Friday, June 26, 2009

Looking at the Overlooked from the Other Side

graphite & putty eraser/30x20cm

Doing exactly what it says on the tin, as it were - flipping over the previously drawn 'roadkill' can to examine the manner in which it has been folded on its reverse side. Again, in best 'Cubist' fashion, four views are simultaneously present in the single, compressed plane: each side, top & base.


Scritti Politti 'Songs to Remember' & 'White Bread Black Beer'
Moon Wiring Club 'An Audience of Art Deco Eyes'
Divine Comedy 'Victory for the Comic Muse'

With a nod to topicality, one was reminded of the point at which Green Gartside's singing voice started sounding at times not entirely dissimilar to that of the departed Michael Jackson: the funky 'Lions After Slumber' on the still-wonderful 'Songs to Remember' (as indeed they are) might be the best illustration.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Having established that we’re more than a little partial here to retro in any number of its ubiquitous cultural manifestations (&, indeed, having already opened this year of blogging with a post featuring archive fashion illustrations), imagine the delight when a 1970s-published volume of fashion illustration came to my attention yesterday. Whilst being drawn in the then-contemporary style of the book’s day dates the appearance of the illustrations to a vary particular era, it lends to them a period charm that also invites appropriation: something suggests that the figures would hardly look out of place stylishly gracing the artwork of a release from the Moon Wiring Club, for example, elegantly populating a Clinksell drawing room - very much a case of ‘shoes off & chairs away’ for the dancing couple, perfectly illustrating the concept.

Aren't they all such fabulous dandies?! Interesting too to observe such examples of drawing for a specific purpose, the conventions that such genres obey, & the admirable economy with which the results are achieved in the interests of effective communication.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Looking at the Overlooked

graphite & putty eraser/30x20cm

Featuring another of the ‘roadkill’ diptych drawings, this one again processed from a found object accidentally-but-apparently-deliberately compressed into an arrangement of sharp folds that lend it an appearance of a sequence of overlapping planes & multiple viewpoints within the same virtually two-dimensional form, in something of the Cubist manner. This drawing is unique to date in being processed entirely from the object itself, without reference also to a photo-reproduced source (essentially found the can & began the drawing on a Saturday, thus without access to the work’s photocopier!): even allowing for a pretty constant light source, as is the way with things in the world, the surface was subject to various fluctuations-as-observed & thus the finished drawing represents this, being a composite record of decisions & marks made & reappraised, of time spent 'looking at the overlooked'.

Beyond the confines of the personal project, the July issue of ‘Artists & Illustrators’ magazine includes a substantial feature on the subject of drawing &, more particularly, artists using pencil as their medium, amongst whose number is Marie Harnett, whose work I’ve enthused about previously. The article provides a welcome opportunity to engage once again with Marie’s exquisitely rendered & detailed drawings - which remain things of wonder, elegance & beauty, creating a sensual world into which one might escape - & also to read in the artist’s own words an enlightening selection of conceptual & technical issues (note to self: track down a more refined eraser for fine-detail work such as the roadkill cans series) – good stuff.


Low 'Secret Name', 'Things We Lost in the Fire' & 'owL'
Mazzy Star 'So Tonight That I Might See'

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Today the opposite of tomato is 'An Audience of Art Deco Eyes'...& 'Blissed Out'

graphite & putty eraser/30x20cm

And so to another diptych drawing of the more neatly, apparently almost deliberately folded examples of aluminium can ‘roadkill’, this time a particularly slimline instance of the form. As ever, there’s something unavoidably Cubist in appearance about such planar reshapings of what one knows once to have been a proper three-dimensional object-in-the-round. For the first time, in taking advantage of an especially fine early morning, the drawing was processed ‘en plein air’, with the lightly-faceted surface of the found object picking up the shifting patterns of light, the drawing thus providing a composite record of such rather than a fixed point as a photographic image would.


Moon Wiring Club 'An Audience of Art Deco Eyes'

There’s something going bump in the night, even though it’s still light well beyond 10 pm, & that something is the sound of the Moon Wiring Club’s ‘An Audience of Art Deco Eyes’, being the most recent musical investment: quite how & why it’s taken so long to get around to doing so is a mystery worthy of the strange goings-on in Clinksell itself, the initial instalment of which the album constitutes, preceding as it did ‘Shoes Off and Chairs Away’. The overriding initial impression of ‘An Audience...’ is that it broods magnificently, being a thoroughly engrossing, ‘escapist’ experience in the manner of its successor, with the prevailing atmosphere frequently leavened by a jaunty, capering melodic interlude - like fleeting shafts of sunlight filtering through the overarching canopy of leaves as one is drawn inexorably deeper into the spooky, sinister woods - & snippets of humour.

Again, as may be observed in these illustrations from the CD booklet of various members of the Club, the retro appearance & air of the accompanying artwork complements the music perfectly, creating a rich, multi-layered & rewarding aesthetic; much more may be explored, of course, at the Blank Workshop.

By way of one those strange temporal coincidences, I also took delivery yesterday of a copy of Simon Reynolds‘Blissed Out’, a book I’d been trying to track down (if only at a reasonable price, of course) for years & finally managed to do so from a seller in the US. As a collection of the writer’s earlier work, featuring pieces revised from original publication in the music press, etc (on subjects such as The Smiths, Pixies, Sonic Youth, & ‘oceanic’ rock as the term was coined), I’ve regarded it as an essential addition to the library, such examples having formed my introduction to Reynolds’ style & always compelling, thought-provoking, enlightening & entertaining content, enjoyed from first exposure to: he it was, indeed, who succinctly identified the ‘lovely, wintry sound’ of - in his review of - the Go-Betweens‘Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express’.
It was the estimable Mr Reynolds, of course, who first alerted me to the very existence of the Moon Wiring Club, championing both ‘An Audience...’ & then in turn ‘Shoes Off...’, thus another debt of gratitude is owed. Again, nostalgia might be said to be in the air, but this will be a book to be dipped-in-to & its essays enjoyed anew.
Note the cover design of ‘Blissed Out’, co-done by Vaughan Oliver of 23 envelope fame, very much in the style of many an independent album sleeve of the late 80s/early 90s: a suitable case for some present-day retro appropriation & re-presentation, surely?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Back to the Present

Slightly behind the times, as ever - by inclination & design, of course – a certain something, gracing the cover of a recent issue of Design Week, came to my attention. It transpired that the work illustrated – essentially iconic album cover designs of the 1970s/80s appropriated along with & restyled in the retro manner of time-worn vintage paperback books of equally iconic, instantly-recognizable design - was/is that of Huw Gwilliam, itself being part of a wider trend of such mixing-&-mashing graphic re-imaginings (as has become common practice in creating ‘new’ music from pre-existing sources, for example, a development of music’s long-established tradition of referencing its past), many of which might be found at the online Flickr community Make Something Cool Everyday.
Having owned such featured examples as ‘Technique’ & ‘Unknown Pleasures’ in LP format almost since their original releases (& retained them amongst the few examples from the once-extensive vinyl collection saved for posterity), it’s a delight to see such favourites sampled & recontextualized thus, represented in a contemporary idiom of digital art that yet, artificially aged, displays an historic aesthetic, appearing in a condition as might secondhand books, actually much as the original sleeves came to assume over time & much use. Such magpiesque ‘borrowings’ might leave themselves open to criticisms of nostalgia &/or ‘mere’ pastiche, of course, but, nevertheless, the results can be something new, fruitful & most enjoyable, visually & conceptually, as in such examples as Heath Killen’s ‘Modernist Editions’ album covers-as-pictograms, simple & direct.

Further to the subject of retro aesthetics & the mixing of, the creation of something new from archive sources, & returning to a particular personal favourite embracing both graphics & music, I recently received notification from source of Moon Wiring Club’s contribution to Bleep 43’s extensive series of podcasts, which proved to be a compellingly enjoyable listen, endlessly inventive with its source material of music & found sound clips, proper thoughtful, stimulating entertainment & ever so slightly bonkers, witty & unsettling in the finest traditions of MWC’s oeuvre. As always, it’s the sense of displacement created by hearing recognizable archive fragments – old TV station idents & commercial radio ads (the latter so cringe-makingly wonderfully cheesy & awful), snippets of TV celebrities (equally cheesy), public information films with their dire, portentous warnings - represented within a new context of electronic music – itself often of a certain vintage, with that stereotypically futuristic sound (ironically dating it so) of the pioneering forays into the form, but still incongruously combined - that lends proceedings a particular frisson & inspires such an atmosphere of delight at the degree of inventiveness involved in the endeavour.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

More of the Folding Stuff...

graphite & putty eraser/30x20cm

Introducing the latest 'roadkill' diptych drawing to feature an intriguingly-folded subject, another example of what might be termed 'Beer Art' rather than 'Pop', in the tradition of Jasper has become the recent habit, the drawing was made from the found object itself, with its fugitive light-reflecting surface, rather than an already aesthetically-distanced photocopy.


New Order 'Movement'
Radiohead 'Kid A'
Radio 5live Sports Extra Twenty20 cricket

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Reformed Character

Today the opposite of tomato is yin and yang. And yong.

graphite & putty eraser/30x20cm

Continuing the ‘roadkill’ diptych series (albeit at a more relaxed pace of late), again with an object upon which a striking & particularly ‘Cubist’ transformation has been effected by the force of vehicular intervention, from the cylindrical to a triangular form of neatly folded overlapping planes that renders the original virtually unrecognizable: although accidental, this reshaping has about it something of the appearance of a more deliberate, careful act, like the art of origami or napkin folding perhaps. As with the previous example, this drawing was processed primarily from the object itself (rather than an ‘aesthetically-distanced’ photocopy), subject to changes in formal emphasis under fugitive natural light conditions, the drawn object thus being more of a composite of various decisions & revisions (with reference made occasionally to the photocopied version).


Moon Wiring Club 'Shoes Off and Chairs Away'
Portishead 'Portishead'

Friday, June 05, 2009

A New Painterly Pleasure

Today the opposite of tomato is the Netherlands' major-upset last-ball Twenty20 cricket victory over England: Brilliant Orange!

A recent edition of the newish publication Art World was browsed-with-interest in a local WH Smiths & subsequently invested in primarily for the features contained within on the subjects of the new work of Luc Tuymans and a more general survey of George Shaw’s paintings, the latter being especially necessary given the otherwise scarcity of substantial literature on the artist & his compelling work, which, topical to this year’s overarching atmosphere at TOoT, has often seemed to communicate something of a ‘post-punk’ aesthetic, its intensely-concentrated appearance frequently redolent of the socio-economo-political grimy grimness of the late 70s – early 80s, of hope stilled & dreams thwarted, life quietly suffocated “amid concrete and clay, and general decay” (indeed of ‘nature finding a way’, as it must, of reclaiming derelict buildings, abandoned garages and now-depopulated public spaces – specifically the Tile Hill estate in Coventry, where Shaw grew up).

George Shaw feature in Art World no. 10, April/May 2009

Also, there is undeniably something more expansively Smithsian & broadly English in Shaw’s affectionate aesthetic, in its Romantic tendency to find poetry, something to celebrate, to memorialize, in such unpromising, overlooked subject matter: the particular use of an ever-so-slightly artificial, heightened colour lends some of the paintings an intensity of an hallucinatory nature, the depicted spaces become charged with a dreamlike nostalgia for a past time, vividly remembered with a clarity as from youth. Furthermore, Shaw’s habitual technique using the medium of Humbrol enamel modelling paints reminds one palpably of the personal journey from childhood - &, specifically, one of its consuming hobbies of the construction of Airfix model kits - to adolescence & the discovery of the music (& associated culture) of that contemporaneous post-punk period. Last night, I experienced a particularly sharp pang of recognition whilst reading, in his own interview that closes ‘Totally Wired’, Simon Reynolds’ poignant description of the provincial life (such as that, also, of George Shaw’s Coventry) of such times, isolated in a much-reduced media landscape (when compared with the ubiquitous, remotely-accessible, distance-no-object-or-barrier sources of today), & the vital, essential nature, the sheer nervous urgency, of the vibrant new music scene & its associated conduits of the John Peel radio programme & the ‘inky’ music press (NME, Melody Maker & Sounds), the importance of which could never be overestimated, precious oases in the cultural desert, the scarcity of which created a constant cycle of delay & anticipation in the sating of the desire for access to & reception of such life-saving forces. George Shaw’s work similarly displays a yearning for the memories of times past.

Kees Goudzwaard in Art World no.10, April/May 2009

Having digressed, the real discovery in the aforementioned issue of Art World proved to be the work of painter Kees Goudzwaard. The magazine features a short article & question-&-answer session with the artist, illustrated with a few examples of recent work, enough to intrigue & encourage a more in-depth engagement available via the artist’s website, which features a chronological survey of numerous years’-worth of paintings & 4 substantial essays on the subject of this work, exploring various theoretical issues arising from.
Goudzwaard’s painting practice is particularly fascinating for the position it occupies between absolutely faithful realism-illusionism, & the tradition of modernist abstraction, being primarily the former whilst appearing very much like the latter. Beginning with very basic raw materials of the artist’s stock - coloured & translucent tracing-type papers, & masking tape in the form of either strips or smaller pieces - Goudzwaard constructs maquettes - on various scales from ‘easel-painting’ size to the much larger ones associated with abstract expressionism - composed & built up of various square & rectilinear forms, sometimes tilted on their axes, with subsequent layers creating tonal variations in addition to colour combinations either boldly-saturated or more subdued or near-monochrome. The application of masking tape to fix these shapes & layers results in the explicit statement of grid-like forms, &/or otherwise pieces of tape are used to create surface pattern & detail that, within the general abstract framework of the resulting paintings, might or might not suggest natural phenomena such as flurries of snow or blossom.

From these models – over which he might spend some considerable time (years, even) in the making & reassessing the compositions of – Goudzwaard then produces equivalents in oil on canvas, on a scale of direct 1:1. As the models are objects in themselves – even if their 3D nature is shallow – the subsequent paintings, in their faithfulness to appearances, their transfer of low-relief three dimensions into the two of the flat picture plane, exhibit a trompe l’oeil quality in the tradition of such works as the illusory depictions of pin-boards (from those by 17th century Dutch artists to, for example, John Frederick Peto in the US in the 19th century) or Vija Celmins’ drawings of envelopes & postcards, & also have a relational dialogue with the broader history of Dutch still life painting, with its attention to detail & exactitude, effecting a transfer of material qualities, surfaces & textures, into that of paint. The entire process, from the collaged models constructed of a variety of papers to the subsequent paintings composed of overlapping planar layers – often of great tonal richness & subtlety - & frameworks of explicit linear structures that relate to the horizontals & verticals of the picture edges, also references various stages of Cubism as it developed from the influence of Cezanne to the point from which an artist such as Mondrian was able to absorb its lessons & take them on in order to refine his own rigidly geometrical formal language into complete abstraction (one might say that Goudzwaard’s tonally pale lines of tape are the inverse of the ‘signature’ black scaffolding of Mondrian’s mature style & practice).
The creation & depiction of the grid-like structure – either as emphasised or disrupted to greater or lesser effect by the particular use of the tape – relates to the use of the grid in modernist art to create an ‘all-over’ field that makes explicit reference to the shape of the picture support in the traditional manner & enables the paintings to be read alternately as belonging within the idiom of hard-edge abstraction. The paintings thus enjoy a constant, intriguing state of flux – for all their rigidly structural appearance – between realist illusionism, painstakingly realised, & abstraction, a liberating post-modernist dialogue that gives them a profound complexity & continually enriches their reception.

There’s an interesting relation, too, between Goudzwaard’s work and the compelling paintings of William Daniels (blogged here, some time ago) - again highly realistic renderings of self-constructed cardboard maquettes of famous paintings from the history of art, sharing the practice of producing a contemporary take on the genre of still life, working from objects (already works of art?) created by themselves from simple, cheap, ubiquitous materials. Perhaps, too, my own current body of work & area of interest, the drawings of flattened, low-relief ‘roadkill’ aluminium cans depicted against the ground of the strict linear forms of the (slightly raised) double black lines road markings, with their relation to both still life & certain formal devices of modernist abstraction (albeit monochrome), might share characteristics & concerns with Kees Goudzward’s paintings.

Also, an interesting feature on/with Sonic Youth in today's Guardian's 'Film & Music' section, & even a good review of the new album 'The Eternal', too, with special mention for the fabulous 'Antenna'.