Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Art from Elsewhere

Art from Elsewhere,

at the Waterhall


Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

An exhibition showcasing 19 international artists which considers themes of global change, postcolonial experience and dissent.

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (You have Searched and Destroyed), 1982
Through her series of images utilising the forms of advertising, Barbara Kruger demonstrated that art could serve a new, directed, social and political agenda. She appropriated the idioms of advertising to reveal and subvert. Her most famous slogan is 'I shop therefore I am'. She re-located her work beyond the gallery to public kiosks, billboards and mass transit, reaching a much wider audience.

Nancy Spero, I Died at Rodez, Under Electroshock, Artaud, 1969 (watercolour on paper)
These drawings belong to Nancy Spero's breakthrough series, 'War' (1966-70). Abandoning painting in 1966 as 'too masculine a medium', Spero instead favoured cheap materials, paper, gouache, graphics and collage to create 150 drawings made in response to the war in Vietnam. These works mark a key moment for Spero, who was a leading feminist in New York and one of the first visual artists of her generation to represent war in terms of gender and sexuality.

Nancy Spero, Victims Thrown from Helicopter, 1968 (gouache and ink  on paper)

In this series of drawings the image of the helicopter and phallic-shaped bomb recur as symbols of masculine violence and oppression.

Kara Walker, Girl, 2006 (mixed media: collage and drawing)

Kara Walker's work addresses issues of race and gender violence and the oppression of African Americans in the history of the United States. The eloganted weeping figure in this collage towers over a police officer carrying a young child. The work was made in response to the destruction and impact of Hurricane Katrina, in which most of the victims were from the African American community of New Orleans.

Jenny Holzer, Blue Purple, Arno Erlauf, 2007 (electronic LED texts in metal casing)

Jenny Holtzer employs language to make strong statements about war, politics and social issues. The text in Blue Purple, Arno Erlauf invokes the voices of victims and perpetrators of violence, highlighting the realities of war.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Please Return - A.K. Dolven

Please Return, by A.K. Dolven,

at the Ikon, Birmingham.

AK Dolven works through a variety of media - painting, installation, film and sound - and is concerned with the representation of sublime natural forces. In this respect she identifies with 19th century Norwegian painter Peder Balke and some of his work was also included in the exhibition. (There is an exhibition of Balke's work at the National Gallery, and you can see some of it here ). Both artists share a fascination with the Arctic.

Just Another Puberty, 2014 (oil on aluminium)

looking closer

Peder Balke, Stormy Sea, c1870 (oil on paper on wooden board)

Horizontal Painting, 2015 (oil on aluminium)

looking closer

A4 Double Horizon, 2014 (oil on aluminium)

Dolven has explored white painting since the late 1980s and talks about the importance of white surfaces as 'an emptiness that offers possibilities'.

Peder Balke, Northern Lights Over Coastal Landscape, c.1870 (oil and paper on cardboard)

Peder Balke,  Ship off a Coast in Stormy Sea, 1844, (oil on canvas)

A4 Black I, 2014 (oil on aluminium)
This series of paintings alludes to Balke: layered application of  colour on aluminium panels, small scale and minimalist.

A4 Black II, 2014 (oil on aluminium)

A4 Black IV, 2014 (oil on aluminium)

Vertical On My Own, 2011 (16 mm film transferred to HD video projection with sound)

Dolven's shadow against a stark white snowscape - the figure itself is not revealed. This exemplifies Dolven's ongoing interest in vertical and horizontal orientations: 'to me, the vertical symbolises that which does not endure, such as human beings and architecture. The horizontal embodies the eternal, expressed in the landscape'.

The exhibition concludes with the please return sound installation in the Tower Room, accessible only by stairs. This journey resembles the artist's arduous climb to the top of a mountain in Lofoten to make her exhortation, 'Come'.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

A Real Birmingham Family by Gillian Wearing

A Real Birmingham Family, by Gillian Wearing, 2013-14, (bronze)

in Centenary Square, outside the new Library of Birmingham.

The sculpture raises questions about identity and what constitutes a family today, challenging pre-conceived ideas about what a family should be.  Wearing has bravely offered us a more inclusive idea of who and what constitutes a family. With single-parent families, gay marriage, single people being able to adopt, 30% of primary school pupils being from ethnic minorities and 1 in 10 being in interracial relationships, the face of Britain has changed. The white nuclear family, with all its sexuality, race, and class implications is something that a lot of people in Britain cannot identify with.
'A nuclear family is one reality, but it is one of many and this work celebrates the idea that what constitutes a family should not be fixed', commented the artist.

During 2011 and 2012 Birmingham residents were urged to nominate their families to be the face of Birmingham: no limits were placed on how the 21st century family might define itself and nominations included groups of friends, extended families and people living alone.  Over 350 families responded. In 2013 a diverse panel of community, cultural and religious figures chose a short-list of four.

In 2013, the Jones family, consisting of two sisters, both single parents, and their two sons was announced as the selected family. 'I really liked how Roma and Emma Jones spoke of their closeness as sisters and how they supported each other. It seemed a very strong bond, one of friendship and family, and the sculpture puts across that connectedness between them,' said Wearing.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Hepworth at the Hepworth

'I, the sculptor, am the landscape.
I am the form and I am the hollow,
the thrust and the contour'.

(Barbara Hepworth, 1961)

Barbara Hepworth at the Hepworth, Wakefield.

Central to the exhibitions in this museum is a large collection of Barbara Hepworth's sculptural prototypes, in plaster and aluminium. They show us how she worked, revealing her thought processes, enabling us to follow her emotional and intellectual journey as a sculptor.

Cool Moon, from the Aegean Suite, 1971 (lithograph)

Hepworth saw printmaking as an opportunity to work on ideas that would eventually translate into sculpture. The combination of precise line and form in works such as this one, resemble her late carvings in white marble, and the areas of organic texture have an affinity with her bronzes and their heavy patina. However, it would be too simplistic to view this as a one-way relationship: Hepworth expanded on the shapes and designs of pre-existing sculptures and combined them with the distinctive paint-like washes of lithography, to produce images that embody both the qualities of printmaking and sculpture.

Oblique Forms, 1969 (lithograph)

Two Forms with White (Greek), 1963

one more view.
The Hepworth Plasters: 
One of the galleries displays a collection of the surviving prototypes in plaster and aluminium from the artist's studio. The majority are original plasters, the first stage in the process of casting a sculpture in bronze or aluminium, rather than finished works. Hepworth did not view the prototypes as works of art in themselves and, although she occasionally exhibited them, she never sold them. The dense display, evoking her studio environment did not work for me - I found it difficult to appreciate each individual piece.

Spring, 1966 (plaster with strings)

one more view

Winged Figure, 1061-62, (aluminium with Isopon for surface texture) 
Winged Figure was commissioned by John Lewis for their headquarters in London's Oxford Street. It's nearly six metres high and this is the only working model to survive of the monumental commissions Hepworth received in later life.


Trophy (Flight), 1965 (plaster, painted light blue/light brown)


Maquette for Dual Form, 1965-66, (plaster, painted gold, brown, green and blue)


Construction (Crucifixion), 1966-67 (aluminium, part painted)

Hollow Form with Inner Form, 1960 (plaster)

Core, 1955-56/1960 (plaster, painted black, white)

The Studio:

Just before the outbreak of WWII, Hepworth left London for St Ives, Cornwall. She bought a studio in the centre of St Ives in 1949. 'Finding Trewyn Studio was a sort of magic', she wrote. 'Here was a studio, a yard and garden where I could work in open air and space'.


The displays in this gallery explore her studio environment, working practice in plaster, and the monumental commissions she received in the last fifteen years of her life.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Hepworth, Wakefield


The Hepworth, Wakefield.

David Chipperfield who designed the building, describes it as 'dipping its toes in the water'. The building 'dips into' not just the river Calder, but one of its weirs as well. The angry church of water crashing against the concrete produces a very dramatic effect.

The building consists of a cluster of 10 connected concrete blocks each containing a single gallery space.
Floor-to-ceiling windows afford views of the river as well as the Victorian warehouses from the days of Wakefield's industrial past.

This was our first visit to the Hepworth and we were very impressed. We liked the architecture; enjoyed the displays enormously; found the staff extremely friendly, helpful and knowledgeable about the works on art on display; and finally, the food in the café is delicious.


The purpose of our visit was primarily to see the Lynda Benglis exhibition. Seeing the Hepworths was a real pleasure, and we also enjoyed some of the other artists' work, a very small selection of which you can see in this post.

Henry Moore, Open Work Head No. 2, 1950 (bronze)

Henry Moore, Six Stone Figures, 1973-74 (lithograph)

Henry Moore, Reclining Figure, 1936 (Elmwood)

Henry Moore, Pit Boys at Pit head, 1942, (pencil, pen and ink,  wax coloured crayon and watercolour wash on paper)


Lynn Chadwick, Moon of Alabama, 1957 (bronze)
The title of the sculpture comes from a song by Berthold Brecht, but references Sputnik, the Soviet space satellite in its structure.

Bernard Meadows, Figure with Child, 1973, (bronze)

Bernard Meadows, Molly, Plate IV, 1966 (etching with drypoint)
This etching is from a series of 35 that Meadows made in response to Samuel Beckett's 1951 novel Molly. Rather than being illustrations in the traditional sense, Meadows described them as an attempt to capture the essence of Beckett's bleak and tragicomic attitude to human nature.

Eduardo Paolozzi, Mondrian Head, 1993 (bronze)

Paolozzi would often strike a dialogue between his own practice and art works by those he admired, one such example being the minimalist New York works of Piet Mondrian. This Mondrian Head is part of a related series informed specifically by Mondrian's 1940s Broadway Boogie-Woogie works in which the pulsing lights of the city streets are interpreted into abstract compositions. Here the concept is re-interpreted by Paolozzi and projected into an anonymous head. The outcome is at once an abstract notion, a figurative form and an acknowledgement of art history.

a side view


Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Wrestlers, 1913

The sculptor Gaudier-Brzeska experimented with etching and drypoint but this was his only linocut. Despite being a first attempt, it displays a tremendous fluidity of form due to his skills as a carver. He was one of the first artists to use lino in place of wood as a relief printing technique. The medium was subsequently taken up by his Vorticist contemporaries as it allows for strong lines and the creation of a dynamic sense of movement.

Gertrude Hermes, Fish, 1932
Hermes was a leading light in the wood engraving revival of the early 20th century. Her sculpture is perhaps less well known, but Hermes found a natural kinship between carving sculptures in wood and wood engraving. Her prints and sculpture informed one another, both formally and in terms of their subject-matter.

L.S. Lowry, The Tolbooth, Glasgow, 1947 (oil on board)


William Roberts, The Farm, 1922 (oil on canvas)

Maggi Hambling, Portrait of Charlie Abrew, 1974 (oil on canvas)
The subject in this painting, Charlie Abrew, was a lightweight boxer, but had to retire when he became blind. Hambling wrote of her experience of painting Abrew. 'He was very exciting to paint. I remember him being extremely patient, gentle, very sensitive with his hands and enjoying posing'.

John Wells, Island Counterpoint, 1956 (oil on canvas).