György Kepes at Tate Liverpool

György Kepes Leaf and Prism

György Kepes was a Hungarian-born painter, designer, educator and art theorist. In 1930, he moved to Berlin, and later joined the studio of László Moholy-Nagy, the Hungarian photographer who had taught at the Bauhaus Dessau. Moholy-Nagy left Germany to escape the Nazis, moving to Amsterdam, then London and then finally settled in Chicago where he set up the “New Bauhaus”. Kepes followed him and was invited to work at the new art school as head of the  department of Colour and Light.

Although he didn’t consider himself a photographer (he was a painter, a designer and a film-maker), he worked in the medium and produced some excellent images. The Tate exhibition shows 80 of his photographs, photomontages and photograms produced during his time in Chicago, around 1938-42

There were some conventional photographs, although not the subject matter was not entirely mainstream

György Kepes ‘Ear (AN 514)’, c. 1939–41<br />
© estate of György Kepes

Ear (AN 514) c. 1939–41 (Source Tate website)

He also shot “still lives” using scientific apparatus, sometimes in conjunction with natural objects.

But many of the images on display were photomontages and photograms. A photogram is a photographic print made by laying objects onto photographic paper and exposing it to light. It was a favourite technique of Moholy-Nagy who began experimenting with them during the 1920’s.

The Tate website tells us

Kepes’s photograms, made without a camera, were instead produced in the darkroom by arranging and exposing objects directly on top of light-sensitive paper. The subjects – such as leaves, eyes, feathers and cones and prisms  – reflected Kepes’s varied interests and included scientific and mechanical items alongside objects from the natural world.

There’s a good review of the technique here, which includes a discussion of Kepe’s work

György Kepes ‘Hand on Black Ground’, c. 1939–40<br />
© estate of György Kepes

Hand on Black Ground c. 1939–40 (Source: Tate website)

György Kepes ‘Leaf and Prism’, c. 1939–40<br />
© estate of György Kepes

Leaf and Prism c. 1939–40 (Source: Tate website)

With it’s surreal images, the exhibition complements the Leonora Carrington exhibition also showing at the Tate. It also ties in with LOOK/15: the Liverpool International Photography Festival. This is the third biennial photography festival held in the city and there are photographic exhibitions showing at venues including the Walker Art Gallery, the Bluecoat and the Open Eye Gallery.

Leonora Carrington at Tate Liverpool

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About 18 months ago I visited an exhibition about the Surrealist artist, Leonora Carrington at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin. I’d never heard of her at the time and was surprised that she’d been born in Clayton-le-Woods, just outside the town where I grew up. She didn’t find fame in her own country through. Rebelling against her upper class background she ran off the Paris with the Surrealist Max Ernst and then, during the war, following a series of events which included spending some time in an asylum in Spain, she ended up in Mexico, where she remained for the rest of her life and where se is recognised as an important artist.

The Tate in Liverpool currently have an exhibition of her work and we went to see it on Saturday. Their website tells us:

The exhibition explores Carrington’s diverse creative practice, taking a selection of key paintings made throughout her career as its starting point. A prolific painter, the exhibition explores how Carrington established her distinctive take on surrealism.

The Dublin exhibition was a major retrospective of her work. The Tate’s is more modest but still has a good number of her works, a few of which I’d already seen in Dublin. The majority were from her time in Mexico although there were some earlier paintings and etchings in one of the rooms, including some paintings of the “Sisters of the Moon”, painted when she was a teenager and which illustrate her early interest in fantasy,  magic and the occult.

It was notable that most of he works on display where from private collections rather than from major public galleries. I think this reflects her “status”. In Mexico she is considered to be a significant artist but she is relatively unknown elsewhere and overshadowed by more well known Surrealists who worked in Europe.

One aspect of her work featured in the Liverpool exhibition that hadn’t been covered in Dublin was her work for the theatre – including masks, costume designs and sketches. I particularly liked the three masks on display created for a production of the Tempest. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any pictures of them on-line and, of course, photography wasn’t allowed in the exhibition.

After visiting the Dublin exhibition I commented

I think I’d like seeing a small number of her paintings and other works but there were too many for me here to take in. To use a metaphor, her paintings were a little like rich food – good but too much at one go can make you feel sick and nauseous.

For me, the Liverpool was just right and I came away feeling satisfied rather than overwhelmed.

Letizia Battaglia

The current exhibition at the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool is devoted to the work of the Italian photographer Letizia Battaglia. I’d seen a photograph of she’d taken of the dead bodies of a prostitute and two of her clients who had been murdered by the Mafia that had been featured in the Guardian a few months ago.

Palermo, 1982. Nerina worked as prostitute and was drug-dealing. She was killed by the mafia because she did not respect the rules © Letizia Battaglia

Palermo, 1982. Nerina worked as prostitute and was drug-dealing. She was killed by the mafia because she did not respect the rules © Letizia Battaglia

Gruesome, but moving, and a visual condemnation of the violence of the Mafia. And that statement sums up a lot of her work. She was a leftist photojournalist in Palermo and a lot of her photographs are about the Mafia and their violence.

Letizia was a journalist who took up photography in the early ’70s, when she realised that it was easier to place her articles in newspapers and magazines if these were accompanied by images. After working i Milan she returned to her native Palermo in Sicily working as Picture Editor for the left wing journal, L’Ora.

Many photographs feature dead bodies of people murdered by the Mafia

Palermo, 1988. Assassination with Palermo plate © Letizia Battaglia

Palermo, 1988. Assassination with Palermo plate © Letizia Battaglia

She also depicted a different type of victim of the violence, those who had to live with the aftermath and the consequences, such as in this photograph.

Palermo,1992. Rosaria Schifani, the widow of police agent Vito killed together with judge Giovanni Falcone, Francesca Morvillo and his colleagues Di Cillo and Antonio Montinaro © Letizia Battaglia

Palermo,1992. Rosaria Schifani, the widow of police agent Vito killed together with judge Giovanni Falcone, Francesca Morvillo and his colleagues Di Cillo and Antonio Montinaro © Letizia Battaglia

Her other main theme was the condition of the working class in Palermo with some moving and harrowing depictions of real poverty.

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1978.Palermo.La-notte-il-neonato-piangeva-disperatamente.un-topo-gli-stava-rosicchiando-il-dito

Not a pleasant collection but very powerful and moving. She was a brave woman and talented photographer.

The exhibition – “Letizia Battaglia: Breaking the Code of Silence” is showing at the Open Eye Gallery on Mann Island, Liverpool until 4 May 2014

“Sculptural Forms” in Manchester

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One of the exhibitions currently showing at the Manchester City Art Gallery focuses on sculpture created during a the period from just before the First World War to the present day. Covering three rooms on the first floor of the modern extension, it features works from the Gallery’s own collection  together with others from the Whitworth Gallery, currently closed for refurbishment, and the Arts Council.

The exhibition

explores some of the imaginative ways in which the sculptural form has been re-invented from just before World War One to the present day. It does so by combining sculpture with two-dimensional works of art and designed objects to create some unexpected but visually stunning juxtapositions.

The first room – The Human Condition – concentrates on the human form. Some of the works on show are figurative, some abstract and some a bit of both.

This relief by Eric Gill is very typical of his work. A clear depiction of a human form, a religious subject, finely carved.

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The development of the abstract representation of the human figure can be seen in a piece by by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and early works by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

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This ceramic head by Stephen Dixon (Liu Xiaobo 2012), created in honour of the Chinese human rights campaigner and recipient of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize

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and this crystal skull replete with flashing interior lights by Tony Oursler

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were both very popular, attracting a lot of attention from visitors.

As well as sculpture the exhibition includes some “two dimensional works” some inspired by sculpture, some ideas for sculpture and some by sculptors including Henry Moore.

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The second room – Abstraction – did what it said on the tin featuring abstract works by artists including Anthony Caro, Alison Wearing  and Barbara Hepworth – this is her Sphere with Inner Form (1963)

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I particularly liked a couple of aluminium reliefs

Relief (1965) by Jean Spencer, which could almost have been a fabricated industrial component

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and, especially, the sensuous, curved forms of Icarus (1967) by John Milne.

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I’m a sucker for simple abstract sculptures like this (Rotterdam Relief, 2005, by Toby Patterson) made from a transparent perspex panel and which uses light and shadows to great effect.

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The final section – Transformation – concentrated on works made from everyday objects. They included this abstract beast by Lyn Chadwick,

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and this work Ridged Vessel, (2014) by Claire Malet. which was commissioned by the Gallery.

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It’s not immediately obvious but this remarkable piece started out as a commercially produced olive oil tin.

She explains her method:

I collect used steel cans and scrap copper with which to work. Each vessel is worked entirely with hand tools. The interiors are gilded with genuine gold leaf and copper leaf, bringing a distinctive richness and volcanic appearance to my work. I take an experimental approach to working with metal, allowing the medium to suggest a direction and often pushing it to the limits of workability, accelerating decay. This has led me to discover techniques that produce qualities similar to those found in nature. Through this process I aim to transform a mundane man-made object into a form to be treasured. The result is a fusion of intentional form and the natural characteristics of the medium.

Lynn Chadwick at Abbot Hall and Blackwell

Last Saturday we headed up the M6 to visit the exhibition of works by Lynn Chadwick – Lynn Chadwick – Evolution of Sculpture – showing at the Abbot Hall Gallery in Kendal with some additional larger works from later in his careers being displayed at Backwell, The Arts and Crafts House, a few miles away near Windermere. Despite setting out reasonably early, the Motorway was still quite busy being the Bank Holiday and slowed to a standstill a couple of times, but only for a minute or so and we arrived in Kendal mid morning.

We really enjoyed the exhibition. I’ve seen a few pieces by Lynn Chadwick in other galleries (including the Hepworth at Wakefield) but here we were able to see how his work developed via a large number of pieces covering most of his career.

There were some particularly appealing pieces. His work was on the margins of abstract and figurative, many of his sculptures being based on humans and animals. In the entrance hall there were three beautiful life size abstract figures – the three Electras – cast in bronze, most of the surface had a heavy patina except for a square on the front – the breasts and naval – which was highly polished. It was a part of the casting, not a separate piece welded on. It was just the finish that was different. They were a dramatic introduction to the exhibition.

© Lakeland Arts Trust

The Three Electras by Lynn Chadwick (Picture source Abbot Hall website)

The main part of the exhibition was on the first floor. There was a good selection of works with some very interesting pieces including a mobile (he started out making these) weird, fantastic beasts, abstract pieces, abstract humans (we particularly liked the Teddy Boy and Girl) and winged / cloaked figures. All very different from the more sinuous, sensuous, flowing sculptures produced by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth during the same period.

The art historian Herbert Read when discussing the strange beasts and other forms created by Chadwick Reg Butler and Kenneth Armitage, who exhibited together at the 1952 Venice Biennale described their style as as the ‘geometry of fear’ 

‘These new images belong to the iconography of despair, or of defiance….Here are the images of flight, or ragged claws "scuttling across the floors of silent seas", of excoriated flesh, frustrated sex, the geometry of fear…. These British sculptors have given sculpture what it never had before our time – a linear, cursive quality.’ (source here)

There was also a video showing about the artist and his working methods. I found that interesting as he worked in a much different way to say Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. He started by building a skeleton from metal rods (armature) welding them together then filling in the gaps with Stolit, a mixture of plaster and iron filings  so his technique was constructive, building up from scratch rather than cutting away material which is what sculptors working in stone and wood do. And he didn’t particularly plan the works. He had a rough idea which developed as his work on a sculpture progressed. One of the talking heads in the video compared his method to drawing in 3D with the armatures, inserting them, trying different arrangements, cutting away pieces, as he worked. There were some drawings but they seem to have been done after the work was completed rather than as preparatory sketches. I found his way of working quite interesting as it was different from other sculptors.

At Blackwell there were a number of larger works that were displayed outdoors in the grounds of the house. They were from later in his career and, overall, I thought they were less interesting, and less typical of his signature style, than those on display at Abbot Hall. But it did give an insight into how his work developed.

My favourite was this piece of two women walking up and down stairs that was displayed outside the entrance to the house‘

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Women walking into the wind with their hair and clothing billowing behind them is a recurring theme in Chadwick’s work. This is a later example. The dress blowing behind makes the figure look like a strange cross between a human and a chicken.

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This work of seated male and female figures  (Sitting Couple) reminded me of Henry Moore’s “King and Queen”

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and they had a great view, especially on a nice sunny day

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Uwe Wittwer at Abbott Hall

During our trip to Kendal last Saturday we called into the Abbot Hall Gallery to take at look at the new exhibitions that have been installed since Christmas. The main exhibition on at the moment, “In the Middle Distance”  features works by a Swiss artist, Uwe Wittwer, who produces images that blur the boundary between figurative and abstract art. I’d had a brief "recce" on the web to check out his work and wasn’t expecting to like them too much,but I was very pleasantly surprised. Many of the works were either re-interpretations of paintings by Old Masters, such as Gainsborough and Constable, or computer manipulations of old photographs, he’d “found” on the Internet.

The first room was devoted to watercolours inspired by paintings by “Old Masters”. I particularly liked the "negative" of a Gainsborough portrait of a group of children. In the reinterpretation the children looked as if they were black, subverting the image of wealthy white children in the Georgian period.

Source: Flickr © All rights reserved by cuedit

He had also produced a reinterpretation of one of Abbot Hall’s prized possessions, the seventeenth-century triptych, The Great Picture, which shows Lady Anne Clifford at various stages in her life her parents and siblings, especially for the exhibition. It dominated the middle of the three galleries.

A number of computer manipulated photographs which were printed out with an inkjet printer were displayed in the third gallery. Again they were relatively large in scale. The exhibition booklet tells us about his methodology:

He hunts for suitable material in a state of reverie, browsing the Internet until the right image presents itself, some crucial element resonating and suggesting possibilities. The process is far from being purely mechanical, however, with each image being extensively manipulated and reworked by Wittwer, who has commented that his inkjets (each one unique) can take as
long as his watercolours or oils to produce.

He has created monochrome, blurred, ghostly images. I couldn’t help projecting my own interpretation of what they were. A large "negative" of children riding on a carousel came across as the horsemen of the apocalypse to me and another picture of a boat made me think of Charon, the boatman who ferried the dead over the Styx.

122008: "Boot" (Boat), 2008, Inkjet,180 x 150 cm

Uwe Wittwer Boat (2008) Inkjet on paper 180 x 150 cm
© The Artist

This picture included large dots, the edges spreading out like ink blots. They featured in a number of the works, both the photographic images and the watercolours, including his version of The Great Picture.

I particularly liked his picture “Three Sisters”, created using a photograph of three young women taken somewhere in Middle Europe (East Prussia?) in the late 1930’s, before the Second World War.

Three Sisters (2008) Source: Flickr © All rights reserved by cuedit

The booklet accompanying the exhibition compares the image to a faded family photograph, but to me they resembled ghosts; grey, half transparent figures against a darker, more substantial background. Their dark eyes peering out towards the viewer, almost seeming to look right through us.

I wasn’t so sure about Black Sun after Antonioni, also shown in the third gallery. It consisted of 78 framed watercolour ‘stills’ from the cult British film from the sixities, Blowup, that starred David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave and Sarah Miles.

Overall I thought it was an inspiring exhibition with some very interesting paintings and particularly atmospheric photographic based images.  It was well worth the visit and, for me, illustrated that art should, ideally, be experienced “live” rather than relying on looking at reproductions in books or images on the Internet.

Matisse Artist’s Books at the Walker Art Gallery

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I’ve been working in Liverpool all week and on Friday, as we finished early, I called into the Walker Art Gallery on route to Lime Street station.

They’re currently showing an exhibition of artist’s books by Matisse, and it closes at the end of April, so I popped in to take a look. As usual it was free entry.

The Art Books of Henri Matisse

Like many artists, Matisse worked in different media and would try his hand with various techniques. He created around a dozen  “livre d’artiste” (artist’s books) – illustrated books published as collectible, limited editions. One of the first example of an artist’s book is William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience which merges drawings with hand written text

Illustrations from four books created by Matisse are on show in the exhibition. They’re not displayed as complete books though, rather individual pages are mounted and framed and hung on the walls.

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Cover of Jazz (1947) showing Le clown source Wikipedia

Probably the most well known images are from Jazz, which was published in 1947. Matisse created the images using the paper cut-out technique that he developed in his later years. The publisher then reproduced them using the “pochoir” stencilling technique. The same gouache paints used by the artist were then applied through the stencil to produce the highly coloured prints.

Jazz contains some of Matisse’s most well known images, including Icare (Icarus), Le clown, Le Loup and  Le Lagon.

Icarus

Icare (Icarus) Source:http://www.metmuseum.org

Le Cirque (The circus) Source www.henri-matisse.net

Personally I preferred the simple, effective line drawings included in two of the earlier books Poésies de Stéphane Mallarmé,  from 1932, and Pasiphae, Chant de Minos published in 1944.

Source www.henri-matisse.net

The drawings from Poésies, reproduced as etched prints, illustrate Mallarmé’s poem. They include portraits of Edgar Allen Poe and Mallarmé, and mythological images. In the book, Matisse attempted to balance the images and the text. Full-page illustrations were placed on the right hand page opposite the text, printed in 20-point Garamond italic typeface on the left hand pages.

, La chevelure [Tresses]

La chevelure [Tresses] Source:http://nga.gov.au

, Hérodiade

Hérodiade Source:http://nga.gov.au

, La coiffure d'Hérodiade [Hérodiade's hair]

La coiffure d’Hérodiade Source:http://nga.gov.au

I thought the portrait of Edgar Allen Poe, which accompanied the poem “Le Tombeau d’Edgar Poe.” was particularly effective. Matisse has used a few simple strokes yet has created an expressive image which captures the likeness of the American author and also seems to convey something of his character.

, Portrait E. Poe

Portrait E. Poe Source:http://nga.gov.au

The images in Pasiphae, Chant de Minos (1942), a retelling of the Greek legend of Pasiphaë and the Minoan bull, are linocuts and comprise simple white lines on an intense black background, which are characteristic of this printing technique.

Pages 26-27 di Pasiphae – Chant de Minos – Source www.henri-matisse.net

Images from the book can be viewed here.

The fourth book included in the exhibition was Poèmes de Charles d’Orléans which was published in 1950. In this case the images were printed by lithography, which means that they can incorporate several colours. However Matisse has only used a limited palette.

Source www.henri-matisse.net

This was my least favourite set of prints in the exhibition. The drawings mainly consisted of variants on the fleur de lis with a few sketches of people, which were much less powerful than those in Poésies and Pasiphae.  Images from the book can be viewed here.