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Launching Collage Now

23 Jun The Hell that is Trump by Peter Williams

The Collage Now exhibition opened Tuesday 13th June, and the private view and official launch took place on Saturday 17th June with a great turn out.  Plenty of visitors have been calling in and most people are spending quite a lot of time taking it all in.  There have been quite a few sales too.  There is a wealth of detail, books and other collage-related pieces that photographs cannot do justice to.  Feedback has been great so far, with many people appreciating how the exhibition brings together diverse techniques of contemporary collage:

  • collage with found and prepared materials,
  • montage with narrative or political content,
  • reliefs and assemblages (2D and 3D),
  • décollage (collaged layers are sanded, cut into or torn away)
  • mixed media collage,
  • found poetry
  • artist books.

There are 13 different artists featured.  Most of the artists on display work in Shropshire, some are recognised and collected internationally.

There is an opportunity to see the work of Anwar Jalal Shemza, an important modern artist who was born in Pakistan, and later lived and worked in the UK until he died in 1985.  His work features in the collections of the Tate, MOMA in New York and many other public museums worldwide.  The five pieces included in this exhibition are from the Roots series, produced around 1977.  They are on loan from the private collection of a Shropshire based art collector.

Malcolm Tillis is also collected internationally.  He came to collage after a life in the arts as professional classical musician (Halle Orchestra), a designer and a writer.  Now in his 90s, he continues to work prolifically in Shrewsbury and Spain.  He has published three books of collages.  F. Lanier Graham, distinguished art historian and former Curator at the Museum of Modern Art, New York had this to say:

“As I look at the collages of Malcolm Tillis I am astonished to see such a continuous core of creativity, and such endless explosions of joyous imagination.  I know of no abstract artist alive today in any country whose art is more lyrical.

What Tillis has done is far beyond exceptional.  From a quiet corner of England has come a profound affirmation of humanity, a precious gift to the history of art.  When the definitive history of abstract collage is written I predict that there will be a chapter on what Schwitters did in Germany, what Arp did in France, what Motherwell did in the United States, and what Tillis did in England.”

For further details see: http://www.malcolmtillis.com/

Despite our digital age, traditional methods of combining images and materials remain an exciting way to interpret the world visually, often creating surprising effects and new narratives.  There are no rules.

Here are some photos of the exhibition and from the preview, some of the images are courtesy of photographer, Pat Jones:

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The curators, Peter Williams and myself, looking slightly apprehensive or perhaps just tired…

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Peter works mainly with collage, montage and photo-montage, utilizing found objects, often paper ephemera and a range of other materials. He has recently shown an interest in Robots allied with time and space travel and has used some old OS maps as a basis for image making.

He is an art Psychotherapist and has worked with young children, adolescents and families. Peter worked as an art tutor at Shrewsbury HMP helping to run an art group for vulnerable men.  His work has been shown at the Talbot Rice Gallery in Glasgow, Keele University, Sheffield University, the Gateway and the Bear Steps Gallery in Shrewsbury, the Willow and Cube Galleries in Oswestry, the Chester Open and other venues.

He works out of a studio based in the Participate Contemporary Gallery on Riverside Mall, Shrewsbury alongside other artists.

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My work on the right sitting very proudly between the work of Anwar Shemza (left) and Peter Williams (out of shot to the right)

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An opportunity to fully expand my book In Parallel and Entwined so that the frieze on the reverse pages can be seen

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Five superb pieces from the Root series by Anwar Jalal Shemza, loaned from the private collection of a Shropshire based collector

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Peter Williams and the great Malcolm Tillis, who called in to see us on the opening day

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Some of Malcolm Tillis’ work (right) alongside the work of Gretchen Christman-Johnson (upper left) and London-based artist, Paul Bott (lower left)

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Gretchen (photo courtesy of Pat Jones)

Gretchen was born into a family of artists and musicians and has continued in that vein for most of her life.  She has always loved studying nature and its individual parts as they relate to one another.  She is also constantly on the lookout for different ways to express old themes and to use artistic expression as a way to comment on history as well as current events.

Gretchen has been a student of Stuart Brandt and Jack Baker of Santa Barbara, California. She says her greatest teachers are her eyes as everything artistic comes from observation and the willingness to remove roadblocks from experimentation . This is her second collage exhibition as she usually works in oils, watercolours, colour pencils and pastels.

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Malcolm discussing finer points with Ted Eames

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Ted Eames’ joyful and provocative work

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“Frozen  Forests are Full of Feisty Fifties Film Stars”, Ted Eames

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Ted – the man to Trust (photo courtesy of Pat Jones)

Ted was born and bred in Shropshire and returned to his roots some 13 years ago after spending most of his working life in Oxford. He now lives in Wem.

Ted has been active on the poetry scene for some years and has a collection of poems out. He writes a monthly blog at www.maintenantman.wordpress.com

Influenced by the work of, amongst others, John Heartfield, Peter Kennard and Max Ernst, Ted has become more and more engaged in collage making over the last few years.

“I see collage and montage as an increasingly relevant medium in contemporary society. I like the potential for surrealist expression, for philosophical comment, for satire and for humour.”

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More of Bamber’s finely crafted work

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Bamber with his amazing cabinet “Full of Wonder” (photo courtesy of Pat Jones)

Bamber Hawes’ work is varied in style and is a meditation on the beauty and wonder of insignificant things and found objects:

“I am inspired to use anything from mother of pearl to rotten lino, MDF or brass in my art and espouse the design philosophy of “truth to materials”

Found objects and components that have caught my eye while making furniture and other commissioned projects. These small framed squares have an underlying theme, story or structure in the finished work. By choosing the items, arranging, rearranging, then rearranging them some more into the tightly restricted 200 x 200 mm squares of grey board, I transform things that have no value into small works that show off their inherent wonder.”

More information at: www.bamber-art.co.uk/

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Found poetry and collages by Emily Wilkinson

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Emily (photo courtesy of Pat Jones)

Emily is a Shrewsbury-based artist and poet working with collage, paint, poetry, writing, textiles and bookmaking.

In 2014 she was artist in residence at Wenlock Books, resulting in nine month’s worth of generous funding from James Patterson’s Independent Booksellers Grants to work with children using art and poetry.

Emily has exhibited in Scotland and Shropshire, and she has created installations at events such as Wenlock Poetry Festival.  She has strong experience in delivering public workshops and in community engagement and regularly teaches workshops in mixed media art and words. Emily is currently working with care home residents in Herefordshire as part of the Courtyard Art Centre’s Colour Me Purple project.

More information at: https://emilywilkinson.net/

Rosie Read

Rosie Read (photo courtesy of Pat Jones)

Rosie is an artist and teacher, graduating from Camberwell in Ceramics in the 1970s.

“I have been teaching ceramics, painting and drawing, and history of art for many years at 6th Form College and in adult education.  My work has been shown in exhibitions in the South East, France and the Marches.

I was Chair of Castle Artists in Bishops Castle for many years, and currently a Trustee of Visual Art Network.

At present, I work in my own studio in the Market Hall, making “Boats”(papier-mâché, cardboard and found objects), painting and assembling collage using layers of papers, mostly archaeological subjects and memorabilia.  I also produce watercolours of local landscapes and seascapes.  I use inks, watercolours and acrylic paint in the main and often incorporate text in my work.  On a lighter note, I paint fruit and veg.

Creating is one of the most important things I do!  Maybe the most important.”

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Heather Prescott with some of her collages, prints and handmade books (photo courtesy of Pat Jones)

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From Heather’s Tread Lightly project (photo courtesy of Pat Jones)

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Seeds of Enlightenment – Prescott and Martin (photo courtesy of Pat Jones)

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Angela Martin (photo courtesy of Pat Jones)

Heather Prescott is a printmaker, illustrator and designer.  She makes artists books because she likes to tell stories and because making books brings together all the disciplines she enjoys including collage, printmaking, drawing, watercolour, typography and design.

Heather studied Graphic Design & Illustration at Camberwell, post graduate printmaking in Brighton and then gained  MA (dist.) in Art & Education at University of Central England in Birmingham.

Angela Martin is a cartoonist, illustrator and printmaker.  She studied Textile/Fashion at Middlesex Polytechnic and later did an MA in Textile History at Winchester School of Art and retains an interest in textiles through research and lecturing. Angela has run workshops and courses alongside freelance cartoon work. Her education work has developed into coordinating community arts projects and working with a variety of people young and old. Arts projects include Sheepshape, Hatscape and Art Allotments.

In 2009 Angela and Heather started a collage collaboration called Art Allotments which ran for a number of years. The two artists sent each other envelopes containing their rejected art work of drawings, roughs, prints & abandoned ideas together with interesting ephemera and text.  They in turn created collages quickly and intuitively using the received materials.

Peter’s fabulous Trump collage attracted plenty of attention.  Visitors are invited to write a poetic message or make a collage, perhaps on a climate related theme, or on an issue in which the Donald’s words or actions threaten peace, so that we can make an art installation in response to the work.  Some opted to throw missiles at the work.  A “Pin the tail on the Trump” game was another good suggestion…

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Many visitors took part in the Art Allotments workshop led by Heather Prescott and Angela Martin, assisted by myself and Peter – making collages recycled from “artistic compost” of rejected work and other collage bits.

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Paul Bott and Peter get to work

Two of Paul’s collages are featured in the exhibition:

“I have three A levels in Art and studied at Waltham Forest Adult Education Centre.  I enjoy collages and abstract art and practice every week at my art group in Finchley in North London, which is supporting people with Asperger’s and Autism.

One of my pictures is based on a song by Freddy Mercury of Queen.  I live by myself in Muswell Hill, although on weekends I stay with my family.  I am very proud to be exhibiting in this exhibition.”

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The exhibition continues until Saturday 8th July.  There will be further workshops at the VAN Street Gallery, 18/19 Shoplatch:

Emily Wilkinson – Found Poetry and Text Art
Friday 30th June, 2pm-4pm

Cost: £12 (students etc £10). Please email Emily on emily.f.wilkinson@gmail.com if you have any questions about the workshop. Suitable for adults & teens aged 14+

See link below for full details

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/found-poetry-text-art-workshop-van-gallery-tickets-35006853441

Jacs Collins/Rosie Read – Collage
Thursday 6th July, all day

Opening, closing, opening, closing

6 Jun

After the first Shrewsbury Open Studios weekend last week, this week is busier as I took down my exhibition at the Hive today, and then must change around my studio in readiness for the second weekend of the Open Studios on 10th/11th June, whilst also preparing for installing the Collage Now show in the VAN Street Gallery on Monday 12th June.

Collage Now exhibition, VAN Street Gallery, Shrewsbury

My co-curator, Peter Williams and I did an interview yesterday about the Collage exhibition on Red Shift radio with Mark Sheeky in his Artslab studio.  A thoroughly enjoyable experience, and it was a real revelation to discover another layer of arts activity going on in the back of a fine old building on a rainy day in Nantwich.

Here is a link to the full programme:

https://www.mixcloud.com/RedShiftRadio/artslab-ii-26-with-mark-sheeky-on-redshift-radio/

The interview is in about three five minute slots, starting about 20 mins into the programme.  We didn’t get much chance to prepare beforehand so the interview is quite spontaneous for all three of us, and there is some interesting insight into the background to the exhibition, and our individual artist practice.  But not as much as I’d liked to have said about the contemporary relevance of collage or about all of the other artists involved.   Nice to have a chance to promote the exhibition to a different audience though.

For now, I’ll point out that there will be a free workshop event during the day on 17th June, with a private view from 5.30pm that evening.  I’ll say a bit more about the exhibition in a later post.

Shrewsbury Open Studios

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Its six years since the last time I opened my studio to the public, and this year there are 34 artists taking part.  Its a lot of work to prepare – in theory its a great opportunity to sort the studio out, which I do to an extent, but then end up shifting stuff out of sight only for it all to return when the crowds have gone.

Crowds is a slight exaggeration, as visitor numbers were a bit down on previous occasions, but there are a few factors at play.  The large number of artists taking part in the town centre has a impact on visitors willing to make the effort to walk an extra 5-10 mins out of town to my studio.  Plus the Shrewsbury event also coincides with open studio events elsewhere at Shropshire Hills art week and Borderland Visual Arts.  I’m expecting a lot more friends/family visitors next week though for an event organised by my wife, Julie.

Its quality not quantity.  I’ve had some fascinating conversations about my work and a whole host of subjects including maps, geology, edgelands, walking, mathematics, patterns, architecture and much more.  I’ve already made enough sales to more than cover the costs of the event, so with another weekend to go, I’m feeling pretty positively about it.  Here are some images:

It is an anxious time, allowing potential strangers into your personal working space (and in my case, my family home).  The open studio experience is quite different to the pristine gallery exhibition experience.  My studio is overcrowded with art work, so some of it gets overlooked.  But it isn’t a gallery, it just offers a little insight into where and how I work. The engagement with audience is more informal, and people seem to be less inhibited about asking questions and giving feedback.  Its been invaluable to hear some of the reactions to my work.

Come along next weekend!  Open Saturday and Sunday 10th/11th June, 10am to 4pm.

5 Park Avenue, New Street,
Shrewsbury, SY3 8JG.

This year, my daughter Eliza, is also exhibiting some of her artwork including paintings, pastel and other drawings, pottery and the three books we have published.  These are on display in the “Little House” in the garden.  She has been thrilled to guide visitors round her show.

This still life is my favourite:

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In Parallel and Entwined

I received some great feedback on my show at the Hive from a variety of different people.  The venue attracts a good footfall for music/theatre events for all ages, and many different arts/performance/creative workshops, mostly for children/teens.  Here are a few pictures:

Space Explorers!

1 Jun Andrew Howe Space Explorers

My walking workshop event at the Hive stimulated some interesting responses.  May 23rd was a a beautiful warm Summer evening in Shrewsbury, and after my brief introduction in the gallery to my exhibition and ways of working, we set out for a walk of about 30 minutes.

Everyone was familiar with the town, so I wanted to try and break habitual ways of observation and remove some of the filters we employ when we walk from A to B.  Using input from participants I developed a simple algorithm to guide me on  route to our destination.  None of us knew where we would end up, so we just had to concentrate on being in the moment, taking in the overwhelming flood of sensory experience when we limit other distractions.  I walked at a brisk pace which was a frustration to some who wanted to linger and study passing views in more detail.  Overall though, the algorithmic walk was a fascinating experience, and most of the attendees began noticing details they might otherwise have missed.  I even walked through several locations around the town centre that I had never visited before in 20 years.

We arrived at Frankwell car park between the Guildhall and River Severn.  Clouds of mayflies danced in the low sunlight, a cricket match commenced in the sports field nearby, a fellow artist wandered by walking their dog, groups of kids hung about by the river – it was a relaxed atmosphere in which to gather materials to make art.  Participants made sketches, tracings, rubbings, photographs and recorded experiences in text.

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On our return to the Hive, and after some refreshment, we began making small collage/installations using some of the gathered materials.  We worked quickly and spontaneously to work with instinctive ideas.

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I was impressed with what could be created in a short space of time.  It was interesting to see how our collective experiences of the place overlapped and contrasted, how unique visual maps had been generated by each person.

Some of the work we made:

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Exhibition at the Hive

20 Apr

Here’s another opportunity to see some of the paintings I exhibited in my In Parallel show at Participate Contemporary Artspace last year, plus new paintings and my In Parallel and Entwined book:

The Hive,
5 Belmont, Shrewsbury,
SY1 1TE

24th April to 27th May 2017
Tuesday – Friday from 9AM – 5PM

During the exhibition, I plan to run a Space Explorers workshop from the Hive involving walking and gathering inspiration for creative activity:

Tuesday 23rd May 2017

17:30 – 21:00h

£7 per person.  Places are limited so book early please.

Call the Hive on 01743 234970 or see website for further details.

Andrew Howe Space Explorers

Open to everyone with an interest in using walking to find inspiration and materials for creating art work.  No particular artistic ability is required.  The workshop will encourage different ways of looking and spontaneity in putting ideas together.

Meet in the Hive Gallery at 5.30pm before setting out on foot into the cosmos.

Some paper and art materials will be provided, but you are welcome to bring your own small sketchbooks, camera or drawing materials.

The walk will last 30-40 minutes, brisk paced over urban terrain, possibly including steps but no climbing.  There will be a short break for drinks and light refreshments after the walk and before the art making.  You are welcome to bring your own food.

 

The exhibition will feature some new works including my In Parallel and Entwined book, an oil painting triptych and a polyptych of 9 small mixed media panels.

The fire exit staircase appeared as a motif in the original exhibition.  I was struck by its sculptural form and yet its mundane functionality tends to make it “invisible” or easily overlooked.

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Rising, oil on canvas triptych, 3 x 300mm x 400mm

The other new work “Pieces” resulted from experiments with combining small scale panels mounted in grids.  I used different techniques of painting and collage, continuing the themes of the exhibition, to produce a large number of panels.  So far “Pieces” is the only finished work, but I expect to produce some more over time.  Putting individual paintings together in these arrays opens up more connections and narratives between paintings that would not work if I was to just combine images within one painting.  Next step may be to play around with the scale and formal/informal arrangement of the panels.

Andrew Howe, Pieces

Pieces, 150mm x 150mm x 9 mixed media panels

Pieces (detail)

 

 

New Paintings and Decollage

10 Jan

Since completing my BA in April last year, I spent the Summer busy experimenting broadly along two research lines.  One line continued my interest in the edgelands, looking at outsider homes or hideaways – the dichotomy of feeling safe from the outside world versus the feeling of threat or menace of the unknown in edgelands.  More on this in a later post.  Another productive line of work, was a series of paintings and mixed media collages/décollages which hybridise maps, organic forms, and human-made forms.  The décollage work is unashamedly influenced or inspired by the the work of Mark Bradford.  Décollage being the sanding down, ripping off or cutting down into layers of collaged paper.

Working with a variety of found papers from magazines, newspapers, plain coloured papers and maps, and a combination of oil paint, acrylic, varnish and turps, I developed some of the motifs I adopted in the In Parallel project.  I delved further into my investigation of the relationships between organic and human-made forms.

These are a couple of early studies:

Two small designs on canvas, comprised “all over” collage, whereas for some larger studies on board I cut into the layers of paper to isolate the main shapes.  In all cases, I also applied thin acrylic colour washes to help reinforce/define the designs, enhance tonal contrasts and also to bring out the textures in the décollaged paper.

 

There are so many permutations of paint materials, layers, glues, varnishes, types of paper which all affect the final surface finish of the work, so I will continue to explore, particularly around how to bring out more contrast and vibrancy of colour in the work.  Although I also recognise that one of the attractions of these pieces is the subtleties in the variations of tone and hue.

Some of the works incorporate string, card or other materials (such as the cow parsley above) to create ripple effects with the overlying paper layers, although I found this has only limited effectiveness.

This mode of working offers huge flexibility.  I can mix in lots of different visual imagery and then the sanding down process followed by paint staining and further modifications, both degrades and homogenizes the contrasting imagery.  The visual effects are subtle, complex and give a sense of time, erosion, degrading memory and nostalgia.  The resulting palimpsest is hard to control, and some of the images/test in the upper surfaces are lost in the sanding process but there is usually enough remaining to discern some hint of meaning, whilst almost always there are new meanings and relationships revealed upon closer inspection.

A selection of these new paintings are on show in January through till the end of March 2017 at In Good Hands Café88/89 Frankwell, Shrewsbury, Shropshire,SY3 8JR.  Its a great venue combining tasty healthy food with music events, workshops and holistic therapies.

Andrew Howe, Biomorph III

Biomorph III, Mixed media on board, 61cm (w) x 67cm(h)

Andrew Howe, Biomorph II

Biomorph II, Mixed media on board, 30.5cm x 61cm

Andrew Howe, Biomorph I

Biomorph I, Mixed media on board, 30cm x 61cm

 

The Art of Relating Sites

21 Oct

Earlier in the Summer, on consecutive days, I had the pleasure of seeing Laura Oldfield Ford and George Shaw give talks about their respective exhibitions at Grand Union, in Birmingham, and the National Gallery.

I had researched both artists as part of my contextual study in edgelands, site specific art and psychogeography for my Creative Arts BA, and they feature in my extended written project. The paper investigates some strategies that artists employ in relation to site-based art, focusing particularly on painters. It reviews the extent to which a selection of contemporary artists measure up to the challenge of Miwon Kwon’s relational specificity. Kwon asserts that they should deal with the:

“uneven conditions of adjacencies and distances between one thing, one person, one place, one thought, one fragment next to another, rather than invoking equivalences one thing after another” (Kwon, 2002).

It is suggested that psychogeography offers a productive means of making connections between adjacent places in time and space in order to foster new and unexpected perspectives on a site.

You can download the essay here:  160406-a-howe-the-art-of-relating-sites_final

 

Laura Oldfield Ford’s show Cnothic Reverb was the result of a residency at Grand Union in the Summer of 2015.  It comprised a 30 min sound installation (city sounds, music fro 80s, 90s, 00s) and Ford’s voice describing thoughts, reminiscences and experiences of Birmingham) plus black and white photographs and copies of drawings posted onto wooden and citex billboards constructed into an enclosed rectangular layout within the gallery.  Ford’s characteristic pink was used as coloured fluorescent strip tube lighting.

Walking around Digbeth beforehand, I had very similar experiences to those explored by the artist in her powerfully atmospheric show.  Like Ford, I was returning to this area of Birmingham for the first time in about 20 years. Some areas were threatening (was this just because I was no longer familiar) but other areas felt the same (eg the areas around the Custard Factory).  There were large amounts of graffiti, security devices/fencing/wire and lots of dark “goings-on” behind industrial metal doors and boarded up buildings.  There seemed to be endless car/taxi respray and maintenance workshops interspersed with gentrifying art/music/design studios.

There was a strange eclectic mix of furtive people in alleyways, doing something on phones, snogging in corners, sawing a wooden crate for some unfathomable reason, standing in groups on corners talking or smoking.  There were arty or well dressed affluent folk and more “ordinary” working folk on their way home.  Some photos I took on the day:

There was a buzz, a tension.  As I got used to the atmosphere, I reacclimatised and felt more comfortable, invisible.  But still I didn’t fancy walking down onto the canal towpath, through a graffiti-covered seating area, populated initially by 3 overexcited kids, possibly drunk, on drugs or glue or just being kids off school, and later by two wizened old drunks.

Walking out of the glitz of the Birmingham Bull Ring towards Digbeth I was struck by the rapid change in the people from bright happy shoppers to more downbeat individuals waiting listlessly for buses, ambling along or homeless sitting on any available vantage point.  I was accosted (politely) for help by an Irishman, and given looks of cautious suspicion by people of Asian or eastern European appearance.

Am I remembering something that really happened, something someone else talked to me about or something I just imagined.  For example, returning to town via the large area of land left vacant ready for the incoming HS2 station, I saw the derelict shell of the Fox and Grapes pub on Freeman Street.  That name rings a bell, but I recall going to a different pub on or near that road (The Vine?) but the Fox and Grapes did seem familiar.  I “remembered” a Summer afternoon, mid-week when I went there, played pool, listened to the Happy Mondays (Thrills, Pills and Bellyaches LP) with either my brother(s) or possibly one of my Moseley mates, or was it someone else?  Or am I just imagining the whole thing?  Our perception of the world we see is based on memories and hearsay that we just can’t rely on.

Ford’s commentary alluded to place, her memories of pubs and buildings, and the history of local events such as the Battle of Saltley Gate” during the Miner’s Strike of 1973 – she said “we need to remember when “we were on top”– and “make new positive trajectories” that may modify the writing of political history or instigate actions along these new trajectories.

The conversation with Dr Phil Jones (urban geography lecturer at Birmingham University) was slightly disappointing but it did prompt some good insight into Ford’s thinking and psychogeographical methods – using the derive as a starting point for her work.  Despite her relatively diminutive stature and neat appearance, she has an aura of anger and history of living in squats and political activism.  I asked her about whether her work may increasingly draw on the optimistic aspects (in reference to her positive trajectories which in turn referenced Walter Benjamin’s  writings) to suggest future solutions.  I had previously heard criticism of her, because despite her anger, she fails to make positive alternative proposals – and indeed she avoided doing so when asked directly by Phil Jones.  I can see that there are signs in her paintings of the positive aspects of community cohesion.  She acknowledged my support but did not say much more about whether her approach may change to a more optimistic, constructive view.  In a way, why should she?  Art can be about raising issues and asking questions, expressing anger … without necessarily having all the answers.

On the following day I travelled to London to see “My Back to Nature” by George Shaw at the National Gallery.

In reading the excellent website by Duncan McLaren Scenes from the Passion, following his work in detail, I became more aware how autobiographical Shaw’s paintings of the Tile Hill estate are. They are not just nostalgic reminiscences of places he knew growing up, the paintings reflect Shaw’s moods and his experience after the death of his father.  (Shaw ceased painting for some time after this event).  For example, paintings of tree trunks in earlier work were revisited but now they were literally truncated, chopped down or burnt and vandalised.  Clearly a metaphor for life that I had not fully considered previously. Trees become anthropomorphised, and are certainly corporeal in several paintings, including this new exhibition. Similarly, Shaw’s paintings of fences, walls and other barriers perhaps reflect some of the feelings of frustration and loss he had in coming to terms with life after his father’s death.

The exhibition press release is here.  There is some interesting insight in the touring information sheet, revealing some of the mythological background to the paintings, and also a glimpse of some Shaw’s studies in his studio space at the National.  I was aware that there is a considerable background of cultural references behind Shaw’s paintings, and he evidently gives each work a great deal of thought.  This is reflected in his writings, and interviews.  Certainly a line can be drawn from a Neo-Romantic heritage to Shaw’s work.  He lacks the political anger of Ford, while taking a more realist, pragmatic, honest view of the contemporary landscape.  Perhaps closer to the paintings of Sutherland, Nash and Piper than Ford’s urban viewpoint.

In his residency at the National Gallery as part of the Associate Artist scheme, Shaw has interpreted paintings from the collection whilst keeping within his known territory of the woodland near the Tile Hill estate.  The paintings are inspired particularly by Titian’s Death of Actaeon and Diana and Actaeon.  Poussin and Constable are also references, and it was fascinating to see the exhibition and view these paintings face to face.  The blue plastic sheeting, the fragmented porn mags, and graffiti on tree trunks take on new significance in the paintings, and I see the links with the old.  I am also reminded of the passage about the English affinity for woodland, (and the oak tree in particular) in Schama’s “Landscape and Memory”.

The interview with Shaw in the a-n website also provides some interesting insight,  as does this BBC Radio 4 interview.

There is a review of the exhibition in the Observer here.  And an earlier review in the Guardian here.

The review in the Telegraph was less enamoured with the exhibition and is not impressed by Shaw’s contemporary interpretations of the paintings in the National Gallery.  It does not seem to make the connections with Shaw’s earlier work.  This is what they say:

“Gone are the goddesses and forest nymphs, replaced by discarded beer cans and the scattered pages of porn mags. Elsewhere Shaw depicts a tree trunk with a large phallus graffitied on it.

In short, he opts for slightly coarse, 21st-Century twists on age-old erotic myths, bringing the illicit sex and drunkenness of works like Poussin’s Triumph of Pan into the present day.

In one scene – the ironically titled Call of Nature – Shaw himself can be seen urinating against the foot of a tree, but this is the only figure we see. The other scenes are entirely depopulated; in some cases they’re so bare even the trees are bereft of leaves. Does Shaw want us to pause for thought about how modern man has despoiled his landscape?”

I don’t think Shaw is making a strong ascerbic point about human impact on nature (although he is making a point), but he is drawing attention to the fact that nature can resist and thrive in spite of human disregard. At least, that is my thinking on the subject. Shaw’s perspective is complex.  I suspect he found the woodland of his youth a place of refuge and calm, but also of threat and darkness.  Certainly, he sees the litter and casual disregard for nature as symptomatic of contemporary human attitudes.  Yet he also views the woodland as representing a place of freedom.  The meticulous style of painting is surely evidence of Shaw’s love for the woodland/nature – and this is also seen in his paintings of shabby housing and wasteland.  The painting of Shaw urinating against a tree, is more ambiguous, perhaps recalling a time when he was not so observant or caring of nature.  Or perhaps, it acknowledges something in himself that is always at heart a grimy urbanite, someone who can never have true affinity with nature.

Shaw reveals that initially he saw the residency as an opportunity to change his style or subject matter, and indeed some of the early work comprises 14 charcoal self-portraits in the positions of Christ in the Stations of the Cross (which he knew from his local church in Coventry).  While these offer a different perspective on the artist, and they do relate to other work in the National Gallery, they do not sit easily for me alongside the woodland paintings he returned to, of which Shaw has made a huge number during the 2 years.  I should not be so surprised by the self-portraits since Shaw studied performance art, not painting, in his first fine art degree.

One of the main technical changes Shaw made in this exhibition was to move away from painting on board (mdf or plywood) and to use canvas, which relates with the materials used by the Old Masters in the Gallery.  He still used the Humbrol enamels, which he says, he initially adopted as a means of distancing himself from the established history of oil painting. The enamel paint is quite dark and glossy on board, but it seemed softer and less reflective on canvas.  Either Shaw is refined his technique, or the canvas allows for greater subtlety.

I admire the way in which Shaw has found a voice that rarely strays from a specific location and landscape, and yet he is able to layer on multiple meanings and moods that reflect both his own personal story, but also wider views on society.  Shaw uses a familiar place to make universal statements.  My own range of painting subjects and places is more diverse than Shaw’s, and at the moment, I would find it restrictive to stay focused on one site.  But it is useful to think about how I can use motifs or themes that I revisit frequently to reflect thoughts and views which may have a tangential connection to what appears to be the main subject in the painting.

Trees and woodland, for example, regularly feature in my work (eg “Ours Too” – the rope swing painting or “Ours” –  the den painting), and I made a book some time ago collecting various paintings and photographs together with haiku poems by Colin Blundell, called “We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet”.  I can see many connections with George Shaw in the topographical visual aesthetic, the corporeal tree trunk, the “mistreatment” of woodland by people or rather the use of liminal spaces for experimentation and play, such as kids making dens, trying cigarettes and alcohol.  My painting “Trunk” has some similarities with Shaw’s preoccupation with tree trunks.  It shows my own geometric aesthetic, and I recognise the parallel verticals which feature in others of my paintings.

There is no doubt that woodland was a formative landscape during my childhood and teenage years when I used to go into Ecclesall Woods near my house in Sheffield, in much the same way that it was for George Shaw.  Now Shaw has established such a strong identity for himself with the edgelands, I feel slightly intimidated in trying to forge my own identity with this subject matter.  This is a little like how Shaw must have felt during his 2 year residency, walking in past the Velazquez and Rubens.

In the evening I attended the event: George Shaw in conversation with Paul Farley (edgelands poet and co-author with Michael Symmons Roberts of “Edgelands: Journeys into England’s True Wilderness”)

There was inevitably some mutual self-indulgence in this conversation but some of the points I took included:

  • the edgelands are not really feral, they are not wilderness, they are only yards from “civilisation” where one can hear car alarms, children shouting etc;
  • the woodlands are places only adolescents (and criminals) feel empowered to experiment in because there are no rules, no CCTV, no parents, no one is watching;
  • for others they are a place of threat of violence and wild behaviour or a place to rediscover the liberation of adolescence;
  • there are only a limited number of narrative themes, whether Shaw really sees these themes, or whether he creates/constructs a scenario based on classical references;
  • edgelands have stopped being the unnoticed landscape, and by the very nature of their being explored are being changed.

The View on the Street

15 Jul

Further to my earlier announcement about the Loitering with Intent exhibition at the People’s History Museum, in Manchester, featuring a special edition of STEPZ zine, here is my article as published:

The View on the Street

The full text is reproduced below:

On considering the whereabouts of the People’s History Museum, I did what anyone these days would do, I checked Google Maps. I soon found myself roaming around Salford on Street View, looking through the “eyes of the Pegman”.
In the silent, frozen time of Street View, my mind created its own soundscape. Seeing the railway arches of the viaduct into Salford, I was transported back to Attercliffe, Sheffield, 1983. I am walking to British Rail’s permanent way maintenance depot. Beyond the viaduct on Furnival Road, there are glimpses through huge metal doors into the steelworks. Molten steel glows orange. I feel the subterranean boom and clangs of machinery. There is a sulphurous smell of coal.

I click on the white chevron…

Since it appeared in 2007, Google Street View has gone beyond mere novelty, and established itself as a near essential tool to many practitioners in urban design, environmental study and other site-related professions. With Street View it is possible to do preliminary reconnaissance or even avoid site visits altogether.
Street View has created the opportunity to explore more locations across the world than any individual could physically reach in a lifetime. On the face of it, this can be done safely, free from intimidation, and it is open equally to all. Or at least it is if you have internet access.

It would be nonsense to suggest that, in its current guise, it can in any way replace the experience of walking. However, as technological developments continue to advance, the virtual reality foreseen by William Gibson appears ever closer.

With Trekker busy tramping around national parks and pedestrian areas, Street View allows the user to veer off road. There are Street View-based web-tours in which users trigger recorded sounds. Google Cardboard and Photosphere can provide virtual 360o 3D experiences. People already insert their own images into Google Map. It is not a huge leap to incorporate video, sounds, physical sensations or real-time CCTV.

As Google makes more frequent updates, it offers the ability in some places to go back and review previous views and witness how the landscape has changed. This is akin to time travel. Street View becomes ever more synchronous with the present, and if viewing into the past becomes more universally available, then our disconnection from time and space will be complete.

Rebecca Solnit proclaimed that “walking is how the body measures itself against the world.”1 Rhythms of walking, ambient sounds, chance human encounters, and relating time and distance are integral to the pedestrian experience, which cannot be easily replicated. By contrast, Street View is like sensory deprivation, and any urge to meander off down an alleyway or over a fence is curtailed.

How will people approach the real world as Street View becomes a more pervasive everyday experience? Some people may become more sensitized to the visceral chaos of the city, while others navigate purely by series of images, headphones on, oblivious to the feel of the air on skin.

There are more sinister implications to Street View and its impact on public/private space. Many people find Street View an invasion of privacy. If Street View makes some places more easily accessible, could it also be used to make other places disappear? Perhaps so for those with sufficient power to maintain their privacy from Google’s cameras. What will become of public spaces if people retreat from them into a virtual world?

Businesses advertise and promote information on Google Maps. Street View facilitates further commercialisation of space, virtually, and by extension, in the real world. Google has appropriated editorial control, and all our movements within Street View can be tracked. People appear to have lost the battle for virtual space without realising it was there to be won.

Continuing my virtual dérive, I found this poem within the images of Street View:

Welcome you are now in Salford
Rome
No Stopping except taxis at any time
Controlled zone
We’re demolishing this structure to create an opportunity for a modern gateway building
Spin factory
Sounds from the other city
The Fall
The courage of one will change the world
Road Closed
Diversion
£3 real deal
Earn it
For timetables and bookings download the app
We lead others follow
Ahead only
Road ahead closed
A fresh perspective
Warning CCTV cameras in operation on these premises 24 hour surveillance
Luxury city centre apartments for sale and to rent
Garden Lane
Danger
Keep out
“My four-year-old could’ve done that”
Zone ends

1 Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust. A History of Walking, 2001.

A couple of montages that accompanied my original draft are here (all images courtesy of Google):

Here are all the images from Google Street View as seen on my virtual derive through Salford.

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