an artists' view

an artists' view

Thursday, 21 April 2011

London, Nancy Spero at the Serpentine Gallery

Yesterday I went to London for the day to visit the Serpentine Gallery where an exhibition of Nancy Spero's work is currently being shown. Trust me to pick the hottest day of the year so far! As I decided to walk from King's Cross down to Hyde Park (and then walk back again afterwards) I was walking in hot sun, amongst busy streets, with traffic and bodies adding to the temperatures. Ah well; once in Hyde Park, the greenery created a cooller space.
The exhibition has come from the Centre Pompidou in France. As this is a much bigger gallery than the Serpentine, I expect that a selection has had to be made, from that larger show.

In the entrance was a 3D work, 'Maypole', which is a central pole from which hang flat aluminium heads, faces, all in expressions of pain and agony. This was quite different from the rest of the work, which was all on paper. Spero is quoted as saying 'I was working exclusively on paper; part of my resistance as an artist in the 'War Series' was a decision not to work any more on canvas. I shifted completely to work on paper.' The 'War Series' dates back to the 1960's.

I remember as an art student in the 1980's being involved in discussions about the uses of materials, and how our personal choices of materials expressed particular ideologies. I explored art history wearing feminist spectacles, aware that what I was taught was the history of 'dead, white men' of famous artists. It seems that questions of 'what materials?' nowadays, is more concerned with recycled, and environmentally harmless materials. I think these issues would not be addressed without feminist artists from the 1980's asking related questions. Personally, I now use canvas and oils; as well as other materials.

Spero's paper work is flawed, imperfect. Lines are blurry; prints are double-imaged. It has a 'home-made' quality, though this is definately not amateur! There is a fierce intelligence here; though Spero is creating her own iconography, and this is not always obvious, or easy to discern. Even as an artist, who is a feminist, and who has familiarity with some of the goddess-images she uses, I found myself adrift at times.

'Azure' (2002) works particularly well, I thought. It is beautiful; rich in colour and imagery; multi-layered (literally as well as in meaning); using images from the ancient, and the modern world.

There are figures that viewers will be familiar with; Egyptian goddesses, Babylonian goddesses; Greek images (from vases?); the styles and figures are 'readable'. We know where we are. There are images from modern pornography, synchronised and in opposition to the ancient images on show. Here again are images we have become familiar with. Spero re-produces; re-presents; re-images for us. I need to go back and re-read my Mary Daly!

Spero is known for the movement in her work; there are running women, naked and free. Blurred and repeated images emphasise this movement, creating an almost film-strip quality.

'Azure' is a massive piece. In the catalogue it says it is 39 panels, of various dimensions. All these are displayed in the central space of the Serpentine Gallery. I needed to sit with them, and look, and think about them. There were no seats though, so I ended up sitting on the gallery floor. Not ideal when the amount of work meant that they were placed 4 of 5 panels deep, on the wall. Works on paper bring particular problems for curators; they need low light levels to be viewed in so they are protected. With many of the panels high up on the walls, and low light levels to view them with, I found it a bit of a struggle to see the higher placed panels. Which was a shame, as sitting on the floor, trying to look at the 'whole' thing, I was struck by the colours and textures, and could see more clearly where Spero had placed her repeat prints.

I didn't like 'Codex Artaud'. Not being a French speaker or reader, I couldn't make any sense of the words, and the visual patterns were created using text. With a lot of white space. It seemed very much of its time (the 1970's). As this was an exhibition celebrating Spero's work and life, then it made sense to include it. But for me it lacked the richness and depth of her later work, such as 'Azure'.

London Gordon Square

Sitting in Gordon Square having a breather on my way back to King's Cross. The day had been so hot, it was refreshing to sit under the trees, in the shadows, looking out at the church/chapel.

London; 46 Gordon Square

Walking back to King's Cross to catch my train home, I called at Gordon Square. Now mostly housing University College, London, this was once the home of the artist Vanessa Bell, and her sister, the writer, Virginia Woolf.
The blue plaque on the wall doesn't commemorate this however, but does mark the fact that John Maynard Keynes once lived here. J.M. Keynes was one of the members of the Bloomsbury group. An economist, he's much quoted at the moment for his economic theory which broadly, would support the state intervention in times of recession.....what is currently described as 'quantitive easing'!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Living Tree Sculptures

As well as being busy with getting ready for the Hepworth Opening weekend, and preparing work for my 'ARTYVAN' exhibition, I'm also in discussion about creating some 'living tree sculptures' to be grown in a wood near Wakefield. First off, we have to collect the Hawthorns that were considered to be a good choice of tree. I've already got some seedlings growing in pots in my garden; but we need to collect lots more!

That's the job for the autumn! Difficult to think about when Summer's not quite here yet! But the dry, sunny weather continues. And the garden is needful of some rain.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Hepworth Opening + Bobbin Holder

A few weeks ago I spent a couple of hours constructing a bobbin holder for my bobbins of sewing cotton (mostly polyester, it has to be said!).
It keeps everything together nicely, though I have more bobbins in a box.

I'm busy with lots of different things at the moment. Trying to get work ready for Saturday 21st May, the weekend when the Hepworth Gallery opens.
I'm putting up some work in the grounds of Westgate Chapel, where I curated an exhibition in May 2010, as part of that month's Artwalk.
This time it will be just me, and I'll be parking up my campervan, Blanche, a Volkswagon T4, which will be the 'gallery'!

In contrast to the Hepworth, which is a huge exhibition space, Blanche is a tiny space; so my exhibition is going to be the smallest exhibition of the weekend!
We'll be offering refreshments, and a chance to sit down and relax in the green oasis in the centre of Wakefield; the Chapel grounds.
Look forward to seeing you there. I'll be 'open' from 11am to 4pm.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Fabric and Fossils

I've been using the sewing machine since attending Louise Taylor's workshop at the ArtHouse. I was the recipient of a pile of sample fabric books (from DIVA) and have been experimenting with using the fabric they contained. Mixing hand-sewn scraps, and machine-sewn strips is proving interesting. Layering them together is a small step away from my painting techniques. It also gives me quick results....which is very different from my usual painting methods! This is my 'prototype', as it were! An experiment. Of course, once I'm involved in making, lots of other ideas flow from it, and other ways of using techniques and materials.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

A film by Werner Hertzog.

On Wednesday we went to Bradford to see this documentary film, about the Chauvet caves in Southern France. The caves were discovered in 1994, and were hidden by a landslide; inside were discovered 32,000 year old rock art images. Bison, lions, bears, horses, all from the time when ice-sheets covered northern Europe, and there existed still, a landbridge between Britain, and the European continent.

The images are stunning. The animals are almost alive; you can almost see them breathing, hear them neighing/growling/galloping. The geology of the earth has altered so much, that calcification has blanketed some of the bear skulls, joining them to the rock of the cave floor. Many of the stalactites and stalagmites weren't there when the rock art was created!

Mind-boggling! One of the skulls of the cave bears is placed on a stone, looking out at the original entrance of the cave. The stone is almost an 'altar'. It was obviously deliberately positioned there.

Interviews with an archeologist who has worked on the cave site, revealed that he had dreamed of lions, after working in the cave for 5 days. He had to stay out of the caves for a while, to get his bearings again.

Hertzog asked him 'were you afraid?' The archaeologist replied 'no', but he was aware of 'something deep'.

In the course of the filming the crew, and some of the scientists admitted that they had felt that the people who'd made the art, were watching them, whilst they were working in the caves.

Jon and I left the cinema in silence. I was just awed, in the true sense of the word. Jon said 'It puts all this in perspective, doesn't it?' as we took in the Bradford cityscape, and got into the car, to drive home.

The archaeologist had said that we could learn from other tribal societies how to look at rock art differently. He recounted how an ethnographer had visited Australia, with an Aboriginal guide, and they had visited a rock shelter where rock art was painted. The rock art hadn't been re-painted for a while, and the Aborigine began to paint. The ethnographer asked why he was repainting it; the Aborigine replied 'I'm not repainting it; the spirits are'.

Sunday, 10 April 2011


From Whitby museum; a massive Ammonite fossil. I'm doing lots of research into fossils at the moment. All part of this fascination with geology I currently have. I'm creating some drawings using thread and fabric. Hand sewing onto a sheer white fabric, almost organza fabric, images based on the trees, Lepidodendren which once grew on the planet. It was these plants which millennia later, gave us the coal which was mined in the Yorkshire area.

I'm continuing to dye some fabrics; and machine sewing the results. It's still very exciting, and interesting. And using my machine remains a thrill!

As we've been having such gorgeous weather recently, I've taken advantage of it, and taken my beech carving outside to use the surform, and rasps on it. Although I began this way back in August, and it's still not finished, I am carrying on with it, I'm pleased to say. Slowly, slowly, the beechwood is shedding it's pockmarked surface, and becoming smoothed. The beautiful grain of the beech is showing through, and the creamy white surface makes me want to run my hands across it. Very tactile, wood!

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