The exhibition of Bridget Riley's work, covering several decades, was an eye opener in all senses. The works spoke for themselves but the ones I found most interesting were those showing the design processes. And her drawings were beautiful - I'd never seen them before.
Faith Ringgold is an African American artist, activist and children's author, born in Harlem in 1930. But there's much more to her life than I can attempt to cover in this brief blog post.
I went to her first exhibition in a European venue, the Serpentine Gallery in London, which spans over 50 years of her art. It includes oil paintings, political posters and textile story quilts. Her works are exuberant, sombre, painful and political.
Some of her artworks are shown below and you can see more with these links:
Losing the Compass
I was delighted to learn that White Cube, one of the world's most prestigious and well known commercial galleries, was exhibiting textile works, including Amish and Gee's Bend quilts, as well as modern conceptual pieces, at it's Mason's Yard venue. A visit to the show didn't disappoint.
The exhibition is in two parts - the historic pieces in one display and the modern ones in another.
Seventeen old quilts and two pieces by Alighiero e Boetti are shown together. Three of the quilts are hanging on the wall in an unconventional way, as if draped on a hook, with a spotlight on each of them. The other quilts were laid out against a long wall, on blocks creating a step, each overlapping another or being overlapped.
It was frustrating not to be able to see the full quilts, especially those from Gee's Bend. One in particular, Geraldine Westbrook's Housetop, was tantalisingly worn and dirty, which made me want to see the rest of it. It was also alarming to see that the quilts had been fixed in place with large staples. And several trailed across the floor, ready to be trodden on. I feel that this display should have been laid out in such a way that the full quilts could be seen. Hanging them against a wall would have enabled a full view without damaging the textiles.
Complaints finished! The quilts were a moving display of women's creativity, ingenuity and skill. Scraps of fabrics, worn and grubby, made up a large part of the Gee's Bend quilts, many with asymmetrical piecing that appeared to add to their spontaneity. One of the oldest pieces, Coxcomb Flower, was beautifully appliqued and quilted; Log Cabin, described as third quarter 19th century, had an unusual half square triangle centre. And the mariner's compass, also attributed to the same period , was stunning.
The second part of the exhibition had some very interesting pieces. Danh Vo's cochineal-dyed rug was ablaze with colour, almost hurting one's eyes with it's brilliance. Mona Hatoum's 4 Rugs (made in Egypt) had images of skeletons, reminiscent of burial plots. I loved the idea behind Mike Kelley's Carpet #5 - (probably cheap) acrylic carpet painted with acrylic and mounted and framed to create an artwork. Likewise, Sergej Jensen's hand knitted pieces were bold minimalist pieces, bringing knit into the world of art. There were many canvas embroideries by the Italian conceptual artist, Alighiero e Boetti, cleverly using text in his work.
So, one can hope that this exhibition might help bring textile artworks into the mainstream art world. We wait and see.
Somerset House - 2
I have never understood the point of battle re-nactments but the exhibition "Unseen Waterloo - The Conflict Revisited" opened my eyes.
The exhibition consists of 70 life size portraits taken by the photographer Sam Faulkner, who has attended the annual Waterloo re-enactment in Belgium since 2009. Each participant makes their own historically accurate uniform. The photographs were taken in a pop-up studio on the battlefield against a black background; the dramatic lighting evoked forgotten faces and emotions.
To quote Sam Faulkner - "Unseen Waterloo: The Conflict Revisited" is my attempt to re-interpret and imagine the non-existent portraits from 1815. ...we don't have personal images of the men who actually fought and died that day. ...This work attempts to reclaim the Battle of Waterloo for the valiant 200,000 who have been lost to history".
The exhibition runs until 31 August and is well worth a visit. To whet your interest are three pictures from the exhibition:
Somerset House - 1
The exhibition at Somerset House, "Beneath the Surface", fittingly displayed in the subterranean Embankment Galleries, is a selection of pieces from the V&A's extensive collection of photographs. The exhibition shows prints rarely or never before exhibited, by both both nineteenth century pioneers and contemporary artists.
Poppies Sown in Thread - Part 1
My third solo show opens on 22 April at Artisan Gallery. The work was inspired by a single poppy image and is a development of the research carried out for the World War 1 quilts. Those four quilts will be displayed, so that the visitor can see the progression, but it is not a Great War show.
When planning a new body of work, I have to have a new sketchbook. I chose an A3 book in landscape format from L. Cornelissen, one of my favourite art shops. The clean blank pages can be a deterrent to mark making so I gave them colour washes, not always being neat and tidy, letting the paint drip, run and smudge. The edges were also painted, dripping into the pages and sometimes sticking them together! But that gave extra texture and marks - lovely.
I put everything in the sketchbook - ideas, quotations, pictures for inspiration, stitched samples, notes to myself for further development, stencils, discarded backing papers, scraps of fabric. Some ideas became finished pieces, others were binned.
I restricted myself to using only materials that I had in my studio and, consequently, nothing new was bought to create the hangings. And as the theme of the show was to be the life cycle of the poppy, I felt that recycling was more than appropriate. So, an old duvet cover, washing rags, old hand dyed fabrics and a Freemason's robe rescued from a skip form the basis for a lot of the work.
Here are some of the pages from my sketchbook to give an idea of the development behind the work - the completed pieces will be posted when the show has ended.
London Quilters - Coming Home
The biennial exhibition of work by members of London Quilters shows the diversity of the group, from traditional pieces worked by hand over paper to art wall hangings. Here is a selection of some of the quilts. All the exhibits can be seen with this link - www.londonquilters.org.uk/coming-home-2014
As well as the exhibited quilts, members made items for sale, ideal for unique, handmade Christmas presents. These included quilts, cushions, books with textile covers, my textile bowls, table mats and decorations.
And a couple of pictures to show part of the gallery space:
The Art of the Brick
Using 'everyday' Lego bricks, the sort that could be in the toybox or attic, the artist, Nathan Sawaya, has created artworks that are imaginative and fun. Some pieces are interpretations of classical pieces (David, Venus de Milo, The Thinker) and others are his own creations, witty and thought-provoking. The show is well curated with each piece individually lit and the shadows cast are as interesting as the works themselves, adding another dimension to the display.
Photography was allowed, much to my surprise and delight. Here are a few I was able to take before the battery packed up. Memo to self - check that your camera battery is charged before going out to take pictures!!
Boro at Somerset House
Boro is the term given to the textiles that have been created out of scraps, in many layers and made over the years, being mended as it wore out. The fabrics used were mainly worn out old clothes or textiles found by bartering with seafarers. They were indigo dyed, covering the colour range from almost black to pale blue. The makers, believed to be mainly women, used sashiko stitching to reinforce the fabrics, with the opportunity to stamp their individuality on the pieces, clearly seen in the works on display.
Boro was born out of necessity - poverty. Only a few pieces in relatively good condition have survived - the Japanese authorities felt embarrassment at the harsh conditions in rural Japan. Although the exhibition was beautiful and moving, as one could not but think of the makers of the pieces, I felt a slight unease; all the work was for sale at prices which the makers could not dream about and to some extent it felt a bit voyeuristic, peering into their poverty. But the same could be said about a lot of artefacts in galleries around the world.
Nonetheless, I felt privileged and moved to have seen this collection of textiles, sympathetically restored and mounted and displayed in a beautiful setting. A rare treat.
The title of Martin Creed's exhibition is "What's the Point of it?" and some of the pieces did raise that question. Nonetheless, there was a lot of work which I loved.
The huge neon sign "Mothers", twelve and a half metres long with letters two and a half metres high, spinning round at variable speeds, is in honour of motherhood. To quote Creed "when you're small, your mother is always really big."
The 1,000 broccoli prints are gorgeous and the impact of seeing them displayed together is a visual feast. According to the exhibition guide, the individual prints were made with different heads of broccoli and all the paints Creed could find. I wish I had thought of doing them first!
There were some exhibits which show the artist's love of organisation - stacked chairs, tables, cardboard boxes and cacti displayed according to height. This is also evident in the iron beams and wooden planks, neatly arranged according to size, and his paintings of ziggurats.
The exhibit with 39 metronomes was joyful, each being set to a different tempo. And the car on one of the sculpture terraces had a life of its own, with doors, boot and bonnet opening and closing, and Radio 4 playing loudly. There was a piano in the main hall with a security guard sitting at it. He picked out all the notes with one finger, stopped and left. Speaking with one of his colleagues, I learnt that the artist showed some of the guards exactly what to do and explained that while they were playing the piano they were not members of staff but part of the artwork. I tried discussing this with the guard who had been playing but the concept was lost on him.
I enjoyed this show, which was thought-provoking, playful, shocking and beautiful.