Lee Miller: A Woman’s War

web 5848 28, Lee Miller in steel helmet specially designed for using a camera, Normandy, Unknown Photographer, 1944

Lee Miller’s career was by any standards extraordinary.  But it was also beset by contradictions – one of the most fundamental being that the Second World War, though it gave her the opportunity to become a supremely talented and courageous war correspondent and photojournalist, left her emotionally and physically exhausted, never again to produce such exceptional work. (‘Lee Miller in steel helmet specially designed for using a camera, Normandy, France’, 1944, by unknown photographer, above).

web Anna Leska, Air Transport Auxilliary, Polish pilot flying a spitfire, England 1942 by Lee Miller (4327-45)The Imperial War Museum’s exhibition focuses on Miller’s photography during the war years, using it in a documentary fashion to tell the story of women’s participation in the war effort – through the eyes of a woman who herself played a crucial role.  This makes the show a fascinating combination of objective historical narrative and deeply personal biography; the walls of black and white photographs depicting land girls, nurses and female auxiliaries (‘Anna Laska, Air Transport Auxiliary, Polish Pilot flying a Spitfire, White Waltham, Berkshire’, 1942, above left) are broken up by display cases containing Miller’s service uniform, telegrams and letters to her future husband Roland Penrose or to her editor at Vogue, and items she took from Hitler’s apartment when she found herself there on assignment immediately after his suicide.  There is also the chance to watch British Pathe clips of Miller at work after she returned from these assignments and published her book ‘Wrens in Camera’ (1945), giving a brief sense of the living woman behind the camera.

web Fire Masks, London, England 1941 by Lee Miller (3840-9)Lee Miller began her career as a model before learning the techniques of photography from avant-garde artist Man Ray in Paris in the 1920s, and becoming closely associated with the Surrealists.  However, the exhibition really begins with Miller being commissioned as official war photographer for Vogue in 1939; during the early years of the war fashion shoots overlapped with documentary journalism, as Miller produced images of a model in a chic tweed suit posing among bomb-damaged houses, models sporting fire masks (‘Fire Masks, Downshire Hill, London’, 1941, above right), and the Vogue editorial staff displaced to a basement beneath Bond Street.

9b77caf0-fbe9-4c56-989f-7d2916e3dd27-2060x1392Then there are beautifully composed pictures of Wrens, land girls, territorial or air force auxiliaries and US nurses going about their daily tasks; as a woman in uniform Miller had unprecedented access to – and empathy with – her subjects, picking up on the small poignant details of clothes drying in the window or a child’s photo propped on the mantelpiece.  This empathy comes to the fore once again in the photographs Miller took in Europe immediately after the war ended: shaven-headed French women (‘Woman accused of collaborating with the Germans, Rennes, France’, 1944, above left), German women filling in trenches outside Cologne, starving Viennese children tended by nuns.  Even amid the rhetoric of victory her images underline the moral confusion of the post-war period, the trauma and displacement of families and communities, conveying a sense of universal suffering, mixed with relief and uncertainty. (‘Two German women sitting on a park bench surrounded by destroyed buildings, Cologne, Germany’, 1945, below right).

wood09_3724_02Some of the final photographs are haunting in their prescience.  They capture an atmosphere of heavy foreboding, a brief hiatus between war and the harsh Communist regime that was about to descend upon eastern Europe –  the two upper class women gossiping beneath a huge image of Stalin in east Berlin, the Romanian queen standing small and fragile in her empty palace, a Hungarian countess with a bag of groceries on the street.  But for Lee Miller, the end of the war saw the end of her career as a photojournalist (though she produced several more books from her home at Farley Farm in Sussex); the impact of her war experiences led to bouts of depression and the full extent of her creative output was only discovered by her son Antony after her death.  Seventy years later, this is a fitting tribute to her achievements.

Images: © Lee Miller Archives, England 2015 and The Penrose Collection, England 2015. All rights reserved.

Lee Miller: A Woman’s War’ is at the Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, London SE1 6HZ until 24th April 2016 – www.iwm.org.uk 

Auerbach at Tate Britain

UnknownFrank Auerbach’s early work is surprisingly sculptural. Even the charcoal portraits are rubbed back and reworked, torn, patched and built up again (‘Self-Portrait’, 1958, right).  The oil paintings in this first gallery are literally three-dimensional – relief sculptures within a box frame – the peaks and troughs of paint like an angry sea, coalescing into figural forms only when one steps back and allows the surface to flatten out.

IMG_3202‘E.O.W. Reclining Head II’ (1966, left and below) is a case in point; the paint swirls and sets hard across an invisible canvas like royal icing in plasticine colours. There is a very physical quality to these paintings, almost aggressively so; the jagged edges suggest that the paint has been moulded into these forms by hand, the primary colours run like harsh scars across the sitter’s cheek.

auerbach1halflegthnude-xlargeAnother, ‘E.O.W.: Half-Length Nude’ (1958, right), positively drips with pigment, the livid red and white tempered by a swamp-like greeny beige.  These late 1950s and 1960s works are already much brighter than those of the early 50s; paintings such as ‘Building Site, Earls Court’ (1953, below), which is so dark as to be barely legible, is described by Barnaby Wright (who curated ‘Frank Auerbach: London Building Sites 1952-62’ at the Courtauld Gallery in 2009-10): “Auerbach’s restless reworking of the subject resulted in expanses of thickly massed paint, its skin dried to a deeply wrinkled and puckered surface.  It is as if the paint has consumed almost all vestiges of the image itself.”  As the portraits become brighter, so do the cityscapes, revealing an angular, geometric framework of rigid lines so tactile that the paint almost becomes scaffolding (‘Mornington Crescent’, 1965, below).

693a64b6-8876-4b6a-bec8-a43bbd89dc40-2060x1538

49auerbach0810a

Auerbach’s working method is intense and drawn-out.  He paints over each day’s work time and again until something “seems to lock like a theorem”.  The late 60s brought a radical change, however, as he began to scrape down the picture before his next attempt, leaving the picture surface flatter and allowing the brushstrokes to appear more spontaneous.  ‘The Origin of the Great Bear’ (1967-8, below) shows this new freedom and fluidity of line, the sheer enjoyment in the very substance of the paint.

The Origin of the Great Bear, 1967-8

As the exhibition progresses swiftly through the decades one begins to recognise the features of Auerbach’s favourite models (E.O.W., J.Y.M., Julia and Catherine Lampert – the exhibition’s curator – all appear repeatedly) despite their elusive features, auerbachsubsumed in the paint.  Like Picasso, Auerbach can evoke a face – and a personality – with minimal lines, perfectly chosen (‘Head of J.Y.M. II’, 1984-5, left; ‘Julia Sleeping’, 1978, below right).

In contrast to the length of time each painting takes to complete, the end result expresses a fleeting moment, a sudden turn of the head, a chance encounter, a ray of sunlight through cloud… “It was normal for us to sit in a small room with no means. We wanted to say something profound and precise, something sharp about truth,” Auerbach recalls, “…to pin down an experience in its essential aspect before it disappears.”auerbach_julia_sleeping_fraaue1506_2_aodmainimage

The later landscapes become ever more cheerful, almost Fauve, in colour and lose their early rigidity.  The contrast is all the greater as Auerbach has worked in the same studio since 1954 and has painted these same surroundings over the decades. In ‘Mornington Crescent – Early Morning’ (1991) the pink and blue buildings seem to lurch and sway as if they have lost their anchor.

id70rtIn more recent years balance has been recovered, vertical lines pinning down the composition in ‘Hampstead Road – High Summer’ (2010, left) with its jogger caught mid-stride in the foreground.  Here in the penultimate gallery the charcoal drawings reappear, still a Giacometti-like palimpsest of lines rubbed back and layered, but lighter and more spidery, echoing the looser brushwork of the later oils (‘Self-Portrait II’, 2013, below right)

Auerbach-MarlboroughFineArtThis is an unusual retrospective in that the artist has had a free hand in selecting the paintings to be exhibited in the first six chronologically arranged galleries – and for the fact that the curator, who has chosen the works in the final gallery to ‘resonate’ with these, herself appears as the subject of a number of the paintings. It is therefore quite a personal show about an artist grappling with his medium and his subject, by those who understand the intense nature of these struggles best. These last room gives a greater understanding of both Auerbach’s daily routine, with multiple images of the route to his studio, and his habit of working on a large and smaller canvas simultaneously.  There are also two small etchings by the exit which appear an afterthought, though in fact the artist is a talented and productive printmaker.  As Auerbach states in a text applied to the wall of the first gallery by way of introduction, his intention was that “each [picture] be considered as an absolute which works (or does not work) by itself”; in this sense it is a revelatory sequence of – some sublime – images.

Auerbach

William Foyle – New Paintings

cat+13

Hector Innes PhotographyWilliam Foyle’s new paintings – an impressively large collection, exhibited at the RCA – stick in one’s mind.  They are figurative, but concerned more with the qualities of the paint and its ability to express certain indescribable truths than with precise detail. They are the opposite of portraiture in fact: each figure seeming to represent an idea of humanity, a multitude of individuals condensed into one – but rather than diluting their identity in favour of a generalisation, the artist manages to somehow deepen its intensity so that, even without any indentifying features, one has the impression of seeing into their soul.

Hector Innes PhotographyThe studies of neanderthals (‘Study of Early Woman’ I & IV, 2014, left and above right) depict totemic figures enshrined in earth colours, the thin paint in loose swathes across the background, elsewhere left dripping. The silent upright figures are defined by highlights and shadows, a white outline, light falling on a shoulder or cheekbone.  The isolated form, head and torso defined in black and white, recalls the truncated figures of Egon Schiele and Giacometti; the colours are those of cave walls, as at Lascaux, uncovered from the shrouds of time, and speaking of a mysterious civilisation that we can never fully know.

cat+12The series of holocaust figures are haunting, ghostlike, monochrome (‘Showers in Lodz Ghetto I’, right, 2015); the large scale canvases are predominantly black and the gallery low lit, so that one treads carefully in a tenebrous world of unspoken beauty and pain.  Like Rothko’s Black Paintings there is a sense of existential desolation contained within the pigment itself, scraped back and layered, austere in tone but rich in texture.  Some have a religious intensity that combines the symbolism of Munch’s ‘Madonna’ with a tragic vulnerability, as in ‘Figure IV’ (2015, below left), the naked form suggesting a Pieta.

w05

The figures or heads are scraped, scratched, smudged, half-erased, their forms at once emerging and disappearing into the shadows of the painting.  It is a powerful metaphor for both the unreliability of memory and the impossibility of knowing all of someone.  In the more specific context of the holocaust, it also makes a powerful statement about the calculated erasure of an individual’s identity; the poor skeletal bodies still proclaim their personhood – full of dreams, fears, memories, gradually stripped away, and now unknowable. It is the more tragic for being portrayed in such a restrained and delicate way.36+Head+of+Eve+I++.(mono+print)

Alongside the canvases are a number of monotypes (such as ‘Head of Eve I’, right) and other portrait heads in oil and acrylic. Some reveal elements of Frank Auerbach – in the heavily layered self-portrait with its decisive, energetic brushwork – and others the elusive 1960s portraits of Gerhard Richter, based on snapshots then deliberately blurred (‘Head I’, 2015, top). Both artists sought different means to counter the knowledge that painting is an imprecise representation of reality and that the essential nature of subject we see remains mysterious. Foyle, like them, knows this and creates what are more interesting and more rewarding paintings for it.

Hector Innes PhotographyThe space at the Royal College of Art has been well selected and curated; each canvas is allowed the space it needs and together they resonate – a tribute to the strong thematic focus of the exhibition. The technical experimentation is fascinating to see, the style subtly changing, but with a confidence and skill that makes me eager to see more.

(‘Portrait Study of Early Woman III’, 2014, left)

 

For further images and information please see http://www.williamfoyle.com

Ragnar Kjartansson’s ‘The Visitors’

©-The-Vinyl-Factory-Ragnar-Kjartansson-London-Photography-by-Michael-Wilkin-6-of-36-665x400

It felt like wandering into a venue as a band was getting ready for a gig – too early, a few people hanging around kicking their heels.  One screen would light up, then another, showing empty rooms; a figure flitted from one room/screen to another, checking the equipment, quietly whistling the beginnings of a tune.  Then off again. A sense of anticipation built up; preparations were being carried out – but for what?

RK_THE_VISITOR_ELISABET_DAVIDS02-copy

Then the screens lit up one by one, each revealing a different room and a different musician within the romantically bohemian Villa Rokeby in New York state.  A voice would sound from one, a string plucked in another, a refrain sung quietly elsewhere as the players tuned up.

06RAGNAR1_SPAN-superJumbo

The venue is the top floor of Brewer Street car park in Soho, blacked out and kitted up by The Vinyl Factory who are presenting this exhibition of Ragnar Kjartansson’s ‘The Visitors’, a ‘multi-screen audio-visual artwork’.  There are nine screens in total, seven around the walls and two back-to-back in the middle; as music sounds from each in turn, the crowd constantly shifts about to catch a glimpse of the next performer – it is impossible to see all at once.  The sound surrounds you, all-encompassing, homophonic, the imperfections – gentle chatter, shuffle of feet, a cough, a untuned note – creating an intimacy and involving you in the performance.

RK_THE_VISITOR_ELISABET_DAVIDS03-copy

The music itself is haunting, melodic, the voices and instruments weave in and out, the tempo increasing and decreasing, it reaches a crescendo and then resets itself and begins again seemingly ad lib.  The same refrain repeats endlessly, melancholically, lovingly – each artist is isolated within their room/screen, absorbed in their own music but, linked to the rest by headphones, part of a synchronised collective whole.

RK_THE_VISITOR_ELISABET_DAVIDS04-827x551

Each exquisitely staged screen could be a video piece in its own right, photographically composed, the contained emotion of each musician on their own empty stage like a sparse psychological study, an artwork in motion.  There is a figure in the bath (Kjartansson himself) holding his guitar above the bubbles; there is 4_RK_THE_VISITOR_ELISABET_DAVIDS06_web0another impresario-esque sitting at a grand piano puffing at a cigar as he waits for his cue; another sits with his guitar on the edge of a bed with paint peeling off the walls and a sleeping form behind him; there’s a raven-haired accordionist in a flowing white dress and bare feet; and one screen shows the inhabitants (and backing singers) assembled outside on the verandah while two men play with a small cannon.

Unknown

It is hypnotising, hard to walk away from, and despite its 64 minute duration you wish it would play on forever.  The music seems self-perpetuating, full of humanity, serendipitous, perfectly crafted but endearingly immediate, almost incidental.  As its melody fades away it reminds one of the transience of all such interaction, an Ragnar-Kjartansson-The-Visitors-2012-via-Luhring-Augustine-New-York-2existence of fleeting moments of togetherness before we fracture and dissipate like the colourful patterns of a kaleidoscope.  The artwork’s title, ‘The Visitors’, then makes sense on many levels: the musicians are visitors to the house, we are visitors to their performance; the artist also ‘pays homage’ to ABBA’s last album of the same name, after which the band broke up, underlining the fragility of relationships.  This too feels wistful, though there is no narrative, and you leave feeling uplifted yet bereft.

 

Ragnar-Kjartansson-Visitors-Luhring-Augustine-chelsea-gallery

Exhibition On Screen: Goya – Visions of Flesh and Blood

The restrained vibrato of strings with a Spanish twang accompanies the mysterious steps of stockinged legs before the figure of Goya appears and his voice is heard, reflecting on poetry and art – then with a triumphant crescendo the title unfurls on screen.  This is the wonderfully cinematic introduction to ‘Goya – Visions of Flesh and Blood’, a feature length film presented by Exhibition On Screen.  Pioneers of exhibition films for cinema, Exhibition On Screen was the brainchild of Phil Grabsky, director and producer at Seventh Art Productions; beginning a few years ago with ‘Leonardo’, he works with Arts Alliance Ltd to bring these films to cinemas around the country.  The idea works both as a means for those with limited mobility to see the exhibition on a scale and quality almost equivalent to first hand, while also acting as an extension and enrichment to a gallery visit.

unnamed-5

We begin in the National Gallery, with the institution’s director Gabriele Finaldi standing within the exhibition of ‘Goya: The Portraits’.  Then the exhibition’s curator, Xavier Bray, begins our tour with an introduction to the artist at the beginning of his career as a portraitist, ‘crude’ and almost too direct; meanwhile art historian Juliet Wilson-Bareau draws our attention to the incredible interaction between the artist and sitter that Goya captures and which makes such a powerful impact.  The camera pans in on the faces with the their dark eyes, alive and transfixing the us as if we were the artist behind the canvas.  Only recently has the development of technology allowed such material to be reproduced to such a high quality on a cinematic scale – every detail is astonishingly clear, the brushstrokes almost tactile.

unnamed-3

Then we are swept off to the landscapes of Aragon and Saragossa, immersed in the heat and colour of Spain while a brief biography of Goya’s early life is narrated.  At each stage of his career we gain access to the surroundings that the artist would have inhabited: the Royal Palace in Madrid (above left) where Goya was official court painter to Charles IV, the country house Goya bought in his later years.

unnamed

The film also allows us to see Goya’s letters (including those to his childhood friend Martin Zapater – full of scurrilous sketches, descriptions of food, his dogs, his finances and court intrigues) and his wonderful Italian sketchbook (above, c.1771) which is stored at the Prado in Madrid, as is the family portrait of Charles IV, forbidden to travel (below right), and which gives a fascinating insight into the working methods of Goya, the freedom of style and independent nature of this self-taught artist.  unnamed-4And, when it comes to his large-scale public commissions, such as his altarpiece for the chapel of San Bernardino de Siena in the Basilica of San Francisco el Grande, we are taken into the building itself where the camera glides over the architecture, showing off the grandeur and scale of the building and the accomplishment of Goya’s painting in its intended context (below left).

unnamed-1

Later in the film we are shown behind the scenes in the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC – where a conservator, Joanna Dunn, talks about her work on the Portrait of Dona Teresa Sureda (below) – and into the studios of contemporary portraitists. Dryden Goodwin talks about the technical process of drawing, combining the humanity and physicality of his subjects, while Nicola Phillips, a ‘court painter’ of the 21st century having painted Princes William and Harry, talks of the relationship between artist and sitter, and of her admiration for Goya’s ‘extraordinary psychological grasp of personality’ and ‘extreme attentiveness to body language’.

unnamed-2

Frequently we return to the National Gallery, back to the curator and art historians, to the paintings themselves; the personalities are revealed, their costumes unpicked, the technical approach deconstructed so that each comes alive.  Letizia Treves, curator of Spanish Paintings at the National Gallery, describes Goya as a ‘truthful’ or ‘naturalistic’ painter rather than ‘realistic’, an artist who finds the essence of a sitter’s character, imbuing his portraits with an immediacy and humanity, and through his own depth of interaction putting himself into the portraits.  The idea of portraiture at this time in Spain was to be an equivalent to the real person; thus Wellington looks gaunt and tired, as if just this minute retired from the field at Waterloo (below); Don Andres del Peral, the court gilder and a colleague of Goya’s,  looks out with eyes that are piercingly alive, in the process of turning to us in conversation.

Unknown

The film combines the best of the TV documentary tradition with the drama of the cinema experience – as director David Bickerstaff has emphasised, the film is an ‘emotional journey’, costume drama, history, biopic, and certainly very different to the more analytical progress one makes through a gallery.

‘Goya – Visions of Flesh and Blood’ will be released in cinemas nationwide from 1st December 2015. For more information visit www.exhibitiononscreen.com.

Goya: The Portraits

image

There is something quintessentially Spanish about Goya’s portraits.  But perhaps that is because what we have come to see as Spanish in art has been irrevocably shaped by his pictures.  Like his predecessor Velazquez, Goya chronicled a critical period in Spain’s history – the Napoleonic invasion and the Peninsular War illustrated in all their horror in his famous ‘Black Paintings’ – and at the National Gallery we can now appreciate the characters involved whom he brings so vividly to life.

dona_maria_teresa_de_vallabriga_y_rozasGoya painted royalty and aristocracy, ministers and diplomats – but these are not the staid formal likenesses of previous generations.  A large and arresting group portrait dominates the first room of the exhibition and introduces a tone of intrigue and bravado tempered by a light-hearted wit.  ‘The Family of the Infante Don Luis de Borbon’ (above, 1783-4) shows the younger brother of the King of Spain at a table with his wife as she has her hair dressed, other members of their household crowding around and the artist himself in the foreground shadows, his back to us as he paints the scene.  The Infante had been forced to marry in an effort to halt his overzealous Goya-X7161_432promiscuity, and banished from court; Goya stayed with his household over several summers, also painting simple but beautiful bust-length portraits of the couple (‘Maria Teresa de Vallabriga y Rozas’, 1783, above right). In the group portrait the eyes of all the participants focus somewhere different, each has his or her own secret agenda – especially the two figures to the far right, one grinning out at us, the other skulking furtively behind, hand reaching into a pocket…  In one concise set-piece Goya speaks volumes about the intricate network of relations in the exiled court, the outward theatricality hiding layers of scurrilous gossip and subterfuge.

DP287624Next door there is a tender family portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Osuna and their children (above left, 1788).  Perhaps influenced by the Enlightenment neo-classicism of David in France, Goya leaves the background empty; the figures are grouped in natural poses, the Duke leaning in in frozen movement, the children playful and the small dogs refusing to stay still – an appropriately avant-garde approach to depicting one of Spain’s most enlightened families.  Nearby there is a portrait of a small child in a splendid red suit and silver sash (‘Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuniga’, 1788, right) with his pet magpie on a string, looking out at us with cherubic innocence while behind him three crouching cats look on their intended prey with greed.  There is a lively comedy to the picture that enhances what is already an affecting portrait.

goya_220Then we meet some of the personalities of the new post-French Revolutionary administration – along with the artist himself, in the small ‘Self-Portrait before an Easel’ (left, 1792-5).  Light streams in behind him, perhaps symbolic of the Enlightenment thinking embodied by the surrounding characters.  There is Ferdinand Guillemardet, the French ambassador in an extravagant swagger portrait, wearing the uniform of the Directoire; there is Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, a writer and reformist politician, his quiet intellect symbolised by the statue b-m-26of Minerva (below left, 1798), and Francisco de Saavedra, the Minister of Finance and man of action, painted with correspondingly rapid strokes; and there is the ruddy-cheeked poet, politician and lawyer Juan Antonio Melendez Valdes, whose highbrow, critical, moral intellect is incisively captured in this portrait (right, 1797).

Goya-X7177.pp_banner_crop

 

The Duchess of Alba is a highlight (below right, 1797); with her haughty expression outlined by thick black brows and the extravagant black lace mantilla she epitomises both Spanish tradition and feminine power.  She points imperiously at the ground where an inscription reads ‘Solo Goya’, a proud indication of status by the artist that also reminds us of the extensive estates that the widowed Duchess owned – and her fiery temper.

802D3006-F479-9B08-51678DB5B2A0803CAs well as his famous Black Paintings and Disasters of War etchings Goya also painted portraits of many of the protaganists in the upheavals of the early 19th century.  Charles IV was forced to abdicate in favour of his son Ferdinand VII in 1808, whom Goya paints with barely repressed irony almost smothered by the weight of his regal regalia, his short stature and stubborn expression eerily similar to that of Napoleon in Imperial guise.  He was a narrow-minded reactionary, power-hungry and unenlightened, and probably did not sense the subtle subversion latent within his brazenly propagandist portrait (left, 1814-15).  Goya-X7219_432Goya also painted General Guye (below right, 1810), Governor of Seville under Joseph Bonaparte, who had been placed on the Spanish throne by Napoleon in 1808, and the Duke of Wellington, who led allied troops to recapture Spain and restore Ferdinand to the throne.dam-images-resources-2007-04-thaw-resl03_thaw

In the next room are portraits of Goya’s friends and fellow artists; though no more or less incisive, the intimacy of these is in stark contrast to the preceding galleries.  The most striking are those of Andres del Francisco-De-Goya-D.-Juan-de-Villanueva-SPeral (below right, c.1798), the master gilder at court, who in turning his face towards us reveals its droop – the effects possibly of a stroke; and Juan de Villanueva (left, 1800-5), architect of the Prado, who is caught in mid-speech, endowing the portrait with a lively warmth and immediacy.

event-goya-don-andres-peral-ng1951-wide-banner

 

 

 

The centrepiece of the final room is the ‘Self-Portrait with Doctor Arrieta’ (below, 1820) in which the aging artist is propped up in bed by his doctor who offers him a cure; in an inscription underneath Goya gives thanks to Arrieta for saving his life.  It is curiously old-fashioned, the text and the subject lending the religious air of a medieval manuscript or fresco.  The painting is hung to face the exit, so that one can see it simultaneously with the group portrait of the Infante’s court hanging to face the entrance; it makes a joyous and satisfying conclusion, the two masterpieces representing youth and age, spirited ambition and disillusionment – and how far those pre-revolutionary days of 1783 must have seemed in 1820.

Goya-Self-Portrait-with-Doctor-Arrieta

Fabric of India

2015HV4945

IS.3:1-2013; IS.3:1-2013 Sari and matching long-sleeved shirt Sari and shirt with black and white houndstooth design, handwoven double Ikat silk, India, 2011 Abraham and Thakore; Murli Saree Emporium, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, Hand-woven in workshops of master weaver, Mr Goverdhan of Murli Saree Emporium, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. The Houndstooth fabric was commissioned by Abraham and Thakore and handwoven in the workshops of master weaver, Mr Goverdhan of Murli Saree Emporium, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh Hyderabad; The shirt was tailored in the studio of Abraham and Thakore in Delhi. Delhi The outfit was part of Abraham and Thakore's winter 2011/12 collection. The Shirt is unique and was made specifically for the ramp show, it was heavily photographed for Vogue and other fashion magazines. 2011 Handwoven double ikat silk

The Fabric of India exhibition at the V&A begins with a contrast.  Two contemporary Indian fashion designs – a dress covered in fluorescent silk and vinyl butterflies by Manish Arora and a houndstooth pattern ikat ‘office’ sari by Abraham & Thakoon (left) – are displayed on mannequins in front of a beautiful traditional block-printed cloth (above).  The show’s intentions are concisely stated: this is about the history, production and uses of Indian fabric – but equally about the relationship between the historical and contemporary, between artisans and artists, and between traditional and cutting edge.

2015HV4952

The first gallery is a fascinating introduction – using a combination of raw materials, fabric samples, finished items of clothing, text and videos – to all the traditional methods used in the production of fabric in India.  We start with dyes (and, just as importantly, making them stick) and raw materials such as silk, where they come from and how they are extracted and woven; then there are methods of embellishment, with gold threads, beetle wings and mirrored pieces, printing, tie-dying and batik methods, and embroidery.  It is difficult to tally the extraordinary complexity and detail of the finished pieces with the simple explanation of the techniques employed, and demands a new respect and awe for the artistry of these anonymous artisan-producers.

2015HV4970

The exhibition then considers cloth produced for religious purposes, the variety of temple hangings, flags and prayer mats reminding one of the religious diversity of India – and yet how, in their fabric hangings, Jains, Muslims and Hindus all had something in common.  In contrast there are the fabrics produced for secular purposes – the courtly textiles of Islamic sultans, Mughul emperors and Hindu rulers in the south.  Wall hangings depict flowers, animals and figural narratives – one long textile illustrating the progress of a battle looking rather similar in design to the Bayeux Tapestry (above) – though utterly different in technique.

A wall panel from Tipu Sultan's tent. Cotton chintz with a white ground, patterned with acanthus cusped niches, each enclosing a central vase with symmetrical flower arrangement, predominantly in reds and greens, the green achieved by over-painting dyed indigo with yellow (a fugative pigment which has partially disappeared). An enlarged version of the flower-head motif appears in the main horizontal borders on a green ground, and scaled down on a yellow ground in the spandrels of the arch. Triple vertical borders separate the panels, at each end of which is a metal eyelet that has been whipped with thick cotton thread. A black and white merlon and rosette band runs along the top of the qanats. The outside of the tent is a seperate layer of coarse white cotton. Later Mughal, c.1725-50.

Here one began to get a sense of the influence that Indian fabrics had on European traders and, later, colonial officers and administrators: one of the long muslin gowns on display belonged to an Englishman, and an ‘India gown’ made of cotton is also recorded by Pepys in his diary.  However it is Tipu Sultan’s tent that dominates the gallery, splendidly draped from the ceiling and stretching around two sides of the wall, cocooning one in its mesmeric printed patterns of stylised palms and flowers (above right).

2015HV4927

The international spread of India’s reputation for exquisite fabrics is charted in the next room; early fragments have been unearthed in Egypt and China, while by the 18th century they were exported to Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Africa (and thence to America via slave trade routes) – and of course Europe.  The different tastes and cultures of each destination were catered to and the differences are fascinating.  The origins of handkerchiefs and bandannas, chintzes and pashminas, pyjamas and sprigged muslins all become clear.  As Avalon Fotheringham writes in the catalogue, ‘the all-American bandannas we now associate with everything from the Wild West to inner-city gang violence are the direct successors’ to the Bengali handkerchiefs that America was ordering in quantities as early as 1800.

2015HV4936The Industrial Revolution in Britain disrupted India’s preeminence as a producer of cloth with new machines and factories entailing cheaper and quicker production at home, though the cloth was still exported to India for embellishment.  This inevitably led to protests – Gandhi promoting the plain ‘khadi’ cloth to symbolic status – and eventually to modernisation.  The following display brings us up to date, with both cinema and fashion promoting traditional techniques and thereby enacting  a reconciliation between old and new in an ever more globalised and consumerist world.  There is an astonishing Bollywood costume from ‘Devdas’ (above left, 2002), so encrusted with gold sequins and mirrors that is looks like a sculpture in precious stones – apparently too heavy to dance in, even the mannequin had to be specially supported.

CIS:IS.3:1-2015;CIS:IS.3:2-2015

Alongside this is Brigitta Singh’s Mughul style quilted coat (2014), block-printed with flowers that echo the cloth which introduced the show; Aziz Khatri’s ‘Ant Scarf’ updates such traditional techniques as tie-dye with abstract artistic designs inspired by nature, as do People Tree, a collective based in New Delhi with their popular ‘Disappearing Tiger’ design T-Shirt.  Meanwhile international fashion designers such as Azzedine Alaia and Isabel Marant have collaborated with Maximiliano Modesti, who founded Les Ateliers 2M in Mumbai, specialising in hand-crafted decoration for luxury brands, famously working on Lady Gaga’s 2015 Oscars outfit by Alaia and the intricate embroidery on Hermes’ ‘Cavalcadour Fleuri’ shawl.

IS.27-2012 Jacket Women's 'Ajrak' Jacket, digitally printed linen, designed by Rajesh Pratap Singh, Delhi, 2010 Rajesh Pratap Singh Delhi 2010 Digitally printed linen

But it is not all purely commercial; contemporary art in India has also begun to adopt these textile skills.  As the introductory panel points out, textiles as pure art – dissociated form their traditional purpose – are a new phenomenon, but in helping to revive traditional artisanal skills they also provoke a reevaluation of such techniques. Meanwhile Indian designers are experimenting with new technologies such as digital printing – the ‘Ajrakh’ Jacket (left, 2010) designed by Rajesh Pratap Singh uses a digital ‘skull’ print on linen, combining the hand-made with the high-tech. There is also a playful approach to incorporating motifs from pop culture, adapting traditional forms, weaving and printing processes to bring them subversively up to date – for instance the Khatri brothers’ clamp dyed silk ‘Moon sari’ (above right) and Kallol Datta’s ‘suicide print’ sari.  The designs are at once beautiful and interesting in a cultural sense; the exhibition is both an education and a visual delight.

Images: The Victoria & Albert Museum

 

John Armstrong: Paintings 1938-1958 – An Enchanted Distance

1556_1000John Armstrong’s paintings are an enigma.  Over a period in which many artists turned to abstraction, Armstrong remained firmly figurative, yet his spaces are hard to define and his symbolism elusive.  Perhaps best known for his participation in the short-lived movement ‘Unit One’, founded by Paul Nash along with Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Wells Coates and Herbert Read in 1933, and his powerful paintings inspired by the Spanish Civil War, Armstrong was a surrealist in all but name.  He claimed that what he painted appeared to him in dreams – ‘these things come to me as complete images, often when I am half asleep’ he wrote in 1953 – and an obvious comparison is De Chirico, whose uncanny style permeates the eerily silent spaces populated by anthropomorphic figures and empty, often Classical, buildings (‘Feathers Conclave’, 1946, below).

images

Piano Nobile presents a concise selection of paintings from Armstrong’s most prolific – and experimental – years.  Beginning in the late 1930s the works span an eclectic variety of themes, media and techniques.  The earlier work is painted primarily in quick-drying tempera – ‘a medium for those who have made up their mind’ in Armstrong’s words – yet there are a number of superb examples which show him to have been an equal master of oil paint.  He also veered from flawlessly smooth surfaces to a distinctive mosaic effect, square dabs of paint like tesserae creating the same visual effects that Pointillism sought.

2011_1000

In conjunction with religious subjects (to which Armstrong, son of a parson, returned repeatedly) this technique appears imbued with the hieratic symbolism of the Hagia Sophia or St Mark’s in Venice (‘Madonna’, 1945, above).  Elsewhere, political themes are uppermost – especially the threat of war which perpetually hung over Armstrong’s life and career.  His figures are anonymous and unseeing, standing in a deserted post-apocalyptic landscape; in ‘Encounter in the Plain’ (c.1938, top left) the loss of the Spanish civil war is made explicit in the tombstones lining the roadside while the head of an enormous blindfolded woman is literally in the clouds, while the post-war ‘Figure in Contemplation’ (1945, below), with its single shrouded form, is suffused with a ‘melancholic absence’.

1567_1000

A later Cold War era work, ‘Victory’ (1958, below), is arguably the most arresting image in the exhibition: a wildly staring scarecrow figure lurches towards us, arms akimbo – ‘the central figure is a parody of a human being – half-human scarecrow.  He’s the winner of a nuclear war. the crumpled lumps at either side – they’re the losers…’ described Armstrong.  Yet another scarecrow in the background might be taken as an image of the crucifixion, promising a kernel of hope amidst the ashes of civilisation.

1628_1000

But just as often Armstrong’s figures morph into leaves or feathers, standing enrobed and statuesque in those empty landscapes, or caught in an esoteric dance (‘Leaf Forms’, 1947, below left), the animated still life weighted with a complex and layered symbolism reminiscent of Magritte’s surrealist canvases.

Unknown

The exhibition’s accompanying catalogue illuminates the other side of Armstrong’s career.  His work as a society muralist and designer of sets and costumes for film, theatre and ballet (including Alexander Korda’s ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’) is visible in the way he constructs a deceptive sense of space and depth; his knowledge of classics and service in the Royal Field Artillery in Egypt and Macedonia during World War I helps to explain his predilection for archaic and classical themes.  In the late 1950s Armstrong’s second marriage to a much younger woman produced the joyful ‘Thorn and Seed’ paintings (1958, below), while during these same years Armstrong was also associated with the ‘Geometry of Fear’ artists (Henry Moore, Lynn Chadwick, Bernard Meadows, Eduardo Paolozzi) – a term coined by his Unit One associate Herbert Read to describe a new Cold War era imagery belonging ‘to the iconography of despair, or of defiance’.

_mg_0366

Like many British artists who reached maturity during the interwar years Armstrong has been somewhat overlooked; this must be attributed to the lack of a strong group aesthetic – there was no ‘Cubism’, ‘Futurism’ or ‘Camden Town’ that by style, subject or location could unite these disparate artists, as the rapid dispersal of Unit One proved.  Each with a uniquely innovative vision, they could not be yoked together.  Armstrong’s work assimilates the fear of war and hopes of fresh beginnings in contemplative yet unsettling compositions – it speaks of timeless truths and warnings that are equally applicable today. It is certainly time for a reappraisal.

‘John Armstrong: Paintings 1938-1958 – An Enchanted Distance’ is at Piano Nobile, 129 Portland Road, London W11 4LW until 8 December 2015 – www.piano-nobile.com

Frieze Week Art Fairs

So after four days and five art fairs, here are a few selected highlights…

unnamed-6

First up was Multiplied at Christie’s South Kensington (left) – ‘the UK’s only fair dedicated to contemporary art in editions’, which I have written about for Candid Magazine here (http://www.candidmagazine.com/multiplied-2015-contemporary-editions-fair-christies-16-18-october/).  I was fascinated by the manifold techniques used to reproduce works in multiple – from traditional printmaking practices to modern digital and 3D printing, as well as many combinations of the two.  At TAG Fine Arts, beautiful materials were used to elevate trivial subject matter – Chris Mitton’s crumpled tin can in Carrara marble (right) or David Shrigley’s polished brass tooth.  unnamed-5C&C Gallery in contrast were showing a selection of 3D printed pieces that looked like sculpture (one was based on a large bronze owned by Damien Hirst, another on a hand-painted disposable coffee cup by Paul Wescombe, below left) but were at one remove from the hand of the artist, raising questions about the relative input of artist and machine in the digital printing process.

unnamed-4

 

Many works were deceptive, appearing to be drawings or paintings but in fact printed – for example, Emma Stibbon’s intaglio prints at Rabley Contemporary (‘Broken Lead’, below right) were created by painting onto a negative which was then exposed onto a light sensitive plate and printed in the traditional way – except that the expressive, painted brushstrokes are still visible so that the precision technique is subverted.  itemsfs_4450Equally deceptive is Susan Collis’ ‘Something’s Gone’ portfolio shown by Used Paper (below left); the effect of spontaneity – a white paint splash – is produced by a time-consuming method of dense cross-hatching in biro, the image then transferred to a plate and printed.2TC_19_06_14-0099_440_599_s

The Made in Arts London stand showing student and graduate work was particularly impressive, more than standing up to the Royal Academy stand opposite.  Anastasia Pudane’s screen prints such as ‘Three Spririts from the Past’ showed her roots in illustration with a nod to Edward Gorey, while Joseph Jackson’s photographic prints of the locations of past crimes on small glass panels reflected his interest in photojournalism and documentary.  Pablo_Bronstein_Chatsworth_GElsewhere I admired Georgie Hopton’s photo-gravure prints – interior scenes with reflections of a nude in a mirror that reminded me of Francesca Woodman – at Galerie Simpson. Meanwhile, Nottingham Contemporary had several Pablo Bronstein hand-coloured etchings from their recent exhibition ‘The Grand Tour: Pablo Bronstein and the Treasures of Chatsworth’ which celebrate the architecture in his humorous baroque pastiche style (‘Chatsworth Sauce Tureen in Gold’, above).

unnamedFurther East, at the Old Truman Brewery, there was more innovation – and since stands were dedicated to artists rather than galleries, there was all the more opportunity to find out directly about the techniques used and the ideas behind the work.  Making a bee-line for the tea stand, I realised it was surrounded by an installation piece by IMA Studio, comprised of fluttering pages climbing the walls and gathering in corners like erudite swarms of butterflies (above left).  Numerous times I noted a tendency towards the reinvention of traditional materials: Alex McIntyre’s landscapes (below) are created from a gesso ground – like very fine porcelain plaster which can be rubbed or incised to create textural effects – with the colour infused by a layer of ink washed over the surface and pushed into the marks made.

IMG_9465.1

Sarah Kudirka’s ‘City Skies: Paint + Polaroids’ used polaroids as the ground for painting little abstract oil studies, the cube format lending a tiled effect when displayed en masse, a mosaic of the ever-evolving city’s rooftops.  ThumbnailKirsten Baskett creates heliogravure prints in Prussian blue on delicate Japanese Kozo paper; ‘Blueprints’ (right) echoes the cyanotype prints of early 19th century photography, capturing obsolete objects such as typewriters so that they appear like a fading memory.  These fragile documents are then encased in clear resin, frozen in time.  unnamed-2There are some really entertaining stands: Elle Kaye’s is packed full of extraordinary taxidermy including several peacocks and a full size zebra (left); meanwhile Carolina Mizrahi presents an entirely putty-pink coloured stand, from her fashion style photographs to the carpet and interior furnishings (below right).

unnamed-28

And so to Frieze…  I will gloss over Mark Leckey’s giant inflatable Felix the Cat at Buchholz Gallery and a giant ostrich/ aubergine sculpture by Darren Bader at Sadie Coles – remnants of the children’s playground approach that seemed to dominate last year (thanks to Carsten Holler).  This year Gagosian’s stand was far more impressive, dedicated to Glenn Brown who investigated the religious across art history with detailed pen and ink drawings of the Virgin and unnamed-1Child after Murillo and a riff on Durer’s drawing of feet with stigmata (left); among these were placed sculptures that appeared to be pure pigment – a 3D painting – some engulfing traditional bronze figures of putti (below right).unnamed

While the motifs used are religious, the colours were inspired by German Expressionists such as Kirchner; of the concept, Brown (quoted in The Art Newspaper) says ‘The idea of the floating form, a figure breaking apart, rotting and decaying, has a spiritual element.  Decay is just a form of change … nothing is ever really lost in this world.’

unnamed-22White Cube showed their usual roster of artists – a predictably Hirst-ian colour chart, an Emin-ified strip of neon amid a bed of barbed wire – within, yes, a white cube space.  Hauser & Wirth presented a forest of small scale sculpture on plinths.  Victoria Miro had some Conrad Shawcross sculptures (left) which would have looked more impressive outside; within a marquee overcrowded by ‘look at me’ canvases and installations, they hardly stood out.  Next door at the Lisson Gallery was one of Anish Kapoor’s dark circular concave voids which I remembered seeing on a larger scale at his RA show.  unnamed-2Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac was showing several Rauschenbergs – acrylic colour over black and white photographic prints on aluminium – and a Tony Cragg sculpture, ‘Runner’, as well as a sculptural painting (there was a definite theme for using paint to create three dimensional effects) by Jason Martin in a piercing Yves Klein blue (right). The Sunday Painter, a Peckham-based gallery, was a welcome addition to the established contemporary scene: they showed just one piece, Samara Scott’s ‘liquid sculpture’, a unnamed-27shallow pool full of colourful rubbish embedded in the floor of the marquee (left).  Scott has described her work as ‘trembling, putrid glitter … like the sewers of a tranny club. Or that horrible festering crustiness of putting eyeliner on in a festival portaloo.”  The new Tracey Emin? More fun than the bed, I thought, although there was a very real danger of my phone becoming part of the art as I avidly instragrammed.

The Frith Street Gallery presented an interesting CP-237-13_72array of work with Tacita Dean’s series of photographs, ‘Blue Line’, and Cornelia Parker’s ‘Black Path’ (right), a grid-like floor sculpture in etiolated black bronze that traces broken paving stones in Giacometti-esque style (this was raised just off the floor, possibly following an ‘accident’ at the Whitworth Gallery opening in which a visitor tripped and hurt her hand).  rimbaud4Other impressive photography appeared courtesy of Anthony Reynolds Gallery with Paul Graham’s photographs from the series ‘A1: The Great North Road’ (1982), and P.P.O.W. Gallery with Carolee Schneeman’s feminist, performative ‘Eye Body Series’ and David Wojnarowicz’s ‘Arthur Rimbaud in New York’ portfolio (above).

unnamed-11Over at Frieze Masters a trend for ‘crossover displays’ combining ancient and modern art on one stand was noticeable.  Axel Vervoordt exhibited a stunning pairing of a Roman bronze torso (left) with abstract Korean paintings such as Kazuo Shiraga’s ‘Seiku (Sacred Dog)’ of 1964, while Hauser & Wirth joined up with Moretti Fine Art to present an enthralling mixture of stand-out pieces from Renaissance memento mori to modern and contemporary art (Henry Moore, Agnes Martin).  The calibre of Frieze Masters is very high; most stands are museum quality in terms of works and presentation.  unnamed-12I particularly enjoyed the combination, at The Fine Art Society, of a small bronze cast of ‘The Sluggard’ by Lord Leighton below a red lustre charger by William de Morgan (right), accompanied by the impressive canvases of Sickert (whose ‘Facade of Saint-Jacques, Dieppe’ has come straight from the brilliant exhibition at Pallant House Gallery), Henry Scott Tuke and others.  There were some stunning drawings and paintings by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele at both Richard Nagy and W&K – Wienerroither & Kohlbacher (below left).

unnamed-14

Galleries were clearly making the most of the recent retrospective of Agnes Martin’s work (for instance at Peter Freeman/Georg Laue, where a wall of her small watercolour studies for the pale striped abstracts hung) – and the current Auerbach show at Tate Britain too, with a mini-retrospecive at Marlborough Fine Art.

Photography was again a highlight with Colnaghi/Bernheimer showing a selection of some of the greatest images of Jeanloup Sieff, Horst P. Horst and Norman Parkinson.  Meanwhile, over on the other side of the marquee in the Spotlight section were some noteworthy small displays –Unknown of Boris Mikhailov at Sprovieri, David Goldblatt’s Johannesburg at the Goodman Gallery and Allan Sekula at Christopher Grimes Gallery.  Mikhailov’s ‘Yesterday’s Sandwich’ series (right) of double exposed images from the late 1960s layers the human body with landscapes and objects in colourfully surreal compositions that lie somewhere between the conceptual and documentary – in the artist’s words ‘the montage is an assemblage of elements with conflicting meanings, reflecting the dualism and contradiction of society’.

unnamed-8

The highlight of the fair, however, has to be Helly Nahmad’s stand which recreated the interiors of lunatic asylums (above) such as those that inspired Jean Dubuffet in 1945 as he developed the Art Brut style.  Art Brut, the gallery asserts, ’embraced the outsider, including the primitive, the eccentric, and the untrained’; but the stand’s juxtaposition also questions the moral position of such appropriation – and by extension the position of us as spectators or buyers.  Dubuffet’s works hang opposite, their ‘madness’ neatly contained within canvases on a clean white wall.

unnamed-15

Sluice_ is an art fair for emerging and artist-led projects staged in the Bargehouse at Oxo Tower Wharf; it is an ideal, unrestored venue and the best of the exhibits use this aesthetic dilapidation or are complemented by it.  Up at the top, under the eaves (left), Vacuous presents ‘Unspecified’, loosely grouped around the use of miscellaneous discarded objects, reinterpreted and transformed into ‘art’; so appropriate is this to the space that the work looks site-specific.  unnamed-9Helen McGhie’s ‘Corner(ed)’ (right) layers photographs of crumbling plaster walls and wrinkled skin, musing on ideas of aging and decay.

unnamed-16One floor down, Keran James (at Studio 1.1, left) uses a combination of mirrors and opaque forms to play with space, reiterating imagery of the space itself and reflecting (on) its innate though decaying beauty.  Further along at The Florence Trust William Martin’s ceramic cups – ‘Babel’ – are stacked in precarious towers, their artisan, earthy quality resonating with the worn floorboards on which they stand, throwing long shadows in the afternoon light.  But this is not simply a sculptural exhibit to stare at; the visitor is encouraged to take a cup (with Jenga-like care) and fill it with water from a dispenser, a work usefully entitled ‘Help Yourself’. Audience participation that serves a purpose.

unnamed-10Ceramics reappear downstairs at MADE, where Beth Dary’s porcelain barnacles (right) cling to a steel column as if they had been there for ever, as if the building exists on the edge of the ocean.  Dary also uses materials such as glass, beeswax/encaustic and egg tempera, creating natural forms that, in remaining vulnerable, question the human impact on the environment, a ‘powerful symbol of our fragile yet potent interplay with nature.’

After such a lot of high culture it’s back to nature for me too; having managed to kill a hydrangea in London I have retreated to back to the countryside where the plants thrive and mental struggle goes no further than selecting which vegetable to dig up.

Chris Levine: ‘Angel Presence’

Frieze  press images 62

Night had fallen and the portals of the Danish Church on the fringes of Regents Park were dramatically candlelit.  Within, however, the illumination and drama were of a different order altogether.  Walking down the nave through beams of red and blue light, half-images moving dream-like across the walls, was an uncanny experience.

Frieze  press images 68This was my introduction to Chris Levine’s new site specific, immersive light and sound installation, ‘Angel Presence’.  Levine uses cutting edge light-based technologies and has collaborated on projects with Swarovski since 2004.  In ‘Angel Presence’ a laser beam hits a cluster of Swarovski crystals hanging like a divine disco ball at the heart of the space, diffracts, and throws out light across the church.  Despite an extensive career working with light, Levine admits that there is always an element of the unknown in a new space, as each structure reacts to the light in unique ways.

Perhaps best known for his holographic portrait of the Queen, ‘Lightness of Being’, this show reminds one of the true scope of using light as a medium; where holography produces something solid and finite – even if the image itself seems to move, presenting a deceptive depth – ‘Angel Presence’ presents light as an intangible and enigmatic visual experience, conversely infinite.

Frieze  press images 137

There is also the sound element.  Putting on headphones, the rhythmic undulations merge sense and sight, so that the mind is quietened as rational, conscious analysis is halted.  Amidst our frenetic daily realities, Levine has aimed to create a ‘meditative state of heightened awareness … recalibrating and harmonising us with reality’. This concept has echoes of Eastern spiritualism and yogic traditions such as ‘Om’, a sacred sound and symbol often used to aid meditation. A sense of ancient mysticism is produced by the most contemporary technology.

Frieze  press images 133

The choice of a Protestant church as a site for this installation is therefore interesting.  Various forms of spirituality are successfully unified here – yet Levine deliberately chooses not to use the word ‘religious’; its violent connotations in a world torn apart by religious conflict are the antithesis of what this piece is about. At the same time, however, the installation very much speaks to the Christian past.  The beams of light passing through the crystal echo what medieval craftsmen aimed for with stained glass windows which filtered natural rays of light in order to induce a sense of awe and piety – a mystical sense of benediction – among the congregation.  Levine also spoke  of the idea of ‘purity’ inherent in single wavelength light – a word that might also refer both to the quality of a substance such as crystal and to a moral state that seems defined in the simple whitewashed walls of the church over which this pure light travels.

Frieze  press images 63

The result is hypnotic and transcendental; in the midst of Frieze week frenzy, it offers the ultimate restorative.

Images by Andrew Atkinson