Since I was a little girl I've been making dens....and don't think I'll ever stop..........

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Romare Bearden

Looking at Kara Walker's images again, reminded me of another American artist Whose work I'd totally forgotten. Romare Bearden was a 20th century artist and writer. You can read a short bio here. It appears that over his interesting life his work changed quite a bit and he experimented with a range of media, but it's his collages that I wanted to look at today.

Excuse the image overload. I just couldn't control myself. I love his choice of rich colours in these collages. They are so vibrant and full of life. This work really inspires me to use more colour.

Something about his work reminds me of that of Agnes Montgomery which I posted some images of in May and you can link to here.

Kara Walker

"I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fibre and liquids--and I might be even said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination--indeed, everything and anything except me."
Ralph Ellison, Prologue, Invisible Man

I was first introduced to Kara Walker's work by one of my tutors when I was making an installation that involved shadow. From the first image of her work, I was hooked, especially the room sized installations involving life sized cut-out, silhouettes and shadows. I found it instantly attractive, almost theatrical, story-bookish. Then when I realised the message that her work was conveying,I was drawn-in even more. This was exactly what I was attempting to do with my installation. I wanted that same ambiguity, something that seemed familiar and comforting, and yet on closer look had a more unnerving message. I don't think that Walker is going for the shock element in her work. I'm sure that this is just a story she feels she has to tell. To re-address the balance a little.

Re-visiting the work of Kara Walker reminded me of another American artist, Kerry James Marshall, who had an exhibition at Modern Art Oxford in 2006. Which coincided quite fortuitously with a module that I was studying related to political art with reference to the Civil Rights Movement of the 60's in America. Having just read Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, which subsequently became one of my all time favourite novels, I was totally up for the debate about his huge painting, Two invisible men naked.

If you are unfamiliar with the piece. I'll attempt to briefly describe it for you. I can't find an images of it. It consists of two large panels, one painted a kind of off-white. The other appears to be blackish brown, apart from two bulging eyes and a set of grinning white teeth. If you look carefully into the black painting, gradually the figure of a man emerges in the same colour as the background. However long you look into the white canvas, nothing will appear.

I vividly remember a group discussion at uni about the exhibition. One of the other students seemed quite annoyed about this piece. She thought it was a joke, a waste of time. Was he playing with us, what was it all about....couldn't he paint? I'm not a great one for public outbursts, but fired up with recent reading, including Invisible man, I couldn't help but speak out. Didn't she realise, that was, just, how Marshall felt, when looking through the record of art over the last hundreds years, and finding himself to be invisible.

I think I've said enough. This film Cut and Construct by Candace Kita about Walker's practice does an amazing job of introducing her work to us.

"Being invisible and without substance, a disembodied voice, as it were. what else could I do? What else but try to tell you what was really happening when your eyes were looking through? And it is this which frightens me:

Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man p581 (last page)

ps. If this film is being cut in two you can link to it here.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Shelly Goldsmith

Erupted detail

No escape, 2006

I've liked Shelly Goldsmith's work for a number of years now. I think around 2006 I discovered similarities in theme and medium in an installation that I was working on, to one that she had produced six years earlier. Memorably the installation No escape in which images of flood scenes had been transfer printed onto children's dresses. She described the dresses as being 'rescued' from a children's home in Cincinnati. Not from flood waters, but from being thrown away, as they were considered too old fashioned for the children to wear.

Her work as with a number of other artists, whose work I admire, touches on themes of memory, emotional longing and loss, and has been informed by the sense of loss that she has felt at the emigration of members of her family from the UK to Ohio, 25 years ago.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Ellen Bell

Sleeve Notes

A Restraining Influence

Thought On A Meeting

I think I stumbled across Ellen Bell's work about five or six years ago. I'm pretty sure that it was in the contemporary craft magazine
Craft. Then last year on a stand at the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea represented by Four Square Fine Arts. Or maybe it was 2008. I just seem to lock into any work that involves paper like some kind of homing device, and when there's text....even better.

The first image of Bell's work that I actually saw an image of was probably, A Restraining Influence, which is a corset decorated with text. As with all her work the text isn't purely for decoration but the content of that text is intrinsic to the work. In this piece Bell uses text from an 18c bible and says that she is:

"making connections between the restraint perpetrated on women by religious ideology and by cultural ideas of body shape."

A concept which continues to be a topic for debate

Sleeves Notes made in 2001, is a gentle ghostly installation this time using tissue paper. It was the first time that I'd seen this piece of work by Bell and wouldn't have instantly recognized it as hers. But it rapidly became on of my favourites, along with the book piece.

you can see more of her beautifully aesthetic work on the axis website here

Friday, 23 July 2010

In All The World I Dream In Paper

This lovely little performance by Paloma Faith produced by Petra Storrs is just exquisite.

Thursday, 22 July 2010


Sunrise yesterday morning....about 4am I think........

The Pitt RIvers Museum

It was impossible for me to visit the Museum of Natural History yesterday, without at least, a flying visit to the Pitt Rivers Museum, even though I was on a two hour parking ticket that was threatening to expire. You have to go through one to get to the other.

I read an article in Time a couple of years ago describing it as the 'jewel in Oxford's crown.' We have some great museums in Oxford. The Ashmolean is the most amazing building, hosting wonderful exhibitions and it's quite grand. The Museum of the History of Science is kind of fun and quirky and has camera obscuras and wonderful mathematical and scientific objects. But I think the Pitt Rivers takes the biscuit by just a little bit..... but it's a close call. I spend hours in each of them....always leaving with inspiration for yet another piece of work.

I'm not sure what the attraction with the Pitt Rivers is, probably the people is after all a museum of anthropology. It's quite small and is dark when you leave the airy Natural History Museum to enter into it. When you do it's like another world. The display cases are full of pots and instruments and lamps and lanterns and even the odd shrunken head! Beneath are drawers that you can open and's a little bit like looking inside an old fashioned school boy's trouser pocket and finding his treasures....and you almost expect to see Indiana Jones, leather whip and all, appear from a corner somewhere chased by an angry native whose trying to retrieve his belongings that have been stolen by Indi!

I love the patterning on these North American pots.
I would have loved to get a closer look at the naive painting on this North American Indian skin with the rows of deer and birds eye view of manpowered boats. It's pinned to a wall behind a glass cabinet so it was a little tricky to photograph but will go back to do a drawing.

Ghost Forest

It's quite unnerving to see the skeletal sight of ten enormous tree stumps installed in the courtyard of the Museum of Natural History in Oxford. They are beautifully sculptural organic pieces, that remind me of the bits of driftwood I used to find in my aunties studio, juxtaposed next to her large oil painted nudes. But I did find it a little haunting, as the title of Angela Palmer's installation, Ghost Forests, suggests. Especially to someone like me who loves everything growing, and even has an urge to cut off the heads of dead hydrangea flowers in other people's gardens....I just find something very sad about dead flowers! So this exhibition has a kind of beautiful melancholy ...........

I even felt that I had to offset the images of dead trees below, (ironically especially the ones that were storm damaged and look as though they've been pulled up by the roots by some superhuman gardener, rather than those felled,) by posting an image of the west African Rainforest in its full luscious glory.

There was also a little offsetting on the part of the installation organisers too. You may be interested to know that apparently this is a carbon neutral project, the carbon footprint being offset by projects in west Africa. You can find more about this at which you can link to by clicking here. And you can read about the Oxford artist Angela Palmer at her website www. here.

...and you can view some video interviews below......


I would have loved to speak with M/s Palmer she was at the Museum when I visited this morning, but as you can see busy being interviewed. I do have to say that I have mixed emotions about this piece, it does sit a bit difficultly..........I find it hard to comprehend how someone can bring these enormously heavy pieces apparently weighing up to fifteen tons, for thousands of miles and justify the environmental cost, even it's being compensated. Surely it could have been done another way.....maybe we have to make sacrifices for art....but isn't Palmer compromising the whole concept of this piece of work by doing it?
Having said that, it's here, and will be for the next twelve months and well worth a visit. It's going to be used as an open-air performance space for theatre, dance, music and story telling and It will be an atmospheric venue, especially when back lit at night. I'll definitely be going back for a second look.......and probably a few more......