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

4th – 28th September 2018

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.

sallywilliams.All Sweetness and Light

sallywilliams.Jekyll and Hyde

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Whatever the Weather

The sessions that I am running at the lovely new mental health unit Hafan Y Coed have evolved into a combination of writing and art. As this is a new venture for me, it has been interesting to see how the planning of the course translates into practice.

We have taken a generic theme for each session, and this week was ‘weather’. As mindfulness is really useful in cultivating creativity, I’ve tried to incorporate it into the sessions. Learners initially used pictorial prompts as a focus, imagining themselves into  various natural scenes, engaging all the senses through a short guided visualization. From this, they did some free-writing – jotting down anything that came to mind without worrying about punctuation or spelling or whether it seemed relevant – anything at all. This free-writing often leads to some unexpected story seeds and associations that can be developed later into a poem or short prose piece.

We read poems by some well known poets relating to the weather, and discussed how we felt about each piece. Then I presented a few examples of expressive art such as Frank Auerbach’s  series of drawings he made after walking on Primrose Hill, and Georgia O’Keeffe’s watercolour, ‘Sunrise’.

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Working Drawings for ‘Primrose Hill’ 1968. Coloured chalks and black pencil on cartridge paper.

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Sunrise, 1916 – Georgia O’Keeffe

 

As we had access to the resources in the art therapy room, there was a good variety of mediums for learners to choose from to create their own weather-inspired art works. Within the work, they could incorporate their favourite words or phrases from those they had written earlier.

Two wonderful landscapes with text, using acrylic paint and coloured pencils.

 

 

Natural Abstracts

Some stunning paintings made in response to two stories from Africa today on the Children’s Art and Storytelling course that I am running at Llanover Hall Arts Centre. ‘Why the Sun and Moon Live in the Sky’ – a Nigerian folktale, and ‘The Lion’s Whisker’ – an Ethiopian Folktale.

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Elements by Jim age 9

 

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African landscape by Paddy, age 9

 

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Camouflaged Lion by Iolo, age 6

 

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Sun by Paddy, age 9

 

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Witch Doctor by George, age 7

 

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Witch Doctor Dance by Jim, age 9

 

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Elements II by Jim age 9

 

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African Landscape By George, age 7

Preliminary Drawings:

Lion, by George; Winged Lion with Horn by Paddy, Mask by Paddy, Compound of Sun and Moon for the Water by George, Sun and Water by Iolo.

Awkward Objects: The Work of Alina Szapocznikow

This weekend, I travelled to Wakefield to see Human Landscapes the first UK retrospective of the work of the much-overlooked Polish artist Alina Szapocznikow (1926–1973). Powerful, innovative, disturbing, these pieces have dark undertones, which isn’t surprising when you discover that Szapocznikow survived several of the Nazi camps as a teenager, and bouts of severe illness. Her sculptures were born out of trauma, expressing it obliquely for those who could not, while at the same time being an extraordinary affirmation and expression of life and female experience.

Image result for alina szapocznikow        Image result for Alina Szapocznikow in 1968, photo Roger Gain

She emerged as an artist from the Soviet sanctioning in 1950s Prague, educated originally as a classical sculptor in Paris, rapidly moving into semi-abstract, amorphous forms: huge, organic sculptures,  such as ‘Bird’ and ‘Maria Magdalena’. Later, she began using her own body, and that of friends to make casts of body parts, including a particularly poignant full body cast of Pietr, her son. Long haired and naked he lies at a diagonal, suspended in space, recalling the dead Christ in Mary’s arms.

Semi-abstract sculptures from bronze, concrete and iron.

Through casts of the human body, I attempt to preserve in translucent polystyrene the ephemeral moments of life, its paradoxes and its absurdity. (…) I am convinced that among all manifestations of impermanence, the human body is the most fragile. It is the sole source of all joy, all pain and all truth, and this thanks to its ontological poverty, which is as inevitable as it is (at the conscious level) absolutely unacceptable.

 

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Photographs set in polyester resin

Her work centres around the fragmented body; like many post-war artists, she has an acute awareness of the fragility of the body. Bowls of breasts recall Lee Miller’s critique of female objectification in Severed Breast from Radical Mastectomy, the 1930 photograph she composed after observing a friend’s mastectomy. I was also reminded of the work of Eva Hesse, known for her pioneering work in materials such as latex, fiberglass, and plastics. Dynamic but mysterious erotic themes are an element shared with Louise Bourgeois for example in her Unconscious Landscape, 1967-68.

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“Dessert III”, 1971, dyed polyester, porcelain vase.

 

 

Drawings and monotypes.

Sculptures using polyester resin and polyurethane.

The essence of Szapoczikow’s work seemed to lie in the search for completeness that she could only express through fragmentation and abstract juxtapositions. Her feeling that: “The fleeting moment, the trivial moment – these are the only symbols of our earthly existence”.

In the final room of the show, we see at close quarters Szapocznikow’s sculptural manifestations of her body’s invasion by cancerous tumours. Even in her final months, she continued to find innovative ways to express the reality of her experiences. “Recalling the broken statuary of fallen civilisations, Tumours Personified (1971) is the artist’s attempt to own the illness, with a scattering of head-size lumps, bearing her own face.” – Skye Sherwin

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I produce awkward objects. This absurd and compulsive mania proves the existence of an unknown, secret gland, necessary for life. Yes, this mania can be reduced to a single gesture within reach of us all. But this gesture is sufficient unto itself , it is the confirmation of our human presence.

My work is difficult as sensation that is felt in a very immediate and diffuse way is often resistant to identification. Often everything is all mixed up, the situation is ambiguous, and sensory limits are erased.

Nothing is definitive in my work. If not the immediate pleasure of feeling the material, of touching and palpating the distinct material of the mud as children do on a riverbank.

_ Alina Szapocnikow, 1972