at the train station is heavy. When he stays, he is being held, all of him. His environment is physically shaped by his emotional state. Boccioni sells the importance the Futurists put in the man – able and powerful. When he goes in his second triptych, his movement is swift, like a gush of wind that takes you with him. Your eyes and body follow helplessly along the aggressive lineation of all three paintings in the triptych. The artists stated so accurately, ‘[I am] seeking by intuition the sympathies and the links which exist between the exterior (concrete) scene and the interior (abstract) emotion.’


What trumps the enthralling work of the Futurists is all that accompanies it. This exhibition is deceptively not only a presentation of Futurism. As you journey on intrigued you find other great works of the time feature too and understand their need because of the great overlap. You are bombarded by the art of ‘isms’, one great minor or major movement after another. From Cubism, to Cubo-Furturism (the Russian branch of Futurism) then to Vorticism. All of which are a strong, energetic and colourful force in art, and upon the art lover.


Futurism is at the Tate Modern until September 20