The Polaroid Project: At the Intersection of Art and Technology ed. William Ewing and Barbara Hitchcock

4 July 2017 § Leave a comment

This post is also featured at

Remember that time, not so very long ago, when we all rushed down to the local Boots to drop in our films for printing? From this frustration of impatiently waiting anything from an hour (for those willing to stump up extra) to a week, to see the results of all the careful holiday snapping, lays the foundation of the Polaroid.

The Polaroid Project

Back in 1943 Edwin Land, having been asked by his young daughter why she couldn’t see her photo right away, immediately set to work. Within an hour he had conceived the technology and the story of instant photography had begun.

The Polaroid Project, Timothy White, Untitled 1998 The Polaroid Project

The Polaroid Project Timothy White, Untitled 1998

When the long and painstaking development process (no pun intended), documented in the book by prototypes, models and test images, had been completed, the result was not only scientifically groundbreaking but also heralded a new chapter of artistic expression. The New York Times proclaimed “There is nothing like this in the history of photography…”

The Polaroid Project

Nowadays Instagram is the leading representative of the world of instant imagery. It should therefore not be surprising to know that prominent in the lobby of their California HQ sits a collection of Polaroid cameras, the most noteworthy being the 1977 OneStep featuring the rainbow logo appropriated by Instagram in its own design.

The Polaroid Project

Land had in the seventies already predicted escalating use of cameras saying that they would soon be used ‘All day long…. like a telephone’, whilst probably not anticipating they would often be one and the same apparatus.

Polaroid Project S. B. Walker, Blocked out Polaroid sign, 2011

Polaroid Project S. B. Walker, Blocked out Polaroid sign, 2011

In this lay the recognition that the world, and people, had irrevocably changed; the barrier of subject and photographer had started to disappear in line with Barthes ‘Death of the Author’ and there was a continuous recording of lifes events and expansion of the ‘sharing’ experience. The almost instant sharing of Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat seem to be a natural development of what began with the Polaroid.

Polaroid Project Dennis Hopper, Back Alley 1987

Polaroid Project Dennis Hopper, Back Alley 1987

For the more artistic the new product was impressive but came with many built in limitations. Images were usually of limited size (save by using larger studio-bound cameras), fixed formats, limited camera adjustments. Laboratory colour and exposure manipulation were impossible.

Polaroid Project Barbara Crane, Private View, 1981

Polaroid Project Barbara Crane, Private View, 1981

Despite, or perhaps because of, these very particular restrictions it invited users to become ever more inventive. Artists like Lucas Samaras and Bruce Charlesworth manipulated or separated the emulsion or used repeated exposures. David Hockey used multiple images overlaid or arranged in grids to increase dimensions. Other painted, drew or scratched on and around the developed image.

Polaroid Project Paolo Gioli, 2010

Polaroid Project Paolo Gioli, 2010

Andy Warhol took all his portraits with a Polaroid and incessantly snapped his way around New York, Others like Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith, Robert Rauschenberg and Chuck Close often used it, whilst film makers, commercial, advertising and fashion photographers found the instant images essential for planning their shots.

Polaroid Project Toshio Shibata, Untitled (#228), 2003

Polaroid Project Toshio Shibata, Untitled (#228), 2003

It’s colour initially put off many art photographers, black and white being up to then the choice for ‘serious’ practitioners. This however was the era of ever more portable 35mm cameras and also of  photographers like William Eggleston and Stephen Shore and Polaroid were in a perfect position to tap in to the wider acceptance of their casual colour snap-shot aesthetics.

Polaroid Project Mark Klett, Contemplating the view at Muley Point, Utah, 1994, 1994

Polaroid Project Mark Klett, Contemplating the view at Muley Point, Utah, 1994

The Polaroid Project leads us through this story via a series of essays that look for example at Polaroid’s foundation and history, the development of the technology, artistic developments and its relation to social networks and the selfie. They are interspersed with an impressive array of widely varied imagery with plenty of ‘how on earth did they do that?’ moments.

Polaroid Project Victor Landweber, Garbage Candy, 1979

Polaroid Project Victor Landweber, Garbage Candy, 1979

The book is subtitled ‘At the intersection of Art and Technology’ and it is published to accompany a major touring exhibition, so it is not surprising to see that text and  illustrations are geared towards the artistic. Perhaps a future show and accompanying volume can show what the public, as well as industry and business, created with the technology – but that’s yet another story.

Polaroid Project Ellen Carey, Pulls (CMY), 1997

Polaroid Project Ellen Carey, Pulls (CMY), 1997

There is a frequent lament here to the death of Polaroid, tied to the winding up of the company and closure of the factories, but, as with vinyl, this seems hugely premature. Instant film lives on in Fuji and Impossible, as does the use of Land’s cameras. The Polaroid Project itself shows us that interest in this technology and its uniquely ‘authentic’ aesthetic is increasing, whilst here at CELLOPHANELAND* we even have a couple of cameras of our own and Polaroids pinned on the wall. The king is dead – long live the king!

The Polaroid Project: At the Intersection of Art and Technology ed. William Ewing and Barbara Hitchcock, published by Thames & Hudson. To purchase (currently at a 20% discount) visit

A touring exhibition organised by the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography opens at the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas June 3 to 3 September 2017 then travels to Europe.

Liverpool Biennial 2016

12 July 2016 § Leave a comment

‘… fictions, stories and histories taking viewers on a series of voyages through time and space, drawing on Liverpool’s past, present and future’ – Liverpool Biennial Guide

Liverpool Biennial 2016 Toxteth

If this summary makes this years Liverpool Biennial sound rather complicated, well, actually it is. And that is not all. When you add on exhibitions at the Tate, the John Moores Prize exhibition, Bloomberg Contemporaries and a whole series of fringe events that run alongside then it all becomes rather bewildering.


The aforementioned Biennial ‘voyages’ actually take the form of six ‘episodes’ namely: Ancient Greece, Chinatown, Children’s Episode, Monuments from the Future and Flashback.


The Tate is a good starting point for all this with a new vision of Ancient Greece. Reflecting on the neoclassical architecture throughout the city contemporary artists have been invited to exhibit alongside exhibits largely taken from the famous Blundell collection of Greek artefacts.

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It is fine, but better is to visit the Tate’s other current exhibitions: the excellent Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms which has been cleverly placed alongside Maria Lassnig – both using the body, often distorted, deformed, ageing or fragile.

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Across town at the impressive redbrick Victorian Cains Brewery is a selection of episodes arranged around the hall and in to Andrea Angelidakis’ spiral Collider installation. In the centre is the film Dogsy Ma Bone from Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, made with local children over recent months and inspired by Betty Boop’s A Song A Day and Brecht’s Threepenny Opera. The whole looks rather like a student degree show although there are excellent individual works.

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Around the corner at the Blade Factory is a highlight, a ‘Flashback’ from Mark Leckey. His film Dream English Kid draws on scraps of film, TV archive and ephemera, recreating events from his life between the seventies and nineties in a compelling dream-like sequence.


Another highlight was Lara Favaretto’s Momentary Monument: The Stone (2016) in Rhiwlas Street, Toxteth – a monument to destroyed community.

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Two more ‘ Flashback’ artists are being exhibited at FACT. Lucy Beech’s new film Pharmakon shows downstairs whilst upstairs there are a series of interesting films and installations from Krzysztof Wodiczko, who has been working with the homeless and marginalised.

The Open Eye Gallery at Mann Island has devoted the downstairs gallery to Koki Tanaka’s ‘flashback’ revisiting of an 1985 protest march. It was not particularly gripping, but upstairs were a series of clever, witty and thought-provoking videos by Ramin Heirzadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh & Hesam Rehmanian.

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Up at the historic and important ABC (scandalously being allowed to fall derelict) is a ‘Flashback’ – a rather ponderous film from Giraud & Siboni and a selection of sculptures. Better, and out of the biennial at the adjacent Walker, is the 2016 John Moores Painting Prize exhibition. Won by the likes of Peter Doig, Rose Wylie, Sir Peter Blake and John Hoyland the quality is, as expected, exceptional. Michael Simpson was this years winner of the £25,000 cheque.

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Bloomberg’s New Contemporaries at the Bluecoat was rather disappointing, but at least the courtyard is a great place to relax with a coffee away from the hustle and bustle. Of the associate artists we particularly loved Lindsey Bull at the India Buildings.

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Outside the biennial, as well as the Tate, Walker & Bluecoat why not try going a little farther? There are Sir Peter Blake’s Dazzle Ferry, Crosby Beach for Antony Gormley’s Another Place or the Lady Lever Art Gallery at Port Sunlight

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Whilst the actual biennial ends up as rather a curatorial mess, it really does not matter that much. Ignore the rather muddled theme, just get out and about, explore the city and some great venues – in and out of the biennial. You are sure to find some surprising gems along the way.

Liverpool Biennial is at various venues until  16 October 2016

Wang Guangle: Yellow – Pace Gallery, London

18 March 2016 § Leave a comment

This post is also published on the online Lifestyle Magazine CELLOPHANELAND* (link here)

“The sensation of the passage of time always inspires me. Time changes everything, and when I can detect the pure movement of time, nothing else seems to matter. In these moments, there is very little else I would want to do.” Wang Guangle

Wang Guangle: Yellow – Pace Gallery, London

Pace gallery is one of the world’s leading commercial art galleries. Their artists include modernist icons like Josef Albers and Robert Rauschenberg plus the likes of James Turrell (see our exhibition review here), John Hoyland (see review here) and David Hockney (see review here and ‘On the trail of…’ here).

Wang Guangle: Yellow – Pace Gallery, London

Anyone remotely interested in the ebbs and flows of the contemporary art market would indeed therefore be very wise to keep a close eye on their latest activity. A recent example would be the February 2016 opening of their new gallery space in the cultural desert that is Palo Alto in silicon valley. The ‘out-there’ decision to add Menlo Park to their big city portfolio of London, New York, Beijing, Hong Kong and Paris caught many in the industry by surprise but it is certain that there will be many carefully monitoring its success – or otherwise.

Wang Guangle: Yellow – Pace Gallery, London

Wang Guangle is a younger artist who was born 1971, trained at the Beijing Academy and graduating in 2000. His name will not be familiar to many outside China, indeed Yellow will be his first solo exhibition in Europe, but this is a name that we will probably hear more often. His style of abstraction is easy on the western eye with its superficial similarity to modernists like Albers and Rothko perhaps, although it is an abstraction that actually comes from a more distinct and  recent Chinese angle.

Wang Guangle: Yellow – Pace Gallery, London

Wang is best known for his memento mori style abstraction—inspired by the traditional burial practices of southern China, his tactile works are produced in a process of repetitive layering of different colors of acrylic, his works united by experiments in depth and space. One of the preeminent abstract painters of his generation in Beijing, Wang’s work is rooted in questions of painting’s temporality and the canvas as a vessel of labour and marker of time.

Wang Guangle: Yellow – Pace Gallery, London

The exhibition includes a selection of recent paintings that evince the spirit and style of his work from the past decade, which in this case perhaps unsurprisingly includes an unprecedented use of yellow. Although he has no prescribed meaning for the colour, he apparently embraces its various associations, from timidity and carefulness to a more Chinese connotation of the erotic.

Wang Guangle: Yellow – Pace Gallery, London

A series entitled Coffin paintings, shows thin strips of acrylic paint lining the canvas and wrapping around the frontal surface, leaving the drips along the sides. Multiple layers of paint added over periods of several weeks provide a characteristic striped effect and both illusionistic and real physicality. This layering process has its origins in his home region of Fujian, where elder men annually add a fresh layer of lacquer to their coffins in anticipation of their death.

Wang Guangle: Yellow – Pace Gallery, London

The Untitled paintings mirror this process of scaling and accumulation in the Coffin works while placing a greater emphasis on geometry. Wang paints rectangular fields, each layer progressing farther from the edge and closer to the centre, creating a subtle gradation of colour and the effect of an illuminated rectangle or void. In these works, the question of abstraction arises; for Wang, abstraction is less a means of non-figuration and more of record that most abstract of phenomena: time.

Wang Guangle: Yellow is at Pace London until 16 April 2016

For more information visit

Derek Boshier Rethink/Re-entry Flowers Gallery London

19 November 2015 § Leave a comment

Pop art is very much alive and kicking. The World Goes Pop is currently at the Tate following on the heels of Post Pop: East Meets West at the Saatchi Gallery, the BBC ran a recent series BBC Four Goes PopAllen Jones was at the Royal Academy and Richard Hamilton had a solo show at the Tate last year. That is not even to mention continuing interest in other artists like David Hockney on the edges of the movement.

Derek Boshier Rething/Re-wind at Flowers Gallery London

Maybe it is because we are bored of the self referential world of post-modernism or perhaps there is a recognition of the present day relevance of the movement as we fight off an ever increasing barrage of media imagery. It could well be that Pop Art turns out to be modern art’s most influential movement, parodying all this mass media imagery whilst creating a startlingly prescient take on the world of today: the age of consumerism.

Derek Boshier Rething/Re-wind at Flowers Gallery London

Within this apparent surge of interest the work of Derek Boshier has found a new lease of life. Recently featured on BBC4’s ‘What do artists do all day’ (a series that also featured Sir Peter Blake) he now has a solo show at Flowers Gallery which also coincides with the release of an excellent Thames & Hudson monograph (reviewed here).

Derek Boshier Rething/Re-wind at Flowers Gallery London

The Rethink/ Re-entry exhibition features a fascinating range of rarely seen pieces, much from Boshier’s own collection whilst surveying the shifting emphasis of his art in the late sixties and early seventies. It re-examines his work of the period via the extraordinary variety of his practice – assemblages, collages, drawings, films, graphics and prints alongside more recent films and collages.

Derek Boshier Rething/Re-wind at Flowers Gallery London

In thé ground floor gallery we see the sharp political edge of his work in works like The Stun (1979), a spoof tabloid front page bringing together the Queen and Irish Violence with an incisive wit. Meanwhile in Hi Consumers Don’t Forget Nothing Lasts Forever (1978) Boshier takes a wry shot at consumer culture.

Derek Boshier Rething/Re-wind at Flowers Gallery London

Three perspex vitrines take a more conceptual angle and have a distinctly affinity with John Baldessari works of that time. King George V Avenue Cardiff from 1971 for example features a series of red circles and black columns lined in perspective along a found image of a broad street.

Derek Boshier_Rethink_Re-Entry at Flowers Gallery.

Boshier’s provocative and experimental approach was reflected within the gathering punk movement and also appreciated by David Bowie who commissioned him to work on LP sleeves, as well as stage set design. Featuring both on walls and vitrines are original drawings from Boshier’s collaborations with The Clash on graphics for the CLASH 2nd Songbook, and with Bowie for the 1979 album Lodger. He happily told Boshier ‘do what you like’ for the interior of the gatefold sleeve; Boshier obliged with a collage on mortality that Bowie loved.

Derek Boshier Rething/Re-wind at Flowers Gallery London

His versatility continues with a neat Joseph Cornell style box from 1976, State of Mind, that makes a statement both on consumerism and politics combining a toiletry bottle and newspaper cutting featuring strikers.

Derek Boshier, State of Mind, 1976, Mixed media construction in box frame (c) Derek Boshier, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Downstairs three series of photographed images are a different take on Hockney’s photo collages and Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip. From his 1978 Routes series a sequential strip of images introduce time as an element as the camera’s lens takes a ‘stroll’ at three different locations.

Boshier Install Rethink/Re-wind Flowers Gallery

In yet another media, film, Boshier’s 1973 Change is also showing, along with three more from 2014. In Change Boshier spliced sequences of still images from an installation at his Whitechapel Gallery retrospective of the same year. It remained unopened for 38 years, until its recent rediscovery provoked his desire to create new films using contemporary digital technologies.

Derek Boshier Rething/Re-wind at Flowers Gallery London

Last but not least are four collaged works from 2014, each edged with his trademark broad black lines.

Derek Boshier Rethink/Re-wind at Flowers Gallery

They look effortless and Boshier reminds us that his talent for drawing, eye for design as well as his desire to make works politically relevant are all still as strong as ever. He remains an important figure not only in the story of Pop Art but also in the contemporary art world.

Rethink/ Re-entry is at Flowers Gallery until 7 November 2015

For more information visit

Images courtesy of the artist, Flowers Gallery and CELLOPHANELAND*

Allen Jones RA at the Royal Academy London

1 November 2015 § Leave a comment

It seems that any debate about the artistic merits of Allen Jones’s works are almost entirely overwhelmed by the public reaction to his infamous female nudes. Drawing on the imagery of bondage and rubber fetishism his highly sexualised sculptures were a sensation when first revealed to a shocked sixties public, whilst fifty years or so on from their creation, they still stir strong views from people who tend towards the love/hate ends of the spectrum.

Allen Jones RA
This is a pity because his work represents an important contribution to british pop art of the era.  Jones’s paintings in particular have been the unfortunate casualty of this on-going controversy. These works are bright, exuberant and original , fully deserving inclusion amongst the very best artists of the pop generation.  He slips in easily alongside his superstar contemporaries Kitaj and Hockney, who he effortlessly matches in colour, exuberance and originality. Even the likes of  Peter Blake, Derek Boshier and Richard Hamilton seem conservative in comparison.
Allen Jones RA
In this long overdue exhibition – Jones’s first major show since 1995 – we find not only the renowned ‘furniture’ works, but also large steel sculptures, canvases and the rarely-seen storyboards Jones uses to plan many of his compositions. Ranging freely across a variety of media, this is a life’s work of incredible depth and ambition; work that is sometimes provocative, always striking, and charged with the energy and vitality of human life.
Allen Jones RA
His large canvases are largely gathered together in room three of the exhibition where works from the sixties through to the present day are shown together in a non-chronological hang. Assimilating his broad knowledge and understanding of the traditions of European art, he confidently applies them to his work where one immediately detects an absorption of the works of the Abstract Expressionists and the Surrealists as well as the palette of the Fauvists – as an obvious homage to Matisse, he even entitles one painting of a female torso: Luxe, Calme et Volupté.
Allen Jones RA

From the canvases we move on to two large spaces filled with his sculptural works. To illustrate the natural connection of Hamiltons 3D works to his paintings, the first one of these was largely occupied by highly original sculptures where two dimensional sheets of wood and steel have been cut, twisted and folded. With this seemingly simple process, Jones has created complex, dynamic and stylish objects that illustrate his consummate talents.

Allen Jones RA

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The final large gallery consists of his most controversial female sculptures. Standing terracotta-warrior style paraded across the room they are rather unnerving and one’s unease at viewing them works is immediate.  Is he brilliantly revealing the male voyeuristic gaze and exposing how men really look at or think about women. Or does he simply just enjoy creating fetishistic sculptures of women?

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Although his public statements have been equivocal, one has to suspect the former. This is what he said about his ‘furniture’ works: “presenting the figures as objects that would demand an immediate, non-art response: ie, chair – sitting; table – using. I attempted to dislocate the normal expectations when the viewer wishes to confront a work of art.”

Allen Jones RA
Allen Jones is at the Royal Academy until the 25 January 2015. For more information visit

David Hockney – The Arrival of Spring at Annely Juda

12 June 2014 § Leave a comment

Following on from the excellent Yoshishige Saito exhibition (reviewed on AKUTA last month) Annely Juda are showing everyone’s favourite Yorkshire artist, David Hockney. Showing in the upstairs gallery are a series of sixteen bold and striking iPad drawings entitled The Arrival of Spring that the observant amongst you may have seen in the impressive Hockney show at the Royal Academy – A Bigger Picture (previously reviewed here).

David Hockney Arrival of Spring When exhibited at the RA this series was shown in a darkened room on iPads mounted to the wall. Here they are an altogether different proposition blown up to nearly 5×4 ft (a selection of four are even larger) and filling the gallery. The increase in scale does not always work. There are some strange looking blobs and areas that seem unfinished but on the whole Hockneys’s eye for colour and form wins over and its hard not to admire his virtuosity on the small screen of the iPad.

David Hockney Arrival of Spring

The unerring digital brush strokes and the even coloration also work well in lending the landscapes a slightly unreal air. This slightly artificial look would be strange were the landscapes realistic but it works well with the strangely exotic colour schemes that Hockney’s keen eye draws from the subtle tones of the Yorkshire Wolds.

David Hockney Arrival of Spring

Amongst the iPad drawings the film Woldgate Woods, November 26th 2010 is also being shown: nine video monitors chart a slow progress through a snowy wooded landscape in East Yorkshire. Strangely hypnotic.

David Hockney Arrival of Spring

The second gallery space has been reserved for a series of new charcoal drawings which Hockney made in the Spring of 2013 following the RA show. Looking for a change from colour he stated “The Chinese say black and white contains colour, and so it can. They are five separate views of Woldgate, and with each one I had to wait for the changes to happen. Some were too close to the previous ones and I realised I was being impatient. I had to wait for a bigger change. I thought it was an exciting thing to do. It made me look much harder at what I was drawing.” (Guardian)

David Hockney Arrival of Spring

The absence of colour makes one look more closely at these pieces just as he looked harder drawing them. The effort is rewarded with an appreciation of his light touch and observant eye in these carefully observed sketches of leafy lanes and snowy woods.

David Hockney Arrival of Spring

David Hockney The Arrival of Spring at Annely Juda until 12 July 2014

The printed works are available in edition of 25. A further four prints have been printed in large format and mounted on dibond in an edition of 10.


hockney country – otherwise known as the yorkshire wolds

12 November 2012 § Leave a comment

The local tourist board in Bridlington seems almost oblivious to the possibilities of David Hockney being huge tourist draw of their local area. They had no map available of his, by now well-known, painting locations – “I think one’s being printed soon” – and there was no signposting or tourist ‘route’ despite this also being his home town – his Yorkshire home is near the town centre seafront.

We were in Bridlington for the attraction of a Jack Black concert at Bridlington Spa – apparently he played there with the White Stripes a few years ago and was drawn back to play here again – we though we’d take advantage and do some ‘Hockney’ touring.

The ‘game’ here is to tour through the Wolds and try to spot Hockney locations whilst enjoying the local countryside and unspoiled pubs. Fortunately an independent website YOCC is more helpful than the Tourist Office – although beware their garbled directions which turns what are supposed to be extremely precise directions into something quite the opposite.Fortunately the area is beautiful, unspoilt and ideal for touring, Hockney or no Hockney and it is a highly recommended for a country break – we could have done with a few more days to take a good look and even then there are added attractions like Castle Howard nearby too.

A few of our more successful attempts are included above and below. Why dont you have lots of fun and play too!!Incidentally we stayed at the Wold Cottage– very much not a cottage by the way, but a large country house with superb B&B. Winner of Yorkshire’s best B&B 2012. Web link above or telephone 01262 470696.

david hockney 25 trees and other pictures at salts mill

9 November 2012 § 1 Comment

Saltaire in Shipley, West Yorkshire is a remarkable place. It is effectively an entire community created by social-minded mill owner, Sir Titus Salt, around his thriving woollen mill including shops, schools, church, hospital, alms houses and an institute (but no pub!). Completely preserved and still a lived-in and thriving community it has been declared a UNESCO world-heritage site. Its pretty streets have trendy corner shops and for a quick break there are cultured coffee-shops.At its heart stands the vast Salts Mill, a small part of which has been given over to an arts centre and gallery complete with shops, cafe and restaurant. It is here that I dropped in last week to see the current David Hockney exhibition en route to the East Yorkshire wolds – or should I say ‘Hockney Country’ as it is effectively now known.

Salts Mill is a wonderfully atmospheric space which, as you would expect, clearly shows its industrial heritage.  Solid stone stairs lead to stone-paved halls with giant iron beams and red brick walls. Arts, crafts, books, antiques and home furnishings are sold in open plan areas. All very airy and relaxing.

On the top floor is the excellent, if modest in scope, Hockney exhibition. In a darkened area three screens rotate his pleasant, if undemanding, ipad drawings (note to self – I MUST buy that Brushes app and have a go myself…).  Along two other walls are excellent, more worked-up ipad portraits which recall earlier Hockney portraits in oils. Simple lines and bright colours with an impeccable eye for pattern and colour make these simple works highly appealing.

On another wall three twenty-seven foot long photographic panoramas show Bessingby Road in Bridlington in three seasons. I suspect the fourth is missing due to height restrictions of the gallery walls! Interesting but hardly impressive, although this work is of course more about ‘looking’ and observation than art.

Two portrait shaped acrylics of local landscapes make up this neat little exhibition. It is probably only worth a special visit for the ultimate Hockney enthusiast but the experience of Salts Mill and Saltaire village make this a delightful detour or day trip for anyone in the area.

The exhibition is on 10.30 to 4 Wednesday to Sunday and is free of charge. There is no published end date that I can find. Please check at their excellent website!

lucian freud: painting people at the national portrait gallery

22 March 2012 § 1 Comment

On my way to the Hayward last Sunday to take a look at the David Shrigley exhibition I was blocked off by the St Patricks day parade. I quickly gave up any thoughts of going south of the river and parked up. Negotiating samba dancers and steel drum bands playing Caribbean music (St Patrick of Antigua perhaps?) I made my way past irritating orange-bearded leprechauns and giant Guinness hats to the National Portrait Gallery.

They have named the exhibition Lucien Freud: Painting People, a strange title, as if the next exhibition might be called  ‘Lucien Freud: Painting Still-Lifes’ or ‘Abstracts’ – Freud of course never painted anything other than people.

Nevertheless it is quickly evident that this is a very impressive show that has gathered together some 130 works, predominantly oils, and includes many rarely seen pieces. The curators have sensibly chosen a largely chronological hang which nicely clarifies Freuds often subtly changing styles. It also interestingly puts together groups of works where the sitter was portrayed several times – we all know about the ‘Benefits supervisor sleeping‘ but how many of us realised that there were three more very similar, sizeable, portraits.

As well as the above-mentioned government employee Freud painted a fairly closed variety of wives, girlfriends and children along with sundry friends and an occasional lord, lady and fellow artists

His famous selfishness meant that he needed people who would put up with his notoriously lengthy sittings and these very often seemed to be those closest to him. David Hockney calculated that he spent some 130 hours in a fixed pose but when Hockney asked Freud to return the compliment he allowed him just 2 1/2 hours!
Freud would only paint from life saying ‘I could never put anything into a picture that wasn’t actually there in front of me’. It often seems as if that turned out to be bored sitters with blank expressions and although that is probably what Freud wanted there are certainly few smiles here. What Freud seems to be painting are bodies, often it seems that all he wants is merely flesh.

The exhibition starts well, his precocious talent evident from his searingly precise early portraits – each hair neatly delineated, every fabric crease clear. Spiky plants, nervous cats and varied gazes adding extra meaning. Later he adds more background before moving on to freer brushstrokes and ever more nudity.

And there is plenty of nudity. There are bodies of all sorts – lovers, wives, daughters and, as if there is not quite enough flesh to be found, the more than ample Leigh Bowery and afore-mentioned benefits supervisor then appear. At this point (from about the 1990’s) it was hard to maintain interest in examination of every successive painting – I yearned to see clothed models or background detail – some blessed relief from the  relentless visual attack of the naked bodies.
Ever more acres of green, grey and pink appear in increasingly awkward poses, the flesh topped with impassionate, sad or distant faces, eyes gazing blankly in to the distance. More and more Freud seemed to be painting Beckettian existentialism. Most traces of emotion and expression have long disappeared – these are now paintings of blank acceptance of human frailty and decay. It is an exhibition that is not easy to follow right to the inevitable end, but one highly deserving of a visit.
Lucien Freud: Painting People runs at the National Portrait Gallery Trafalgar Square until 27 May 2012

hockney, gossage, walden and marsh lane

26 January 2012 § Leave a comment

The new David Hockney exhibition A Bigger Picture, that has just opened at the RA revisits the countryside of his childhood – the Yorkshire Wolds. It celebrates his engagement with nature, and here, more than ever before he employs his acute powers of observation to observe the attractive, but to most, unremarkable local countryside. It is the minute detail of his observation – the colours, the change of the seasons that is remarkable.

It brought immediately to mind the classic novel Walden – or a life in the woods by David Thoreau. Back in the 1840’s, leaving civilisation behind – but not too far away – he experienced a life of subsistence whilst observing in minute detail the natural life around him. He inspired, so it is said, the conservation movement and National Park system of the United States as well as one of the most revered photo-books of all time – The Pond by John Gossage.

Like Hockney’s Wolds and Thoreau’s Walden this book is, at first, unremarkable. Simple black and white images record a vague path and some scruffy landscapes, casually photographed. It is only after a few pages that you realise that you are taking a walk with the author – one that ends at an unremarkable latter-day Walden. The tactic is also incidentally one that Hockney uses – many of his paintings place the spectator on a path/track/road in to the landscape and invite you to take an imaginary stroll. It may disappoint some, but it is a subtle and philosophical book, one that emphasises the importance of the observation of what is around you rather than the creation of beautiful images.

It struck me that the above artist, writer/philosopher and photographer all have in common a deep involvement with nature and its observation. Each record it in at least one different way, including Hockney’s embracing of one the latest technologies, the i-pad. 

So where does Marsh Lane come in? This is the lane beside my house where I walk my dog every day. It is unremarkable, muddy and flat with some scruffy hedges and farmland. Sometimes an unnamed local builder uses it to tip waste when he can’t be bothered to go to the council dump (we’ll get him one day). Inspired, I thought it was time to take a couple of photos – just using a blackberry this is from one morning a week ago. Here are my modest results – anyone can do it using perhaps an i-pad, i-phone or blackberry. No excuses, it’s your turn now!

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