Monthly Archives: April 2010

a cake lover's take on the general election 2010

Friday 30 April 2010

I like a nice cup of tea and a slice of cake… The frenzied electioneering in the UK has induced some cake-related silliness today… the general election 2010, according to the world of cakes…


[fruitcake]

A good old-fashioned, solid as a house/brick fruitcake, equally at home in a steel-worker’s lunchbox or the Queen’s garden party – a cake that exclaims honesty and decency – a family cake. I am sure Tony Benn is partial to a slice of fruitcake. Douse it with some scotch and put a fancy, tartan ribbon around this beast and you’ll have a veritable Dundee, add a whitewash of fancy icing and it’s a Christmas cake, or it’s a wedding cake, an anniversary cake – diversity is part of its charm. This is a cake for all seasons – it’s seen the best of times, the worst of times and promises to sustain us in the future – but it is, if I may say, just a little bit too brown for my liking right now..


[victoria sponge cake]

Ugh, the insipid-looking Victoria Sponge! It makes me think of my schooldays – such as domestic science lessons, where we had to learn the contents of the utensils drawer before progressing to the mixing bowl. A light dusting of icing sugar hides any irregularity in the baking. It’s all in the cuts with a Victoria sponge; very precise and measured – when times are tough don’t expect a generous slice of gateau. This cake doesn’t travel well and pales into insignificance when seen next to its exotic European cousins. This is a cake that knows its place – usually at coffee mornings, charity events and country markets. If you look closely, you’ll see that within a day or so the jam nearly always turns a little bit brown


[lemon cheesecake]

But… cakes don’t always have to be this way – it’s time to rethink what cake is. Introducing the fresh-faced, zesty, lemon cheesecake – much devoured at middle-class dinner parties. It doesn’t look or taste like a traditional cake, and some of it is clearly unbaked – but I can forgive that. This is a cake that you have to eat politely with a fork, and perhaps with a glass of something sparkling. If you think the fruitcake is dowdy and the Victoria sponge reminds you of the old days, a slice of lemon cheesecake promises something new. Refreshing on the palate after a heavy meal, it is best served lightly chilled. I like cheesecake for breakfast. My only issue with cheesecake is that it doesn’t keep very long, but everything about it tastes good…


[carrot cake]

Carrot cake; a cake that just might be good for you. It’s a little bit nutty at times but at heart it’s a democratic, caring, sharing cake – and it doesn’t mind being baked in a square tin. On the contrary, when it is served up as smaller squares it means there’s always enough to go around. Flavour is more important than looks with a carrot cake, but celebrity endorsement will give it some chic credibility. I like to make my own version, with the addition of some dried chillies, because I’m a bit of a rebel… (see also courgette cake, a slightly greener version)


[cupcakes]

Then, there are the plethora of silly cupcakes that turn up at every party event. Always entertaining, they spark conversation and add colour to the cake table, but no one will admit to actually liking them. Well, are they a cupcake, a fairy cake or just a half-baked muffin with a crazy hairdo?


[battenburg cake]

Battenburg cake, what the heck – is it a British or a German cake? This is two cakes regimentally spliced together with a sticky marzipan coating. This is a cake that harks back to the days of the Empire – it has no nutritional value and my big issue with the segregated colour is that it makes me feel a bit queezy – definitely one to avoid.


[jaffa cakes]

Lastly, there are jaffa cakes, which aren’t really cakes at all, but relentlessly aspire to be at the big cake table. They are stale, stodgy biscuit imposters that believe with a slab of orange-flavoured jelly and fake chocolate topping they look the cakey business. No one takes these cakes seriously, and, after eating just one of them, you will suddenly feel quite thirsty…

on filling in the blanks

Tuesday 27 April 2010

In the course of some administrative duties, I recently came across these five words on a single sheet of paper…

After drawing a momentary blank as to the page’s unspecified use or intention (a page for me to doodle on, make notes perhaps, or just discard?), the page is, of course, anything but blank… I will have to overlook the fact that this page occurs three times in just one document, and having been reproduced many times, equates to hundreds of intentionally blank pages…

I wanted to view this non-blank page as a very small piece of unintentional ‘found’ conceptual art – as it brought into question the small matter of objectivity. It was a sheet of paper (but defined as a page) that served no purpose other than to demonstrate that it was a blank page inserted between other pages. By signifying its non-function it became oddly functional – causing a moment of conjecture, a period of contemplation, a brief pause for idle thoughts.


Jenny Holzer, television texts, 1990

I recalled art where text or language is central to the work – Jenny Holzer, Bruce Nauman, Ed Ruscha, Barbara Kruger… then my thoughts shifted somewhat Duchamp-ianly, firstly to the famous Magritte painting, The Treachery of Images with the words ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe‘ underneath the painting of a pipe, then Michael Craig-Martin’s glass of water on a shelf as An Oak Tree, and then onto some of Gavin Turk’s work (as briefly discussed here).

All of these artists bring into question what art is, what art does, says or represents, what purpose art serves. In conceptual terms, it is the artist, not the artwork, that determines whether it is a work of genius or just one of duplicity (or both). Art is art when the artist says it is art, as art created in this context does not always ‘speak’ for itself…

The un-blank blank page was not a work of art, but an art created by association; with just five words it unintentionally gave reference to other works of art…

Harold Rosenberg (the American art critic who first coined the phrase ‘action painting‘), in a short essay in his book ‘The Anxious Object’ (which is a curious turn of phrase when deciphered two ways), wrote that within the modern discourse on art that ‘the current vogue of art books arises from an appetite for knowledge which the book is better suited to satisfy than are the artworks themselves‘.

An appreciation of art may arise out of prior ignorance and subsequent enlightenment when viewing the artwork, but deeper knowledge or understanding often comes from the supporting commentary or textual analysis and not the actual artwork. This is also due in part, as Rosenberg then highlighted, that the experience of ‘real art’ is a rare event when compared to our exposure to reproductions of art in books – this secondary source of art is easier to access and therefore more widely appreciated as art. Rosenberg called such art books a substitute for the gallery experience – an imaginary museum.


Matthew Higgs, Minimal Art, 2008

When art needs words to explain it, save time (and paper) and use them as the artwork. Higgs’ work above is an appropriated page from an old art book, and it touches upon the same issues that Rosenberg raised. Rosenberg declares that ‘[art] has become nothing else than what is said about it […] in which the artist and the historian-critic compete for the last word‘. The work of art serves to illustrate or confirm the (original) concept, but the concept becomes even more tangible with the addition of words. Art also needs documentation in the form of books or catalogues to acknowledge the emphemeral nature of some works of art – books help preserve its status as art long after the event. Rosenberg also suggests that the longevity of the book elevates art by proxy; the reproduction is even more valued when the original is lost or hidden from public view, gathering dust in a dark vault.

However, there still seems to be (in simplistic terms) opposing viewpoints when discussing what art is: 1) that art should speak for itself, it needs no words to justify it and it is open to the viewer’s interpretation or, 2) that art requires or benefits from the ‘voice’ of the artist or the critical commentary of others. The use of words or language helps make the art more art, the artist’s intention is a part of the work and that requires some words too…

Even the unintentional is made into art if you take the time to fill in the blanks…

it’s a green thing

Sunday 25 April 2010

I’ve completed my second day at the East Anglian Artists’ group  Artworks spring exhibition (the final day) – this time as the artist demonstrator. The first part of the morning was very quiet (only the very keen visit a gallery at eleven o’clock on a sunday), so I took this moment of calm to record my modest set-up in the corner of the gallery…


A non-portrait of the artist at work…

I was doing a little monoprinting (aka monotyping, both terms seemingly interchangeable these days), which is as much painting as it is printmaking. I decided to downsize my art materials for this event and only took the paint colours that I have in small tubes, the ones that I find deep within the bargain buckets of art stores – hence a very limited palette – two browns, a green, blue, yellow ochre and a greeny-browny-grey…

Below are some of the monoprints at various stages of printing… the process is very simple and very adaptable – roll, paint, wipe, smear, scratch, scrape, inscribe… and then press the paper onto the inked surface (in this case, glass); you can also use surface pressure (a pencil for example) on the back of the paper to create interesting lines, marks and textures… repeat the process as necessary…

here, I have used acrylic paints because of the reduced scale set-up, but oil-based inks are extensively used…

some monoprints pegged up to dry…

The afternoon was much busier and more engaging. I met and chatted to quite a lot of people, including someone who plans to bid on my work in the Art Auction next week… When I arrived back, I pinned up twenty beginnings of something new, and perhaps unsurprisingly a green theme emerged… not sure whether to tear these down into smaller works, before progressing further with the variations on green…

Here are some close-ups, showing some surface textures…

Somebody asked me how many layers I might add before they are deemed to be finished – it’s usually more than ten but probably less than thirty – but I am not counting… and inbetween there will be some surface erasures

Should I speculate publicly at this stage what I might do next with these works on paper? I contemplate (or rather procrastinate upon) doing certain things, but then don’t pursue them, then later I will discover (through another) that another artist has done something similar… meaning it’s time to think again

This time, it’s a Jazz Green thing…