“Artists are so bizarre and come from such strange places”: Glenn Ligon interview below

Eduardo Terrazas, Possibilities of a Structure: Cosmos 1.1.13’, (1976-2015)

terrazas

Abstract and irregular it might be, but this geometric artwork is as comforting as a picnic blanket. On first glance at the reproduction, you may not realise why. But get closer…

This sharp, monochrome composition, which promises so little on screen, is in fact rendered in a dense yarn weave of yarn. Black/grey/white may be tonally cool, but the medium is warm.

But to call it a pattern, would be misleading. Patterns tend towards symmetry and Terrazas tends to resist the lure of simple elements which balance one another.

Yarn is glued to a waxed board in a technique borrowed from the indigenous Huichol people of the West of Central Mexico. It makes the challenging design appear organic, inevitable.

Although you will want to, you need not touch the surface to appreciate the intensity delivered by thousands of woollen strands pulling at the centre of this fragmented target from all directions.

The result is almost too much to get your head around. Like a piece of improvised music, Terrazas gives us just enough order to keep us on the room, just enough disorder to keep us on our toes.

It reflects this Mexican artist’varied background in architecture, in graphic design and in museology. But surely none of these disciplines offer the freedom of contemporary art.

Terrazas offers the freedom of the blank surface with the satisfaction of a provisional structure in which everything locks into place. Like the elements of a building or a logo.

Incidentally, he co-created the design for the Olympic Games of Mexico 68. This too has echoes of native central-American craft. You could say it reverberates, as does each work in the current show.

Eduardo Terrazas can be seen at Timothy Taylor, London, until October 3 2015.


Howard Hodgkin/Ice Traffic/Fiona Banner/Nothing is Forever/Profusion/The Papered Parlour/Prop

Here’s a belated round up of last week’s stories for Culture24. Click below on any that interest…


Francis Alÿs/James White/Clare Twomey/Surreal Friends

Here’s a round up of the pieces I wrote for Culture24 last week. Enjoy!


Feature: Artists' Open Houses in Brighton

Most people would find the prospect of entertaining several thousand people in their own home somewhat daunting.

But throughout May in Brighton, such are the visitor numbers for a typical address in the Artists’ Open House festival.

Citywide that adds up to around 230,000 guests. It is no wonder that home-loving artists from Hanover to Hove are currently redecorating and stocking up on teabags.

“It’s a tremendous amount of work,” says Jehane Boden-Spiers of The Yellow House, kt21 on the Kemptown trail, “But I like the way it transforms the space.”

She likes the fact open houses are “very social” and adds: “It’s a good opportunity for me to present my work in an environment where I’m in control.”

Boden-Spiers will showcase 15 artists in her home, a pattern repeated across Brighton as 243 venues play host to 1,300 artists. Most of those will be looking to make sales.

“Some people sell 80%. Some people sell nothing,” she tells me, the average home shifting 30 to 40% of its wares. Turnover for the whole event should be £1 million.

When it comes to art, the public clearly have an appetite for the personal touch. “It’s great for them. They get to see the stories behind the artworks,” says Boden-Spiers.

“It’s a chance for them to meet the artists,” she explains, adding that domestic settings help visitors imagine what any given piece would look like in their own home.

They have been showing art at The Yellow House for 12 years, but many artists use Open House festivals to learn about putting on a show, and dealing with the public.

Another experienced artist and host is Ralph Levy who lives in The Handmade House from an out-of-town trail in nearby village Ditchling.

But visitors to the former farmhouse can expect a setting every bit as remarkable as the art on display. Levy has spent five years restoring the building entirely by hand.

This has meant fabricating everything from curtain hooks to drawer handles, plus all furniture, making an estimated total of 300 bespoke objects.

His evident skills as a designer and a craftsman are largely self-taught. “It’s all from the back of a cornflake packet,” he says. “I trained as a ceramicist.”

Guests will also have the chance to sample home-cooked and largely home-grown food, or wander the length of a sculpture trail which took two weeks to cut through brambles in the overgrown 60-acre grounds.

The energetic New Zealander says of his unusual project: “It should be like a house, but a little bit more, like a modern day version of Charleston, but without the bed hopping.”

Nearby Charleston was once home to Virginia Woolf and friends and the community of artists, designers and makers in Ditchling still feel the bohemian effects.

But to some degree, that quality is offered by all open houses. From farmhouses in rural Sussex to terraces in the suburbs of Brighton, they all provide a chance to see artists in their element. And art too, lest anyone forget.


House Festival 2010 offers city-wide gallery in Brighton and Hove

Cities without an established home for contemporary art might well look with interest at a solution found by artists in Brighton and Hove this May.

House Festival 2010 is a temporary gallery with nine rooms spread around the twin coastal resorts, in venues as diverse as a Regency townhouse, a day centre and a garden shed.

Organisers Judy Stevens and Chris Lord have drafted in a handful of the region’s best known curators to support the project, which was piloted last year.

“There are a lot of artists here with national or international reputations who never show in Brighton, because there’s no gallery,” said printmaker Stevens.

And yet the South Coast is not short of spaces for art. Eastbourne, Chichester and Bexhill-on-Sea all boast newly developed, restored or redeveloped spaces for art.

“This is really our response to that,” adds Stevens. “I think that is because they received a lot of regeneration money, whereas Brighton isn’t seen as needing it.”

Room one of this virtual gallery will be The Regency Townhouse in Hove. First time visitors to 13 Brunswick Square should be impressed by the Grade I Listed terrace.

Painstaking work is underway to recreate the fashionable look and feel of the 1820s, and this will be the context for a group exhibition on the theme of regeneration.

Refired ceramics, collage and found objects all figure in the show of 21 artists, chosen by a team which includes Nicola Coleby from Brighton and Hove Museums, Simon Martin from Pallant House in Chichester and Woodrow Kernohan from Brighton Photo Fringe.

Across town at Preston Manor, three more curators have commissioned 12 artists and designer-makers to respond to the furnishings and history of an Edwardian home.

60 moulded bulldogs explore issues of nationalism, a peacock feather dress hints at the barriers of class, and a pair of glass pipes question the utility of stately homes.

This time it is Polly Harknett, craft curator at Hove Museum, Matt Smith, independent curator and ceramicist, and Caitlin Heffernan, artist, who pull together the show, with Smith and Heffernan both contributing pieces.

Grand surroundings then give way to a smaller setting for a third room of House, as a garden shed at 46 Buller Road plays host to a mini cinema.

Highlight of the horticultural themed bill promises to be extracts from a 1903 version of Alice in Wonderland, the first movie adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s enduringly popular tale.

At the time Britain’s longest film, this version of Alice was almost lost for good. It survives thanks to an incomplete print found in Hove, now restored by the BFI.

Meanwhile, Brighton’s answer to the white cube spaces found in neighbouring South Coast towns has, for the duration of the Festival, been given a domestic makeover.

Dream Home at Phoenix Gallery constructs a warren of lived-in rooms within the gallery, and showcases sculpture, installations and photography from local talents such as Ben Thomson, Gary Barber and Kim L. Pace.

But lesser known, marginalised artists are on show at Wellington House, a day centre for adults with learning disabilities. Curation is by award-winning outsider artist Carlo Keshishian, with support from Pallant House Gallery.

The remaining locations for House include smaller, local, independent galleries Permanent, Grey Area and Blank, together with a residential address in the city centre.

Brighton and Hove may be lacking in the funds to create a purpose built art gallery, but as can be seen from this festival alone, the area has no shortage of alternatives. It is just a shame alternatives are needed.


Review: Susan Collis – Since I Fell For You

Susan Collis, Enter, us (2009). 18-carat white gold (hallmarked), white sapphire, turquoise. Courtesy the artist and Seventeen, London

Exhibition: Susan Collis – Since I Fell For You, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, until May 16 2010

There are 25 pieces in this show by Susan Collis, but if it wasn’t for a gallery handout and some helpful attendants, you could easily miss the lot of them.

The walls do not look ready for art. Nails stick out, Rawlplugs stick in, and specks of paint sully the whiteness.

So it is with some wonder you realise the nails are made of gold, the rawl plugs solid turquoise and the paint specks black diamonds.

Cuts of MDF on the floor now seem to bear closer inspection. These are inlaid with silver and mother of pearl. The wood itself is cedar of Lebanon, walnut and holly.

The full list of components is dizzying. A rough wall houses amethysts and sapphires, jet and coral, ebony and lapis lazuli. The handout reads like a shopping channel script.

It is not just the value of these materials which seems at odds with their unlovely context – in truth Collis uses relatively poor grade precious stones and metals. More amazing is the workmanship has transformed the gallery into a work in progress

Paint splatters on an overall and dust sheet turn out to be finely embroidered. A bent rail is coated in gold leaf. The boxy checked laundry bag has been coloured in with pencil and biro.

In one sense the artist bestows amazing value on this detritus as she touches it all with art. But in another she is undermining the very worth of her own labour and expensive materials.

From beginning to end, the work effaces itself. The first piece is a discarded screw made from silver and white gold. The last features discreet staples in the wall made from platinum.

Perhaps the show stopper is a bucket which collects drops from a leak in the ceiling, by means of a hidden water pumping system. As with all work by Collis, you need to look twice. Even then, you may not quite believe your eyes.

Written for Culture24.


Review: Clare Rojas – We They, We They

Clare Rojas, Noise Pop (2009). Courtesy the artist, Gallery Paule Anglim, San Franciso and Kavi Gupta, Chicago

Exhibition: Clare Rojas – We They, We They, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, until March 21 2010

Stepping into the first UK museum show by Clare Rojas is like stumbling upon the private chapel of a slightly mad Pagan with plenty of time, paint and a tall step ladder.

Four walls in the first gallery are covered in a patchwork of colour, motif and dark imagery. The eye bounces around trying to make sense of it all.

There are men and women sitting, moody and alone. There is a couple waving flowers and dancing. A woman laughs. It could perhaps be the story of a relationship.

Except there are three women whose mouths and eyes vomit blood and bile. There are jewel-headed men who climb a carpet to an old woman’s mouth. One scene features a bigfoot type creature.

The painted panels in the two other galleries contain many more scenes of notable strangeness. Some recall Hieronymous Bosch as perhaps seen on a needlework sampler.

Visitors will wonder where it all comes from. Clare Rojas must surely hail from some remote Native American reservation or Eastern European rural backwater, or so you would think.

But the work appears to be born out of over exposure to contemporary culture, not the reverse. Rojas and co-creator Andrew Jeffrey Wright use Tipp-ex to attack the pages of a fashion glossy in two Pythonesque animations on view in the resource room.

Ikon has also laid on a listening post where Peggy Honeywell, her folk-singing alter ego, plays one of her three CDs of knowing Americana. A video shows her gigging at a frat party, suggesting music really does have charms to soothe the savage beast.

The music and the artwork come together in the Tower Room where Rojas’ bright, folksy imagery decorates the heads of seven antique banjos.

It is not an instrument you would associate with contemporary art. Nor might you expect to find a show supported by a kid’s book about a pigeon called Pidgy.

But Rojas, together with Honeywell, has created a fully-realised, alternative world, and you cannot ask an artist for much more than that.

Written for Culture24.


Perversion in Hove

Published on Culture 24

Deviants, Hove Museum and Art Gallery, Hove, until September 13 2009

Whereas artists are encouraged to break rules, craftspeople generally aren’t. From potters, metalworkers and textile experts, the public usually demands something useful or at the very least decorative.

Deviants is a touring exhibition which makes an example of some 16 makers of craft objects who refuse to conform to the stereotypes of their trade. The work on display serves no purpose other than to startle, shock and amuse.

Take Teapot on 15 Legs by Irish ceramicist Jill Crowley. You would need a syringe to fill it and an age to wait for your brew to trickle out of the perversely narrow spout. And yes, it has 15 legs, which is at least 12 more than is strictly necessary.

Then again, Teapot by Angus Suttie is equally implausible. This one has two spouts, one of which looks stuck on as an afterthought. A tasteful glaze might have rectified matters, but the paintwork looks half finished.

Some works hint at functionality, but others just laugh at the idea. Brick-Filled Bag by Gillian Lowndes is rendered redundant by the eponymous section of wall. Hello? by Richard Slee does indeed pose a question. Is it a pair of vases? A pair of skittles? The viewer is left mystified.

But what you might do with Hans Stofer’s work is more immediately apparent. Grape Trap is an elegant steel prison for an unsuspecting grape and Grape Run is a similar contraption for rolling your captive back and forth.

You’d think that a piece of knitting might be less bizarre, but the glove on display is about a metre long and has been designed for 25 fingers and thumbs. At least Hand of Good, Hand of God by Freddie Robins is a sensible shade of grey-blue.

Elsewhere, Christopher Williams has fashioned an exquisite pale pink bowl that looks both operational and aesthetically pleasing. There’s one drawback, inevitably. His Bum Bowl is shaped like a rear end.

“All the works have been selected to show the stranger edge of craft,” Amanda Jones, of organisers the Crafts Council, has explained. It’s a boundary which certainly blurs into the realms of art.