Sunday, 16 December 2012


I had the opportunity recently to see the work of Rashid Johnson, having first seen his work in 30 American’s a group show curated by private collectors the Rubell family. If you’re interested in the work of African American artists definitely follow the hyper link. It was an ambitious show, upbeat - lots of sparkle, humour and irony. It was one of them shows I kicked myself for missing, even though it was in Florida? I’d seen it during my early drawing days… Johnson’s sloppy waxy black canvases, I didn’t know if I’d liked them but they were resonating with some things happening in the studio at the time. There was quite a gap however between that encounter and seeing the show in London. It can be dangerous waiting too long in anticipation… after a secondhand view on the internet you wonder whether the work will really stand up in the flesh  - and sometimes it don’t. So after a culture show slot (that I missed) a Time out review and several conversations I found myself at the South London Gallery with a friend to see it. Johnson methods are multidisciplinary, photography, painting and video it all ties together in the gallery with a strong sculptural sensibility.  It had a cool formalism, which combined an abstract expressionist heroism with Africana mysticism. The show was really intelligent, witty, beautifully made and presented a more contemplative, Post-modern Black - perhaps of the more vulnerable kind…

I loved his shelf pieces displaying a Victorian book fetish, more slop and other found objects.   On the walls as well as the aforementioned canvases, smoky photos, wooden panels branded, scored and gauged within an inch of their life. I looked around the show wondering if this was new like the time out review claimed. I wasn’t sure… The middle of the show had a grand nod to minimalism, four day beds in the sequence of rotation and continued to nod vigorously to cannons of American art history and Freud as a modern idea of psychology. Using medicinal substances like shea butter and black soap, the notion of ‘healing’ was ever present - got me thinking about that perpetual debate about the health of the Black psyche. In this framing Freud represents something both positive and negative - our growing understanding of the mind, our desire to treat it and the appropriation of cultural objects to facilitate and evidence Euro centric knowledge structures. In fact looking at those upturned beds, I wondered for moment whether I was looking at the fresh trophies of a safari hunt.

So what made it a new black as Time out claimed? Well maybe a not so widely known back story of an educated, middle class ‘brother’ musing on the legacy of 70’s American Africana for one. In this way it becomes an historical episode in American history and in some respects the work does look like it belongs to another time. There was also a kind of personal thread to this history, which gave him ownership and others a way in to the subject. All I know is that in many respects the show wasn’t new, but he managed to disarm the knees that usually jerk under fear of accusation and attack. Perhaps this is more about timing, now firmly in the 21st century maybe people have enough distance and an open mind to read the other nuances that has always been present in this kind of work.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Noise making a difference?

My other great love is music. I have meandered around few genres Jazz, several variations of soul, I’m also partial to a bit of electronic stuff, House, techno, electro, tech house etc… I used to love listening to pirate stations at college and felt naughty playing speed garage down in my studio at Slade lol! But I have soft spot for reggae, grew up on a steady flow of Rock Steady and Lovers Rock. So I couldn’t resist seeing a film entitled the latter by filmmaker Manelick Shabazz. Very entertaining, it shed light on something, which could have been forgotten. I left the screening with an assurance that that music was marked in history, the culture and associated experiences along with it. Lovers Rock was another step in the British development of reggae music, moving away from the overtly political stuff that preceded it.

I was a bit young for Lovers Rock to be honest, and couldn’t really appreciate it in the way it should be (watch the film). I have really early memories of listening to bits and pieces in the 70's in my uncle’s old ford Cortina. It’s incredibly sweet and syrupy and not really groundbreaking in a political sense or so I thought until I watched the movie. Against the socio-political backdrop the music didn’t have an overt political message, but the film proposed it as a tonic for the harshness of the times. I am from a musical generation accused of not having any political agency at all. For a long time I felt irritated by those who would flash their musio-political credentials in my face.

I attended a one-day symposium on the subject, the opening speaker John Street attempted to question our association of music with social change. He presented it as a widely accepted theoretical proposition, citing philosophers such as Plato and Adorno amongst others that has little empirical evidence.

I dunno maybe pop music has been regarded too disposable to be given serious analysis. There are many musical forms that would not be included in the political repertoire but the idea of affecting people… that happens anyway doesn’t it - whether you’re actively trying to change the world or not?

It took me quite a while to include music in my work, probably because the stuff I liked didn’t really have gravity politically or otherwise. In the first instance playing St Germain in a gallery seemed highly charged – I was very preoccupied with the gallery at the time.  But my studio is quite noisy actually. Making the speaker box piece felt like a very different act, I always feel rather exposed when I hear it. Maybe the final edit didn’t put across the full gamut of stuff I was listening to. I suppose I’m interested in evidencing the eclectic nature of influences in an individual’s life. And other influences such as art historical ones to – I reckon that piece answers back to Robert Morris’ Box with the sound of its own making. But less heroic, cheaper materials and a tad emotional…

Thursday, 11 October 2012


CAC (Contemporary Art Collective) R.I.P Art 2008

I haven’t been blogging for a while. I have chastised myself for this, although I wouldn’t think of it as an artistic activity, its’ one the few sounding boards I have. My thoughts flow better when I hear them aloud or see them in front of me. In reality it will have to fit with the ebb and flow of life… you understand I hope.  The book idea is going slowly and I’ve had some visual ideas for it. Thankfully this will provide an opportunity to revel in process and material (hopefully) in a print room.  I can stop thinking about words, research and meaning for a bit, so things can just flow…

So while I’m going slowly the seasons kicking off, galleries putting their best foot forward, Freize Art Fair and the rest. I went along to a couple of talks at Tate recently by live artists Tino Segal and Spartacus Chetwynd.  It’s not where I’m at right now, but somehow I’m still drawn to a more demonstratively ‘active’ art space.  I find the making and use of props in Chetwynd’s performances attractive, but in hearing her speak, I thought she underplayed the academic grounding of her work. She seemed to prioritise a sense of fun and suggest that fun was entirely the point. I struggled to believe this, not that I think fun doesn’t have a place in art. Maybe we all know too much? Maybe we’ve heard about the equivalency of high and low culture, interrupting or sabotaging gallery conventions too many times. Certainly the installation gives more information, such as a text by Bertolt Brecht examining and valorising amateur theatre and her explanation about using Chaucer’s tales as a mirror to reflect morality of current times. If I believed it were only about fun - one could find it at a good club night or festival. Perhaps the difference is whether you’re out of your head or not. But in her talk she did mention Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of Carnivalesque, proposing the essential function of frivolity as a radical rethinking of society.

In response to a statement about art not wanting to look like it, Mr Segal reckoned his work was readily received as art - that perhaps built into the paradigm of what new forms can be, is the freedom to renounce the values of its’ predecessor. He had some other criteria to, but I forget now - I didn’t make notes…  But I discovered that the art institution and its characteristics are central to the framing of his work. His question ‘is it good art?’ is just as complicated and nuanced as the ‘is it art?’ question - very much dependant upon social and cultural circumstances and values. I have heard and read the term ‘anti art’ on many occasions in historical texts, but you wonder whether any of these gestures succeeded in destroying art as a concept.  If anything its’ become porous – an amorphous entity which could feasibly embrace everybody and everything. So maybe asking if something is art a pretty futile these days? I think artists are weary of the pedestal, of the quasi-religious or genius standing of (so called) ‘high’ art forms in relation to other creative ones? If the thing becomes too lofty then its struggle to live up to, we’re all human after all…

Monday, 3 September 2012

Some times making things out of love and tenderness is reason enough...


So what’s been happening this summer?

I managed to get to the odd show or two, a beautiful video installation at the Tate Tanks by Sung Hwan Kim – in fact the Tanks are a very brave departure for Tate, hopefully it will draw a larger audience to installation and performance art. It’s not quite so Tate friendly, but I think that’s ok - it can’t all be user friendly and funfair all the time. It a beautiful and sensitive installation, (if you don't mind the dark) go and see it.

I took part in huge group show for a short spell, spent a few hours of tinkering here and there with the work… but I have to admit being well distracted by the rare sunny days we’ve had and the Olympics.

I kinda got into a new routine with it, and was lucky enough to see some finals in the stadium – I’m not madly into sports but do revel in herd behavior from time to time. I found the focus on athlete’s psychology really fascinating, and the perpetually reiterated equation of hard work equalling success…. What kind of success are they talking about - shiny medal success??? A friend of mine reckoned the medal made life that much simpler. I wondered whether he was being a tad judgmental at first, but actually some things are less clearly delineated as goals and so corresponds your own perception of achieving them - some are short term and other goals become…. revised.

It’s been heroics all summer, I was swept away by the Olympians and almost jealous by how these individuals galvanised and inspired the populous. We all need heroes, although I haven’t much taste for admiration of any entire individual really.  I like the idea of moments – notable gestures and actions. That way you get the best facets and discard the shit bits lol!

Finally I’m gaining some ground with this book/object/thing. The idea of writing got the better of me. While being introduced to avant garde publishing house Gaberbocchus press, Stefan Thermerson (one of the founders) didn’t describe himself in nouns i.e. artist, poet etc, but in a series of casually sequenced verbs - that humility made the task a bit more approachable.

Anyway thinking of best bits, hagiography and martyred Maurice (who has become a bit of a hero) it made sense to bring another hero into the mix. He’s not exactly my hero, but he is heroic in terms of making sculpture. I'm wondering how many heroes or bits of heroes  might figure in this? it is probable that the conflict between these differing influences might just spill over...

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Self made…

I have to admit that I was also a fan of the Grayson Perry ‘All in the Best Possible Taste’ on Channel 4 last month. Straight off the title takes me back to Kenny Everett as Cupid Stunt flinging his legs around with his plastic boobs bobbing about. 

But apart from the nostalgia, I thought Mr Perry had some really pertinent things to say about class and taste.  Despite looking at this through a purely English lens, if anything it enabled people to see parallels with issues resonating within their own circumstances.  For example, I like the idea of the plight of the ‘self-made’ middle classes being in-between without much of a yardstick to go by… the anxiety about how to live, what to consume, how morally upstanding to be – and all this with an awareness of privilege living in the middle. Then he presents the Upper classes as carrying the burden of preservation, upholding family heritage, culture and tradition. Honestly when you saw how some of these people lived - it were as if they were living in a giant sarcophagus. Perry talked about these issues very eloquently and depicted his perspective without mercy. I especially liked the lord of the manor as a dying breed, being hunted down by the nouveau riche.

The programme got me thinking afterwards about heritage, and my place in its preservation or perpetration. I’ve always been quite cavalier about it. Not that I haven’t cared about it; I’ve always felt weary of feeling burdened. How much does one depend or use history to foster new narratives? It might sound like a strange thing to say, but sometimes it feels like you’re competing with history. I’ve been kind stuck on the ole Maurice tale - and I must admit slightly conscious of the B word, as for some it seems like old news. These are the extremes of this artist lark… you’re either obsessed with your work or just in doubt.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

A new edition

I’ve been a bit neglectful of the blog of late, summer even when its raining is eventful enough - millions of degree shows, tennis the odd barbeque… oh! And I did a kids workshop with a couple of really talented guys. They’re an animation and sound duo called Sculpture - these guys collage bits of audiotape, found sounds and footage, bringing the zoetrope into the present by using a record deck and video camera to simulate that 19th century technology. We had a group of 15 kids ranging from 10 - 14 years old. They really ran with the idea and created some brilliant stuff. 
I like way these aside experiences connect with what’s happening in your own creative little universe. I was drawn to Sculptures oscillating visuals; there was an affinity with the animation I made this year. I wanted to make a phonotropic disk - fortunately an opportunity fell into my lap where I could do it in a fun way. Not sure if there is anything in it as yet, but I have made a little edition of my spot film for numbe82. I’m not really an editions type of artist, but actually I really like them and think there might be scope to make another lightbox type assemble.  On this occasion I made a set of 15, but I have over 150 frames, which might make a lovely little collection. They will be on sale during Deptford x at number82, so if you’re interested pop over to Tanners Hill SE8 between 27 July -12 August and pick one up…