I was keen to see the content of the Warhol exhibition at Colchester’s Firstsite Gallery last weekend.

Works include:
The Shadow (1981), Gun (1981) and Self-portrait Strangulation (1976). (See below)

The range of works exhibited, which included drawings, signed posters, magazine covers, and screen prints, provided a comprehensive range of Warhol themes and interests.

Because of its capacity to repeat, standardize and mass produce identical, relatively inexpensive objects, the role of the machine in the industrial revolution was regarded as the antithesis of art.

So, when Andy Warhol, coming as he did from a background in illustration and design, business and publicity, embraced the art world’s worst nightmare with slogans such as ‘I consume therefore I am’ (an ironic, capitalist twist on Descartes’ ‘Cogito Ego Sum’ or more fully ‘I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am’ – which was proof to Descartes that he knew he existed), Warhol stood up as a political artist.

He audaciously confronted the threats, perceived by some, posed by machine made, mass produced objects untouched by human hands until they arrived, at speed, on a conveyor belt ready to be packed and shipped off to eager consumers.

With screen prints such as ‘Marilyn Diptych, 1962’ (image of a global icon produced in the year of her death) Warhol exposed a growing fear in some people of the loss of individuality (e.g. reflecting on a Marxist fear of ‘alienation’ which came from living in stratified societies and working in high-tech factories; were tasks were so fragmented that an individual’s involvement led, in some cases, to feelings of estrangement from the end product and the dehumanizing machinery which produced it).

However, Warhol’s screen prints were not precise and therefore not identical. He called his studio ‘The Factory’ and employed assistants but they produced images which, like disfigured stamps which had slipped through quality control, were unique, revealed the infallibility of the maker behind them; and where therefore valued by some and valuable to others.

I think Warhol would have been amused to know that in 2002 one of his self-portraits appeared on American stamps.

The themes in Andy Warhol’s work were as prolific and diverse as American culture itself: death, consumerism, capital punishment, guns, money, cultural icons, celebrity status, beauty, media, symbolism etc. His manner of handling these themes is rather like a disassociated TV viewer witnessing a horrific event.

Electric Chair, 1971

I found this image particularly mesmerising. Out of all the framed screen prints of the electric chair from Warhol’s ‘Death and Disaster’ series early 1960s, this screen print was covered from the left to right edges in wide sweeps of acrylic paint – like blood thrown from a bucket. It contains the most vivid colours and was therefore all the more shocking because the colours and content are strikingly incongruent.

To date, the Firstsite Gallery, Colchester (my home Town) has struggled to survive though under the temporary but passionate Directorship of Anthony Roberts the number of visitors rose significantly.

Sally Shaw who is currently Head of Programme at Modern Art Oxford will take-up the vacant post in April, 2016. This new appointment should see the Gallery flourish. I hope it develops a strong team, puts effort into improving its PR, exhibits excellent art, provides exciting opportunities and welcomes enthusiastic visitors.

On Saturday morning there had been 500 visitors in two hours which is brilliant news! If you live locally, do visit and consider putting Firstsite on your list of Galleries worth visiting and promoting!

Interestingly, the Andy Warhol website contains brilliant resources for educational purposes.

Chestershire Films, 1:52:40

Reflecting on the impact of Pop Art on art made me think about the use of digital media and IT in art now. I am an art student and yet my experience of using IT in relation to art is very limited e.g. using social media for self-promotion and professional communication.

Things need to go a lot further than this, and at speed. Staff and students of fine art must have the facilities, technology and software which will enable them to explore the potential applications of IT in art in a university or art school setting.


John Hoyland: Power Stations, Painting 1964 – 1982
Newport Street Gallery
Newport Street
SE11 6AJ

Advance Town 29.3.80, Acrylic on cotton duck, 84 x 78 inch (2134 x 1981 mm)

Firstly, the exhibition. John Hoyland: Power Stations, Paintings 1964 –1982, is Newport Street’s inaugural exhibition. Entrance to the Gallery is free and the exhibition runs until 3 April 2016.

“Paintings are there to be experienced … [they] are not to be reasoned with, they are not to be understood, they are to be recognised.” – John Hoyland, 1979

I think Hoyland would have enjoyed seeing his work exhibited in a gallery which places them firmly in the foreground ready to be recognised. The rooms are inhabited by the paintings, light and air. There are no distracting labels to read and the invigilators are unobtrusive.

Hoyland, 12.6.66, Acrylic on canvas, dimensions unknown

Upon entry to each of the Gallery spaces, the size of the largest of the canvases at 2134 x 3658 mm (84 x 144 inches) appear to make the expansion of colour all the more arresting.

However, when I stood in front of the paintings for some time I realized that the variation in tone and contrast between colours in even small sections of the paintings impacted on my retina so that they moved beyond the boundaries of the canvas. That is, the afterimage of blocks of colour hovered and flickered above and between contrasting areas of colour and momentarily on to the white walls as I moved – see image below:

New Year’s Day (Blue Flame) 1.1.81 Acrylic on canvas, dimensions unknown.

I was interested in the tensions Hoyland builds-up within each canvas e.g. between contrasting colours; between geometric forms and their unruly edges and between large and intense blocks of colour and the thinned, narrow rivulets of paint which runs down behind them.

For me the paintings were exuberant and provocative – they motivate.

John Hoyland (1934–2011) is associated with the abstract movement in Britain from the 1960s until his death in 2011. It is the first major survey of Hoyland’s work since 2006.
Hoyland and Damien Hirst were friends so Hirst is aware that Hoyland resisted labelling such as “leading British abstract painter”.

I noticed that the text printed in the Gallery’s leaflet on the exhibition expresses a more generic impression: “John Hoyland was considered one of the most important artists of his generation.” It does not say by whom.

It always interests me when generalized statements are made about art and artists which are not attributed to anyone. Such statements prohibit questioning which is surely what art is about.

The text goes on to say: that Hoyland “progressed through multiple stages of investigation in his work, each of which can be seen on some levels as a negotiation between the exercise of control and embrace of chance.” I have to say that this kind of comment really has become a hackneyed cliché; it appears to be obligatory when discussing abstract art to acknowledge ‘happy accidents’ when it seems obvious that they are intrinsic to the unfolding of life.

In conversation with Tim Marlow, Director of Artistic Programmes, Royal Academy of Arts, Damien Hirst, in the role of curator, makes some interesting points about why he chose Hoyland’s work for his inaugural exhibition e.g. colour which “keeps moving” and “organised chaos”. See video below:

Curatorial comments based on appreciation of key works would bring a welcome human dimension to the texts which galleries offer as a brief guide to art works. E.g. in the video Damien Hirst speaks about his regard for 9.11.68 a painting he had in his office and looked at over a 6 month period.

Hoyland, 9.11.68, Acrylic on canvas, 84.3 x 144.1 inch (2140 x 3660 mm)

In his introduction to John Hoyland: Scatter the Devils, 2009, art critic Andrew Lambirth makes the following statement:

Artists give form and coherence to states of mind. They enunciate and bear witness. They encompass emotions not easily described. Through art we attempt to reconcile the contradictions of human life and contemplate its wholeness. Lambirth, 2009, P.7.

This raises questions about shared experience which operates at the level of intuition as well as intellect. Just as a valued piece of music continues to unfold to a listener over time, I feel that abstract paintings offer a relationship that forms within oneself and others which provides insight when we are in rapport (Mid 17th Century, French: rapporter – to bring back).

Secondly, the £25m gallery which was designed by architects Caruso St John. The gallery spans 37,000 square feet and includes six exhibition spaces – one of which is eleven meters high and can be viewed on two levels.

The construction of the gallery involved the merger of three listed buildings. Coincidently, the buildings had been purpose-built in 1913 as scenery painting studios for the Victorian theatre industry in London’s West End.

While the rooms are more spacious than many galleries, it does follow the familiar trend of white walls and ceilings (some of which are vaulted) and highly-polished grey cement floors. One unique structural feature which I particularly love are the wooden spiral staircases with their smooth, curving marble inset handrails.

I do love its location in Lambert on the south side of the Thames surrounded by residential properties many of which provide social housing. However, the gallery might indicate the start of massive social and cultural change – erasure of local communities in favour of flats for high earners and wealthy landlords.

I will certainly visit Newport Street Gallery regularly. The exhibition inspired me to research John Hoyland’s work. It is a great new venue for art in London and I am very curious to see more of Hirst’s curatorial choices.

I did not visit the dazzling to look at Pharmacy2 restaurant in the Gallery on this occasion (I spontaneously called into the Ragged Canteen down the road part of which is artists’ studios) but it had a really high-energy atmosphere.

NB Vauxhall is governed by Lambeth Council who is currently ‘consulting’ local people about their plans for redevelopment. I do hope the way they enforce their plans will not echo the experiences of people living in West Hendon, Barnet, where regeneration caused some residents misery, anxiety and the pain of unwanted upheaval (See The Estate We’re In, BBC 1, Tuesday, 15th march, 2016).

It is not that the reconstruction of weary buildings is unnecessary, it is that co-dependent and settled communities of people on low-incomes (by London standards) are being destroyed; and ‘residents’ displaced without commensurate resettlement deals in some cases – including eviction for those who do not have security of tenure.

I think social change should be ushered with an emphasis on care and compassion for the communities it will effect.


Gillian LB, Time Capsule, 2015, Ink and paint on acetate

When talking about an abstract painting it is far easier for viewers to ask, and for painters to answer “how” questions than it is for either of them to discuss “what” questions.

When viewers begin to deconstruct an abstract painting, they divide it into fragments as though these fragments operate in isolation (and once isolated indeed they do – like miniature paintings in their own right).

When talking about what viewers like about a painting they talk about colour, movement, contrasting marks and tones and perhaps forms which they compare with objects found in the world outside the painting – including from the realms of mythology and other fictions.

People see a composition which they cannot explain. This is because the composition/construction of an abstract painting abjures contextualisation. That is, the context in which it exists is continuous – like a rapidly moving infinity symbol – it both is, and is a tiny fraction of a time capsule.

Now you could say that this must also be true of representative paintings. However, the painter of a representative picture paints with a degree of intention e.g. that of depicting something specific and discernible to the viewer.

However, the painter of an abstract work does not know what the final outcome will be nor the definitive origin, evolution or precise reason for the ending (i.e. the comprehensive “what”) of a painting.

Thus, unlike a representative picture, an abstract painting which evolved from a multidimensional fusion of coincidences (synchronised by the painter’s decisions) remains forever in the NOW in a perpetual state of construction.

NB The image above Time Capsule, 2015 was given the title retrospectly.


Credit: Christine E. Farrar, Zac H. Forsman, Ruth D. Gates , Jo-Ann C. Leong, and Robert J. Toonen, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawaii, Manoa.

The behaviour of corals is as fascinating as their forms and the extent of their diversity. In the video below Christine Farrar explains the symbiotic relationship between coral polyps and the algae which lives upon it, sustains it and provides its astonishing fluorescent colours.

I am currently involved in a collaborative project with Dr Philippe Laissue, a research scientist at Essex University. His work involves cellular bio-imaging which means that he gets to see and photograph utterly amazing micro-images of corals.

In Philippe’s TED x talk he explains the drive behind his development of low-light microscopes to view live corals – so they can be viewed for longer periods without damage.

I am developing a collaborative project at UCS Suffolk with the Fine Art and English Departments. Students and staff will be invited to submit art works and literature in response to images of coral under the microscope and its behaviour. I would like to exhibit the works at UCS and Essex University.

I also hope to form a collaborative group made-up of people who are interested in Art and Science and informing and developing their work overtime.

Some ideas for developing the project to date:

Abstract structures made with Aerogel, displayed underwater in tanks (?), illuminated by blue light, darkened room:
Film of coral reef or interviews projected onto Aerogel structures (?):
A1 photographs of micro-images of corals:
Abstract paintings and drawings – explore use of resin and Aerogel;
Technical drawings;
3D models;
Films of coral environments;
Videos of interviews with scientist/s and artist/s; and
Exhibition of coral specimens.

Aerogel: I first saw and heard about Aerogel a few years ago when researching Liliane Lijn. Lijn worked on a project with NASA who developed Aerogel in 2008. I was delighted to find that it is now available to the public (see www.aerogel.org). It has a fabulous otherworldly quality and is water repellent.

Lijn, Liliane, Heavenly Fragments, 2008, Aerogel, 295cm x 65cm x 65cm

Details of Lijn’s installation: Aerogel Fragments of cone and disc on grey mirror in Perspex case, perlescent metalliccoated square column housing dvd player, projector

Video: Visions of the East, 50’ looped dvd

What you are seeing in the image below is polyp tissue showing up as green around the mouth and base of the tentacles and zooxanthellae showing as red fluorescence from chlorophyll in the tissue between polyps.

Credit: James Nicholson, NOAA/NOS/NCCOS Center for Coastal Environmental Health & Biomolecular Research, Fort Johnson Marine Lab, Charleston, South Carolina.

Honorable mention: Underwater image of live coral Montastraea annularis.

The link below will take you to an amazing coral project in Miami where rather than examining coral under threat the team is looking at hybrid corals which are adapting to withstand modern day environmental threats.

And to share the team’s vision for corals take a few minutes to watch their inspiring video: Coral City.

If you are reading this and feel inspired to join the CORAL project, please do get in touch!

I will share the drawings and paintings I am working on in response to coral in my next blog post.