Tuesday, 14 March 2017


Up Now in London

Aleksander Hardashnakov: You Turn On Me @ Union Pacific. 17 Goulston Street – Aldgate

Installation view with 'Find Your Own!', 'Pregnant Barbie', Stalker' and 'Painting for Liliana'

Toronto artist Aleksander Hardashnakov is an arch avoider of the signature style, but there’s a dark humour to quite a few of the 21 canvases which ring Union Pacific’s space cheek by jowl. He says ‘everything is inspiring’, and they channel all sorts of templates from Georgia O’Keefe to Kasimir Malevich. Hands meace, Barbie is pregnant, keychains cause stress… The circle of works is reflected in a charity collection style sculptural contraption in which coins run around hypnotically before disappearing down its black hole… to land on the floor. So much for the show’s economics, you can retrieve your money. Hardashnakov would like to make this as a public sculpture open to vortex-addicted skateboarders. I’d like to see that: the next 4th plinth vacancy is in 2022…

Black hole, tip jar, wishing well (proposal for public sculpture), 2017
Rhys Coren: Whistle Bump Super Strut, 270-276 Kingsland Rd - Haggerston

A slow (intro), 2017 - spray paint, acrylic and pencil on board

‘Two painting shows in a row!?’, I teased Dave Hoyland, ‘Are you selling out?’ ‘Luckily’, he says, ‘yes’ – which must be welcome after Seventeen’s ill-fated New York venture. And it’s easy to see why Rhys Coren’s funky abstractions, originally scheduled for the US, are popular. But there’s quite a lot to them, too: they’re not straight paintings but combinations of laser-cut wood like intricate puzzles; the colours are muted yet lively in combination; they’re replete with complicating effects like blurred areas, drop shadows and surfaces treated to resemble patio paving; each has a snappy title and these are joined up to turn the press release into a poem... Dance the dance, dancing feet / Red-faced with embarrassment / Cheeky, cheeky. Naughty, sneaky / Shame on you (if you can’t dance, too)...

All My Beautiful Evil is Melting, 2017 - spray paint, acrylic and pencil on board


Gordon Cheung: Unknown Knowns @ Edel Assanti, 74a Newman Street - Fitzrovia

Turkey Carpet (after Francesco Fieravino,1650-1680 ), 2017, giclée on canvas, 128 x 136cm
Gordon Cheung is known for apocalyptically coloured paintings which play against the collaged backdrop of stock listings as a charged way of exploring capitalism and its cyclic discontents. These, have become increasingly baroque, as in the tulips in which pre-sculpted paint forms fully modelled petals. Now two new series play off that practice. Grand panoramas use sand to irritate the surface as they subvert Chinese painting traditions by showing 21st century realities. And digital prints on canvas run with the computerisation of stock listings and the distortions of the market, by allowing a programme glitch to disrupt the data files of their image sources to bewitching effect. These, even when you know they’re the only flat works in the show, often look remarkably textured.
A Thousand Plateaus, 2016 -  financial newspaper, inkjet, acrylic and sand on linen, 200 x 450cm triptych

Maria Lassnig: A Painting Survey 1950-2007 @ Hauser & Wirth, Savile Row - Central

To 29 April: www.hauserwirth.com

Self-portrait with speech bubble, 2006 - Oil on canvas,  200 x 150 cm 

Following her shows at the Serpentine (2008) and Tate Liverpool (2016), it’s not exactly a secret that Maria Lassnig (1919-2014) was one of the best painters of the last 50 years, but this estate-driven show reinforces the point with examples not previously seen in Britain. It clarifies her geographically-driven phases rather well: from early Viennese experiments in hard-edged abstraction to more expressionist abstracts leading up to her move to Paris in 1961, where she developed her ‘body-aware’ style of figuration. Relatively realistic works followed as she found herself a painter reacting against the prevalent conceptual use of media in New York (1968-80). She returned to Vienna in 1980 to become, at 60, the nation’s first female professor of art. Self-portrait with Speech Bubble is typical of Lassnig's late, great flowering, showing her concern with the directly sensing parts of the body – no need, it seems here, for a brain.

Girl with Wine Glass, 1971 - oil on canvas, 178 x 127cm

Ella Littwitz: No Vestige of a Beginning, No Prospect of an End @ Copperfield Gallery, 6 Copperfield Street - Southwark

To 29 April: www.copperfieldgallery.com
Installation view

Ella Littwitz provides an object lesson in how to generate a political and emotional charge from simple-looking means - all relating to the expansion of Israel into Palestine territory. A filigree bronze cast of Dittrichia Viscosa represents the first plant to colonise disrupted territory, its allopathic qualities enriching the metaphor. Traces of the non-native pine refer to its mass introduction as a sign of support for Zionism: every Israeli receives a tree on birth, and you can have a plaque in the forest named for you if you buy enough extra trees - the imperialist narrative is strong enough for Hezbollah to have attacked trees!  A sort of cellular growth of connected unpicked footballs evokes the story of how UN officials collected and returned balls which children in a school close the border had kicked into a minefield in 1948.

"More poetry than instruction", "More instruction than poetry", chalk on Blackboard, 70 x 70 x 2 cm each


Architecture as Metaphor @ Griffin Gallery, 21 Evesham St - Latimer Rd

Evy Jokhova: Installation view of Puddle, 2011 - film with mirror

There are several good reasons to visit the Griffin Gallery. Free coffee; the sculpture, paintings and drawings exploring ‘architecture as metaphor’ have been chosen astutely; Phyllida Barlow, just ahead of her Venice appearance, links a typical sculptural pile to a spot-on stream of consciousness about getting lost in The Barbican (we’ve all been there if we’ve been there); Peter Newell Price pulls off the improbable project of making a rose window out of graphite. Yet the main reason for attendance could well be the film works by Gary Stevens, Evy Jokhova, Jemima Burrill and Lucy Gunning.

Jemima Burrill: stills from Cleaner, 2004


Richard Mosse: Incoming @ Curve Gallery, The Barbican 

Still from Incoming, 2016

Richard Mosse made a big splash at the 2013 Venice Biennale with his film of the ongoing war in the Congo. He shot it with discontinued reconnaissance infrared film which turned much of the battle scenery pink, so infecting the scenes with a surprising look which also carried political resonance. Can he replicate that kind of impact? It seems so: The Curve features film footage centering on refugees movements and still images of the associated camp infrastructure. Both are taken with a thermal camera which can distinguish people at a distance of 30 km and, as such, is classified as a weapon for export purposes. Again, the aesthetic is beautiful and distinct. Seeing thermally removes racial differences but emphasises mortality. Even though Mosse doesn’t really exploit the unusual dimensions of the Curve, his name can be added to the list of artists who – out of 27 high quality commissions - have excelled there over the last decade: Richard Wilson, Clemens von Wedermeyer, Robert Kusmirowski, Celeste Boursier-Mougenout, Song Dong and Random International.

Hellinikon Olympic Arena, 2016, digital c-print on metallic paper


Saad Qureshi: time | memory | landscape @ Gazelli Art House, 39 Dover St - Central

To 16 April: http://gazelliarthouse.com

Beyond Mental Boundaries, 2016-17 - brick dust, charcoal, ink, 160 x 210cm
As the show title spells out, perhaps a little too didactically,  Saad Qureshi’s two new streams of work combine time, memory and landscape. The results might be called mindscapes: big vistas made with charcoal applied to the sumptuous surface of brick dust create memories of nature in the classic material of the manmade; and smaller views burnt into paper with a soldering iron suggest how places may be seared into the memory. Both those resonant uses of material took effort: it wasn’t a simple matter for Qureshi to find a supplier willing to crush their bricks to powder for him; and the six works on paper are the survivors from 37, most of which caught a little too much fire!

Scorched lines - S1, 2016 - burnt paper, 57 x 70cm


Kazuo Shiraga @ Lévy Gorvy, 22 Old Bond St - Central

Chikisei Sesuisho,  1960  -  Oil on canvas, 130 x 193 cm

I take little notice of the market, but it’s hard not to be aware that the price of a good Shiraga has increased tenfold in the ten years since the leading Gutaï member (1924-2008) last showed solo in London. And these are good examples, especially the three from the ‘Margin series’, named for outlaw characters in the Chinese saga of bandits revelling against the emperor – just as Shiraga rebelled against convention by sliding across and swirling around the paint (actually applied by his wife) into place with his feet as he swung across the canvas. What started as a provocative action in 1954 generated a stream of supra-residual results combining violence, dance and meditation. Shiraga went on producing them until his death, undeflected by being a Buddhist priest from 1971.

Mid-fifties action....


Images courtesy / copyright the relevant artists and galleries 


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Sunday, 12 March 2017



Platform A Gallery, Middlesbrough: 10th March - 21st April

Curated by Paul Carey-Kent

Unpainting (Formally Dressed) - gloss paint and resin on aluminium, 244 x 122cm
My guess is when you walk in to Tony Charles’ show at Platform A, you will think it is made up of painting and sculpture. You’d be right, but the twist is that you'll probably have them the wrong way round.

Unpainting (Informally Dressed)

Let's look at the walls of apparent paintings first.  In fact, Charles points to the contradiction by calling them 'unpaintings'. He takes the standard industrial 8 ft x 4 ft size of aluminium panel and paints them with industrial gloss using the narrow range of simple shapes and clear colours typically found on  signage. That’s the painting stage done with.  He then sets about scraping off the paint with an angle grinder. Afterwards, he applies a layer of resin, which heightens the colour and the reflectiveness through which the works catch the light and respond to its shifts. Typically, Charles gives himself a set time to abrade a given panel with the apparent aim of scraping off all the paint. He's only ‘succeeded’ once to date, but often gets close. Paradoxically, though, the act of removing the paint leaves marks which have a far more painterly aspect than the original flat application of the gloss paint itself. So it's the removal of paint which makes them look like paintings rather than signs, but the results are arguably objects rather than paintings[i].  Moreover, the panels have a substantial materiality, the abrasions are themselves a subtle relief, and Charles’ mark-making often implies that he’s working on a three dimensional I-beam, with its flanges and web described by differing directionalities of the grind marks. Overall, then, there’s enough three dimensionality and objecthood in play to tip the unpaintings into sculptural territory.

Still Life Unpainted (2)

There's a complementary logic at play in the apparently sculptural work Still Life Unpainted 2, which consists of ten aluminium gas bottles, the space available to them indicated by wooden rods. These started life as fire extinguishers, and again Charles has scraped away the paint, in this case entirely so.  We are left with three-dimensional objects of gleaming metal, but still Charles categorises these as paintings. How so? First, the removal of paint again leaves painterly striations; we can recognise the bottles as a classic still life subject, as in the paintings of the Dutch Golden age and through to Morandi [ii]; and the outlining wood suggests both a table on which the bottles can be placed and a frame if we look at the bottles as forming a painting (the ‘unpaintings’, in contrast, lack the traditional frame).  Moreover, the outcome reminds me of scaled-up tubes of paint, triggering the thought of another time when an industrial process had a particularly significant artistic effect: the 19th century trend towards painting en plein air, which facilitated the development of Impressionism, was made possible by the invention of the tubes which enabled paint to be transported conveniently to external sites.

Fettling Series 1-14 and Dog Removal (centre), all 30 x 20cm
The painterly language of scraping off paint, though it derives from the utilitarian construction and cleaning processes for making and maintaining machinery, proves surprisingly varied. Different movements and repetitions of the angle grinder build up distinctive patterns and rhythms akin to brushmarks; and while Charles might naturally use a big grinder (and disc) on a big work and a small one on a small work, keeping the marks proportionate to scale, he can also reverse that expectation. There is no mixing of colours, but the drag of the disc causes a sort of 'uncolouring' in some places, which leads to dirtier or more pastel-like patches. The process also gives Charles two separate chances to vary his compositions: through the initial painting process, and in the subsequent unpainting. Thus for example, the underlying geometry remains very visible in Fettled Section & SIgn, which has echoes of Barnett Newman’s use of the vertical ‘zip’, whereas little paint remains on Informally Dressed. Fettled Pour lies in between, and has some affinity with the staining of Morris Louis. Halving the standard industrial size encourages a squarer format - which Charles tweaks in Dressing Down by stacking two squares. And the combination of several small works – which echo a large panel by covering the same total wall area – makes explicit the general tendency of Charles’ practice to set up and then deconstruct the modernist grid.

All seems good, then: there’s no shortage of visual allure; our expectations are elegant and enjoyably reversed; and viewers can see themselves reflected to some extent, so pulling them into the work and the visible performative traces of its making. Maybe that's enough, but it’s also possible to bring a wider social commentary into play.

Unpainting (Fettled Section and Sign)
Charles, born in Cyprus, was the son of a soldier. His first memory is of the change in light and atmosphere when his family moved from their subsequent Maltese posting to Middlesbrough. Despite a hankering for Art College, Charles was apprenticed into the steelworks at South Bank as a welder, plater and boilermaker, staying for sixteen years. Now, as if yearning for the Mediterranean as well as the visual culture he has found as artist, teacher and gallerist, Charles brings dancing light to dull metal and an industrial process to artistic practice.  He was originally inspired by the marks accruing on table-tops on which metalwork was carried out, and terms for grinding metal – dressing and fettling – appear in his titles. Those words also have everyday, non-industrial usages which enable Charles to inject humour while emphasising the links between the two worlds. Those connections are rarely made so integrally to the art and life as in Unpainting. The British steel industry is, of course, in long term decline, and perhaps there is a mournful aspect to that intersection: the pre-scraped originals evoke signage, hence meaning and function – just what’s been scraped away from so many traditional industries.  More optimistically, service and creative businesses might fill that void, so one might take Charles’ bridging of the divide as an illustrative enactment of what needs to happen. Either way, what emerges is generated out of a notably rounded engagement with society.

An ideal experience of modern art might go as follows: you’re drawn in by a distinctive aesthetic, but baffled – just what are you looking at? Having worked that out, you’re entertained a fair while by its paradoxes, before realising that there may be deeper messages to ponder... That turns out to be a rather exact description of Unpainting,

Installation shots

From the opening on 10 March

[i] In that they join a distinguished post-modern canon of ‘paintings without paint’: the many current practitioners include Roger Hiorns, DJ Simpson, Sergei Jensen, Daniel Lergon, Gedi Sibony, Mark Bradford, Auturo Herrera, Richard Tuttle, Rudolf Stingel, El Anatsui and Beat Zoderer. Going back a little, Charles’ removal as a means of painterly mark-making also compares with how the affichistes (Haines, Villeglé , Dufrêne, Rotella) exploited the partial ripping off of layered posters in the 1960’s.

[ii] Morandi is a touchstone for Charles, who might be seen as reversing the Italian’s approach. Morandi applied paint to the vases, jars and bottles, the better to foreground the variations in tone which he wanted to achieve: so he painted both the object and the ground, which were separate in his work. Charles removes paint from his unified object and ground and ends up with something which can, nonetheless, be classified as a ‘still life painting’, just like Morandi’s.

About Me

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Southampton, Hampshire, United Kingdom
I was in my leisure time Editor at Large of Art World magazine (which ran 2007-09)and now write freelance for such as Art Monthly, The Art Newspaper and Border Crossings. I have curated five shows in London during 2013-15 with more on the way.Going back a bit my main writing background is poetry. My day job is public sector financial management.