New Art: Clusterbomb @ Patriothall Gallery, Stockbridge

This is my review of Clusterbomb at Patriothall Gallery WASPS for The Skinny. 3 Stars!

Notwithstanding the occasional guidebook erroneously, and rather hilariously, describing Stockbridge as ‘bohemian’, it’s probably fair to say that the area’s art scene is bland and commercially focused. That’s why this independent exhibition of drawings and paintings by Edinburgh College of Art graduates should be particularly welcomed.

The unifying concern – ‘the excessive clustering of imagery’ – is simple and there is no burdening the visitor with spoon-fed textual reflection. This decision has worked out well for Clusterbomb: many of the paintings are so replete with lively symbolism and tackle such thoroughly contemporary referents, from kebabs to Lego, that formal explanation is unnecessary.

Emergent themes are food supply, violence, fear and waste culture. Matt Swan’s Anonymous Dorito Henchman with a Green Cape showcases the inventive mix of fast food, vanity and pure fantasy that makes up his bizarre and intriguing work. Jamie Kinroy tackles the stress and breakdown of social life in the face of consumerist capitalism, and in the likes of Hard Times 2 his use of colour and logo echoes multinational corporations.

Bobby Nixon’s Black Paintings convey the growing sense of fear in the contemporary urban environment, again referencing the logos and junk food that are staples in the big city. John Brown’s playful deconstruction of bodily parts in Twitland complements the more serious contributions.

Contrasting with all this detritus and dysfunction is Alex Gibbs’ lonely Suburban Living, With Trees, whose clinical, manipulated landscape still hints that we are looking at the other side of the same coin of human agency.

There is more that can be done here in terms of refining the concept and honing the various responses, but this is nevertheless a good, low-budget exhibition from promising new artists. Clusterbomb’s inventiveness and critical engagement with contemporary themes is admirable and the show is certainly worth seeing.

Royal Weddings, etc.

April’s big UK wedding is drawing up a few contradictions and various other plainly weird things.  Apparently it isn’t actually a ‘Royal’ wedding in the strictest sense anyway because nobody getting married is a king or a queen or even a Prince of Wales. 

And then there are the commerative plates with no faces, the Facebook ranting bishop, and the erroniously applied ‘Peoples Wedding’ in some of the papers.  Great socialist slogan, folks, but seriously?  I guess royals have people and people have royals just as people have a collective identity and workers rights.

Anyway my favourite thing I’ve seen so far in connection with it was in today’s guardian: a trilogy of graphic novels, retelling the love story from the points of view of William and Kate separately, before a third and final installment.  Some of the usual grumbling, pseudonymed commenters at the bottom of the article seem to think it the ultimate about turn in relation to the press committment after William’s mother’s death not to obtrude into Royals’ personal business.  Erm, what, do they think the script writer and artists had to follow them around on scooters and stick cameras in their faces and bribe corrupt butlers to pruduce this?  Hokum! 

You can read the article here.

Here is creator Rich Johnson energetically discussing his field:

Turner in January: some thoughts on the Vaughan Bequest exhibition, Edinburgh

Odd things happen artwise in Edinburgh (and I suppose in Dublin and London) in January.

Some years it’s difficult to decide whether the Vaughan bequest of 38 of Turner’s watercolours and sketches is a blessing or a curse for the National Galleries.  On the one hand, surely this is perfect, conservationist ‘Cream Egg Syndrome’: once a year, strictly exclusive to January, and for the rest of the time we’re supposedly left wanting.  On the other hand, despite its mandatory brevity, this exhibition has a perennial tendency to be repetitive and incentive to do anything interesting with it is potentially lacking.

2011’s Turner is in the exhibition space downstairs by the Scottish collection.  This soporific bunker doesn’t lend itself favourably to the appreciation of art at the best of times and the Turners are exhibited in vaguely chronological order without significant curatorial invention.  However, one of the twists of the bequest itself is that Vaughan collected the works with the intention of representing all the main periods of Turner’s artistic development, and he passed these pieces on to Edinburgh with the same thought.  What results is a coherent collection of sketches and paintings which makes sense as a set, so we may forgive the National Galleries’ staff for keeping their interpretation largely in the background.

Best known among the collection are probably the energetic, lightening-emblazoned watercolour The Piazzetta, Venice (pictured) and the endlessly absorbing, ethereal Heidelberg.  But other highlights include the study of colour relationships in Harbour View and the breathtaking little watercolour Loch Coruisk, and among his blue and grey wash sketches, Lake Albano.

You can’t help but feel for the curators having to roll these works out year upon year in January, and a certain fatigue seems evident.  But this doesn’t stop Turner in January from being one of the quirkily fabulous treats of the Edinburgh calendar.

You have until 31st January (or you’ll have to wait 11 months!)

Childish Things at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh

The theme of this second collaboration between The Fruitmarket Gallery and curator and scholar David Hopkins is undoubtedly seasonally appropriate.  Just as the joy of a childhood Christmas can have a dark underside, so Childish Things scrutinises the process of children’s play through its artefacts and reveals a disturbing picture indeed.

Rooted in Dada and Surrealism, this powerful exhibition explores its theme through several media, drawing on the physicality of play, whether the interactive play of a puppet show, the artist’s ‘playing’ with the medium of film, or toys themselves.  But crucially, Childish Things acknowledges the embeddedness of play in our social and psychological worlds, to complex and disturbing effect.

The toy-like pieces exhibited range from found objects such as Paul McCarthy’s Children’s Anatomical Educational Figure to stitched doll-like figures in Louise Bourgeois’s narrative piece Oedipus.  Jeff Koons’s Bear and Policeman is striking in its reproduction of a junk shop knick-knack in exquisite, monumental scale.  Decontextualized, the piece is imbued with a garish menace and the original impressions of friendship and cooperation are lost to ambiguity and threat.  Susan Hiller’s An Entertainment, a large-scale, four-screen projection of recordings of Punch and Judy shows, places the viewer within the frightening, abusive world of the show with terrifying results.

If Childish Things has the propensity to draw out the uncertainty, darkness and even violence of childhood, then there is redemption of sorts in Helen Chadwick’s Ego Geometrica Sum.  Chadwick’s work harmonises the artist’s body with objects and shapes from her life in a consciously geometric fashion, rationalising and ordering seminal personal experiences. 

It would be wrong to say that Childish Things is predominantly dark.  As appropriate to its subject matter, there is a great sense of energetic fun.  Don’t be afraid to see it; just be prepared to scratch the surface a little.

Review of Edinburgh Art Fair

This piece was first published on The Skinny‘s website, 1st December 2010.  There are lots more art previews, features and reviews there.

The dilemma with the likes of the Louvre, MoMA and the Vatican is that one is so bombarded with masterpieces that perspective is easily lost. How many Caravaggios or Warhols is it possible to meaningfully digest in an afternoon’s ramble? Like listening to ten great operas simultaneously, it’s fabulous white noise.

Edinburgh Art Fair also overloads, but lacks masterpieces. The fair is a chance for commercial galleries to showcase their collections and ideally make a few sales. But it’s easy to see how the commercial focus hinders meaningful engagement with art.

With an impressive sixty-five galleries exhibiting the work of over a thousand artists, most galleries have brought the optimum mix of works for commercial purposes. There is often little coherence within a single gallery’s stand, never mind throughout the event as a whole. Lack of context tends to drown individual pieces and an unfortunate result of the aesthetic overload is a tendency for more garish, ridiculous works to stand out.

Conversely, Glasgow School of Art graduate Ryan Mutter’s three paintings grab attention precisely because of their paucity of colour. Exhibited by the Contemporary Fine Art Gallery Eton, War Machine (pictures) shows a darker side to Mutter’s interest in Glasgow’s industrial past. The same gallery also brings us several of Peter Howson’s paintings, similarly interested in industrial society but on an individual, idiosyncratic level, contrasting with the impersonal gigantism of Mutter’s featured works.

The near-ubiquitous Ronnie Wood’s nostalgic rock scenes make an appearance, and at Peebles’ Breeze Gallery Bob Harper isn’t far behind with more intimate celebrity visages.

Overall, the fair leaves you feeling aesthetically starved. Perhaps this is the overload effect. It’s surely also due to the fact that events like this often seem less about art and more about interior design, business talk and Chelsea boots.

Edinburgh’s mysterious leaf people

art,Edinburgh — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — comelybankingcrisis @ 12:14 pm

Local Edinburgh news has been alive with curiosity and speculation over the appearance of a number of leaf sculptures along the Water of Leith.  The artist remains unknown, but clearly is playing with our fascination with the 6 Times series of sculptures erected in June by Antony Gormley.  The figures appear to be interacting with Gormley’s sculptures, mirroring the behaviour of hundreds of city walkers since the summer.

The individuals below – the Parent and Child and the Student/Teenager/Homeless Man(?) – all appeared in Stockbridge recently.  People by and large have been charmed by them, but you have to admit there’s something horrifyingly creepy about them too, or at least there will be when they come alive!  Or maybe they used to be alive and they have since been horrifyingly transformed into a mute, leafy prison.

Leaf figures inspecting Gormley in Stockbridge, Edinburgh

Okay, I’ve clearly been watching too many horror films to go with the standard ‘happy families’ interpretation.  On a serious note though, this is a welcome addition to the art of the area since Gormley’s contribution.  The honeymoon period with the latter has passed and we’re getting bored.  The leaf figures are the most interesting intervention to date, and there have been several, from bikinis to “I Love Leith” T-shirts.

And, quite frankly, this latest feature is more interesting than Gormley anyway.

Leaf figure by the Water of Leith in Stockbridge, Edinburgh

Edinburgh Journalist Wars: the gloves are off

Today’s Edinburgh Evening News carries a story on its cover about Edinburgh Council’s Outlook series of local kinda community newspapers.  Michael Blackley lambastes the freesheets, calling them “propaganda” and rallying local readers to pressure the council to “pulp ‘Pravda’.”  Apparently the populist Evening News would divert the money saved into buying school books for the city’s youth, thus holding the council to ransom by implying some sort of anti-education stance manifested in the publication of the Outlook series.  I must say I find this whole angle particularly right-wing despite its ostensible stance as Defender of the Kiddies’ Maths Books.  The comparison is totally arbitrary.

It’s becoming clear that a huge financial bite will be taken out of UK councils, so all of this may be entirely academic in a year’s time anyway, with Outlook scrapped altogether and an unholy haemorrhaging of the school system looming.

I can’t help feeling like the Evening News is playing spoiled child here, attacking a little brother so, despite said sibling’s revenues coming in a little more easily, from the public purse.  My bias is that I’d like to see as many publications as possible because I’d like to have as many writing options as possible!  And I’m sure all the good chappies working for Outlook will be delighted to see this little ‘Scottish Kiss’ from the Evening News which effectively calls for their outright redundancy.  Happy Humbugging Christmas lads.

Maybe the council should re-evaluate, especially in light of the Cameron-Osborne-Clegg clippers chopping their way northwards, but the Pravda reference irks me to the core.  Public-equals-communist is a lazy, below-the-belt rationale that insults our intelligence.  Great reading!  Am I overreacting?

Writer’s Block creeps in

Writer's Block

You know the scenario.  I’m supposed to write something as though it has just flowed out from my synapses onto the page like proverbially gold-plated ink, and as easily and energetically as young mountain water babbling through a brook.  I have to be casually erudite, whimsically articulate and oh, so relevant.  I have to make you laugh, or at least smile, but also cause your brow to furrow in profound ponderance.

“Oh, I was just slurping a capp and having a quick leaf through the London Review of Books and thought I’d spin this little tidbit off in an articulate jiffy, but now I’ve got to go meet an unknown but paradoxically important intellectual friend,” is how the subtext of my copy should read.  “I’m, like, a fountain of whimsical, brilliant ideas!  And I’ve heard of lots of stuff, especially stuff that hasn’t happened yet!”

But in reality I’m tired, a bit worried about money, daunted by the economy, dreading the depths of winter and I can’t even think of a CD to put on (I’m old school) never mind think of an engaging subject to write about and a way to start it.

Do you recognise the scenario?  As I consider myself a writer, albeit an amateur or at most aspiring one, I ponder writer’s block a lot and thought I might as well share some of the ways in which I deal with it.

My favourite strategy is to get out a pen and notebook and choose to brainstorm ideas instead of write when I’m faced with the Block.  You might think that this is the last thing to do when your creative well seems to have dried up, but you’d be surprised how many new ideas come out when you’re temporarily freed from the shackles of whatever it is that’s ground to a halt.  But I admit it: this is procrastination to some extent.  What’s more it’s often the case that you need to complete and submit something in the very near future without time to take a break, without the time to sit around brainstorming.

My father, who was at one time a writer, and who may well enter the fray again I suspect, always advised me to “just start writing.” That is cast iron advice and there’s no arguing with it.  Writing is the main aim after all.  But I believe I could be forgiven for claiming that this instruction is a little short on detail.  Another technique I have adopted is to stand up from the computer and make a cup of tea, pace the room, and say aloud in free, informal language what I want to write, as simply as I can.  Then I just write what I said.  This invariably results in appalling writing to start with, but at least you have something down to tinker with and embellish.

My final piece of advice for avoiding writer’s block is to write about writer’s block.  This tends to be a one-use-only ticket!  The best strategy of all, though, is to give yourself a break, relax, go to the cinema, watch a DVD.  If it’s evening you could even go to the pub.  Take it from me the problem will disappear!  For a while…

Do any of you have other suggestions?

A documentary to look out for

Some months ago I posted here an anticipatory ramble about forthcoming Irish documentary The Pipe.  The film deals with the struggle of a community on the remote west coast of Ireland against Shell and the Irish government and how the surrounding controversies have taken their toll on the small community.  The Pipe has been doing the festival circuit in the meantime and has been officially selected for the Toronto Film Festival and saw its UK premier on 22nd October at the BFI London Film Festival.

Reviews have been encouraging, including Screen Daily’s chief critic Mark Adams’ description of the film as “delightfully shot and stirring in message.”

The film will see a general release in Irish cinemas on 3rd December.  A UK release inches closer as promotion of the film around the world gains momentum.  Today the film’s producers unveiled the official trailer.  Gripping and frightening stuff.

Unearthing the Bethonged Bond

Wow!  The Scotsman has a treat for us today.  For those of you out there who don’t read it, I can’t possibly pass up the opportunity to share this raunchy ne’er before displayed portrait of a be-thonged, pre-Bond Sean Connery, painted by Rab Webster in the 1950s.  During this period, Connery was a struggling actor who apparently posed to help pay the bills.  Webster, who died last month, was an art teacher at Selkirk High School, where Connery was an occasional life model for students.  If you don’t mind me saying so, that must have been one exciting high school!

It’s interesting to notice (to say the least) Connery’s fine musculature, and it’s striking from this that even by today’s personal-trainer-induced Daniel Craig-ish chunky standards, this Connery would evidently still breeze into the role of Bond.  I wonder how long it took Craig to work his body up to the standard set by Connery for the role.

The impressive physique is apparently due to Connery’s taking up body building as a hobby around the time when he was posing for this portrait.

Needless to say, Robert Fairbairn’s piece on the painting in today’s Scotsman is littered with hilarious Bond-themed double entendre.  Allow me to add my own honest contribution:

The Thong is not Enough!

(Please insert your own Bond/Thong response below)

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