Monday, 30 March 2015

Alex Katz: Black Paintings

I really enjoyed this show of portraits by Alex Katz. I thought they were successful outcomes because of the way they placed the central figure of the portrait off-centre, and also isolated the single figure in the portrait, and used the vibrant colours of the figures against a plain black background.

Where Katz used two figures in the paintings he seemed to suggest a tension/distance or possibility of confrontation between the two figures. I like Katz's pared down visual language, reducing the portraits to a simple series of colours and loose brush-strokes, almost like that of Julian Opie who goes further in employing similar graphic reductive simplification in his art.

I was also able to make connections with the visual language of Manga and Anime art, such as that of Studio Ghibli in Katz's paintings although you are able to distinguish the singular painterly brushstrokes which make up the eyes and eyebrows of the figures and also the loose brush work which makes up the hair of the individuals.

I found the portrait above - Vincent, interesting in that it is almost a non-portrait, because the viewer is confronted with the back view of the sitter and Vincent is virtually unrecognisable. Vincent by turning his back on the viewer seems to assert that he wants no part of the portraiture process, and I think this view assumes a certain arrogance/bravado on the part of the sitter and artist, but it also adds a psychological tension, and as viewers we have to ask why the sitter chose to be distant and confrontational by turning his back on us the audience and present us with a non-portrait. Vincent staring out into the bleak, black background rather than facing us also adds to this psychological tension.
It 's a small but intriguing exhibition.
Alex Katz Black Paintings
until 2nd April
Timothy Taylor Gallery
15 Carlos Place
London W1K 2EX

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

El Anatsui


On a dull, cloudy, first day of spring I ventured uptown to see this show of El Anatsui's recycled metal bottle-top cloths at the October Gallery in Holborn. It was a venue that I had not visited in years, so was not sure to expect. The October Gallery was much smaller than I remembered, but the show did not disappoint. I loved the shimmer of the metal "fabrics" as well as the patterns and colours that they contained.

I like the way that he squares the circular bottle tops and "sews" these together with copper thread to create the metallic fabrics. I am currently working with a lot of gold metallic leaf, so it will be interesting to see the work of Kenji Yoshida whose work also employs lots of gold leaf, and makes up the next October Gallery exhibition in April. I shall no doubt report back my opinions in another post when that exhibition opens next month. For now though enjoy these photos of El Anatsui's beautiful metallic fabrics.


El Anatsui
until 28th March
October Gallery
Old Gloucester Street

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Rankin: Butterflies Through Others Eyes #4


Love these striking images of butterflies and moths inspired by the Mexican Day of The Dead festival and transformed into masks. They were captured by renowned photographer Rankin, from his Alive: In The Face of Death series.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Hans Haacke - Gift Horse

I was in central London last week so took the opportunity whilst in Trafalgar Square to see the newly installed Gift Horse by Hans Haacke, the tenth, and latest in the series of commissions for the Fourth Plinth Project. I really liked the maquette (above), when the work was proposed along with others in 2013, so it was great to see the finished sculpture full-scale, in all its glory, installed on the plinth.

Gift Horse depicts the bronze skeleton of a horse with a bow tied around its foreleg. The bow has live scrolling information from the London Stock Exchange on an LED screen. Gift Horse makes a comment on power in both the British class system, as well as a commentary on global finance.

Haacke drew inspiration for Gift Horse from acclaimed 18th-century painter George Stubbs' anatomical engravings and studies of horses collected in his portfolio - The Anatomy of the Horse. Haacke also drew inspiration from early political economist Adam Smith, a contemporary of Stubbs, and ideas contained in his book The Wealth of Nations (1776). The horse studies are so beautifully rendered.

I thought that the skeletal frame of Gift Horse actually looks quite vulnerable and fragile in comparison to the might and pomp of the horse sculpture of George IV on the other plinth across the square. I felt a similar sense of vulnerability when I first saw Mark Wallinger's Ecce Homo (1999), one of the earliest, if not the first of the Fourth Plinth exhibits.

I felt it only right to go into the National Gallery afterwards to pay a visit to Stubb's famous painting Whistlejacket, which seems so full of life and movement in comparison to the deliberately static, skeletal Gift Horse outside.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Loie Fuller - Butterfly Dance Pt 2

My last post was about the innovative genius of the American dancer/choreographer Loie Fuller, who caused a sensation among the French public in fin de si├Ęcle Paris with her costumes and dances. In the last post I looked at her innovations in choreography and the photographic representations of her in motion. In this post I shall be focusing on the how artists, writers and graphic designers chose to represent and depict her in their own chosen medium. Symbolist poet Stephane Mallarme who saw Fuller perform in 1893, was moved to write in an essay on her that he regarded her dance as being - "the theatrical form of poetry par excellence". Anatole France another novelist and poet describes her thus:- "I had seen her only as she had been seen by multitudes across the globe, on the stage, waving her draperies in the first light, or transformed into a great resplendent lily, revealing to us a new and dignified type of beauty..." 

Visual artists of the time were similarly inspired by the spectacle of Fuller's dance, and her figure has been immortalised in the mediums of photography, paint, sculpture, print and early examples of graphic design. Above is a poster by Jules Cheret, who along with Alphonse Mucha was one of the pioneers of the modern poster, a new medium at that time, which succeeded in bringing art out of the museums and onto the streets to the bigger audience of the general public. The dominant artistic style of the period was Art Nouveau which is characterised by the use of sinuous, curving lines, the female figure, and organic animal and plant forms. It was applied to different disciplines such as architecture, sculpture and product design as well as painting and graphic design.

The sinuous, female figure of Fuller then, dancing, swathed in yards of voluminous silk creating organic shapes based on butterflies and flowers, was the perfect embodiment of the Art Nouveau style. The above sculpture of Loie Fuller is by Francois Raoul Larche, and was developed into a lamp base. It looks really beautiful when lit, and again is an attempt to capture the dramatic movement and lighting effects of Fuller's performance.

I really like the starkness of this piece by Secessionist artist Koloman Moser. The dramatic black ground contrasted with gold figure and flame-like entrails rising on either side create a simple, theatrical piece that really appeals to me.

It's interesting to see the development of the three prints above by Toulouse Lautrec. The image at top captures the hybrid nature of Fuller's performance perfectly in which she attempts to transform herself into a human/flower through costume and dance. The length of fabric on the left of the image resembles a calla lily. The other two are variants of the new lithographic printing technique which was being trialled at the time.

Another study by Lautrec capturing the movement of Fuller's costume using sparse line work.

I like the above poster artists attempt to capture the cinematic, harsh lighting effects innovated and employed by Loie Fuller. Using a sharp contrast of light and dark, it is a good depiction of the shadows created by under-lighting through a glass trap-door on the stage, an effect that she pioneered.

This poster shows Fuller's Butterfly Dance costume. Compare it to the 'real' photographic depiction of the actual costume below.

I included the poster image below as I think it captures the colour, movement and innovative theatrical lighting techniques used by Fuller. What an inspiration and gift her performances were to Parisian creatives of that period.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Loie Fuller - The Butterfly Dance

American Loie Fuller (1862-1928), was a solo dancer who had no formal training, but is recognised as being an important element in the development of modern dance. I discovered her work during some research for another project, and was intrigued by these amazing images of her manipulating yards of fabric supported by bamboo to elongate her arms which gave the effect of transforming her into a human/butterfly and human/flower hybrid. I was lucky enough to see some original footage of her performing the butterfly Dance at the Reina Sofia in Madrid. She became famous for the choreography, costumes and lighting effects in her Butterfly and Serpentine dances.

Fuller's style of dance caused a sensation in France and I was also interested to see the responses her dramatic dances inspired in turn of the century artists and designers in Paris such as Toulouse Lautrec, Alphonse Mucha and Koloman Moser, many of which I will feature in my next post.

Fuller was a child actress who worked in pantomime and then moved into burlesque and was influenced by the special effects of the stage, in which magic lanterns and calcium lights were used to project images onto fabric, and also the long lengths of material adapted for use in the skirts of other dancers in burlesque and vaudeville.

These photographs of Fuller go some way to displaying the drama and spectacle of Fuller's costume and choreography. She creates dramatic shapes which are very reminiscent of a butterfly and a flower. She is literally engulfed in a column of fabric in the photographs below. The photographs are by Samuel Joshua Beckett and Frederick Glasier.

Fuller combined a mixture of these special effects and developed others of her own to create something unique to stage performance at that time. Her first major choreographic hit was the Serpentine Dance of 1891 which became popular. She got into dispute with the management of the theatre however, and was released from her contract as result. Another dancer was hired by the theatre to perform Fuller's Serpentine Dance and this led to a legal battle to copyright her work, which ended in failure. Fuller then left the United States for Paris where her dances such as Papillon (1892),and Dance of the Lily, caused a sensation and she found huge acclaim amongst artists and writers as well as the general public.

So popular did Fuller become that she was given her own theatre at the Exposition Universelle in Paris 1900. Here she was able to generously support other female dancers such as Isadora Duncan. Although Duncan is attributed as being the first pioneer of modern dance, we can now see the innovative work and techniques that Fuller created and performed throughout her career show her to be the actual original pioneer.    

Techniques and innovations that Fuller patented and employed in her performances verged on the cinematic and included using a complex set up of mirrors as a back-drop, dancing against a black floor and background which was lit by a wheel of projected coloured lights, dancing over a glass trap-door lit by red light to create the sensation of being engulfed by flame in the finale of her Fire Dance (1895). As well as designing all of her own silk costumes, Fuller experimented with glow-in-the-dark phosphorescent paints and other toxic chemicals which caused her to become ill, and would unfortunately lead to her demise. Fuller and her work continue to be an influence on contemporary dancers such as Jody Sperling and Ann Cooper Albright who draw on Fuller's dances and effects for their own choreography.

An example of Loie Fuller's choreography can be seen by clicking on the screen below. There seems to be much  dispute about the many video clips which make claims to be of Loie Fuller dancing, and of which dance she is actually performing. The woman in this clip resembles Fuller, and at the beginning of the clip the dancer is definitely performing a Butterfly dance, despite it being labelled the Serpentine Dance. If anybody reading knows better however, then please enlighten me.