Tag Archives: turner prize

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…

is my shoe art?

Sunday 18 July 2010


[new boots]

is my shoe art? it is most certainly a design classic, with the tough, trademark yellow stitching and the air cushion soles, on which it reassuringly says ‘made in england’… these boots are not just made for walking anywhere, they are built for the road… there is something so very uplifting to the spirit when one acquires a new pair of boots…

these dr martens airwair boots were a delightful, serendipitous find in a charity shop yesterday – brand new, never worn dm’s in just my size (gasp!), in a beautiful pewter leather, my favourite (non) colour – and only £7!

the bargain purchase (and subsequent formal analysis as evidenced in the above photographs) of some shiny new dm boots instantly recalled memories of charles thomson‘s (of the stuckists) appearance on bbc’s newsnight, of the perennial debate that always surrounds the turner art prize, the is it art? and of the classic moment in the discussion, is my shoe art..?



charles thomson debating the merits (or not) of the turner prize 1999

thomson need not have been so indignant; it spawned a new painting, one with more than a satirical nod to ex-friend tracey emin…


charles thomson, is my shoe art? oil on canvas

but, what about van gogh’s still life of boots? a painting which i fondly remember first seeing whilst on a college field trip to amsterdam.  i am sure charles thomson would agree that these shoes are art


vincent van gogh, a pair of shoes, 1886

but, what if one forgets for a moment that this is a van gogh painting – what then? the visual recording or transcription, using oil on canvas, of a pair of boots does not make it (yet) a notable work of art. however, these boots, looking very worn and placed as if they have just been taken off might reveal a back story – one of a hard day’s labour or ongoing financial hardship – there is no money for new shoes. furthermore, if one imagines what might have been going through the mind of the maker of the painting (the artist), then the story unravels still further – the boots are perhaps now discarded, worthless, they signify poverty and perhaps misery in the mind of the artist. if these boots were van gogh’s own then this painting is not just a still life, but a poignant self-portrait, one embued with the struggle of one man’s existence…

these thoughts led to a nostalgic trip down memory lane… to an old drawing of a boot that signifies my beginning as an fledgling artist…


pencil drawing of a monkey boot

i did this drawing of a monkey boot when i was about fifteen or sixteen years old. i remember well those monkey boots, they were in an ox-blood leather and i recall polishing them with a matching ox-blood boot polish. i remember too that it was a drawing study that i started at home (probably homework) and clearly (as was my bad habit then) i didn’t complete it. looking at the drawing now, i am wondering why (or, in fact if) i did just draw the one boot and not actually draw the pair? the drawing, which is interestingly much larger than ‘life size’ has been cropped and stuck to an A2 sheet of paper with another drawing of a sheep’s skull. i have deduced that the art teacher must have guillotined off the unfinished part of the drawing to make a more interesting worksheet for the exam portfolio – the exam work, as i recall, was sent off to the examination board in those days…

these monkey boots remind me of my adolsecence, in the making of my identity, not as an artist but as an individual. every crease in the leather is a silent witness to my ‘growing up’ – of trying (and failing) to be different, pretending to be a rebel who really wanted to be accepted, of the self-consciousness and the wanting, the wanting-to-be an artist, but not knowing then what art really was…

so, was my shoe art? back in those days i thought it was…

if only paintings could talk

Thursday 6 May 2010

abstract art canvas - congo stripes
Congo 2010, mixed media collagraph on paper on canvas, 5″ x 5″ x 1.5″

‘Congo’ is another very small work on canvas. I like the idea that it should be experienced as a small fragment, a precious last offering. In very minimalist terms, the central stripe could symbolise a path through a forest. Felled trees, stripped bark, planed wood, stacked planks, the dirt tracks of intensive forest clearing, could all be echoed in the texture and grain of the surface. This small canvas is one of a new series based on colour values and other visual associations or narratives, aka symbolic, reductionist iCons, partly geographical, partly cultural… my prospective virtual journeys around the planet.


[detail of Congo]

This photograph shows a scene of intensive deforestation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This pillaging of the world’s natural resources is central to the debate on climate change. The impact is seen in the immediate ecological environment, disrupting the natural biodiversity of life. As the landscape is physically altered the exposed soil is impacted by changing weather, removing vital nutrients, the rainfall and wind create soil erosion, the alternating extremes of drought to flood damage the environment even further… and so it goes on.

If only trees could talk…

The British artist, Angela Palmer, recently installed a series of vast tree roots and stumps in London’s Traflagar Square, to highlight the issues surrounding deforestation. According to the artist’s own website she ‘made several field trips to a commercially logged primary rainforest in Ghana’ – surely a footprint or two of dirty carbon traces there? The selected trees (all of which were apparently naturally ‘felled’ after storms) were painstakingly shipped to the UK for the art installation. The exhibit was later transferred to Copehagen to coincide with the Earth Summit in December 2009. Oh, the tragic irony of this monumental statement on climate change… You can read more about the Ghost Forest project here.

In 2009, another British artist, Tania Kovats, created a ceiling installation out of a 17m high wafer-thin section of a 200 year old oak tree for London’s Natural History Museum, in honour of Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday and as a homage to his tree of life drawing – a now significant doodle mapping out this ideas on the origins of life. The oak tree was carefully selected (then very much alive) from sustainable woodlands on Longleat Estate (they planted 200 new sapling trees to replace it – that’ll be another two hundred years). You can watch a video of Tania Kovat’s Tree here. I quite like Kovat’s moving meadow artwork (a meadow on a barge) but salami slicing a healthy tree to adorn a ceiling in honour of Darwin’s idea seemed a little extravagant…

Yet another British artist, Anya Gallaccio, has created installations out of uprooted and felled trees that are relocated and reconstructed within the gallery space. She only works with trees (and their attendant tree surgeons) that are due for the final chop – often indigeonous species such as oak and chestnut. Gallaccio’s exhibit for the 2003 Turner Prize (in my opinion, one of the better years) included life-size bronze casts of trees adorned with slowly rotting fruits. Gallaccio’s works transcend their organic materality and process, to signify the essential temporality of all living (and dead) things. In an interview in ArtForum magazine in 2008, she said: I’m interested in basic, rather banal stuff, like how big trees are and how we relate to them physically. […] I’m a little bit terrified and overwhelmed by nature. My curiosity is more morbid than celebratory.’

If only walls could talk…

And lastly… of the recent Turner Prize 2010 shortlist announcement. I chuckled when I heard sound artist Susan Philipsz (when interviewed about her Turner Prize nomination) exclaim: ‘I couldn’t believe my ears’. I doubt it will win the hearts of the people; it’s a public exhibition and there won’t be much to look at in a white space… My money’s on De La Cruz, I like the irony… Read brief profiles on the four nominated Turner Prize 2010 artists here.