Education (eradication) of the masses

The Red Star over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture (1905-55) exhibition at Tate Modern is a fascinating collection of visual works collected by the graphic designer David King. Set mainly in the aftermath of the 1917 October Revolution of the Bolsheviks when the Russian Empire was reshaped by communism into the USSR, it documents the visual culture that emerged under the radically new way of life. There are some really positive things to take from this exhibition and the way it documents the hopes and ideals of a new industrial nation forged out of civil war and revolution from urban and rural fiefdoms with few shared values. The avant-garde used art and architecture as tools for social change capable of creating a new order for citizens. No longer was art – often iconic – restricted to the ruling elite and the wealthy. Instead prints, posters, journals and photobooks became accessible to all. This shared visual imagery dominated Soviet life and appeared in public places, factories and workers’ clubs. It used bold imagery and colours, and short, punchy text, as large swathes of the population (almost three quarters) were illiterate and only a quarter of children ever went to school.…

Taking Flight

Back in spring 2015, I painted my first seagull. In fact I painted a flock of seagulls. That year, the seagulls of St Ives, long believed to be particularly aggressive, were getting a lot of airtime about their viciousness. Surpassing pasty and ice cream theft, they were now attacking our children and pets. I was reminded of a book I’d read many years previously – Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach – about a bird determined to be more than ordinary. My subsequent paintings of seagulls are all dedicated to Jonathan Livingston Seagull and his antics and beliefs. Jonathan Livingston Seagull lives within us all. We all have the ability to be Jonathan. Most gulls don’t bother to learn more than the simplest facts of flight – how to get from shore to food and back again.  For most gulls it is not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight. Jonathan is a seagull frustrated with the meaningless materialism, conformity, and limitation of the seagull life. He is seized with a passion for flight of all kinds, and his soul soars as he experiments with exhilarating challenges of daring aerial…

Shrills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches

I’ve never been a big fan of Hockney. I admire his eye for colour and his prodigious work rate. And I wish I could paint every day. So I went along to the retrospective of his work at Tate Britain on the opening day with limited expectations. I’d read Adrian Searle’s review in the Guardian:  “Thrills contrast with the shrill“.  Searle believes Hockney was only any good really in the 1960s. I can see why he was popular in that period and how he became the poster boy for queer British art – sticking one up to the establishment. The artist equivalent of Joe Orton. But I’ve always been singularly unimpressed. And his transcendence into something of a national treasure fails to impress me too. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this retrospective spanning 60 years. I really enjoyed the riot of colours, textures, tones, and the mixture of abstraction and reality. Some of the canvasses really stood out for me. In room 1, I was most pleasantly surprised by “Rubber Ring Floating in a Swimming Pool” painted in 1971. It’s surprisingly abstract and striking. Room 2 is called “Demonstrations of Versatility” because that’s precisely what it does. I really liked the works…

Abstract Expressionism – The Next Day

I visited Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy of Arts on 9 November 2016 – the day of the US elections and immediately after visiting Bowie/Collector at Sotheby’s around the corner. A connection between the three didn’t strike me until the next day when the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States stirred intense emotions deep in my psyche about Americans. I wondered why so much of Bowie’s chosen art came from his birth nation and not his adopted homeland. I also wondered why England seemed to be on his mind so much during the last months of his life as reflected in his final album Blackstar – “if I’ll never see the English evergreens I’m running to…“. I wondered about his relationship with America. Two songs in particular sprung to mind – I’m Afraid of Americans and This is Not America. Feeling complex emotions about the state of the world and what had just happened in America, and with Bowie’s songs in my head, the visuals flashing before my eyes were of the work of several of the Abstract Expressionists working in America in the 1940s and 50s that I’d seen the day before. Although I’ve…

Turner 2016 – About a Boy

I recently visited the Turner Prize 2016 at Tate Britain. There are 4 artists, 3 of them women (there’s that number 3 again!). It’s refreshing for women to be in the majority. So the odds are for a woman to win this year. I thought my choice would be a woman before I visited. I thought I would like Anthea Hamilton’s work the most. But I’ve changed my mind. My money is now on Michael Dean. Why the about face? Well I do like Anthea Hamilton’s work. It’s fresh and accessible. But ultimately it doesn’t move me. My thoughts aren’t provoked, my senses aren’t pricked. Yes I am amused but that’s not really what I seek from art. And I can’t help thinking that I’d like the brick suit much more if the bricks were painted on the suit rather than it being sewn from material printed with a brick pattern. I have no idea why that matters to me, but it does. The large mural of the London sky at 3pm on a sunny day in June is good but I don’t get the chastity belts hanging on chains. The big gold butt is also impressive but simply stirs…