Sunday, January 28, 2007

Two Foolish Things

“It would be certainly a very foolish thing: try to the paint the Internet, start making oil-on-canvas paintings out of the computer world.” William Burroughs, 1996.

In the Blow de la Barra gallery on Heddon Street 11 years after Burroughs made that statement I chug my beer and look at just those foolish things. Miltos Manetas has produced two large canvases with the overlaid images of many pages from the internet, the painted impressions of the screens hold those familiar templates that we have grown accustomed to in the past couple of decades, that familiar Microsoft framed world that pulls us in and eats our time. A variety of websites are represented here and are scattered, reframed and overlaid showing us Manetas’ internet world. His intention is to continue to update these paintings as he sees fit, as his personal internet usage changes, as new, important sites of innovation are created or develop and as friends and colleagues place their own mark on the internet with their own websites.

You might expect that viewing Manetas world on screen on canvas would be a representation of the most obsessive cyber geekery but unlike the real world where computer technology insinuates its way into our lives, invades our habits (how much time have you spent blogging or on myspace lately?) and makes us forget life B.G, Before Gates, Manetas paintings return us to the world of craft and the artist. By hand painting these pieces of dotted information rendered on screen and by returning them to a series of hand eye co-ordinated painters works he brings us back to earthier more human senses. The capabilities of the human hand and the way we observe is changing, or at least being subverted by technology. From afar these paintings look familiar in their obvious sense, a computer screen, a website page, even when viewed for the first time is never a surprise, we have become accustomed to these amazing feats of technology and are no longer impressed but when viewed up close Manetas paintings return us to a very human place, that place where the painters skills break down, when the typeface wobbles and distorts under the strain of mental effort or painted sweeps of colour turn from fact to fiction and exact to abstract.

Who would have thought such a throwaway comment a decade ago would result in such a seemingly simple and potentially bland artistic expression only to regain a sense of the infallibly human in its rendering.

From simple beginnings Manetas has provided a most personal view of the modern world and if you look closely through the fog of information you can see it too.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Snuffling In The Art Worlds Bins

I am in the V22 gallery on Ashwin Street, this is their current ‘Carcus’ show, in front of me is Pam Horne’s painting ‘Second-Hand Rose’, I look for a while and think that the tears running down the girls face are incongruent with the rest of her impassive face, I am just beginning to wonder how I feel about this painting and write down a little note to myself. “Are you taking notes?” says a voice at my shoulder, a woman who is either something to do with the gallery or believes she ought to be is looming at me with a slightly quizzical expression and vaguely aggressive body language. I reply in a non-committal fashion and mention that I wish to remind myself about the work as I know that on leaving I will forget what I have just seen, she raises her eyebrow slightly and walks off, I feel she is unsatisfied with my answer but frankly I don’t know what she expected me to say. Perhaps, “Yes I am noting down every detail of every work so that when I get back to my art school studio I can copy the work but not before I drink every last drop of your free beer don’t let my 30’something appearance put you off I am in fact 19 and am going to steal these ideas and crassly present them as my own at my end of year show by the way I know I stick out like a sore thumb because I am here alone and actually looking at the work I know in reality that you think you are important and I am lowly scum and you are pissed off because I should have recognised you and have made a beeline to the queue of punters waiting to fawn and stroke your ego”. You know sometimes I hate going to these things, endless private view’s with attitude dripping from every pore and the slime of ego contaminating your shoulder if someone brushes past, the playground mentality and half the time people eyeing you with suspicion because they either don’t recognise you so you must be a nobody unlike themselves or they do recognise you and maybe you are going to find that elusive career defining contact before they do.
I feel like the famous scene in Spaced where Brian is preparing to go to Vulva’s experimental theatre/art performance, actually that is not just here tonight in Ashwin Street that is most of time, but enough of that back to the art.

I could go into detail about Pam Horne’s other painting ‘The Eve of Battle’, her work is of great quality and depth but it is detracted by the other Day-Glo scraps of ephemeral trash that litter the gallery, bows of false intellectualism that adorn black plastic sacks, art school rollup culture in expensive bleached denim and little bags of dog shite elevated to high culture lite by sprinkles of glitter. The best metaphors for shows of this kind come with the work, Simon Brundret’s mechanical dog sculptures draw attention and in the corner of the gallery is his dalmation snuffling scraps in a bin, if this were real the poor dog would starve because in this case the artists have got there before him.

I leave the gallery and on my way out the final work I see is Matt Brotherwood’s scrap of paper that says “Shut Up”.

Okay then I will.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Delicate Situations

Erosion (a block of white chalk collected from the foot of Beachy Head used to create a single block of colour on a wall to be left exposed to all elements).

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Communication Failure at Lounge

Sometimes it is a struggle to put into words what you think or feel, I curse myself at how clumsy my descriptions and interpretations are. It pains me on occasions how unable I am when trying to describe something. I aim for simplicity, purpose and intellectual weight only to hear the words spill out in a clumsy, confused and stupid mass of repetitious burble. I am pleased that this is not always the case but it happens often enough to cause me frustration, on a few occasions I have caught myself in mid verbal flow, stopped and said “sorry I’m not making any sense” and ceased a conversation, one such occasion was at a job interview, strangely I actually got the job.

These communication problems are exacerbated by the vagueries of others language skills, sometimes I hear the same nonsense spill from others mouths and we babble on in an approximation of a conversation whilst desperately trying to find some level of sense within the nonsense. Other times somebody whose language skills are more developed than my own leave me floundering in their wake as my slow witted brain blunders round trying to keep up with their verbal dexterity, my concentration wanes and I impolitely glaze over or grin and nod whilst glancing over their shoulder or my mind just wanders off to more mundane considerations, like if I twitch my buttock will it stop me having to scratch it or if I furrow my brow and breathe deeply does it look like I am giving their words consideration or will they know I have just stifled a yawn. Make no mistake it is not their fault it is mine, I am a lazy minded individual and my concentration span is perhaps not quite goldfish but definitely chimp.

On Friday evening I was desperately trying to make sense and keep up, in fact for once I felt particularly on the ball, the PV at the Lounge gallery of their latest group show conspired against me. There was a modest crowd at Lounge’s opening of ‘Absolute Zero’ and Liz and I wandered round trying to make sense of the scattered works on show, without artist details or a list of works we were left without much context, some shows obviously don’t need this but many group shows do as the disparate media need some frame of reference. Despite the lack of information we were particularly drawn to the black hole bath sculpture, it was fun but implied a depth behind the humour, in another work an ordnance survey map of Salisbury Plain and the surrounding areas have been overdrawn with black blocks and lines of ink where fields, buildings and roads are obscured, was the obscuring of these topographical details for obvious or more ambiguous reasons? It was hard to tell but nonetheless the work subtly drew your attention and held it. I cant tell you who the artists were as I am unfamiliar with their work and for the obvious reasons I mentioned earlier nothing in the gallery gave any identification of the artists and their work.
The gallery began to fill and once pathways through the assembled crowd became difficult to navigate we decided to head off to our next destination, on the way out we bumped in to Neil Taylor of Campbell Works. I have met Neil on several occasions now and he seems a thoughtful and intelligent guy, his interest in art and reading of artists work is considered and thoughtful, it is always interesting to talk to Neil so we stopped and discussed the show. I was pleased to hear that he too struggled to get a grip on the show without a little contextual literature lying around and Neil, Liz and myself continued our discussion of the show and some others we were involved with and other successful ones we had shared visits too. And that was when the communication problems really started for the three of us, my concentration levels were firing so my chimp like glazing and mind wandering was not the issue, Liz and Neil were discussing the Christophe Buchel show at Coppermill and just as Neil was explaining a part of the rambling installation that remains undiscovered by myself we were suddenly aware of the presence of a fourth person in our conversation, a twentysomething podgy faced redheaded girl blew a cloud of cigarette smoke in the air and spat out a couple of words directly to us, “What’s That!?” she said with almost shouted confusion, our talk of porn rooms, prayer rooms, shanty towns and piles of trash had obviously drawn her attention, unable to contain her interest she had to intervene. “What’s That?” again, Neil replied “it’s the Christophe Buchel Installation at Coppermill”, “eh?” she quickly replied, “it’s an installation where the guy has placed huge piles of trash and hidden rooms and stuff” I said with undiscovered powers of loquacious deliberation, however I thought I was pitching the description at the right level for our new friend. My descriptive attempts had failed and the strange aggression emanating from podgy redhead was causing my mind to start peering at the fleas on the back of its hand, Neil took up the story, perhaps he said, “it’s a site for the manufacture…”, podgy redhead began to frown and took an aggressive drag on her rollup, my mind was now hovering some hefty morsel of flea to its lips, “…of human endeavour”, another cloud of smoke and “I don’t GET IT?”. Peturbed but wanting to continue to some resolution Neil continued trying another tack “it’s a w…” quickly interrupted by podgy redhead as she peered at him and shouted “I DON’T GET YOU”, my mind was now hanging off a tree branch scratching its arse, the three of us looked at each other confused as some ‘noise music’ roared into action from the back of the room. Podgy redhead turned away distracted and started listening to the music. We left even more confused than when we entered the gallery.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Diggin' In The Crates (2nd Hand Style)

The Record & Tape exchange is a throwback, to step through the doors is not so much to step back in time to the seventies but definitely into a place that feels no need to change a formula that has served it well for decades.
Today I stepped into that familiar territory, the musty smell of dusty records and no doubt a slight smell of greasy fingermarks on printed card. There are several versions of the Exchange scattered around Notting Hill and the one that drew me to it was the Soul, Dance and Jazz shop, it is a strangely functional modern day trading post for vinyl junkies and I was in the mood for some bargains. As you may have worked out from previous posts I have varied tastes in music but my true love and musical foundation on which those tastes are built is jazz, unlike many obsessed with jazz music and DJ culture I am not in the purist camp, I feel no need for a £30 original pressing when the next years repress contains the same production, sound and track listing for £8. To reference my previous post “its all about the music”, so which particular musical gems was it all about on my latest visit?.
Whilst fighting for space with one purist who foolishly missed the chance to pick up a rare Horace Parlan album last week and cursed loudly to find it gone this week I unearthed a cheap but clean copy of Stan Tracey’s ‘Under Milk Wood’, not the original but the repress on Stan’s own Steam label. Whilst laughing under my breath as a local who sounded like Jade Goody, try to control her very bored 3 year old and carry in several boxes of records to sell to the shop whilst helped by her father, who sounded like a retired brigadier (well it is Notting Hill), I found a Prestige 1974 gatefold remaster of Yusef Lateef’s albums ‘Eastern Sounds’ and ‘The Sounds of Yusef’, this remastered incarnation contains a version of ‘The Love Theme from Spartacus’ and a version of ‘Take the A Train’ which handled by Lateef is truly unique, and a bargain at only a tenner. My final finds were a stupidly cheap copy of Roland Kirk’s ‘Now Don’t You Cry, Beautiful Edith’ with a great Jazz Dance track, ‘Fallout’, classic Dingwalls style. Finally a Cedar Walton, George Coleman, Sam Jones and Billy Higgins album “Eastern Rebellion” on Timeless, a Dutch label I have never come across which is a slice of mid seventies Strata East style jazz and contains a nice version of Coltrane’s ‘Naima’.

The exchange experience was completed as the surly staff member shuffled round to find the discs and his colleague sent a potential ‘exchanger’ packing by dismissing him with the line, “I could give you £20 in vouchers or a tenner in cash but these aren’t particularly good records, I’ve got better records out in the shop and these wont sell”, the shame faced punter put the records back in his bag, politely turned down the cash and slouched out of the shop in front of me.

I departed with my records pleased to be leaving as a buyer and not a seller.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

"It's All About The Work"

There is a highly respected club and radio DJ who it is sometimes suggested lacks ‘skills’ on the decks, however despite this he puts his success down to one element by using the phrase “it’s all about the music”. After a long, rambling epic journey of a conversation with art colleague and friend, Karen D’Amico, in a Columbia Road pub on Friday afternoon it occurred to me that “it’s all about…” is the fundamental issue in all fields of creative production. For artists therefore “it’s all about the work”.

Our conversation moved through the many aspects of our current attitudes to the world of art, our own work and the many and varied sidesteps and offshoots regarding the life of an artist. It was one of those great conversations where you can drop your guard and sound off one minute and then enthuse about the bubbling plots and plans of your own personal projects both practical and impractical.

It was also a conversation that sent me back to the previous evening and to my thoughts of the current show at the Fieldgate Gallery. ‘Latitude’ has drawn together a group of artists from Minneapolis, London and New York, the Fieldgate Gallery is the 2nd show of the 3 part series that will culminate in New York, the series is concerned with the interconnectedness of artists within a global community. The technological world is bringing people closer together in unique ways, access to images and ideas from artists on the other side of the planet are easier than ever to find from the comfort of your laptop, but is this affecting the work?. I certainly believe that trends in art are leading to a market homegenisation, the locality of artists is less relevant to the finished work than in the past, in art fair land this is evident. So it was with great interest that I viewed the varied works produced from the three cities, are there trends of fashionability in the styles of work?, do the artists show locally recognised traits or is this globalisation pervading the grass roots of the London, New York and Minneapolis art world, and is this affected by the locality of this current exhibition?.

As ever with any exhibition you are drawn to some work and against others by personal taste, I always struggle against my own anti-painting tastes but hopefully quality will out and I am broadminded enough to fight against my prejudices. Luckily Diann Bauer didn’t have to make me fight too hard with her wonderful painting, she skilfully produces a very graphic oriented image of great scale, from afar it looks like an oversized comic art styled illustration, the imagery shows what appears to be either the end of the universe or perhaps the beginnings. Lines, swirls, colours and shapes explode from a central point, the disorder of the explosion is rendered sharp and ordered under her steady hand. However up close the clean lines show paint bleeding under straight taped lines, the earliest plans and lines in pencil are left untouched at points where they are uncovered by paint and ink. The cleanness that is observed from afar is balanced by Bauers’ pragmatic approach to constructing the image, what might be erased and hidden by a fussier artist is left, accidents of production remain proud and speak far more of the efforts and the personality of the artist than if they were not evident, maybe she is showing us that the universe is nothing without the souls that inhabit it. As one of such souls it seems Bauer is as charming, unpretentious and complex as her painting would indicate.
Rosemary Williams has constructed a wall of shopping bags from the Mall of America, it is obviously an amusing work but strangely unsettling at the same time. Simple and straightforward it allows you to ask yourself what you feel about conspicuous consumption by just putting the facts in front of you, Williams is not leading you though, she is too busy with the project that created this piece with her podcast documenting her efforts to purchase one item from each store at Mall of America. You can see this quest on if you are not too busy at Lakeside or Bluewater. More shopping obsessed culture neurosis can be seen further into the gallery with Andy Hsu’s sculpture that contains one hundred pound shop items, it is once again an amusing and unsettling view of consumerism, I laugh at the multitude of plastic tat available for a meagre budget of £100 and cringe at the thought that some of this may be waiting for me at home after a lifetime of unnecessary purchases.

There are many other pieces on show and luckily these artists show great variety, it is interesting that only a handful of pieces have the ‘seen it before’ effect but concerns about cultural homogenisation and globalisation ring through in one final piece, Sarah Barker’s video shows what appears to be a contestant in a ‘reality pop star game show wannabe Mariah’ video. She sings, badly, very badly, cringingly badly to a backing track with the film showing the colour voice to camera and black & white flashback segments of girl with boy scenes you will have seen a million times in most MTV music videos. I found the spectacle strangely compelling, it was truly bad viewing (and listening) in a deliberate way but nowhere near when compared to the real thing, I stood and watched the video spectacle unfold when the very thing it parodies would have had me reaching for the remote.

It is bizarre that many of the artists are presenting work that relates issues of consumer culture and globalisation when these issues are directly affecting art production as much as every other ‘product’, the work on show was varied and unique enough to show hope for the future but then again the premise of this show was to look at such issues and the artists are just embarking on the commercial treadmill, but the quality of any artists work will always outweigh other commercial or non-commercial considerations. As we will always know “it’s all about the work”.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Untitled Sketch/Collage (Jan 2007)
Photocopies on Paper

Friday, January 05, 2007

Winter Selection

Radio Rebelde’s Sounds of Now and Not Quite Now-Winter 2006/07

1.Mulatu Astatqe-Mètché Dershé (2003 VA-‘Ethiopian Modern Instrumental Hits’, L’Arome Productions)
2.Shamek Farrah-First Impressions (1974 ‘First Impressions’, Strata-East Records)
3.John & Beverley Martin-Road To Ruin (2005 ‘The Road To Ruin’, Island Remasters)
4.Andrew Hill-Illusions (2006 VA-‘Righteousness’, Blue Note)
5.Jackie McLean-Esoteric (1963 ‘Destination Out’, Blue Note)
6.Roland Kirk-The Inflated Tear (1968 ‘The Inflated Tear’, Atlantic Jazz)
7.Alice Coltrane-Mantra (1970 ‘Ptah, The El Daoud’, Impulse)
8.Keren Ann-For You And I (2006 VA-‘Jazzanova-Blue Note Trip’, Blue Note)
9.Omar Sosa-Nacimento (2003 ‘A New Life’, Otá Records)
10.Milton Nascimento-A Chamada (2004 ‘Maria Maria/Ultimo Trem’, Far Out Recordings)