Saturday, 30 October 2010

Brighton excursion

I'm just back from four days in Brighton with my daughter while my son was on a school trip to Rome. What fun! Even if, for the first two days, we did have to beat our way along the sea front through film-set rain that fell in sheets. Oh the shopping! The endless fripperies and cupcakes and gorgeous junk and expensive beautiful things that we don't need. How the wind enjoyed blowing up our shopping bags like balloons as we struggled back to the hotel with our haul on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then the weather settled down a bit and there was an extravagant sunset on Thursday:
I loved both piers, but perhaps especially the poor, skeletal West Pier which is just a ghost structure now:

The early evening sky turned the sea a lovely pearlescent pink:

The shops in the North Laine were wonderful, especially the giant vintage emporium, Snooper's Paradise. But I was overcome with shyness when I had to ask the slightly daunting woman on the cash desk to open one of the cabinets for me. I only wanted a couple of tiny plastic deer out of it and was almost too embarrassed to say what I was after, seeing as it was so humble. I managed to get it out by pretending I wanted them for a 'Christmas project' (not true, I just like them):

The thing I most wanted to buy was an amazing wall mirror by Anna Tilson, very similar to this one:

But her stunning work is a bit out of my league price-wise. I'll have to stick to the plastic animals. I found a couple of clowns, though:

A Jack-in-the-box and a biscuit tin.

We visited the Pavilion -- at last! I've wanted to see inside it for years and it was worth the wait. I don't terribly enjoy 'stately homes' on the whole and find them stuffy, but this was such a wonderful fantasy and so over the top. There were even palm trees in the kitchen, and dragons everywhere.
     You couldn't take photos inside the Pavilion and all my exterior shots were grey and fuzzy, like the weather. The only shots that came out were of this pigeon and squirrel in the gardens outside:

They were perched on different branches of the same tree. The pigeon, a rather battered specimen, was minding its own business when the squirrel threw the nut it was eating at it and then leapt after the nut. The poor pigeon got such a shock it almost fell onto my head. The squirrel has a naughty gleam in its eye in my photo but I've perked up the background on Photoshop as it was so grey.

The most exciting thing we went to see was The House of Vernacular, at a venue called Fabrica in an old church in the centre of Brighton. This was part of the Brighton Photo Biennale and consisted of seven linked rooms, all curated by my favourite photographer (and collector), Martin Parr. Parr's curatorial hand was so exuberantly upon these seven mini-exhibitions that it felt as though he could have taken all the photos himself -- wonderful. There was a room of Brazilian family portraits 'enhanced' with highly stylised overpainting; a room of photos showing the kitsch interiors of dictators' private aeroplanes in the Fifties and Sixties; Bogota street photography; wonky-looking babies lovingly posed in front of luscious phoney backdrops (flower-filled meadows and so on); a collection of litter bins and some saturated slideshows of Americans and Germans enjoying the good times between the wars. All highly enjoyable.

A Brazilian 'retrato pintado'
It was quite hard to return home to the solid life we lead here in Hertfordshire. Above all, I love Brighton because it's...
Rollercoaster structure

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Sketchbook pages

I record some pages of my current sketchbook here -- a kind of public humiliation record of what I've been doing, so that I can compare it to what I do from here on. 
     With this sketchbook, I decided that it was better to do something than to do nothing, and so to go easy on myself if all that 'came' was collage or a drawing based on a photograph. This is fine, to get yourself going, but you need to evolve. I think it would be good to go deeper into a single idea or theme, developing and exploring it, rather than skipping about the whole time. Good intentions.

The 'themes' of this sketchbook seem to be babies and birds, unintentionally. The penultimate spread is the result of a challenge to myself, while spending the night in a hotel in Stratford-on-Avon, to do a collage using brochures from the hotel lobby. I like the images better seen like this!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010


On Sunday I went to Frieze Art Fair -- on my own as it turned out, instead of the four of us, as various commitments clashed. So I had two spare tickets (children under 12 go free, over 12 full price). Any tentative thoughts of trying to sell them to someone else soon vanished as there was no queue in which to strike up a friendly chat with anyone. As soon as I hesitated on the threshold of the entrance first one and then another smart, quietly spoken security person came up and asked me if there was a problem. I just thought, 'Sod it!' and walked in, making mine a very expensive ticket.
     I decided to enjoy my triple-priced day out as if I were a person to whom the cost didn't matter. The truth is that when we've been en famille for the past two years, the kids have got tired and bored before me and we end up leaving sooner than I'd like. This time I spent four hours drifting up and down the endless aisles of gallery cubes and I'm sure I saw virtually everything. It's absolutely vast -- just the best contemporary art exhibition you could wish for, and amazingly stimulating.

     This year my impression was that German art was dominant. I don't have a problem with that as I think modern German art is marvellous and possibly a little underrated, on the whole, in this country.
    The sculptures out in Regents Park didn't wow me as much as in previous years. But I enjoyed seeing the 'deconstruction' of the big heap of rubbish (Wolfgang Ganter and Kaj Aune’s Trash), when a man opened the door of a derelict fridge at the back of the heap and climbed inside. Leaving the door open, you could see there were actually two people inside, and they were pulling ropes to make the dustbin lids bang rhythmically on the outside. It was quite like the revelation of the real Wizard of Oz.

Photo by Linda Nylind for Frieze
One of the great things at Frieze is people-watching. On Sunday the posh couples were out in force, with their trendy buggies storming up the aisles like tanks, babies strapped inside them in what looked like very hot, very expensive cashmere and angora babygro's. A toddler made a beeline for a chunky nativity set (part of an installation), but was rugby tackled to the floor by his dad only a split second later and the wooden shepherd he had grabbed was hastily replaced. A gallerista seemed enchanted by a beautiful little girl and played peekaboo with her around a sharp-edged sculpture. It was a good place for children as so many of the pieces were childlike and naive. There seemed to be less in-your-face pornographic pieces this year, which was probably a relief to parents.
     It was while I was sitting watching people pouring in at around 2pm that I decided that, far from sneering at these art-lovers with their 'badges' of art-loving-ness, their perky hats and fringed socks, their ballooning romper suits and Harlequin tights, I should really like to mark myself as more like them. I would like to wear, say, a little cape made entirely of feathers, or a shift made out of an original Ecuadorian cocoa-bean sack. But you have to be thin or you just look grotesque, so I've made a note in my sketchbook to dispense with one-third of my body. If only thinness could be achieved by hacking off a limb. The message is 'eat less, create more'.
     There was so much art to take in, impossible infinities of painting and sculpture, and all laid out like a hall of mirrors; it was hard to tackle it logically. I saw so much that I liked, but I only made a note of a very few pieces. When I find an artist whose work I haven't been aware of before, it's easy to imagine that they must be very young, new to the scene, but of course it's usually me who's new, and under-informed. So these artists I felt I 'discovered' on Sunday are actually well-known, mature artists with books and international shows under their belts. It doesn't matter, I still felt the excitement of discovering something new that I really liked.

Ion Grigorescu, My Mother and my Elder Brothers, 1977 from Backyard Resistance: Art as Savoir-Vivre published in Plotki (Nov 2008)
Ion Grigorescu is a Romanian artist, born in 1945, who was disapproved of by the repressive regime of Ceaucescu. In an interesting piece in online magazine Plotki, Grigorescu explains that it was subversive to blow up his old family photos and paint over them because, under the Communist dictatorship, photography was supposed to show the objective truth, so the paint undermined this certainty.
Also by Grigorescu
My other 'discoveries' were Suzanne Treister, Marcel Dzama and Stan Douglas.
     Suzanne Treister was showing an installation about ex Head of MI5, Stella Rimington, which included beautiful pencil drawings based on photos:
Drawing from the autobiography of Stella Rimington (outer panels of emeyefive triptych)

Drawing from the autobiography of Stella Rimington (outer panels of emeyefive triptych)
Marcel Dzama had made, among other things, glass cases full of cut-out and painted performers which almost gave the effect of a peepshow. I loved the intimacy of the pieces and the restricted palette.
Marcel Dzama
Finally, I love this big photo of an 'Olde Curio Shop' by Stan Douglas:

You really need to see the actual photo (which is about 2m x 1.5m) to get the full, gorgeous effect.
     So I came home determined to make more art, to be less buttoned up about it, to experiment more and just try to get going with something that excites me.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Colour charts

I've been collecting colour charts for a long time. I think my pleasure in little blocks of colour dates back to when I was a little girl and would sneak as many paint sample cards as I dared from the DIY shop. I was always very absorbed by colour and it seemed amazing that such subtle differences in shades could be achieved. I loved the names they gave the shades too. If only my Caran d'Ache felt tips (bought from the Grattan catalogue and paid for in instalments out of my pocket money) had such beautiful colours.
     Here are some of my charts on the wall:

And a couple more:

They're so pretty! Many artists are concerned with colour, it goes without saying. Some are more entranced by pure colour than others. One of the reasons I love Gerhard Richter is his (periodic) obsession with colour:

Gerhard Richter, Ten Large Color Panels, from
This series of paintings by Richter featured in Color Chart, an exhibition curated by MOMA in New York but which came to Tate Liverpool last year. It was fantastic. You can still look at the brilliant website.
     My other favourite work from this exhibition was this painting by Jim Dine:

Jim Dine's The Studio, 1963
There is something quintessentially Sixties about that beautiful, muted palette.
     Lately I've been buying car paint colour charts as they have the same period feel, and also there's a lovely gloss to the samples:

Buick 1954 colours
Oldsmobile 1968
American Motors 1974

Reliant Robin 1979
Renault, date unknown
As the years pass, it seems the colours become stronger and perhaps more agressive. It's funny how silver has become such a dominant car colour now, perhaps because it suggests 'metal' more than anything else.