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.

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.

FOMO: the Curse of the Edinburgh Fringe

My girlfriend recently told me about a conversation she had had with a friend during which they both agreed that they suffered from FOMO.   Learning about FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – was a liberating experience, especially learning that it was a shared condition.  And what a lifelong curse it’s been.

FOMO leads to budgetary problems, unnecessary student drinking and manys a night out that would probably have been best avoided, but you just had to be there in case something amazing happened.  That feeling you get when you ask your jittering self why you had coffee with those two boring oddballs when you’d already just had a cup.  FOMO did that.  I suppose suffering from FOMO is the opposite to being misanthropic, but it may make misanthropists of us all yet; FOMO earns you unwanted friends!

Anyway, if you’re a fellow FOMO sufferer, there’s nothing worse than the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to exacerbate the condition.  Hundreds, nay, THOUSANDS, of shows going on all around Edinburgh, crowds of revellers on the street, open air bars.  I could probably go to several shows a day for the entire festival and would still suffer from FOMO.  There is, to be frank, never enough time or money to see everything you need to see.

But, relief.  It’s over and I enjoyed it despite the psychosocial menace of it.  Thanks, Edinburgh Fringe for another good year and by all accounts a record-breaking one in terms of ticket sales.  Goodbye Fringe, hello again Edinburgh.

Here’s my final review from this year’s Fringe, first published, like the rest, on The Skinny’s website. A great Australian comic called Adam Vincent.  He gets three stars from me because although the show is good, it’s a bit too sleepy for the Fringe if you ask me.  But the show was very good and I would recommend it.

Adam Vincent @ Assembly

Adam Vincent’s masked, apparently slumbering, presence on the darkened stage as the audience enters lends a feeling of nervous anticipation to this intimate venue. He rouses and addresses the audience in a hushed voice: the subject is the half-life of the early morning wake-up and commute; the soporific tone is set.

Don’t be under any illusions: this is stand-up and Vincent has a story to tell, a hilariously uncomfortable account of being drawn into to a medical crisis on a plane, with interspersed gags and cutting criticisms of modern life.

Vincent is a great, likeable story-teller. His relaxed delivery and eye-to-eye engagement draws the audience in. He has fresh material and he avoids that tired image of injured masculinity so many male stand-up acts adopt, instead telling us dryly about his marriage and why he loves his wife.

As interesting as Vincent is, the audience reaction is somewhat sedated; the well-cultivated soporific atmosphere may just be too good at certain points in the show for a fatigued Fringe crowd. But Vincent should be commended for his fresh approach to stand-up and his excellent use of this small venue. This show has slow parts but by the end you’ll be glad you bought the ticket.

Susan Calman’s show is worth a look

Here’s another of  my reviews from the Edinburgh Fringe, first published on The Skinny’s website. Great local act.

As the gathering crowd winds through the Underbelly’s stairways and passages, you can’t help noticing the eclectic mix of people here to see Susan Calman. Her opening lines reveal her readiness to deal with this very mixed crowd indeed, as she energetically quizzes the audience about which of her various jobs – from radio to stand-up – has drawn them to see her at the Fringe.

And from this early point on she has somehow, almost miraculously, drawn the diverse audience together and on she goes through her tight, well-written set, sharing a mock, self-deprecating obituary she’s apparently written for herself while drunkenly reflecting on the course of her life. The gags touch on manners, size-ism, feminism, relationships and the potential comic pitfall of Glasgow.

Glasgow can draw stand-up acts towards well trodden paths and Calman’s show does touch on the usual stuff like alcoholism, stabbings and alarming mortality rates; luckily she also adds her own colouring of the subject. Her audience could have been a difficult one to balance in terms her shock value versus local charm, but she clearly has enough charisma and a lively banter to keep everyone completely entertained.

A show well worth seeing.

Life of Si, or Si-ing to get a job in TV

Life of Si, Si Harder at the GRV, Edinburgh Fringe

This review was first published on The Skinny’s website.  There are lots more reviews of comedy from the Edinburgh Fringe there, and other stuff besides.

Ever wondered what it would feel like to be in a live studio audience? Well, you may just find out with this comic double-act who have been wowing audiences with their combination of live performance and pre-recorded material with some clever interface between the two thrown in.

The show is a collaboration between Simon Feilder and Sy Thomas, a pair of talented, emo-inclined media enthusiasts with bundles of charm and an elusive yellow teapot named Alan. The venue’s comfortable couches and warm atmosphere are skilfully exploited to recreate the pair’s shared flat, lending a sitcom feel to proceedings.

The alternating live and pre-recorded pattern becomes a little repetitive and at times the transition between the two feels awkward. But the duo’s live interaction with the multimedia element of the show evidences potential comic genius and maybe even a TV career or two.

You can’t help wanting to see a little more of the live show and less of the pre-recorded material, but with a quirky take on traditional performer-audience banter and possibly the funniest a cappella impression of contemporary indie music you’re likely to hear, this show is well worth an hour of your time.

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