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.

j-m-w-turner-fishermen-at-sea

 

 

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).

julian-poie-view-of-moon-over-manatsuru-peninsula-2009

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

Laura Oldfield Ford

Earlier this year I went to an exhibition followed by a discussion at  The Towner Gallery  in Eastbourne called Recording Britain  . I witnessed some fascinating drawings and paintings from a variety of British artists. Most of the artwork in the collection is between 1939-1942. However, there are a few more recent drawings and photographs in the collection. I was particularly drawn to a drawing by Laura Oldfield Ford . It was an urban scene from a London suburb in which a menacing Brutalist high-rise occupies the backdrop. The drawings offered a distinctive punk visual aesthetic; I was instantly drawn to her work.

These stylish dystopian scenes  made me think about the ‘derives’ (drifts) I have been on around the backstreets of inner-city Tokyo. A city no different than London being centres for free enterprise and modernity. Yet in Tokyo, particularly in the sprawling metropolis of Nakano-ku  and Shinjuku-ku, old crumbling relics of the Showa Period are still in abundance yet inevitably and sadly their days are numbered. I also learned that Oldfield is a psychogeographer  and ‘has organized drifts, flag burning ceremonies, mass activisms and other performance pieces in an unconventional extension of her practice’. (C.Lomax, July 2008).

To celebrate a few pieces of her work in a slide show, I’ve accompanied Mountain’s 1971 Nantucket Sleighride. An instrumental piece that later gained more acclaimed when used for the political/current affairs program Weekend World in the late 1970s.

 

Kenneth Rowntree, the conscientious objector

This afternoon I popped into The Towner  in Eastbourne to attend an Art Viewpoint meeting. The meetings are usually held on the final week of each month. The talk was headed by Corinne Farmer, who incidentally was a lecturer at Camberwell (small world), the informal discussion focused on three paintings by the painter Kenneth Rowntree. The paintings are part of the Recording Britain exhibition. Even though the talk was relatively short, it was very informative and not only did I become more familiar with the work of Kenneth Rowntree but also I learned another term- ‘conscientious objector’. More information regarding this term can be seen here . The Smoke Room of the Ashopton Inn was discussed at the meeting. For me, I found this particular painting verging on abstract realism, the abstract being the non-visible of wear and tear one would expect in an old pub. For example, a pristine looking dart board, the gleaming surface of the pub table and windows without smears. Another talking point was the non-figurative aspect of Rowntree’s work. I think there are parallels with the work of Edward Hopper. The next talk at the Towner, scheduled March 12, will be given by Gill Saunders, head of the V & A. She will be discussing the origins and aims of the exhibition, Recording Britain. A bargain for only £6!

Kenneth Rowntree

The Smoke Room of the Ashopton Inn, Ashopton, Derbyshire. 1940 (V &A images)

 

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Below is archive evidence of myself recording Britain in the New Inn in Kewstoke, near Weston-Super-Mare in 1992. Like Rowntree, I should have omitted the figurative.

New Inn, Kewstoke (1992).jpg

 

 

 

 

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)

 

 

 

Ori Gersht-Don’t Look Back

As part of my research for my next project, Don’t Have Nightmares 0.2, I am looking at site-specific art where the artist uses a specific location to create a body of work. Last week I went to the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne to see the Ori Gersht exhibition-Don’t Look Back’. Ori Gersht was born in Israel in 1967. He is a fine art photographer and currently works as a professor of Photography at the University for Creative Arts in Rochester, Kent. In short, this exhibition focuses in areas which have endured extreme devastation. The show is divided into three bodies of work.

White Noise   documents a train journey from Krakow to Austvitz in Poland. The images echo the prisoners that were taken to the concentration camps.

Liquidation focuses the border between Ukraine and Romania. Gersht revives personal history. The imagery is based around his father surviving the holocaust as a 5 year old boy. Places where he was hiding or places he was staying during the WWII. In Gersht’s own words, ‘this work is exploring the subjective and the objective between what we know and what is seen’

Evaders  follows the journey by German philosopher Walter Benjamin. This is represented by a split screen reconstructing the journey of Benjamin. Screen one using an actor walking walking along the Pyrenees (apparently fleeing from the Nazis). Screen two uses footage of still images of the Pyrenees. Ambient sounds from the location connect the still and the moving.

Many of Gersht’s images have a very painterly characteristic. The images have an intense beauty heavily contrasting to the context. Having prior knowledge about the exhibition, I assumed I would be viewing dark, sombre landscapes (thinking representationally as usual!). I was very impressed with the body of work and how the artist combines his concepts with conflict, time, history and landscape.

Ori Gersht will be talking about his work at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne on Saturday, March 28th at 3 p.m. Tickets: £6/£5

White Noise 1 White Noise 2