New Studio Space

For a few years, when the Kings Road Artists have had open studio days, I have visited, and always come away thinking how wonderful it would be to have a permanent space in a building dedicated to working artists. I was warned that spaces were much in demand and hardly ever became available, so I was more than ecstatic last week when I found out that a space had been allocated to me.

The studios were established in 1986, and the courtyard in which they are located has developed into an exciting space to hang out, with coffee,  fresh bread, martial arts, and not forgetting Pipes Artisan Beer. There is also a farmer’s market every Saturday and regular craft and vintage markets, so I will have to be disciplined!

I think this is an important stage in my journey as an artist, as I can at last begin to properly develop my work. It feels like being able to breathe now that I have enough space to store my materials and to experiment without the inhibition of having to clean up after each session.

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My new studio.

For  now, I’m continuing with my textured pieces on reappropriated materials that have already ‘lived’ in a different form, building layers and scraping back to create a constant tension between destruction and creation.

 

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Close Your Eyes and Sing

Our workshop ‘Close Your Eyes and Sing: Expressive Painting,’ for the community arts festival, Made in Roath was a great success. More than fifty abstract works of art were created by individuals using the backs of old carpet tiles, and Picasso’s advice that ‘to draw you must close your eyes and sing’.

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Our first participants were good on the eyes closed part, but struggled to think of song lyrics, and didn’t seem keen on just humming or la la-ing, despite much encouragement! We weren’t too strict about following the rules, and by Sunday most people were painting with eyes wide open, which produced slightly different, more controlled work, but overall there was no worrying about not being able to paint or draw, as everyone was willing to have a go at manipulating the paint.

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I loved how the works were all so wildly different: even though the only materials were basic poster paints in primary colours, there was a surprising range of tones and textures and some wonderful mark making and use of negative space.

Participants working on their tiles.

 

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A few people came back the next day for a second go, or to tell us how much they enjoyed it. As it was such beautiful weather, it was possible to dry the paintings in the sun so that participants were able to collect their work later in the weekend.

 

 

 

New Work

I have been revisiting Max Ernst’s work, specifically his frottage, grattage and coulage techniques that prioritised automatism. Using his grattage (scraping) technique, Ernst covered his canvases completely with pattern and then interpreted the images that emerged, thus allowing texture to suggest composition in a spontaneous fashion. In The Forest the artist probably placed the canvas over a rough surface (perhaps wood), scraped oil paint over the canvas, and then rubbed, scraped, and overpainted the area of the trees.

The subject of a dense forest appears often in Ernst’s work of the late twenties and early thirties. These canvases, of which The Quiet Forest, 1927, is another example, generally contain a wall of trees, a solar disk, and an apparition of a bird hovering amid the foliage.

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Birth of a Galaxy, 1969. Max Ernst

 

 

Max Ernst, Silence Through the Ages, 1968

Silence through the Ages 1968

 

 

 

 

 

 

Max Ernst

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Moon in a Bottle

 

 

Max Ernst (German, 1891-1976) Demain (Painted in 1962)

       Max Ernst (German, 1891-1976) Violette Sonne

 

 

 

 

 

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Working on the back of a tile, building up texture, using scraffitio technique to scrape layers of paint about. I never know what the composition is going to be. It goes through many transformations and sometimes will not reach a resting point and I must begin again after hours of work.

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Landscape with Sun

 

Painting the Tiles

This year, the fabulous Made in Roath festival have received funding from the Welsh Arts Council, and invited artists to apply to run workshops or exhibitions throughout the festival. I decided to expand on the theme of my last year’s workshop, using one of Picasso’s quotes: ‘To draw, you must close your eyes and sing,’ as a way to encourage visitors to overcome inhibitions about painting and drawing.

I will be using the backs of old carpet tiles that were in my studio when I moved in, as, when primed with emulsion, they make ideal painting surfaces. So that is what myself and a fellow artist have been doing in preparation for the big weekend of 21/22 October. We will be inviting visitors to take a tile and paint it with eyes closed while singing. We are hoping to create a colourful Art Path around the space, continuing outside into the community.

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Ibrahim El-Salahi: A Visionary Modernist

I first came across this artist at Tate Modern in 2013, surprised that this was the first exhibition there dedicated to African Modernism. Ibrahim El-Salahi has recently had a solo exhibition at the Ashmolean, Oxford where he now lives.

Ibrahim El-Salahi, ‘Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams I’ 1961–5

I stood in front of this 8 foot square painting: Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams I

(1961–5) for a long time, entranced by the otherworldly beings that coalesced into a haunting, multi-layered composition. It reminded me of elements of abstract expressionists and surrealists I admired, but with a potent style of its own. There seemed to be an integration of Islamic, African, Arab and Western artistic traditions, with the utilization of spaces and forms in Arabic calligraphy that I read were woven into memories of El-Salahi’s childhood in Sudan where his father ran a Qur’anic school in his house.

Interestingly, working closer with text brought a breakthrough for El-Salahi. As he began breaking down the letters to find what gave them meaning, animal forms, human forms and plant forms began to emerge from the once-abstract symbols. “That was when I really started working. Images just came, as though I was doing it with a spirit I didn’t know I had,” he says.

An early work, exhibited at the Ashmolean, represents the time when the artist was finding his own visual narrative, developing his own artistic identity. In Untitled, 1957 (below), he paints his own face, influenced by abstract writing and African and European visual culture, continuing to develop this style in his 1961 portrait  Self-Portrait of Suffering.

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                                                                                                     Self-Portrait of Suffering,1961

Other figures in El-Salahi’s works come into existence through an intuitive artistic process relating to the artist’s inner self rather than the outer world, the faces suggesting a spiritual dimension where human existence is linked to a world of dreams and meditations.

 

Pen and ink drawings on watercolour paper.

Meditative drawings that El-Salahi has made on envelopes and medicine packets when suffering from physical pain.

 

In the Oxford exhibition, El-Salahi’s works are placed in dialogue with specially selected ancient Sudanese objects from the Ashmolean’s collection that reflect El-Salahi’s use of rich earthy tones, a conscious attempt to create a Sudanese aesthetic.  Examples of pottery, decorated with images of the people, plants and animals of the region, were chosen together with the artist.

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                          ‘Untitled’, Ibrahim El-Salahi, 1967                ‘No shade but his shade’, 1968

The exhibition also featured works from El-Salahi’s Tree Series, the tree being a major motif in his work. He became interested in the haraz tree, an acacia indigenous to Sudan that grows in the Nile valley, when exploring the nomadic nature of Sudanese identity. The haraz becomes a symbol of the Sudanese and their resilience. It is uniquely contradictory, remaining leafless and bare during the rainy season and being the only plant that blossoms in the dry season. El-Salahi uses the tree metaphorically as a link between heaven and earth, creator and created.

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https://www.ashmolean.org/event/ibrahim-el-salahi-a-sudanese-artist-in-oxford

Inspiring Lines

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Cardiff Print Workshop have collaborated with local poets Will Dean Ford and Hilary Griffiths to create an exhibition for Llandough Hospital’s HeARTh Gallery. Workshop members have chosen a poem or line to use as inspiration for their prints which include linocut, collagraph, cyanotype and monoprints.

Opening is: 5th September 2018 at 11am. Exhibition continues until the 28th September 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Cyanotype Prints

 

 

 

 

 

Exhibition: Pioneering Abstract Artists

The exhibition Surface Work (11 April – 16 June 2018 at the Victoria Miro, Mayfair) was a rich feast, with abstract work by more than 50 artists, all women, from five continents, spanning every decade between 1918 and 2018.

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I knew of some of the artists who have “shaped and transformed, and continue to influence and expand, the language and definition of abstract painting”: Helen Frankenthaler, Yayoi Kusama, Lee Krasner, Agnes Martin, Mira Schendel, Gillian Ayres to name a few, but the majority were new to me, and it was revelatory to ‘discover’ so many artists who had been there for years, producing fantastic work in obscurity.

The exhibition gave me the opportunity to see work I had only seen small reproductions of in books such as one of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Nets.  Kusama began painting the Nets in the early sixties shortly after she moved to New York, living in poverty until she began to sell work through a dealer. I love the intensity and repetition of the repeating loops that seem to expand and contract like a murmuration. There is a tension between a random and systematic aesthetic. Apparently, Kusama would paint the Nets for uninterrupted sessions of 40 to 50 hours as a way to channel and contain her mania. She has repeatedly revisited and expanded this body of work throughout her career.

 

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Infinity Net (HNBKY) made in 2012

 

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 Kusama with early ‘Infinity Net’ paintings in her New York studio, 1961

 

Also immersed in the tradition of the sublime is Loie Hollowell’s work. Link Lingam (yellow, green, blue, purple, pink) 2018, has an intriguing undulating surface that folds into the design giving it a sculptural element.

Loie Hollowell

 

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Jessica Warboys’ large canvases are ‘painted’ by the sea shifting and scattering mineral pigments into them. The coast and landscape are a source of inspiration and influence for Warboys, who draws upon pagan history and folklore in her films and performances. She had a solo exhibition at Tate St Ives recently that included Hill of Dreams, a film that draws from Welsh fantasy writer Arthur Machen’s book of the same name.

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See here for the online catalogue with overview of every artist.