I have had a busy summer with life beyond my fine art degree, and have had to take opportunities for artistic thinking time as they come, which sounds less than perfect. I have been fretting about keeping my art practice and research warm when so many other things have filled my head.

But I did see two exhibitions that were surprisingly inspirational.

I went to Sicily and stumbled on an exhibition of the Italian artist, Roberto Comelli. I had never heard of him, and although he has shown work outside Italy, I can’t find mention of him in my usual go-to contemporary art research sources. He is chiefly interested in painting, and had cast some of his paintings as individual brushstrokes set on layers of perspex just as if they had been painted in sequence, so they sat in three dimensions within it. He made me realise this could be a way to explore the images I am working from. Click here to see his website showing some of this work.

I think it could be interesting to make the images in layers like this on tracing paper, as perspex is too clean and clear to convey the ideas of doubtful meaning that I am pursuing. But this will be tricky! I wonder whether it is possible to cast the images within perspex anyway, to make them into 3D entities? I would rather like them to be slightly opaque – like jelly babies – but I need to research whether this is anything like possible!

The second exhibition I managed to see was Phillida Barlow’s show set at The Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh. We were moving my son back to Suffolk temporarily, and had very little time, but one of the best things about this gallery is it’s handy location and small size – my 15 minutes were just enough!

I’ve seen Barlow’s work at Kettle’s Yard, and in textbooks on installation art, so I was very interested to see what she is making now. This show is all about what an installation exhibition is, and what installation can say, I think. She had filled the space with shapes made from very basic materials, partly block painted in colours that suggested association. The upper floor of the gallery was filled with an installation that took in the stairs floor and ceiling, so that you knew there was a space inside it, probably a large space, and could peep under or over into parts of it, but actually there was no way in! The shapes themselves were on the one hand, not precisely recognisable, but all suggestive of actual things. It made you feel like a small creature in a lumber room, or a warehouse of theatrical things.

There was a video of Barlow discussing this show, in which she mentioned seeing stacks of everyday objects like drawers or rolls of carpet left by people for different reasons, and you could see these shapes in her exhibition. But she left all the pieces ostentatiously UN-finished. The effect of this is that your head is filled with ideas about what they might be or become, and Barlow keeps your head open by having no labels near the pieces. What information there is, is in a side room, ‘detached’ from the exhibition. I suspect some visitors might feel short-changed by this, but I loved it. It’s called ‘set’ because it uses the space as a theatre of space. It redefines the gallery space completely. It really was a show all about the language of shape, colour, light and space, and I would LOVE express something like this with my work.

Here are some of my photos of Barlow’s show:

I have mainly been painting for my cine frame project, but these two exhibitions really reminded me that all the repetitive painting is an attempt to probe what differences in looking and remembering we experience. I alternate between feeling that I’m plodding towards a new perspective with this, or have opened a great big can of worms. These two shows were unexpectedly encouraging and inspiring.


I have been trying to stretch A3 pieces of tracing paper so I can try to make bigger images, and see what happens to the paper again, but of course the bigger paper holds more water, and is proportionally thinner too, so I have not succeeded yet. I’ve wasted plenty of paper trying though. No photos – but it is ugly so far.

Meanwhile, I wanted to practice using my inks more, so made this little image, which turned out pretty well. It will be interesting to see whether the white gate is still a gate when this paper is held up to light.

I also started to put together a movie of the frames damaged by over-viewing. This is as delicate a task as finding all the lost frames of stories lost in editing. I have not finished the damaged frames movie – it takes time and concentration to examine all the frames – but it’s developing and the movie is a work in progress. I am collecting them in the order they appear in the actual cine films, so have not reached those I have been using as painting sources yet. Click here to see it.


Between angst-ing over displaying work, and struggling to stretch tracing paper mounts… I went to the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich and see this exhibition. It is underground, which means all light is electric, or borrowed. I know they can’t move the main collection from the ground floor above, and that putting so many priceless artworks underground was a good thing for insurance purposes. However, I really struggle with artificial light. The building’s surfaces in this part of the building are also generally finished in dark shades. This means that you can’t be sure of any of the colours you see, and even the sculptures shapes are deadened by the general shadiness of the exhibition – a great shame given the monumental task of gathering these works together and safely from a place like St. Petersburg’s State Hermitage!

Anyway, it wasn’t a wasted trip. I’d seen the finished Bacons in the main collection, but in this show you can see how he progressed to his most successful paintings, and what it was about form and colour that engaged him. The exhibition seems to have collected examples of the main artworks that obsessed Bacon, which made it really easy to see how he found his way.

Treats for me personally? Actually, not the Bacons. I loved the Michelangelo ‘Crouching Boy’, and a tiny Rodin female writhing nude. It was also a revelation to see two superficially similar Velázquez portraits and see from their differences just how lifelike they must have been. I was also delighted to ‘discover’ Chaim Soutine. They have a couple of wonderful paintings by him, and I can’t believe I never knew his work before. He has a crazy loose way of painting that somehow feels incredibly close to life.

On top of these, I was thoroughly distracted by Bacon’s bust of the poet/engraver William Blake! He looked nothing like I imagined, with a strong, bullish head, and a bulging determined gaze. I wasn’t expecting to find him as a figure close to the heart of an artist known for his raddled personal life. I’ve always seen Blake as a person with an intense and unusual but sincere, confident personal value system, and Bacon seemed an unlikely fan. I could see how the shape and strength of Blake’s head and shoulders must have appealed to Bacon though, like Blake’s powerfully unique personal artistic language.

So, my eyes ached, but it was worth going. I forgot to make a detailed note of the artworks’ descriptions, and didn’t buy a catalogue, so here are some screenshots of a few of the pieces I really enjoyed, courtesy of Artfund’s video review of this exhibition, with apologies for the sketchy attributions.