Self-Portraits

I’ve been thinking a lot about imagery lately.

I have an exhibition that I keep meaning to return to so that I can write about it, as wherever possible I far prefer sourcing my own images. Otherwise it kind of feels like stealing. Especially when I have the chance to photograph work in the way that I, as opposed to others, see it. Photographing and capturing something visually is as much a language as a piece of writing. This urge to document and provide my own source work has led me into thinking about the necessity of images and how we use them to frame both our written texts and our lives. Particularly in terms of how people constantly feel the need to document not only the world around them, but themselves. The way in which we can convey, warp and shape the reception of our persona through our careful selection and sensoring of our own imagery. How, through specific choice we can create the perfect presentation of ourselves. A facade that once the spell is broken and the true self becomes revealed, can never return to the idealised perfection. Once the mask has been removed, there is no return.

I find this very interesting, as in the sea of images out there, people attempt to make their own mark; to create an identity for themselves and a projection for the world. I think this way of thinking and my interest in this peeked following my visit to the exhibition at the Portrait Gallery. ‘Facing the World: From Rembrandt to Ai Weiwei’ is an exhibition that I have now visited…four times. I would highly recommend going more than once. Or even, like myself, splitting your visits into two so that you view only half the exhibition at first and then return another day to view the rest of it. I have never done this before, however I found it incredibly fulfilling, as it enabled me to better absorb the artwork as my mind was not too saturated with it all at once. It gave me more time to reflect and made me realise the works that I was truly interested in. It’s difficult, as there is so much to gain from every work in the exhibition, however the self-portraits that really struck a chord with me were Andy Warhol’s and Robert Mappleforth’s. You could argue I am cliched in my Warhol orientated interest, he is after all, renowned for his self-portraits. However these were works that I have never studied up close and they had quite the impact on me.

warhol-2

Warhol in drag. Yes, I’ve come across it before, but there was something about it in the context of the exhibition. The scale I should have realised were small poleroids, whereas when I’d seen the work in books, I’d mistakenly imagined it more A4 or even large scale. The size of course, changes the meaning of the self-portrait entirely. In my imagination, the large scale of the portrait was garish and intruding to the viewer, cocky even. However, when I viewed it during my ‘Facing the World…’ visit, I was struck by the intimacy that the poleroid scale allowed. I had to stand up close to study it. There were four of these small self-portrait’s of Andy’s on the wall and from afar all you could see was the stylish black frame, you could not make out the facial features. Yet upon close inspection there was so much to see and draw out, a rawness and an insight which felt personal and floor shattering. Almost as if I was an intruder catching Warhol in a moment which belonged only to him.

warhol-skull

Suddenly, my assumptions of Warhol with his elaborate pop art flamboyancy melted away and I was left with this striking affinity I felt for the pieces. I have read Warhol’s autobiography ‘The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again’ and I must say that it changed the way in which I viewed him. I think changed is actually an understatement. It revolutionised the way I view him. I feel I have a far greater insight and understanding to both his methods and intensions of working because of this book. A lot of people like Warhol and his work. A lot of people don’t. It’s always the people who don’t like him to whom I recommend read this book. I can never decide as to how I feel about him exactly; I am fascinated by his life in the Factory and his relationship with celebrity icons like Eddie Sedgwick, his intentionally monotonous yet revolutionary films like ‘Empire‘, yet I am also reserved in my interest. His fascination and fear of death is perhaps what speaks to me most. Following the assassination attempt on his life and his near-death experience, Warhol began to explore this theme in his work. He created silk-screens of gruesomely smashed up cars wrapped round trees, he did portraits of celebrities like  Marilyn Monroe and Elvis, both of whom supposedly died of a drug overdose. In among his colourful depictions and his Campbell’s soup cans, lies tragedy in the work of Warhol. There is a personal undercurrent that hums quietly underneath the elaborate facade and  his artistic persona, which once exposed, is truly magnificent. It is this undercurrent and its subtleties which I am drawn to with Warhol. I found therefore found these portraits very touching and almost kind of melancholy.

robert-mapplethorpe-fashion-sh37415

I viewed the self-portraits of Robert Mapplethorpe with much the same air. It feels as if there is an inherent sadness to his work, one which you can’t escape from in the process of viewing. Perhaps it is his striking eyes, which pour so deeply into your soul that you can’t help feeling as exposed as he is in his portrait. Or perhaps it is the monochrome, the lack of colour an allusion to a lack of life. Yet his portraits are filled with life, with intimacy and with themes that are dictated by the erotic. Perhaps it his aura, the knowing tilt of the head and the carefully applied mascara. The sensual addition of the fur. Or perhaps it is merely the contrast provided by his opposing self portrait that was in the exhibition, which is infused with a reasserting masculinity. Mapplethorpe employs the same dark backdrop, yet creates an entirely contrasting presentation of himself. The hardened expression, the tough leather jacket. The casual cigarette protruding from his full-bodied lips. What is it about Mapplethrope that is so sensually infused? Is it the chiseled cheek bones? Or is it his defiance? His ability to present himself in an entirely modest, yet simultaneously proud way?

mappleforth

I think Mapplethorpe’s work has a solid beauty to it.You can’t ignore the sensual air, or the sculpted bodies. For me, the use of monochrome is a very striking elemt. It removes unnecessary details from the work, the fact that colour is absent forces you to focus more on the features. The depth and tone created through the clothing texture (or lack of it) and pure human flesh is striking. Given the iconic features of his work and the raw portrayal of himself and his subjects, I think it is safe to say Mapplethorpe is one of my favourite photographers.

‘Facing the World: From Rembrandt to Ai Weiwei’ is an exhibition unlike any I have seen before. Mainly due to the fact I have never before encountered a portrait-based exhibition. The range of work created quite the pictorial journey with incredibly interesting content, particularly given the evolution of the portrait itself. How these days, the full human body is as much a portrait as more traditional depictions which include only the upper torso. Yet for me, it was the works of Warhol and Mapplethorpe that stood out. I felt that they were the most successful in capturing the essence of themselves and conveying who they were or what they could be. I was spell-bound by their works to the point I felt as if there was a direct correlation between myself and their portraits. As if I, stood staring up at their work as I occupied the gallery space, ceased to exist for a moment. I disappeared into them; I became irrelevant. This ability to strike up such a close and inclusive dialogue with the viewer can be a rarity within an artwork, but in this instance I left with a lasting affinity towards the works and their subjects.

Images sourced from:

http://67.media.tumblr.com/ead8fd2dbfd137095a33ae12ed892ca3

http://theredlist.com

http://www.tate.org.uk

Advertisements

Surreal Encounters: Collecting The Marvelous

img_2623

Installation shot including various works by Salvador Dali

“Everything tends to make us believe that there exists a certain point of the mind at which life and death, the real and the imagined, past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable, high and low, cease to be perceived as contradictions.”
– André Breton, Manifesto of Surrealism

Recently I visited the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art on what I thought would be a brief afternoon excursion. Almost four hours later I emerged from’Surreal Encounters: Collecting The Marvelous’ enlightened and inspired. Marvelous; there could not be a more apt word to apply to this broad collection of artworks. Immediately upon entry you are greeted by renowned and famous names including Picasso, Man Ray and Duchamp. Seeing a collection of those artists merely in the corridor – before I’d even entered a room – made me realise the sheer stature of this exhibition. This was and is quite the collection of Surrealist works. Never before have I seen so many Dali and Magritte pieces clustered in such close proximity. The result was mesmerizing. I felt like Alice in Wonderland tumbling down the rabbit hole into a world of dreams, blue endless skies, obscure depictions and dripping, blurring creatures. For someone who has read countless books on Dada and Surrealism, two art movements that changed and shaped the course of art history, it was like walking into a shrine dedicated to works of the past. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing.

img_2624

Installation shot hosting the works of René Magritte

The exhibition was beautifully curated and very insightful in terms of how the collections came about. As a viewer you are given an in depth account of how Roland Penrose, Edward James, Gabrielle Keiller and Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch came to acquire the works. This was done through a series of conducted interviews. I thought this was a very effective component of the exhibition as in among all of these monumental and historical works by Miro and Magritte, there were TV screens with the interviews being played out. With the giggles between partners Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch echoing throughout the space as they discussed their plans for their collections, I couldn’t help but feel that their stories brought the collections and the artwork even more to life. As a viewer, not only were you busy plummeting into a whimsical world within the frame and trying to decipher and make sense of something so non-nonsensical, but you also became aware of how it came to be hung on the wall in front of you. The care and thought that went into the collections and the articulate eye required to amount such works, was extraordinary. It was fascinating hearing how Gabrielle Keiller had realised Duchamp’s artistic potential and decided to gather his works. Of course it was equally fascinating seeing the works themselves; Duchamp’s mini replication of ‘The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors‘ was rather mesmerising in itself. 

feuille-de-vigne-femelle-female-fig-leaf-1950-1961

‘Female Fig Leaf’,  Marcel Duchamp, 1961

Marcel Duchamp is an artists I have studied very closely, so for me seeing his work was kind of like seeing a celebrity on the red carpet. His concept of the Readymade turned the art world upside down when he declared a urinal a work of art. A Readymade is a work that consists of objects that were, believe it or not, ready made. They become an artwork essentially through the declaration of the artist. This of course caused outrage in the artworld at the time and Duchamp’s urinal, or ‘Fountain‘ as he named it, was in fact refused entry to the Parisian Salon des Indépendants. At the time it was revolutionary and outrageous, now this act and the creation of the readymade is just another dictionary term in the art collection alongside Minimalism, Impressionism and all of the other movements which were not accepted at the time as they are presently. I loved’Female Fig Leaf‘ (above), I think it was one of my highlights of the exhibition not only because it was a Duchamp piece, but also because of its cheekiness. It is an imprint of the female genetalia, which Duchamp actually gifted to his wife. 

94d7ac8dcb40d950a6b342fcf3d010dd

‘Nude Woman Lying in the Sun on the Beach’, Pablo Picasso, 1932

Picasso, dare I say it, has always been very hit or miss for me. I can appreciate his work, his technique, his skill and his status. However his work has never quite struck the cord with me on a personal level. That is of course with the exception of ‘Guernica’ (1937), one of his most famous works depicting the horrors and brutalities of war. However, in this Surrealist exhibition, I was for once incredibly taken by a Picasso piece in the form of ‘Nude Woman Lying in the Sun on the Beach’. It absolutely fascinated me. The title provided the perfect insight into the subject of the work and the colours and composition were incredibly satisfying to my eye. I love the muted and restricted palettes of mint green and baby blue alongside the triangular creations. I was so drawn to this work that I even bought a postcard of it as a momento to the exhibition! 

coupleauxtetespleinesdenuages_dali

‘Couple aux tȇtes pleines de nuages’, Salvador Dali, 9136

‘Surreal Encounters’ was surreal for me in more ways than one. It was of course surreal in the sense that I was seeing the biggest body of Surrealism I have yet witnessed in my lifetime, but it was also because I was in a dumbfounded haze of surreal disbelief at seeing works such as these. Particularly the large scale Dali pieces. The skill and techniques, the mastery Dali displays with his paint and the colour choices and balances are all compiled together to form compositions so breathtaking that I was grateful to be able to occupy the seats dotted throughout the gallery space! It was one of those exhibitions where you really have to sit down and just breathe in and absorb the work in front of you. Realise how insignificant you are when faced with these grand works, grand scales and even grander artists. There was a room filled only with Dali and Magritte pieces which has to have been my favourite. Mainly because René Magritte is in fact one of my favourite artists. Coming from someone who has a very long list of favourite artists, that is quite the compliment to Magritte. I will never forget the first time I saw his work. It was at The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. Again, there was a room filled primarily with Dali and Magritte and I remember feeling as if the air in my body had been physically knocked out of me. I had only ever come across these works in books or on the internet prior to that moment and to be greeted face to face with the brush strokes (or lack of them) of Magritte was truly one of my most memorable moments in my experience of viewing art.

14134560_294394854251021_1491073811_n1

‘La Représentation’, René Magritte, 1937

Walking into the Dali/Magritte room in the Modern Art Gallery was very much like experiencing my Guggenheim epiphany all over again. Seeing Magritte’s countless sky scapes, his mysterious face reflections and erotic depictions cast a spell of serenity over me. Time seemed to stand still as I immersed myself in the works, trying to read them and imagine what strange things had been blurring through the mind of Magritte as he painted. I tend to avoid reading the information that sits alongside a painting, at least until I return to the exhibition a second time, as I prefer to formulate my own ideas and opinions about a piece before giving in to the direction leaflets and writings provide. Trying to read a Surrealist work however is quite the task and I decided that the best way to do this was to free my mind. To allow my conscious to let go of assumptions and float and drift instead into more sporadic realms.

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik 1943 by Dorothea Tanning 1910-2012

‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’, Dorothea Tanning, 1943

I think ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik‘ was one of my favourite works within the exhibition (not counting all of the Magritte’s, that goes without saying given how big a fan I am!) However, I have never come across Tanning’s work and this piece really stuck with me. It’s predominantly the bold colours that appeal to me; the blood red carpet against the sunshine yellow of the sunflower. The angles of the staircase alongside the open door at the end of the corridor. The way in which the girl’s hair appears to be sucked and gusted upwards towards the ceiling, yet she remains stood still and straight as if the presence of a giant sunflower on the stairwell was a perfectly natural occurrence. Yet there lies the success of the Surrealists; the ability to take the abnormal, the strange, the absurd and transform it into something so nonchalant that we begin to question our own senses of normality. They take the ordinary and transform it into such an extraordinary that we are left both stunned and speechless yet simultaneously brimming with an overflowing cauldron of ideas in our heads. In heads thatupon witnessing these works of art suddenly feel too small for all of these bizarre and beautiful notions. Consequently, the only thing that we can do is release ourselves to the surreal and the experience it provides. Needless to say, this exhibition succeeded in providing that experience and more. I was left reeling and contemplating it for days and this contemplation will continue, as will our own surreal encounters. 

 

We were not allowed to take photographs in the exhibition,therefore my images are sourced from the following websites:

https://www.nationalgalleries.org

http://georginacoburnarts.co.uk

http://www.arts-press.co.uk

 

 

A Time of Reflection

13712308_1071104132967442_105789848_n

I’ve been away from the blog for a while as I felt I needed some reflection time. Time to stop and contemplate. Time to consider and reflect. I wanted to take a step back from everything following the pace of life during degree show period. Both my creative and mental energy had been wholeheartedly consumed and I therefore decided to withdraw from participating in physical elements in favour of simply reading some theory. The fact I am now studio-less has partly contributed to this shift in thinking. Not that I’m saying you need a studio to make art, I’m just saying I am currently in the adjustment phase and therefore having a break. Yet when I say that and taking time out, I’m lying. I am not a person who takes time out and does nothing – that’s just not in my nature. I get twitchy and start doing the washing up or something. For me taking time out is putting a pause on the practical. Performance for the time being is not on the cards. But my creativity is still bubbling away as I have been dabbling in light painting activities and a little bit of photography. Yet these activities in themselves have been scarce as I’ll be consumed in a doodle mood one minute and then the next my sketchbook goes untouched for days. Books instead have become my predominant creative outlet for the time being.

13707345_1753872148164301_1979226587_n

Have you ever read a book that changed your life? Or that you feel will stay with you for a very very long time? Well, that happened to me the other day with Hand Ulrich Obrist’s ‘Ways of Curating’. What a read! I have not ripped through a book so quickly in a long time. Having said that, I didn’t really have a spare minute over deadline and degree show time.  Yet now that I have finished my degree, I have been sat reading in cafes and in the garden, watching people go by and observing daily life. Contemplating. Thinking. I’ve come to realise that my mind is very much designed for research; for absorbing information, words and visuals. I will be moving to Edinburgh next month to embark on an MSc in Modern and Contemporary Art: History, Curation and Criticism (I am aware that is quite a mouthful!) I could not be more excited as I feel Edinburgh is the perfect transition from Newcastle. In the interim period however I have been in Aberdeen, which is the city of death for anyone or anything creative in my opinion. I’m not saying that’s the case in every instance, but the lack of gallery visits is starting to agitate me. All the more reason that books have become my seducer.

13722143_1066982280063473_611571647_n

‘Ways of Curating’ by Obrist has left quite the impression on me. Obrist is a world-renowned curator, critic and art historian. He is currently director at the Serpentine Galleries in London, has published a wide array of books, conducted endless artist interviews and revolutionized the way in which we think of curation. Needless to say, I found him and his professional exploits quite inspiring. Prior to reading this book, I had always viewing curating as quite a static activity. Arranging and rearranging the works of an artist in a room. Conversing with said artist to gauge their artistic needs. Engaging public with the final displayed work, etc. etc. How wrong I was! Obrist entirely transforms my way of thinking about curation with his discussions of shifting and temporal artistic platforms, the idea of curation as an artistic practice itself, the importance of stimulating conversations and the methodologies which surround and extend and exhibition beyond itself and into forms such as 24hr conversation marathons. For the first time, curating actually appeals to me as it is so much more than arranging art in a room. It is about bringing people together. About exchanging ideas and bridging cultures. It is about travelling and exploring. It is a journey of creation.

13734459_1172724706104420_1385617542_n

It’s been a strange few weeks for me as I go from being a full time art student with a public show and a studio in the vibrant city of Newcastle, to being a graduate living in the granite grey city of Aberdeen over summer. Quite the shift. Yet it’s been a transformative one. I feel I have learnt from my period of non-production. I almost feel it has taught me more than when I am fully absorbed in my artwork. Somewhat ironic I know, but in those moments as I am fully aware of myself as a creative and an artist, yet it’s only really after all this reading and reflecting that I realise how much of a thinker I am. You might wonder why I have not turned to writing more given this has become the case. I’m not sure myself really, I just did not feel compelled. I suppose even that felt too creative. I wanted simply to sit back and read about others being creative and harness my energy through them. And I think it’s been a good idea as I am now inspired and itching to create again, in one way or another. I’m definitely hoping for a residency at some point. I am off to Berlin not long from now and for me that is just as much a research trip as a holiday with all of the beautiful art galleries and historical museums I’ll be visiting!

The End is Nigh

IMG_9130

Catherine McLaughlin

So today marks the final day of Northumbria University’s Fine Art Degree Show. It all closes at 4pm so get yourself down to catch a final glimpse of all the amazing work on display. I will be doing my final performance in Gallery North at 2:30pm which is both exciting and unbelievable. It will also be my final performance in Newcastle (for the time being at least) as I will be moving to Edinburgh this summer – another wonderfully artistic city! Time for some exciting exploring in a new place, yet much to my delight I will still be relatively close to Newcastle and my much loved BALTIC on the Quayside. Following my work this year, I plan on taking a break from performance art and instead hope to  focus more on my research, writing and theory – with of course some practical thrown in here and there.

 IMG_9159

Matthew Young & Nikki Lawson

I was delighted to meet up with Luke from Left Leg Gallery the other day who is interested in collaborating with me having seen some of my work and the Degree Show, so there are definitely some exciting practical elements for the future! We met up, discussed and had a really interesting conversation which touched on so many different topics, but primarily focused on both of our interest in the gym; the culture, the colours, the ‘uniform’ if you will, the mindsets, the stereotypes and this will form the basis of a future collaboration.  It was really inspiring to talk to someone so enthusiastic and interesting and who shared so many of my views. It is moments like this where I could not be more happy to be making the kind of art that I do and feeding off the energy of the places and people.

IMG_9138

Kathryn Harker

I will be incredibly sad to leave Newcastle behind but saying goodbye to studio life I think is going to be the hardest aspect of my farewell. Seeing the diversity of Northumbria’s Degree Show really made me realise this. Going from seeing all the experimentation among my peers on a daily basis, to making art without this strong sense of community, is going to be a strange sensation. I will just have to find myself a new unit in which to make my art! Yet I love the fact that in the studios here I’d have no real idea of what someone’s work consisted of and then I’d walk into a project space where they’re experimenting one day to total surprises. I love the fact that people work with things I myself would never even consider, such as camera obscuras and natural light. In saying this I am referring to Kathryn Harker’s technical photography and the way in which she has transformed a space into an experience through her manipulation of light (above). Depending on the time of day you go, your experience of the piece will be entirely different and I think this ephemeral quality is incredibly appealing. As is the beauty of the light that is captured, it feels so delicate and fragile, especially given that you know it’s going to inevitably shift and flutter away at any given moment.

IMG_9168

Paul Barron

Ephemeral qualities of course apply to Performance Art and it’s strange to think today is my last performance as a student of Northumbria University. After two weeks of the Degree Show being open to the public, it is now time to take it all down, de-install and start a new chapter in our lives. It will be sad to see the studios gradually return to their summer state of emptiness. Seeing installations coming down and the skip filling up. I feel in a sense that people will be dismantling parts of themselves, as the more our practices have evolved and the more work we produced throughout our time here, the more we ourselves have became apparent in our work. People’s characteristics, interests and issues, all became more evident through the artwork, through the statements of intent and through the way in which it was all displayed. Each decision was a reflection of the person, of the way in which they considered their work, in many cases it was a physical extension of themselves.

IMG_9142

Dale Harmer

I think this is what I find most beautiful about art. I have lived and breathed it since childhood, always drawing after school , carrying pencils in my bag and doodling expansive patterns and flowers across my hands (much to my mother’s discontent!) So I can’t imagine life without it and I will never have to. But I think being on this course has been the creative journey that I’d always imagined, it has been the challenge that I needed to push myself into realms previously unexplored. And I think it’s safe to say anyone would say the same; fellow students would probably never have expected certain things of themselves and I think that’s amazing. To realise a new medium or technique or discover a new artist who transforms your way of thinking. When you dedicate three years of your life to making art, you become so immersed in it that personally at least I feel my life will never be the same again.

IMG_9173

Marcus Wheeler

And I could not be more excited by that fact. I have a whole new way of thinking and seeing artwork. I have met so many different people, learnt so much and am eager to learn even more. Although today marks the end of the show, it also marks the start of so many other things. Thank you Northumbria, it’s been a pleasure!

IMG_9189

Woon Prize Nominee Hannah Barker

NUFA16

IMG_9137

Tyler Coop

I can remember being in my first year of uni and looking up to the third years thinking it was impossible that one day I would be putting on a show. I’ve always kind of felt that when I looked up to older students even at school; I remember wondering how people sat exams, how people traveled by themselves, how people had the confidence to drive cars, etc etc. All these thoughts feel silly and irrelevant now looking back, because of course you learn and grow and change. I didn’t realise however quite how much an art course would change me. I never imagined I would go down the route of performance art, if anything I’ve always been someone who shied away from the stage and was instead content painting background scenery and doing backstage make-up. Yet during the time on this course I have experimented with mediums I never planned to work with such as sculpture, print, photography, video, projection, all sorts. I’ve really pushed the boat out in ways I never imagined or expected.

IMG_9181

Woon Prize Nominee Sheyda Porter 

I think that’s what’s so wonderful about embarking on a course as practical and creative as this. Not only are you exploring your artistic potentials, but you are also exploring the tools which allow you to realise your ideas. You’re learning so much theory too, with all the seminars, Art History lectures  and of course extensive research and reading meaning my knowledge of the artworld has grown so much. As has my coffee table collection of artist books which are now looking to require a bookshelf…

IMG_9169

Saman Ahmadzadeh

That’s partially the exciting thing however, the fact that my bookshelf keeps expanding. The fact that despite finishing this course, I am nowhere near finished. There’s so much more to explore, there’s so much more to experiment with. Despite all of the nostalgia I am currently feeling, I am also feeling incredibly inspired. Seeing everybody’s work come together in this way is amazing not only because there are some incredibly strong and thought-provoking works, but also because we have witnessed one another’s artistic journeys. We’ve seen experiments in the studio go horribly wrong, or moments where tubes of purple paint explode everywhere (yes, it had to be all over me), moments where you walk into the studio to find your studio floor has been taken over by glitter, glue and sprinkles (I have the best studio pal – we are the messiest bunch together and it’s been great!)

IMG_9146

Rebecca Gavigan & Victoria McDermott

So seeing everything reduced to this clean cut and perfectly executed Show is almost overwhelming. I suppose it must be kind of like being a director and finally watching your own Broadway Show. You’ve had moments where everyone is yelling backstage, costume changes haven’t worked, scripts haven’t been learnt, people are stressing and scrabbling around. Yet on the night it all flows smoothly and could not be more perfect. And in that moment you have a feeling of pride in how it has all came together, in how the stress and tears of backstage have dissolved as the characters dominate the stage. I suppose it’s kind of like that, just instead of one director, there are seventy-eight emerging artists.

IMG_9174

Joseph Crookall

Seventy-eight of us whose work could not differ more greatly from the other. I will always remember local artist Narbi Price saying in one of his talks at Vane Gallery, that the more artwork that is made, the more there is a burden on artists to come. This has stuck with me because it is so very true. A lot of people dispel history and say it’s in the past, it doesn’t matter. Yet in being an artist and making artwork it is absolutely critical you know your history, you have to be so aware of what came before you. I have found this particularly vital in looking at the female body in Performance Art, because the 1960s really shaped a lot of things today in that realm and no one can ignore that. So when Narbi said that, it really hit home and seeing such a broad range of work in the Degree Show alone, it’s resonating with me more than ever and making me excited to push things even further.

IMG_9178

Alexandra Karyn

Northumbria University Degree Show 2016

 

IMG_9118

Jack Davison

It’s degree show season at the moment which is why I have been so absent from this blog. It’s nice to finally sit back and be able to enjoy the artwork without the stress of deadline, rushing around like a madwoman and having to juggle so many things. Today marks the start of the final week of Northumbria University’s Fine Art Degree show. It’s open daily 10-5pm so get yourself down here if you fancy a look! I’m exhibiting in a curated environment along with seven other students in Gallery North and at the time of putting all of this together I was also organising and coordinating the degree show catalogue that goes alongside the show (hence my prolonged absence from the blog!) Thankfully I had a brilliant team to work with in putting this publication together, however it was a lot of hard work to say the least and it has taught me a lot about time management! I’ve learnt a gained so much from the editing process and putting things to print so it’s been a fantastic (but at times) stressful experience. As has putting together a curated show. I have never experienced anything like this before, so it was really interesting to work so closely with others whose work differed so greatly from my own.

IMG_9010

Kat Bevan

Putting together a Degree Show is even more work than you imagine; there are so many tiny things that pile up and make all the difference, I couldn’t believe it! My to do list at the time was just endless and expanding constantly, especially with all of the work that was going into the catalogue. As a course we were all so busy during the preparation period that none of us had any time to see each other’s work in advance, so preview night last week had the most amazing atmosphere as everything was revealed. Instead of being all rugged in studio and paint splattered clothes, everyone was dressed up beautifully and we all finally had the chance to see each others’ work!

IMG_9164

Alan Barrett & David Graham

I must say I am proud to be a part of this show. There are so many incredibly works on display and the diversity of it all just amazes me. I was fortunate to have an insight into a lot of people’s practice prior to the show given the amount of text editing I was doing for the catalogue, so it was particularly rewarding to see it all in person on the night. Even still I was not prepared for the level of professionalism, the attention students had paid to the smallest of details and like I said the range of work. There was everything you could imagine and beyond present; performances, glitch based videos, fully immersive installations, workshops, digital art and green screen, unconventional painting displays, you name it, it was all there!

IMG_9135

Jenny Wheatley

I think  a lot of us were nervous for the preview and opening to the public, but on preview night I feel every student let go of any of those feelings and instead just felt relief and delight. It really was an incredible moment to see everyone come together after all their hard work and I think the show really does reflect the efforts that have gone into it. The pieces are full of so much energy; walking into Jack Davison’s installation with it’s  bombardment of pink and heavy club music is instantly absorbing. As a viewer you feel transported from the University corridors you had just left into an erotic jungle of disco balls and plush pink velvet. Being in a studio with Jenny Wheatley for two years now has been amazing, as I’ve seen her practice grow and adapt on a first hand basis – I’ve seen the tiniest of changes day to day. So when this year she started deconstructing the materials incorporated in painting and playing about with jars filled to the brim with paint, I was incredibly excited to see how her work would evolve for the show. The end result is an expansion of bold beautiful colours which cascade from wall to floor with a scattering of paint filled jars littered across the canvas.

IMG_9177

Jordan Boyle

I think that what the most exciting aspect of the show; seeing three years worth of people’s work come together in this environment. It’s incredibly strange having submitted and now being finished, I feel almost numb at the thought of it all coming to an end.  Not that it’s really coming to an end, I will never ever stop making art – for me that would be like stopping breathing! Studio life however is over for the time being. One day I will hopefully be able to afford one again, but I will be sad to say goodbye to such a creative environment. Coming in every day and making work alongside people, having them tell you when it’s rubbish or when it’s worth it, pushing your practice into realms you never expected, utilising all the facilities, it’s an experience I will never forget and I am so incredibly grateful for.

IMG_9186

Daniel Mupungu

Walking round the show you can see that people have made the most of these aspects; students have pushed the boundaries of what art is and what it can be. Yet students have also furthered aspects such as the studio aesthetic. That fully immersive feeling of making and the tactility that comes with it. A prime example of this would be Alice O’Hagen’s stunning work, I am so drawn in by the way in which she has captured the trace of touch and human gesture within the materials. I love the way in which she plays with softer elements which manifest in the form of duvets and evoke a strong sense of comfort, against more solid plaster and clay-based materials. Then there’s fact it is all more ceiling as opposed to floor based which personally I find incredibly compelling, given it plays on the conventions of sculpture and it’s almost like an Alice In Wonderland topsy-turvy environment.

IMG_9123

Alice O’Hagen

I think one of the reasons Alice’s work appealed to me so much was not only because I felt wrapped up by it and could imagine every movement in its making, but also because I almost long for that immersive sense of making again. Having worked predominantly with performance this year, I am ready to take a break from it and go back to painting for the next while. That is not to say I am giving up performance, I don’t think you ever give anyartform up, but you have to do what feels right at the time. Given that I have been performing live for both assessment, the preview and throughout the duration of the show, I have found it can be quite draining both emotionally and also physically (especially given my performance requires me binding myself up in 24 metres of ribbon! Quite restricting to my breathing let’s just say…) So for now I’m happy to take a break from it and instead bury myself in a pile of artbooks and sketchbooks as I start doodling and painting away with my watery inks. After all this hard work, it’s time to take it easy and enjoy the show!

IMG_9157

Marina Collinson 

‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’ Part III

IMG_8707

People often say that a photo is worth a thousand words and I am a strong believer in this. Photos tell stories, document fond memories and capture funny moments. Personal photos are the stills to your life. Documentary photos allow us visual access to the past; whether it is a glimpse into the harrowing life of trench warfare, the horrific effects of Napalm in Vietnam, or more light-hearted occasions such as Royal Weddings. It’s incredible to think that we can see a visual of someone who existed hundreds of years ago, that we can put a face to the name of ancient geniuses. ‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’ demonstrates the importance of the photograph. Within the exhibition this takes on a variety of forms, such as a photographic collage of family photos as above. 

IMG_8753

It also took the form of more explicit photographs, such as this found postcard of an Iranian pop star. As I said before, a picture is worth a thousand words and what interests me most about this fact is that different people will all take different things from what they see. Such as with the above photo; some people will find it crude, others will find it sexy, generally people will find it cheeky and naughty. Personally I like it, I think it’s got a wacky side to it and a sense of pride within the woman as she commands her body. I also find the setting incredibly interesting and the material of her net leotard provides an interesting contrast against the plush velvet of the chair. Having written extensively about ‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’, I have realised that as a whole it is of course a flourishing exhibition. Yet it’s only really when you break it down and truly examine the details that you realise just how effective and important every single element is. 

 

Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia Part II

IMG_8736

‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’ is a unique exhibition unlike anything I’ve seen in Newcastle before, despite having lived here for almost three years now. This show  perfectly encapsulates what contemporary art represents. It is about making art in the present and using this as a platform to reflect and comment on the world around us. The strength of this show lies in its explorations of history; the revolution in Iran and how an oppressive regime followed, forcing artists and musicians to close shop and adapt to more censored ways of working. Yet throughout the show this historical narrative is not overly explicit and loud in its protest, but instead it is subtle and sophisticated. Snapshots of the world and stories of the past come through in the objects, in the travelling and collection process that has been carried out.

IMG_8720 

One of the things I love most about this exhibition is it creates a real sense of the nomadic lifestyle. The evidence of travelling to far flung places and finding hidden gems is entirely present throughout. It makes me want to be more imaginative with my findings. I am a sentimental person in the sense that I have an old shoe box filled with my special moments. The box contains what would be considered throwaway items to most people, such as a cinema ticket or a used stamp, but for me these little things hold precious memories. My box contains items such as concert tickets, doodles done on restaurant napkins, brooches, Kinder Egg toys, clothes labels, cards I’ve been sent, photographs, plastic and childish rings, the list goes on. Now, some people may consider that junk and to an extent I suppose it is, but each of those items retains a precious moment for me; a good time where I was laughing with my siblings or joking with my boyfriend. Through items we capture and record life and ‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’is the perfect example of this. 

IMG_8696

Having lived and travelled a lot throughout my life, it’s fair to say I have my fair share of collected exotic items. Little marble statues from India, patterned scarves from Kenya, silver rings from Oman, postcards from all over Scotland. These items are the little jigsaw pieces that come together to document my life and where I’ve been. I love the surprise of going into an old handbag pocket and finding within it a keyring I picked up on my travels. Much like curator Sara Makari-Aghdam, I find stories in the items we keep and I think that is why I love this exhibition so much, because I can truly relate to it. Sara discovered her father’s old cassette collection of Persian pop music years ago and it has fueled and inspired this show. What I find most intriguing about objects is their own personal journey; if it’s a vintage dress who owned it before it was procured? What kind of occassions was it worn to? Was the person told by their lover that they look lovely? Looking at old items, all these questions come flooding to my mind. Through objects a strong sense of presence comes through and in ‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’, this presence is excitedly overwhelming. 

‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’

IMG_8729

Having been away from Newcastle for a while, visiting Vane Gallery’s preview of ‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’ was the best way to get me inspired enough to return to writing. Curated by Sara Makari-Aghdam, this exhibition explores her dual heritage, as she is an exotic blend of Persian and English. ‘Vinyl Icons…’ also explores the rich Iranian culture of the 1960s and 70s by combining the work of five artists, three of whom lived through the 1979 Revolution. The show is therefore bubbling with culture and heritage, histories and lost pasts. It encapsulates these themes through an explosion of colours and textures; the pieces bounce off the walls in their ecstatic vibrancy. As I enter the gallery space I am greeted by the soaring melodies of Turkish and Iranian pop music and a wave of nostalgia instantly hits and transports me back to the souks and markets of Oman. I recall the smell of incense that used to burn as I walked along the corniche to watch the sun set over the Omani coastline. Having lived in the Middle East for several years, this exhibition brought about a lot of sentimental feelings for me.

IMG_8745

‘Vinyl Icons…’ consisted of an eclectic blend of items, much like an Arabian or Turkish market would. There was opulent jewellery and brooches dripping from and decorating vintage clothes collected and found in America. There were vintage Clarks shoes from 1969, there were extravagant light boxes paying homage to religious shrines, there were photographic montages, family photos, handpainted dresses, a wide collection of sexy record covers and vintage magazines from the ’60s and ’70s. There was even a piece inspired by Afsoon’s mood boards that she creates in her London studio. 

IMG_8740

I was particularly taken by this piece. As the eye shifts across the work, it is constantly met with fantastically bold items such as maps, stamps, tapestries, dish towels and jewellery. It is highly tactile piece that for me really appealed as I felt like I was being invited into the artist’s methods and thought process. I could see from the variety of items present that collecting is integral to her practice. Colours, textures and the considered distribution of both these elements contributed to the success of this beautifully energetic work. 

IMG_8708

Talking with Afsoon, she told me she uses a lot of matchboxes in her work. She likes the surprise of finding unexpected items stored inside such as a hair pin or a tooth, when she buys and collects vintage match boxes from places. Who would have thought an everyday object that I mostly associate with frustration (given my inability to light most matches) could be transformed into something so delicate and beautiful? Housed in their little plinth-based box, these match boxes stood proudly showing off their collaged covers. 

IMG_8706

I was delighted by the constant surprises this exhibition held for me. What originally seemed like pretty little hand-painted shoes (above), soon revealed as I circulated the delicate figure of a nude female body. This simple yet highly effective manipulation of the object was for me one of the best parts of the exhibition. It was cheeky, beautiful and unexpected. Hand-painted shoes were also present on another lower laying plinth, which brought the eye nearer to ground level. From a distance the boots look as if they are decorated in loose swirls, but upon closer inspection exotic feminine eyes can be revealed. 

IMG_8702

 Feminine motifs ran throughout the gallery, with dresses, jewellery, naked bodies and portraits littering the walls. Having lived in regions of the Middle East where women wear abyas all of the time, it was interesting to see a mix of clothing  that ranged from the hand made to collected  vintage items. It was also really interesting to see such Arabian looking objects such as the vinyl case (below left), cleverly placed next to another casing with such an erotic depiction of the female body (below right). Yet Iran was originally very much influenced by the West and was very liberal and this exhibition successfully highlights and explores this blend of East meeting West.

IMG_8722

‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’ is for me one of those exhibitions that completely transforms the white walls of the gallery space. Through the highly visual and tactile materials, the variety of items on display and the ever-present music, I felt entirely transported to another place. I felt incredibly inspired by the colours of it all and the memories of Oman that it reminded me of. It was a strange sensation as I stepped back out onto ordinary Pilgrim Street and my doorway into the rich culture of the East faded and remained within the walls of Vane Gallery. I was transported from one world to another, but that is not the end of my experiences as I will definitely be returning to this show on numerous occasions!

To read more blog posts about this exhibition see:

Part II

Part III

Pop Up Pink (Part 1)

IMG_8280

Tuesday night was the Pop Up exhibition of Pink inspired by and a result of the ‘Pink’ talk for Colour Studio Northumbria (http://colourstudionorthumbria.weebly.com/). These are weekly conversations mostly led by fellow course mate Rebecca Gavigan. Having led one this week myself on the topic of ‘Time’, I am even more in awe of how she puts them together – especially on a weekly basis with everything else we have to contend with as final year students. Other students and tutors have also led talks  and it’s a really interesting mix of topics that are discussed including things like laughter, material, chance, etc.

IMG_8281

So it was really exciting to see one of the talks mould and shape an exhibition. One of the primary focuses of the exhibition was the motif of ‘shifts’ due to the development of our conversation during the Pink Talk. We covered and shifted across so many different topics that it seemed appropriate to incorporate this aspect into the exhibition. Whilst researching in preparation of the talk I kind of hit a wall. As I have an incredibly girly girl sister, it is difficult for me to look at pink in a way that surpasses my sister’s excessive use of it! I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I love that when I think of her a colour instantly springs to mind, I think that’s a beautiful way to visualise someone you love. However, it did mean I had to try really hard to distance myself from those associations in an attempt to research more broadly.

IMG_8282

‘Transfer’, Sue Spark, Highlighter and oil on paper, 2016

The Pink Talk was mainly questioning the ‘art pink’ that is so present in the art world today. If you look at art thinking about pink you really do start to notice it’s presence everywhere. Whether it’s a pastel pink, a funky neon pink, or a muted dirty pink; all sorts of variations can be found in different places and across artistic practices. Even in catalogues and publications, pink really is the ‘in’ thing! I can’t tell whether or not I’m surprised it has become a trend, I suppose given the conventional associations of the colour all of these interpretations are an attempt to redefine what pink can be. 

IMG_8286

‘Untitled Slants’, Charles Danby, Acrylic, oil, pencil, ink, magazine, highlighter, paper, linen, 2008-16

What I love most about the Colour Talks is they take something simple and expands it into realms you had never even considered. In my reading of pink I was thinking about gender, feminine elements, flesh – those kind of associations. Of course in the talk we did discuss these. It turns out pink was historically more of a boy’s colour, as it is a diluted version of red which of course symbolises male strength. This is something I would never have guessed myself given all the pink baby girls clothing we are constantly bombarded with! The talk also covered things such as pink in the natural environment and how this colour  can be really striking in that context. The discussion had so many components to it that I don’t think I will ever look at pink in the same way again!

IMG_8283

‘Jawbone’, Projection, Matt Young and Nikki Lawson, 2016

It was interesting how for the most part, those of us who exhibited a work were drawn to the use of a more high frequency pink. This was completely accidental as nobody had discussed the exact tone they would be using in their piece prior to exhibiting. We only realised once all the works were placed in the room. It therefore perfectly demonstrated exactly what we all felt was ‘art pink’. 

IMG_8285

‘Oh Sorry’, Rebecca Gavigan, PVC and highlighter, 2016

We were also all free to choose what we submitted in terms of media, so there was a good range as a result. The mix included installations, video, paintings, drawings, work in situ – there was a bit of everything. Eclectic textures were present too which evoked tactile sensations. Each work had been carefully placed and hung in order to allow the eye to travel across each piece. Placement was key to how the pieces were all viewed and navigated so I found having work on the floor as well as the wall added a dynamism to it all. It was curated in a day and although this was a very brief time period, it was long enough to let me see the thought and process that goes into curating. Something that I currently have little experience of!

IMG_8294

‘No Sexual Connotations Intended’, Samuel Johnson, Timber, mesh voile, gloss, oil and iridescent paint on canvas, 2016

Following this exhibition however I am intrigued by the idea of curating. There’s a responsibility to assembling works effectively; not only to the pieces themselves, but also to the artists who made them. I’ve never done it before but having seen how thoroughly Rebecca considered the hanging of each work, I feel it could be a really exciting thing to try!

IMG_8291

Close up of ‘Rizzo’, Camilla Irvine-Fortescue, Acrylic on canvas, 2016