Towards Night Exhibition at the Towner Art Gallery

Yesterday I went to see a very engaging exhibition titled, Towards Night at Eastbourne’s Towner Art Gallery . The show  explores the theme of nocturnal and is curated by artist and senior lecturer in Fine Art at the University of Brighton Tom Hammick  (incidentally a former graduate of Camberwell College of Art). Apparently, this exhibition had been in the pipeline for the past three years. You can see why; such an eclectic mix of roughly a 100 pieces of artwork from 60 artists. The artists ranging from the very famous to the relatively unknown and spanning over the past 250 years. I thought the mix of artists made the exhibition much more captivating. It must have been a hell of a job organizing and asking for works by big names such as J.M.W. Turner, William Blake, Hiroshige, Julian Opie, Emil Nolde and Edvard Munch to be loaned out. While reading Hammick’s in-depth reviews on each piece of work in the guide, one particular comment caught my attention, (the passage begins referencing a Hiroshige exhibition) “This exhibition showed the importance of historical work on current practice, and exemplifies one of the main themes in this (now) exhibition; that artists, like writers and poets, so often look back to earlier work as a source of inspiration and aesthetic” Yes! I couldn’t agree more.


A few selected pieces and thoughts :

emil-nolde-the-sea-b-1930Emile Nolde (The Sea B, 1930 oil on canvas). A very dramatic and inflamed seascape. The strength of Nolde’s moving, powerful swirling waves and clouds could be an interpretation of the uneasy political chaos in Europe at that time. I feel that the artist was enduring such loneliness and hopelessness at this time. Worse was to happen to Nolde, in 1941 he was banned from painting, even privately!




J.M.W. Turner (Fishermen at Sea, 1796 oil on canvas). When I think Turner painting, I think of light, dramatic landscapes and seascapes not something dark like this seascape. There’s a lot the viewer is drawn into here, the peril and the fragility of the defenseless fishermen on the boat, the waves at their mercy while the dim moonlight peaks through. While observing, I considered Turner’s process, the days before cameras. The preparatory drawings would be interesting to see too.




Peter Doig (Echo Lake, 1998 oil on canvas). The sheer scale of this painting blows you away. On first viewing I thought it was a scene from a film. I wasn’t wrong though the film I couldn’t detect. Apparently, it’s a film still from the horror film, Friday the 13th. The scene depicts a policeman standing over a lake (Echo Lake) with his hands to the side of his head. The flashing lights of the police car in the background make the narrative all the more engaging. I’m unfamiliar with the film so I’m left wondering what happened before and what is going to happen. What and why is the isolated figure calling out? peter-doig-echo-lake-1998










Julian Opie (View of Moon over Manatsuru Peninsula, 2009 ink on paper).


From historical background, I found out that Julian Opie and Utagawa Hiroshige have something in common. Both artists have celebrated places of walking pilgrimage at night in Japan. This made me consider my own practice in Japan, whilst I haven’t celebrated walking pilgrimages at night, I’ve celebrated old farm houses in the day in Japan with my cyclogeography  series. Here, Opie pays homage to Hiroshige with this lenticular print. I find the reflectionary, tranquil, peaceful surface absorbing.



Michael Craig-Martin (Ashtray, 2015 screenprint).

This iconic image shows that the curator has really thought about the nocturnal visual from every possible angle.  For me, Craig-Martin’s piece conjures up those spaces where life begins at night.The nightclub: neon lighting, movement, liquid and pill consumption, a pulsing beat and smoke. However, the artist has gone against the grain. The narrative doesn’t have any suggestions of smoke nor is a dirty ciggy butt playing central to the composition. What we do see is something clean and ultra-cool  lying static, suspended in negative space. Abstract realism? michael-craig-martin-ashtray-2015

John Virtue-The Sea

Yesterday I popped into the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne for two events. The first, a John Virtue exhibition and the second, a 90-minute talk given by the fine art photographer Ori Gersh.

John Virtue’s exhibition is a site-specific project, The Sea. The work extensively features the North Sea. As I entered the large show room, I was immediately engulfed by the huge black and white canvases. Scale and space, I thought, for this kind of work is key for the viewer to feel the full impact. Some of the canvases spanned four metres in size! Also, the non-use of colour (he considers a distraction) gives his subject matter a menacing feel. The moving waves felt strong, bold unflinching, uncompromising and dramatic. The vibrant and violent brush strokes had strong similarities to Jackson Pollock’s splatters.

His sketch books were also on view at the exhibition. As many as 70 sketch books largely documenting Virtue’s time on the coast line at Blakeney Point in Norfolk. It was amazing to see and understand how such a vast area of nothingness could be scrutinized and analysed with such intent.  After the exhibition, before going off to Gersht’s talk, I considered my next project and my time living and working in Tokyo. I had just witnessed how an artist communicates his large canvases through his location. What can I do? How can I do it effectively? What should I be observing and taking in?- Always questions, forever questions.

No 10 (2011-2013)
No 8 (2011-2013)




Jeff Scher

Recently I have been looking at the work of Jeff Scher. He is an animator, underground film-maker and painter based in New York. As a rotoscope film-maker, he has a very individual approach. Since 1980 Scher has made 33 films. Most of his films are abstract experiments lasting approximately two and half minutes long. His last film to date, For All The Wrong Reasons, was made in 2008. For the past seven years he has been an instructor at NYU Tisch School of Arts Kanbar Institute of Film & Television’s Animation program.

His films are mainly non-narrative, experimental and combined with music. His intentions are for the viewer to create their own stories from his visuals. His methodology is quite unusual and has been described as animated still life. He often uses paintings and collages by overlapping the colours and textures. When film making, he employs the rotoscope technique though not in a traditional manner. Rather than using up-to-date software to speed up the frame drawing process, Scher still uses vintage machinery to enrich each image as to affect the mind senses. Just in the same way a film maker might use Super 8 film as opposed to digital film. The traced images are then separately shot as a single frame. As Steve Fore noted in his essay Romancing the Rotoscope: Self-Reflexivity and the Reality Effect in the Animations of Jeff Scher (2007), when critically analyzing Reasons to be Glad (1980), Milk of Amnesia (1992) and Garden of Regrets (1994). Scher renders each individual scene initially as a series of small gouache paintings, sometimes layered over cut-out text and advertising images from magazines, newspapers, and consumer product packaging. His colour palette is varied, but it skews toward vivid, intense colours. Similarly, while most scenes, and individual drawings within scenes, are sufficiently detailed to provide a fairly detailed suggestion of facial features, background details, the movement of clothing, etc., some scenes (and individual frames within otherwise more detailed scenes) are little more than single-colour sketches of movement and figures against a white background.)

For material to rotoscope, Scher uses a variety of live action cinematic sources including Hitchcock films, experimental films, televised sporting events, educational and documentary footage and home movies. After analyzing a few of his films, I began to notice his individual technique in greater detail. For example, in Reasons to be Glad (1980), the entire three minutes, 15 seconds is a pulsating array of fragmented human action footage such as a women smoking, two lovers kissing, a man walking a dog, dancers etc mixed with cinematic footage from Film noir or gangster films. The imagery is frantic, morphing from one scene to another. Also, it was noted that through varying the colours and drawings,still images filmed in rapid succession appeared to move as though animated. I feel very inspired by his work and it has made me consider my approach when rotoscoping.

Reasons to be Glad, Jeff Scher (1980)

Early Influences: Edward Hopper

Soir Bleu 1914 by Edward Hopper

Years ago, while researching painters as a component for the A-Level Art curriculum, I became very influenced by the work of the American realist painter, Edward Hopper. Hopper’s work is very photographic and minimal. A lot of his later famous paintings were of New York scenes and I was very interested in the way he carefully arranged figures in his paintings, notably in works such as Chop Suey (1929) and Nighthawks (1942). The street scenes were very cinematic and had a geometrical quality about them. Famous directors like Alfred Hitchcock paid homage to Hopper and his influences can be seen in the film Psycho. Bates’ Motel is clearly modelled on The House by the Railroad (1925). I was more influenced by his composition and the way his images, especially in his work in the  30s and 40s, seemed uncluttered and stylish. Until I started to broaden my ideas on an Art Foundation course, I was very photographic in my approach to pictorial art. Pictured is my favourite Hopper painting, Soir Bleu (1914) . I just adore the character study. Actually, it’s contrary to a lot of Hopper’s work I like as it’s not an urban/rural scene, has more than one person in the scene and was painted when visiting Europe early in his career.