Friday, 30 December 2011

Ed Ruscha: Annie, Poured from Maple Syrup

An interesting reflection from the Guardian Art Blog here about Ed Ruscha's painting Annie, Poured from Maple Syrup.
Gold standard ... Annie, Poured from Maple Syrup, 1966, by Edward Ruscha. 
Photograph: Edward Ruscha/Norton Simon Museum, Gift of the Men's Committee
Copied form the Guardian blog spot

JOnathan Jones suggests it is a post modernist satire on the syrupy nature of the story of Annie, but is also a skilfully executed painting which represents the glossy, sticky look of poured treacle.   It was painted at a time when there was a vigorous debate in American art about the purity and flatness of abstract painting, while Ruscha's image here does exactly the opposite, portraying the shiny, silky, stickiness of treacle.  It may also be saying something about the meaning of language, or the lack of meaning.  Why "Annie"?  Why not? 

I like the painting, it is witty and playful but also serious, and also very cleverly painted.  So far, among the many images and artists whose work I've looked at in relation to the use of writing and words in art, there are very few which use text but present it in such a polished and painterly way.  

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Art I LIke: Tom Phillips

I came across Tom Phillips' Humument this summer while doing a letterpress printing course at UWE, Bower Ashton, and rummaging in the wonderful library there.  I was interested in the whole idea of altered books, and how people can play around with not just the physical form of a book, but also with the text.  The Humument does this to extremes.  Here is a single page as an example of the whole book, which is over two hundred pages long.

Now that I'm thinking about words and writing in art for my pathway project, I looked up Tom Phillips again.  His work is rich and varied, and appeals to me on several levels - the works with words and writing, the colours he uses and the way he uses paint; his sculptural pieces; and his interest also in quilts.

There was a significant exhibition of his works at the Flowers Gallery in 2010,  more info and lots of images to be found on their website here.

His output is huge and diverse, with a great many portraits and large and small paintings.  He has played around with systems paintings and series, and with process for its own sake.  He has, for years, regularly collected up the paint on his palette at the end of each day or week and used this to slowly fill in pre-drawn slots on prepared canvasses.  More recently he has used disposable palettes, and then cut them up and reassemble the pieces as a sort of mosaic of colours and a record of his painting.  More about this on his blog here.

He does a lots of work with words.  Some is 3D, such as his word sculptures like this one: Miami Beach link here.   
Word Sculpture: Miami Beach
Wood and acrylic, 25 cm, 1986

Tom Phillips has also produced three quilts, which began from his collection, for their design quirkery, the 'business' cards left by prostitutes in London phone boxes.  The result, after a lot of experimentation, was a quilt made from sections of the cards.  

Women's Work
Cotton fabric and paper, 204 x 204 cm, 1997

This led to a second quilt, around the arrival of medical Stealth Bombers at the farnborousgh Air Show but using the same 'calling card' materials.

Manpower (work in progress)
Cotton fabric and paper
204 x 204 cm (finished size), 1997

More about his quilts on his website here.

The idea of a patched quilt recurs in some of his word-based paintings, such as this one,
Had I The Heavens' Embroidered Cloths, 1997-2001
Oil on canvas
184 x 123 cm / 72½ x 48½ in

His recent work includes commercial and PR applications such as this design for the British Heart Foundation which cleverly uses text as a verbal message about the healing power of art, as well as a visual image of a cracked and broken heart being mended.

In other work he plays around with the get to such an extent that the words are almost impossible to read, but the viewer is nevertheless aware that there is script within the overall design, which appears to be a series of irregular geometric shapes in muted colours.  

Here We Exemplify, 1969 
Oil on canvas
30¼ x 30¼ in / 76.5 x 76.5 cm
AFG 43798

Some of his work just uses simple text, in beautiful typefaces, to repeat a borrowed text ro one he has created himself.  He uses these in different materials, including screen print onto transparent perspex cubes, or in wire sculptures designed to be wall mounted like this one.

After Henry James, 2009 
18½ x 24¼ x 2 in / 46.5 x 61.5 x 5 cm

I really like the range and humour in Phillips many and varied works, and I am inspired by his ability to play around with very simple text and typeface forms to create beautiful and balanced pieces.  

More art I like: Mel Bochner

Mel Bochner's paintings explore words, and their meaning.  His website is here.  Mel Bochner was born in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1940.  He lives and works in New York.  A valuable review article about his work, locating him firmly in the emerging conceptual art movement from the mid 1960s, is taken from Frieze magazine in March 2007, and can be found here.  He worked closely with friend and fellow conceptual artist Sol Lewitt,  exploring drawing, measurement, spatial relationships and colour.  

HIs word paintings are many and concentrate on a single word or phrase, or more recently on related words and phrases, rather like a thesaurus entry, bringing together words which have similar meaning, and in the process exploring the texture behind emotions or descriptions like "Unnameable" or "Useless".  He uses very simple script, capital letters, no frills, often in multi-coloured canvases, so the first impression is of a child-like randomness.    But on closer reading, the words have coherence and emotional force.  The simplicity is compelling, as is the use of often vivid odours.  Sometimes the works are in repeated handwritten script, sometimes large, sometimes quite small in scale.   Here are two of his thesaurus paintings from 2008

He also explores concepts and short phrases, about language, in a variety of media and scales, such as these.

Rubber stamp on graph paper, 9.75 x 7.25 inches

Oil on paper, 22 x 30 inches

Or these......

Oil on canvas, 18 x 24 inches

Ink on paper, 11 x 8.5 inches

Rubber stamp paper, 11 x 8.5 inches

Oil on canvas, 60 x 45 inches

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

More art I like: Jacqueline Rush Lee and Marcus Raetz

Jacqueline Rush Lee is an Irish artist now living and working in Hawaii, much of whose work is based around re-using books to create fantastic objects and sculptures.  

Her website here gives more information about her work and practice.  I think it is interesting that she sees books priorly as a material source, and is not too bothered about the nature of the books, or what information or ideas they contained.  She says: 

"I transform used books into works of art by scrambling the formal components visually and conceptually. I like to disrupt the original meaning and intent of the books through various modes of intervention that create narratives with subtle meaning. Many of the techniques that I employ are informed by both traditional and non-traditional artistic practices. These include utilizing the pure components inherent in the books themselves, such as inks, covers, pages, binding threads and reconfiguring them.
For me it is not important to discuss or aggrandize the relevance of the book as a medium in the 21st century as there are themes regarding these matters implicit in the work that I produce. For me great art is evocative, not didactic, and should express ideas through veiled layers of meaning."

This one is called simply Cube.

Marcus Raetz creates sculptural forms which embody illusions: the image changes as the viewer walks round the object.  Some of these use words, such as Yes No,  as here 

You can see more of this and others of his works in this You Tube video accessible here.   
More about the artists and his ideas are here.

Ariana Boussard-Reifel created a unique book by removing all the words and leaving just the white paper.  her piece was part of an exhibition about racial discrimination and religion.  There is more info here about her work.  
This seems to me the most meaningful of all the altered books of this kind I have seen.  It makes a valuable and sharp political point in an elegant and artistic way. creating a beautiful object but one devoid of all meaning.  

In the Collection of Allan Chasanoff, NY


More art I like: Tom Bendtsen

Another artist who creates large installations/sculptures using books as a building material is Tom Bendtsen, website here, who uses the content of the books as well as the simple physical presence.  For example, his tower with a staircase, seen here, has 'heavy' books at the bottom, getting progressively 'lighter' as the stairs rise up.   He also uses the size and colour of the books to create secondary patterns in his sculptures.  He pays respects, as it were, to the content of the books, although by using them thus he debars the viewer from reading them. 

This piece is called Arguments 6(b), 2002.  Accession of staircase,  contrasted by books becoming more superficial/homogeneous as you climb.  Playing more with colour.  7' to 5' x 10'.

Accession of staircase contrasted by books becoming more superficial/homogenized as you climb. Playing more with colour. 7’ to 5’x 10Accession of contrasted bya

More art I like: Charles Round and Matej Kren

I have also come arose the work of Charles Round, a contemporary British artist.

Font Especial, 2005-7
True type font, vinyl on wall
Dimensions variable

Installation view at El Basilico, Buenos Aires

The following is an extract from the ICA's website (link is here)  relating to a recent exhibition of Round's work.

The relationship between line and volume is explored by Round in his typographic work. The artist has created a series of fonts that mimic this formal balance, and which he uses on the posters, hangings and animations that feature within his installations. These 'signs' contain texts that fluctuate in their legibility, overwhelmed by the structure of the font and its grid-like presentation. Containing phrases of romantic excess, their semantic collapse evokes an altered state of perception; the bourgeois refinement of forms and arrangements shifting towards a giddy, transgressive lyricism. Round's Nought to Sixtyproject makes reference to the British sculptor and printmaker Eric Gill (1882–1940), through a phrase lifted from the latter's diaries: “Strange days and nights of mystery and fear mixed with excitement and wonder strange days and nights strange months and years”. Round's use of the text – which operates as a leitmotif throughout the exhibition – evokes Gill's influential work as a typographer, but also the latter's complex persona. During his lifetime Gill presented himself as a deeply religious man, publishing numerous essays on the relationship between art and religion, and encouraging the formation of arts and crafts communities. This worthy image was shaken when the artist's diaries were published in the late 1980s, documenting his adulteries, incestuous liaisons and experiments with bestiality. The confrontation between noble aspirations and transgressive desires that is apparent in Gill's diaries is mirrored in Round's exhibition. 

I think it is interesting that Round deliberately creates a font which is hard to read - while clearly wanting the meaning of the text to be apparent.  This makes the work something of a puzzle for the viewer to decipher.

Another artist working with books is Matej Kren, a Czech artist who builds seriously large structures from old books.  His website (the link is here) says that this is an attempt to convey the increasingly blurred boundaries between fiction and real life:   "His work not only touches on very contemporary problems, such as erasing the boundaries between reality and fiction, memory and the present, but also on classic themes in art - the relation between inner and outer, the part and the whole. Typical of his work is a searching for a complexity of content expressed in a monumental and comprehensible language."
Book Cell, Centro de Arte Moderna - Foundation Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon, Portugal, 2006. 

Passage, Bratislava, 2005

Passage, Passage, GMPassage, GMB,PassagePP Bratislava, 2005B, Bratislava, Bratislava
I like these works because of the way in which Kren uses the books in such a simple way, rather like building blocks, and makes such enormous constructions out of them.  They remind me of library stacks,  where you can get lost among the books and lose track of being among writing, but rather among buildings.  The Passage reminds me of old libraries, like the Chained Library at Hereford Cathedral, here...

or the wonderful sixteenth century library at Trinity College Dublin. 

Art I LIke: Tom Friedman

Tom Friedman is another artist who uses the written word in a creative and witty way, as here:

Untitled 1990 The artist writes his signature repeatedly for the life of a pen 106.7 cm
(detail below)

Many of his works are made of recycled paper or cardboard, but the focus is on the material itself, rather than any writing it contained.  This is another example, which I like for it's simplicity and sense of balance.

                             Smile (2009)     
sculpture, Assemblage de rondelles de papiers, 27 cm x 65 cm

More of his work, and about him, is here.

Art I Like: Wendy Wahl

High time I was back on this blog!  House building, Christmas and a heavy cold are my excuses for rather a long absence.   But now I must focus on my next Pathway Project,  around the theme Writing/Word.

Looking around at the work of artists who use writing and words in their work, I came across Wendy Wahl, (b 1961, Los Angeles, now living in Rhode Island) who creates fantastic and often large sculptures out of old copies of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.    Her website is here, including some of her works, also more here and yet more about her is on the Encyclopaedia Britannica blog (yes, there really is an EB Blog) here.

Wendy Wahl
seven pieces, paper, yarn

95" x 60" x 36", 2001-2002 

Wendy Wahl
discarded/deconstructed/restructured encylopedia pages

40" x 16" x 17" ; 50" x 78" x 17" ; 60" x 95" x 17", 

I like the structures themselves, for their obviously tactile appeal, and their simple but somehow organic shapes.  But most of all, I like that Wendy Wahl has found a way to translate (or perhaps transfer) the information and knowledge contained within the EB to new and visible forms.  The EB sits on many dusty library shelves, often unopened for years, and the contents are seen only by the eager searchers after knowledge.  her works expose the pages, individually and en masse, to a wider audience, who may wonder about their original meaning, while enjoying the fantastic shapes and swirls of her sculptures. 

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Kitchen is finished!

Hooray!  The last week has seen wonderful progress, as the floor tiles were completed and grouted, the sideboard and sinks were fitted, and Leon in particular has done wonders to make everything fit and look as if it was designed to go just here.  Lizzie helped save me from a run-of-the-mill IKEA kitchen by realising we could re-use all the old furniture, and the guys have been fabulous in bringing it all together.
So while they worked, I slowly cleaned up the mess and removed the dust.  And with worktops oiled and sealed, and shelves fitted and drawers running, I have at last been able to reclaim the new kitchen as my own.  Everything has a home, just about, and there is lots of lovely workspace, and plenty of space for just sitting and talking too.  The big old sofa has moved into the room, and the AGA provides constant warmth and welcome.  I am sooo happy!

The only glitch is that the main folding glass doors have been horribly held up and won;'t be in place until the end of January - so in the meantime we have a temporary wall, helpfully and festively decorated by the urban art painters who hang out at weekends in the yard behind the house.

Here are some happy snaps, starting, as is only right and proper, with one of Lizzie test-sleeping the big, saggy, old sofa, which is newly installed in the kitchen and in due course will have a fine view of the minuscule but soon-to-be-beautiful back garden.....

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

College week 13, Digital Illustration 6th December

A successful afternoon re-learning the most basic moves in Photoshop, sufficient, anyway, to make four very simple stamp designs for our termly assignment for Garreth.  He is unfailingly patient with dinosaurs like me who find it ridiculously difficult to remember the simplest things.  I realise that I am quite proficient at Word, Powerpoint, etc - because I have had to learn them for work, and have used them so much that I can find my way around.  Moral: I need to use Photoshop etc as often as possible, so I build up a similar store of experience.
I resolved to find a way to build some digital work into my next Pathway project on Writing/Word - which on the face of it shouldn't be too difficult, so long as I don't just rely on Word-processing type products.  It is the photo manipulation, and doing clever things with In Design and Illustrator which i rally need to practice.  We will see.   Perhaps some digital design to prepare a screen print?  More thoughts needed yet...

Monday, 5 December 2011

College week 13, Pathway Assessment, 5th December

Today we had our first Pathway Project Assessment,  which I had been increasingly anxious about, and had done a lot of work in the pat week to take my project forward and have something to show which I felt reasonably happy with.
We were split into groups of 3 or 4 and had to take one person's project materials and look at ti all carefully and provide them with verbal and written feedback, against the assessment criteria (which are written in a very formal assessment geek style, hard to translate into real language).   I had some very positive comments about my map project, people seemed to like the stitched pieces particularly.  I felt I had done quite a lot in terms of documented research and experimentation, at least compared with some people who didn't have much of that to show.  Because we worked in groups, it wasn't possible to see very much of what other people had done, although there were one or two tremendous pieces,  people really pushing into adventurous approaches, materials, ideas.
This was just the right launch-pad for the second pathway project, which we have to complete by end January, with four full Monday's in college between now and then.  I have chosen the theme Writing/Word, and had a helpful tutorial with Abi.  I'm not yet very clear what I will produce, but we talked about the relationship between what I'm doing now, in art and more generally, and the old work and study life I used to lead, where the formal written word was king.  Lots of wild ideas about making a quilt out of words, or at least a series of quit led pockets into which words could be put, or making books with (or without) words,  Scale is an issue, still, but perhaps I will just decide that small is beautiful, and not strive to make a colossus when none is needed.
Anyway, overall, I had a good day, and came home enthusiastic about getting started on the next project.

Later, Lizzie and I went to listen to Terry Eagleton talking about Marxism at St Georges, part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas.  He is a good speaker, lively, relaxed, a few decent jokes, good at fielding questions. He pointed out that it is becoming increasingly ok for people to talk about the end of capitalism, or at least a radical change in the way capitalism works.  Also ideas about the shifting balance of economic power from the West towards China, India and Africa; the challenge of post-colonialism for western nations and multinationals, as well as for the (mainly) African states grappling with debt.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Maps Project - putting it together 4th December

Today has been a full day of sorting, cutting, mounting and recording the work for the Maps project.  It has taken a fair old time, including checking the photos on ties blog, and making sure I'd got my proposal and evaluation in shape.  The house is still in chaos from the building work, and I have been trying not to notice the mess, and the fact that nothing i where I'd like it to be.

This is what currently passes for the kitchen.... please note complete absence of cooking facilities.  And there is currently no door or window on the back of the house, so it is a trifle chilly.  But art goes on in spite of it all!

So some thing I had hoped to make or do, have to remain undone - because I cannot find the right printing ink, nor the wooden barbecue sticks I needed, etc, etc.

But I have got a surprisingly big collection of work to show, and it sort of hangs together so I feel fairly ok about the assessment tomorrow.  At least, i have a bundle of things to show, and to talk about.  Which is quite something considering how totally demotivated I felt a month ago.

Of course, I now have to start thinking about the second project, and need to have some reasons to give to a tutorial tomorrow.  At this stage (10.30 pm on Sunday night!) I think I will do Writing/Word.  but I really haven't given it much thought so far.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Life, Builders, Muddle, 3rd December

This week I have been struggling to keep up with my project work alongside continuing chaos arising from work on the kitchen.

Thee are constant requests from Duncan for decisions about things, such as the floor covering (slate tiles or oak boards?  the slate tiles won although I have had a several sleepless nights worrying about icy feet in the future), the location of electric sockets; the kitchen units, etc, etc, etc.

There have been various alarms, including poor Duncan having his truck stolen (disaster!) to appalling mistakes (by them, not us) over the sliding/folding/concertina glass doors to the garden - which have been horribly delayed, thanks to a mega-muddle by Magnet in Avonmouth.  I am to be walled in, literally, for the Christmas holiday until they can be fitted, hopefully not too long into the New Year.

In the meantime, we continue to camp in the sitting room with the kettle, toaster and microwave, and - sometimes - a sink and tap in the soon-to-be-utility space.

The fridge and freezer tuck neatly under the stairs...

Kettle balanced on top of microwave, on top of currently redundant piano stool, with copious amounts of dust to help keep everything level...

This week-end's temporary kitchen sink (thank you, Benjie) in what will, next week, be the utility space,  with matching sinks either side of the internal (formerly external) kitchen window.

The kitchen tiles, sans grout and sealant, which will bring out the rich dark polished slate.  I am worried that the overall effect may be too dark and sombre, but it is too late now, and I am sure it will be glorious when all is complete.  And anyway, it is only a floor....

Next week, this is where the new kitchen sink will be...

So for the time being, this is what the former outside space, soon to be the utility space, looks like.... Open to the elements, of course, but relatively warm and dry nevertheless.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Maps Project, contour lines again, 3rd december

Alongisde the work on print and stitch, I have done some more contour cutting.  Just because it is rather fun and I like the results.  I made another sketch-book, this time with two different contour cut-outs, designed to be read from the smallest cutting , turning the pages one by one to reveal the whole 'hole' in the middle.  Separately, I assembled the cut-out sections to make a small relief of the imaginary hills I had recorded.

Not terribly clever or meaningful, but fun to do and interesting to explore the pages.  Also, it's possible to hold the book like a flick-book so the 'hole' or the mountain contours flop open in a rapid stream, emphasising the tactile, playful nature of this construction.