This blog will cover 5 days of the third week of the current strand of the Head & Whole project, taking place at Abbey Walk Gallery in Grimsby. It will take the form of informal musings regarding the content and nature of the work included in the current exhibition, and some of the theories and practicalities surrounding it, to hopefully act as an introduction to the wider project.
Musings on Head & Whole in a busy week :-)
Well – what a busy week!
Fame of the Jeanne Donnadieu piece (possibly the only full length painting of van Gogh – ‘The Misunderstood’) has travelled country-wide and over the pond to L.A. this past week, and the gallery has been stcked-out with new audience – which is great for the Head & Whole show and the artists involved. All the busyness has not been so good for my blogging fingers, though, so apologies to anyone who has been following this, since I have dropped behind!
Am at the gallery now, which is really buzzing. Lots of people around, as I try to get back to what I intended to write about, which is the ‘family’ element with and around the show. Although there are two main themes – the reciprocal nature of artists working with artists, and the human condition through history, myth and process, there is a small family element to the work. First, it all feels ‘of’ a family in some kind of way – although there is a variety of media and process involved, all is linked by the human form. On from this, one of the artists, Eileen Bunn, makes work that primarily focuses on her family, and she has three pieces in the show which are of her children or sister. My father also has a piece of work in the show, and although this is not meant to be a portrait of a particular person and is from a hired model, it got me to thinking about that other really chancy aspect of things that run through families: if he had not had the ability to paint and do what he does – would I have had mine? Therfore, this painting is in the front gallery, alongside Wendy Elia’s Maxime Spinning, as part of the human condition display.
Wendy has just walked into the gallery. She is here to give a workshop tonight, and a talk tomorrow – which is looking as though it will be every bit as busy as last week’s Day of talk with John Devane, Margaret Ashman, and Maggie Cullen. A great day, that was – a great time, this has been, of the show and what I hope is the beginning of an ongoing project, which enables artists to continue to work together on a recprocal basis, whilst making the work that they need to work as individuals.
Head & Whole is drawing to an end for the moment, but we hope to have another show and series of events at Abbey Walk Gallery in 2012 – and to build on what we have begun, taking the project to different venues and publishing texts.
I’ll start a monthly blog, now – second Monday of every month, to continue to muse about subjects within the Head & Whole criteria. I hope that you will continue to follow this, and get in touch if you’d like to be a part of Head & Whole in any way.
Till October . . .
More Musings on the Human Condition – Margaret Ashman, Maggie Cullen & Corrie Chiswell
Moving on from Anna Gillespie’s work and it’s existential and spiritual combination, I consider Margaret Ashman’s photo etchings – work produced through a technique which combines old and new technology to make original prints. Margaret aims for a spiritual elegance and simplicity in the finished work, in contrast to the lengthy, complicated process of making. A poem or phrase or idea is given to the dancer, used here as a model, as a starting point, from which the work evolves. Further layers add new constructs until the etching process translates the final image into a coherent whole, with rich textures and delicate colour combinations. The addition of birds, flowers and other elements allows the viewer a window into the subconscious inner world, a different reality to the visible. Her work is informed by the critical context of allegory, intertextuality and the I-Ching. Birds were an important part in Ancient Chinese religion, and were the first images of animals from China; they represent spirituality – I guess in that they lift the eyes upward and perhaps represent the nature of the soul or the acknowledgement of other aspects of the world or psyche. Margaret is coming to give a talk as Saturday’s Day of Talk, so I will have the opportunity to deepen my knowledge on this aspect on which I have done some reading, but ever up against time, there is always more to know.
As the work in the front space particularly is mindful of the passing of time, in particular an acknowledgement of our histories is revealed through Maggie Cullen’s work – another of the artists along with Margaret and John Devane who will be coming to give a talk on Saturday. Maggie’s work for the show is based on ritual – folk history and religious ritual combined. Some of the work – delicate book sculptures – features bibles with inscriptions sometimes by several generations. Other pieces include lines of music score and words taken from folk songs, and the most monumental piece we have is based on the story of the Wicker Man. In comparison, alongside Maggie and Margaret’s work, Corrie Chiswell’s paintings draw upon personal and family history in a more shrouded manner. Farm Girl is about the memory of Corrie’s grandmother leaving the farm she lived on in childhood – the figure wearing her best dress to travel in as it won’t fit in the suitcase; Blood Ties is about the complexity of family relationships. Both pieces resonate with actual and emotional light and darknesses, beautifully painted with an accomplished use of black pigment and pared-down colour.
I will continue the family element in the next post.
Head & Whole – continued musings on the human condition – John Wild, Bren Head & Anna Gillespie.
Managed to spend some time painting today, so am late with blog!
A glance around the show will tell any viewer that there are many kinds of art form and thought process and artists that can essentially have a fascination with the same thing, yet make work on a diverse basis, so broad, actually, as to be unimaginable. The front gallery space where Bren Head, John Wild and Anna Gillespie have their work installed along one wall, is testimony to the diversity and relationships inherent in the work included in Head & Whole. There is only a single piece of work that has been selected for its concept and formal properties without coming from an artist whose work focuses on primarily on human form – that is the John Wild piece, the full body scan with backscatter radiation. It represents a particular form of human likeness – a self-portrait, if you will – done by technology used for security scans at Heathrow airport – and gives and impression of ephemerality and looking into the physical body in a fractured way, whilst being born out of a creative use of modern technology and paranoia of our times – in more ways than one.
The front gallery was put together with thoughts of the human condition in mind; this through history, tradition, myth, psychology and emotion, as well as the hard facts of modern technology and its uses and effects on our lives. The Wild piece is a stark contrast for the rest of the work in that space, which is full of actual and theoretical ‘texture’. It was taken in a minute and then produced through very expensive photographic printing methods, whilst, for example, Bren Head’s work next to it, takes sometimes months to reach a resolution involving periods of creation and destruction as it does, and Anna Gillespie’s work develops through equally painstaking process using a variety of media.
Anna’s piece, Gather Round Me is constructed using acorn cups from a Turkey Oak. She told me that when she was gathering them, lots of people joined in, and it was a really good experience that fed into the piece and the title of the work. What I particularly enjoy about it is the fact that it is looking up; for me, this lends a spiritual dimension that carries on from the making experience. Looking up seems to convey a sense of hope, and acknowledgement of the larger world, and possibly of what is beyond that. This alongside Her Comes the Rain Again, a ceramic piece of sixteen figure, contrasts in mood; hope that rises out of the depths of depression – however momentary that hope (or depression) might be – an example of the precariousness and complexity of who we are on the inside.
More Musings – Bren Head
One of the nicest things about curating a show, is meeting the artists involved. Today I had the pleasure of meeting Bren Head who came to see the show without the bustle of the (very busy) PV. Bren’s work is in the front gallery space, alongside that of John Wild and Anna Gillespie – and it is work that always provokes a response. From the point of view of a fellow artist, what appeals to me is the close-quarter sense of engagement with a head or face in a state of dissolvement or dissolution or ‘decay’ through the appeal of process and surface attention. We chatted for a while about the nature of creating this kind of work – a building-up and destructing process, carried out over a long period of time, allowed to evolve, before it arrives at a natural state of resolution that the maker recognises. It’s not the kind of work that one might think, ‘I’ll just do this, and that, and then it will be finished’; I read somewhere an interview with Euan Uglow, who said that for him, a painting would just ‘stop’ – although Bren’s work is very different, there is such an element of chance and instinct involved that each piece eventually achieves a sense for her that it does something that she recognises, and that’s when to leave it alone for a while to see if it asks for anything else later on.
Bren’s work has something in common with Anna Gillespie’s, and sharply contrasts with John Wild’s. Visually, it’s a striking wall. In terms of conceptual content, the relationships and contrasts are all there – one could see it as a brief representation of the human condition; depression, decay, paranoia – all in the mix, along with an uplifting dosage of spirituality.
Continued in the next post.
Monday 22nd August – Post 2 – Musings on Understanding: John Devane, Wendy Elia, Linda H O’Grady.
Devane’s pieces contain contrasts and similarities, yet they have the look of a family, of a canon. For the artist, they are as much about the process and paint as they are about the subject and the resulting image. In turn, they contrast with Wendy Elia’s pieces, which I selected in this instance as they contain the same subject as sitter, Wendy’s dear friend, Maxime Angel. These are pieces which hold your gaze – for you are as observed as the subject within them. Although there is no real sense of paint as paint in these works, they are definitely composed images created in paint which (not painterly in technique, but not photographic in style, either) you are meant to read as an image, but which engage you as the sitter looks out of the canvas at you. Elia paints her own people; her friends and family populate her work – her mother, and currently her self-portrait with children and grandchildren are the subjects of pieces shown as part of the 20I0 & 20II BP Portrait Award at the NPG. They inhabit her space, the studio, and are brought to the viewer with selected objects, or signifiers, which sometimes recur from piece to piece, a sort of testimony of the passing of time as well as often details in a story to be told or to unfold to the observer or the insider. Elia has no interest in painting people she doesn’t know, and these pieces are definitely works which show her space and her connection with the subjects, whilst referring to the wider world and humanity. Maxime, herself a transgender performance artist adopts the poses and expressions that pull you into the work and make you want to look more in-depth, to unravel the story, to gain an understanding of the narrative – of which there could be many, rather than a definitive take.
Is Maxime performing, or showing her ‘real’ self? Is she collaborator, muse, or adopting the pose composed by Elia purely to convey her own meaning? In a way that feels much less personal, Linda H O’Grady’s work, shown in the same room, contains images of burlesque. These are overt images of performance and crafted identity, images which convey yet another element of human psyche, sexuality and playfulness. The subjects portrayed are in turn creating themselves – their public selves, we assume – and they are on a stage in the activity of the performance. The viewer is at a distance, and the partners in the images, though working together, have a sense of separateness. These paintings are images of the mindful ‘outsides’ of the people, which in the context of a painting give a ‘softer’ impression to the activity of observation (voyeurism?) than would a photograph. This is not a snapshot in time, though, but a representation of the formal constructs of costume, flesh and performance through paint. The setting is a club or a bar as opposed to an ambiguous space or a personal inner-world where people and creativity matter in yet another way, a different kind of artistry and a variation on artistic observation.
This room in the Head & Whole exhibition contains the work of four artists and I25 years of the passage of time since the Donnadieu was painted. Since then, the quest to gain skills in the understanding of human relationships in contemporary Western Society has spawned a multi-million-pound industry. The three contemporary artists here also have something else in common – that all have been a past or current finalist in the BP Portrait Award. Today, philosophers such as Cynthia Freeland are looking to portraiture in art, especially the modern period, to piece together the nature of the self. We have always interpreted art about people as being about the subject or the maker as well as the witting or unwitting testimony to elements of social history, and I hope that the Head & Whole wider project will contribute in some way to this tradition, as artists continue to work together.