Friday, 30 September 2011

Grey faces in the City of London

A paved sculpture garden, alongside St Mary Axe in the City of London, sits in the shadow of the Lloyds building, the famous inside-out building by Richard Rogers. The garden has trees and planting boxes, and the amazing Sky Mirror by Anish Kapoor, six metres wide and reflecting the buildings around - if you climb something high enough, that is, otherwise as you might expect from the name it reflects mainly just the sky. One side of the garden is enclosed by a long yellow hoarding, concealing the construction site next door, and it seems to be a venue for artworks rather than advertising. Last year it bore a quote from Mahatma Gandhi running the full length of the hoarding: "Be the change you want to see in the world". Recently I spotted these oversize heads photographed in black and white, superimposed on the yellow background.

One lengthy Google search later, I can report that the grey faces are in fact part of a promotion for the insurance company Aviva. Their "You are the Big Picture" campaign put large black and white photographs of supposedly individual customers in noticeable places including night-time projection onto the National Theatre. To quote their website "It shows that we at Aviva want to get to know our customers as individuals". There is a charity link-up with Save the Children but that doesn't mean it's not 100% about self-promotion.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Posing in the park

The Flower Sellers are in a children's play area in London Fields, but on a Saturday afternoon, close to fashionable Broadway Market, they are taken over by adults sipping cappuccino and hanging out. The figures represent London costermongers with baskets of produce and a few sheep (not in the picture), commemorating the trade in Victorian times when livestock from Essex was driven through London Fields on the way to Smithfield, then the main meat market, and Broadway was a regular food market. The stones are an allusion to the pearl button decorations worn by the pearly kings and queens, who came out of the costermongering tradition and elaborated the traditional decorations already popular with the street traders. There is something borrowed, too, from those East Anglian cottages studded with pebbles. Designed and constructed in 1988 by Freeform Arts Trust, the community arts organisation based in the nearby Hothouse, the Flower Sellers are made of concrete and decorated with stones and broken tiles, a little bit like the art nouveau sculptures in Barcelona but with an East End palette of greys and browns.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Artists at Blackhorse Lane

One of the highlights of the recent E17 Art Trail was the open studios at the Barbican Arts Group Trust. I managed to spend an hour out of a busy day there last weekend, and wished I had more time to look at everything properly. There are 28 artists studios and after spending time looking at the first few studios at a leisurely pace, of course I ran out of time and had to skim what may have been equally fascinating things towards the end.
On a buzz from talking art all day, I plucked up courage to ask some of the artists if I could photograph them. Mike Thorn (top) has an enviable light-filled corner studio, in contrast to some of the windowless internal spaces. His portraits of macho men reveal them to be big softies - at least part of the time. Strong stuff, large canvases portraying his subjects larger than life-size. He was happy to pose with his easel and paint table against the current work in progress.
I think the lady above must be Franki Austin but not entirely sure, perhaps because she was the first person I asked and I was unsure of the proper etiquette. She had delicate works on show, somewhere between painting and installation. Really I wanted to capture her as I first saw her, in the centre of a group of visitors, but the camera frightened them off out of shot. I'm hoping a reader will supply the missing information.

Next door, I was impressed by Helen Maurer's plywood paintings, shaped panels with abstract designs superimposed. She has one of the windowless spaces, improved by taking out the false ceiling to let in daylight from the rooflights in the unused loft space above. I copped out of asking to take photographs though.
Near the entrance, Michelle Reader (above) showed papier mâché figures, apparently self-portraits, which I wrote about in my last post. I asked her to pose with her rather photogenic junk pile.

Gisli Bergmann (above) was showing a selection of ceramic objects, each with a tiny framed picture to give a clue as to what they are about. So the object pictured, a tortured grey slab trapped in a nest of wires, is accompanied by a picture of Batman. Some of them are very funny, with just the slightest nod towards representation. The work is displayed on a spacious windowsill, silhouetted surreally against a long vista of Walthamstow back gardens.

Tam Joseph (below) shares the same view but his studio has a different feel, with small framed paintings competing for attention with the centrepiece, a version of Cranach's Adam and Eve. Foliage on one wall half conceals an array of postcard-size paintings based on those prostitute cards you see in telephone boxes. The same temptresses appear in the tree behind Adam and Eve instead of boring old apples.

Finally Julie Caves' colourful abstracts (below) were on show in a windowless internal space but seemed none the less vibrant in the fluorescent light. I just asked to photograph the studio, cleared for the show and paintings stacked and hung against white sheets that conceal the stacked-up studio junk.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

E17 Art Trail

I'm showing drawings and photographs this weekend as part of the E17 Art Trail. Having an exhibition in your front room (and hall and kitchen) keeps you tied to the house all day. I did get to spend an hour at Barbican Arts, where Michelle Reader's amazing sculptures made out of domestic packaging (pictured) are one of many highlights. Mainly though, tied to the show so I can't get out to see all the other exciting stuff going on in Walthamstow.

There is a selection of my drawings and photographs from the American Midwest on Flickr.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Walthamstow... new and old spaces on the E17 Art Trail

Old and new spaces on the E17 Art Trail

The Ruby Stables secret garden is indeed a Walthamstow secret, a rampant garden grown in containers, mixed in with junk, garden furniture and antiques for sale. It isn't new, but showing art there is. As long as the rain holds off, showing oil paintings among the greenery is very effective, the colours sparkling in the sunshine. Slightly naive but accomplished images of summertime parks by Titus Forbes Adam are offset by a psycho portrait by the artist's daughter, Olita-May.

At the Quaker Meeting Room next door, a simple white space flooded with light is bare apart from a single church pew and one chair, and four pairs of headphones. What might be mere tedious pretension is in fact an absorbing experience: relax, appreciate the simplicity and subtle features of the room, and drift off on the suggestions the work evokes. 
At the other end of the High street, it took quite a while to find the Mill because I wrongly assumed it must be the Coppermill on the Walthamstow Reservoirs site, when in fact it's the former library just off Blackhorse Road. Another clean white space, also recently opened. The doors are wide open all day long and the space is immediately welcoming. Paintings and photographs lent by local artists are on display, mainly not for sale - you'd guess many of the artists are not pros and don't want to part with their work. Furniture and fittings are imaginatively built out of scaffolding boards, shuttering ply and recycled plastic, giving the place a pleasing recycled-chic look, so instead of cheap second-hand chairs there are unique solid wood benches. A programme of three minute films was also showing.

Cutting back along Pretoria Avenue, the recent appearance of the Tokarska Gallery in unlikely surroundings at the bottom end of Forest Road (just up from the fish and chips and fried chicken takeaways) comes just in time for the Art Trail. The background to the gallery opening there is apparently complicated, with their website referring to recent art graduate Nadiya Pavliv-Tokarska, and also to an international organisation of the same name. This was the first time I've seen the pristine new white shutters open, which might explain the slightly damp smell inside. Punk Recruit steals the show with his photographs in muted colour of old mannequins crowded into a dingy warehouse. Barely human, he calls them, which is a way of saying how disturbingly human they seem. It will be interesting to see what comes next in this space.

Finally, rather a disappointment at Barbican Arts open show, where a last-minute visit before closing time really seemed like plenty of time to see what there was to see. Some great photographs, but the paintings mainly left us wondering just what the selection/elimination process might have been- but seeing just one work by an artist is seldom the best way to appreciate what they are doing. None the less, the studio opening next weekend is likely to be one of the highlights of the Trail.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Walthamstow - waterways and woodlands

Today is the beginning of Walthamstow's E17 Art Trail. While the trail is on I will be writing about the place and some of the exhibitions.
Walthamstow sits on the edge of the Lea Valley, which is a swathe of green landscape encompassing the complicated watercourse of the River Lea, the Lea Navigation Canal, the reservoirs, filter beds and water treatment plant at Coppermill Lane, and the open fields of the marshes. You could walk around the town centre without seeing any of this, but it's quite evident as a green barrier coming in to Walthamstow by train across the marshes, or by bus on one of the only two road links, Ferry Lane passing the long blank brick wall of the reservoirs, and Lea Bridge Road passing the marshes and equestrian centre. An open landscape with a wide view of the sky, willows and tall poplar trees, swans coming in to land and geese flying in v-formation overhead, rusty gas holders and electricity pylons looming in the distance, boat dwellers in their tatty narrowboats. Then to the north, Epping Forest bleeds in between the suburban fringes, the old gravel pits near Whipps Cross hospital with rowing boats for hire, and woods criss-crossed with muddy paths. All of which makes a difference to how you feel about the place.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Walthamstow - a London village

Walthamstow goes art crazy this week as the E17 Art Trail gets under way tomorrow. The trail is a two-week frenzy of art and photography exhibitions and live events, with the emphasis firmly on the visual arts. So where is Walthamstow and why would you want to go there?
Only 20 minutes from Euston on the Victoria Line - when it's working - none the less most Londoners have never visited the place, or only on the way to the M11 or Stansted Airport. This is one of London's villages, more of a town in reality, separated from Hackney and Tottenham by the string of reservoirs and waterways of the Lea Valley to the west, and coming up against Epping Forest to the east. So the first thing going for the place is that it's surrounded by open semi-wild spaces. Then there's the mile-long street market with its pavement cafes and ethnic restaurants, the Village with its old church and old houses, and a couple of serious museums: the Vestry House in the Village, and William Morris's house on Forest Road. Walthamstow was once full of market gardens and the country estates of rich City merchants, and some of their big houses survive, like Morris's, now used as flats and offices. Then there are the hundreds of streets of two-storey terraced houses, giving the area its characteristic low-rise look. There are some interesting districts built by the Warner Estate, cheaply built but with unusual decorative brick details, and many of them still painted in the trademark green and cream colour scheme.

The Art Trail is the perfect excuse for an excursion out east.

More tomorrow... and see the Art Trail blog for day by day news and reviews.