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 :
Emile 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?
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?