Silverdale to Arnside reboot

Another glorious day on Wednesday this week. I’d had enough of slaving away in a hot and stuffy office so decided to take the afternoon off and get out in the sunshine. I decided to head up to Arnside and Silverdale a favourite area just an hour away by train, and walk from Silverdale station along the coast, cutting inland to Arnside Tower and up Arnside Knott, heading back tot he coast and along to Arrnside to catch the train home. It’s a walk I’ve done before so, it was very much a “reboot”.

Here’s some photos I took

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A good afternoon walk, about 9 miles but not too strenuous,  making the most of the good weather while it lasts!

 

Nasreen Mohamedi at Tate Liverpool

Nasreen at her studio in Bombay at the Bhulabhai Desai Institute Dated 2 Nov 1960 Photograph 4.2 x 6.2 in.   Courtsey: Sikander and Hydari Collection

Running in conjunction with the Mondrian exhibition at the Tate in Liverpool was an exhibition of works by a female Indian artist  Nasreen Mohamedi . She’s an artist I’d never heard of before and wasn’t quite sure what to expect but it was a revelation.

As with the work by Mondrian in the other rooms on the first floor, the exhibition traced the evolution of Mohamedi’s work, showing how she

moved away from a figurative style and developed her own unique approach to abstraction.

One thing that became immediately apparent looking at the works on display – she didn’t tend to give them a title. I guess that she wanted her abstract works to speak for themselves and let the viewers make up their own minds on what they meant or represented. Apparently she sometimes didn’t date them either!

The first section of the exhibition featured early works that included sketches based on trees and organic forms – many of them looked like Japanese or Chinese prints and calligraphy – and also some rather beautiful colourful abstract works such as this one.

Nasreen Mohamedi Untitled Early to mid 1960s

Untitled Early to mid 1960s

An article in a past edition of Frieze magazine gives a good summary of how her work developed in three phases

Her earliest works ….. combine collage, expressive brushwork and snatches of figuration, and were made largely in the late 1960s. By the end of the following decade she had entered what Grant Watson (co-curator of a previous, smaller incarnation of this exhibition at the Office for Contemporary Art Norway, Oslo) has termed her ‘classic phase’ – patiently controlled, tautly constructed, repetitive abstractions strung through a fine pencil grid of parallel lines, on sheets of off-white paper approximately 50 centimetres square.  …… (in) her later drawings from the 1980s ……….. Mohamedi abandoned her fixed viewpoint above the grid, creating instead vertiginous perspectives on crisply fractured planes over which the viewer seems to dive, swoop and soar.

These are just a few examples from the 50 or so works on display.

Nasreen Mohamedi, Untitled

Untitled (undated, but from her “second period”)

Nasreen Mohamedi 1937-1990, Untitled

Untitled c1970s

Nasreen Mohamedi, Untitled early 1980s

Untitled early 1980s

Like with Mondrian, there was a very architectural character to her work, but more three dimensional. Unlike him, however, in her later works she seemed to shun the use of colour

She was also a photographer (her family’s business produced photographic equipment) taking photographs of desert landscapes, seascapes, modern structures, and the Islamic architecture examples of which are included in the exhibition. The photographs had a very abstract character and there similarities with her paintings and drawings.

Nasreen Mohamedi 1937-1990, Untitled c. 1970s

Having gone in to see the Mondrian exhibition it was a pleasant surprise to discover Nasreen’s art. Artists from outside of Europe and the USA are rarely highlighted by galleries and it can be a revelation to discover work like this, showing that art, and Modernist art in particular, existed (and still exists) in other parts of the world. They’re usually neglected and the Tate are to be applauded for putting this exhibition together and bringing Nasreem’s work to the attention of visitors drawn in to see Mondrian’s work. A good move.

Mondrian at Tate Liverpool

 

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The latest exhibition at the Tate Liverpool is in two parts devoted to artists from opposite sides of the world – Piet Mondrian from the Netherlands and Nasreem Mohaidi from India. I’m going to concentrate on the better known of the two in this post and return to Nasreem in the near future as she is well worth a post of her own.

Mondrian was a leader of the De Stijl movement that advocated pure abstraction and universality by a reduction to the essentials of form and colour. He is best known for his “neoplastic” paintings with  a grid of straight black lines on a white background with some of the rectangles coloured in using a palette of three primary colours.

Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red (1937-42)

The exhibition, which marks the 70th anniversary of his death, was a survey of his work from his early days as an artist in the Netherlands, moving with him to Paris, London and New York. It

considers not only Mondrian’s significance, but also the circumstances (in both life and painting) that led him to make the switch from successful figurative artist in his homeland to international radical innovator. Taking visitors through Paris, London and eventually New York, the exhibition tracks Mondrian’s personal and aesthetic journey, and finds threads between the two (exhibition website)

In his early work he depicted landscapes, trees and buildings, adopting an abstract cubist style as in this painting that featured in the exhibition.

Piet Mondrian The Tree A c.1913 Tate collection

The Tree A (c.1913)

As we moved through the rooms we could see how his style evolved gradually moving toward the characteristic grids.

Piet Mondrian ‘No. VI / Composition No.II’, 1920<br /><br />
© 2007 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International, USA” /></p>
<p><em>No. VI / Composition No.II</em> (1920)</p>
<p>It obviously took a little time to reach his “final destination” but once he’d arrived there he clearly didn’t want to go anywhere else – artistically that is as he moved from France to Britain and then on to America once the Second World War broke out.</p>
<p><img src=

Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue (1927)

Yet, although his basic approach didn’t change,  he did experiment and introduce variations, albeit subtle (e.g. different thickness of the lines, different sized shapes), that we could see as we progressed through the rooms.

The title of the exhibition reflects the focus on his studio. There’s a mockup  / reconstruction of his  Paris studio in the Rue du Départ where he worked in the 1920’s and 1930’s

Visitors inside the recreation of Mondrian's Paris studio at Tate Liverpool

With brightly coloured rectangles carefully positioned on the white walls, it’s almost like a three dimensional version of one of his works.

‘It is as difficult to paint a room as to make a painting. It is not enough to set a red, a blue, a yellow, a gray, etc., next to each other. That would be mere decoration… It is all in the how: how the elements are placed, how the dimensions are worked out, how the colours of the various elements are interrelated…’

It was a lot tidier and cleaner than other artist’s studios I’ve seen before  (particularly Francis Bacon’s in the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin).

His London studio was also recreated, “virtually” in this instance, with computer mock ups displayed on a TV.

Mondrian influenced many artists working in the 1930’s and 40’s, notably, Ben Nicholson.

His paintings with the grid structure is very architectural, reflecting his early interest in buildings, and Mondrian and De Stijl in general with it’s emphasis on primary colours, rectangular forms and straight, horizontal and vertical (never diagonal) lines, had a significant influence on the Bauhaus. This was apparent during our trip to Dessau in March where the importance of primary colours was quite clear in both the school building and the Masters’ houses.

One criticism of exhibitions focusing on one artist, particularly one like Mondrian where his work, once he had settled on his style, is somewhat “samey”, is that visitors can lose interest after seeing so many similar paintings. There was a risk wok that with this exhibition but rather than occupy all the space on the fourth floor with Mondrian’s work, the Tate had a second exhibition occupying the last of the large rooms. This was devoted to another artist who developed an interest in grids and structure in her work. Someone I’d never encountered before but whose work made an impression on me. More about that in another post.

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Dazzle Ship

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You can’t miss this ship painted with brightly coloured stripes moored up in the Canning Graving dry dock near the Pierhead in Liverpool.

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The Edmund Gardner, a  pilot ship built in the 1950’s and now part of the Merseyside Maritime Museum’s collection, has been painted in a style used on merchant ships transporting goods across the Atlantic as a way of confusing U-boats. The work was commissioned jointly by the Liverpool Biennial, Tate Liverpool and 14-18 NOW, an organisation which is commissioning art works to mark the centenary of the First World War

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Dazzle, unlike more usual forms of camouflage, wasn’t intended to conceal a ship but to confuse the enemy – to make it difficult for the enemy to estimate its type, size, speed, and heading by disrupting their visual rangefinders. The technique was inspired by the Vorticist art movement. Many of the “Dazzle ships” were painted in Liverpool dockyards.

The camouflage for the Edmund Gardner was designed by the  Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez and the ship was painted by workers from the Camel Lairds shipyard, which is “over the water” from Liverpool in Birkenhead.

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There’s a video report on the creation of this art work on the BBC website and some photographs of Dazzle ships from the Maritime Museum’s collection on their website.

Carlos Cruz-Diez has also painted a dazzle type pattern on the pavement leading to Custom House Quay, across the road from the Albert Dock

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Interestingly, local band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD), named their fourth album released in 1983, Dazzle Ships.

Summer in the City

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Friday was a gorgeous, sunny, summer day.Blue skies and sunshine from the off. So a good day to take some time off work.

Liverpool is an attractive city in the sunshine, especially along the waterfront so seemed a good choice for a day out. And the biennial started last week so we there was also the chance to take in some of the events and exhibitions. But there was so much to see that there’ll have to be a few more visits in the near future.

Reports on the exhibitions and some of the other things we did during a full day out will follow, but here are a few photos, mainly taken around the Albert Dock.

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Art, Life and Vision

On Thursday I was back down in London on business. I resent paying over £300 for a two hour train journey so left mid morning on an off-peak ticket, but that did mean I would have to hang around for a few hours after my last meeting of the day. That didn’t bother me at all as it gave me the opportunity to visit the National Portrait Gallery’s new exhibition on Virginia Woolf, that had only opened that day. The NPG is open till late on a Thursday so I was able to finish my meeting on the Strand, walk across a busy Trafalgar Square to the gallery and spend some time there before taking the tube back to Euston to catch the train at half past seven, which meant I was back home for ten.

The exhibition covered the life of Virginia Woolf  from her childhood right up to her death. There were over 100 items on display including lots of photographs,paintings of Virginia as well as her family and her circle of friends, and other items too including letter, diaries and first editions (I assume) of her books – most of the latter with covers designed by her sister, Vanessa Bell  They even had her walking stick which was found after she had committed suicide by drowning in the River Ouse.

It’s a little ironic that the NPG is holding the exhibition as, according to the Guardian, she

took against the NPG when her father, a trustee, took her round it as a young woman

and later, when she was famous,

(refused) to sit for a drawing that she assumed would be put in a drawer and never seen.

There were several paintings by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, and also by other artists, some very good. I particularly like this portrait of her by Duncan Grant, on loan to the exhibition.

Virginia Woolf

Portrait of Virginia Woolf by Duncan Grant (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

And here’s another by her sister, Vanessa Bell.

A number of the photographs in the early part of the exhibition illustrating the Stephens family life and their circle were taken by Virginia’s great aunt on her mother’s side, Julia Margaret Cameron, who was a noted portrait photographer which she took up in her late 40’s. This can’t have been easy for a woman during Victorian times so she was clearly strong minded, determined and forceful. This is a photograph she took of  her niece, Julia Prinsep Jackson, later Julia Stephen, Virginia’s mother.

The Bloomsbury Set were in many fields, particularly art, literature and aesthetics, but also politics and, via one of their circle, John Maynard Keynes, economics. Their attitudes to women’s issues and sexuality were radical, to say the least. The following painting from 1943 by Vanessa Bell, which was included in the exhibition, depicts a number of the Bloomsburys – Duncan Grant, Leonard Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Clive Bell, David Garnett, Maynard and Lydia Keynes, Desmond and Molly MacCarthy, Quentin Bell and E.M. Forster. The paintings shown on the wall behind the are of Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey, both by Duncan Grant,  and of Roger Fry by Vanessa Bell. All three were dead when the picture was painted.

The Memoir Club, by Vanessa Bell (née Stephen), circa 1943 - NPG 6718 - © estate of Vanessa Bell courtesy of Henrietta Garnett

I have mixed feelings about the Bloomsburys. I admire their radicalism in both the arts and in their politics and am rather envious of their lifestyle. I would love to be able to spend time mixing with a group of like-minded people, enjoying stimulating conversation about literature, art, politics and other things just as they did. And have the chance to live both in a busy metropolis where there was lots going on yet also being able to spend time in more peaceful surroundings in the countryside. But they could only do that of course, because they came from privileged backgrounds and had money.

One of Virginia’s most well known works is “A Room of One’s Own” where she argues that women were held back as writers because they did not have space – the room in question – where they could send time to concentrate, think and write. I’d certainly agree with that, and that was something most women didn’t have at the time when she was alive. But that was even more true for working class women and men who not only didn’t have physical space of their own – with large families living in cramped dwellings – but also with little leisure time to think and write having to work 6 long days a week to survive. If I had lived at that time I’d have been working in a mill or something similar. I wouldn’t even have had the opportunity to go to University and certainly couldn’t have indulged in the intellectual pursuits that the Bloomsburys were fortunate enough to be able to do. Fortunately things have changed since then, and radical Middle Class intellectuals such as the Bloomsbury’s have played a role in that (a number of them, including Roger Fry, were socialists and most of them, including Virginia were supporters of the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War) – although there is still much that needs to be done to achieve a more equal society.

Virginia herself was able to lead a life where she could find the space to write, and played a major role in the development of Modernist writing with her novels. But no-one can be completely insulated from the society in which they live and, at the risk of playing an amateur psychiatrist, this no doubt contributed to her state of mind that ultimately led to her suicide.

I got my money’s worth, spending over an hour looking around and revisiting paintings and other exhibits that I particularly liked or found interesting. I found it enlightening, educational and enjoyable and it has given me a thirst to read some more of Virginia’s works.