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London Original Print Fair 37th Edition

After 35 years, the capital’s longest-running print fair has moved from its first home at the Royal Academy of Arts to the magnificent Georgian quadrangle that is Somerset House.

This equally historic building is a fitting venue to view and buy top quality original prints, some dating back five centuries.

London-based painter-printmaker Denise Ballard-Wyllie presents a powerful and atmospheric selection of original screenprints – available alongside prints by masters such as Rembrandt, Matisse and Picasso. She’s in similarly good company with contemporaries of the calibre of David Hockney and Grayson Perry.

Artist Denise Ballard-Wyllie (left) and RE Vice President Melanie Griffiths

You can find her work at the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers’ (RE) Stand W16. The RE has been going since 1880 and Denise informs us: “the society embraces all new technologies and as Dr David Ferry, the RE president, said recently, there is no hierarchy; all processes and styles are valuable.” 

Denise’s past creative sojourns to Japan to paint cherry blossom informs the expressive floral prints in Cuthbert: Sakura Storm. The subject is a fashion designer with the same name and the titular piece is the latest in a series of thematically layered versions.

The ‘Sakura Storm’ blossoms across the Nepalese handmade pink paper with a flower shower that decorates the subject. Sakura is another word for cherry blossom. The work speaks of the abundance and energy of spring-summer and offers expressive reflections on her own sojourns.

Cuthbert: Sakura Storm.

Denise says: “There’s a translucent grey and strong black line which helps him seep through the paper and feel present. When I make portraits of people I want the viewer to engage with the type of atmosphere they feel when they make eye contact or notice people. It can be quite subtle. Not mid-conversation or consciously engaging but noticing another person either in repose or having private thoughts.”

And sakura is the inspiration again in The Cherry Blossom From The Effervescences of Summer. This is a more vivid, fiery and lively depiction of seasonal sunshine and growth: summery reds and yellows dominate. Her visceral use of this palette captures seasonal tensions as well as summer’s abundant offerings.

She says: “The work shows a layered example of trees. The colours underneath, the blues and yellow seep through and create an atmosphere around the vibrant, living, structure of the tree. The colours give a feeling of heat, and the marks liveliness.”

The Cherry Blossom From The Effervescences of Summer.

Both these works are screenprints. At the print fair, you’ll discover a wide range of styles employed by artists using diverse mediums and materials. Printmaking techniques include relief prints, intaglio prints and planographic prints. And within those groupings: screenprints, linocuts, woodcuts, metal engraving, mezzotints and etching, to name a few.

To find out more, visit Stand W16 in Somerset House’s West Wing. Hopefully, you’ll catch Denise there and she can fill you in on processes and materials. Prospective buyers and art lovers alike can get up close to the work and study her expressive use of colour and even discuss signatures in her style.

While you’re there, look out for her Crown of Thorns Stone Lithograph, £198 unframed (edition of 15) and Sakura Kyoto screenprint £198 unframed (edition of 40).

Also, her work will be shown at the RE’s own RE Original Prints 2022, May 13 – June 10. Two of her screenprints are on show – Blue Rambling Rose – gold evening (£320 framed, £198 unframed) and Arbour-Pathway to Mr Austin (£320 framed, £198 unframed). Catch her at their ‘Meet The Artists’ event Sunday, June 5th, 1-3 pm.

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WHAT? – The London Original Print Fair

WHERE? – Somerset House, The Strand, WC2R 1LA.

WHEN? – Until May 29

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WHAT? – RE Original Prints 2022

WHERE? – Bankside Gallery, 48 Hopton Street, London SE1 9JH.

WHEN? – May 13 – June 10

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WHAT? – ‘Meet The Artists’ – RE Original Prints 2022

WHERE? – Bankside Gallery, 48 Hopton Street, London SE1 9JH.

WHEN? – Sunday, June 5th, 1-3 pm.

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Radio Ballads

Sonia Boyce, Helen Cammock, Rory Pilgrim, Ilona Sagar

A 1950s and 60s BBC radio programme with the same name is the inspiration, but the updated version of Radio Ballads is an exhibition at Serpentine North, Kensington Gardens and Barking Town Hall, East London that explores the sounds of care.

Four artists present film work, sound installations, paintings and drawings that suffuse artistic processes into the structures of social care.

The poems, collective songs, and recorded voices present a new way of thinking and feeling about systemic approaches to care and community support and laid bare by testimonies and reflections.

The London Borough of Barkingham and Dagenham has London’s highest level of asbestos-related cancers because of the factory and dock industries it’s traditionally tied to. This we learn, even before viewing The Body Blow a two-channel video work by Ilona Sugar. I’m from the East End and keenly aware of its blue-collar heritage. So the personal accounts of these cancer sufferers stayed with me.

They were not at all harrowing or self-pitying but certainly excoriating. There’s a stark realisation that we can all suddenly find ourselves trapped in an uncompromising system. Some of them admitted they weren’t up to the task of tackling the bureaucracy that comes with their suffering and were indebted to the tireless work of their social workers and end-of-life carers. Visual art married with documentary. Come prepared to listen.

The Body Blow – artist Ilona Sagar

Sonia Boyce’s video work Yes, I Hear You also seeks to channel art practices into transformative vessels whose focus is civic and community concerns. Carers are key figures and relationship issues are explored. The four-channel work deals with domestic abuse and was produced after a series of workshops and interviews.

The testimonies are overheard – as one might listen in on a telephone call to a police officer dealing with a difficult and violent partner. It shines a light on support systems in the community. Again, you’re invited to listen deeply. Don’t be in a rush to move on to the next piece. And don’t overthink.

Yes, I Hear You – artist Sonia Boyce

WHAT? – Radio Ballads

WHERE? – Serpentine North, Kensington Gardens, London W2 3XA.

WHEN? – Until May 29

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Body, Vessel, Clay

Black women, ceramics, and contemporary art

From traditional Nigerian clay pottery to contemporary ceramic sculpture, this exhibition navigates the line between usable domestic objects and fine arts.

(above) Eddie Saint-Jean Art reviewer

In the front gallery, the focus is on the homemade earthenware of the Gwari tribe, one of the largest indigenous groups in North-Central Nigeria, and the contemporary ceramicists inspired by their pottery. The work invites commentary on gender and race, with Gwari pottery traditionally taught in female-led circles, and craft skills usually handed down from mother to daughter.

These domestic objects project a distinct visual element beyond mere functionality. And it’s fascinating to discover that the wondrously intricate carvings on these large vessels are made with knives and the colouring comes from locust tree pods.

We owe much of the popularity of this pottery to the seminal works of Ladi Kwali (1925-1984) also of the Gwari tribe. Like many of the prominent ceramicists with work on display, she was taught at the influential Pottery Training Centre in Aduja. She taught there herself in the 1950s, so many notable African potters developed their skills under her and any renascent interest owes much to her influence.

Amongst them, ceramicist Magdalene Odundo, who embraced both the Gwari style and European influences. Her works are unglazed and this rejection of overstated decorative elements draws her work closer to traditional sensibilities and practices.

REVIEWER’S VIEW:

The functionality of these pots, vases, vessels and other handmade earthenware items is never lost despite the reforged aesthetic. These works are grounded in the craft skills and life experiences of the ceramicists’ ancestors and they seek to accentuate this link rather than suffuse into hybrid styles.

REVIEWER’S TIP:

All amazing work but look out for the traditional Gwari dowry jars from 1900. It’s an essential starting point for all exhibition visitors. You can see where the contemporary artists – and even Ladi Kwali – get their inspiration.

WHAT? – Body, Vessel, Clay

WHERE? – Two Temple Place, London WC2R 38 (Nearest Tube: Temple)

WHEN? – Until 24 April 2022

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Untangling The Perils That Tangle Us

This group exhibition at the Koppel Hive Project, Holborn Viaduct, is presented by Kanibi Projects, an art advisory and curatorial organisation with a focus on artists from Africa and the diaspora.

The 12 artists, working in painting, photography, video and sculpture, use diverse visual language to express themes around race and the complexities of blackness.

The exhibition’s title comes from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me, where he writes: “I recall that even then I had not yet begun to imagine the perils that tangle us.” He speaks about the subjugation of the black body.

The artists: Julius Agbaje, Adesina Adegboyega, Odinakachi Okoroafor, Anne Adams, Chiderah Bosah, Austin Uzor, Chukwudubem Ukaigwe, Iyunade Judah, Hannah Uzor, Tobi Alexandra Falade, Paul Majek, Kehinde Awofeso

Curator Jumoke Sanwo, founder of the Revolving Art Incubator

The exhibition opened with an art panel – UNTANGLING BLACKNESS – which discussed the themes and issues highlighted in the work.
REVIEWER’S VIEW:

From the subtext of the floating, dance-like gestures in Chukwudubem Ukaigwe’s IGBA video projection, to the religious iconography of Julius Agbaje’s stained glass-inspired Familiar Crossroads, there’s a distinct and layered voice in every piece yet a thematic chorus beyond the disparate forms.

The ‘untangling’ speaks of understanding race through visual dialogue. The burst of colour in the upper gallery is a subterfuge to draw you into this discussion. But on closer inspection, the thematically layered tones and applications represent much more than the decorative or visually pleasing. And the Koppel Project Hive is the ideal space. One feels the hallowed white wall experience associated with contemporary galleries, less stuffy in this two-floor gallery on Holborn Viaduct.

REVIEWER’S PICK:

Julius Agbaje’s powerful Familiar Crossroads (2021) acrylic on canvas shows two headless figures in a finger touching pose that brings to mind Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. One carries a cross, the other an axe. His other work outside of this exhibition also repeat this headless feature. Stained glass media is another running theme in his work.

WHAT? – Untangling The Perils That Tangle Us group exhibition

WHERE? – Koppel Project Hive, 26-30 Holborn Viaduct, London EC1A 2AT (Nearest Tube: Chancery Lane)

WHEN? – 15th November – 17th December 2021, Mon to Fri 10am – 6pm

WHY? – Discover rising African art stars like Julius Agbaje, Adegboyega Adesina, Odinakachi Kingsley Okoroafor

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Care | Contagion | Community — Self & Other

Arts and culture writer Eddie Saint-Jean (below) arrives for the opening of the Care, Contagion, Community, Self & Other exhibition at Autograph ABP, Shoreditch to find the very first work he sees mirrors the everyday reality of Covid Britain – but on closer examination, it’s a more personal discourse on life during the pandemic.

Eddie Saint-Jean Arts & Culture

10 artists were commissioned for this pandemic-themed exhibition and Dexter McLean’s series of photographic portraits of those who contributed in some way to his care during the pandemic was selected to lead visitors into the front gallery. There’s a telling ‘familiar’ in their stark power and those masked features leaving just the eyes as windows to the soul speak to us in a way that is immediately felt but less easily read.

Dexter McLeanKamahl 2020. From the Commission Untitled

Responding to the themes of community and care within the context of the pandemic, the artists worked with the curators for a year to produce paintings, mixed media work, photography and video which expressed their reflections and experiences – using diverse and sometimes contrasting visual language. The focus here was how the pandemic has impacted the sense of self and connection to others so opened up a discussion on isolation, touch, transmission, interdependency and social contact.

From Silvia Rosi’s restless and ironically playful black and white video and photography in Neither Could Exist Alone to Pouloumi Desai’s mixed-media petri dish-themed imagery in Our Cultures Are The Portals, we find ourselves navigating the past year and a half through their eyes and asking in a shared voice: “what happened, what was 2020 all about?” and “where are we now?’ Three simple questions. The artists aren’t there to provide answers but to be part of that debate and stimulate discussion.

Silvia Rosi, – Neither Could Exist Alone, 2020
Poulomi DesaiOur cultures are the portals – the gateways between one world and the next, 2020

Also, you might be interested to know the gallery was designed by Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Frank Adjaye OBE RA. While visiting the exhibition you may want to check out the cool, chessboard-style exterior!

Below, the full list of commissioned artists.

Free Exhibition
Curated by Renée Mussai, Mark Sealy and Bindi Vora

23 Sep 2021 – 12 Feb 2022

Autograph
Rivington Place
London EC2A 3BA

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Writer Eddie Saint-Jean is an arts and culture writer who reviews the London art scene and is a familiar face at many exhibitions and private views in the capital. He is also an artist working in moving image and photography. His former studies in Visual Theories in Art and Film permeate his career as a journalist, artist and filmmaker.

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3 Indian Artists To Watch Out For In The Post-Pandemic Resurgence of the Art Sector

A selection of visual artists showing promise and potential despite the pandemic impacting global arts and beyond.

Eddie Saint-Jean – Arts & Culture

The pandemic sent shockwaves throughout the art world, disrupting market behaviour and shaking up the creative routines of both established names and new talent. Although innovative digital offerings such as NFTs increased in popularity and value, the wider cultural and creative landscape dipped significantly and research shows the sector will be the last to recover. Regardless, three emerging artists look set to ride the waves of market volatility and make their mark in the ever-fluctuating world of international art.

The first of these, printmaker Suman Gujral is an abstract artist whose focus is the 1947 Partition of India. For her MA in Fine Art at the University of Hertfordshire she conducted research into the history of printmaking in India and learned more about the Partition. She describes print as the medium of protest. Her etchings and monoprints are utilised to create spectral maps which show the fractural markings of the displaced and lines of divisions. She works on zinc etching plates and sometimes exhibits the plates themselves.

Light and dark are recurrent themes in her work. She tries to show that events of the past cast shadows that affect us today – and light does the same thing. Despite the intricate detail, fluid geometric language and circular themes, she approaches her work without a strict plan – certainly in her triptych Tears/Tiers created on khadi, a hand-woven natural fibre cloth. She says ‘I let the material guide me’. The work speaks of coping with lockdown and the sadness of social separation.

Her work varies in size from the large scale to the handkerchief-sized All My Sorrows, which is a monotype created on her father’s handkerchief and shares his Partition experiences. She uses barbed wire to show the borders drawn up by the colonial powers which caused division and displacement. The choice of palette is meaningful in historical and geopolitical ways – the blue black ink is the colour of the shadow cast by the Partition and the dark, late hours used as cover by the displaced as they fled. Her work on the Partition led to her current work examining the Migrant Crisis which has similar themes around displacement.

Anirban Mitra’s brightly coloured work is in stark contrast to Suman Gujral’s more introspective monochrome prints. This Kolkata-based painter’s unique visual language presents characters from popular culture crammed together on canvas but claiming their own sacred spaces sometimes within halo-like compartments. Everything from cartoons to religious imagery is used in this way.

His palette has a luminous, neon-like quality which adds to the hallowed effect of the narrative. This is evident in works such as Exhibition of Kalighat painting in Victoria Memorial Hall (2013) Acrylic on Canvas. Calcutta was a main geopolitical centre during the colonial period and there are many references to colonial dignitaries and their statues. The bright colours inject the piece with irony and parody.

India (2009)

Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India is amongst the figures depicted in this way, and you can see how the cartoon-like caricature deliberately inverts his grandeur and authority. Themes around British colonialism are quite common in his work and the gains of modernisation during the period are weighed against the ills of colonisation.

To define his work within current art brackets would be difficult; however, some works such as India (2009) and The Act of Redrawing Mr. Muscle are dotted with pop art references. Popular culture is ubiquitously underscored – you’ll find comic book style imagery and Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse in Grow More Food, 2010 planted in disparate corners to emphasise the playfulness and irreverence.

Born in Narag, India, Parag Sonarghare’s paintings are sometimes almost indistinguishable from photographs because of the detail. He developed his precocious talent during his school days when he tried to copy the works of the Great Masters using a pencil. By the time he moved to Baroda, his style incorporated both popular culture and traditional figures. In this new environment he soaked up this exciting and challenging new aesthetic and the wider range of cultural and popular influences. Painting and Performance Art became his preferred medium but the work he does today is a form of Hyperrealism often featuring male nudes – and he models himself.

He is at pains to point out he is not out to merely make realistic copies of the physical form and his art often contains expressionist statements that belie the accusations that his work is indistinguishable from that of a photographer. Since his first sale at the Jahangir Art Gallery in 2008, his focus has been the evolution of this visual language. He has examined issues such as identity and again reimagined context and time wherever it is layered thematically. There’s a post-modern twist in works such as 5 For Substitute, (acrylic on canvas) where he takes mythological themes and reworks them with a contemporary tilt.

This playfulness never undermines his intricate craft. It’s the focus of a draughtsman but the excoriation processes of an artist. Notably, he produced a large-scale painting of hands and his mind-bogglingly accurate brushwork maps every fingerprint with a level of detail that makes it easy to understand why it took half a year to complete. The 6ft tall work shows the signs of manual labour in the torn and calloused skin. Indeed, you can read the life struggles of the subject in the open-handed gesture in a few glances. Usually, artists use their subjects’ eyes to convey tropes of emotion and character but Sonnarghare has redirected our focus.

Writer Eddie Saint-Jean is an arts and culture writer who reviews the London art scene and is familiar face at many exhibitions and private views in the capital. He is also an artist working in moving image and photography. His former studies in Visual Theories in Art and Film permeate his career as a journalist, artist and filmmaker.

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Jennifer Akinsuyi – From Gallerist To Visual Artist

Eddie Saint-Jean, Arts & Culture

British-Nigerian gallerist Jennifer Akinsuyi ran her JonaQuestArts Gallery from a much sought after location in Greenwich, London in the heart of its tourist centre, with eager footfall only a maritime museum away. However, she decided to close operations a few months before Covid hit these shores and the pandemic accelerated her move from gallerist to visual artist in her own right.

Jennifer’s art being admired at the Battersea Affordable Art Fair 2021

She says she committed to painting in 2018 after dabbling for a few years. She was not a trained artist but decided to try out her talents by exhibiting her work in a gallery without letting people know her background and to her surprise her work started selling quickly.

She specialises in abstract art with an African element. One piece in her Rise series is notable for its reflective and philosophical blue palette and comments on the trials and tribulations in a life’s journey and how we must learn to take the rough with the smooth.

Also, her mixed media abstract work speaks of Nigerian culture and the lace fabric worn at parties. These pieces from her Owambe series are decorated with diamond dust and swarovski crystals.

‘Owambe’ – J Suyi studio
Jennifer’s abstract art alongside the work of the artists she promotes and represents

She still promotes other artists and the Jona Quest Arts brand lives on through pop ups and art events. Her gallery championed and empowered female artists and those from minority groups and she is still passionately committed to this. A selection of her artists’ work was on show at her stand at the Battersea Affordable Arts Fair, July 2021 alongside her own paintings and sculptures.

Amongst the artists she was showcasing – Ronald and Euwitt Nyanhongo from a multigenerational family of Zimbabwean sculptors who specialise in Shona sculpture. Birmingham, UK-based Ronald uses opal, springtone and green nyanga serpentine for his creations while Euwitt works in opal, sprintone Nyanga serpentine, leopard rock and lapidolite to depict the natural world and the spirits and mythological beliefs of Zimbabwe’s Shona tribe. Both artists have made a name in their own right but come from a renowned family of Shona sculptors .

Jennifer regards her own work as an expression of her dual British and Nigerian heritage. Much of her creation is found in an examination of existence, humanity and society and coloured by travels to and interaction with her African heritage, combined with the cultural stories of her London base.

Writer Eddie Saint-Jean is an arts and culture writer who reviews the London art scene and is familiar face at many exhibitions and private views in the capital. He is also an artist working in moving image and photography. His former studies in Visual Theories in Art and Film permeate his career as a journalist, artist and filmmaker.

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West End Gallerist Tony Cole

Eddie Saint-Jean, Arts & Culture

Tony Cole left a secure, well paid job in public sector management to switch to his first love art and take his first steps into business. Coles Art Gallery is in an ideal location between Leicester Square and Tottenham Court Road stations, with a constant flow of customers drawn to West End visitor attractions. We ask him about his journey into the world of art and his West End celebrity clientele.

What inspired you take the leap of faith and open Cole’s Art Gallery?

I began as an art collector. My best friend’s wife was Cuban and we went to her homeland several times on holiday and fell in love with the art there and that was where the art collection began. This inspired my passion for art on a larger scale and as time went on I began to think differently about art and its concepts. I considered having a gallery that was different from anywhere else, one where you could come in and find pieces that you could relate to culturally and connect with.

What was your profession before you were a gallerist?

I worked in offender management in policy and for the courts, but ultimately my love of art already had its lane that ran alongside my full time profession. Lots of people have that past-time they pursue alongside their 9-5. As the years go by, you don’t want to be laid to rest knowing you have never pursued passions or explored who you really are.

The funny thing about doing what you really love is you open up this new world within yourself that you wasn’t really aware of. You find out how resilient you are and how impassioned you can become. More importantly, you find out how to connect with people within this new world. The positive feedback I’ve had in a short space of time is more than in all my previous jobs put together. If I had known that beforehand I would have chosen this path earlier.

This is a pretty impressive and much sought after location. How long have you been based here?

Since December 2020, so about 7 months. During lockdown we had to close for certain periods so went through a series of reopenings like everyone else.

What’s the custom like at this spot?

It’s very interesting in this part of the West End. You get to meet all sorts of people – tourists, actors, theatre professionals, people out for a night out or on the way to a restaurant, even locals walking their dogs – so a good mix. Also aspiring artists pop in and chat to me about my background and journey and are inspired by it and in some cases I end up working with them and there are pieces in this gallery that have come from that.

Have you had any interesting or famous customers?

Actors, athletes, musicians and also other professionals who have made purchases because they discover work here they don’t find elsewhere. Out of respect for these customers I wouldn’t like to mention their names but I do appreciate their custom.

Where do you find your artists? Do you work with or represent a group of artists?

What I do with my gallery is similar to what Berry Gordy did with Motown. I have 4-5 artists I work closely with. In terms of concepts and art pieces, we always have that prior conversation about concept so it’s not a case of them handing in any piece of artwork and hoping it works. It has to fit the gallery.

We are diverse in that it doesn’t matter what the background of the individual is. As long as the person is talented and able to deliver on what this gallery requires, we are able to work with them. Ultimately, that level of professionalism, mutual respect, reliability and consistency is important. This is about art and nothing else, this isn’t a platform to make any other statement, it is strictly about creativity.

What are your future plans?

We aim to launch as many talented artists as we can. We want people to know us for our brand and be recognised as that gallery where you can get rare pieces for a reasonable price. People get put off buying original art because of how expensive it is but we can agree a reasonable price. We strive to make the impossible possible and deliver a quality service.

Tony Cole, Cole’s Art Gallery

Writer Eddie Saint-Jean is an arts and culture writer who reviews the London art scene and is familiar face at many exhibitions and private views in the capital. He is also an artist working in moving image and photography. His former studies in Visual Theories in Art and Film permeate his career as a journalist, artist and filmmaker.

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Fourth Plinth Shortlist

Arts and culture writer Eddie Saint-Jean visits the National Gallery to check out the current sculpture on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square and the work of the six shortlisted artists.

Eddie Saint-Jean, Arts & Culture

From afar, the current sculpture The End, by artist Heather Phillipson, looks like a giant ice cream cone but wander a little closer and you’ll see it’s quite obviously whipped cream with a fly, cherry and drone on top. Well, that clears that one up!

By July 2021, the vote will be over and this sculpture will be replaced by a new commission.

There are six shortlisted art works and two will be selected as the Fourth Plinth commissions for 2022 and 2024.

You’ll find the exhibition in the National Gallery’s Annenberg Court space on Level 0. Free admission

The six artists are from the UK, Ghana, Mexico, America and Germany –  Ibrahim Mahama, Paloma Varga Weisz, Samson Kambalu, Goshka Macuga, Nicole Eisenman, Teresa Margolles

On Hunger and Farming in the Skies of the Past 1957-1966 Ibrahim Mahama

A recreation of a half-constructed grain silo in Tamale, northern Ghana abandoned in the 1960s during construction and now overrun by nature. Ibrahim Mahama’s work is a continuation of his narratives around found objects and their historical and cultural context.

Bumpman for Trafalgar Square Paloma Varga Weisz

The German-born sculptor and draughtswoman draws inspiration from her country’s folklore and 16th-century pamphlet illustrations. The Bumpman is a lowly, humble figure whose body disfigurement draws attention to current-day body dysmorphia.

Antelope Samson Kambalu

Kambalu’s bronze sculpture celebrates two important figures in Pan-Africanism, Malawian Baptist preacher John Chilembwe and European missionary John Chorley. The distinctive hats reference Chilembwe’s refusal to obey a rule which forbade blacks from wearing hats in the presence of whites.

Go No Go Goshka Macuga

This rocket launch, in sculptural visual language, represents the take-off of a new post-Covid era. The symbolic start and end of a transformative period in history.

From the powerful cultural and historical references of Samson Kambula’s Antelope, to the rocket-charged visual language of Goshka Macuga’s GO NO GO.

The Jewellery Tree Nicole Eisenman

Size aside, this is no ordinary jewellery tree. The trinkets adorning its arms appear worthless, ephemeral and out of place but it’s up to the viewer to ponder the unseen value and hidden memories.

850 Improntas (850 Imprints) Teresa Margolles

The Mexican sculptor will create 850 face casts of members of the trans community. The total casts will be constructed to resemble a tzompantil skull rack from ancient meso-American civilisations used to display sacrifice victims or body parts from prisoners of war.

Below are some of my previous National Gallery art reviews

Michelangelo and Sebastiano

Beyond Caravaggio

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Basquiat’s Versus Medici: The Black Renaissance

Eddie Saint-Jean Arts & Culture

Why did Jean-Michel Basquiat give his painting that title Versus Medici and how is it connected to the current Black Renaissance? Well, here’s some background.

The Medici Family: A wealthy family of fifteenth-century Florentine merchants who were patrons of artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo and powered the Italian Renaissance.

Jean-Michel Basquiat: A black American Post-Expressionist and graffiti artist of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent who was pals with Andy Warhol and Madonna and sold his first painting to Debbie Harry of rock band Blondie. His neo-expressive works created in the 1980s became much sought after art market treasures and his Versus Medici (1982) is expected to fetch $35 million -$50 million at auction in Sothebys, New York on May 12.

Jean-Michel Basquiat ‘Versus Medici’ (1982) SOTHEBY’S

In creating this work, Basquiat had no intention of emulating or depicting the Medici’s ascent from bankers to politicians, aristocrats and royals but in the early 1980s this Florentine family were clearly on his mind. During this period, he travelled to Italy for the first time seeking out patrons for his own work. His meeting with gallerist Emilio Mazzoli in 1981 led to his first ever solo exhibition at his Galleria d’Arte Emilio Mazzoli in Modena.

The show was named SAMO, which was his graffiti tag at the time. Interestingly, he later sought to distance himself from his graffiti roots once he made the transition from the streets to the studio, believing it devalued his cultural importance. His New York, New York, first displayed at the Modena exhibition would sell for $11m in a Sothebys sale in 2018.

Jean-Michel Basquiat ‘New York, New York’ (1982) SOTHEBY’S

The Brooklyn-born prodigy could read and write by the time he was four and spoke several languages fluently. In early adulthood, there was little sign of him curtailing this undoubted genius and by age 21 he was as sure of his place in art history as any of the Medici artists – even Michelangelo and Da Vinci. The Versus Medici work created at the time shows just that.

And is he crowning himself in that painting? Perhaps it marks the passing of the canon from the Florentines to the New Yorker. Or does it foresee Basquiat’s position at the head of the Black Renaissance in much the same way as Lorenzo and Cosimo de Medici held court in fifteenth-century Italy?

His use of triptych panelling in Versus Medici underscores the Renaissance influences in the work. When Basquiat was starting out as an artist and struggling to make ends meet he would paint on whatever was around including discarded pieces of wood, floorboards and household panelling. In Versus Medici he has used three panels joined together which have the workmanlike look of the type of makeshift canvas he would have used in his earlier years.

He was not so much mimicking the tripartite altarpieces of medieval Italy as shaking the foundations of their unchallenged religious, political and racial tropes. This is no Transfiguration, St Jerome, St Augustine triptych by Botticelli but Basquiat clearly sees himself within that hierarchy.

Basquiat’s career lasted only seven years – he overdosed on heroin aged 27 – but his ascent was meteoric and his output considerable, producing over 2,000 works. His ‘Untitled’ Skull, 1982 painting with its raw, visceral, street art-style gestures against art convention would become the world’s most expensive painting by an American at auction in 2017 selling for $110m. The hefty price tag showed that whether or not his usurping of the Medici lineage is to be taken seriously, his work could still attract modern-day super-rich Medicis at auction.

Jean-Michel Basquiat ‘Untitled’ (1982)

The current Black Renaissance seeks to raise awareness about the importance of the black cultural gaze and socio-political experience and comes after the BLM protests in 2020. Basquiat, the most successful black artist in history, often faced racism and was routinely hassled by security during international flights because he sat in first class with dreadlocks.

His work challenged the white eurocentric gaze and subverted Western visual language; notably in Versus Medici where he positions himself at the vanguard of an undisclosed new renaissance. For these reasons, his work resonates with the Black Renaissance movement, which is now reaching out beyond the USA.

Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1984. Photography by Richard Corman

Writer Eddie Saint-Jean is an arts and culture writer who reviews the London art scene and is a familiar face at many exhibitions and private views in the capital. He is also an artist working in moving image and photography. His former studies in Visual Theories in Art and Film permeate his career as a journalist, artist and filmmaker.

Featured

Denise Wyllie’s ‘Absolutely Cuthbert’ selected for RWA Annual Open

The Royal West of England Academy‘s Annual Open is in its 168th year but every year is a special celebration of undiscovered talent and established artists. Artist Denise Wyllies screen print Cuthbert is amongst the 600 selected works, which include photography, printmaking, sculpture, drawing, painting, installation and mixed media.

It’s been a memorable spring 2021 for the artist. She was recently selected as a member of The Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, who exhibit at the Bankside Gallery.

Wyllie’s art practice is primarily painting and printmaking – her portrait work in this Cuthbert series involves both.

Absolutely Cuthbert is a mono-print screenprint of a young fashion designer from her creative circle.

The RWA 168 Annual Open Exhibition opened on 17 April. Denise Ballard Wyllie was amongst the attendees at the private view.

Let’s have a closer look at how she turned Cuthbert the fashion designer into ‘Absolutely Cuthbert’ the work of art.

Cuthbert and artist Denise Ballard Wyllie
The Cuthbert series – different screenprints of portrait
Expressive detail and colour changes in each portrait

Denise Ballard Wyllie: “I loved drawing and screenprinting this series of prints at London Print Studio. The process enabled me to realise such a variety of possibilities. There were 20 monotypes and editions”

Visit the RWA Annual Open to see the ‘Absolutely Cuthbert’ screenprint up close.

Featured

INTERVIEW – Hurricane Strap Inventor Augustine St.Jean

Where low pressure forms around warm ocean currents in the Caribbean and South Atlantic, tropical waves can soon become full-blown hurricanes. 58-year-old construction worker Augustine St.Jean was born in Dominica in the Eastern Caribbean and has used his technical skills to invent a strap that helps keep galvanized steel and iron roofing secured to homes during hurricanes and reduce storm damage. We interview him about the inspiration behind his invention.

What inspired you to create the Hurricane Tie Strap?

Two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit the Caribbean island of Dominica where I was born, I visited my homeland and saw the hurricane damage first-hand. I wanted to help find a solution and since I have 30 years experience in construction, I created the Hurricane Tie Strap to help secure the most vulnerable part of the galvanized rooftops commonly used in Caribbean house construction.

Galvanized roofing in the Caribbean

How do you feel it will protect homes during the hurricane and why hasn’t anything similar been invented before?

With my invention I stress the importance of identifying and securing the most vulnerable area of the roofing – the section most prone to storm and hurricane damage. I was amongst the first to discuss and offer solutions to this problem. Also, I was one of the few to practically apply technical and construction experience to tackle a problem that is affecting millions across the Caribbean and South Atlantic.

Do you feel that your Caribbean background and construction experience in the USA has given you a better grasp than most of what is required to solve the problem?

Well, I was born in Dominica which has experienced hurricane and storm damage in my lifetime and, yes, I was a construction worker in the USA for over 30 years. Over the decades, my knowledge of construction while working in the US has expanded considerably and I am looking to apply my seasoned skills to help overcome the challenges my homeland faces during hurricane periods.

Has your work in construction been of benefit in designing your concept and getting specific technical elements correct?

I believe my 30-year construction experience has been invaluable. It has opened my mind as regards the technical requirements in housing and building issues I often face. This has been applied in the conceptual elements of my invention. I cannot go into the specifics, because the design is a secret at this stage but you can see how and where this knowledge has been of benefit.

Have you received any positive feedback about your invention at this stage?

Yes, I have had discussions with a number of specialist engineers who have praised the concept. It has been well-received by prominent members of the industry who know what they are talking about and can offer advice going forward.

Featured

Othello De Souza-Hartley: Cataloguing Emotions

Artist Othello De’ Souza-Hartley

This solo show by Othello De Souza-Hartley is notable amongst the Covid 19 era London exhibitions because of the body and architecture connection, poignant at a time when there is heightened focus on the relationship between the self and the confining surrounds of our homes. However, De Souza’s work utilises concepts he had developed well before the coronavirus pandemic.

He brings together the photography from his I Am and Masculinity series as well as the paintings from his Studies portfolio. He describes the exhibition as a discourse on the sexualisation of the male body and the architecture it resides in and that’s around it and also representations of female black beauty. There’s a candid excoriation of elements of memory in all the work.

Othello De’ Souza-Hartley (centre)

The naked black figures in the photographic work are occasionally foetal; lying on spotlit, cold, industrial or factory floors. They impart that focus on memory in a dyadic language; almost womblike yet at the same time isolated and detached, in a powerful examination of representations of the black body and beauty.

I AM (2017)

Othello said: ” My paintings are a visual diary of emotions while my photographic work is heavily inspired by architecture and interiors.”

Within that photography is some stark and powerful light play that brings to mind the baroque methodology of masters such as Carravagio.

This exhibition marks the first time all the work from his main creative practice have been brought together in one gallery space.

CATALOGUING EMOTIONS: An Exploration of Body, Architecture and Memory

Koppel Project Exchange, 193 Piccadilly, London W1J 9EU, UK.

9th – 20th October 2020

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Denise Wyllie’s Secret Gardens Exhibition – Interview With Curator Divya Mittal

The quintessential English garden makes its way to India by way of London-based painter-printmaker Denise Wyllie. Her work refashions the globally-held representation of British landscapes and, certainly, caught the eye of curator Divya Mittal who brings an exhibition of Denise’s canvases and handmade silkscreen prints to the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi on November 6.

Denise Wyllie

Curator Divya Mittal is proud to present this cross-cultural show, with its focus on gardens of healing and nature’s power to suffuse wellbeing and creativity. We interview her about all aspects of this November show.

Could you tell us a little about your background as a curator and arts event organiser?

I have worked in various capacities with international art fairs, galleries, cultural institutes, also production and broadcasting companies across London and India. I studied fine art at Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art, London. Interestingly, prior to that I was trained in one of the ancient Indian classical dance forms, Odissi. Being an artist myself, I am keenly attuned to various aspects around exhibitions and hence becoming a curator was a natural progression.

What attracted you to the work of Denise Wyllie and inspired you to present this exhibition?

It was an organic interaction with Denise that evolved into an exhibition. I was invited to her studio in North Finchley, where I experienced an array of works, from her earlier years to the present day. I saw varied subject matter and her experimentation with materials. I found myself particularly drawn to a series of prints.

Amongst many things, her work captures movement, energy and light play. Denise’s underlying response to the world – conscious and subconscious moments of life – are reflected in her expressive depictions of nature. It is a pleasure to showcase her work for a different audience who can feel the joy and celebration it brings.

How do you feel Indian attendees will connect with the way she captures English gardens?

Across cultures we see different styles of gardens that evolved over time. They are considered an expression of beauty – through art, nature, individual aesthetics, cultural philosophy and are also symbols of national pride. In India, gardens have been developed across civilisations and empires during Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Mughal, Rajput and British periods of rule.

In the 19th century, Indian and European architectural and garden styles came together. For it was in 1868, that the Maharaja of Jaipur, India commissioned a public garden of over 76 acres using English designers Frederick de Fabeck and Sir Swinton Jacob. This garden is still in use and is an example of how fusion has influenced public gardens and shows the development in many parts of India. For your interest, the Grand Mughal Gardens at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi showcases the best of different gardening traditions from around the World.

In india, we have a great history of coexisting with nature and the elements play a central role. Traditionally, our temples were built near water and mountains, depending on the region. Dwellings would organically form near or in some cases around them. There is also a keen sense of awareness and belief about the healing and life sustaining properties of various trees and medicinal plants and also some plants and trees are an intrinsic part of worship. I feel the Indian audience will appreciate and, hopefully, be intrigued by Denise Wyllie’s depictions of nature.

What type of art currently dominates the Indian art market and exhibitions? 

In recent years, we have seen a tremendous growth in new age media art forms, young collectors, alternative art spaces and artist collectives. Along with government-sponsored spaces and private art galleries, we have several art establishments which can be hired by artists. A good place to absorb all this is at the auctions in Delhi and Mumbai. The array of art and artifacts are not limited to Masters and showcase a growing awareness for contemporary and traditional art as well.

Who are you favourite artists and what types of work do you prefer?

Many areas of art fascinate me. I am inspired by the works of Zarina Hashmi, Louise Bourgeois, Emily Jacir, Jean-René, Martha Rosler and Tai Shani. The language of art is interconnected: arriving at a conversation both within and outside of the self. Each artwork offers a unique personal experience, so for me it is difficult to pick one kind of work over the other. Having said that, the works which bring forth sensitivity to a subject are those I most resonate with and appreciate. 

Denise Wyllie’s SECRET GARDENS Nov 6 – 10, Convention Foyer, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, India.

Themes of the Uncanny in Independent Short Films and Features

The Sur-REEL & Uncanny Film Fest, London sought to carve its niche as a film festival that promotes work layered with surrealism and themes of the Freudian uncanny. Highlighting the realms of the unconscious.

As regards the uncanny, there has been varied interpretations of Freud’s work. It’s generally agreed that in this respect he focused on aesthetics – the arts rather than real life. But where interpretations diverge is on the concept of the uncanny itself. The contemporary consensus is that the uncanny refers to subtle eerieness rather than full-on horror. That is, a nervy sense that all is not quite right – rather than a slasher charging through the streets with a Halloween mask on!

But a closer examination of Freud’s work shows this is not exactly true. Yes, he did refer to the subtleties – the sense that familiar and homely subjects and situations have unfamiliar, unhomely, uncanny qualities that make them slightly disturbing. But he also said the uncanny encompassed all things that give us a sense of fear and awareness of the supernatural. 

Below A Dark Wood, a short film by New York film director Bill Slovick has all the elements of the contemporary uncanny.

Below A Dark Wood

The director creates an eerie atmosphere where nothing explicit happens but everything implicit is sensed. The main character, who has recently lost a loved one, is out walking his dog in the local woods. The dog’s strange barking behaviour is not outwardly unusual but camera angles and clever handling of film language makes the viewer more than a little unsettled. 

A dog barking at nothing is not a new cinematic device for suspense yet Slovik’s direction gives you an insight into how the uncanny creeps down your spine without the fanfare of clumsy revelation. You’ll notice that the plot points aren’t the most important thing here; the atmosphere is.

Stanley Kubrick once claimed that ‘film should be more like music than fiction.’ He referred to the music that drives our sensory attention and emotions while watching a film. And by music, he speaks not just of film score and sound editing but the cinematography, pacing, colour-grading etc. which creates the overall atmosphere and feeling. The colour red is used here to great effect.

Below A Dark Wood

Similarly, Moth Night by Nicolas Toniollo is a stunning feature-length example of classic uncanny scenarios.

Moth Night

Again, the plot is not the most important thing. Yes, we discover that lead character Lira (Luciana Froes) is joining a mysterious acting circle for reasons unknown (metaphorical actors?). But the prickly sensations you get when watching the movie unfold takes precedence. Specifically, those eerie silences – which often break film grammar –  and the unbroken stares during conversations that break norms of everyday behaviour.

All of this is deliberate. Toniollo becomes a conductor of eerie dispositions in the human psyche rather than merely a storyteller. But make no mistake, Toniollo is a storyteller of remarkable quality, having won the Best Screenplay Award at the Sur-REEL & Uncanny Film Fest. He just chooses to relay narrative information to the audience in an unconventional way.

In the experimental film, The Rose Behind The Mask by Nacio Recio all the identical-looking masked figures are schoolchildren.

These themes of faceless mirroring are all found in Freud’s uncanny thesis. The classroom is, in a sense, the great doppelganger and here all the pupils lose their individuality in scenes of horror film-style uniformity. Recio’s excellent editing gets this sense of factory-like doubling and duplication just right. The regimental soundtrack gives us a marching mode to underscore the eerie uniformity.

And in Swedish director Matilda Friman’s short film The Last Picture Show, again, the pace of the editing sets an eerie atmosphere. But at the opposite tempo.

The lingering pauses before characters respond in conversations are uncommon in contemporary film grammar so our senses immediately perk up. Two unintroduced characters in a cab. It’s very subtle. Just a few seconds out – and very deliberate – but enough to inject the scene with an uneasy, uncanny vibe.

Matilda won a Silver Award for Best Editing and Bronze Award for Best Director at the Sur-REEL & Uncanny Film Fest and this work best shows her festival triumphs. Some wide-shot scenes of grim city life bring to mind animated clay modelling and are juxtaposed next to unconnected scenes of passengers crying on a train. And when bound together, delivered with a keen appreciation of the spirit of the uncanny.

Written by Eddie Saint-Jean

Found

African artists create from found objects

Upcycled confectionary wrappers, beer cans and toothpaste boxes are amongst the reworked items in this exhibition of ‘found’ art at Signature African Art, Mayfair. But there are also works that represent the finding of one’s calling.

Signature African Art in Davies Street, Mayfair has brought together some visionary African artists for a group exhibition worth noting in your April diary. The burst of colour in the front gallery is testament to the diverse approaches to the exhibition title ‘Found‘.

On entry, your immediate focus will (without doubt!) be My Name, the centrepiece sculpture of a kneeling figure in a gold top hat and cloak; his arm raised in a Black Power clenched fist gesture.
It’s strategically positioned to catch your attention just in case you miss it – but there’s never any danger of that. The trailing cloak takes up most of the gallery floor.

Interestingly, Nigerian artist Samsun Akinnire’s depiction of 1960s African-American activist Fred Hampton is adorned with sequins made from beer cans.

‘My Name’ by Samsun Akinnire

And you’ll inevitably be drawn to the adjacent work of John Ogbeta, which is calibrated across canvases with confectionary wrappers, flattened food cans and button motifs that decorate the features of ironically upbeat and vividly coloured figures.

His deft use of these buttons to represent smiles, eyes and such like is to be admired. They disappear into his thematically layered work until you get real close.

(left) Mama. (right) Let The Music Play by John Ogbeta

REVIEWER’S VIEW:

There are a fair number of galleries on Davies Street, but this Found exhibition outshines them in more ways than one.

REVIEWER’S TIP:

Worth a visit to see ‘My Name’ – Samsun Akinnire’s amazing sculpture of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and its magnificent beer can cloak.

WHAT? – Found group exhibition

WHERE? – Signature African Art, 20 Davies St, London W1K 3DT. Nearest tube station Bond Street.

WHEN? – Until April 30 2022

WHY? – Samsun Akinnire’s magnificent Fred Hampton sculpture with the beer can cloak.