'Where seldom is heard a discouraging word' by Sir Howard Hodgkin

HOWARD HODGKIN: No sprinkles, no flake.

Signalling the end of an era, the moment when I read the sad news about the recent death of one of Britain’s most successful 20th century artists Sir Howard Hodgkin.

Living 84 years from august 1932 until march 2017 his contribution to the world of art is enormous. Born in Hammersmith, London, he Studied at Camberwell Art School and later Bath Academy of Art and shared the world with artists like Gillian Ayres, Anthony Caro, Patrick Caulfield and Ben Nicholson among others with whom he exhibited at the Hayward Gallery in 1980.

His paintings were often about experiences, sensual and exciting, and his use of paint was lavish and seductive.

Although he might have been humble even professing to hate painting, he didn’t fall short in the good fortune of his birth, both coming from an immensely creative family and then fortuitously ending up with an address within a stone’s throw of the British museum in the iconic postcode of Bloomsbury.

This brings me to the second reason for writing this. The first to pay respects to a great talent of course, but also to talk about how chance encounters, the people we meet and are taught by and events we are affected by shape the rest of our life, and have lasting ripples on the development of our artwork not only then but sometimes many years in the future.

For back in 1993 I happened to be an art student at Winchester School of Art. This purpose built 60’s glass edifice had a certain joyfulness about it but also had something else. It was steeped in a painting tradition that was considered by some to be a bit yesterday. A huge change in emphasis was occurring in art schools all over the country, and there was a distinct lack of paint!

However alive and kicking here were groundworks laid by Gillian Ayres, Patrick Heron, Vanessa Jackson and Howard Hodgkin amongst others paving the way for the development and expansion of a future generation of painters.

Nearing the end of our course, we were treated to a lecture by Howard Hodgkin which not surprisingly was standing room only and even spilled out along the corridors. After which came the opportunity to have our work critiqued by the man himself.

On reading of his passing it sparked this memory.  I then happened to come across some notes I made in an old sketchbook. Joining him was Sasha Craddock (artist, Curator and art critic for the Guardian and another Bloomsbury resident) as well as the usual hard-nails. I rather flippantly referred to the firing squad in my notes as the Sasha and Howard show! As any 21 year old might. But having a critique of your work or being criticised by people you respect, may sound harsh to people who have no connection to the art world but it’s not, it’s a rite of passage and I really did want to know what they thought.

The main thrust of discussion centred around photographs screen printed behind layers of scraped paint. I nervously spout on about my preoccupation with chaos and order and how the images of construction are a metaphor for this. Well I wasn’t exactly shot down in flames however but what Howard had to say gave me food for thought. His opinion was that if the metaphor is a construction site then the whole idea is wrong and that far from being one of chaos and order it was simply one of order. Or else the metaphor is wrong.

That wasn’t the end. I was encouraged to make more of the photos, using them to make some kind of pictorial space. Hodgkin’s ability to create depth with just a few purposeful swipes of an enormous brush is well known. Something else was niggling him though. There was disharmony. Is this bad or good? Are they really about disharmony? Or (and here’s the hammer blow) are they just not working? Ouch!

And so there it was. Did I learn from this? Did it change the way I paint? Do I remember these wise words whenever I have a painting crisis? Yes, and then again no. In fact, it is fair to say it did ask more questions than it answered, which is considered by some to be the point. It is the subject of a discourse I have with myself that has spanned the years and the same questions keep rearing their ugly head.

About a year ago, someone asked me ‘how do I choose which photographs to use?’ A question I often ask myself, I answered lazily ‘the choice is arbitrary’ I mean arbitrary!! What was I thinking? Brushing it under the carpet more like. Excusing the lack of purpose and care. What a wonderful get out clause that word is. I can’t fool myself though, it does mean something. I just don’t know what. I do know however that they are not just a metaphor.

Hodgkin’s paintings are a triumph of elegance. Focused, direct and honest. What can I learn from that? That I am guilty of simply trying to include too much in one painting, a weakness of mine. Throwing the dog in. Sprinkles and a flake please.

If you go to Southport there are ice cream shops that offer choice beyond your wildest dreams, which is ok because in the context of ice cream, is it possible to go over the top? I think not.

Clarity of purpose and idea is surely essential if one attempts to create a conceptual work of art, otherwise it is polluted and confusing. Unlike the instant gratification of a face full of Mr Whippy, a work of art takes a little bit more digestion.

Whilst writing this I notice a Hodgkin influence in the work of one of the Silver Star Gallery’s artist’s work. Dan Pearce, his urban portraits of icons spill out of the canvas and over the frame, making them one and the same, a habit Hodgkin is famed for.

Red Bermudas by Sir Howard Hodgkin

Red Bermudas by Sir Howard Hodgkin

Marilyn vs Audrey by Dan Pearce

Marilyn vs Audrey by Dan Pearce

Just before he died Hodgkin was offered a major show in the National Portrait Gallery, the staff at the gallery only found out about his death half an hour before they were due to hang the exhibition.

Howard Hodgkin: Absent Friends runs from 23 March to 18 June at the National Portrait gallery, London

“In the saddest but most wonderful possible way, it completes the story,”  “We’ve got the very first painting that he ever made, at 17, and the last painting he made, and so the entire career is now framed.” Paul Moorhouse, curator

http://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/howard-hodgkin-absent-friends/home/

I also found myself reading about Sasha Craddock’s Georgian Bloomsbury address and all its’ artist credentials. In the article by the independent she was described as having been Howard Hodgkin’s charlady. What’s that all about? Probably a whole other story.

Lucy Elizabeth Jones 02/04/2017

 

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Art and the Russian Revolution

I didn’t foresee that one post-Christmas morning spent vegetating on the sofa, I would become quite so enraptured in Doctor Zhivago on the telly. I couldn’t resist it. It took over quite a substantial portion of my day, but it was worth it! Based on Boris Pasternak’s 1957 novel Doctor Zhivago, our hero Yuri played by the enigmatic Omar Sharif experiences cataclysmic changes in his country ’s culture and politics and responds to the revolutionary fervour of 1917

           “Just think what extraordinary things are happening all around us!” Yuri said. “Such things happen only once in an eternity… Freedom has dropped on us out of the sky!”

I then discovered an apt and informative article by Martin Sixsmith writing about ‘The Story of art in the Russian Revolution’ published 20th December 2016 https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/art-and-the-russian-revolution .

Written to coincide with The Royal Academy blockbuster exhibition Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932on from11th February to 17th April 2017

https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/revolution-russian-art

Martin Sixsmith describes a momentous exhibition marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution, He charts the course of a pivotal period in art, from euphoric creativity to eventual repression.

He also describes Pasternak’s imagery as febrile, hopeful, anticipating a new beginning and a new life. You can feel the excitement in the Russian air. He references the film of the novel in the form of Lara and Yuri and the love they had for each other which grew from adversity and how he as an artist/poet survived and developed despite and also because of the extreme circumstances into which they were flung.

Some artists in Russia were to renounce their art under the immense pressure of war, however some flourished in the immergence of a liberated country. 1917 saw the blossoming of Avant Garde art that had been there under the surface for many years before including the work of Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich and Marc Chagall.  Suppression and being very closed off from western culture forced artists who were already very innovative to take completely new directions.

Futurism, Suprematism and constructivism among other movements were born. From this you can understand why this period in art history is so fascinating and influential.

Kazimir Malevich

(An example of Suprematist art by Kazimir Malevich in 1916)

 

The exhibition at the Royal Academy -covers one hundred years on from the Russian Revolution, this powerful exhibition explores one of the most momentous periods in modern world history through the lens of its ground-breaking art.

I have a personal interest in matters of Russian art, from a purely theoretical point of view being heavily influenced by constructivist art in my early days as an artist and from having been lucky enough to visit Russia and experience it first hand in the nineties.

Not too many people might know but Chester was at that time twinned with Ekaterinburg near the heart of the Ural Mountains in Russia. It was the thing then to be twinned with as many towns in as many counties as possible. Chester Hosted several artists from Ekaterinburg. They stayed with local families and had an exhibition at the Grosvenor Museum in Chester. Lectures were held so people could learn about Russian art, the history and what it was like to be a contemporary artist in Russia at that time. We are talking 1996-97.

In return three artists were selected to go to Russia to exhibit examples of Chester Artists work in the Ekaterinburg Museum of Fine Arts. I, along with Russell Kirk, (painter) and Jos Wright (installation artist) were chosen.

It was an adventure to be sure but also an education in many ways. We were provided with studio spaces in the annals of the museum along with one of Russia’s foremost icon restorers.

The Museum housed many important artists’ work, some had been left behind after being rescued from The Hermitage during the great Patriotic war.

This is the part I was just a little bit excited about. On a tour of the collection by our renowned icon restorer we came across a room of modernist work, including one small sized painting by Kazimir Malevich painted in a typical suprematist style. “touch it” he says “no! I couldn’t possibly” I said of course, “it’s ok, it’s my work, I restored it” He turned it over and showed me the back. Indeed there was a huge patch of new canvas on the back. He told me during a flood a piece of wood had gone right through it and he had had to repair it. I have never seen such a good job, you absolutely could not tell anything untoward had ever happened to it. How do you restore a red block of colour without leaving any evidence? I stroked the canvas on the back with my fingers as though touching it would somehow bring me closer to the artist himself.

Just one amazing thing that happened on our slightly surreal busman’s holiday. Another was being able to get an insight into what it was really like to be creative in a place like Russia at that time. I was told that unlike the great metropolis cities of St. Petersburg and Moscow some parts of Russia were still playing catch up. I didn’t need to be told this as it was immediately obvious. Ekaterinburg had only been properly open to the west since 1985. Although struggling financially It was as though it was culturally flourishing once more in a as it had done in 1917.

It was so different to my own experience, children were educated about culture in a classical way. Children learnt mathematics whilst listening to classical music and students were taught art by learning how to draw the human body anatomically. It felt as though we were living in some sort of parallel universe, what kind of art would I be producing if I lived here? So; this was then. If Russian art was a butterfly emerging in 1917 and in 1997, what is like it now nearly 20 years on?

What better way to learn about how innovative, pioneering and aspirational work can spring from adversity than to experience it as first hand as you can. The Royal Academy are reconstructing a Russian apartment designed for communal living along with everyday objects such as ration coupons and textiles to help us stand in their revolutionary shoes.    Limitless and aspirational, this is an important exhibition marking this historic centenary in an evocative and grittily realistic way.

by Lucy E. Jones

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Feeling Lucky

 

 

Amy  -Queen of Hearts,  Dan Pearce

Amy -Queen of Hearts,
Dan Pearce

You might have noticed a slight shift in emphasis regarding our recent acquisitions in the gallery of late. Well you’re not imagining it, we have indeed been broadening our horizons, to include a whole raft of current and popular artists who have firmly established themselves in a growing movement of contemporary urban art, including genre’s such as Graffiti and pop art styles.

Don’t be mistaken though, if you think we are attempting to introduce a new era in art, we are most definitely not. I would like to write a little about how this current wave draws from the rich history of abstract expressionism and pop art, and has been growing stronger and stronger by the day to the point where it is accepted by the mainstream audience in a way it has never been before.

And if you think I’m going to write an intellectual critique worthy of a Uni assignment you’ve got another thing coming too. Just so you know!

But let’s talk about the big boys, from Robert Rauschenberg to Andy Warhol, for a moment. Credit where it’s due and all that. I have to thank the BBC and Alastair Sooke for reminding us about how wonderful Robert Rauschenberg was in their programme, Robert Rauschenberg pop-art pioneer.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b085k35h/robert-rauschenberg-pop-art-pioneer

It’s a must watch if possible. I first discovered Rauschenberg as a student and it opened up a whole new world to me of using found objects in an interactive way and combining striking images with textures and objects that were considered the detritus of modern life. Elevating the household to the level of high art was a hugely significant mark that he left for us.

I can never decide whether to call him an abstract expressionist or a pop-artist and that is because he was the link between the two. More commonly associated with Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol and the fact that he continued to work until 2008 when he died, it is easy to forget how long he had been creating work.

Quite rightly the programme celebrates his collaborative style and his fearless nature and to coin an all too used phrase his ability to ‘think outside of the box’ Well, that was his speciality.

Jasper Johns also used everyday items that could be found around the home. Such items included beer cans, light bulbs, and paint brushes. But he was famous for his use of maps and flags. These images became household images particularly ones depicting the American flag, engraved onto our retina as a symbol of bold American modern pop-art.

I don’t really feel the need to talk about Andy Warhol as such as, well, he was Andy Warhol! All I might need to mention is soup perhaps, right? That’s it, you are getting the idea.

Over the 50’s and 60’s artists were discovering the ability to reproduce. The innovations which were found in screen printing, lithography, and etching, would completely revolutionize this field of art. Why produce an image from scratch when perfectly good ones already exist? And why produce only one image which can be sold only once when you could produce many. This medium would also allow for much greater experimentation than before as well, endless permutations and variations could be created allowing greater expression.

 

To be an artist you have to give up everything, including the desire to be a good artist.”
-Jasper Johns

 

There was a sort of anti-art going around which appealed to young people and took away the elitist stigma associated with high art.

That sentiment links in with the growing frenzy for graffiti art over the next few decades from both sides of the Atlantic.  Accessible to all and drawing from our heros of pop art.

Of course, graffiti art has it’s own heros such as Jean-Michel Basquiat. The New York artist whose work reflected  hip hop culture, post punk and street art, bringing everything into the mix.

Here in the Silver Star Gallery, Chester we have amongst others, the work of SR47, Mr Sly, Sage Barnes, and most recently Dan Pearce, whose work features people and iconic images that evolve from the world of celebrity and fame.

If I listed the artwork we have in stock it might seem to some like reading from a guest list for a red carpet event in Hollywood. Such is the magnetism our icons have for us.

It is no coincidence or chance that we as a culture are slightly obsessed with the idea of fame. It is not also surprising that we keep returning to images of Marylin Monroe or the Queen for instance. They are buried in our psyche as much as our own face in the mirror.

Will we ever tire of Audrey Hepburn or Jonny Rotten? I think not. The Union Jack or the Stars and Stripes? never. Miss out on the opportunity to constantly remake and reinvent, experiment and push the boundaries, tweek and alter? No, definitely not.

These works as with many before reflect the music, the film and popular culture that we all can associate with, they pay homage to, offer tributes to, immortalise, and express but most of all they reflect us.

 

We all need to mix it up, push boundaries, celebrate our similarities and our differences, and even plagiarise, so I’ll leave you with this: “You gotta ask yourself one question, Do I feel lucky?, well do ya, punk?”

 

By Lucy