Sunday, 4 October 2020

And Rothko

Jennifer Campbell visits the Rothko room at Tate Britain and has an evolving experience.

Deep shades overlap and hover. Colour becomes a repeating sound that subtly changes inside the flesh-glow of a human ear. I turn to another surface where veils of pale violet filter a cherry maroon, creating a new colour that my eye cannot fix. All the shades are flat, but not shallow. The shadow areas morph like oil, absorbing and regurgitating the light from outside of the painting. I move to another painting and the pale violet becomes a fine blue mist, as if a damp morning from outside of the city, came by to leave its breath marks on this stained taught fabric. No such breathy wisp exists though - it is clear that every part of the image before me has been made by a human hand and manual tools. I’m breathing in my own muffled breath as I look at this touched surface, a surface that is saturated and rich from contamination. 



Photo Szandra Mile 

 

I am in the Tate Britain with my friend Szandra, whose obsession is art and architecture and where the two meet. I cycled here to minimise contamination risk, but I am also craving contamination: I need influence from outside of my isolated unit, having spent most of the first part of lockdown in my windowless studio making paintings upon paintings upon paintings. Szandra and I communicate through our masked mouths, interrupting and collaborating with each other’s thoughts. We admire the looseness of the paint, the scrappy edges, the confidence. I try to steal the confidence for myself because it is my duty to. We admire the drips and splashes of paint and their permission to remain. I think about Japanese ideas that I have browsed in fashionable coffee-table books in a previous dead-end job. I think about how these ideas would have been less accessible at the time these were painted, more hidden from the bright white light of consumable tastes. Those ideas seem real in this room and in these paintings and at this particular moment. I try to hold onto this effect because I know it is fragile and the next moment it might become phoney and dead. 

 

He was supposedly a nice man, I say. He was an introvert, she says. We can never know how true these statements are and we know that no person is one thing. We have the gallery to ourselves, we feel the rarity. These paintings are like a portal back to a very specific time, I say. It is strange thing for them to travel out of their original context, to become separate from the soup of communication, exchange and human interactions, of post war New York and the abstract expressionism neighbourhood. You cannot make these paintings now, I say, or if you did it would mean something different. We read that they were originally meant for a restaurant, but then Rothko cancelled the commission. I’m happy to know that all painters have to deal with these shitty decisions. Szandra points my attention to the room we are in and the natural light that is being filtered down from above, so that we have a better chance of seeing the fleeting thing that these paintings can show us. They show themselves differently in different times, like us. Now she makes me see how the room is too small. I had not realised. Now I see that the floor is stuffy and jarring: an orange shade of wood that intrudes part way up the bottom of the walls. I can gladly drink in a jarring colour combo in the right context trying too hard and yet not trying hard enough. We peer into Szandra’s phone screen, at small backlit images of the chapel where Rothko’s paintings are so perfectly at home, on tall white textured walls. The spell is broken, but I fed off it before it dispersed. 

 

Jennifer Campbell

 

 

Mark Rothko, The Seagram Murals

Part of the Turner Rothko Collection Route

Tate Britain, London

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Soft Bodies

William Garvin visits 'Soft Bodies' at Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, an exhibition that takes its title from soft-body dynamics, a field of computer-generated graphics which creates simulations of soft materials such as muscle, fat, hair, vegetation and fabric.


'How is the skin? Is it smooth? Is it warm? Is it soft? Is it dry?' These words, intoned by a disembodied voice in Stine Deja's computer animation The Perfect Human (2015), consider the human body within realms of imaginative possibility, a theme central to Soft Bodies. The exhibition draws inspiration from soft body dynamics; a form of computer-generated graphics with applications in film and video games, endowing surfaces of life simulations with movement, flexibility and elasticity. Though inspired by developments in digital technology, the artists presented here encompass a range of media and perspectives. 




Stine Deja, The Perfect Human (SDej004.15), 2015, video still. Image courtesy of the artist.



Everywhere we look we see bodies framed by dangers as well as utopian potentials. In the Jake Moore and Semi Precious music video Other Life (2019), eight reclining figures are mapped onto a rectangular inner chamber: everything drenched in an emotionally neutralising blue. An atmosphere of erotic langorousness is evoked: a langorousness that has taken hold to the point of inertia. Flowing lines of digital graphics create ever-changing configurations, in a dynamic exploration of contours and surfaces. 



Jake Moore and Semi Precious, Other Life, 2019, film still. Image courtesy Annie Feng.



Elsewhere, Emma Cousin's oil paintings feature vividly dramatised characters engaging in a perpetual reaching, contorting, pushing and pulling with and against one another. Fingers hook into empty eye sockets and other orifices, in a melange of violence, possession and desire. In Xiuching Tsay's paintings, by contrast, organic-looking forms flow and meld within strange, phantasmagorical landscapes. An example of visual art reaching places inaccessible to language. 




Emma Cousin, Hook line and sink her, 2019, oil on linen. Image courtesy of the artist.





Xiuching Tsay, Arthur Rubinstein's listener, 2019. Image courtesy Annie Feng.


 

The dreaming continues with Sam Rushton's animation Thus Spoke Zarathustra (2019), which takes place in an urban gothic nightmare of book burnings and forbidden knowledge. Here, soft body technology goes into overdrive as the human body becomes the site of bizarre mutations. 

In a podcast conversation with Emma Cousin and fiction writer Raj Parameswaran, Megan Snowe locates the origin of Body Drawings (2019 - ongoing) in the need to escape conceptual thought, and to embrace something more spontaneous and instinctive. The drawings themselves; light graphite shadings of sensuous, imaginary forms correspond to a sensual self projected into non-physical realms. 

The ongoing photo series Tests in Malham (2019) features Sadé Mica striking a series of poses against an incongruous backdrop of hillsides and rushing water. The poses are taken from a textbook intended for male and female life models. In these enactments, conventional notions of male and female naturalness are juxtaposed against the vastness of nature itself. 




Sadé Mica, Tests in Malham No.3, 2019, digital print on photographic paper. Image courtesy of the artist.



The exhibition also features works by George Gibson, Aliyah Hussain and Anna Bunting-Branch (Potential Wor(l)ds) and Robin Megannity. 

Whilst Soft Bodies was originally intended as an imaginative response to developments in computer graphics, 'soft' could equally call to mind the vulnerability of the human body at a time of global pandemic. Whatever the interpretation, Soft Bodies offers a welcome and timely opportunity to see ourselves afresh.

 

William Garvin 

 

Soft Bodies
Castlefield Gallery
Manchester 
16 September - 1 November 2020

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Toyin Ojih Odutola 'A Countervailing Theory'

A sublime chasm has opened in the heart of The City. A fantastical transgression, revealing not more Roman debris but the remnants of another ancient culture. Calling to mind the intricate narratives of Egyptian hieroglyphics, in this church otherwise allegorical stained glass has been replaced by colourless constellations; mapped by a poet-sorcerer.



                              
Toyin Ojih Odutola, A Countervailing Theory, installation view, The Curve, Barbican
© Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo Max Colson 

   



The reverberations from A Countervailing Theory, the first UK exhibition of Toyin Ojih Odutola’s work, is as mesmerising as it is metaphorical. Composed of 40 white on black drawings, hung relatively high in the Barbican’s dim The Curve space, and intoxicated by Peter Adjaye’s musical score Ceremonies Within, A Countervailing Theory charts, in monumental fragments, an ancient way of living, a speculative way of living, that challenges prefigurative history and the norms that dictate being today. 

 

Like a vital pulse that sustains our being, storytelling is the life-stuff of Ojih Odutola’s practice. This exhibition tells the story of a prohibited coming together: Akank, a member of the Eshu female ruling class, meets Aldo, a Koba humanoid manufactured by their Eshu masters to carry out hard manual labour, and together they set in motion the breakdown of imperial imaginaries. The exhibition unfurls as a sequence of articulations, Ojih Odutola's monochromatic drawings whisper a narrative, from life to death and life anew, charting a relationship that pushes against the dictums that establish this imperial social body.




                                   

Toyin Ojih Odutola, The Ruling Class (Eshu) 

© Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.




Moulded and aged by a hand who knows how to make empathy visually palpable, each of Ojih Odutola’s figures is crafted from dark waves in moonlight. Flicks of bright white pastel, smooth smudges of chalk, and deep crevices of charcoal, layer, like tissue, to form our semi-androgynous protagonist-beings. Ojih Odutola’s ruminations on the formal power of mark-making not only create bodies that ripple with singing flesh but conjure loose intelligible landscapes. The interplay between the intricacies of beings and the gestural suggestion of a heavily structured landscape alludes to the way in which social bodies are microverses constituted by the regimes in which they live.




                               

Toyin Ojih Odutola, Establishing the Plot  

 © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York




An eerie echo of historical coloniality, or a mindful whisper to our shadowy neo-colonial modernity, A Countervailing Theory speaks to us now, at a time when awareness of oppression and violence has been heightened both through physical distancing and the uproar following the murder of black bodies by police in the United States of America. Returning to the dichotomy between hyper(sur)real flesh and trope-like landscape, Ojih Odutola’s scenes, with their cut-off cropping, allow us to project into each image, in turn provoking metaphoric ruminations on the social body’s sensorial regime and its effect on being. 

 

'The presence of tranquillity in a work of art speaks of a great internal civilisation. Because you can’t have the tranquillity without reflection, you can’t have the tranquillity without having asked the great questions about your place in the universe, and having answered these questions to some degree of satisfaction. And that, for me, is what civilisation is.' Ben Okri (quoted in exhibition catalogue).


Parting ways with A Countervailing Theory, I am left aesthetically moved, left contemplating the possibilities for worlds anew, left wondering, how do our bodies move in waves at midnight?



Toby Upson



             


Toyin Ojih Odutola, Imitation Lesson; Her Shadowed Influence

 © Toyin Ojih Odutola. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York





Toyin Ojih Odutola, A Countervailing Theory  

The Curve 

Barbican, London

11 August 2020 - 24 January 2021 

(free entry - but booking in advance is essential). 



Wednesday, 19 August 2020

ART LOCALE: Paintings by Graeme Grant

Philosophically musing on the current lockdown, Alex Michon recounts how an altruistic coming together between artists and neighbours brought about some much appreciated community creativity to her west London neighbourhood.


‘The happiest of all lives is a busy solitude’ Voltaire




The enforced lockdown in March 2020 which plunged us all into a vortex of uncertainty and trepidation also ushered in an unforeseen focus on an existential pool of possibilities.

Unlike Hindu philosophers, Taoist poets, Jewish mystics or Catholic hermits, this turning away from our external reality towards an inner contemplative life was not made from choice, nor did it necessarily involve a search for the divine. 


Writing in the 16th Century, the Carmelite nun, Anne of St. Bartholomew advised that; 'Silence is precious; by keeping silent and knowing how to listen to God, the soul grows in wisdom and God teaches it what it cannot learn from men'. If God had been trying to talk to us during our Covid 19 at home alone time, (s)he would have had to compete with the noise from Joe Wicks' daily on-line fitness workouts, the buzz of Netflix box sets or the daily ding-donging of Deliveroo. In those early days of unknowing, when we were all addicted to the Prime Minister's 5pm broadcasts with their scary death charts and their 'all in this together' Blitz spirit propaganda, it was all too easy to be numbed into a somnolent, TV-trash watching stupor of inactivity. Day by day it became increasingly harder to concentrate on anything remotely academic or creative whilst this horrific pandemic rampaged throughout the world like some overblown bad American disaster movie. 


Speaking to the artist Graeme Grant at his exhibition in West Kensington, I asked how lockdown had been for him; 'Eventually, I actually found it very productive,' he told me, 'But to be honest, for the first month I just couldn't do anything. I found it hard to concentrate. Like everyone else I suppose I was caught up in the fearful uncertainty of it all.'

Artists and writers are generically hard wired to cope with alone time, understanding the importance of what psychoanalyst Adam Phillips has termed 'fertile solitude' and how it is essential not only for creativity but for general well-being. That vital role of solitude for art is what Louise Bourgeois explores in several of the letters and diary entries collected in her writings and interviews 1923-1997: Louise Bourgeois: Destruction of the Father / Reconstruction of the Father (MIT Press, 1998) 

In September 1937, Bourgeois writes to her friend Colette Richarme who is leaving Paris for a respite in the countryside: 'Solitude, even prolonged solitude, can only be of very great benefit. Your work may well be more arduous than it was in the studio, but it will also be more personal.'

Almost as soon as lockdown came into force, artists sprung into action on Instagram. Matthew Burrows initiated the Artist Support Pledge with the simple idea that artists who commit to the pledge post images of works for sale for no more than £200 and each time their sales reach £1,000 they promise to buy another artist's work: ’I realised the work needed to be cheap enough to make selling it an act of generosity, but also I needed to make that infectious,'  says Burrows, ‘generosity creates generosity.’

This new spirit of altruism was something which also manifested itself in those early days in a renewed sense of the value of community. In my own street my neighbour reignited a previous WhatsApp street group. Each house was personally visited by Karen Enweliku and informed about the group. The aim was to make sure all vulnerable residents knew where they could turn  for help. Soon neighbours were shopping for shielders and the App was inundated with offers of help with shopping, posting mail or collecting newspapers.  

One of the first things advertised was a piano recital which took place every day at 5pm from one of the nearby flats. The player remained unseen while strains of classical piano floated out through her open window. Neighbours on balconies, passers by on bikes and even local police officers would all stop and listen. It became a reassuring routine and was often incredibly moving. It was during one of these concerts that I got talking to Graeme Grant who I learned was a neighbour of mine and an artist. He told me that this inspiring musician was the internationally renowned concert pianist Harriet Stubbs, a child prodigy who began playing piano at the age of three and was a graduate of the Guildhall School of Music at age five. Having previously collaborated with both Goldie and Blur bassist Alex James, for her 20 minute lockdown concerts Stubbs would play a variety of classics from Bach to Bowie to the Beatles. In all, Stubbs played over 200 concerts for her neighbours ‘It was very moving’ she said in an interview for the Standard a ‘one little girl brought me flowers on a scooter. There’s been so many lovely ways that they’ve said thank you.’ Stubbs’s generosity extended to Grant when she suggested that he hold an exhibition of his paintings in her flat while she was away playing a concert in New York. 

Grant, who studied painting at the London Fine Art Studios in Battersea, had been planning to hold a exhibition some time in the new year, but this ad hoc offer was too tempting to turn down  and so for a week from 8 August between 5 and 7pm Grant hosted an exhibition in this local flat. Throughout the week that the show was on, quite a large number of local people came to see it.

The unpretentious hang, with some paintings exhibited informally on a table or leaning against a wall, coupled with the fact that many were works in progress and unframed gave the whole exhibition a contemporary feel. One of the most intriguing was a large oil painting of a handsome young dandy who appeared to me to be striking a balletic pose. This beautiful boy had about him all the romantic appeal of a Diaghilev, a Valentino or a Nureyev. Grant explains that this painting called After Caillebotte was based on a painting by one of the lesser known impressionists. Revealing that what had drawn him to the original, and somewhat confirming my initial balletic pose impression, Grant explains that, 'there was something I liked about the figure's gesture that intrigued me and I wanted to see if I could capture some of that essence, also I was drawn to the white of his shirt, as white is notoriously difficult to paint and so I wanted to try and tackle that.' The work however is not a mere copy, Grant instead re-imagines the narrative for his own purposes;  'in the original' he says 'the man looks really quite po-faced but as he is standing near a bed I felt that he should be looking more post coital so that is how I painted him.'




'Faces are the most interesting things we see’ writes David Hockney, ‘and the most interesting aspect of other people - the point where we go inside them is the face. It tells all.’

I felt that some of the strongest pieces in Grant’s show were his portraits. Citing John Singer Sargent as one of his favourite painters it is clear that the artist obviously has a sure-footed facility for this genre. But even without knowing the sitters’ identities, these portraits contain intriguing suggestive narratives. What is the story one wonders behind the aesthetic young man in the brown sweater with his resolute yet melancholic stareGrant admits that he originally wanted to paint ‘large abstract landscapes’ but somehow even though he finds people ‘the most difficult to paint’ he is still irresistibly drawn towards portraiture. 






The revelation that came to Grant through lockdown and through this, his first small exhibition, was how important painting was to him. ‘I’ve had such a great response,' he told me, 'it’s made me realise that even though I still have a lot to learn - this is what I want to fully concentrate on. I thought - yes I am an artist!’


Counterintuitively just as we were all forced to go into lockdown, to walk the road of the hermit, albeit with the background hum of all the available tech, we were also building on a long forgotten sense of community. Putting paid to Thatcher's damaging  claim that 'there's no such thing as societymy local community, at least,  stepped up, with a 'lets do the show right here in our own backyard DIY' generosity and optimism. 


As Honoré de Balzac wrote ‘Solitude is fine but you need to tell someone that solitude is fine too.’



Alex Michon 

August 2020 

 



Graeme Grant Paintings 

Corner of Challoner Street and Charleville Road, London W14 

8-13 August 2020 

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Paul Housley, The Poets Elbow

Toby Upson breaks free from the lockdown to see some actual real life art - Paul Housley's visceral paintings in his show The Poets Elbow at Belmacz in Mayfair, London.


Turning off Oxford Street I was almost flattened by a portly fellow on a mid-afternoon run. (though describing his pace as a run is pushing it somewhat.) Writ large on his felt-grey t-shit ‘Fuck The Tories.’ And adorning his hands, dayglo, DAYGLO marigolds. Strange encounters have been a daily part of my lockdown, and I’m sure I am not alone in this. Glitchy Zoom calls, hit and run postmen, shit-show online exhibitions, and mounting tensions with flatmates who have left their dirty dishes on the side, again! After 77 days of confinement in my 2.5 x 4m bedroom/office/gym/studio, I am finally outside and on my way to see some paintings. None of that HD backlit stuff, some real life oil on canvas, paintings. Paul Housley’s exhibition The Poets Elbow at Belmacz to be precise. 

Paul Housley works with the stuff that is paint. Objects in themselves, paintings do not get much grittier than this. Drawn in and spat out, I spend my first five minutes flopping around the small gallery space; overwhelmed, like a pig in shit - or to be more precise an art hoe who hasn’t been in a white cube for about three months - bathing in the sheer physicality of the PAINTINGS!!!

Paint Bores (2020), a mighty diptych, is the work that opens the show. Its presence is announced not only by its sheer size but by its rapturous surface. The painting depicts four male figures, drunk and sweaty, cast against a toxic yellow background. Their eyes baggy, their teeth rotten. Their faces conveying a life burnt away: gambled on a barely imagined future, one dreamed up in the lonely lonely hours when one is cast adrift in the studio (to paraphrase the texts in the exhibitions accompanying book). The group has a powerless presence. Details such as a painterly ‘punk’ pin badge and cliche ‘I ’ banner give me the impression that this band was once hot stuff (think 1D with added east end grunge), but now, in their dishevelled state, their only audience are the regulars down at the Poets Elbow; that sticky six-story inn, two streets behind the main road - you know the place, the pub that doesn’t do white wine. Exuberant jabs of oil give each figure a recognisable ego. Caricatures of Monet and Van Gogh, whose ear has been dissected by the join in the diptych, are positioned in the centre of the scene. They are flanked by a one-eyed Guston and a bleary Pollock. As a painter whose focus is the stuff of paint, Housley’s formal handling calls to mind the bold styles practised by these ‘masters.’ But rather than leading to pure autonomy Housley’s twisted faces pastiche any notion of high art, sending my mind running. 


Paul Housley, Paint Bores, 2020, oil on canvas, 154 x 244cm



After a while Paint Bores spits me out. As I spin around the gallery, a full 180 degrees, the double-faced figure of The Embracer (2020) greets me. A wrestler, donning nothing but leatherette Speedos and matching boots, fills an ill-defined ring. In stark contrast to the thickly painted busts of Paint Bores, The Embracer is so painterly any macho associations with wrestling disintegrate. Thin layers of ghostly oil reveal every tentative brushstroke, every sleight of hand. I am particularly drawn to the trembling marks Housley uses to flesh out his protagonist. Rather than opting for a fully constituted body, this approach creates a duality: is the figure a mirage with a disembodied arm, or a meaty giant too massive to fully take in, the cellulite around his stomach spilling out from those tight black briefs. This translucency strips the scene of any shallow theatrics, that are so evocative of my pre-pubescent years being forced to passively gaze at WWE wrestlers spewing nonsensical ‘big-talk.’ Rather than relying on TV performativity, Housley foregoes a midground and uses triangular forms to emphasise his figures presence. This immediacy is reinforced by the strong horizontal band of beige at the bottom of the composition which places me firmly in The Embracer’s pictorial space. Am I in the ring!? Just the thought is enough to make me feel faint…



Paul Housley, The Embracer, 2020, oil on canvas, 40 x 30cm



I have never been one to face off with a triangular Goliath. In my teens, WWE was a shallow bore rather than a captivating epic. Back then I much rather play Peeping Tom, peering into the scandalous lives of celebrities, sniffing out the ‘dirty side of glamour.’ And of course, the apogee of my hunt, rich bodies writhing next to (and on top of) one another - thank you TV. Despite the mediated gaze and the obvious ‘fauxness,’ there was something tantalising about being the voyeur. Standing in Belmacz, gazing down the gallery’s stairwell, the wholly staged placement of Dr. Louche (2020) ignited in me that very same phantasmic eroticism. Situated in a smoky room, the painting depicts a single ghostly figure reclining in a grandiose red armchair. Unlike the lonely figure of The Embracer and the incessant slurring of the group depicted in Paint Bores, this skinny figure appears wholly hallucinatory: constituted by the steam emanating from my loins and that magic powder I picked up in the bathroom. He is more than a mere Casanova or passive Hugh Grant. Stripped of everything but his ornate Manolo Blahnik loafers, and exuding a dark Yves Saint Laurent exoticism, the figure’s barely defined face nods us forward and we approach, mesmerised. Housley’s thick application of paint not only elongates the figure but gives his skin a haptic quality: oily, sweaty, that residue left after a gritty encounter ending on cloud nine.



 
Paul Housley, Dr.Louche, 2020, oil on canvas, 50.5 x 40cm



Such confidence, such conviction, in the visceral power of paint to conjure elusive dreamworlds runs throughout the show. Not only in the works I have mentioned here but in the small sketches Housley has been working on and sending to the gallery whilst the show has been closed – due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Quick A5 sketches of recognizable ‘Housley’ subject matter, owls, still lives, gangly figures, in pen, in pastel, and classy felt tip constitute this correspondence. Far from mere accompaniments, these sensitive works reveal Housley’s softer side. Frantic, yet precise; mushy, and detached, they read like love letters, not so much to the works on display but to the very act of painting itself; that is, the gritty process of corralling strange encounters locked-down in the artists’ twisted mind. 


Toby Upson



The Poets Elbow
Paul Housley
Belmacz, London.

until July 17 2020 
Gallery iopen Monday to Friday 11.00 - 17.00 (by appointment).


Thursday, 27 February 2020

Isadora Now: A Triple Bill

Rosemary Cronin finds no body shaming in the free-flowing fabrics and wetness on show at a very contemporary re-enactment of the powerful work of the revolutionary dancer Isadora Duncan.  


Viviana Durante Company, Isadora Now, Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan, Begoña Cao, image credit David Scheinmann



Isadora Duncan fans will recognise the core motifs of our favourite dancer from the moment the show starts; the sound of crashing waves, a strong red hue over the stage, classical pillars, flowing fabrics and rose petals. At first I was worried that the performance would simply replay these motifs, and however joyful it is to see classical works enacted on stage the spirit of Isadora Duncan is far too fierce to be reflected by memories. 

After the interval any worries I had were daintily kicked away with the piece Unda, choreographed by Joy Alpuerto Ritter. The safety curtain revealed a simple staging of large classical bowls with light and running drops of water streaming down from the heavens into each bowl. Elegant body movement lines were punctuated with isolated incisive limb movements with the five dancers transformed into a contemporary set of Furies, like an all-girl dance band you want to be in or watch forever. Serene Zaccagnini was particularly mesmerizing with her sharp but fluid movements.


Viviana Durante Company, Isadora Now, Unda, Christina Cecchini and Joy Alpuerto Ritter, image credit David Scheinmann


Farooq Chaudry’s production and Marie Canteny’s Studio for set and costume design serve to greatly enhance the girls’ movements. The costumes, whilst taking elements of Duncan’s original inclination to flowing fabrics (allowing the body to move freely and adding to the flow of the solar plexus), introduced a contemporary structure through the considered cuts and folds in their designs. 

As the piece edged towards a particularly furious climax, the intensity was increased as the dancers covered themselves with water and threw their hair around with abandon. The costumes at this point used wetness in a strikingly relevant way, reminiscent of fashion designer Di Petsa, where the wetness is used as a celebration of the female body rather than referring to humility or bawdiness. 

What really ignited this all girl ensemble was the presence of female musicians on stage in both the Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan (Frederick Ashton) with Anna Geniushene on piano, and in Unda original music composed and performed by Lih Qun Wong, with her heart wrenching cello accompaniment. 


Viviana Durante Company, Isadora Now, Dance of the Furies, image credit David Scheinmann


I also realised how important it was to be reminded of the history of Isadora Duncan’s earlier works as demonstrated by the first two pieces from this triple bill, which allowed the audience to be transported back to the early 1900s when Duncan’s works were truly revolutionary. They allowed us to truly appreciate her influence on contemporary dance. Sadly, Viviana Durante was unable to perform on the night I went, but that didn’t shake this tight knit female ensemble and their timely reminder of Duncan’s immense power.

Rosemary Cronin


Isadora Now: A Triple Bill
Viviana Durante Company at The Barbican, London
21 – 29 February 2020

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

It’s not all blue: CMYK dreamscapes at Frieze London

Toby Upson surveys the greasy beast, pop-up big top, that was Frieze London 2019

As the sun sets on a decade of mounting doom…Scratch that…On the brink of sunrise, we sit, waiting for the cold autumn dew, waiting for the darkness that has enveloped us to lift; burnt away by the radiant morning sun…cough art-wanker cough…

How do you begin writing, indeed thinking, about Frieze Art Fair? Now in its sweet-sixteenth London iteration, with hubs in New York and LA, this year’s fair is marketed as ‘the most international yet.’ (Fanfare… as inclusivity quotas finally make it as sexy marketing materials…) It is easy to be critical of the Fair, slating its capitalist connotations, mocking its un-coolness, and vilifying it as an artist ‘killer’, not an artist ‘feeder;’ but what’s the point? In our age of homogenous neoliberal reductivism, Frieze, like much of the art world, like much of western reality, is a greasy beast, but one that’s here to stay. So, let’s stop crying with loaves under our arms and blag our way in and enjoy the cringy delights that reside in the pop-up big top; after all we all love a dirty kabab and a cheesy chick flick once in a while.

Sunrise and sunset, they often look similar but lead in two different directions: night in, night out; up for work, burrowing down till noon, and it’s from this perspective of pastel pink and cold cyan that I began to ponder Frieze 2019. 


Francis Picabia, Untitled, 1933, coloured pencil, ink on paper, 27x21cm


I love Francis Picabia, and it was nice to see his weary presence in this contemporary art fair. Situated amongst a constellation of small drawings all made by western modernist/contemporary masters, Picabia’s intimate sketch Untitled, 1933, depicts a knackered petit maître, gazing past us, overlooking the fair’s frolicking youth. As a group the collection of drawings resembles a troop about to perform some great act… no wait, they resemble the troop post performance, I mean look at that face, it needs a coffee!

Exceeding the confines of the discarded envelope, Picabia uses sharp lines of cold blue ink to define his characters facial forms; with looser washes being used to create dramatic arched eyebrows and glittering eyes. It’s not all blue however, Picabia injects drama with exaggerated scratches of deep red around his figure’s cheeks and curvaceous lips. The effect; a sense of exhaustion paired with bitch please sass (totally calling to mind Snoop Dogg’s 1998 album cover).  


Snoop Dogg, Bitch Please, No Limits Records album cover, 1998


A similarly affective use of blue and pink can be seen in Johannes Kahrs Untitled (women and can), 2019. Here Karhs’ fluid application of paint creates a figure that appears as an unstable apparition: as a mirage, something akin to a late night ‘is that you?’moment. Emerging from a shadowy backdrop the isolated figure almost pops out of the canvas to join us trawling the fair. Armed with a glinting can of Dutch courage, she seems up for going all night long, though I wonder if she needs anymore of that intoxicating nectar.The figures present-ness, her full-on charge out of the gloom, when paired with the ephemerality of her construction, creates a delicate tone, one reminiscent of those poetic moments of transference between day and night: one that reverberates softly, shifting ever so slightly every second until the moment is over and normality can continue. 


Johannes Kahrs, Untitled (woman and can), 2019, oil on canvas, 91x130cm


A sense of poetic normality is again rendered in painterly touches of pink, blue and radiant gold pigments in Claire Tabouret’s Patricia with her eyes closed (blue), 2019. Here Tabouret, whose delicate figures can be seen in a number of booths, captures an elegant ‘soccer mom’ in a state of whimsical dreaming. Concealed behind the golden skin Tabouret’s figure seems at peace with herself as she contemplates a dreamscape of CMYK possibilities. Hand to cheek, leaning ever so slightly to the left the figure does not force her way to another plane, instead she seems to evaporate through a paradoxical use of texture; coarse brushwork is used to define her loose curls, with definite lines constructing her flowing clothing. This contradictory use of formal elements makes me think about the idea of the façade and the faux-corporeal projections we all wheel out now and then (something that is omnipresent at Frieze). 


Claire Tabouret, Patricia with her eyes closed (blue), 2019,  acrylic and ink on paper, 76x56cm



Relief, passion and awe, the pretty colours that inevitably flood the sky twice a day mark not only the unstoppable movement of our planet around the sun, but also provide a reflective moment from which we can get hyped-up! or begin to snuggle down. As time un-Friezes and London’s art world returns to its more manageable pace, I am left thinking more snuggly nights in are called for (for the next week or so anyway).

Toby Upson


Frieze London
Regent's Park
3-6 October 2019