Thursday, 28 May 2015


Richard Diebenkorn at the Royal Academy (to 7 June): Six Painters on a Painters’ Painter

With Michael Stubbs, DJ Simpson, Katrina Blannin, Claudia Carr, Christina Niederberger and Dolly Thompsett


Ocean Park #27, 1970

The Royal Academy's Richard Diebenkorn show operates (to 7 June) on the basis that if he is known at all in Britain - and the publicity for and reviews of the show tended to assume that he isn’t - then it’s for his late Ocean Park series (all Diebenkorn’s serial work is identified by the studio in which it was produced). Accordingly, curator Sarah C Bancroft sets out to challenge that narrow view by stressing the historical and geographic narrative of how Diebenkorn (1922-93) moved from the early abstract phase in room 1 (Albuquerque, New Mexico and Urbana, Illinois 1950-56) to a surprising figurative turn in room 2 (Berkeley, near San Francisco, 1956-66) to the Ocean Park paintings in room 3 (Santa Monica, on the Californian cost, 1967-88).  The show has 20, 25 and 15 works respectively from those three periods, including drawings from each and 5 of the 145 large paintings in the Ocean Park series.

From left: Claudia Carr, Katrina Blannin, Michael Stubbs, Christina Niederberger, Dolly Thompsett and DJ Simpson outside the RA - see below for examples of their work

Ahead of the Royal Academy’s efforts, then, Diebenkorn’s British reputation lay mainly with painters rather than the general public, so it made sense to take six well established painters to the show and seek their opinions on it. They split pretty much 50-50, with Michael StubbsDJ Simpson and Katrina Blannin persuaded of the importance of at least the Santa Monica years, but Claudia CarrChristina Niederberger and Dolly Thompsett finding little to praise in Diebenkorn’s whole oeuvre. The artists tackled several questions. Was Diebenkorn shown to advantage? What were the continuities between his three phases? Is the pre-Santa Monica work successful in its own right? And just how good is the late work?

Berkely #57, 1955

There was some criticism of the hang. Simpson felt that the crowded early rooms left far too little space between paintings. Carr agreed, finding that the experience became ‘colourful, rather than about colour’ – as it wasn't optically possible to isolate the colour relationships within a given painting from those of its neighbouring paintings. The third room did give somewhat more space to the work, but the Sackler Rooms on the Royal Academy's third floor have no natural light, and everyone felt that Ocean Park paintings would have benefited greatly from that: ‘the artificial lighting overemphasises the yellow tones’, said Blannin. The consensus was that these paintings deserved to be hung in one of the RA’s larger galleries. Would it, failing that, have been better to drop 1950-66 entirely, and spread the late work only around all three rooms to ensure a spacious presentation of big paintings concerned with spaciousness? Blannin and Stubbs tended that way… 

Urbana # 6, 1953

Looking at the first room, Stubbs emphasised the historical context: the paintings were ‘typical of the early fifties in developing a cubist space into more fluid forms which value spontaneous gestures, and which simultaneously construct and contradict the space’. Affinities were noted with English painters in the fifties: Heron, Lanyon, and Hitchens. Niederberger, too, felt that Diebenkorn's paintings are very much of their time, making them harder to access today in a way which she saw as problematic, as 'they lack, say, Mondrian's aspect of universal/eternal validity'. That stems, she believed, from 'Diebenkorn's abstract marks and choices of colour often appearing arbitrary'. A venerable question arose: how did Diebenkorn know that a work was finished? Stubbs felt little judgement was in evidence: he had tended to 'throw everything at the picture until he decided to throw in the towel as well’.  Simpson was more persuaded by Diebenkorn’s instincts. Quoting one-liner summaries of the instinctual decisions involved, he thought he’d judged ‘when there's enough push and not enough pull’, or when he’d achieved ‘the right kind of wrongness’. Simpson liked the oddity in Diebenkorn’s colours, and how certain areas – for example, the purple in Urbana # 6, 1953 - took on the status of objects within the pictorial field. He also liked the variation between dry-looking and comparatively lush application of paint. 

Interior with View of Buildings, 1962

Diebenkorn never prepared the ground with sketches, to find a solution he was happy with and could then implement: ‘a premeditated scheme or system is out of the question’, he said. Rather, all the action can be seen in the paintings. That means they are heavily layered – albeit the layers are thin, we’re not talking Auerbach here. The artists agreed that many early works could be read as aerial landscapes – or sometimes interiors – even though their primary qualities are abstract. They also agreed that Diebenkorn appeared to operate by addition only, with some scratching into the surface, but no scraping off of layers. Indeed, one of Diebenkorn's own rules (from his list of ten Notes to myself on beginning a painting) was that ‘Mistakes can’t be erased but they move you from your present position’.

Untitled, 1964 - ink on paper

I rather liked a group of life drawings, which Diebenkorn started to produce at mid-fifties Wednesday evening sessions with his friends David Park and Elmer Bischoff, and which marked the beginning of his move towards explicit representation.  True, the debts to Matisse are undeniable, but they have a relaxed intimacy, and integrate the figures convincingly into their architectural settings in a way which links to the frequent presence of windows in the figurative paintings, and to the architectonic character of the abstracts to come. Yet the artists didn’t value these, seeing them as routine implementation of commonly taught approaches – including the treatment of backgrounds.

Seawall, 1956

In fact, none of the painters rated the middle period highly, but their reasons varied. There was something of a division between the sexes – indeed, the men were generally more sympathetic towards Diebenkorn. Stubbs – poking fun at Baselitz’s absurd views – jokingly suggested that was because women didn’t understand painting. More relevantly, the painters whose own practice is most abstract tended to be the most sympathetic. Simpson and he thought that some of the paintings succeeded, but that they were too imitative of Matisse, Bonnard, Hockney and Cezanne. Thompsett felt the diaristic still lives did what they did less well than had William Nicholson. The doubters complained that Diebenkorn failed to generate any psychological charge, and that - whilst there were certainly strong abstract aspects present - they weren’t interesting in this period. Thompsett provided a partial exception: one of these mid-period paintings – the small landscape Seawall, 1957 – was the only one she really connected to in the whole survey. That aside, she couldn’t grasp what he wanted to communicate, what drove him to make work. But the underlying abstract qualities of Seawall did generate ‘the equivalent of atmospheric movement, which is emphasised by the airiness of a large green area, readable as grass’. Here, Thompsett felt, ‘Diebenkorn had generated the language of sensation’, whereas elsewhere, she concluded, ‘he lacks a soul’.

Girl on a Terrace, 1956

Did Diebenkorn emerge as a strong colourist in the late work? Carr and Thompsett thought not. Thompsett was unimpressed by their pastel tendencies, finding them ‘chalky’ and too keen to be pretty.  Seeing Diebenkorn’s ‘structure of horizontals and verticals with a relatively desaturated colour palette’, Carr said she ‘couldn’t help wanting them to have the kind of rigorousness and sensitivity that Agnes Martin’s paintings do.  She uses colour in a very optically active way.  His intention with colour seems to be entirely descriptive of place or mood.  The ‘mood’ in Martin’s paintings comes about through a more alchemical process, whereby specific colours are pitched in relation to each other so that their interaction releases a new energy and, in turn, new potential emotional states in the viewer’. Blannin, on the other hand, loved the way she could see that ‘saturated colours have been diluted by milky washes’.  She emerged as the great enthusiast for the late work, admiring Diebenkorn’s ability to achieve his effects on the reduced scale of cigar box lids as well as in the seven foot high canvases – with which she said she’d be keen to live, perhaps the diagonal energies of Ocean Park #27, 1970 and the aqueous calm of #116, 1979 .

Ocean Park #79, 1975
Diebenkorn denied any representational element, but the Ocean Park series do retain an aerial and window-like feel which reads across from the earlier abstractions, consistent with their production in a studio overlooking the sea from a high vantage point. Continuity or not, Stubbs thought there was justice in the greater fame of the late work in which he felt Diebenkorn was ‘more confident with the edges of forms and with variations between soft and hard edges'. If so, this may be what Diebenkorn got out of the move into and out of figuration: that gave him objects with which to establish his approach to colour boundaries in a more natural way, which then carried over into his later abstract work. I was reminded of Tom Wesselman explaining his desire to paint figuratively against the background of Abstract Expressionism as being an acceptance that he needed ‘definite elements to manipulate in a very specific and literal framework’. That fits with the other main reason Stubbs liked the Ocean Park series: the geometric elements gave something for the gestural brushwork to play against. That allowed Diebenkorn to set calm against tension. In contrast, Carr found ‘his divisions, edges and pauses slack: they fail to generate the tension found in Martin, Newman or Mondrian’s compositions’. She liked Berkeley #57, 1955, for its ‘honesty and humility’, but was less attracted to the ‘confidence’ which Stubbs had identified in the later work. Niederberger was unenthusiastic about all phases, even though as a student she said she'd been impressed by Diebenkorn and felt that was what painting was about. Now she condemned the work as merely 'nice to look at'. She admitted Diebenkorn operated well at the aesthetic level, but said he engaged only the eye, not the brain. The essence of painting, she felt, should be ‘to walk the tightrope of engaging both brain and eye so that there are both ideas and aesthetics, but neither dominates the other’.  If Diebenkorn does engage the brain, it’s probably through the way he demonstrates the active process of solving the formal problems which allow his work to appeal to the eye: we can follow him thinking his way through a composition, and see how he applies such Notes to myself as ‘attempt what is not certain’ or be careful only in a perverse way’.

Untitled (Ocean Park), 1971

That seemed to be at the core of Stubbs’ appreciation. He felt that the vehicle of the grid gave the later Diebenkorn ‘a way to contain his expressive gestures and the interesting and radical awkwardness of his colours successfully’. Blannin thought this 'sophisticated', even though you can see the signs of struggle. Simpson agreed, suggesting that Diebenkorn had found an approach which was quiet, not because he lacked energy or desire, but because he was ‘unegotistical’. ‘The coolness is not impersonal’, he opined, ‘even though it avoids big heavy self-aggrandising gestures’.  Stubbs agreed that Diebenkorn had desire, ‘even if it was very cool’, though he conceded that he was ‘more impressed than moved’ by the results. Maybe that absence of emotional impact relates to Diebenkorn’s contented and straightforward personal life, which provided him with none of dark materials of such predecessors as Gorky, Rothko and Pollock. I liked a drawing from 1971, in which the strategic pentimenti and the dialogue between ruled and freehand lines works well. Moreover, drawing directly onto the canvas with paint is fundamental to the Ocean Park series, and John Elderfield has suggested that Diebenkorn’s drawing remains ‘the mortar between bricks, hardly noticeable at times of what holds a structure together and keeps its firm’.

Cigar Box Lid #4, 1976

A gap emerged, then, between enthusiasts of the late work and those who thought it merely safe and tasteful, even if it embraced an artful messiness – ‘abstract art’, it has been said, ‘for people who don't like abstract art’. Thompsett felt that Mondrian - an obvious influence behind the Ocean Park series - succeeded better because his approach was much tighter. Yet it was precisely the tension between tight and loose which appealed to the Ocean Park advocates. Moreover, as Blannin pointed out, Mondrian himself developed his frameworks instinctively, and the paintings themselves (as opposed to reproductions) are alive with far from neutral brushwork. 

Scissors, 1959

Do Diebenkorn’s paintings have ‘personality’? Perhaps of places rather than of people, was the view, even when he is depicting people, as they tend not to be individuated as characters. Indeed, one could argue that a small depiction of scissors is more of a portrait than the mid-period works featuring people, who seem present mainly for their abstract qualities. All the same, it was agreed by all, the personality of the painter comes through in a painting, even if it is through choice of colour and structure, not through gesture. The late work, I felt, is monumental yet intimate.

Ocean Park 116, 1979
Overall, then, the mixed verdict showed at least that there’s enough variety and interest in Diebenkorn’s work to generate differing opinions. That itself suggests the work has virtues, even if they are hard to pin down given the somewhat subjective nature of the judgements involved – and all six artists said they’d enjoyed their visit, even if the substance beyond that enjoyment could be called into question.

Katrina Blannin, Diamond Light 50, 2014, (Tonal Rotation with Pink/Green: Blue/Black Demarcation) 2014, acrylic on linen, 50 x 50cm
Dolly Thompsett: The Secret Life of Mrs Andrews, 2014, Ink and mixed media on patterned upholstery fabric, 90x67cm
Christina Neiderberger: Chinese Whispers (after Brice Marden), 2013 - acrylic on canvas, 150x130cm

Michael Stubbs, Digiflesh #8, 2013 - household paint, tinted floor varnish, spray paint on MDF, 153x122cms

Claudia Carr: E's rocks and blue, 2013  oil on canvas on board, 35.5x22.5cm

DJ Simpson:  Pavement Pulse – Ral 4003 , 2011 Powder coated aluminium, 2750mm × 1500mm × 1mm



Thursday, 21 May 2015


The third edition of ART15 and the debut of Photo London over the same late May week. Cross-over was minimal - I spotted only a couple of works in both fairs, and only a couple of galleries rather heroically did both. 

Neither was excessively crowded, and they occupied their spaces well: Somerset House’s succession of rooms has proven its suitability through the African fair 1:54, and Photo London confirmed that. Across town, Art15’s use of Olympia was a good deal more convincing than Art14’s had been. Both had good programmes of supporting talks and events plus special displays.

Quality was much patchier at ART15, but given their sizes, both fairs provided more than enough material of interest to be plausibly absorbed in a 3 or 4 hours. Both lack what might take them to the next level: Photo London’s 100 or so galleries and displays covered the premium specialist photography galleries, plus nationally prominent generalist galleries with a rich photographic stream. What it lacked – and which Photo Paris had last year – was photographers presented by such international heavyweights as Gagosian, David Zwirner and Thaddeus Ropac. ART15, one might say, has nationally prominent galleries from the less significant nations in terms of art commerce (Hong Kong, Taiwan, India…) but decidedly modest firepower from the more prominent nations (UK, USA, Germany).


Troika: Path of Least Resistance #38, 2014, at Maddox Arts:  #36 is at Hamni

ART15 opened at Olympia on Wednesday night. Choose a category and here’s my pick from a decidedly uneven fair which nonetheless has plenty of good things in it:

Two hander

Amy Stephens & Mark Davey (above) @ William Benington Gallery – re-positionable forms and kinetic lightworks and more 

Set of Paintings

Geradline Swayne's small-scale enamel on aluminium set at the Fine Art Society

Use of Text

Phoebe Boswell – Rivington Place project detailing Swedish attitudes to race via Tinder

Special Project

Graham Fink – drawing with his eyes only at Riflemaker  

Photos not in Photo London

Janneke Van Leeuwen at Beers Lambert -  as punchily installed behind a chain curtain

Walls on the wall

Li Peng – burned and distressed architecture paintings at Galleria H, Taiwan

Moving Image

Eelco Brand natural history animations at Dam Gallery, Amsterdam

Historic revival

Atsuko Tanaka (1932-2005) at Tezukayama Gallery, Osaka  - selection of the youngest Gutai artist’s post-Gutai abstractions (she was a member 1955-65) echoing her famous electric dress - above is Untitled from 1986.

Curated stand

Frameless Gallery – rarely-seen Fontana and Nicholson as triggers for three pairs of works  by younger artists showing process and results alongside each other:   Rodrigo Sassi, Yara Pina and Jonathan Meyer.

Lucio Fontana

Abstract work

Luis Tomasello – . Objet plastique N. 735, 1994 - an unusual two-coloured diamond with many colour variations caused by the light and angles at Kanalidarte, Brescia

Life Project

Hard not to be struck by Zackary Druker and Rhys Ernst’s photo set Relationship, 2008-13, depicting themselves as ‘a transgender couple whose bodies are transitioning in opposite directions through hormone treatment’ – Drucker male to female, Ernst female to male


Julia Dault: Holograms (4), 2015

Julia Dault and Lucy Skaer at Dundee Contemporary Arts


Jesse Wine, Caroline Achaintre. and  Salvatore Arancio at Camden Arts Centre

Marylene Steyne at Lychee One

Asian discovery

G R Santosh & Sohan Qadri – his Untitled Ink & dye on paper work from 2005 above - 
equally persuasive figurative and abstract neo-tantric art at Delhi Art Gallery


Two new Bridget Riley paintings –  Start Over I and II (above) triangular, and fresh from the studio

Best associated exhibition

Maddox Arts (stand highlights: Nicolas Feldmeyer and Troika)  'Weight for the Showing' and Friday 8 pm performance at the gallery near Bond Street!

Worst Work
A hotly contested category, but I was particularly taken by Joonsung Bae’s entry at the Albemarle Gallery, a lenticular piece in which old master figures lost their clothes as you walked past


Karen Knorr at Grimaldi Gavin

 Four galleries showed examples of Karen Knorr's intoxicating combinations of animals with historic interiors: this one as new-with-her Grimaldi Gavin 

Hiroshi Sugimoto at amanasalto


The great Japanese photographer’s own collection of fossils pictured as the effect of ‘geology as camera, ie Pre-photography Time Recording Devices ’

Peter Liversidge at the Ingleby Gallery


Peter Liversidge is perhaps better-known for making propositions than for the proportion which are realised, here that of blowing up a zoo image from his i-phone to an impressive life size in "Photograph Taken Whilst Walking (Ursus Rictus)" 2009

Jane Hilton at Eleven

British photographer gets under and maybe beyond beyond the clichés in American cowboy country

Floris Neussus at V&A

The V&A’s rich rooms included Water from the 1977 series Dissolving of Bodies, in which the great photogrammer exposed life-sized images to the elements.

Polixeni Papapetrou at Gallery Pavlova

The Berlin antipodean specialist Michael Dooney brought Helleno-Australian photographer’s life-sized prints ‘The Ghillies’ - figures in landscapes dressed in military camouflage clothing designed to resemble heavy foliage.

Robert Toren at Danziger Gallery

Frida / Patti, a spooky digital merger of Kahlo and Smith, can stand in for pushing digital processes: there was less of it than you might expect, but the whole room of Stephen Wilkes’ ‘Day to Night’ series was another prominent example.

Corinne Mercadier at Les Filles du Calvaire


Performative games with a mysterious geometry from a French photographer new to me

Dan Holdsworth at Thomas Zander

Perhaps the best room in the fair included one of the Newcastle-based photographer’s intense, minimalist, sculptural zooms in on mapping data,

Sunday, 10 May 2015


ART STUFF on a train # 110: ‘The Other End of the Journey’

                        Malcolm Crocker: 'Never Forever 1', 50 x 70 cm

I live in Southampton, even if I’m in London most daylight hours. Recently, though, it’s been well worth attending to my home scene. The City Art Gallery, which has been going since 1939, has one of the best permanent collections, though also the shortest opening hours, of our regional museums. A welcome survey of Dan Holdsworth’s photographs has just opened, and the Gallery is also showing the accomplished young local artist Greg Gilbert as has the recently re-provisioned showcase of Southampton’s ‘other university’ – Solent. Gilbert is one of five artists who considered Southampton as muse, even if the catalogue self-deprecatingly quotes Laurie Lee’s 1934 complaint that he didn’t see the sea as promised, just ‘a few rusty cranes’ and ‘a muddy river which they said was Southampton Water’. Meanwhile the old university’s well-respected John Hansard Gallery, on the Highfield campus a couple of miles out, is due to close early next year and reopen more centrally in late 2016 as part of an ambitious arts complex which has been in prospect for over a decade. Moreover, the experimental scene also has two spaces in former shops in the run down St Mary’s area: enterprising recent art graduates  have formed the HA HA and Orb galleries. The latter currently has Malcolm Crocker's impressive retro-futurist landscapes. So there’s plenty to be said for a day in Southampton. I would say ‘come and see me’ but I doubt if I’d be there…

* Liv Fontaine, a performance artist who co-runs the space, features in my current London show ‘Weight for the Showing’ (at Maddox Arts, to 13 June, since you ask).

liv performance from tash young ART STUFF on a train # 108: ‘The Other End of the Journey’

Liv Fontaine in ‘Plinth Piece’ – performance at Maddox Arts, 23 April 2015, to be repeated 8 pm on 22 May

109: ‘Uncrushed Dreams’

Brian Chalkley My dreams get crushed... Paul’s ART STUFF ON A TRAIN 109:  ‘Uncrushed Dreams’

Brian Dawn Chalkly: ‘My dreams get crushed on a regular basis. I guess that’s down to the life I’m living’, 2012 – Watercolour on paper – 42 x 59

Who’s the best transvestite artist in the country? Grayson Perry is, of course, much the most famous, not just as an artist, but as a media figure, especially when dressed as Claire. But to my taste the better artist is Brian Dawn Chalkley, similar enough in inclinations to have accompanied Perry to the Torture Garden back in the day. Leading the MA at Chelsea College as Brian and going out as Dawn by night, he’s an abstract painter who turned to performance, film and – latterly – figurative watercolours. His slightly washed-out paintings of women look a little naïve at first, but there’s lots going on: having sourced a photographic starting point with the right air of anxiety, Chalkley then designs clothes to suit how he sees his ostensible subjects’ personalities – often still referencing abstract art – and then follows a parallel process to decide on a background. A disjointed allure results, pointed up by the lengthy titles quoting from fashion magazines. They gesture towards fleshing out the character but leave us wondering if it’s all a pretence – which it might very well be, for these paintings also represent Chalkley’s own dreams of how he’d like to be, of the act he’d like to pull off. You can see six of Chalkley’s paintings in a three person show (with Jacqueline Utley and Charles Williams at Studio 1.1 to 31 May) which is themed around the construction of narratives.

brain chalkley Paul’s ART STUFF ON A TRAIN 109:  ‘Uncrushed Dreams’

                        Brian as Dawn

Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 108: ‘Apple Barnacle Orgasm’

Shimabaku Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 108: ‘Apple Barnacle Orgasm’

Shimabaku sharpening his Apple

It’s wonderful what obscure byways you can be drawn into if you visit a few shows. Just sticking to natural history:

How do you cut an apple with an apple? Shimabaku makes it look easy at Wilkinson (to 17 May, with the bonus of a brilliant set of paintings by Marcin Maciejowski). He sharpens the side of his Macbook Air to a guillotine finish before wielding it on the fruit. So if you crave thematically murderous revenge on a computer addict…

holes Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 108: ‘Apple Barnacle Orgasm’
Salvatore Arancio: ‘Holes’ 2015, calcite, epoxy resin, pigment, epoxy modeling compound, pain

What’s going on in the world of barnacles? London hasn’t has a good barnacle show since Paul Delafield Cook at Purdy Hicks in 2013, which makes Salvatore Arancio’s ceramics at the Contemporary Art Society (to 28 Aug) a particular pleasure. That counters the recent news that the teeth the mobile limpet uses to cling to a rock contain the strongest naturally occurring substance yet discovered, which had threatened to rather overshadow the fixed spot barnacle.

lorgasme du singe vidc3a9o 151 2007 Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 108: ‘Apple Barnacle Orgasm’

Moussa Sar: still from ‘L’Orgasme du Singe’, 2007

Do female monkeys have orgasms? The verdict is out in wild practice, but all female mammals have a clitoris, and all primates can be artificially stimulated to such behaviours – hyperventilation, spasms, clutching, eversion of the lips, panting vocalization – as are demonstrated by the French African video artist Moussa Sar in the racially charged ‘L’Orgasme du Singe’ at Cecilia Brunson Projects (to 8 May), one of a group of punchy little plays to camera which also include an insect impersonation which comfortably outdoes Isabella Rossellini on ‘The Sex Life of Insects’.

Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 107: ‘Grids Gone Dotty’

genzk69302 na genzk69302 A0T59J Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 107: ‘Grids Gone Dotty’
Isa Genzken: ‘Geldbild VVIII’, 2014

These two paintings are both made up of circular elements similarly distributed – 50 and 100 respectively. Neither involves the application of paint by the artist, but that aside the production processes are quite different. Isa Genzken (at Hauser & Wirth to 10 May) has made money paintings (‘Geldbilder’) most of which combine banknotes with coins, photographs of the artist and other material from the studio – a novel security issue, as a €50 note might well be worth detaching in an unobserved moment. One room – which I prefer – employs coins only to generate a more pared back and original abstract aesthetic. Their potential regularity is disrupted by somewhat haphazard application, the range of coins, the paint or tarnish on some, substitution of washers , and the odd coin being represented only by the mark of where it used to be. Meanwhile, one of the consistently sized 304.8cm square paintings – 10 feet in old money – in Jonathan Horowitz’s show (Sadie Coles to 30 May) was made by sending out a small canvas to 100 different people were asked to make an unmeasured free hand approximation of an 8 inch black disc. The variety of sizes so produced makes for a subjective riff on a early Bridget Riley or – more pertinently, given that versions of his mirrors are also in the show, Roy Lichtenstein’s Ben-Day dots. Both counter the expectation that money is paid for skilful product of the painter’s hand: Genzken by making cash the subject and substance as well as one of the objects of the work; Horowitz by outsourcing the painting in the more radical way than does, say, Jeff Koons – it’s not that the substitution of others’ efforts is a practical matter to achieve production on the scale desired, nor that higher levels of skill can be bought in , but that the very effects the artist seeks would be lost were he to make the work himself.

              horowitz dots Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 107: ‘Grids Gone Dotty’

              Jonathan Horowitz: ‘One Hundred Dots’, 2015

Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 106: ‘Batchelor of Books’

David Batchelor 0021 Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 107: ‘Batchelor of Books’

David Batchelor: from ‘The October Colouring-In Book’

The Whitechapel’s fascinating 100 artist ‘Adventures of the Black Square’ included a framed display of David Batchelor’s version of the first ever issue of October magazine, now published as ‘The October Colouring-In Book’. The magazine announced itself to be plain of aspect and devoid of colour, as befitting a heavyweight theoretical journal – so Batchelor* cocks a snook by colouring in one side of every page, adopting a range of circular, triangular and rectangular motifs to achieve a varied rhythm. That makes for 58 sheets of geometric rainbow interventions. It’s unashamedly attractive in just the way October would have dismissed, and also undermines its template’s textual intent by reducing readability to the margins. Batchelor’s tactics here fit in with his widely-cited ‘Chromophobia’ (2000), a polemic in favour of colour as a serious matter too often dismissed as frippery. And Batchelor’s ‘Monochrome Archive, 1997-2015’ remains at the Whitechapel to 3 May. His 2010 book ‘Found Monochromes’ collected 250 photographs of white rectangles. Batchelor now has 500, and has expanded his range to include black. They are superbly displayed as large slow slide shows in horizontal and vertical formats; small rapid fire screens; and the original slides backlit on a display table. They point to the origins of geometric abstraction in the city, represent a contemplative pause amidst its noise, and also call attention the peripheral surrounding views we might easily have ignored.

* See ‘Chromophobia’ (Reaktion Books, 2000 – £12.95), ‘Found Monochromes, Vol.1, 1–250’ (Ridinghouse, 2010 – £28) and ‘The October Colouring-In Book’ (Ridinghouse, 2015 – £12)

david batchelor no 57 stoke newington london 20 09 02 2003 photograph c2a9 david batchelor1 Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 107: ‘Batchelor of Books’

David Batchelor: ‘Found Monochrome No. 57 – Stoke Newington, London 20-09-02′

Most days art critic Paul Carey-Kent spends hours on the train, traveling between his home in Southampton and his day job in London. Could he, we asked, jot down whatever came into his head?

Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 105: ‘Game of the Name’

sinta 11 Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 105: ‘Game of the Name’

‘Patron: Experiments in Colour #2′ 2015 – Collaborative work in which Sinta Tantra paints Nick Hornby’s sculptural form.

Given that artists are brands of a sort, it would be no surprise if having the right name can impact on the chances of success. Ideally, I reckon, a name should be memorable, distinctive (so Internet searches lead to the artist rather than an ersatz name sharer); and easy to spell and pronounce – though a little bit of mystery does no harm, enabling initiates to feel they’re in the know (‘actually it’s Rew-shay’ / ‘Zee’ / ‘Yoost’, collectors of Ed Rusha, Sarah Sze or Jesper Just can point out). That said, Pierre Huyghe (say ‘Hweeg’) may have taken that a little too far, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul (‘a-pih-CHAT-pong Weer-uh-suh-THA-cull) has surely found success in spite of his name. ‘John Smith’, in contrast, fails the distinctiveness test comprehensively enough, perhaps, to be memorable: the filmmaker told me he knew he was gaining traction when someone referred to him as ‘THE John Smith’! Something which Nick Hornby (not the novelist, but the artist) must suffer in reverse. Ai Wei-Wei has cracked it, but Chinese artists are confusing for Westerners – I struggle to separate my Liu Xiaodong from Chen Xiaoyun, my Xu Bing from Lu Ding. It makes you wonder why more artists don’t change their names, as did, say, Marcus Rothkowitz, Vostanik Adoian and Alfred Schulze*. So what is the ideal name? Damien Hirst has a good one** – simple yet unusual with thematic hints of devilry and death (is a car-driven coffin ‘hearsed’?). And Blue Curry, Rae Hicks and Sinta Tantra, for example, are young British artists who won’t be able to blame their names if they don’t become famous.

* Mark Rothko, Arshile Gorky and Wols

** Luke Gottelier suggested on seeing that that Man Ray has the simplest and most memorable art name. He may be right...

sinta 21 Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 105: ‘Game of the Name’

‘Patron: Experiments in Colour #2′ 2015 – angle 2

Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 104: ‘Not Quite Shangri-La’

dawood Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 104: ‘Not Quite Shangri La’

Shezad Dawood: ‘Three Arrangements for Annabel & Cello’, 2015 – digital video, 9:30, ed of 7
Image courtesy Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London. Copyright the artist.

You might have thought that Shezad Dawood had had his London moment with last spring’s comprehensive solo at the Parasol Unit… But no, you could recently see the Indian-Pakistani-Irish-English artist in three places with varied work not included in that show. He has a three-floor-spanning textile commission at Sadler’s Wells (to 26 April). Pippy Houldsworth’s subsidiary one work exhibition in the innovative series ‘The Box’ is Dawood’s new film ‘Three Arrangements for Annabel and Cello’, a seductive conjunction of shadowplay, music, dance and cultural undertones, which hides and reveals performer and model Annabel Hornsby in three scenarios over nine minutes (to 11 April). And Dawood has just featured in fig-2, the ICA’s rapid-turn programme of 50 projects over 50 weeks. His contribution centred on the animation ‘The Room’, a deadpan and somewhat wacky satire of utopian aspiration through the banter of two monk-like figures, Brother P and Brother S. They laugh off the sexual excess and sadistic violence of their respective pasts before discussing the true nature of Shangri-La. It’s virtual, they concur, though not for the obvious reason that it’s a 1930’s fiction, but as a way of showing their own superior understanding. Yet they still get tied up in knots as they try to decide whether and how the mythical valley gets bigger to accommodate increasing numbers of adepts. Perhaps in Shangri-La all artists would get an equal number of shows, but for now Brother S seems inequitably blessed.

dawood ica Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 104: ‘Not Quite Shangri La’

Shezad Dawood, 2015. Installation image of fig-2 exhibition, week 13/50. Courtesy of the artist.
Photography by Sylvain Deleu. 

Most days art critic Paul Carey-Kent spends hours on the train, traveling between his home in Southampton and his day job in London. Could he, we asked, jot down whatever came into his head?

Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 103: ‘Foolish at the Tate?’

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Dan Flavin: ‘Untitled (to Alan Shepard in honour of the upward and downward journey)’, 1984

I’ve mentioned before that it’s worth keeping an eye on the changing presentation of the Tate’s permanent collections. Here are two recent acquisitions which play off everyday materials to question what constitutes an artwork – just the sort of purchase which used to derided as foolish, but is now accepted as an interesting part of the conceptual story. Dan Flavin’s 1960’s and 70’s light works have been widely shown here, but ‘hooded’ lights have never been seen in Britain before – so it’s real coup to have acquired the significant installation Untitled (to Alan Shepard in honour of the upward and downward journey), 1984, for just £1.6m. The title, as well its dedication to the Apollo 14 astronaut, eschatologically reinforces the anticipation of death which critics have generally read into the dark wood coverings which obscure the upper surfaces of Flavin’s characteristic standard neon tubes in this late series. Thomas Hirschhorn’s Interior Facement, 1999, by way of contrast, is an early work. For some years now the intensely theoretical Swiss artist has rendered objects more equal by covering them in brown duct tape – a material chosen for the political point made by its lack of inherent value. This security camera from 1999, however, is wrapped in black insulation tape, indicative of how Hirschhorn had not yet settled on duct tape, and was also more willing to isolate a single charged object from its surrounding network of philosophical implications. So, if you’re in the Tate this morning*, look out for more than Marlene Dumas.

* Published 1 April, 2015

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Thomas Hirschhorn: ‘Interior Facement’, 1999

Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 102: ‘The Use of Painting’

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Luke Gottelier in his best painting kit with themed bookselves

Really, what’s the use of painting? Successful works just take up wall space which could have been used for shelving – possibly the fun-shelves, suited to their books, which Luke Gottelier has put up at DOLPH project space in Streatham: Manzoni monographs on a white shelf, Kippenberger on a scrappy construction, Warhol on a mix of silver and transparency etc. Failed paintings must be even further down the value chain. Yet Gottelier (also at FOLD’s new space in Fitzrovia, to 18 April) gives his rejected works a practical role: as ashtray, toy vehicle, electric guitar… Or does he? The first problem is that the process generates a ramshackle purposefulness which is in danger of falling back into art value. The second is that he’s just as likely to torture the earmarked set of 39 failed works from 2004-05, suffocating one in toxic gold paint, lighting another up with fireworks – and planning to conclude his time at DOLPH (where he’s at home with his books to 28 March) by covering a painting with catnip and letting a performing hoard of tabbies do their worst.That’s typical of how Gottelier works: he’s fired by decidedly wacky ideas – what if he sticks neckties onto paintings / aims at the ugliest possible portrait / makes a hairy painting / attacks his old work? – which then drive him into the search for the formal and practical solutions. And that’s what maintains his – and our – interest. Maybe that’s the use of painting, after all.

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Luke Gottelier: ‘Firework Display’, 2005-2015 – Fireworks, wood, oil paint, painting

Paul’s ART STUFF on a Train # 101: ‘I Fink it’s a Face’

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Graham Fink (at Riflemaker to 21 March) is a pareidolian: he sees faces all over the place. That’s picked up in witty photographs which land somewhere between gestalt and abstraction by discovering visages in peeling walls, clouds and rock formations etc. True, I’ve seen that done before, but the surprising variety and specificity which Fink discovers gives his images an extra dimension. He displays a selection of these on monumentalising slabs of marble. Fink finds it natural to draw faces, and has taken to doing so using only his eyes, into which an infrared light is shone in a development of marketing researchers’ well-established eye tracking technology, as used to find out what attracts the viewer of an advert. To date he’s ‘drawn’ those faces mainly from his imagination, but I caught him essaying a portrait using the technique, which makes more sense to me: the act of looking is translated directly into a representation made with no ‘middle man’ in the form of hands. Impressive as Fink’s abilities are given the method, the drawings look hesitant and scratchy, even when they, too, are given marble import. There’s something alluring about the directness achieved, though, which makes one wonder whether some sort of essence is being revealed. In his spare time, incidentally, Fink is Chief Creative Officer for China at the advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather – and his most famous advert sees hundreds of people form… a face.

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Most days art critic Paul Carey-Kent spends hours on the train, traveling between his home in Southampton and his day job in London. Could he, we asked, jot down whatever came into his head?

About Me

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Southampton, Hampshire, United Kingdom
I was in my leisure time Editor at Large of Art World magazine (which ran 2007-09) and now write freelance for such as Art Monthly, Frieze, Photomonitor, Elephant and Border Crossings. I have curated 20 shows during 2013-17 with more on the way. Going back a bit my main writing background is poetry. My day job is public sector financial management.