“I like art to mean something, even if it only means something to me": Jasmine Surreal interview below.

Tom Dale, Rock on Standby (2014)

Posted: December 18th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, sculpture | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

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The LED blinks on and off. We could be here a while. As deep history has shown, a rock like this can take its own sweet time to breathe forth life, or yawn and swallow us all.

Just whose hand might go to the remote to activate a 80kg lump of sandstone? Would it be a god, or an artist, or an artist who thinks they might be a god? Or even a reviewer.

A classical sculptor could make something of this proposition. From Michelangelo to Brancusi, the chisel and hammer have been switching on stones in the name of art.

But this is a digital rock, so that wouldn’t appear to work. We have enough animate objects in our homes. We no longer need figurines, no longer need expressive miracles.

The red glow of the pilot light is miracle enough. It appears to take its power from deep inside its core. No one plugged in this boulder; it is pure potential.

Mind you, Rock on Standby is already activated to some degree by a plinth, a photo, a blog post. Are not all inert works of art on standby in this familiar sense? A collector would certainly trigger it.

As possessors of eyes, etc., we come ready to push buttons. Until then, we might be on standby too. In fact, we are the ones who really come to life around this piece.

We cannot look away from this collision between two speeds: geological time and recent speeds like broadband and 4G. We can hardly get faster. This rock reminds us how far we’ve come.

It also hints at the speed of the rock on which we live: about 30km per second. The Earth too is on standby, primed for natural disaster, a likelihood we are also accelerating.

So nice to know the artist hasn’t lost his sense of humour. If you could ROFL in a gallery without being ejected, you just might. This heavy piece of work has the lightest of touches.

Tom Dale: Terminal Blue can be seen at John Hansard Gallery, Southampton, until 7 February 2015. For more on this artist see my previous posts here, here, and here.


Barbican Estate, Chamberlin, Powell and Bon (1965-76)

Posted: December 14th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: 20th century, architecture | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »
(c) Claire Masset

(c) Claire Masset

There are two Barbicans, we soon learn on a tour of the East London council estate: the multi-purpose arts centre; and the mysterious residential units which sell for seven figure sums.

Most visits to the former involve passing beneath the latter. But there is so much more to this brutalist landmark and unlikely home than the short journey from tube stop to gallery.

But if you feel the towers and apartments remain distant and inaccessible, this is no doubt part of the masterplan. Barbican, as etym fans will know, comes from old French and means outer fort.

In practice what this means is vertiginous high rises, playful arrow slit apertures on some of the streets in the sky, and endless vistas of concrete much of it with an hallmark distressed finish.

Our knowledgeable guide surrprises us by revealing that this extensive finish was achieved by hand, as a team of brave workers with pneumatic drills hung from the sides of the 42-storey building.

In a 90-minute circuit of the complex, there are plenty more revelations. The Barbican has plentiful green space, tennis courts and a five-a-side pitch. The water features proliferate.

So the famous concrete appears balanced by greenery and a sense of play. It is pointed out that a semi-circular motif ties fountains to benches to penthouse duplexes and all points in between.

This is just one of a few subtle details which make the whole site cohere. The eye takes them in, but they can fly under the radar, so it is a real joy to have them pointed out.

As you might have guessed, the approach to function and form is not entirely modernist. A tower built to house RSC stage sets above the stage of the theatre is disguised by a conservatory full of plants.

Meanwhile the tower blocks appear to rotate as you move around. The sharp triangular footprints turn their four bedroom apartments to face in different directions.

Upon their first appearance, not so long after WWII, they would have been dominant features of the London skyline. But from down here they still seem impossibly high and dynamic.

Other weird components to this island of unreality in the City include a medieval church, namely St Giles-without-Cripplegate and a police station which keeps office hours.

A tour lasts 90 minutes; it flies by; and it is recommended for anyone with rampant curiosity about the lifestyles of Britain’s best-heeled council tenants. If only they needed a blogger in residence.

There are daily tours of Barbican Estate between now and February 26. See the arts centre website for booking details.


Nick Davies, From Tippex Forms (i-iv) (2014)

Posted: December 10th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, sculpture | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

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It’s a curious thing. It is hoped that not many typos find their way from this keyboard onto your screen. But a recent blog post for Bad at Sports had at least three. My very bad.

What made it strange was that the subject of my review, Nick Davies, has been doing fantastic things with Tipp-Ex and hence capitalising on mistakes like mine, but those made in another age.

Here you see a sculpture made from Mistake Out, as it was first called. Note the petri dish; it looks to have been grown here like a stunted GM tree and not painstakingly painted into existence.

But of all the forms which dried Tipp-Ex could take, this tree is the most appropriate, as if Liquid Paper emanated from a liquid forest. (Without wood pulp we’d not have needed it.)

And this petrified grove, for there are a group of these sculptures, bring together the lab, the office and the gallery. All of which are implicated with the desolate whiteness of the plantlife.

True, we have made some mistakes. We have signed away logging rights for far too many real trees. We have polluted seas and killed off coral reefs, which also come to mind.

It’s a major oversight. If only we could go back in time and erase a few thousand pen strokes. But Tipp-Ex was only about ameliorating office life, not life on the planet in general.

Now we have the delete button. Thanks to which, and to cut and paste, writing has become a kind of collage. And so it moves closer to art or at least to artfulness, and to the covering of tracks.

But mistakes just don’t seem to go away. There are social media users who post as quick as they can think and comment leavers oblivious to their crimes against grammar. Bloggers make howlers.

We’re really getting sloppy, and it’s a growing problem, like one of Davies’ spectral trees. Which just brings up the title of the artist’s handmade book, The Principal [sic] of Limited Sloppiness.

He borrows the maxim from scientist Max Delbruck: “One should be sloppy enough so that the unexpected happens, but not so sloppy that one can’t figure out what has happened afterwards.”

This holds true for conceptual artists as much as scientists. So proceeding with a Tipp-Ex mindset might now be the best way forward. The book, by the way, is immaculate.

The full show, Intention Invention Convention by Nick Davies, can be seen at exeter phoenix until January 10 2015. Here’s my (soon amended) post for Bad at Sports.


Turner Prize 2014

Posted: December 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: British art, contemporary art | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

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Nothing like the Turner Prize to deliver half an hour of overwrought excitement. Not that the writer of this blog was there. He was wound like a spring on the sofa, as the reportage photo above implies.

But how close can you get to this Prize? Like the man in a Kafka parable, you wait and wait all year in the knowledge there are doorkeepers beyond the doorkeepers. You are Before the Law.

On the one occasion this writer did make it to the ceremony, at BALTIC in 2011, he somehow took a wrong turn and ended up in a bar at the venue, still watching the whole thing on TV.

British television’s engagement with contemporary art is so minimal that Channel 4’s coverage of the Turner is the equivalent of watching an entire football season in one short burst.

Sorry to those offended by the sports analogy, but that’s just of what sofas and televisions put one in mind. Blame Tate for establishing the art world’s annual moment as a lucrative competition.

Duncan Campbell won. And for many in the room surely Gore Vidal’s cynical comment on envy surely rang true: “Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.” Still, a worthy winner.

Looking back at a piece written for Culture24 in early September, your sofa correspondent appears to have predicted the result. But only in the most throwaway of fashions, almost by accident.

It could still be maintained that Ciara Phillips would have made a more interesting winner. Thanks to her use of collaboration, she might also have made a more approachable one.

In Kafka’s brief fable, the supplicant for admittance to the law is a “countryman” but not necessarily a regional blogger. He spends the rest of his life waiting for the doorkeeper to let him through.

Before he dies, he goes blind: “Yet in his darkness he is now aware of a radiance that streams inextinguishably from the gateway of the law.” Just the television crew lights, perhaps.


Ryan Gander, Dad’s Halo Effect (2014)

Posted: November 27th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: conceptual art, public art | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

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Let’s get a comparison out of the way. Art is like an infinite game of chess. An artwork will reorient all the pieces round it, and inevitably change the game.

But chess fans visiting Beswick in East Manchester may be frustrated by the inscrutable configuration of pieces in Ryan Gander’s third major artwork for the public.

It’s a checkmate, apparently. But with no board, no black or white, the three silver sculptures just gaze back at you and the scenes of local regeneration. An aerial view could help.

You might say art in the public realm should always be like this: a baffling win move played by a giant talent (or sometimes a giant ego), and something to bring a shine to its location.

The sawn off verticality of each figurine also draws your attention to the skies above and they seem to channel the elements. A glowering horizon rendered them ominous this week.

But it’s clear that when the sun shines, Dad’s Halo Effect (as the piece is called) will be dazzling. Gander has said he nicked the idea from his father, which is only partly true.

It was Gander Sr, who worked for General Motors, told his son about the aesthetic appeal of the steering mechanism in a Bedford Truck, which the artwork now echoes.

Beswick is a former industrial zone. You could say this piece reaches into the past, grabs some of the mechanical entrails, and repurposes them with a bit of spit and polish, plus a tall tale.

Unlike the pieces in a real chess game you are encouraged to get hands on with this community focal point. There’s a VI Form college nearby, so there could be no touchmove rule.

Though perhaps this post should have begun with the French phrase, J’adoube, as if a chess player was about to warn an opponent that s/he’s about to make contact with a piece.

This makes no pretence to tidy up the board. The work is conceptually neat. But writing about a piece or three of art is usually the only way you can pick it up and handle it, whatever the size.

Dad’s Halo Effect can be seen at Beswick Community Hub, a joint regeneration development between Manchester City Council and Manchester City Football Club. See below for more football art.


Jeffrey Charles Henry Peacock, The Captive (2014)

Posted: November 21st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: conceptual art, drawing | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »
Installation view (detail)

Installation view (detail)

JCHP are a two-man art ‘team’, who have been accused of ‘nigh-on psychotic self-analysis’ (in their own catalogue to boot*). So where to start and what to add?

First, it’s a relief that Jeffrey Charles Henry Peacock are in fact hard grafting artists Dave Smith and Thom Winterburn. Thankfully, they’re not just one horrendously posh bloke.

One of their chief interests is artistic labour. They spend a lot of time making reproductions of historic prints which they have in the past given away or exhibited unfinished.

They have been opposed to conventional exhibiting. Yet both were gallerists before joining forces as art producers, albeit artists whose practice includes exhibition making.

But now they’ve opted for a suck-it-and-see approach with a single drawing on display in a small but critical Brighton space, Neuefroth Kunstallle.

And they’ve gone all out to put their work on a notional pedestal. It is triple mounted and beautifully framed beneath spotlights. That’s some self-conscious over egging.

It might all be just good fun, were not the focus of all this attention being an 18th century print of a desperate prisoner: Sterne’s Captive by Joseph Wright of Derby.

Thus a Laurence Sterne novel, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy, offers another frame (of reference) for this lugubrious and slavish copy.

Although in Sterne’s narrative the prisoner is released when guards realise he is the jester Yorick, a literary personage who would have seen the funny side of JCHP’s complex new artefact.

The artists put the seal on this exquisite work with the signatures of both the original artist and his engraver. Their own name appears below this, crisply embossed. The mediation is rich.

But since the exhibition is to be considered as a whole, it’s worth mentioning the dense sheet of A3 text which accompanies the copy, of the print, of the satirical novel.

Here is where the psychotic self-analysis comes into play. The notes are as prevaricating as Sterne himself could be. The language is formal, florid, only occasionally funny.

But for a minute the recollection of JCHP as a some anachronistic dandy comes strutting back into mind. And we might be stuck with the posh bloke. That after all is the art world for you.

The show can be viewed by appointment until December 13 or during a public viewing on Saturday 29 November 2014. See Neuefroth Kunsthalle.

* See Richard Birkett’s essay in Critical Decor: A Short Organum for Exhibition


Interview: Jasmine Surreal

Posted: November 19th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: painting | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

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Just minutes into our interview at a gallery in Bermondsey, 30-something Jasmine Surreal pulls a toy cat from her bag and begins ventriloquizing, in a cat voice, for my benefit.

“With my painting, I do nice, fantasy, imaginative things, because I’m so beautiful and glamorous like Zsa Zsa Gabor,” says Surreal, lost for a moment in high-voiced character.

It is one of the stranger responses I’ve had from an artist and it is true. The painter has a pair of cats with whom she makes most of her work, holding the brushes like Sooty or Sweep. This takes a while to sink in, while it is impossible not to begin reassessing my interview subject’s sanity.

Fortunately she seems fully aware of the eccentricity of her approach, with a ready sense of humour that saves our encounter from becoming a psychiatric case study.

Besides, Surreal is aligned with the Stuckist movement, the international support group for artists who make figurative work on canvas. They are not averse to being difficult, wayward and unconcerned with public image.

“I’m obsessed by cats,” admits the artist. “I basically want to be reincarnated as one.” And she says this in her real voice, a jaunty scouse accent. “I have funny cat crushes,” she adds. “I get obsessed with a certain type and I download loads of pictures of them and I avidly stalk them on Twitter.”

This is borne out as we walk round her show at Trispace Gallery in Bermondsey. Fur and whiskers are picked out in great detail. Their owners appear in a range of bizarre scenes. Surreal’s love for these household pets might seem childish if it wasn’t so amusing.

“I like kids because they’re not affected by the way you should behave in society,” the artist tells me. Indeed, it’s a reason why she held her Private View on a family-friendly Saturday afternoon.

“In some ways I’m like that. I’ve never grown up and I never would because being grown up is painful.” This could be at least part of the reason for an angry portrait of her mother, painted naturally by one of her cats.

“I do have a cute side,” she adds, “and it’s not going to be trampled out because society isn’t cute.” Instead of “grey” social comment, Surreal offers a camp alternative: “People say, ‘you’re a woman; how can you be camp?’”. At which point she assumes an even more flamboyant persona: “It’s very easy, darling, if you want to be.”

The artist also does an amusing take-off of one of her more conceptual peers and pretends to swear on oath that she rarely attends contemporary art shows. It should come as no surprise that in a past life Surreal was an actress and a model. A career highlight came when playing a nude statue which comes to life in 2006 Brit flick Fated.

While still on Merseyside, she also worked as a journalist, writing for the comedy section of liistings magazine L-Scene. “I like a laugh me, you know. I’m a Northern bird,” she points out. No one could accuse Surreal of taking herself too seriously. And yet she has plenty of conviction when it comes to her art. She certainly suffers for it.

“I find a lot of artists to be very conventional,” she explains. “And they tend to find somebody like me, who’s unconventional to be, like…they either laugh at me or they’ll make fun of me or they’ll make disparaging comments about me, whereas that incites me to do more and be more weird.”

Surreal is clear about her antipathy to most modern art and even goes so far as to worry it might “poison my imagination”. In the absence of a real pet cat or two, the artist works direct from her mind’s eye.

“I’m very inspired by my own head. It’s because I don’t see things in reality or even in other paintings.” Although she makes an exception here for the likes of Bosch and Magritte and, indeed, Dorothea Tanning and MC Escher. She dismissed Salvador Dalí on account of his alleged treatment of animals (“he experimented on them.”)

But contrary to the suggestion of her assumed name (the artist was born Maddock), Jasmine Surreal insists: “I don’t just paint surreal things.” Her subjects are not wacky for the mere sake of it. “There’s a meaning. There’s symbolism. I don’t like art that is meaningless. I like art to mean something, even if it only means something to me,” she laughs.

So you might say this artist has well hidden depths, not unlike her all-time hero, Jerry Lewis. She says of the American comedian: “He’s a surreal genius, but everybody laughs at him. They just think that he pulls funny faces and stuff, but he’s much more than that.”

And then as if in danger of sounding too serious or even pretentious, Surreal adds, “also, I fancy him rotten.”

Jasmine Surreal was at Trispace Gallery, South London, between November 12 and 15 2014. Interview written for Culture24.


Roberts, Selmes & Bartlett, Work Programme 71 (2014)

Posted: November 18th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, installation art, performance art | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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For those who don’t already know, Aston Villa FC are an underperforming English football team from the West Midlands. It might not be common knowledge in the wider art world.

Three artists staged a gallery event last Saturday: Bartlett, Selmes and Roberts. We’ll drop the first names, in the spirit of football. Because all support ‘the Villa’.

And all three wore the team’s claret and blue shirts and in doing so took on a radical (or alarming) non-art look. They didn’t even look like performance artists. It was perhaps anti-anti art.

The terrace vibe was helped along by an atmospheric loop of crowd noise: grown men professing their loyalty to this historic club and its players through the medium of chant.

Meanwhile, the ‘art’ was a collection of doctored pages ripped from matchday programmes and merchandise catalogues. A 90-minute projection showed AVFC demolish Birmingham City 5-1.

All of the above was fiendishly parochial. Players who had been gods in their time, were reduced to the status of an in joke. Was this about the idiocy of football or the selective ignorance of art?

There were also beers. There always are at openings. But these were an assortment of different brews, with each one themed around a first team star. This blogger opted for a Darren Bent lager.

Another attraction was the Lambert Out campaign, by which Bartlett attempted to drum out the club’s under fire manager by handing samizdat posters to bemused gallery folk.

If you like football, the whole thing was a total hoot. But what many overlook, and which you could have learned at this show, is that the most interesting things happen off the pitch.

What to make of the current prime minister David Cameron and heir to the throne Prince William? Both claim to be lifelong Villa fans, to Bartlett’s horror. It’s a surreal carnival.

Art’s perspective on football may be as narrow as football’s perspective on art, but both worlds could surely learn from one another. You will, for example, find art at football grounds.

Portman Road is the stadium for my team de choix; on a plinth outside is a statue of former manager Bobby Robson. It is made by Ipswich fan and sculptor Sean Hedges-Quinn.

Home fans arrange to meet by this artwork. They pose for photos here, and roundly approve of this tribute to a local legend. One presumes they even admire the likeness. No soul searching here.

Just be warned. Football art cuts both ways. This blogger once got a text from a friend who saw fans from another club urinating on the likeness of our hero; Robson died of cancer five years ago.

That’s a pretty direct critique, which this blogger could only dream of emulating. Art people might still piss all over your latest show, only with the ambivalent gift of metaphor.

Work Programme 71 took place on Saturday November 15 2014 at Community Arts Centre, Brighton. See gallery Facebook page for future events.


Sophie Dickson, Shooting Range (pt 2) (2014)

Posted: November 16th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, installation art | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

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At a point of maximal chaos, the objects in this sculpture hang together and you feel you could take your finger off the pause button and return this scene to order.

The tableau is composed of ‘junk’, but white paint gives it a wintry appearance, akin to a seasonal shop window, and perhaps one dressed by an anarchist.

Look closer and you will see a cash till, caught mid air, cash drawer gaping, empty. As a nation of shopkeepers, this is an attack on all we hold dear.

But look it’s okay. The whole thing is kept within a theatrical frame. Despite a lack of glass or limits, there is a notional vitrine, nodding to blue chip art-mongers like Hirst and Koons.

Perhaps following in the footsteps of the former organiser of Freeze, Dickson has taken on a vast space in Circus Street, and for a solo show no less.

Hence she demonstrates a youthful talent for wrangling planning applications and funding bids. She has overcome a mountain of paperwork along with a mountain of junk.

Most of the found objects used here are obsolete, a landline phone, a cassette player. They are perhaps fossilised. But fossils don’t get airborne like this.

I want to say it is rare for explosions to turn rooms like this upside down here in Brighton. Yet in 1984, the whole country was rocked by a bomb in the Brighton Grand Hotel.

But this was six years before Dickson was even born. So one can only guess at whatever ash-covered interiors might have inspired this work. Strangely beautiful, there are plenty of them.

Junk is Beautiful can be found in Circus Street, Brighton, until November 21. See Facebook page for opening times.


Jasmine Surreal, Toy Division (2014)

Posted: November 14th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: painting | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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Joy Division plus cats equals instant clickbait for this blog. But that was probably never the intention of a Stuckist painter so surreal she calls herself Jasmine Surreal.

In a colourful, cat-mad show at Trispace Gallery in South London, this work brings a sobriety to proceedings, a stony sense of the monumental, or indeed the memorial.

But there is nothing too, too serious about the content, which replaces Ian Curtis and the rest of the band with toy cats. An inscription reads ‘Ian Cat-is’ . . . sacrilege, no?

Well, yes and no. Surreal is a fan of felines and a fan of post punk bands from the North. The way she puts the two together is a loving tribute to both, painted ostensibly by her toy cat. Really.

It seems unaware, a work of the unconscious. And her predilection for puns (“Love will Bear us apart” reads the caption for a pair of teddies), only amplifies the artist’s dream logic.

But the remix is knowing. If you know the tragic story of Joy Division, you might appreciate the irony. And if you use the world wide web much, the juxtapositions won’t surprise you.

Surreal puts together several elements. The foreground nods to an iconic photo by Anton Corbijn. The decorations are an extension of a one of the greatest ever sleeve designs, by Peter Saville.

And the deity-like cat at the head of this composition is also based on a photo of Ian Curtis. I can’t find the shot in question, but there’s no mistaking the intensity.

In a world where boy band members can wear t-shirts proclaiming their affection for Manchester’s most dour, we are very ready for this statement of gothic cuddliness.

That’s not to mention the Lego men who cover She’s Lost Control, the Playmobile band who cover Transmission, the Joy Division oven gloves, nor the limited edition trainers.

Epilepsy, suicide, nihilistic lyrics and a band name with fascist echoes: contemporary culture thrives off what seems least marketable. Fluffy it may be, but Toy Division is hard evidence of this.

Jasmine Surreal can be seen at Trispace Gallery, London, until Saturday 15 2014.



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