by Lucy Reis
Sometime in the 1600’s, somewhere in the Netherlands, silver platters are teetering on a darkly lit oak table. Bunches of peaches and plumbs spill over the silverware onto the satin cloths. A dead pheasant gazes forlornly into the middle distance and a lobster looks slightly bored as it’s antennae prods a peeled orange. A wicker basket overloads with grapes and a dead butterfly is glued to a fig.
Around four hundred years later in a dingy pub that smells strongly of beer and sticky carpets, football plays on a large screen as someone orders a ‘surf and turf’ that will inevitably taste of de-frosted plastic.
Better than the Dutch masters, more gluttonous than the upper classes of the 1600’s and as ironic as the pub classic, the namesake of his new work, Elliot Walker draws up a seat at the proverbial feast and assuredly becomes the loudest voice in the room.
In a medium commonly associated with daintiness and refined decorative fragility Walker clears this table with confidence. It suits him that his latest narrative in glass is one of excess, sensory gluttony, and, in terms of technique, a challenge that throws down the gauntlet to the glass blowing world.
Back at our feast, frozen in time in the sixteenth century, one could reach through the ornate gold picture frame and touch the soft flesh of the peaches and feel the cool goblets, the wine looks so intoxicating it fills the twentieth century nostril. Walker’s Surf ’n’ Turf offering invites a warier feaster to the table. More artifice than natural this feast will never rot, there are no flies on this table. There is nothing soft about this abandoned dinner party.
Away from the glinting light refracting off these extraordinary objects there is an underside of darkness. Walker points out that ‘the vitrification of materials is a common occurrence at sites of great calamity’. There is a sense of abandonment at this particular dinner party. A vitrification, or fossilisation, moments before a disaster of grand scale, the guests running for cover as molten pumice and ash rain down, freezing a scene of apparent serenity forever. In a dark parody of the Dutch still life this display nods to the perpetual scene of bountiful life and flips it on its head.
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An essay by Philip Marsden
A February gale had just gone through when James and Catherine Dodds came to visit. The gale had broken the mooring of my little Cornish coble and left it on a beach some way upstream. The boat was undamaged but I’d just been down at the creek, fumbling in the low-water gloop to fix a new length of ground chain to the block.
‘I won’t shake your hand,’ I held up my own to greet them. It was covered in mud, as were my boots and trousers, my coat – probably also my face and hair.
‘That’, said Catherine, ‘is how James looks much of the time at home. Mud is his habitat.’
James smiled, nodding.
The Fal in Cornwall, the Colne in Essex. Two short rivers flowing into different seas, each with their fine silt banks, their accumulated sediment, each with a world of maritime history packed into its brief estuary. On the Colne, where Dodds has his studio, five thousand ships have been built in the last couple of centuries, fishing boats and freighters and some of the fastest schooners ever to sail the sea. It is as if the mud itself spawned these creatures, which took shape and grew from its slimy flats, to slide off into the tide and fly across the ocean.
Down at Falmouth, tucked in behind Pendennis Castle, is a pool where ships have been sheltering since prehistory, where they’ve been assembled, victualled, re-sparred and repaired, where superyachts are now designed and built. It is a natural harbour that has been as busy with boats as any along the Atlantic seaboard. The National Maritime Museum Cornwall now stands there, on partially-reclaimed land, and in its timber-and-glass gallery was hanging, at the time, this same collection of James Dodds’s paintings and prints. Hence the visit.
I’d been to the gallery the week before. It was my first sight of his pictures in the flesh. His boats filled the space around them with a physicality that took me aback. They were impossible to ignore. In other hands, reality like this might be merely literal or photographic. But not here. Through the vessels’ grainy textures and meticulous forms, bare of any context, James Dodds persuades us to dwell on a simple notion: what a strange and wonderful thing is a boat.
Among the paintings, prominence is given to a group of workboats – Falmouth quay punts, oyster-dredgers, shrimpers and luggers, gigs and tenders and dinghies. Most are painted bow-on, and in their anonymous background they look suspended. These are the foot-soldiers of the maritime army, the inshore corps of jobbing craft. They are not embellished like old ships-of-the-line, nor made sleek like a yacht. They are built for labour, for day fishing, for fetching and carrying – yet each one glows with a nobility that goes far beyond its function.
Joseph Conrad believed that ‘the love that is given to ships is profoundly different from the love men feel for every other work of their hands’. That difference lies at the heart of boat-building, a tradition as old as the first migrations of homo sapiens. Shaping wood for the alien forces of the water requires problem-solving and techniques that equate to little on land. Together they have produced an object that now, after many thousands of years, looks like nothing else. Boats have grown and evolved with us, a companion species like the
Dodds manages to place his boats in that enigmatic space between the animate and the inanimate. They are taut with muscularity, power and strength at rest. It takes little to picture them driving into steep seas, or muled up with supplies or a good haul of fish, or dashing towards a ship to win the pilotage. But they are the work of human hands, designed by an individual’s eye and judgement, nothing more than an inert assemblage of dead timber and metal fastenings.
I confess I’m something of a pedant when it comes to boat pictures. I have an annoying tendency to look first at the lines and if they are not quite right, find it hard to look again. But Dodds knows boats, not only as someone who has been on and around them all his life, who lives by the rhythm of the tides, whose habitats include estuary mud – but as a man who trained and worked as a shipwright. He understands the anatomy of boats, the processes that go into creating them – the lofting-out and the half-models and moulds, the string-lines and battens, the framing and scarphing and caulking. And he knows that particular frisson of sea-fear, and the deep trust that every sea-goer places in their vessel.
Among his pictures in Falmouth, I realised for the first time the reasons for my pedantry. I saw why it is so hard to look past an unboat-like shape, why any degree of abstraction of wooden craft feels wrong. It is because a boat’s shape is already an abstraction. In its build – the bend and sheer of the hull, the rise of the stem, the ogee or lute of the transom – the form of a waterborne vessel is far removed from the familiar. It is as weird as any work of art, and as true. To alter or distort the lines would be to diminish it. What James Dodds does is less interpretation than homage.
We were sitting in the kitchen, talking boats. We spoke about my other boat, a 31-foot wooden sloop, now winter-covered in a creek to the south, and built over fifty years ago near Dodds’s home in Essex. We spoke about the oak frames and fittings and its character at sea, my recent navigation up the west coast of Ireland. We spoke about the various boats he had had, and about his print-making and his proofing press and how he prepared for the paintings – the laying out, the scaling-up and the intricate geometry of the sketching. ‘I tend to approach the painting of a boat as if I was building it.’
One thing that struck me about the boat images was their texture. The hulls’ surfaces have a quality that is far from real, yet appears completely authentic. Dodds builds up the paint from a dark ground, adding pigment layer by layer and then scraping it back with a curved skinning knife. The colours too are slight enhancements – stronger, brighter than anything you might see used in a boatshed. But rather than deviations, they help to emphasize the principal intent: to present the beauty and mystery of the boats’ form.
‘Look at the angle,’ we were leafing through a catalogue, Dodds pointing out the aspect of many of the images. ‘I like to position the boats so that a part of the interior is hidden, and there’s a slight glow from inside, from the space you cannot see.’
There’s an absence in these paintings. It’s not clear at first, but spend a few minutes with them and you become aware of what’s missing: the hand that shaped the boats, that planned and constructed them, the town beaches they lay on, the crews that heaved them into the water. For all their paint-craft and shipwrights’ method, these pictures tell a human story. ‘I often think of particular people as I paint. My father, for instance – he’s there in the grey boat.’
In his omission, Dodds only makes the boats more miraculous. What might be ignored on the strand, an old hulk rotting in the mud, or a clinker-built dinghy well-worked and retired, is displayed here in all its original purity and grace. The story of these craft is pared-back, the role of the characters all the stronger for being elsewhere.
In 1856, John Ruskin made an extraordinary confession. This high Victorian aesthete, more at home among the vaulted cloisters of a Gothic cathedral or the masters of Renaissance painting, wrote in middle age:
‘Of all things, living or lifeless, upon this strange earth, there is but one which, having reached the mid-term of appointed human endurance on it, I still regard with unmitigated amazement… Flowers open, and stars rise, and it seems to me they could have done no less… But one object there is still, which I never pass without the renewed wonder of childhood, and that is the bow of a Boat.’
Like Dodds, Ruskin recognized the perfection of a boat’s shape, the life-giving union of form and function. He saw its apogee in the front end – the bringing-in of planks at the stem. In that detail is the core of the task: the diverting of natural materials into curves and containment. The bow must be sharp to cut through the water, but the boards must spread back from it, filling out to create volume, and they must do so in such a way that copes with the ever-shifting bumps and thrusts of the water. If it looks beautiful, that is only a measure of its rightness.
But a boat’s bow is more than just shape. ‘No other work of human hands,’ continued Ruskin, ‘ever gained so much.’ Over the centuries, boats have acted as the engine of human endeavour, hidden away beneath the bottom-boards of history. Look around you – how much has been brought by sea? On island Britain, boat-building always meant connecting – or re-connecting – with the world and its peoples. While some vessels put to sea to do ill – carrying slaves, subjugating nations or making war – a great many more were involved in the intermingling of people, in the fertile exchange of goods and ideas, in the invigorating flow of migration and emigration. ‘The nails that fasten together the boat’s bow,’ Ruskin concluded, ‘are the rivets of the fellowship of the world.’
Boats reveal the best of us. Every one carries the ingenuity of those who designed and constructed it, the courage of those who worked it, and each carries too the efforts of all those previous generations for whom the barrier of the sea was no impediment, whose restless souls drove them to leave the comforts of the shore to seek bounty beyond. Boats reveal the best of us, and James Dodds’s boats are the best of them.
An essay by Catherine Milner
‘The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes,’ said Marcel Proust and at the moment, the effects of that thought can be seen as not just philosophical but also practical.
In the absence of ready and immediate travel many of us have started to enjoy what we see around us; discovering a new Eden in what we have already before our eyes.
Years of metropolitan culture; going to nightclubs, restaurants, shops, galleries and increasingly arcane coffee shops seem to have been exchanged in the blink of an eye by such prosaic activities as walking and gardening.
The landscape, so long seen as a backdrop to our lives, has taken centre stage; Nature and its wonders, objects of curiosity increasingly demanding our attention and being talked about.
So, it is no surprise that a new school of landscape painters has emerged. In truth it has always been there but, obscured by the noise surrounding the industrial and technological advances we have made, we did not much hear its quiet beat.
Britain’s landscape painting tradition – much like the landscape itself – is one of the best preserved in the world.
It has emerged and disappeared as a genre every few decades since the 18th century when painters like JMW Turner or Thomas Gainsborough first began to celebrate it.
The Pre-Raphaelites; the Newlyn School, to some extent the Bloomsberries, the Nash brothers, the St Ives Group and latterly artists like David Inshaw and Michael Andrews have all sought to express the charm of our island, often following or coinciding with a period of intense industrialisation or war; William Morris’ wallpaper designs featuring banks of peonies or John Nash’s pre-war paintings of bucolic haystooks are just some examples of many escapes into arcadia.
And although landscape painting has been out of the mainstream for years there have been signs even before the onset of this pandemic, with technology was riding high and society increasingly atomised, that the embers of our love affair with landscape had begun to smoulder anew.
Leading painters, Hurvin Anderson, Peter Doig and Luc Tuymans have made landscape a central feature in their work for decades but often at a distance, in a slightly alienated way.
Now, as our roster of new exhibitions show, the landscape is seen as welcoming – not bleached of its colour, inpenetrable or fenced off but drawing us in, reminding us that we are at one with it.
Messums’ exhibitions this winter give us many new perspectives on the landscape; all through the medium of paint, that – much like landscape – comes in and out of fashion but in the end, scotches all rivals.
Richard Hoare’s pictures of Wiltshire and Dorset speak of the light behind all we see; the light that leads to photosynthesis, creating leaves on the trees and fostering all life. He depicts a world in constant motion – fluttering with life – capturing the abundance and fruitfulness of the southwest of England.
Constable once said that the sky sets the tone for any landscape painting and this is the striking feature of paintings by Hannah Mooney; her rich peat-coloured, crepuscular paintings of the lakes of County Mayo and the West of Ireland have a dark romanticism and contrast with the diaphanous, gossamer-thin watercolours of northern Italy by another of our rising stars, Francesco Poiana.
Situated in a 13th century medieval wooden barn constructed from vast trunks of elm and oak Messums Wiltshire can sometimes feel akin to being in a big forest. This year the paintings, more than ever, feel as if they are the lights.
Image 2. Detail of ‘Trees by Lake at Night – Fonthill’, Monotype Drawing by Richard Hoare
“Heat cannot be separated from fire, or beauty from The Eternal”
Glass making is a dialogue between many elements and many people; it requires patience, creativity and teamwork. Dialogues open new avenues of potential exploration between those that enter them. There is a clear parallel between two Dantes who set themselves apart from their contemporaries through pursuing revolutionary paths in their respective creative fields. The first Dante is Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) who developed the dynamic possibilities of literature in the Italian Renaissance through works such as The New Life and Divine Comedy. The heir to Aligheri’s maverick spirit is the second Dante, Dante Marioni (born 1964), one of the leading figures in contemporary American glass, who combines the same elements that their Florentine namesake put to the page into their own art: heat, fire, beauty, and The Eternal to create works that move beyond the expected and attempt to define and represent our own era. Dante Marioni is realising some of the most progressive and technically perfect vessels of our time.
Dante Alighieri’s work Divine Comedy tells the story of Alighieri’s imagined long journey through an Inferno (hell) to Paradise (heaven). Dante Marioni goes on a similar journey in their practice, manipulating through their singular skill the transformation of a heated form of glass, that is removed from the bowels of raging inferno, into a clear and cool structure- the antithesis of what it was, representing the magnificence of paradise. Glassblowing is the act of combining seemingly impossible techniques to transform and manipulate molten liquid into its antithesis without direct touch: a cool solid formation. This process can be temperamental, but the final product will never reveal the strife, skill, and strength that went into its production.
Glass has been desired as a material for thousands of years, dating back to Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, with some early pieces being created from 3600 BCE. Under the dynamic system of trade established throughout the Roman Empire, glass spread across the globe, leading to glass objects ending up in many unexpected places, including in Han Dynasty (202 BCE- 220 CE) Chinese tombs. After the fall of the Roman Empire glass production devolved to independent productions revolving around local techniques. It wasn’t until the 14th century when the Venetians pioneered techniques to produce tough and transparent glass that a rightful heir to the glass empire emerged – Venetian glass, complete with engaging forms, textures, and colour, became a desired product internationally. The Venetian way of life was inextricably linked to glass, with it being central to the economy, to such an extent that if a glassblower left Venice without permission thier family would be imprisoned until their return, and an assassin would be dispatched to stop the spread of glass related secrets if a glassblower failed to return. Despite being removed to the island of Murano (by a 1291 decree to prevent fires across Venice), glassblowers held a prestigious position in society that enabled special privileges, such as being able to marry into nobility, carrying extra swords, and the acquisition of wealth. It is from this dynamic legacy that contemporary glassblowing hails; just as the Dante Aligheri’s Inferno was filled with intrigue and drama, so too was the glass producing world.
Seattle, where Dante is based, is the centre of glassblowing in America. This area is infused with the same passion for glass that has been found in Murano for almost 1000 years. It was the vision of a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor, Harvey Littleton, to bring glassblowing out of the factories and into the studio and form a hub of artisans that would experiment and push glass to new heights. In 1962 Littleton created the first collegiate glass course in America and prompted a new wave of glass societies and locations for artisanal glass to develop. One of these was the Pilchuck Glass school, founded in 1971 by Dale Chihuly, was created as a space to encourage experimentalising in glass and yet was firmly based on mastering complex Muranese skills such as caning as Chihuly had trained in Venice. The methodology of teaching was based around artists teaching artists, which enabled a synthesis of techniques and ideas to develop out of this centre, this in turn solidified Seattle’s throne as the glass producing capital.
Dante Marioni has been at the forefront of artistic glass since the age of nineteen, pushing for new forms, colours, techniques, and inspiration. The fire to work with glass came from Dante’s father, Paul Marioni. Paul, a fellow glassblower, began working with glass in about 1972; for Dante when these early works of glass art were brought home it was a revelation. To be viewing glass not just as a something that could be handmade but even devoid of practicality was something refreshing and inspiring. This led Dante to work at a local glass blowing factory in Seattle as a teenager, and eventually training under the Muranese master Lino Tagliapietra and Americans Benjamin Moore and Richard Marquis. This transcontinental training places Dante firmly in the centre of contemporary glass, as well as continuing the legacy of Venetian Muranese glass. Dante’s ability was further cemented at the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington, where Paul Marioni also taught.
For Dante, this fire has never been put out. There is a continued desire to prefect, master, and develop as many techniques with glass as possible. This has led Dante to push for new forms and designs in their oeuvre. One of these designs embodies this fire within: the acorn. Dante was infatuated with acorns, something that could fall from the tree without being damaged and subsequently grow into something steadfast and strong. In a similar way Dante has grown in confidence and ability to create a huge variety of works. Notably Dante’s acorns are executed in reticello, one of the most complex forms of Venetian glass. Reticello requires a glassblower to create two forms of identical shape based around cylindrical canes of glass, these canes are then fused together in opposing directions to create a lattice effect, betwixt each lattice a delicate air bubble should appear to create a visual dot matrix pattern. Through the use of this technique Dante’s acorns proclaim themselves not to be naïve youths with potential for greatness, but rather prodigies of brilliance with advanced knowledge and abilities. Dante works as a single-handed artist, eschewing large teams, and places their own hand, breath, and iconography at the centre of each piece.
The beauty of Dante’s glass lies in the manner it transcends time. When Dante was first exposed to glass and its potential in the 70s, the mode was for artful blobs; these freeform shapes held little allure for Dante. It was witnessing the skill of Moore, who was able to produce a symmetrical on-centre vessels, that led Dante to explore more formalised shapes. Dante’s inspiration reaches back to classicism, with the formation of long necked vessels and structured bodies. When Dante, at the age of 23, unveiled the ‘Whopper’ series a shift in glass design sensibilities occurred. This series of enlarged and boldly coloured vases recalled the development of classical appreciation that occurred during the Renaissance. Reminiscent of vessel forms found in Parmigianino’s seminal work ‘Madonna of the Long Neck’, Dante’s classical forms have an iconographic history of elegance, refinement, humanist ideals, and a connection with our shared human existence. Dante’s elegant forms in their exaggerated scale create an emulation of the human body and allow the vessels to take on a personality of their own- something that the viewer can engage with.
Large glass forms offer new and intriguing challenges to the creator, glass can only be formed in relation to the size of the kiln available. This challenge presented by the physical constrains of manufacture allow Dante’s monumental glass vases to sit at the height of glass technicality. These vases join the realm of other monumental glass greats such as Dale Chihuly, an American glass blower whose work has been exhibited at Kew Gardens (2019) and the Victoria & Albert Museum (2001). These large works of Chihuly are more free form than Dante’s, but only serve to demonstrate the strict structural beauty that Dante creates through focusing closely on proportionality and line. Chihuly, through working with a team in a more hands-off conceptual approach, has created dynamic works that visually provoke and questions the expectations of form in glass. For Dante, the body and form are similarly integral to the aesthetic impact; with each work provoking through design but also pushing the boundary of physicality and the scale that a single glass artisan can produce rather than a team. Both artists clearly overlap in their appreciation of colour and technique and clearly display an aptitude for creating lavish colour stories that electrify their setting.
Carlo Scarpa, the notable 20th century architect, is one of the most significant names in the modern history of glassblowing. Working in many Venetian glass works through the early part of the 1900s. Scarpa, not unlike Dante, pushed for a revolution in the capabilities of glass design. Scarpa married two iconic crafts of Venice, glass and mosaic, in one with their Roman Murrine series that was unveiled in 1936. This technique, of combining small squares of glass together before being blown into fantastic shapes, was one that Dante spent years perfecting; it is through this Mosaic series that Dante expresses their connection with a legacy of Murano, Venice, Roman, and earlier glass cultures.
Through the ‘Vessel Displays’ series, Dante also explores the concept of the Eternal by engaging in the universal human activity of collecting and display. This form of displayed collecting stretches back to the Renaissance and the rise of the Wunderkammer, or Cabinet of Curiosities. These Wunderkammer were designed to allow the owner or viewer a chance to explore and understand the physical universe both natural and synthetic. Collecting is an innate activity found in every culture, making it one of the few shared activities that has existed throughout the whole of human history. For these ‘Vessel Displays’ Dante plays with the concept of collecting and the history of Wunderkammer. Dante creates a variety of different forms that display the variability and flexibility of glassblowing, Dante’s own dynamic range, and unveils the extraordinary universe of glass: with some angular; some curvilinear; some contemporary in form, and some historic in shape. By creating spaces that catalogue and explore this concept in glass we see an exciting look into aesthetics, the universal, and human achievement. Wunderkammer displayed the true variety, versatility and history of the natural and synthetic world and glass, rather poetically, is itself the mastery of natural elements transformed into the synthetic, and when presented in this manner, with its diverse history in tow, glass is heightened to its most symbolically potent form.
The Eternal is something difficult to capture and express; yet Dante, with their understanding of the lineage of glass forms and techniques manages to marry this illustrious past with the experimental verve of the now. This walking this line of historicism and contemporaneity is not a simple accomplishment, rather it speaks to the artistic vision and capability of one of the greatest living glass artists.
We are excited to offer our visitors a glimpse into the universe of Dante Marioni at Messums Yorkshire in our upcoming exhibition.
Our represented artist Charles Poulsen is featured in The Times newspaper this month. The image was chosen as one of the publications photographs of September 2020 and taken by James Glossop. The sculpture is Poulsen’s Skyboat an 11-metre wooden former fishing boat built in Whitby, which is now suspended on a wooden frame more than four metres in the air. The sculpture is created at Marchmont House in the Scottish borders and will eventually be supported by the oaks planted beneath it which will form a living cradle. The boat will appear to float and take up to 70 years to complete.
An exhibition of Charles’ 5ft square drawings will be shown at Messums Yorkshire from 31 October…read more
Performance Associate Anthony Matsena talks to Messums Wiltshire about Co-directing, choreographing and performing in lock down alongside his brother Kel and his plans for creating a film and live performance coming to Messums Wiltshire this September.
It has been an incredible year for Anthony Matsena. Following his sell-out performances here at the barn gallery, Anthony has been busy working on projects for the National Dance Company Wales and a brand new piece commissioned by Messums Wiltshire in response to the Elisabeth Frink studio – in situ at the gallery from Saturday 4 July. As with all our events at this time, the dance will now be performed online but Anthony will be here to introduce it to us ahead of time via Zoom.
Live Performance: Saturday 5 September – SOLD OUT
Online Screening: Saturday 5 September – Tickets Launched
channelling three distinct camera angles the performance
will be live streamed to an online audience
Full price – £16.50
Members price – £6.50
Discount for members using access code
A ground breaking synthesis of performance and art in the recreated studio of Elisabeth Frink. Set within the largest thatched building in the country, this one off performance production is created in response to these challenging and creatively vital times. A synthesis of the legacy and output of Frink, the repercussions of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement forms the basis of this pioneering contemporary dance performance.
Matsena Performance Theatre is Anthony and Kel Matsena – Zimbabwean born and Welsh raised brothers. Through their experience of being brought up in an Afrocentric house and having Eurocentric schooling, they have built a love and curiosity for telling stories that express themes of culture, race, change and belonging. These two incredibly talented young brothers are adding their voices to a movement that included mass uprising, civil unrest and cries to stay connected and not numb to the world around them.
Referring to both the global pandemic and the numerous cases of injustice and conflict around the world Anthony says, ‘there has been a whole lot of loss and an insurmountable amount of fear that’s crept up in people’s lives and it’s become normal which is frightening… that I see people’s lives being lost as numbers or statistics.. that worries me.’ The Title behind the live and online performance is the unsettling question ‘are you numb yet?’ Kel astutely discusses this discomforting phenomenon of instant global news, where information overload means that although ‘the news of last week is extreme […] it’s still last week’s news’. Very few artists and performers are successfully dealing with these unsettling notions and the sudden awareness of how race has been a blinding problem for so many.
In many ways the natural medium with which to have these conversations is through the arts and very particularly live performance. Anthony points out that there is a parallel between life and live performance that does not occur in other art forms. ‘I like the high stakes of theatre.. if the magic of coping with what goes wrong is relevant to our lives then time is linear. Life is about coping with whatever happens, sometimes in theatre something falls.. a light goes.. someone feints. you deal with it and still perform.. and that part of it.. that’s the magic for me.’
The realisation is so recent in our history that we are still grappling with the language with which to discuss it. Kel and Anthony are not here to raise their voices, the performance is powerful embodiment of a language that does far more and asks the question about being alive to others concerns.
The title “ Geometry of Fear” was conceived by Art critic Herbert Read and refers to a phase of British figurative sculpture expressing post-war anxieties. Dame Elisabeth Frink, a child of her time and much affected by growing up during the war embodied these sculptors’ work and aspirations. These visceral and tortured looking sculptures caught Frinks wider interest in the Human condition and the language of sculpture that Frink inhabited. Frink’s goggle heads are perhaps most representative of her work and preoccupation with the inhumanity inherent in the blank and unapproachable archetype of power personified by the male figure. The goggles are polished, reflecting back any scrutiny, any chance at a mutual exchange. They could be seen as a political or institutional body, and are every cruel act anonymously hidden behind the term ‘they’ where power is so often abused. In the words of Elisabeth Frink, ‘we no longer respond properly to atrocities, if I had a religion it is that every man should be free in his spirit’. With the performance happening in and around the actual building that Frink created her sculptures, the parallels across time and artist cannot be ignored. As Anthony says, ‘fairness and equality should be the standard and it’s never been’. Put simply by Kel, ‘if we believe in equality, we have to fight for it.’
‘Finally, people are having conversations that should have been had centuries ago but there is uncertainty about how we deal with those conversations.’
‘We cant do a lot but we can use what we have and that’s our art, to try and affect change.’
An exhibition of new paintings by Kurt Jackson opened last week with great excitement. ‘My Father’s River’ traces Kurt’s journey along the River Stour in East Anglia.
The day began with a packed curator’s tour of ‘My Father’s River’ led by Johnny Messum, before moving to the Royal Academy Lecture Theatre where Kurt spoke to over 300 people about his work both as an artist and an environmentalist. He talked through the major projects that have come to define his practice as an environmentally informed artist.
His residency aboard the Greenpeace ship Esperanza was described in vivid detail alongside excerpts from a BBC documentary.A clip of Greenpeace activists attempting to document damaging fishing practices on a small rib in rough seas while Kurt is continually drawing, documenting the action around him encapsulates his determination and versatility as a painter.
This versatility was also apparent in Kurt’s long stint as artist-in-residence at Glastonbury Festival. The rapid brushstrokes that usually describe the natural landscape were now applied to vast crowds and wild performances. Kurt is clearly a polymath; from designing trophies for environmental awards, working in bronze, pewter and a more recent foray into glass, his enthusiasm for making was increasingly evident.
For most of the talk however Kurt discussed the landscape painting for which he is most well known. That Kurt’s paintings so energetically and vividly evoke these landscapes is less surprising after seeing footage of him painting outside in the elements, canvas spread out on the beach. He gave real insight to the excitement and love of nature behind his works – from protected and fragile environments of rich biodiversity to patches of grass by service stations.
After the talk, a crowd headed towards Messums London for mulled cider and mince pies surrounded by Kurt’s magnificent paintings. Beginning at the river’s source on Wratting Common in Cambridgeshire, the paintings document the river as it winds through the East Anglian countryside, along the border of Suffolk and Essex to where it meets the North Sea at Harwich.
Kurt often painted the Stour with his father who lived by the river for three decades, swimming in it every day. In this body of work, Kurt has rediscovered the river that was so important to his father as well as capturing a fragile and varied landscape with the eye of a keen environmentalist.
‘Source to Sea’, or ‘My Father’s River’, is on show at Messums London until 21st December, followed by exhibition of new works following the Fonthill Brook and River Nadder at Messums Wiltshire. ‘Fonthill Brook’ opens in the Long Gallery at Messums Wiltshire 10 January – 16 February 2020.
ARTIST’S TALK: 27 & 28 November 2019
Albert Paley’s talk and slide show at Messums London traced the 50 years that he has been working in metal; from making intricate pieces of gold and silver jewellery measured in centimetres to sculptures the size of houses, 30 feet high.
At the root of all his designs are his drawings in pencil he said, that fill the drawers and sketchbooks of his 50,000 square foot studio in Rochester, New York. ‘Drawing is fundamental – it gives you a vocabulary so you can understand what you see,’ he said, adding that his jewellery expressed ‘an attention to detail, a refinement of line.’
Thinking through doing is how he works he says, and as his technical skill has grown so has the ambition of his sculptures. ‘Technique is a way to manage thought development; I don’t know what I’m doing until I start working,’ he explained.
Born in Philadelphia, Paley attended the Tyler School of Art where his earliest works were direct carvings in wood and stone in the tradition of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth and he showed us a picture of a delicate, sensuous Rodin-esque sculpture of a woman he carved out of white marble.
Paley’s training was not only manual but academic with an education in the techniques of Renaissance masters like Cellini, Leonardo and Michelangelo as well as the Mannerist and Viennese Secessionist painters of which he is particularly fond.
Early in his career Paley had imagined he would be a goldsmith ‘for the rest of my life,’ but irked by the perception of jewellery as a ‘minor art, rather than what it truly is – a fine art,’ he started making bigger pieces starting with a set of enormous gates facing the White House.
‘Using metal is like drawing in space’ he said. ‘Punching, ribboning and blasting, the gates enriched my public exposure and allowed me to interface with architecture, pushing me into a new arena’ he said. Going through gates is an act of passage, he said, ‘they are ceremonial archways.’
Consistently throughout all his work appear flowing, sinuous, natural forms – in particular vegetation – within ordered, mathematical structures.
‘My design philosophy is organicity in that one line begets another whether it is in metal or any other material,’ he says.
In 1979, Paley was asked to make two gates for the antechamber of the New York Senate. The Albany gates, as they are known, reflected the nascent fear of terrorism in public spaces in their spiky, thorn-like design protecting the heart of government.
In his talk, Paley rattled through an astonishing array of gates and fences, benches and grills and freestanding ‘sentinels’ or sculptures that he had made, all created with an unerring sense for form and each bigger than the last. He describes his studio as his sanctuary adding that his 16 staff were like the members of an orchestra of which he is the composer.
Paley said he tried to use design to bring a sense of modernity into historic spaces and talked much about the play of light and shade in his work and the beauty of rustification.
The Fence of the Hunter Museum is one of Paley’s wildest works to date where the lines of metal seem to hover in space like banners or whips.
In his recent works, Paley has tended increasingly to paint metal and patinate it in a range of hues.
‘Colour solicits emotion’ he said. ‘Shadows are beautiful but ephemeral and colour adds into that.’
Pointing to a range of eight sculptures he made to adorn the staircase of the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts in Houston, he said the effect was to create ‘a whole sensuality of folded metal, play of light and tromp l’oeil.’
The talk ended with a description of how Paley created the gates for St Louis Zoo, and we saw a fine picture of him next to a metal rhinoceros he had made.
In a question and answer session after his talk somebody in the audience mentioned that the computer has led to the dematerialisation of form and that the importance of objects in the realm of fine art is in a state of flux.
‘Fundamentally, art deals with the human condition’ replied Paley, ‘whether it’s a personal response in canvas or in the public arena like the music of Wagner. Metal articulates emotion beautifully; there is an honesty and integrity to being a blacksmith. It’s all about sharing that language.’
Albert Paley’s talk was part of his exhibition ‘Drawings and Sculptures’ at Messums London which comprised of his architectural two-dimensional works and smaller scale sculptures and maquettes. An exhibition of Albert’s ‘Large Sculptures and Architectural Works’ including examples of his monumental gates, will be open at Messums Wiltshire 4 July – 30 August 2020.
Laurence Edwards’s work has found its way into stately homes, public parks and domestic spaces. The versatility of environment that his work has thrived in showcases its ability to own the space around it, no matter how vast or small, domestic or wild. The difference between a thirteenth century tithe barn in Wiltshire and a Mayfair gallery might be boundless but the striking and enigmatic figures of Laurence Edwards populate both spaces with an atmosphere of mysterious omniscience.
The variability, however, between the individual pieces is exemplified by their curated groupings and placings. The collection of works in Wiltshire for example demand more from their space. Their volumous and shadowy stature possess their own kind of gravity while the pieces in London are preoccupied by more delicate forces; reflection, balance and line.
Wiltshire – Volume
Perhaps the first impression one might get from walking into the Barn and finding yourself amongst these towering characters is the effect of their scale. Not only scale in relation to the building or even to each other but to the viewer. One is confronted by the uneasy feeling of being looked down on from a height or the humbling experience of being eye to eye with a bust larger and taller than oneself. The lofty ceilinged space gives a sense of cathedral-esk verticality that lends a biblical tone to the weighty subjects.
London – Line
The preoccupations inherent in the pieces in Cork St are less to do with volume and more to do with tensions and forces such as that of rope, ties and supports. They elicit notions of the push and pull of encasement and a desire to break free, or the heaviness of the burden many of them carry. Often they suggest some conflict with visible outer forces and often invisible inner forces pertaining to the male psyche. Whatever their struggle these pieces are created with a lighter hand, they are the drawn line solidified in bronze.