Graffiti Diary, Madrid & Barcelona 2017

Recently I went on holiday to Madrid and Barcelona. What has developed into a natural impulse for me is documenting the graffiti in foreign cities. I never realised how much I liked graffiti until I went through photos on my camera and phone, only to find I am slowly gathering a personal archive of street art. I was in Berlin last summer and absolutely fell in love with the street art there, with the streets and pavements filled with vibrant colour and beautiful art. A lot of people have mixed feelings about graffiti; some thing it is defacing the urban landscape, others think it brings life to the streets. I am of the latter opinion, as I believe creativity should flourish in the most unexpected places. I particularly love chalked graffiti on the pavement, as the transience adds a melancholy to the experience of viewing. I also feel art is an integral part of life, so what better way for it to be integrated into our lives than through the streets?

Since reading John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing‘ (2008) a couple of years ago, I have become an advocate for what he terms the ‘visual essay’. Dispersed throughout the essays in this book are images collected and formulated into essays themselves. Devoid of text, yet united thematically, the visual essays force you to look and think for yourself. They allow you to reflect on the content of Berger’s essay and then apply visuals to his discussion. I find this way of looking and reading incredibly inspiring, so below is my visual essay of graffiti found whilst in Madrid and Barcelona.

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The Late Shows

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Last night I was helping out at Vane Gallery with their display for the Late Shows. The Late Shows are a city wide series of exhibitions and cultural events which range from open studios to performances. This is the tenth year it has run with over 70 venues participating. Vane Gallery were previewing two new exhibitions and were also hosting a 1960s style photo shoot for people to play dress up. This looked like great fun and the polaroid photos of everyone came out really well. The vintage clothing was selected by Sara Makari-Aghdam, the curator of Vane’s current ‘Vinyl Icons…’ exhibition, and let’s just say she has great taste! In among helping out behind the bar, I was allowed to pop up to see what was happening on the other floors of Union House.

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B&D Studios had a silent disco playing, something which was incredibly surreal as I have never experienced it before. It was strange seeing people dance to no music. Then you put the headphones on yourself and close off the rest of the world as you enter your own little bubble of sound. The music was mellow and upbeat and really added to the fairy light lit atmosphere. There were also these amazing graphic drawings on display by the talented artist Luke Dixon. I love the colours and the geometric components of the animal’s faces and they were suitably eclectic artwork for the atmosphere of B&D.  

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It was really interesting to travel throughout all the floors of the building as there was everything from fashion to printmaking on display. I knew it was a creative hub of a building, but I hadn’t realised quite to this extent! There was also a floor where people had made imaginative creatures in art therapy classes and the option to take classes in pattern making.

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The night was so filled with artistic contrasts and I think this was what I was most intrigued by; you didn’t know what was going to happen from room to room. When you visit an art gallery, or know there is an artist exhibiting, you kind of expect there to be a sense of continuity within the space. With The Late Shows it was just full of surprises and seeing traditional crafting techniques followed by colourful projections, followed by taxidermy really did highlight the range of what forms art could take.

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There was a very scientific-based floor with a UV cloud installation. I have a bit of a thing for these kind of works, UV just excites me! I think it’s partially my childhood fondness of having glow in the dark stars on my ceiling. Having seen Benedict Drew exhibit at The Talbot Rice Gallery was another instance I got quite excited by UV as he effectively employed it to transform and manipulate structural components of the gallery. 

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What’s great about The Late Shows is that it encourages people that aren’t necessarily that interested in art to participate and visit gallery spaces that they may not otherwise. It’s a chance for anyone to engage and although I didn’t see everything given I was helping with Vane, I saw enough to realise what a great sense of community art can create.

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‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’

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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.

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‘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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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 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.

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‘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

Sensual Materials

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I have this absolute nightmare of my tights ALWAYS getting holes in them. It drives me nuts; my toes peep out, the ladders run up the back of my leg, I don’t think I own a single perfect pair of tights! So being an artsy creative person I of course think of new ways to use them when they’re on their way out, otherwise there are far too many tights going to waste!  When I did these shots, I’d recently been using cling film to cover and wrap my body in. So these photographs were kind of an extension of that experiment. Of course, wrapping your body in cling film holds very different connotations from interacting with fragile tights. 

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I was quite pleased with how these photographs turned out. They are completely unedited, I just used a desk lamp directed at a very certain angle to get these colour shades. Normally putting something over your head is claustrophobic and uncomfortable, but given the transparency and delicacy of the tights there were no problems at all. It was more exciting trying to develop a relationship with the material and mould it into interesting shapes that worked both within the frame of the photograph and in relation to my body. I had a tripod set up to take these, so it was all very trial and error; I only got three good photographs out of all the ones I took. That happens most of the time with photography though and the shapes I did manage to create here complemented the warm hues of the lighting. 

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Despite the lack of editing, the colours came out really well; they shift between pale pastel yellows and orange-tinted pinks. I was also really happy with the blend of focuses; the fixed outline of certain areas such as the head in the photo above, against softer and more ambiguous outlines as in the case of my fingers in the above. Out of all components of my torso, I think my hands looked the most interesting encased in the tights, as the fingers are usually so mobile and free to use that is was strange to see them restricted. Yet the conflict present within the restriction is interesting as the hands are encased by the most fragile material and have the ability to break free at any moment. This potential is most evident in the middle picture where my fingers are most pronounced. I also think this potential is evident in the blend of static and movement. Although I am holding still and posing for the camera, there is so much movement in the light and the material which provides an interesting contrast to the overall result. I think these aspects are why these photographs are successful to me; I’ve taken a simple everyday material and tried to adapt it into something entirely new. 

Acrylic Work

 

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Eye Study (Warm Hues)

It’s fascinating looking back at old work and seeing how my style has evolved and changed over time. What intrigues me most is not simply my evolution in technique, but my interest and use of material. I have experimented a lot over the years and have come to find that you can never fail with fine liner pen! You could argue it’s a very simple material; everyone owns a black pen, yet I have come to find it is also the most effective in a lot of cases. For me the addition of fine liner is often the perfect finishing touch to a painting. My love for pen has remained constant over the years, yet my feelings for other materials have changed drastically. When I was younger I found watercolours difficult to use and frustrating to control, yet these days most of my paintings are water and ink based; I can’t seem to get enough of the fluidity!

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Eye Study (Cold Hues)

I went through a phase where acrylic paint was my favourite medium (this was before I discovered oil paint!) mainly due to the layering it allowed. When I paint I build my work up slowly by gradually applying multiple layers, as you can see in these colourful eye studies. Acrylic was perfect for working in this way as it meant a short drying time which was perfect for my instantaneous manner of working. It’s also a very affordable material, especially when compared to oil paint which is depressingly expensive most of the time. I came across these old painterly experiments when I was looking through things I’d submitted as part of my university and scholarship portfolios. They’re about four or five years old now and I haven’t used acrylic paint much since then. Having looked back over them, I’m tempted to give acrylic paint another go given how much my skills have changed over time.

John Virtue

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I was looking through some old work when I came across these images of my First Year studio. This was probably the one and only time my choice of topic deviated from Body Art and instead focused on the natural landscape. I think I surprised even myself in this shift as there was no real explanation for it apart from my discovery of oil paint. I think I felt that abstract landscapes were a better means of exploring this medium, as opposed to again working with the female body which I was already so familiar with. This shift was also due to the fact I discovered the work of John Virtue (see below).

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‘Landscape No. 707’, 2003-4, image sourced from The National Gallery website.

I fell in love with his whimsical monochrome depictions; how they were abstract yet figurative simultaneously. How he combined nature with industry. The blend of such intense darkness against the stark white also lends a satisfying balance to his work I found. This equilibrium allows the eye to shift peacefully across the page, taking the time to absorb intricate aspects such as texture which are so imbued with the studio aesthetic.

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What I found particularly interesting about Virtue’s work was his ritualistic aspect of his art making. Every day without fail he would walk to the same location to sketch. This of course resulted in an excess of drawings, but the dedication this required fascinated me. So for a while I chose to copy this method of working and walked to a park everyday. It was quite out of my way and in some cases an inconvenience to all of the other daily necessities occuring in my life. However, having this task and this escape also gave me the best kind of zehn I could have wished for. I had an excuse to leave behind the rush and pace of daily life to focus fully on ritual-based art making. 

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I also tried to employ Virtue’s use of the monochrome palette by removing colour from my work. Depicting landscapes and working with oil paint was a time where I was using really vibrant and sunset-based hues, so this removal was a real challenge for me. It forced me to think a lot more critically about texture, shape, scale and all of the other elements that could compensate for lack of colour. I poked needle-thin holes through paper, I worked with impasto and modelling paste, I used charcoal and inks to create that messy studio look. I tried everything and had great fun experimenting, but of course I gradually began bringing colour back into my work. I also sadly had to stop my daily excursions to the park given all my other commitments, but I may some day start that again for a brief period at least. Employing the working methods of another artist was a really interesting and liberating experience for me, as I was giving up all sense of control that I had over my work and instead completely yielding myself to working in a certain way. It was an incredibly enjoyable experiment and is something I think I’ll definitely go back to at some point!

Benedict Drew

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I think it’s say to say that Benedict Drew’s wacky installation was by far my favourite work in The British Art Show 8. Exhibited within the Talbot Rice Gallery, Drew’s work is the definition of transforming a space into something completely new and exciting. What had been quite a clean cut angular-looking gallery space prior to my entry into this room, was soon turned upside down as I entered Drew’s work. I was instantly transported from the traditional gallery layout to what felt like a psychedelic sci-fi space. I was in awe. Sound pulsated heavily across the room; I could feel it in my core and reverberating through my entire body. There were headphones placed on the table which of course I reached out and tried on only to find that they amplified the sound that was already echoing around the room. It was almost like an electro heartbeat and instantly made me feel like I myself was a part of the piece.

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The utilisation of the architecture within the work furthered Drew’s success as I felt the gallery dissolved and blended into the installation to the point I felt fully consumed by the piece. Just like this installation, Drew’s practice spans a wide range of media including sound, performance, video and various other forms. He often creates chaotic and absorbing environments that pulsate with life, drawing in the viewer and providing them with a multi-sensory experience. Although there was a lot to take in when I viewed Drew’s work, surprisingly it was not overwhelming. Installations such as this have that risk factor; bombard your audience and your work is often lost on them. Yet Drew defied this by carefully distributing the pieces, creating a walkway for the viewer to enter and navigate their way effectively through his work. The shapes I was met with and the colours that were used all complemented and blended with each other allowing the human eye to adjust to the bright colour palette that was present. 

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When I got to the back end of the installation I was greeted by large, cinematic screens. Drew’s attention to detail was plain to see with the modern white speakers contrasting to the excess of cables wrapped believe it or not, in tinfoil. Drew took a domestic everyday item and turned it into an art piece that distracted nicely from the ridiculous amount of cables that all his technology requires. It also furthered my reading of the sci-fi elements. It was not just the detail in the cable layout, but also in the stands of the screens. Instead of being a dull conventional black they were a lime green that instantly caught my eye (probably due to the fact I seem to have developed an unexplained love for lime green). 

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According to The British Art Show’s text accompaniment to this piece, Drew was articulating “the horror of the modern world” through this work. Through his multi-media approach he explored this horror thoroughly! It was impossible to ignore the screens that bombarded you as you approached, an obvious reference to our screen culture of today. There was sound that shook through your bones, the way music does in a club. Colours and structures clustered everywhere in excess alluding to our material and consumer culture. There was no escape in this whimsical and all-consuming environment; the pace of it drew you in and refused to let go much in the way that modern day life does. 

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Yet in among all this technological-based motifs I was surprised to view what looked like mud puddles on screen. They were very anthropomorphic and alien given their electric colours, yet I half expected a David Attenborough voice over mixed up DJ style to come on!  It would not have surprised me, as this work was a constant succession of surprises – and puzzles. There was one area of each screen which had a shell attached to it and a spot light which remained the same colour despite the constant shift in imagery. I could not for the life of me figure out how Drew had managed this! 

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There was not a moment of boredom in this space. Despite this being the first piece I saw of The British Art Show, and despite me witnessing several other works that day, this was the one I could not stop thinking about. I couldn’t get this psychedelic experience out of my head. Partially I think because I was both impressed and fascinated by how Drew had used technology and created such an absorbing work. But also partially due to the elaborate colour scheme – I myself almost wanted to start glowing and blend into the work! I think it’s safe to say Benedict Drew succeeded in captivating his audience, whilst also posing some challenging questions concerning modern life today. 

Flora Whiteley ‘Present Continuous’

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Talking more about getting back into painting is actually relevant to another exhibition I saw recently at Vane; Flora Whiteley’s ‘Present Continuous’. Given her cinematic background, her works have elements of film and stage-like set ups, which bring a new dimension to what are otherwise very painterly works. At present I’m not too interested in researching the background to her paintings and all of the concepts she was exploring; I’m simply wanting to look at and appreciate the paintings themselves. Particularly in terms of her use of colour. The above work is the perfect example. Through her pastel hues and soft palette, the cold of winter she’s depicting in the picture comes through to real life. You can almost feel the cold creeping into the gallery space. 

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It’s the same with this piece (see above) as well. The smoke from the girl’s cigarette has that wispy aesthetic of real life smoke. Although it’s a static image, you can see the cusp of energy it carries, as if the smoke could blow out of the painting and into your face as you view it. I think the lack of hard edges enhances this sense of movement. There’s a softness to the painting and a delicacy to the technique. What looks like fairly heavily applied paint is in fact an abundance of layers built up over time. The technique of the painting application varies between dry-brush and more of a solid application of colour. The contrast between the two creates a nice sense of balance within the painting. In some instances we are able to see the linen on which the paint is applied, in others we are presented with purely a build up of tonal work. 

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There’s a real sensitivity in her depictions of the figures as well. Their stances are not too posed, they simply hold themselves. The muted colours of their clothing allow them to almost blend into the background, not occupying too much attention within the piece. The tilted angles of the head, the slight bending of elbows, every element is thought out and all contribute to create a linear direction for the eye to travel round. 

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The scale Whiteley has chosen to utilise complements her figures as well. They are not quite life-size but they have that element of suggestion. You can relate your bodily proportions to the piece. They also allude more to Whiteley’s cinematic background – not quite on the scale of being a cinema screen, yet they are not far from it and have the potential to be one. There were also far smaller portrait paintings, yet I preferred the larger ones as they really allowed me to closely study her technique. 

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I don’t always take photographic close ups of work, as I prefer to have the entire body of the piece to contemplate as I reflect on it. However in this instance I was far more fascinated by close up studies of it all. The way Whiteley had broken up the pieces through angular lines and blocked colours. The shapes she formed through her placement of the figures. The depth created through the variation in colour. There was so much to see and absorb, that standing far back felt like I was missing out!

Pink in Progress (Over/Under work)

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‘Rizzo’ in progress

Working for the piece for the Pop Up Pink exhibition has made me realise how much I miss painting. Although I love the direction my work has taken and all the exciting things it’s led to that I thought I would never do (performance being the prime example), I will never give up the paint brush. There is just something so special sitting down with and focusing on a material; building on it, contemplating it, analysing the creation process. When I paint, I can not get enough water. I love loose fluid works, drips, diluted colours, layers. 

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My paintings are very time consuming and are very much a long drawn out process, mostly due to the necessity of drying time. If I get to eager and paint over a layer that’s still wet, my effect is ruined. So patience is key. I tend to paint in stages, dipping in and out of a work. I think this is actually the way I work best in most senses, as when I write an academic piece, I have to let it sit for a few days before I go back and look at it again. I tend to bang it out in one go and then leave it for a week and almost forget about it as the deadline nears! But it’s the same when I work with paint. I like to be fully absorbed by the process, but then I also like to step back and leave it. Really think about what I’m doing and how I’m layering it. Sometimes this really doesn’t work as despite my attempts at contemplating, I still over work the paint. 

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This is the most frustrating moment for me, as my paintings are not the kind where you can just cover up a mistake. Once the mistake is made it’s there to stay as the paint is applied so thinly, it would completely ruin everything if I tried to obscure it. So I think this is why I have started to implement time into a piece more over the years. the older I’ve got, the more I’ve realised you can not hurry or push the creative process. Otherwise you put a pressure on it and it backfires with you creating nothing! With this work I feel I overworked it slightly, but hey I’ll know for next time!

Happy Accidents

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Sometimes we spend so much time thinking and planning as artists and conceptual thinkers, that we forget how useful happy accidents can be. Case in point; these photographs. What started as a simple and very basic projection experiment in my bath room, soon turned into something much more interesting. I had not considered ever using it as an art material, yet my shower curtain came in surprisingly handy. It picked up and diverted the light of the projector to create this rippling and water-like effect across the surface of my images.  

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Although it’s presence is very subtle in some cases, I just feel it adds a certain depth to the image. It creates a collection of layers that bring painterly elements to a photographic setting. Looking at these, I felt again like I was painting; constructing the direction in which the layers would formulate; manipulating the imagery to satisfy my intentions. I could not have been more delighted in this accident occurring. I have a theory that half the genius scientists made their discoveries accidentally and then decided to tell everyone that was what their intention all along! I’d probably do that if I was in their boat and ever discovered anything significant. Although, it’s more likely I would pass it off as intentional because I’d be too embarrassed to admit I’d made a mistake!

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In some cases I was so fixated  and fascinated by  the reflection of the shower curtain, that it took more priority then my actual projected images! Consequently ,abstract images such as the above came into creation. Now there is one happy accident! I think the reason I found it all so mesmerising is because there was so much movement within these ‘reflections’, yet they were entirely static. They are highly evocative of water, yet there is not water present. There is only the suggestion of water and the associations of its sound and movements, all of which enhanced my experience of these images. 

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I wasn’t too bothered about getting the camera in focus either, in fact the lack of focus really worked in this instance. Especially in relation to the colours; the soft pastel hues are not a result of editing, merely a result of the lighting in the space. For me there’s something calming about the way the reflection of the curtain falls across the image. I don’t know if that’s because the images themselves are quite peaceful with their blurry lines and lack of forceful energy. Or if it’s simply because the rippling reflection is so reminiscent of water and all of the connotations that carries. The soothing sound of a river gushing, water’s necessity in the continuity of life, the comfort of a cold, refreshing shower. Or maybe I’m just getting carried away with all my contemplation of water. Then again, it’s such a big part of this whole zen thing that everyone’s got going on that why not join the crowd and start listening to waves and water as I fall asleep!