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
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.
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.
December 10, 2013 § Leave a comment
August 22, 2013 § Leave a comment
It was saddening to hear last month of the end of Walter de Maria. He was visiting his 100 year old mum in California, he being a mere strip of 77. He was the most quizzical of artists,arriving from the world of bands in which he was drummer, the New York of the mid sixties, the neo-fluxus world of happenings.
He has left us with at least four major enigmas, that remain utterly fresh to the imagination every time you consider them. Thanks to the Dia Art Foundation, they are maintained, where they need to be, and at varying degrees of inconvenience, can be visited at any time. The Broken Kilometer still glistens from the ground floor of an industrial building in West Broadway, New York, and the Earth Room is still warm and humid in Wooster Street. The Lightning Field is a little more tricky in the desert of New Mexico, but it can be done as a pilgrimage.
But the piece that fascinates me perhaps the most is the Vertical Earth Kilometer in Kassel, Germany made in 1979. You can go and see it, but all you get is
You are asked to believe that the plate, set in a square of sandstone, descends a whole kilometer into the earth. It is a structure of belief, as is the notion that the fronds of lightening will play in their designated field in New Mexico. Walter de Maria’s work indeed seems to resound with the idea of belief, as the proposition of conceptualism, and he is perhaps its main proponent. We have to believe in the detail of time and geography of a work, say by Richard Long, before we can move to the next step.
August 3, 2013 § Leave a comment
At last someone has managed to put on a Finlay show that might do the work some justice. There has been so much dithering around, so much lack of insight into a full exhibition, that you wonder if it will ever take place. In lieu there are a succession of smaller offerings of mostly printed work from private holdings. I saw one was held in some sort of taxi shed in Pimlico earlier this year : then there’s this, and I see another on the horizon in Portland Oregon, from the collection of Stephen Scobie, I presume. There is nothing amiss with a show based on publication, in fact it is a seminal cause, and Finlay’s work is a triumph of that. But not as an excuse for a more complete airing of all the work in all its facets. Nonetheless, this display at Arnolfini in Bristol which runs until early September, looks magnificent in its arrangement, fresh, light and aerated, the opposite of a mordant attempt at the end of last year in one of the bigger emporiums. I just wish they would give up on other artists’ responses to work being shown! What a bad idea, and how confusing. For instance, what is that little gridded thing in the middle of the floor that I spent ages trying to reconcile with Finlay, thinking it must be a maquette for a photograph for a postcard (maybe one to be called Swastika Compass! ) – then I thought it was the inlay for a table by Graeme Murray that he may have left with Ian Finlay. Eventually I realized it was some other persons work entirely!
But well done Axel Wieder for this show. I should have known, as pro qm in Berlin from whence you come is one of the great bookshops.
May 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
The dust jacket of the 1946 resetting of Eric Gill’s essay was printed on the inside of another discarded jacket from the Works of William J. Locke Autograph Edition Volume XXXIII, also from The Bodley Head. Times of utility and re-use. It is remarkable that on the sleeve note Gill says ‘This book is written for people in general and not specifically for those people called artists…It is about art in general and the things every man needs… My appeal is to common sense.’ Is that what ‘ The Most Precious Ornament’ of another volume of Gill’s writing is about too!