The Exhibitionist Part One: Another crack at galleries

I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again. I don’t really like art galleries. Sorry.

I am just not the kind of “artist” who feels at home in white walled spaces. They feel contrived to me, simply rooms full of art stuff, created for the sake of art stuff. They just feel a bit…I suppose pointless; an exercise in self indulgence in it’s purest form. Sorry, that’s the designer and commercial artist in me, but I’m just not comfortable there. Give me a comfortable chair, give me a library, a bookshelf, a store front, a magazine. Give me a space that has it’s own purpose, adorned perhaps with relevant, beautiful things and that’s quite a different matter. But art displayed just as art? I struggle.

But I was in London, I had time to kill and I had a plan. Time to try again. To make friends with the gallery, the home of aesthetic culture. The home of ART.

So I did.

Let’s not get carried away or anything, I started small. I decided on two locations of contemporary illustration. Illustration is my passion. Illustration usually has a brief. Illustration is safe.

Baby Steps.

So I hit up the AOI World illustration Awards, currently on display in Somerset house. I do actually love this venue so already we were in a good place.

And it was free. Winner.

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I have to say, there was a lot of great talent to explore there. And by that, I mean there was a lot of book illustration and drawings that look like things 🙂

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The exhibit was probably what I’d consider the perfect size, two and a bit, uncluttered rooms of nicely spaced work, one central strip of glass cabinets. Easy and digestible and not at all so large it dragged. It wasn’t overwhelming, it didn’t make my heart sink and it didn’t remind me I am a failure of an “artist” for getting bored in an environment I should, by association, consider home.

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The work all had a chance to breathe, which felt relevant in a collection like this, because everything on display HAD been created for a purpose, be it a book, an advert, a poster or jacket; it meant you could take each item in and consider it in the context for which it was made. I like a bit of snappy analysis of a work’s strengths. I think this is my downfall with fine art. I can’t assess it because I don’t understand why it’s been made.

Sorry, I’ll stop moaning.

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For a collection of contemporary illustration, the AOI exhibit was a really nice one. It reminded me of Pick Me Up back in the day, before it got a bit tired (the last few years have not impressed me so much- I WILL STOP MOANING NOW) and I noted a good few new gems to keep an eye on, as well as simply enjoying the work of those I already admire. Yes, I noted the works of many already adorn my shelves.

I know it’s a bit of a cop out in my exploration of galleries, but the highlights for me were mainly book and design based illustration. Big talents like John Burton showed up and the lovely works of the brilliant Lesley Barnes, Alex T Smith and Chris Haughton were as  enjoyable as ever, both in browsing and poster forms.

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I actually liked the repetitive set up of the show a lot, in which the same pieces were encased on walls, in cabinets and on shelves. It gave it a ‘catering for all’ kind of vibe; the work in it’s raw form, the work as a ‘work of art’ and the work in the context of other work next to it. Each variant allowed the illustration to speak in a new context.

With the book being the best one. Obviously.

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I liked a lot of the work on display, both by the known and the unknown. I can’t say I think it was a broad collection in terms of the style of work, which did surprise me given that is was a collection from all over the world. Even across cultures and geography, a lot of the drawing styles, use of shapes, colour spoke in a similar language; but realistically I suppose it was unlikely to be anything else. This exhibition was always meant to be a snapshot of contemporary illustration which, like anything, is at the mercy of fashion. With so much exchanging of cultures, information and products through the magic of the internet, I suppose it’s very reasonable that fashions are less confined by borders than ever before. It was a shot of the trendy world of illustration in the here and now. And I, personally, really liked it!

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If you are hankering for a bit of tasty, picture based joy and are in the area, I would suggest checking it out. It won’t take your whole afternoon, it won’t cost the earth and it likely will inspire you, even just that teeniest bit to go and make some nice things. Or at least look at them.

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Hat’s off to you Somerset House, the AOI and all your contributers. The awards were well deserved, there was very little that I felt fell short of acclaim; naturally not all to my personal taste, but I suppose that is, in part, the joy of the visual arts.

And I really do appreciate, support and have enjoyed the hard work from those working to champion the humble illustrator. There’s an awful lot of talent on this earth and events like this do their bit to try and push those, often fresh faced, creators into the limelight they really do deserve.

So, was I cultured yet? I decided I wasn’t. I’d really enjoyed my speedy mosey through the contemporary illustration scene, but it wasn’t quite enough. Onward to part two of my afternoon exhibitioning…

 

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When Grimms Meets Strings: The Quay Brothers at Bristol festival of Puppetry

I like where I live. It’s pretty and historical and there are loads of coffee shops where I can sit and draw people like the creepy voyeur I am. Plus everything’s yellow. Not like, a wee yellow, more of a golden, nice kind that makes you go “…ah.”

But you can’t sit, idling your time in one city forever. Especially not one as small as Bath, even though it is yellow. And this is, actually, the main reason I like where I live so much. When the barrage of Georgian architecture is starting to feel a little heavy, and I know I’m drifting just a little bit too happily into the realms of the comfortable, middle class, I hop on the train and WHAM, BAM MA-AM! Bristol ahoy.

The great thing about Bristol and Bath, is that they’re both utterly charming in their own ways. I don’t feel I’ll ever be bored when I have them both so easily at my disposal. When the Jazz nights and obscure, busking folk bands of instruments I had no idea existed just aren’t cutting it for me that week, I know Bristol will have something fresh, probably arty and, usually pretty bonkers to keep me entertained. (And if all else fails, it’s a pretty safe bet that there’s going to be a number of garish, giant, plastic sculptures of some icon of fictional popular culture hidden -poorly- about the place.)

This week was no exception. To my delight, I found Bristol was hosting a Festival of Puppetry.

Bristol Festival of Puppetry

I love puppets. I love stop animation. I love performance. So I booked a ticket to a retrospective screening and talk with the film makers, the Brothers Quay.

This might sound like a pinch of the sacrilegious, but I wasn’t actually all that familiar with their work, to be entirely honest. I knew the name and knew their films were a darker form of stop motion work, but I like films and I like a splash of sinister and I REALLY like seeing behind the scenes of the creative mind so thought it was a pretty safe bet I’d discover something interesting.

I reckon, interesting is definitely the perfect word for it. I mean, quite aside from the number of colourful Mohawks on leather clad gents and ostentatious tights hidden under outrageously bright coats, (not that I judge. I’m down with whatever fashion choices people are happy with – I just wasn’t expecting so much neon.) the films themselves offered a lot of questions for me to mull over throughout the evening. It was a short retrospective, only 4 films out of a career spanning some 20 years, so I admit it was not exactly a thorough exploration into what they do. I’ll jump ahead in the narrative now, just to conclude now that, unfortunately, I wasn’t really mad on the work (sharp intake of breath as I wait for avid fans to swear loudly and throw items.) It was just…TOO ARTY. You know? I mean, yes I am an illustrator, but there is a bit of me that cringes when I hear myself referred to as an artist because I don’t think I really am. I make visual things, just like these guys, I’m ruled by the aesthetic pleasure I receive from things and the way in which said artifacts can communicate a concept or theory…but, Artist? It just has too many connotations for me. Too much Pollock and Emin and poos in a box to make a point but it doesn’t really matter what the point is as long as it’s made one TO YOU. I came from a design degree. I like it when things MAKE SENSE. There’s a joy to the grid and a correct, helpful way to break it that still leads us all to the same place. That’s communication right? And, for me, while there was a lot of charm in the foraged, ephemera laden worlds within the Quay’s stories, I just didn’t GET them.

My reaction surprised me to be honest. Several of their works were based on examples of European literature and folk tales which gets the BIGGEST tick at my end. They were all dark and spoke in the language of Steampunk and the Brothers Grimm with hints of Tim Burton (before he got crappy and lazy). It was all made of elements I, if not love, at least GET. But something in that tried and tested equation was just lacking for me. There was a lot of space and repetition and noise that didn’t make me feel…just made me bored. There was a lot of rudimentary techniques that didn’t feel cleverly executed enough and, most vitally for me, I had NO idea what was going on far too much of the time. I never knew where we were or what I was viewing. I didn’t know who my characters were as too much of the films were shot so close, I had no grasp of who was where. I didn’t understand the setting of any of them.

Even the famous, In Abstentia with it’s constant reminder that there was a solitary open window, seemed confusing to me. I couldn’t tell if our character was in that room, or thinking about it. I didn’t know if the woman’s head we kept seeing belonged  or was an associate of the dirty, masculine looking fingernails of our protagonist. I didn’t get anything. To me, it could easily have been a contemporary cautionary tale in which we’re reminded to value quality over quantity. A lonely, heroine scrawls in maddening desperation to finish her shopping list, only to be foiled repeatedly by the snapping of her cheap, pencil leads that she so foolishly was seduced into purchasing in bulk from Poundland. The irony is, of course, that her clock is broken and Sainsbury’s is probably closed now.

Similarly, the acclaimed Street of Crocodiles, while one of my preferred films in the list, seemed to simply be an exercise in rudimentary cliches of darkness. The haunted contraptions from, what looked like, the Toy Story Curiosity Shop had a real charm and were at times curious, beautiful and dynamic, but the location of them, the space they occupied were all elements I simply couldn’t ascertain. There was no sense of dynamism within space. We were simply in a room with a rusty voyeur who, for all I know, was entering a ghastly behind the scenes at Build a Bear.

It was all just a bit much for me. A bit too arty. Perhaps a bit too Bristol.

Until the discussion with the film makers. The Brothers were eloquent and charming and, while I couldn’t suppress a sigh as the conversation began with terms like “poetic vessel” and “alchemy of stop motion”, I was soon a thousand times more immersed  in them as people as I had been the worlds they’d created.

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Apologies from here on out for the quality of my camera. It’s not one for night time funsies bless it.

They talked about their process and the way they believed their films worked to the laws of the music and soundtrack, rather than the traditional dramatic principles we associate with film. They spoke with honestly about their puppets and their own humble misgivings and work-arounds when the puppet simply “couldn’t be depended upon.” They joked about their hiding of character and movement in darkness to hide their own lack of experience in the fields on animation and the relevance of the lighting, set, music in what they do.

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And most importantly, they spoke about their films. They gave a behind the scenes of the scenario, speaking with love and passion about everything they’d made and how it had fallen into place. They were artists. There was a lot of reliance on serendipity in the way they worked and even more winging it on the fly, but for them it had worked. They had fallen into their own world, and taken a boat load of fans along the way.

A lit, installation piece using their set pieces on a bridge not too far away. It did look great in the night and illustrated their talk in which they discussed the importance of lighting in their films.
A lit, installation piece using their set pieces on a bridge not too far away. It did look great in the night and illustrated their talk in which they discussed the importance of lighting in their films.

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I was almost won over by the true meaning of In Abstentia; a landscape of schizophrenia born from a true story; It all made the elements of my own confusion, fall into place. I got it. I got them.
And then I was reminded of what they did. They were film makers. They make films (among other things) for a living and I, the audience of said films, understood nothing until I’d had a thorough dig through the draws in the dressing rooms and a proverbial prod at the creators’ grey matter. It was a shame. I’d wanted to like them and their work, but for me, you can’t just publish the third book in a trilogy with no context and then shrug and say it’s up to the audience to write the first two (although that’s quite a novel sales tactic actually.) I consider myself a storyteller. That means there is a right and wrong way to present a story. Sure, leave elements up to interpretation, but the story itself in it’s essence has to be the same for the maker and reader. Otherwise you’ve simply done it wrong.I like films, I like stories, but I can’t endorse the idea that contemporary art and storytelling can merge when it comes to conceptual legibility. For me, a story should be read as the Storyteller intended it to be, without additional asides, discussions or notes on postits. Surely that’s where the skill lies? Otherwise I’m just making a mess and charging you for the privilege to analyse it for me. I love what I do because it’s communication that is beautiful, and when that communication element is broken…well, that’s just a step too far into the realms of contemporary art for me. Style over substance can only take you so far and while I enjoyed my evening overall, and salute Bristol – home of the stop motion Kinds Ardman – and their Festival of Strings, it just reminded me what I do not want my own practice to be.An exercise in interest and a great discussion topic, it certainly was. For that I thank the Festival organisers and, of course, the Brothers Quay. Thanks but no thanks, I’ll stick to comics.

15 minutes of Sketch Book fame

Well, I’m closing in on the second week of getting an illustration career together outside of the comfort of full time employment.

And I feel I’ve been making steady progress. I’ve never sent so many emails in my life, I’ve drawn things every day, produced several full colour, completed images, am working on a piece for a neat, up and coming children’s magazine and I’ve, without a shadow of a doubt, done more designing in the past week than I did for the entirety of my design job.

Probably.

Such is the nature of portfolio making I suppose.

Anyway, I thought, as I’ve been living the dream along with my ol’ ball and chain, Photoshop, I’d bring you a few shots of my sketchbook doodles. I figure, while it’s the end result that get you work, it’s kind of important to see how things progress as you’re going along and give a bit of limelight to those little, off the cuff bits and pieces that throw themselves into your head. So here are a few snippets of scribbles that have, are in the process of and hopefully will one day become fully fledged ideas, with functional limbs and beady eyes. And colour.

Obviously this is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to my arsenal of unrealised scribbles, but it’s a nice little collection of doodles nonetheless.

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Etching Workshop: Episode One

I’m pleased to announce that once more they’ve allowed me into the print rooms, on the condition that I don’t get too excited (okay, that’s a lie. Although there’s a danger it might be necessary.)

This time my play date is with the foreign exchange student of etching. I’ve never done it before; dabbled in a little bit of very rushed dry-point in the last week of my Foundation FMP, but never gone the whole hog with the acid shebang.

So far I’m getting on with it just fine. As with all forms of printing the first, setting up bits aren’t really the most enjoyable but they’ve not been too labor intensive and, as arty as it sounds, I’m really liking the total disregard for modern technology. It’s oddly pleasing that in the hundreds of years that etching has been a print form, it’s changed so little. Almost feels a bit like a “well if it ain’t broke…” sort of deal, although I’m  sure there’s plenty of pragmatic people who would challenge me otherwise.

I’ve gone with a hard ground (as I’m but a wee beginner) and singed it a few days ago. Today I finished scratching into it, which was the most relieving surprise when I think back to my dry-point on perspex days. Wax is a total gem in comparison, none of that teeth on edge nonsense, just lovely lovely, soft, waxy goodness. Easy peasy.

Our brief is simply to do a simple portrait of an artist we admire. No funny business.

So I’ve abliged with an image of Henri de Tolouse Lautrec. He’s a bit of a favourite of mine, not even because of his work but literally just because I find his life so fascinating. I went with a sharp close up so I could get in all the details of his trademark glasses. Plus he has a bit of a wonderful face to draw. Somehow very French (no onions or berrets though.)

So there it is. The wonky eye was genuinely his face by the way, that’s not jut me doing a bad drawing.

It’s nerve wracking knowing how different it will look printed, when it’s not only put back into positive, but reversed too. I’ve been fighting the urge to photoshop it and see how it’s likely to look, but I’ll be good and won’t spoil the surprise.

Just wish me luck!

B

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UPDATE: Okay, I caved. I photoshopped it. I now have a pretty good idea of where it’s going. I’m not going to put it up though. Wouldn’t want anymore cheeky monkeys to see it before it’s properly done!

The Weather Outside is Weather.

I noticed two things today. Firstly I haven’t posted anything in a few days and secondly it’s cold.

Yep, it feels like August only just finished and already it’s starting to get a bit nippy here in Surrey. So as homage to the Summertimes I’m gonna stick up a collection of summery paintings I did of British wildlife. Now off you go, finish up your strawberries and cream, fish out the gloves and enjoy the company of our four (and six) legged friends while we think about meadows and warm sun and stuff like that.

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Ah…

B x