Star / Steer

June 24, 2019 § Leave a comment

 

In 2015 in Vienna I found a reprinting of the classic poem-print Star / Steer, which Stuart Mills and I had issued from Tarasque Press, Nottingham in 1966. The original was beautifully screenprinted on MG poster paper. It avoided the pitfall of the numbered and editioned fine-art print, and was the epitome of Finlay’s overtly available poster-poem. Suddenly, I was shown a fine print, done on fancy paper in a very limited edition of 30 copies, and selling for some €1200. The positioning of the poem was bizarre to say the least, so high on the format. I was informed that a notebook had been discovered in which Ian Finlay had said he wanted the print to be placed behind a toy boat?

It doesn’t make sense, given the purity of the initial print, with all its integrity.  I must write an essay on MG poster paper, its glazed front surface to take the image that rain can run off, and its back-side, the toothy rough surface that can hold the adhesive to stick to a wall! Pure affiche!

 

 

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Ian Gardner 1944-2019

June 24, 2019 § 1 Comment

Ian Gardner, the eminent watercolourist, has died in his home town of Lancaster at the age of 75. He attended Lancaster School of Art, before post-graduate studies at Nottingham School of Art under David Measures and David Willetts. His work developed through the flatness of America Minimalist painting, which he then applied to printmaking, and screenprinting in particular. Eventually discovered an equivalent reductive flatness of imagery in the watercolours of John Sell Cotman and other essentially English painters in the medium.

The collaborative work he did with Tarasque Press in Nottingham with Simon Cutts and Stuart Mills led him from the visual to the literary and back again, and culminated in the group exhibition ‘Metaphor and Motif’ in 1972 which travelled widely in Britain and Northern Ireland. He worked with the American poet Jonathan Williams, who lived in Dentdale, Cumbria to produce ‘Pairidaeza’, a portfolio of images of topiaries from the nearby Levens Hall in Kendal. These were to become archetypes of his reduction of watercolour to simple forms. : his work was to redeem the medium from the folly of assumed amateurism, and imbue it with new possibility.

He taught in many places, mostly in printmaking at Bradford School of Art, where he spawned a school around him, of flat watercolour and print landscapes, with artists like Karl Torok, and others who became the New Arcadians, with the historical input of Patrick Eyres. He  once hired a bus to take his excited students to the birthplace of Frederic Delius, the composer. The assembled company boarded the bus early one morning. It drove round the corner, where they were told to get off. They had arrived at the Delius Brothers Garage in the middle of Bradford!

At the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois in the mid-West, where he taught from 1987-88, he painted the endless landscape on inch strips of paper one yard long, and mailed them home in 35mm film canisters.

He became a constant collaborator of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Wild Hawthorn Press in Lanarkshire during the early nineteen eighties and produced some of his most developed collaborations on print, book, and card projects with the poet. Perhaps most enduring are the sectional watercolours for A Walled Garden: A History of the Spandau Garden in the Time of the Architect Albert Speer, the emblem book Finlay devised from his correspondence with Speer about his own rubble garden at Spandau, in the late nineteen seventies.

                                                     Ian receiving the certificate for first-prize

                                                    for the Best Regional Mantelpiece Display,

                                                                2018. photo Alistair Peebles

 

Back in Lancaster, his later work took on the celebration of domesticity, his allotment garden and its produce, the kitchen plants where some of the imagery had begun. It was well short of the aspirations and pretensions of contemporaneity. The notion of the immediacy of publishing stayed with him all his life, and even after serious illness, the ‘At a Stroke’ series of cards and printed ephemera continued to the end, running to an accumulation of twenty plus items. He could be found in the Sun Hotel, hanging a few pictures in a side room, and attending to his correspondence and sending out cards at his regular table.

 

Ailsa Craig. 1983

A Slender Horizon of Light

June 21, 2019 § Leave a comment

Bill Culbert’s strategy for working developed from and through the painting of his early years to the late nineteen-fifties. His post-cubist painting then turns towards construction, and becomes almost serial. By the mid-sixties, this constructive axis of the work could almost be confused with some aspects of kineticism and the Groupe Recherche d’Art Visuel in France. His kinetic-field and camera-obscura pieces, the more pure object-of-light pieces were made at this time, and  his Cubic Projections of 1968 has indeed been much imitated.  But the work was always more questioning, and with revelatory humour, than merely perceptual. Perhaps this led to the more ready-made and bricolage works – the suitcases, the  doors, windscreens, headlights and parts of the 2CV, the plastics, the lampshades, the refractions of wine. His assembly of lamps, tables, chairs, domestic objects, picked from the refuse tips of the Luberon valley were put to work in the cluster of rebuilt houses and studios in the village of Croagnes, using and making available light and light available.Through all the work runs the distilled optimism of the modernist, the structured enquiry of his entire project.

 

The intruded light tube, the fluorescent strip in various sizes and combinations is one of the parts of his work. Light tubes have been imposed on large photographic installations, as in Weather 1988. They have been installed from wall to floor and floor to wall and through furniture, even imposed on Alvar Aalto’s small table in Table Lamp II 1982. They were thrust through the windows of a full scale model of the Serpentine Gallery windows in An Explanation of Light 1984. In floor pieces such as Flat Light House from 2008, or Flotsam 1992, or the seemingly randomised Spacific Plastics of 2001, in Pacific Flotsam of 2007, the intruded light tubes irradiate a seemingly dishevelled scattering of dicarded plastic containers to form an enormous glow of coloured light. Culbert always reminds us of the pleasure of finding dicardable materials for re-use. The window frame, the casement of light, has also often figured in the work. It has gone as far as the intimated flat-pack of Flat Light House from 2008. Besides their resource as parts of works, the windscreens and panels from Citroen 2CV cars have been used by Culbert as more domestic shields and tables, as they are used in the localities of rural France as canopies over porches and doors.

 

We are witnessing the last days of the incandescent light bulb, to be replaced by more energy-efficient forms. Bill Culbert celebrates this with an editioned piece in the form of The Last Incandescent Light Bulb, where a clear light bulb is used as the stopper of a glass decanter, a vessel often seen in the Culbert household. Its image was first used as a photographic work  Decanter from 1985.

 

There have always been the photographic works at a parallel to the objects and installations. There is always a duality in the photographic works, an ambiguity that posits the question of what is the actual work: the subject of the photograph or the photograph itself, the issues of choice of black and white and colour. An early compilation of such black and white pieces was called Extant Works and Sources, 1984. Perhaps more importantly, they all have a necessary myopia of focus, a re-iteration of the themes of the work, the lampshade armatures at sunset, the empty abats-jours.

 

The work is also the drawing of built pieces and pieces to be built, often a working inventory, the instructions for making them. The drawings were, at times, also pure form, with the swift and spare open line begun in his earliest work, enhanced by his trusted Parker 51 Fountain Pen, designed by Moholy-Nagy.

 

There is always wine, and the consequence of wine poured into a glass, its reverse perspective, its shadow, the lucidity of it. ‘Small Glass, Pouring Light’, 1983 is the seminal work, now permanently installed in the Chateau d’ Oiron in the Poitou region of western France. Bistro glasses of a particular refractive index, filled with red wine, re-form the light bulbs above them onto the table – a work of mysterious calm, generously and silently inviting the viewer to participate in the refreshment of the work.

 

The work of Bill Culbert is of a different legacy to the reassembly of Duchamp and Schwitters. There is always an affirmation of the balance between art and living, the fuss-less ‘bien-fait’ of Creation Permanente of Robert Fillou, a celebration of quotidian ordinariness. In his oeuvre there is enormous width and range, far more so than that presumed for some acclaimed artists working in France and Britain in a most overblown time. He is one of very few really radical figures who did not settle for manufacture, brand and production – a distinct virtue of his partial neglect.

2009-2019

Leonard McComb RA

June 20, 2019 § Leave a comment

Leonard McComb began as a sculptor and moved to painting, flecking his large watercolours from a sable brush with a trail of colour. There is even one made up of, I believe, 91 A1 sheets of paper, of the cliff outside the house of his mother in North Wales. Of remaining sculptures, there are not many. But the figure of Young Man Standing  has a profound mystery to the work, a compacted energy about to burst. It is there in its the 7/8ths scale and proportion. His presence follows you round the room in which you encounter him .

I remember the evenings in his Brixton house and studio in the late nineteen seventies, when his then wife Barbara, equally mysterious, wafer-thin from not eating properly, often prepared a dinner overwhelmed by coriander, which she did not and could not taste. I think she was really his model, his muse, and there are many portraits of her or females exceedingly like her. Len was always immaculately dressed in a suit and white shirt, sometimes open at the neck, but more likely with a cravat loosely tied, or even a dark overcoat worn indoors, and supple and worn Oxford shoes. It seemed to me that it was the tradition of the Slade School to be so immaculately dressed, and I could only contrast it with the casualness of most of the artists I knew. I guess all that formality showed in the mannerism of their paintings, but in Len’s case it was never quite the eccentricity of a Stanley Spencer and his loaded pram. Len was somehow always more upright.

He had destroyed much of his early work on a fire in the back-garden of his Brixton house. A man of firm and even entrenched prejudice, of the obduracy of a Balthus. It is said that he tried to persuade Peter Blake not to include so-called Conceptual Art in a Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, saying that there were enough artists genuinely responding to Nature for it to be unnecessary for a glass of water to represent an oak tree.

 

 

 

Pangaea

June 25, 2018 § Leave a comment

Yoko Terauchi arrived from Japan the other day, and in her luggage was the sculpture she made last year called Pangaea. It is made of two sheets of paper 24cms square. They are both marked at the edge with a coloured pentel pen. One is placed on the wall, and the other is wet and formed into a sphere about the size of a ping-pong ball by squeezing and tightening it in cling-film, and being left to dry completely.

This descriptive mundanity of the work of course completely detracts from its purity, and it is one of the most purely abstract things I have seen. It is a serial work, in as much as there are several colours in the pentel range that she will use to make the work, perhaps as many as twenty.

Because of its simplicity and scale, it is quite difficult to know where the work belongs. Certainly the ‘gallery’ might be too demonstrative, the display too gestural , which is what I have come to think of such places in recent times. And my fear is that the world is too busy to see things of such accomplished simplicity, too noisy for reductive thinking.

Well done, Yoko: it stays in the mind , and to paraphrase Berthold Brecht and Sol LeWitt, and once you have understood it, you own it!

Wartesaal 1979-86

June 24, 2018 § Leave a comment

I’m rarely in Paris without remembering Reinhard Mucha’s Wartesaal seen at Centre Pompidou in 1986, in what was the big open space just off the corner of Rue du Renard.

There were several very large cumulative works in his retrospective of the time, stacked furniture, ladders, dissemblies of rooms, re-makes. But the one piece that really struck me, an entire room in itself, was The Waiting Room built between 1979 and 1982 in Dusseldorf by Reinhard Mucha, and modified in 1986 for this exhibition. It is made of made of a system of stacks of drawers in a what look like dexion supports, butted and bolted together, intersecting at right angles, and incorporating a cumbersome gothic wardrobe. This in itself gave the whole installation placement, and was the sort of accoutrement you might find in any isolated railway station across the network. At the same time it anchors the piece from being completely self-enclosed, and gives it its veiled narrative.

There are eleven of these wheeled shelving units, each with twenty two drawers. In each drawer is the name of a station in Germany, painted on boards, each of them of six letters, 242 place-names in total, taken from a 1948 freight directory first published in 1943. They are rendered in the modernist type of the German rail system

Because of the need to open the drawers, you are passively invited to examine and move name-plates to a lit table in the middle of the piece, and in the hue of the fluorescent strips running at the top of each unit and the wardrobe.

In its nostalgia, its soulfulness, Wartesaal embodies the whole journey of Europe, even if taken from one particular place, almost as a cross-section of it. It also begins to use the materials of Reinhard Mucha’s construction in a more abstract, less narrative way, and forms the basis of much of his later work in which these place-names continue to be used.

It is as present for me as the Eiffel Tower, even if it has not existed there for thirty years, but whenever I turn that corner from Rue du Renard into Place Beaubourg, I am amongst it.

Stadt aus Glas

December 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

Stadt_aus_Glas

The apex of that summer of 1990 had been the making of Rüdiger Schöttle’s ‘Stadt Aus Glas’, the small houses for which were made by local glass craftsmen. They were covered in ultra-violet powder, the lights were left on, and we quit for the summer. It glowed from across the river Arno.

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