Friday, 14 February 2014


PAUL’S ART STUFF on a train # 40: ‘Beattieful London’

February 4, 2014 

Dominic Beattie: Untitled, 2013 – Ink, aluminium tape, enamel, foam, wood, and hardboard ‘Beattie’ is an unusual name, meaning, of course, ‘one who holds land on condition of supplying food to those billeted by the chief’. True, a Google search yields 3 million results, but Nash gets 28m and Jones 236m. So it’s a surprise to find that two unrelated painters so called – Dominic, 32 and Basil, 78 – should have London shows running for the same five weeks to 22 February. Both look to the past. Dominic, at FOLD in Clerkenwell (and also in Saatchi’s New Order II), colourfully approximates the forms of constructivist abstraction using odd scraps of wood, plastic, card etc, as if countering its purity – in Ben Street’s words – by assembling a half-remembered version out of the discarded stuff of contemporary life. Basil, just east at Hales in Shoreditch, looks back to the visibly energetic mark-making of abstract expressionism, but applies it to archetypal forms with potentially symbolist import. This selects the biggest and best of his steps motif, the oldest of which was made 20 years ago. They come across as to me as optimistic ascents from left to right, but then I’m not Chinese. Neither quite achieves beauty, but then I doubt if they aim for it. What’s the word for ‘aesthetically pleasing, but not beautiful’? ‘Harmonious’ isn’t quite edgy enough here, and ‘attractive’ sounds slightly condescending in an art context. Let’s settle for ‘beattieful’.

Basil Beattie: Step Up On, 2013

Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 39: ‘Mid-Century Fair’

Paul Nash: River, 1932
  The London Art Fair has improved a little each year recently, with more adventurous and fewer dire galleries in the mix and a good curated photo exhibition. The 2014 edition (14-19 Jan) also saw some stimulating match-ups in the project section, for which young galleries were invited to share a stand. All the same, its USP remains as an enjoyable, if unrevelatory, place to find the leading British artists of the last century: plenty of Nicholson, Hepworth, Lanyon, Heron, Riley, Hitchens… Yet there are always less familiar examples mixed in with the more predictable fare. This year my favourites were a Paul Nash at Piano Nobile and the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham retrospective at Art First. Nash’s unique chord is strummed when an aspect of the surreal insinuates itself into the landscape without going the whole ham-fisted hog. Just so, the watercolour River foregrounds an oddly-placed and potentially symbolic pair of empty swings, hinting at childhood trauma or political uncertainty. Barns-Graham (1912-2004),the pre-eminent female painter among the St Ives group, outlived all the men and enjoyed a particularly late phase. Emerald and Cadmium Green is from a lesser-known stream of her richly varied oeuvre, one which merges abstraction and landscape by equating the scientific waves of particle physics with natural waves – here of the sea, perhaps, or of wind in the grass. The result is a buzzy study in dot dynamics which forms some sort of event horizon.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham: Emerald and Cadmium Green, 1971

ART STUFF on a train # 38: ‘That’s New!’

tomma abts   hepe   2011 3299 ART STUFF on a train # 38: ‘Thats New!’  
Tomma Abts: Hepe, 2011

There’s always pressure on artists to move on, but meaningful change can be quite subtle. Tate Britain’s quietly interesting ‘Painting Now’ (to 9 Feb) selects five contemporary artists not likely to shift sensationally. The highlight is seven mostly recent works by the 2006 Turner prize winner Tomma Abts. As ever, they take their titles from German names and are scaled like life-sized portrait heads, so we seem to meet the paintings as personalities. Their patient, additive, multi-year processes can be traced. They achieve an all-over absence of emphasis through the precise use of formal devices which Mark Godfrey’s accompanying text categorises as lines and areas interrupting each other; toning down colours to prevent dominance; and introducing competing types of illusion, such as fake shadows. Small wonder, perhaps, that I overheard the view ‘she hasn’t developed’. Is that right, though? Most shifts, such as towards the increased optical shimmer of Zebe (2010), are bound to seem slow and organic, given for example that Jeels (2010) was in her studio for a decade, and so may actually be older than Theiel (1994). Yet this selection includes two rather sharp departures from Abts’ norm: Hepe (2011) is divided into two pieces so that the gap effects a particularly radical means of interruption; and Jesz (2013) isn’t a painting at all, but a bronze cast from a painting (destroyed in the process), which Abts felt she couldn’t otherwise resolve. The green patina hauntingly picks up the painting’s relief patterns. So I thought: ‘Wow, that’s new!’

Jesz Abts ART STUFF on a train # 38: ‘Thats New!’ Tomma Abts: Jesz, 2013

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

ART STUFF on a train # 37: ‘Drawn Together’

January 21, 2014 

blog martin ART STUFF on a train # 37: ‘Drawn Together’
Kenneth Martin
Chance, Order, Change, Time Sequence II, 1983

Teachers often marry teachers, actors marry actors etc, so it’s hardly a surprise that artists marry artists. Often, though, as they don’t share a name, the partnership may be unsuspected to the outside observer. Nicholson-Hepworth, Kahlo-Riviera, Krasner-Pollock et al were hardly secrets, but such as Bruce Nauman and Susan Rothenberg, Bharti Kher and Subodh Gupta or Mark Wallinger and Anna Barriball may be less familiarly linked. It’s simple, though, to connect Mary and Kenneth Martin. They married in 1930 and exchanged approaches continually, engaging strongly with the more idealistic aspects of modernism through their constructivist work; their reputations have edged up pretty much in parallel since they died in 1969 and 1984 respectively; and the recent dual show at Annely Juda was the sixth such. Their drawings took centre stage, mostly beautifully precise studies developing ideas for paintings. Both favoured angular abstraction, but Kenneth’s drawings have a technical feel, often setting out their chance-driven genesis in a paradoxically rigorous manner; while Mary’s feel more intuitive and organic, even when mathematical patterns lie behind them. Chance, Order, Change, Time Sequence II makes explicit Kenneth’s typical procedure of plotting points and drawing numbers from a bag to determine which lines go between them: arbitrary as that sounds, it produces a characteristic look. Permutation shows Mary thinking through the possibilities of linear interactions with a tentativeness enhanced by the visible corrections to end up somewhere which looks systematic yet proves teasingly hard to pin down.

martin 2 blog ART STUFF on a train # 37: ‘Drawn Together’

Mary Martin: Permutation, 1968
  Most days art Critic Paul Carey-Kent spends hours on the train, traveling between his home in Southampton and his day job in Surrey. Could he, we asked, jot down whatever came into his head?

ART STUFF on a train # 36: ‘Have I Gone Too Far?’

Man on a Rope 1858 ART STUFF on a train # 36: ‘Have I Gone Too Far?’
Honoré Daumier: Man on a Rope, c. 1858

How does an artist know if a picture is finished? It’s a standard interview question, and the answers can be fun but tend to be unilluminating – whether flippant (Pollock: ‘How do you know when you’re finished making love?’), circular (Richter: ‘I work until nothing is wrong anymore; then I stop’), gnomic (Rembrandt: ‘A painting is complete when it has the shadows of a god’) or earnest (Auerbach: when ‘every force, every plane, every direction relates to every other’). Modern tastes differ from tradition in this respect, as I was reminded in the wonderful Daumier show at the Royal Academy (to 26 Jan). That includes several paintings Daumier may have meant to take further, yet which probably communicate better to us than they would if conventionally finished. These days any stage could be the end-point, but the problem remains: how many paintings pass through an arguably superior state before reaching their chosen conclusion? ‘The gravest immorality’, claimed Matthew Smith, ‘is to try to finish what isn’t well begun. But a picture that is well begun may be left off at any point’. That fits with Delacroix’s rueful observation that ‘one always has to spoil a picture a little bit in order to finish it’. No wonder Giacometti lamented that ‘the more one works on a picture, the more impossible it becomes to finish it’. Oh for the simplicity of a word limit: you know you’re done when you run out of

Honoré Daumier: Ecce Homo, 1850

ART STUFF on a plane # 35: ‘Collisions in Space’

December 31, 2013
Alison Gill: Detector (Kissing Gate), 2013

The location and atmosphere of an exhibition is a big part of the reason to see it, the more so given that some idea of the work can often be gleaned from the internet. I’ve recently been involved in two differently dramatic sites: curating a Maria Marshall solo show in a storage room off the side of a food factory near King’s Cross, stacked with such a quantity of tins and machinery we were tempted to claim it as an installation; and writing an essay for a show at the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), one of the four experiments at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, where a scientific community of 6,000 work at the furthest edge of sub-atomic knowledge. The sophisticated 27 kilometre 4 metre diameter tunnel in which protons are smashed together at close to the speed of light is itself a stunning sight, well captured by Michael Hoch’s cross-section photograph below. Alison Gill’s installation To See a World was in a hall directly above a tunnel access point. An unusual site can have its hazards, though, and on the day I was visiting it proved necessary to ‘open the plug’ to bring materials above ground. All I saw were the sculptures unceremoniously stacked to one side, one of them broken, and a gaping chasm down to the mouth. Happily, all is now repaired and reinstalled, allowing a boundary-challenging meshing of physics, poetry, psychoanalysis and sculpture to take forward CMS’s sub-agenda of countering the modern separation of science from art.

Michael Hoch: The Hadron Collider at CRS

ART STUFF on a train # 34: ‘The Christmas Kiss’

DSC 5770 ART STUFF on a train # 34: ‘The Christmas Kiss’ Nezaket Ekici: Emotion in Motion (detail)

When it was pointed out to me, at the Art Monthly Christmas drinks party, that I had a smear of lipstick in my face, I was able to give an answer rather wasted on a non-paramour: Ah yes, I was kissed by a Turkish performance artist. She was Nezaket Ekici and her performance is part of a lively retrospective (After) Love at Last Sight at the welcome new Turkish-run Pi Artworks (55 Eastcastle St to 25 Jan). I had no call to feel privileged, as she was kissing everything – the gallery walls mostly, but also furniture, vases, photographs, cushions – in a three day performance which had already made her lips and chin sore by the first afternoon. Yet, Nezaket said, she doesn’t see endurance as an integral part of the work in the way of her teacher, Marina Abramovic, but simply does what’s necessary to reach her desired result. That instant kiss was of a piece with the press release’s citing Walter Benjamin’s idea of ‘love at last sight’ as typical of city life’s fleeting encounters, in which ‘the final farewell coincides with the moment of allure’. Lip marks have some painterly aspects – uniquely personal, yet different every time, flirting with serialism, yet resisting it – but they lack paint’s permanence: by the time I got home, there was nothing left to explain to my wife.

DSC 5754 ART STUFF on a train # 34: ‘The Christmas Kiss’ Nezaket Ekici: Emotion in Motion

ART STUFF on a train # 33: ‘Stoned’

woodrow fossil ART STUFF on a train # 33: ‘Stoned’  
Bill Woodrow: Untitled, 1979

I guess it won’t surprise you – it’s a critical commonplace with which I’d disagree if I could – to learn that Bill Woodrow’s retrospective at the Royal Academy is a tale of two halves: a brilliant run of prolific invention c 1977-83, typically reconfiguring found objects; then a subsequent move into wholly produced sculpture, typically bronze, in which the wit tends to get clogged up in the deliberation. Yet that first half of 30-odd works constitutes one of the best shows in town, not simply for new-to-me examples of the well-known cut-outs, in which new forms emerge from metal items, but also the Breakdown series, in which appliances are disassembled well before Damien Ortega set out the parts of a Volkswagen; seven smashed TVs telling of their blindness; the magical environmental equation converting bicycle frames into a tree; and the Fossil series in which items such as the phone above are covered in plaster, skilfully rendered as stone so that they seem to have emerged from rock. Validation of the ongoing relevance of that last stream came at Alison Jacques, where my favourite piece in Matt Johnson’s new show (to 21 Dec) had the feel of an unmade Woodrow: a bicycle lodged, in theft-proof impracticality, in the middle of a large boulder.

matt stone with bicycle 2013 ART STUFF on a train # 33: ‘Stoned’  

Matt Johnson: Stone with Bike, 2013

ART STUFF on a train # 32: ‘The Surprising Nude’

hitchens nude ART STUFF on a train # 32: ‘The Surprising Nude’   
Ivon Hitchens: Figure on the Blue Cushion,1968

It’s interesting to see atypical works by famous artists: John Chamberlain’s paintings, Barbara Hepworth’s photograms, Hiroshi Sugimoto’s sculptures, Cy Twombly’s photographs, John McCracken’s mandalas. Think of Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979) and you’ll think of his elongated landscapes, typically of wooded scenes in the South Downs. Indeed, there are 10 lush examples in Richard Green’s current exhibition Ivon Hitchens: Romantic Modernist (to 14 Dec). Yet I hadn’t previously realised that typical Hitchens exhibitions during his lifetime sprinkled nudes and still lives among the landscapes. Richard Green’s show revives that by including a still life and three nudes: a hot Fauve from 1948; a 1965 figure which tends towards landscape; and one from 1968 which makes abstract play with cushions. Those three have enough brio to make it seem a pity that Hitchens was held back from painting more of them by his inability to afford a model. And it wasn’t just Hitchens: the other landscape, still-life and abstract-oriented painters of his generation reverted to the figure from time to time, consistent with the life class training of their student years. William Scott, Patrick Heron and Ben Nicholson all produced interesting examples. In Scott’s case, not only did he return frequently to the figure, but some blurring occurs, as it’s easy enough to read his still lives in more sexual terms than his nudes.

RE02 TSI William Scott Stil ART STUFF on a train # 32: ‘The Surprising Nude’  William Scott: Still Life with Candlestick, 1949

ART STUFF on a train # 31: ‘Good as Old?’

December 3, 2013
Blog Utopia  ART STUFF on a train # 31: ‘Good as Old?’
Henry Milner, after El Lissitzky, The New Man, 2009

How acceptable is it to make new versions of work? The most allowable end of the spectrum must be where the original artist chooses to replace a destroyed work, as the Chapman Brothers pretty much did for Hell after the MOMART fire. Nor would many object to the reconstruction of historic lost works. For the second show (Utopia Ltd, to 20 Dec, 3-4a Little Portland Street) at the impressively appointed Gallery of Russian Arts and Design, Henry Milner has made contemporary versions of iconic sculptures from Russia’s constructivist heyday. Given that it’s essentially that or nothing, this provides a welcome chance to get as close as we can to Vladimir Tatlin’s vastly fragile flying machine and Aleksander Rodchenko’s mirrored geometric constructions, which both look as if they could have been made now (true, they were, but you see what I mean); as well as the lesser-known graphic pioneer Gustav Klucis and Tatlin’s more familiar Monument to the Third International. More controversy greeted Dr Shin-Ichi Fukuoka’s recent London show Hokusai Exposed, part of his approach of digitally remastering famous works to appear as they would have when first made. Jonathan Jones, for example, dismissed this on principle, saying that ‘decay is part of the life of art’ and should not be so countered. Yet it’s not clear how that rule applies to conservation efforts, and anyway, I see nothing wrong with the idea of generating alternative ways to experience great art – should photographs of paintings be banned? That said, I do think it would have been more interesting to apply the original wood block printing techniques afresh rather than to make computerised reproductions.

1379423 542510569175421 892540652 n hok  ART STUFF on a train # 31: ‘Good as Old?’  
A gleamingly-coloured recreation of one of Hokusai’s 36 views

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

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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.