Palingenesis, and the Art of Everythingism

Two important exhibitions in London last weekend: Natalia Goncharova Retrospective at Tate Modern, and Lee Krasner: Living Colour at Barbican.

In Goncharova’s famous painting, The Cyclist, the figure is willfully heading in the opposite direction to that indicated by the pointing authoritarian finger.

It suitably sums up Goncharova’s spirit. A leading figure of the new avant-garde art scene in Russia, she defied convention at every turn.

The Cyclist (1912-13), with its Futurist devices of depicting time and speed with multiple outlines, challenged the Italian Futurists obsession with machines by choosing a more peaceful mode of transport, a bicycle.

 

Born in 1881, the same year as Picasso, Natalia Goncharova was a generation older than Lee Krasner, with origins very different to that of Krasner’s Jewish parentage.  From a family of impoverished aristocrats, Goncharova learned about the lives and traditions of the peasants who lived on the family estate, which was to become a great influence on her work.

The first modern artist to have a retrospective exhibition in Russia, Goncharova had previously been charged with obscenity and had her paintings confiscated for daring to paint the female nude so explicitly.

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The breadth of her work is astonishing. Painter, printmaker, fashion and set designer, she also embraced and initiated art forms such as Rayonism. To indicate the diverse range of her work,  life-long partner, Mikhail Larionov coined the term ‘everythingism’.

She was one of the first Russian artists to perceive and value the high artistic merits of Russian national creativity, and some wonderful samples are shown in the exhibition. In Round Dance, 1910, for example, the artist imitates peasant woodcuts in paint. She portrays the peasants with faces like in icons, which has the effect of a attributing to them a saintly status.  She explained that ‘the need to go back to these naive forms of art, is necessary to find new forms’.

Natalia-Goncharova-Round-dance       goncharova

Folk art is not refined. But it is sincere, revealing the instinct of the tribe/community, the people unconsciously preserving the treasure of these primal concerns. Goncharova recognised this. She also recognized the power of folk tales and mythology, and her ground-breaking sets and costumes for Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Golden Cockerel (1914), produced by Diaghilev as a part of the famous Saisons Russes in Paris, are based on the Old Believer lubki’s subjects and colour palette as well.

I got the sense that Lee Krasner (1908-84) was just as determined, radical and brave. She also refused to develop a ‘signature image’;  being restless like Goncharova, she continued to experiment with different styles and forms throughout her life. It was most important to her that her paintings emerged authentically from within.

“I like a canvas to breathe and be alive. Be alive is the point.”

The show at the Barbican gives a rich overview of her life and career from early self-portraits and life drawing, showing a progression into the abstract expressionist works for which she is known.

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Siren, 1966

I was particularly interested in the ‘hieroglyphic’ images and her abstract alphabets, what she called her “mysterious writings”. They reminded me of Mark Tobey’s ‘white writing’ paintings:  dense, rhythmic nets of black paint over multicolor backgrounds or meticulously over-written in white like sacred scripts.

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It was after her husband died and she was able to work in the barn space that she really found her artistic identity. Here she could work on an unprecedented scale, tacking lengths of canvas directly to the wall. She then produced her ‘Night Journeys’ series of paintings, made during chronic insomnia using organic, umber tones because she didn’t like using colour in artificial light.

Vibrant colours returned some years later in a shift from soft, biomorphic shapes to more hard-edged abstract forms. Palingenesis, titled after the Greek word for re-birth was something Krasner considered fundamental for her practice.

“Evolution, growth and change go on. Change is life.”

Lee Krasner Palingenesis, 1971 Pollock Krasner Foundation_0

Palingenesis, 1971 by Lee Krasner

In another act of metamorphosis, she tore up work she wasn’t happy with and created astonishing collages from the fragments.

Burning Candles, Desert Moon, and Bald Eagle collages by Lee Krasner.

 

“Painting is a revelation, an act of love…as a painter I can’t experience it any other way.”

lee krasner painting portrait in green in her studio 1969

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Inscape/Outscape

My brother and I currently have work on display in Kemi’s cafe, Pontcanna.

We present work in dialogue with each other, working from very different perspectives. Matt paints plein air from landscapes around Somerset and Portsmouth, while my paintings emerge from inner imaginative worlds. I am interested in capturing fleeting moments from the mundus imaginalis, or Otherworld: the place where stories live and have an independent existence.

Matt studied art at Southampton Institute, and is interested in art as therapy, valuing the tranquility of mind that comes from painting the forms and colours he sees in the landscape while out walking.

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Artists Apart

Two exhibitions in Swansea this weekend: Sarah Poland who has a residency in GS Gallery, and Frances Richards at the Glynn Vivian.

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Sarah Poland’s mark making using inks made from oak galls has a zen-like quality. I love how she combines this with photographic images she calls ‘moon-drawings’, made by using a long exposure on full-moon nights in the woods.

Oak Gall Ink – nick-named Ink of poets and Kings – is a very expensive, beautiful, indelible black ink. But for me, the process from start to finish, from gathering the oak galls in an ancient woodland in west Wales, to making the ink, to using it in my work is an important process in the work. At the very least because I can control and play with the viscosity and texture of the material. The work is about exploring drawing through making and using oak gall ink as much as it is about the place and the experience of where they were found. I am working it on paper, canvas and gesso panel.

-Sarah Poland

Moon drawings and oak gall ink.

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Sarah Poland with work made during the residency

Frances Richards: An Artist Apart at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery – 15 June – 1 September 2019, concentrates on this visionary artist’s  embroidery collages, drawings and monotypes, executed during the war and previously unseen until now, as well as the figurative and flower paintings of her later years.

Richards studied at the Royal College of Art from 1924 to 1927, specialising in tempera and fresco painting. She admired the early Italian renaissance painters Giotto, Piero della Francesca and Fra Angelico; the British artists Samuel Palmer, William Blake and David Jones; and the poetry of the Psalms, the Song of Solomon, George Herbert and Arthur Rimbaud. On display at the GV gallery is the collection of her Les Illuminations – illustrations to prose poems by Arthur Rimbaud lithographs.

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Dawn
1973–5

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Bottom
1973–5

Bottom 1973-5 by Frances Richards 1903-1985

Bottom
1973–5

An Artist Apart highlights the perspective of a hugely gifted female artist and how she responded to the dark mood of wartime Britain.

 

 

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Frances Richards, On Being Alone, 1963, Watercolour on board

 

Memories and Monuments

Two inspiring photography exhibitions in London recently: Roman Vishniac Rediscovered at The Photographers’ Gallery, and Guido Guidi: Per Strada at Large Glass.

Vishniac is best known for having created one of the most widely recognised and reproduced photographic records of Jewish life in Eastern Europe between the two World Wars. This exhibition features iconic works from his career spanning the 1920s to the late 1970s. Vishniac’s work reflects the influence of European modernism using sharp angles and dramatic use of light and shade to inform his subject matter. Raised in Moscow, he immigrated to Berlin in 1920 following the Bolshevik Revolution.

Many of his images document Berlin changing from an open, intellectual society to one where militarism and fascism were closing in. In 1935, he was commissioned to photograph impoverished Jewish communities in Eastern Europe to support relief efforts.

The accompanying briefs help to put the work in context, and this exhibition is endlessly thought-provoking and poignant.

In 1955, Edward Steichen described the importance of Vishniac’s work. ”[He]…gives a last- minute look at the human beings he photographed just before the fury of Nazi brutality exterminated them. The resulting photographs are among photography’s finest documents of a time and place.”

For Guido Guidi, contemplating begins with avoiding clichés, rather than composing. After various early experiments with black-and-white photography at the end of the 1960s, he began using colour negatives in a large-format camera. The exhibition at Large Glass Gallery features 27 prints to coincide with the publication ‘Per Strada’.

The road runs from Milan to Rimini, via Bologna, through Guido Guidi’s home city Cesena. It is also the road that Guidi has travelled along since he was fifteen and is the thread that joins the 285 photographs, taken between 1980 and 1994, illustrated in the three-volume book.

Guidi closely observes ordinary things and in between, liminal spaces on and around the via Emilia.

“It is a way of bowing down before things. And that is the religious aspect, a respect for things, for the blade of grass and wanting to give back by means of a precise photograph, where the execution of the detail is perfect, absolute, with no grain. The photograph must be absolute, transparent and cannot be corrected and reviewed later. As Didi-Huberman says, for the ancient painters of the 1400s, the act of imitagere or copying nature was in itself an act of devotion. Not necessarily mastery or technical virtuosity but an act of devotion towards things, the “things which are nothing” as Pasolini says.” – Guido Guidi

This still life of a bowl of cherries sitting on a copy of the newspaper La Repubblica was particularly striking: the cherries have long ago rotted away; the events in the paper are long out of date.

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Ronta, 1984, by Guido Guidi. 

There is something zen-like and refreshing in the way each shot is carefully set up and unedited. It brings to mind John Cage’s ‘Silence 4.33’, that reduces music to nothing in order to focus on the surrounding noises.

Sometimes, you will catch a glimpse of the photographer himself in the shot, or the edge of the lens itself. For him, this is part of the process, drawing attention to the fact that a photograph is a frame, not the whole world.

Guidi is opposed to the  the idea of the “decisive moment” made popular by Henri Cartier-Bresson.  According to Guidi: “All moments are decisive – and none.” His work is not about the decisive moment but the “provisional moment” – the idea that this moment is one of a procession of many.

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Teatro Bonci, Cesena, 1984, by Guido Guidi.

 

“All photographs are monuments. If you photograph this cup on the table, for example, it gives it importance. And over time, photographs become more and more like monuments.”

Art on the Hill

My friend transformed his flat into a gallery space for local artists as part of Art on the Hill in Newport.

11:00 – 18:00 : Art House #1, 26 Bryngwyn Road (19) *PG*
The first in a series of mixed media events that focus upon the more outer edges of Newport’s developing art scene. Featuring work by: Poddington Moore, Stephen Hammet, TEMMAH, Patrick Sullivan, Johnathan Sherwood, Barrie J. Morgan, Myrig Watkins, Ffion Trefor, Melanie Wall, Steven George Jones, Andrew Narowsky, Ariel Serotonin Jones, Sarah Featherstone, Eamon Sweeney, Philip Morgan, Jay Steward and John McCarthy.
https://www.facebook.com/events/317332562420476/

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