Sevenoaks Visual Arts Forum (SVAF) have submitted a successful bid to run the Sevenoaks Kaleidoscope Gallery as an artist-led space. This blog will chart the progress of its first year.

 


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My show ‘Hard lines’ has finished.Twelve days passed in a blink. How to write about it?
I’m very uneasy using some terms – spiritual is one; I cannot claim it, but it pokes at me. The irony of ‘Hard lines’ is more at one with my thinking. Exhibition and title engage in a standoff; the work is anything but hard, is it? Surface is as far as I could make it, unblemished, rich, spatial. Edges are clean. Graphite powder, artists pigment, rubbed onto paper, the rubbing and fixing working their way into the thing. It is not intellectual stuff. But its genesis was in some kind of intelligence? There is no brief, no statement , no sentence, and a cacophony of words.There are thoughts, shifts of balance, nerve endings thinking. Of course there is a history. It’s flat. It’s ‘minimal’. I don’t feel like a minimalist, or an abstract expressionist. Barnett Newman is mentioned. He is not there. Some stuff is quiet, still. There is movement too. Optical movement, spatial movement. ‘White Cube’ predominantly in greys and blacks, is lifted from a doorway in the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey.
I am a ‘glass half empty’ man. The task is to at least equal that which has gone, to equal it wordlessly, to not top-up with a head of froth.
Well, ‘….hard lines….’


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Still Life with Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber, c1602, Sanchez Cotan An enigmatic painting, portraying the manner in which such vegetables and fruits were stored, through a spatial movement from the depths of the black background to the tip of a cucumber poking its trompe-loeil self through the picture plane. Demonstrating the manner in which vegetables were stored, its composition and space has a cosmic elegance. Indeterminate spatial blackness was for Sue a defining aspect and experience of the work, the most resonant element of the painting. Recurrent in Sanchez-Cotan’s work is this blackness of his backgrounds, an indeterminacy that must simultaneously be looked at and looked into, and that resonates further into her work at West Dean. A notion of the domestic runs through the talk.

The Sunday lunch is presented in genteel Heraldic terms , ‘Sunday Lunch’ is a wry smile of a piece, a quiet subterfuge.
‘In the dexter cannon is the OXO. Notable amongst the ordinaries is the central plate with bull stantant sable and a medallion of horseradish gules, argent and or, all proper. This is guarded on each side by plates with knife and fork in saltire mounted by a gravy boat coronet with peas and beans rampant.’
A meal designed around heraldic terms, those terms somehow amusingly inappropriate to the status of the lunch, serve to ironically undermine its own heraldic pomp. In a similar manner, her placing of the American flag alongside its beach towel version, evokes insecurities and brittleness dormant in the pristine cleanliness of the Flag ceremony at Arlington Cemetery. Sue witnessed the ceremony and was struck buy the immaculate nature of it. White uniforms, white gloves, all spotless. No hint of the remotely casual, a pure ritual without stain. The flag is material and the flag is symbol. She has a beach towel woven in the pattern of the flag; towel-flag is kitsch-flag, its symbol a disempowered, feminised, and domesticated simulacrum whose familiarity threatens the underlying assumptions and values of identity and ritual. Quietly subversive Sue’s work ask questions of gender status, gender and status, and the status that context bestows upon objects.

‘Banner’ playfully follows the progress of bedsheets as they progress from washing machine to clothesline to the ironed article. There was no explicit feminist track to the talk, the issues tumbled out of the drier with the sheets, so to speak.

‘Gradual Loss of Focus’ is the title of her piece from the end of year show. Made from grids of black string, each shifted slightly as they are piled one on the other, it is not possible to see right through the work. Sue’s MA dissertation will address the effects and changes on our perceptions the coming of night and darkness produces. (She is currently beginning a year off from her MFA course) What’s in a perception? Physics? A rage against the dying of the light?
Sue is a craftsperson?
Language stumps me. A drawing , pencil drawing, a chalk drawing, an embroidery drawing. A drawn drawing, a pencilled drawing, a chalked drawing, an embroidered drawing? The decorative connotations of the term ’embroider’? I’m tying myself in silk knots.
The concepts of drawing, of craft, of art prove difficult to prise away from the claims to ownership of objects that they generate and the status assigned to them by social groupings and their hierarchies.
This piece has been immensely difficult to write. My brain has twisted inside-out trying to write simple things. Any inconsistencies, contradictions, misunderstandings, plain mistakes and the unresolved in the above are unintended, unavoidable, work in progress, part of the picture and also to the point; looking at things has consequences..…..


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Thursday 21 July SVAF Meeting Sevenoaks Kaleidoscope Gallery.

A meeting and pop-up show and a new venture for SVAF – Sabrina Shah follow-up to Engine Chat-Chat.


A response?

I have recently been watching television in hospital waiting rooms – a fraught experience of distractions, noises off; a voice recognition system creates subtitling, my attention drifts.
It is immensely difficult to follow television in such circumstances. To concentrate and read fast flowing, sometimes inaccurate, puzzling subtitles, simultaneously to engage with an image , take in visual information, ignore external distractions, feel the anxiety of a time lapse between speech and text, is to experience feelings of tenuous control.
I catch some of it and in a satisfying, fleeting moment of recognition I miss the next point and must engage in mental catch-up. My experience is both whole and partial – the serial partiality of it is its particular kind of frustrating wholeness. So it is for me in group discussions, and that is in itself instructive.
Thoughts air from one corner of the room whilst others form in my mind; what was that about truth? I’ve missed it. The conversation moves on.
We were asked to choose and label the three best works (our three favourites?) prior to discussion, and to re-examine and choose again afterwards.

What was said?

Below, my list ?
My impression ?
My memory ?
Of
Questions that arose?
Insecurities addressed?

What is drawing?
What is it to draw?
What is the mark of good drawing?
All painting is drawn.

What is truth?
What is truthfulness?
What does it mean to be true?
What is it to be true to something?

What is integrity?
What is a technique?
What is innocence?
What is naivety?

What is media handling?
What constitutes a mistake?
Are mistakes errors of judgement?
Are mistakes mishandled materials?

What is the value of a mistake?
What is the function of titles?
Can artworks be trusted?
When is a work resolved?

How do we assess things?
What kinds of judgements are assessments?
Why do we judge?
What are assessments for?
Who are assessments for?
What is the ‘real’ world?
Are there different kinds of ‘real’ world’?

What is common to animals and children?
What does it mean to act intuitively?
What is a ‘gut reaction’?
Should ‘gut reactions’ be trusted?
Is innocence precious?
The notion of a ‘real’ world is political and coercive?
Picasso said that it took him a lifetime to paint like a child.

The gut reaction may express truth.
The gut reaction should not be trusted.
Intuition is the vehicle of prejudice.
Innocence is a sentimental concept.
Drawing is thinking.
Painting thinks in colour.
Thinking is untidy.
Thinking is a joy.
Thinking is tortuous.
We can only be honest.
To be honest is to be truthful.
Truthfulness does not guarantee truth.
To paint like a child innocence must be lost.
The ‘real world’ is the child of hard knuckles.
Spare the rod and spoil the brat.

Sabrina’s paintings are witty.
Her colour is sharp.
Her drawing is drawing.
Her work is unsettling.
Her work is playful.
Her work is confrontational.
Her characters are wistful, vulnerable.
Her characters accuse us.
We are all guilty.

Her characters are unfinished business.
Her titles play with their words.
Her paint is persuasive, held in her drawing.
What would children make of the work?
Why should children make of the work?

Conversation is predicated upon an assumption of shared meaning.
Conversation is political.
Conversation attempts to reconcile common incomprehensions.
We use terms as though those we talk with understand our meaning.
To an extent it is true (true??) that we share meanings and understand.
Conversations begin with conclusions and end at the beginning.

I am mistaken?
I am wrong?
I am a little correct?
Something may be true. (true???)
I try to be accurate.
I try to describe.
Am I honest?
Fingers crossed.
The show has come down.


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Examining Louisa’s work.

Engine ChatChat EngineChatChat is a facilitated peer crit where artists can share ideas, ask questions and get feedback from a small group of peers. An informal atmosphere and constructive conversation is encouraged. This is a dedicated space to think about and share your practice. You can present or join in the discussion.

Elizabeth Murton chairs the group. Each artist in turn presents work and invites discussion with the wider panel, (in our case it was a further five artists) through a question or statement in relation to the work displayed.The latest crit was held on Thursday at Kaleidoscope and featured three artists, Louisa Crispin, Louisa Crispin Richard Heys, Richard Heys, and Sabrina Shah Sabrina Shah. Sabrina Shah was concerned that her work was in need of a theme, Richard asked if the work he presented constituted a ‘body of work’ for an exhibition. Louisa was engaged with a compositional problem in a drawing. Her source of difficulty was a central passage in a composition of wasps, which was dominating the work and curtailing progress.

Louisa Crispin composition sheets.

Last year when some wasps decided to live in her loft, her attention turned from the bees and bee drawings that form a key body of her work, to a creature that she considers is in need of some rehabilitation. Her question concerned ways to solve a composition/content /structural problem. She showed some photocopies with wasps arranged in possible configurations of degrees of order and disorder. Should this particular passage be here or there, what effect will the removal of a particular compositional element have on the whole? The nub of the problem was located in a group of rectilinear shapes on which just one wasp was placed in a corner
The rectilinear element in the composition was problematic because its abstract form was a kind of intrusion and differed in nature to the figurative images of wasps – it had the feel of something from another work, another starting point, a diversion. But was it a problem to be solved or a problem to be discarded? It was noted that the compositon was strongly based upon pattern/ arrangement, so that one point of entry would be to play with pattern in itself, leave out the wasps until structural experimentation provided a formal structure for the figurative content. Richard Heys work ‘We Stand Behind The Sky’ measures 1000mm x 1400mm, a work of intensely coloured atmospheres and one of aseries to be shown

 

‘We Stand Behind the Sky ‘ Richad Heys.

Richard’s colour work is built up in layers of acrylic paint. The process of curation it seemed would provide the making of a body of work; that the work could stand as a body was dependent upon certain works not standing next to each other. In her introduction to the evening, Elizabeth Murton referred to the notion of ‘thinking’. In an indirect way, the whole evening revolved around notions of how we think and what kinds of thinking can we use. There is a distinction to be made between thinking, and thinking ‘about’. We slip easily from one to the other ………….There is a common feeling that thinking is something done by the brain, with words, about something else, that something is done and then thought about, and is done as a result of thinking about it, that decisions are made through a process of cause and effect. All of these notions contain truth, but can also obscure the truth that doing is thinking, feeling is thinking, making is thinking. Louisa’s problem will be solved by finding ways to move things about, change relationships, make physical connections, and similarly Richard’s curatorial problem will be solved by the moving of things.

‘The Owl and the Pussycat’  Sabrina Shah

For me, suggestion of narrative seems embedded in Sabrina’s work; theme arises from her work and the manner of its making. That would not go away if a thematic approach was adopted; the theme is what the work ‘thinks about’.  A self-consciously naive style purposely chosen carries the ironic risk that it might appear selfconscious. At one point Sabrina offered, if I understood correctly, a thought about mistakes keeping the work grounded in reality. The matter of theme is simultaneously central and peripheral. Similar to ‘thinking’ and ‘thinking about’ there is a conjunction of needs, of the work and of the artist. A symbiosis exists between ‘What does the work need?’, and ‘ What are my needs from the work?’, where what happens, happens, and is worked out close to the surface. Ros Barker observed that she could spend considerable time making different readings of Sabrina’s work. Resolution occurs when the thing ‘works’, when both needs are satisfied.


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Eleven students of Art from West Kent college FdAD display  final work from year two of their course. A broad range of  ideas and themes are embodied by materials and techniques. From Louise Draper’s Trade(2017) ‘celebrating the geek-art subculture, to Nathan Selvedran’s ‘Hide-Folded(2017) in which collapsing folds of wallpaper and building plaster engage with notions of isolation and anxiety.
Ally Sweidan creates shadows from the patterns on maps of places where he/she has lived. Drawn in lines marked into the surface of a perspex sheet , soft shadows cast upon a paper surface come and go like memories,with the light.
Siana Kohler paints. Her piece which she describes as ‘portraits of a room’ invoke feelings of a charged space redolent of past events. Almost monochromatic, the paint has a softness of touch, an oiliness, something Morandi-esque about them.
Ali Doherty paints also. Black – night- space- white-grey illuminated trees, hand-like foms, images seemingly both isolated and cinematic.

‘Mesmerising Mayhem’ Detail, Maryanne Bakker

Large shiny bulldog clips have a trendy feel. Six of them hold Maryanne Bakker’s large digital print based on a smaller watercolour piece, suggestive of a playful Rorschach blot, digitally repeated and seamlessly stitched together. They lend a temporary feel, a short stay on the wall in the course of a busy itinerary.
Presentation can be problematic. Alanna Coppard fixes her work to the wall with brass panel pins that would glint in a Magpie’s eye. Eighty-eight of them make their point, make the work stand up for itself. Brass panel pins are lovely things. Her drawing seeks a kind of evocative metamorphosis through changes in scale and anthropomorphic form.
James Abbott’s work which ‘…. is heavily influenced by renaissance studies of plants and anatomy….’ is presented in an unmounted paper form hanging by clips.  Renaissance and paper clip engage in a stand-off with the work.

‘Hide – Folded’ Nathan Selvendran

Nathan Selvedran’s sculptural piece in two parts ‘Hide – Folded’ has a feeling of stillness, a kind of finality, settlement, a moment held in suspense. There is completeness that arises from  the materials and the manner of their making, from  fold upon fold of wallpaper material and building plaster, muted brown,  resting in a state of suspended collapse. Michael Ashby offers the thought that his ‘Shaman Box ‘, a piece with maybe a nod to Robert Rauschenberg’s Combines,’…explores how electrical signals from early computer graphics and dance music transmute through synapses inside human brain circuits, forming memories, and new aesthetics from undefinable locations…..’ ( Exhibition notes) Incorporating video and dance music it has the beginnings of an enquiry into the way that tastes are formed, over the airwaves, that we are created by what we recieve from sources to a degree unknown, a cultural thing. Daniel Huckfield uses found objects in ‘Stud’ and ‘Untitled’. To ‘Un-title’ a thing is to strip it of its former identity, make it nameless, leave it to find a new name?

‘Untitled’ Dan Huckfield

Defunct fluorescent light fittings lean exhausted against the gallery wall. Their now impotent wiring hangs loose. There is something mischievous and subversive in painting the one surface that was hidden when the units were screwed to a ceiling.
‘Stud’, a set of three found metal panels from some modular construction, spreads itself on the floor a few metres away. Daniel’s intention is that the pieces ‘….create a dialogue between each other, the flatness and lack of paint of the floor piece against the boldness and energy created by the painted surface of the standing piece’ (Exhibition notes.

‘Broken’ Debbie Clark

Debbie Clark’s piece ‘Broken’ nods in the direction of recent work by Josiah McElheny  ( shown recently at White Cube). A broken wineglass sits in a reflecting chamber, sharp shards hang above it. The LED brightness, the plum and violet richness, the sharp edges, the matter of fact reflective repetition of it all  harbours a decadent, tasteful violence.

‘Trade’ Louise Draper

Louise Draper’s piece ‘Trade’ is a series of 26 small framed portraits and 5 empty frames. she describes it as a ‘collaborative project celebrating the geek-art subculture as commentary on the commercial world.’ (Exhibition notes) Each portrait is named as by a different artist. She describes the work on her Facebook page as sketch cards she has swapped with her fellow Topps artists and the piece is a ‘show within a show’. (Small world, in the course of researching this piece, I discovered Topps produced a card of a baseballing relation of mine, one Greg Minton)

A show of student work reflects upon the degree to which the growth of implicit and explicit criteria might have enabled the artists to progress. A show like this is necessarily uneven. Ideas and execution might not mesh, drawing techniques may not have achieved sufficient fluency, the implications of display for the work might not be fully grasped, statements may seem at times to attempt to remedy difficulties met in the work, but simultaneously, fluency is actively sought, technical competency proceeds little by little, form and content are nudged into closer union, ideas refined; the implications of actions make themselves visible. Art generates its own criteria. Essentially it is not measurable absolutely against some external criteria. Makes you think.


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