Monthly Archives: November 2010

some secrets revealed

Sunday 28 November 2010

these are the four small postcard paintings that i submitted to the recent rca secret exhibition at the royal college of art…

they were not signed on the front, nor do they have any titles…

other than the ubiquitous roman numerals…

untitled i, ii, iii and iv, 2010

if any environmental influence were needed for these four abstracts then maybe these four photographs might suffice to illustrate (i am now recycling some of my blog images since a quick delve into the image folder revealed over 1500 used on this blog so far!)


lake, early morning


winter field in fog


a long view of the fens


stubble field with frost

i received an email this week from someone who had bought one of my secret postcards at the aforementioned rca exhibition, which was nice – but i wonder who might have bought the others..? since the exhibition was a ‘secret’ the works were displayed in a random order, so my postcards would not have been displayed together. you can view all 2800 postcards on the rca secret website, with the artists’ names now revealed. i’ve been having another browse through the secret archive…

who’d have guessed this was a genuine Grayson Perry?

[grayson perry, rca secret postcard, 2010]

i wonder which artist grayson perry could possibly be referring to, with the big, vaguely spiritual shiny sculpture..? hmm, could it be..? the room filled with people reading text panels made me chuckle, a rather laborious task which seems to be a prerequisite at any curated exhibition, because we must first know and then we can fully appreciate the art in context… and what of the never-heard-of artist in the isolated project space..? those sparsely occupied white cubicles where the art is often presented in the minimalist manner of a forensic investigation – collections of things in cabinets, suspended in space or more fugitive offerings on the floor, or perhaps a projected video playing on a loop – but it’ll be too dark to read the text panel… we have all been there

perhaps this all hints at perry’s cynicism towards much contemporary art – that of spectacle and performance. grayson perry is a british artist whose work reveals (firstly in ceramics but more recently in textiles and printmaking) with a wry hogarthian eye, the cultural & social issues of our times. his work also graciously acknowledges many historical, narrative influences – one can see elements of european folk art, medieval paintings, classical greek, egyptian, chinese or japanese art. with a dash of dark comedy thrown into the creative pot he provides us with a thought-provoking visual commentary on contemporary life, from war to shopping.

i first saw his ceramic vases at the 2003 turner prize exhibition at tate britain and instantly knew he would win – and he did! he successfully married beautiful craftsmanship with thought-provoking and often shocking social narratives. i like that his ‘pots’ (as he still humbly calls them) bear the hallmarks of being handcrafted, ever so slightly irregular in the tradition of coiled pots – it seems unthinkable that he would use studio assistants, unlike the other brit artists of his generation. he still manages to assume the role of a roguish outsider and yet he is fast becoming something of national celebrity, in the mould of stephen fry or michael palin – entertaining and enlightening us in equal measure, but many are not happy that such ‘celebrities’ travel the world at our expense – but aren’t they missing the point? i think that perry is one of the most engaging & intelligent artists working in the uk.

[tracey emin, rca secret postcard, 2010]

tracey emin’s postcards were, in contrast and rather predictably so, showing emin’s scratchy poetic words and spontaneous doodlings, so much so that i thought they must be fakes, another artist or a student having a joke, in light of the recent news report of emin fakes for sale on ebay… emin thought the fakes were very poor quality and too ‘sentimental’ to be ‘true’ emin’s – i guess she’s the best judge, but ‘sentiment’ seems to be innate her style, the work often looking quite weak out of context…

emin is quite a contradiction in that she needs to ‘confess’ her feelings and yet derides the public response that it causes – does she want our pity, our love or just our respect? she comes across being very in control of her emotions and what they project (some might even say manipulative), but exhibiting just enough angst or vulnerability to be mildly intriguing. her best work is undoubtedly the appliquéd textile pieces, perhaps because they appear less sentimental, but with the so-called ‘drawings’ or monoprints i am left wondering just what the big secret is…

it is interesting to compare perry with emin – it’s no secret that both had troubled childhoods which has undoubtedly been a factor in their art, but it seems some artists create a ‘confessional’ type art as a method of personal psychoanalysis much better than others…

thinking about perry & emin also reminds me that it’s drawing close to the time when the current year’s turner prize winner will be revealed to the nation. the turner prize, if anyone needs reminding, is an annual art prize which is awarded to ‘a British artist under fifty for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work in the twelve months preceding‘. in 1999 the shortlist included tracey emin, the exhibition featuring emin’s ‘my bed’ – a true mess of an installation which still ignites controversy in art circles. emin herself has since said she (or the work) was probably nominated to add a flurry of media interest. the remade ‘unmade bed’ definitely drew some attention, most spectacularly from a pair of chinese performance artists. emin didn’t win the prize that year, but the exhibition did inspire the alternative and rather ridiculous turnip prize (mentioned previously here), where any artwork can be entered so long as it’s rubbish… you can view some of the current turnip prize entries on their facebook page

sometimes rubbish can be art, but that’s another story…

on nothing, to be done

Sunday 21 November 2010

lonely road sign
[a country road, a tree, evening…]

it was meant to be, it wasn’t meant to be,
it will happen, it might never happen

my life seems to have become quite beckettian of late…

i can’t claim to know much about the works of samuel beckett, other than what was required reading in my youth (waiting for godot, naturally)… beckett’s sardonic, sparse dialogue seems to make more sense now, in what i will fondly call the middle ages, in the middle of a sometimes barren & lonely landscape, on a road somewhere between what was and what will be… perhaps now is the time to immerse oneself in a closer study of samuel beckett. a quick ‘google’ has unearthed a few texts and many other resources online but nothing can quite match the tangibility of a real book…

these last couple of weeks have been a time of not quite knowing what will happen next; uncertainty is no ally of reassurance… just waiting to hear, waiting in a waiting room, or waiting in a queue, or waiting for the call back, or waiting in especially for the post to arrive (which more often than not is near enough lunchtime) just in case, only to receive a bundle of junk flyers on the benefits of hearing aids, double glazing and sky tv – so, no news is godot news..?

a couple of weeks ago i finally drafted my work proposal for a prospective exhibition, along the lines of this is what i want to do and why, this is what i will do and how. i have been playing around with these notions for ages but the chance to write a proposal gave the work some focus. i will start work on this very soon, just as soon as… well, some waiting is inevitably involved and i could say more about it but – it’s a secret for now…  i know what will happen…


[sketchbook page, vessels, early august 2010]

in these lean times i have, in the evening hours mostly, also been making more of these papier mache vessels. i like the repetition of this activity, it’s like making daily bread. they are made of my own handmade paper – seemingly delicate and yet robust – when i tap them they sound a little like hollowed-out wood or eggshells. the eggshell reference is perhaps no surprise. i like the disparity between lightness and solidity. these little vessels will, in time, have some of the environmental characteristics of my paintings, a bridge between object and subject, between appearance and substance, between fulfilling a need and having another purpose… as seems to be my habit these days, i have lots of little projects or themes in varying degrees of development and completion – is this normal practice for an artist?


[papier mache vessels]

i was prompted to to consider the issue of artistic rejection the other day, while waiting to pay for a book in a charity shop. the next customer in the queue spied that it was a book on turner, turner’s venice. the brief exchange went something like this:

hmm, turner, eh? i don’t like turner.
you don’t like turner? but the nation likes turner!
i like paintings that look like something, that you can recognise.
have you seen any of turner’s paintings – those in the tate?
yes, but i didn’t like them, they were all wishy-washy, nothing…
but turner, like monet, was suffering from failing eyesight they say…
no, couldn’t see anything in them. turner, very overrated i say…
what about turner’s earlier paintings of castles & ruins?
nope, turner, not what i would call proper painting, i’m afraid…

hmm… and i was afraid he would then say he liked paintings of classic cars, aeroplanes or racing horses, so i promptly paid my £3 for the turner book and then left the shop. i suppose it does help to see another person’s point of view, that the work is too different in style from what they have come to expect a landscape painting to look like, that they bring to it their own values and preconceptions about what is art (as we all do) – but art history often gives us a wry reflection on this cultural phenomena – on what is now highly regarded was perhaps once critically rejected… but there again…

in a recent conversation with another artist it was suggested to me that people (people who are likely to buy art from galleries or exhibitions) are most drawn to art that gives them a sense of joy or wonder about the world, hope for life not a reminder of the end of things. i didn’t agree entirely, but perhaps he was also referring to what is known as the ‘grey £’, since he then went on to explain why retired people like gardening so much – a sense of hope in the possibility of renewal. then i thought about vanitas, paintings which i view with a child-like fascination as much as seeing them as darkly symbolic allegories on nature and mortality – the memento mori. perhaps i seek out signs of imperfection & decay for a similar, symbolic significance, that death or decay is inevitable, but in a curious way it also signifies change and renewal…


[intaglio print on paper, mounted on canvas]

this small intaglio print on fabriano paper is from about five years ago. at some point i decided to adhere the print to a canvas, but then it was shelved. sometime later, i took the canvas into work where it hung up in the staffroom for a couple of years – but now it is back home again. it will serve to remind me that i shouldn’t dismiss things so easily…

lastly, this art journal (or blog) is also five years old… so, shall i go on..?

thank you […] is there anything else?
no, i think that’s everything… no wait, there is one last thing…
yes? what’s that?
it’s nothing, i just wanted to ask if….
ok, just wait there while i […] you don’t mind waiting..?
no, i don’t mind waiting, thank you…