Joseph Albers ‘Homage to the Square: Beaming @ Tate Modern

Artist Influence, Artist Influences, Show Reviews, Studio, Studio 3, Uncategorized

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Following my initial research into Joseph Albers’ ‘Homage to a Square’ works, on a recent trip to the Tate Modern in London, I decided to view his work physically. I had read about the ways in which Albers had made these works intuitively by hand, without the use of rulers or printing, but rather drew the squares freehand upon the canvas. In addition, I had also read that Albers did not under-paint the canvas, but rather, in an attempt presumably to keep the colour true, painted the colours directly next to one another, with no overlap, creating a palpable sense of investigation within the physicality of the works.

 

Laura Owens at Sadie Coles Review

Show Reviews, Studio, Uncategorized

In the age of mass information and consumption, artists often look to the way in which we perceive information, and a certain set of aesthetic principles arise from works of visual art which contemplate the language of the internet. Always appropriated images, some quite glaringly obvious historical references and an overabundance, or poorly thought out application of layering. However, Laura Owens, in her show at Sadie Coles gallery, manages to capture the intensity of the contemporary age through collating and carefully curating her own visual language, which portray the postmodern world in a way which is stark and beautiful.

One of the greatest strengths of Owens’ work is her considered use of appropriated signs; she employs a wealth of imagery which include advertisements, cartoon characters and elements of nostalgic ephemera. The references twist and contort around the canvas, portraying the melting pot of the ‘high’ and ‘low’ in contemporary culture. The references that she chooses are often most symbolic of a yesterday just passed, and present a unique sense of celebration for the new and mourning for the just lost. In one work Owens uses the motif of an old dolls house, instantly recognisable within the collective cultural memory, however details of the house appear to fall into pixilation, disintegrating from their original brown, wooden state into multiple tiny brightly coloured dots. I believe is one of the most successful and touching works of the show, as the dolls house, a stalwart of play for the pre-millennial generation, is lost to the language of the internet.

Along with the use of language of the internet, what makes Owens’ work so dynamic amongst these kitsch references is her ability to also cite works of art historical importance through her use of gesture. The physicality of her impasto brushstrokes, choice of bold colour and fluid, yet stark compositions can be seen to mirror some of the qualities of abstract expressionism, and parallels between her work and that of Kline or De Kooning can be clearly seen.

However, Owens seems to reinvigorate the notion of abstract expressionism for the 21st century; Owens creates a vortex within her works through her use of different depths between the layers of her painting. At first the viewer is confronted by the relief of impasto painting, thick and prominent against the canvas, then when looking closer, one sees the layers of both painting and silkscreen printing contrasted against one another with fluid movements that travel behind and in front of one another. A common refrain throughout Owens work is the use of shadowing behind some of the flowing layers she employs – this gives a sense of definite space, and the shadows in their pixelated forms present a photoshopped aesthetic.

These layers give the work a physicality which leads the viewer into believing the proposition of space, going against Greenbergian tradition of avoiding painting illusionistic space to ensure the “complete and utter flatness” of the canvas. However, as the viewer looks more into the devices that Owens has used, such as pixelated styles of painting and a layered use of media, the illusion fades, and a sense of flatness is restored – arguably referencing the ultimate flatness of the contemporary era, the screen.

The way Owens references the language of the internet is utterly refreshing, as one walks into the gallery one is struck by the oscillation of differences and similarities between the visual language and contextual references of the works. As large canvases sit amongst smaller works, each are democratic in their expression of the contemporary situation of society, and the self within it, and aesthetically beautiful and free-ranging at the same time.

David Hockney, ’82 portraits and 1 still-life’ Review

Show Reviews, Studio, Uncategorized

Portraiture is often seen within the realms of contemporary art as a stade act. A portrait symbolises ideas surrounding the establishment and wealth, and within recent times portraiture arguably has had a faltering practice. For example, in Paul Emsley’s awful official portrait of Kate Middleton, she looks old, faded and unimaginative. Gone are the days of Freud-style portraiture, where the language of the human psyche was discovered through the intense scrutinisation of the subject, as one can now find out all they need to know about the private lives of an individual from the click of a few buttons.

Seemingly artists have recently responded to the lacklustre feeling of portraiture, by presenting something rawer, more bodily in some senses; artists like Philip Gurrey or Jenny Saville intimately display the rawness of flesh as a form in their works. However, in Hockney’s latest show, ’82 portraits and 1 still-life’ he aims to display portraiture not as a stuffy, establishment work, or a existential response to the form of the body, but rather views portraiture as a test – an experiment with which some simple conditions apply, and the results are magnificent.

Each of Hockney’s portraits were painted over the course of three six-hour sittings with each subject, sat within the same cream-yellow upholstered chair. The consequences, although often similar in composition and colour scheme, however produced beautiful individualised representations of the subject, in Hockney’s custom saturated style. There is a kindness to these portraits, and as they are painted in such a quick manner over a very short period of time, one sees the culmination of 3 days spent, just beginning to uncover the secrets of the sitter, whilst also portraying the version of themselves they choose to present through their clothing, stance and expression.

These works prove dynamic together – as separate portraits they would still be enigmatic, but as a whole they make an interesting comment on the spectrum of human individuality. One chooses to present themselves through their tastes and styling, however, as seen with Hockney’s saturated pink hues, we are all mortal and inherently similar. When entering the Sackler Wing where the show takes place, one is struck by the rich contrast between the oxblood walls and the brilliant turquoises of the backgrounds of the portraits. This contrast seems to ground the works, as they meander around the space, unifying the subjects between the clutches of such powerful colours. This allows the viewer to not only examine the works individually, but democratically observe the works as a whole, looking down the walls, examining the slights and differences of the works, and the inherent humanity that Hockney has so strikingly displayed in each portrait.

These works are a clear departure from Hockney’s digital iPad drawings, in that they have obvious physicality, the brushstrokes are tangible, filled with energy, yet considered and complimentary to the subjects. But the curiosity which Hockney has always indulged throughout his career is still incredibly present here – to wonderful effect.

Review of ‘Inside: Artists and Writers in Reading Prison’

Show Reviews, Studio, Uncategorized

The history of Reading Prison is revealed as you travel throughout the building, a strange situation in which time periods are simultaneous, contrasted between the ecclesiastical ‘cruciform’ architecture, and the brash, primary-coloured cell furniture – a memento from the prison’s last working moment in 2013. One is somewhat overwhelmed by the very human history of the prison, and the exploration of the human condition under the stresses of entrapment are realised in the potency of the artwork as the viewer traces the steps of prisoner’s throughout history.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ ‘Water’ (1995) aptly explores the seams between the past and the present, and the public and private spaces of prisoners. The blue beaded curtains adorn the doorways of the cells, where once a thick cell door would have stood, separating the domains of the public and the private, in an environment where the actions of the individual in the private were strictly controlled. Gonzalez-Torres debates these ideas of strict boundaries with his dazzling curtains which adorn the boundary – much like water, one can see a distorted view of the space behind the curtain, but only when pushing through to reach the cell space one feels the pressure of the beads against them, forcing one back as the tension of the piece wills them to do. An anxiety is apparent in the viewer when passing through to reach the other domain, and one assumes the experience of the prisoner being forced into the small cell space by the physical pressure of the beads against oneself, however, as the viewer, not the incarcerated, we experience the tension of entrapment through the comfortable luxury of a beaded curtain, meant as a piece of innovative interior design in the 1960s and 1970s to blur boundaries between rooms. One is consumed by the overwhelming experience of passing through the curtain, conscious of their own superficial luxury afforded by passing through a glamorously kitsch beaded curtain, instead of being forced through by the hand’s of a prison guard. Yet the deep feeling of apprehension is still felt, and the viewer becomes conscious of their luxury, situated in modern times with the amenity of rights afforded to them as a visitor to an exhibition rather than a prisoner forced to internment.

In addition, Wolfgang Tillmans also debates ideas of entrapment, and the affect on the human condition which often wavered in the face of loneliness. As the viewer initially walks into the ground floor of the prison complex, one is shown how the prisoners experienced life at Reading Gaol. They were unable to talk to one another, being forced to wear sacks over their heads in public areas to avoid any form of communication, instead the prisoners were to focus on repenting their sins and achieving forgiveness for their crimes from God. Wolfgang Tillmans debates these ideas of the fractured self caused by forced isolation in his ‘Separate System, Reading Prison’ (2016) works. As the only artist who created work specifically based around the subject of Reading Prison itself, Tillmans photographed himself in the left over mirrors of the prison, which left a fractured view of the self – completely separate from reality in his ghoulishly disfigured form. The photographs are dark and melancholic, a self is reflected upon, perhaps the purest self – the one without the knowledge or opinions of others, simply what one thinks of one’s self – particularly in the darkest of times and situations.

Artangel have focused on the story of Oscar Wilde in the presentation and publication of the show, naturally as he is the prison’s most famous inmate. Works by Marlene Dumas and Jean-Michel Pancin specifically concentrate on the experiences of Oscar Wilde, both in his life before prison, his experience inside and the repercussions of his activities after being incarcerated. And while his experience is essential to understanding the lack of justice and rights for homosexual persons in history, the very human history of the prison experience is told more explicitly in the intricacies of the building itself – each room features the real artwork of the prisoners in the form of graffiti, small drawings, gang insignia and dates documenting their time spent in the prison. The art enhances the viewers compassion for the terrifying experiences of the very troubled prisoners, forcing the viewer to take a different standpoint on ideas about prison reform, the treatment of inmates and the experiences of the marginalised in society; but the true tales of the marginalised and their time at the prison, no matter whether 100 years ago or 10 years ago is written explicitly all over the walls – the modern cave paintings of the underrepresented, frightened and marginalised.