Sunday, February 22, 2009

Portal to the Past

Recently intrigued by what might lurk behind the mirrored door of a particular bathroom cabinet, upon which items-in-current-use are placed for ease of access, curiosity got the better of me & thus I ventured on...

Imaging the surprise in discovering what appeared to be a veritable treasure-trove museum of perfectly preserved products &, particularly, packaging design, albeit on a small scale. Absolutely fascinating stuff, the results here presented as simple photographic record, firstly offering a comparison between examples of contemporary & 'historic' product packaging (note, for instance, that 'Immac' is now 'Veet', & the likelihood is that other items & names might no longer exist at all)...

and then the old items existing independently, as stored, in the manner of nothing less than a time capsule: appearing, perhaps, as though the cabinet had been stocked by the Blank Workshop. Without as yet engaging in further research, the packages appear to date from, probably, the 1970s, possibly a little later, maybe even earlier (the 'Algipan', for example, looks positively vintage in the bold simplicity of its matter-of-fact design), but, whatever, reference the past, & the time of one's childhood, in a profoundly palpable manner: what an aesthetic treat.

Coincidental to this delightful aesthetic discovery, I've just finished reading Howard Sounes's cultural survey of 'The Seventies', which, based upon the premise that the decade as generally perceived in retrospect was something of an artistic wasteland & the stereotypical 'time that taste forgot', endeavours to subvert this theory & accordingly features an interesting selection of art & its makers across a broad spectrum of disciplines during the decade in question, including popular music, the visual arts, architecture & literature. Although mostly covering already familiar examples - Davids Bowie & Hockney, Andy Warhol, Monty Python, the Sex Pistols & 'Jaws' (as novel & film) for instance - the chapters on cinema I found particularly enjoyable & informative, from the naturalistic tradition of directors such as Martin Scorcese & Bob Rafelson & movies such as 'Five Easy Pieces', which brought such an iconic screen presence as Jack Nicholson to prominence, through the protracted, harrowing gestation of Coppola's 'Apocalypse Now' to Woody Allen's classics 'Annie Hall' & 'Manhattan'. Similarly with some of the architectural highlights built to a finish during the period such as the (former) World Trade Center, Sydney Opera House & the Pompidou Centre, there's many a fascinating & enlightening back-story to be relayed in the details of their conception & creation.
Overall, there's an entertaining blend of well-researched first-hand anecdotal evidence & contextual explication - often cross-referencing - that continues throughout the book & its coverage of the times' more colourful cultural characters such as Norman Mailer, Bob Marley & Hunter S. Thompson, whose tale makes particularly amusing reading, as indeed does that of the Sex Pistols. Jolly good stuff, & recommended reading.

By way of another coincidence, & referencing another indispensible publication, the legend on the side of the box of 'Algipan', as featured amongst the photographed contents of the bathroom cabinet, reveals the product's manufacturer to be a 'Wyeth' corporation, a name which, in an art context, has recently returned to my attention, courtesy of the almost-topically recently-deceased Andrew Wyeth's 'Helga Pictures' being amongst the books retrieved from storage. Although ignored by the surveys & histories of modern art, & dismissed by progressive, modern criticism as, mostly, a mere illustrator working within the confines of a tradition of realist American art, Wyeth's intense study of the single subject Helga Testorf, over a 15 year period, through a variety of painting techniques & drawing, comprises a profound & compelling record of the artist-model relationship & the possibilities of communication of mood & atmosphere & the passage of time (albeit at an apparently glacial pace but for the obvious occasional changing of seasons) inherent in such a sustained body of work: as the still, mute, self-contained centre of the universe of interiors & landscapes, light & shade, created & recorded by Wyeth, Helga makes an endlessly fascinating & wonderfully contemplative subject.

The most recent drawing, of a nude though not consciously inspired by the example of Andrew Wyeth & Helga, returns to the theme of being processed from a source displaying something of a degraded appearance: in this instance, however, rather than being subsequently photomechanically 'distanced', the original is used as the immediate model, itself having been subjected prior to reproduction to some obvious form of 'vintage filter' treatment that softens the finer details in the manner of Gerhard Richter's blurring, 'unpainting' technique.

graphite & putty eraser/30x20cm
original source: 'The Times' 2 26/01/09


PiL 'Metal Box'
Portishead 'Third'
Black Box Recorder 'England Made Me'
Pet Shop Boys 'Art'
Jesus & Mary Chain 'Darklands'

If it is possible for something to sparkle blackly, then that's what 'Darklands' does, another bleak beauty from the archives that fits the prevailing, enveloping, comforting sonic aesthetic.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Artistic Inspiration

Today the opposite of tomato is 'Moderate or Good, Occasionally Poor'*

graphite & putty eraser/diptych 40x30cm
source: 5th generation B&W p/copy of colour p/copy from reproduced original photograph

Related to the previous drawing & its print media origins, this most recent example was also sourced from an arts publication available via the day job, in this instance a brief article in the March issue of ‘Artists & Illustrators’ promoting the work of the painter Anna King.
In its original form, this source actually comprises two horizontal format images, easily recognizable through their obvious differentiation as being a reproduction of an example of Anna’s work above a photograph depicting the artist herself, against a suitably distressed wood-panelled backdrop that references the particular nature of her aesthetic. However, taking a colour photocopy of these two images together as they appear on the page & then subsequently subjecting this copy to the photomechanical ‘degrading’ process of numerous stages of monochrome copies-from-copies results in a homogenizing effect (‘de-photographizing’ the photograph of the artist in particular) that enables the images to be read on the same visual terms, suggesting they could be used in combination ‘as one’ by the simple expedient of ignoring, removing, the white space separating them as copied, thus incorporating & continuing something of the notion of ‘duality’ introduced by this drawing’s predecessor via that particular source image’s creator Francesco Valentino. This marriage of disparate source images through the intermediary of a process of reproduction might be something to be considered for further exploration...

Further to the work of Anna King, it’s certainly a welcome discovery. The artist’s website features a generous selection of her paintings, for the most part of post-industrial wastelands, down-at-heel, decaying, delapidated, on-the-edge-of-urban, 'inbetween' spaces, unpopulated places that display signs of one-time human habitation but, as depicted, appear abandoned & on the verge or in the process of reclamation by nature. The limited palette of greys, earth browns & dull greens - although themselves subjected to an infinite, delightful variety of subtle changes in tone & hue, expertly modulated - are perfectly suited to the subject matter & give the paintings their quiet, subdued, contemplative air. Other images of isolated cottages or woods sheltering beneath expansive pale grey skies of a gentle luminosity communicate a similar quality of the encroachment of the elements & the vastness of natural space, the sense of which is emphasised by the paintings' often 'widescreen' horizontal format, Ivon Hitchens-like, cinematic in scale. Technically, the works display a loose, painterly brushwork combined with an equally exquisite element of informal pencil-drawn line that describes architecture & other man-made structure with just the right sense of suggested impermanence. This drawn aspect of the paintings is a particularly attractive feature, especially so, of course, in the context of this blog's commitment to drawing. All in all, Anna King's work is wonderfully compelling, slowly revealing the subtleties of its quiet secrets of the forgotten & overlooked, & a find to be treasured.


Throwing Muses 'In a Doghouse' (CD1)
Portishead 'Third'

Moon Wiring Club 'Shoes Off and Chairs Away'
Lambchop 'Is a Woman'
Rickie Lee Jones 'Traffic From Paradise'
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds 'The Boatman's Call'
Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man 'Out of Season'
Black Box Recorder 'England Made Me'

* Another listening pleasure, briefly interrupting TMS as it does during its BBC Radio 4 transmission, is to enjoy, from a landlubber layman's perspective, the consequently entirely abstract qualities of the Shipping Forecast, the mantra of distant names evocative & the whole strangely soothing within the comfort of the home 'studio'.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

On the Edge of Cool

Today the opposite of tomato is a mess - or if it ain't, it'll do 'til the mess gets here...

graphite, putty & plastic erasers & papiers colles/30x20cm
source: 3rd generation B&W photocopy of colour p/copy of print-reproduced photograph

Returning for source material from the recent brief sojourn on the Internet to the print media as previously, but broadening in scope from the limits of daily newspapers, the image from which this drawing was processed originally graced the cover of the November/December 2007 'Scandinavian' issue of the excellent & irresistible textiles publication Selvedge, access to the hard copy of which is provided courtesy of the day job: it is such a beautiful & compelling image, straight in with a bullet to the upper echelons of the hit parade of favourite photographs, being the work of Francesco Valentino, & featuring the modelling (by Maria) of fashions by Michiko Koshino against the backdrop of the 'Icehotel' in the village of JukkasjÀrvi near Kiruna in Sweden. Given the cold & snowy spell in which the UK has been gripped, there's a pleasing topicality about the discovery of such an image, & something rather enjoyable too about having an excuse to stay indoors in the warmth whilst engaged in the transcription process.

As in all of this year's work to date, the drawing is based immediately upon a photomechanically 'degraded' image a number of generations down the line from the original source. In this particular instance, the presence of the hanging animal pelts to the left of & behind the human figure (a concept informing Valentino's work is that of contrast & duality, which, aesthetically, contributes in no small measure to the appeal of the image whilst also providing food for further thought) inspired an attempt to realise this textured aspect of the drawing in more physical form: the shapes of each of the four separate segments, skins, forming the whole were carefully torn from a sheet of paper (the edges thus providing another form of 'drawing') & then pasted onto the base page, overlapping in places, this 'object' then standing slightly proud of the surface of the whole page, its edges destined to catch & hold some of the pencil marks subsequently applied-erased in the course of the habitual drawing process. Alas, the surface of the paper used (the same type as the base) proved largely resistant to the breaking-up effect I hoped would take place under the pressure of erasure (something like a better quality Fabriano paper, as I used to use when making larger-scale charcoal drawings, has a lovely crumbly surface that breaks easily & aids the creation of ragged textures and suchlike), thus these pasted elements of the drawing are not as textured & distressed as envisaged, & the drawing as a whole consequently not quite as 'object-like' as intended : note to try something different in future.


Portishead 'Third'
'Test Match Special'
WI v Eng
1st Test, days 2-4

Addictive listening in both cases: Portishead's 'Third' is lodged in the mind, unshiftably, to be returned to obsessively at present, its sonic aesthetic & consequent mood feeling most appropriate to the the times: whilst TMS, when available, is an essential accompaniment to the working process - good company, passionate, informative, erudite, amusing & greatly entertaining, conjuring images of & creating another world, without making any demands for interaction other than that one listens, absolutely perfect. Excellent First Test of the current series, proceeding in stately fashion before a rapid, thrilling & unexpectedly early denouement. It seems fitting too to acknowledge, with regret, the passing of the estimable TMS scorer Bill Frindall, whose learned presence & subtle interjections will surely be missed: RIP.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Good Things in Small Packages

Brought to my attention by my lovely friend Rebecca & originating via this press release on the University of Gloucestershire website, comes news of another must-see-&-follow artist’s blog, namely & documenting Dan Young’s intended year-long project of a painting-a-day, beginning last November & continuing apace. Another ‘Old Pittvillean’ (as is the aforementioned Rebecca, artist-blogger Kirsty Hall & yours truly), Dan’s series of small format oil paintings, luscious & seductive, comprises simple still lifes of, naturally, all manner of small objects (or fragments of), that have some relevance to the given day - those that might be overlooked or unconsidered, at least as subject matter for painting - elevated to the realm of art, from wooden toy figures, art materials (from pencils, pastels to pans & blobs of paint & even a small mound of dry ultramarine pigment that seems very Anish Kapoor), a Brussels sprout (on Xmas day, of course), half-eaten biscuits, crocheted mushrooms to clumps of earth &, most topically today, a snowball.
The contextualizing blog entries accompanying each of the paintings have an enjoyable deadpan humour to them too, as befits many of the subjects depicted, & the work is made available for ebay auction, with the result that a pleasing amount appears to have sold. As this mere dry description could never do the endeavour justice, please visit the blog now for a real treat!

Whilst being a noble endeavour in its own right, a purpose of Dan’s enterprise is to provide inspiration to make time during the demands of the day to do something from which one can gain enjoyment & satisfaction, one of the fundamental disciplines that also underpins my own efforts, in drawing & blogging, believing such to be of the utmost importance.

More examples of Dan Young’s paintings & digital art are to be found on his artist's website – enjoy, for example, the series of tent paintings, pitched in snowy locations, again suffused with that sense of incongruous humour.

All good stuff & always pleasing to make a Cheltenham reacquaintance in some way - thanks Becca, you're a star.