imagined pasts / unknown futures at high house contemporary

1 October 2012 § 2 Comments

High House is a rare thing – a genuine contemporary art gallery located outside London. In place of impressionistic landscapes and meaningless abstracts usually found in regional ‘Contemporary Art’ galleries High House actually features genuine ‘critically-engaged’ contemporary work.

The leafy Oxfordshire village of Clanfield lies on the edge of the Cotswolds and is complete with a stream alongside the green and obligatory and pretty Cotswold Pub (The Plough – recommended!). High House itself is a grade II listed Gothic mansion dating back to 1856 and is an impressive home for the small gallery space.

The current exhibition entitled Imagined Pasts / Unknown Futures, is the galleries third and features three highly regarded artists: Jonathan Baldock who features strongly in the Saatchi collection, Paul McDevitt from Stephen Friedman‘s Mayfair stable whilst Tim Phillips has had recent exhibitions with SumarriaLunn who are based in London’s West End.

Each exhibited artist makes theatrical hybrid works that fuse conventional modes of representation with imaginary worlds created from art-historical references and contemporary iconography. From Baldock’s use of kitchen-table crafts to Phillips’ traditional inlay and McDevitt’s colour-pencil drawings the artists consummate skill is self-evident whilst the works they create are far from the comfortable traditional world of the craftsman. 

Through grotesque and carnivalesque felt sculptures Jonathan Baldock utilises and departs from the canons of figurative representation – the head, the bust, and the reclining figure. Ruminating on a gamut of sculptural styles from primitivism to romanticism, abstraction to postmodernism he weaves multiple elements together to create works of the present.  He explores the territories between animal, human and inanimate forms, creating strange, hybrid objects, revelling in a love of the dark, glamorous and uncanny spectacle of theatre, where the beautiful unmasks the horrific.

Focused on the language of power, Tim Phillips’ constructs beautifully detailed pieces of ‘useless’ furniture. With for example detailed marquetry and carefully embroidered panels he exposes the choreographed languages of object, ritual and icon. The artist sees this process as a theatre within the sculptures he makes. The colours, materials and composition invite the audience to participate in a staged ritual of illusory grandeur.  His theatrical objects are layered in precise veneers, shiny plastics or plain mdf, their detailed geometries and grandiose structures combined with the use of religious and corporate iconography giving weight to their rocky foundations of belief, authority and worship.  

Paul McDevitt’s intricate pencil drawings – there are just two on display here – suggest a lost or undiscovered world, his subject matter derived primarily from 1950s cultural magazines and his own photographs. Much imagery focuses on anonymous graphic design which is fused with elements of architecture and landscape in his ‘unstill’ still-lives where the imagery appears to be plundered rather than arranged. 

This is a fascinating and unusual exhibition in a lovely location. Add the Dividing Line  exhibition in the formal gardens of High House and lunch at the Plough and its hard to imagine a nicer day out in the country.

Imagined pasts / Unknown Futures and Dividing Line continue until 14 October 2012. Opening hours are 11-5 Thursday to Sunday.

The author is a share-holder in the Gallery

paul mcdevitt: running on woollen legs at stephen friedman

19 September 2011 § Leave a comment

I must admit I have a soft spot for Paul McDevitt. At home I have two immaculate landscape drawings in coloured pencil which deserve repeated viewings. Improbable geometric shapes and strange perspectives have been inserted in to a mountain landscape – he plays with convention and questions traditional views.

In Running… McDevitt works in a much larger scale than usual. Again questioning authenticity and the notion of artist as genius he here combines the modernism of  Piet Mondrian with lower art forms like cartoons. The clearly recognisable De Stijl grids are interspersed with the white gloved hand reminiscent of Disney’s Goofy. Careful painting is combined with silk screen printing.

In the current era of austerity these large canvases are also priced at a remarkably low level. At just £4 to 6,000 they seem like pretty good value. Well worth a look.

Thumb (above)  is available from A Kick Up The Arts at £2400.

Paul McDevitt: Running on Woollen Legs at Stephen Friedman Gallery until 1 October 2011.

latest exhibition openings

8 September 2011 § 1 Comment

After the summer lull the Autumn ‘season’ is off with a bang. Here is a selection of my recommended new exhibitions, starting with those that have opened in the last few days.

Timothy Taylor. Lee Friedlander – America by Car & The New Cars 1964. Fresh from MoMA, breathtaking photographs from a master. Until 1 October 2011.

Hauser & Wirth. Phyllida Barlow – RIG. Urban structures reacting to the gallery space. Until 22 October 2011.

Wilkinson. Thoralf Knobloch – Wegkreuz & Matt Calderwood – Full Scale. Until 2 October 2011.

Stephen Friedman. Paul McDevitt – Running on Woollen Legs. Disney meets De Stijl – fascinating! Until 1 October 2011.

Blain Southern. Marius Bercea – Remains Of Tomorrow. Beautiful but complex landscapes of a fractured society. Until 1 October 2011.

Victoria Miro. Conrad Shawcross – Sequential. Geometrical, metaphysical and ambitious. Sure to be excellent. Until 1 October 2011.

Sumarria Lunn. Modern Frustrations. In particular check out Tim Phillips’ excellent Hyperion – a corporate logo for a new age. 8 to 30 September 2011, just around the corner from….

Haunch of Venison. Adrian Ghenie. Complex figurative paintings back in HoV’s restored original space. 8 September to 8 October 2011.

Alison Jacques. Dan Fischer. Immaculate pencil drawings that ask searching questions about modern icons. 9 September to 8 October 2011.

Gazelli Art House. Air I Breathe. Latest exhibition from an ambitious and innovative pop-up gallery. 9 September to 7 October 2011.

Josh Lilley. Christof Mascher – Urban Ornamental. Painting, ceramics and sculpture recounting mythological narratives. 9 September to 8 October 2011.

All in all it is a mouth-watering selection, I have seen most (will try to review in future blogs) and cannot wait for the rest. Go on, get downtown and create your own gallery tour….

a weekend get-away in an arty cotswold cottage

1 August 2011 § 1 Comment

Close on the heels of the 1st anniversary of this blog comes this, akuta’s 100th post. In celebratory fashion I am allowing the topic to swerve sharply from the usual path of contemporary art over to a little rental property – Asphodel cottage – that is simply the best place ever for a long weekend – or week for that matter!

Actually, on reflection, there is an art connection in that hanging on the wall, in place of the usual anodyne prints of local hunting scenes, is some pretty good modern and contemporary art: a Jennifer McCrae portrait and two works by Paul McDevitt hang above the dining table, a Magritte-style surrealist portrait and a Leon Underwood print watch over the sitting area, a romantic Bloomsbury landscape presides over the bedroom and a 19th century Hungarian gentleman ensures that you behave in the bathroom. If you fancy getting any more arty the Pangolin foundry and gallery (of Chadwick, Moore and Hepworth fame) is close by, as is Sudely Castle where, Sotheby’s Material Worlds has a selling exhibition of sculpture in the lovely gardens.

Out in the wilds of ‘Poshtershire’, a few miles from Cirencester in fact, is this recently renovated thatched, and detached, cottage that sleeps just two people. A perfect spot for a romantic get-away. The cottage is named after a pretty plant of the lily family, long beloved of writers and poets and symbolic of longing and desire.

All the original features have been retained with natural floors, beamed ceilings and an inglenook fireplace with log fire. There are velvet sofas, beautiful oriental carpets, fine art and classic books. Lighting is discrete and atmospheric whilst a log stove provides a delightful atmosphere.

The large garden is pretty and peaceful, enjoying open country views from either a formal garden, an orchard or open areas. There are also large comfy sofas on which to relax with a good book – or someone who has read one – under a big swinging parasol. Heaven!

For full details, contact and prices go to

Sotheby’s Material Worlds at Sudely Castle runs until 30 September 2011

The Pangolin Gallery at Chalford is open Monday to Saturday. See website for full details.

5 – artists to watch – paul mcdevitt

23 December 2010 § 1 Comment

McDevitt’s intricate pencil drawings suggest a lost or undiscovered world, his subject matter derived primarily from 1950s European cultural magazines as well as the artist’s own photographs. Much of McDevitt’s imagery focuses on anonymous graphic design. This ranges from the commercial styling of old publications to the municipal murals and street graffiti of Europe.

In McDevitt’s drawings, graphic images are fused with elements of architecture and landscape. Graffiti trapped in icebergs imply a transmigration of styles, culture, and language. Flamboyant automobile decals are displaced in atmospheric skies – a mundane addition to epic surroundings.

Sprayed tags compete with the stained glass images of civic buildings. Representations of flightless birds, such as penguins and chickens from journals of the space-race era, are superimposed on architectural structures. Animals take the place of people in McDevitt’s drawings of deserted locations and transient gestures are given a permanent position.

Cosmic scenes are often part of McDevitt’s vision, bringing to mind both 1960s psychedelic culture and 1990s rave music. This depiction of extreme and chaotic phenomena also appears in the artist’s consistently ‘unstill’ still-lives. Fireworks replace flowers, lightening tears through otherwise quiet scenes and imagery appears to be plundered rather than arranged.

In all of McDevitt’s drawings, the viewer’s attention is drawn to the subjects and issues that construct our social fabric. However, it is the displacement of these elements into a unique visual panorama that produces such ominous, compelling and intensely alluring works.

Incidentally I must also reveal a personal bias in favour of McDevitts work as I currently have two excellent small works on my inventory for sale. Please contact me if you would likeany further information!

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