Visit Boston and New York! (Also getting back to the wedding dress)

I’m finding life a bit hard to get back into after the trip I took last month. I’m struggling to pick up where I left off in all of my projects, including this blog. So I’m gonna make this post a quick-fire round: two weeks in 50 words or less… ish.

 

Boston. Shiny financial district. More matte university.

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Lack of bars.

IMG_6248Good aquarium!

Rockport. Foggy.IMG_6257

Then less foggy.

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Generally adorable.

Provincetown. Gay.

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No lack of bars!

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Providence / New Haven: Graduates. EVERYWHERE.

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Hudson Valley: unexpectedly pretty.

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New York: famously not shit!

Wore new holiday dress.

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Saw Manus x Machina.

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Also saw plenty of my favourite face :)

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BOOM! Whole vacation, in chronological order.

And I’m back in the game.

 

(I’ve even got the ball rolling again on Paula’s wedding dress, but more on that when I’ve made more progress. To read about the previous stages click here, here and here.

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Second fitting is in a week and half, time to get shit done.)

 

Tate Britain

Last weekend I went to see the Conceptual Art exhibition at Tate Britain. I don’t recommend you hot-foot it down there just for that, unless you really like oranges or plain black canvases, but the rest of the gallery is definitely worth a mooch on a Sunday.

 

The exhibition focuses on the period between the election of Harold Wilson’s Labour government in 1964 and Thatcher’s Conservatives in 79. I should have known from this brief description that I was in over my head, but even if I learnt nothing about art here at least I learnt a tiny bit about the timeline of recent British history!

The intellectual and wordy focus continues throughout. Conceptual art is clearly supposed to be less visual and more cerebral (clue’s in the title there) but some of these works really take the idea too far off the spectrum for me. There’s a lot of plain-ness, a lot of labelling things in a contradictory way, and not a lot of colour.

In the colour stakes the oranges are at least a little light relief! The pile which started out as a perfect pyramid, like a giant display of the ambassador’s Ferrero Rocher, is now depleted. Visitors are invited to take one from the pile and through this interaction the structure and form of the artwork is modified. On the one hand a randomly undulating landscape of oranges is a very nice thing, but on the other it’s a thing one can see at any grocers in any town anywhere.

So has seeing the concept of fruit acquisition in a gallery context changed my world view at all? Not really.

And therefore do I, personally, consider it art? I’m not sure.

…And I’m even less sure if it matters anyway.

 

However, it is well curated and definitely an education in the least visual of visual arts. To be honest I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it! But I was in and out in fifteen minutes and I didn’t even look in the shop.

The rest of the gallery is a joy though Massively varied in its’ content, an hour or two there feels like a visit to the National Gallery, Tate Modern and a sculpture garden all rolled into one.

These guys take the cake for me:

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A herd of hopping, Clanger-whooping, porcelain toilet roll middles; I find them totally mesmerising. The gallery blurb about this piece, Nicholas Pope’s Liar Liar, talks about their being reminiscent of a schoolyard – like a playground group of parka-ed Kennys. They do feel alive and mobile, just freeze-framed, and it’s hard not to hope the pause button will be released and they’ll reveal a bit more of themselves.

If I had more money than sense I’d commission a set of these.

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It’s also worth visiting at the moment to see two artist dedicated rooms: Hockey’s double portraits and a BP Spotlight on Anwar Shemza.

David Hockney’s is a collection of three paintings; his famous Mr and Mrs Clarke and Percy, alongside a portrait of his parents and an unfinished painting of Wayne Sleep and George Lawson. I’m not a great admirer of Hockney’s painting style, but I do love his colours and this wide space for three large canvases is very pleasing. Seeing these works collected together is like a study in how to read a portrait. The presence of the other five brings each sitter into a new light and the distinct characters are more distinguishable as a result of the contrast. If I was teaching art to school kids of any age I’d be dragging them over here for a field trip, you could base a whole term’s work on this stuff.

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Anwar Shemza was previously a writer and a figurative painter in Pakistan before moving into the more abstract and graphic work which is shown here. This a fairly large space with a wealth of canvases on display, tying together ideas about calligraphy, geometry and abstraction of natural forms. There are sketchbooks and developmental works which back up the geometric thought process and for me these paintings are about planning out an idea and describing a breakdown of form as well as the generation of simple, good graphic design.

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Giacometti: Pure Presence, at the NPG

This exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery (London) closes on Sunday and if anyone out there has a £20 note burning a hole in their pocket then by all means get down there. Be sure to let me know what you think.

I have to admit I was a bit disappointed. I wonder in hindsight if the point being made here was just a bit too subtle for me. Not to mention that there was no nudity to speak of, that probably would’ve got me on board a little bit more.

I don’t know what kind of paintings I went there to see. (Granted, it’s a portrait exhibition, so there’s a clue; but it’s still a very broad umbrella.) Some portraits that felt sexy perhaps? Some that felt ominous? Some that had mysterious characters, experimental techniques, or redefined the identity of the sitter and the artist… But what I saw was dozens of portraits treated in exactly the same way, with very little variety in composition or tone; all featuring a full frontal view of a despondent face, atop an under-rendered body, in the lower portions of a rectangular frame. Each sitter – mother, brother, wife, prostitute, self – presented identically. As a viewer I felt addicted to the printed wall information and could read nothing of the situation depicted from the paintings themselves. In fact it made me wonder, if a painting of one’s lover and one’s parent look exactly the same where was the point in painting either one?

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I’ve read some reviews*, mainly out of concern that I’m a Luddite who should stick to comic books and fashion illustrations rather than brandishing her under-educated opinions on grown-up stuff around the internet. Indeed, a lot of reviews have five stars next to the title, so I can only assume my concerns were well founded there. Reading the thoughts and interpretations of these (middle-aged, middle-class, white, male) critics has given me a greater appreciation of the subtleties and the purpose of this show, I’ll admit to that. Yes, the discreet changes in observation, mood and skill are interesting, and do demonstrate that you are never done looking at a person but can always find another nuance or a better grasp on their self. However, the same seated, full face pose, in the same media and even the same colour palette, with interminable repetition is boring.

Presumably being a sculptor at heart, the most interesting marks and textures in Giacometti’s paintings are where he’s slashing into the surface to define planes and direction. To me these aren’t portraits so much as working sketches for the development of sculpted heads. If you’re a fan of his sculpture and want to see the working mind behind the finished article, then this exhibition is worth seeing. But be warned that this one isn’t for the faint of attention span.

Maybe I just struggled with it because the repetition goes against my personal nature as a maker; I bounce around from one craft to another, trying out a thousand things, never pursuing one relentlessly until I’ve wrung it out of inspiration. Indeed there’s probably nothing wrong with that, it probably makes me a more interesting person with more strings to my bow, but I’d probably never be an artist because I lack that fundamental obsession and addiction. Unlike Giacometti, whose brother sat for him uncountable time, even if I had a bother I’d probably paint his portrait once and then skip off to weave a basket or do some raku firing.

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*further reading:

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/oct/13/giacometti-pure-presence-review-national-portrait-gallery

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/art/what-to-see/giacometti-national-portrait-gallery-review/

DISCALIMER: I filched these image off the internet. I’m genuinely very sorry, but it does feel like a victimless crime. If you own any of them and would like to have a go at me please do – milkbottleknits@gmail.com