Cock-a-doodle-blue





I can't quite believe I have the excuse to type this, but Boris Johnson has unveiled a giant, blue cock to the crowds of Trafalgar Square. No, he isn't some disease-ridden exhibitionist (not to my knowledge, at least); he was introducing the latest inhabitant of the fourth plinth.



Teehee, it's called Cock.

Anyway, enough of my potty mouth. Instead, let's have a crash course in the fourth plinth. Built in 1841, it was originally designed for an equestrian statue, but it remained empty due to a lack of funds. Then, in 1998, the first temporary sculpture for the plinth was commissioned. Since then, it has hosted some intriguing works, including one by Anthony Gormley.



Replacing last year's boy on a rocking horse, which juxtaposed innocence and playfulness with the imperial elements of the other plinths, Katharina Fritsch's Cock will sit on the fourth plinth for eighteen months.

Did I just say 'Katharina's cock'?

Given her explanation of the artwork, I wouldn't be surprised if it was her intention to have people talk about 'her Cock' in this way. It is an undoubtedly feminist piece. In a crowd of vainglorious men (statues of Nelson, George IV, Havelock and Napier sit nearby), Katharina has the biggest cock. And the gender inversion doesn't stop there. She is quoted as saying: 'It is a feminist sculpture... I, a woman, am depicting something male. Historically it has always been the other way around.'

Personally, I love the piece. The straightforward blueness (not a differing shade on the whole sculpture)  reminds me of Yves Klein, who created a new pigment with his single colour canvas in the early sixties. He discovered it, he conquered it; and here is Katharina Fritsch cheekily borrowing it to take the piss out of any one man discovering, or conquering, something.

Yves Klein, Blue Monochrome

Of the fourth plinth, the artist has said something that resonated with me: "Art is not made for a few people - it is not an elitist thing." Couldn't agree more.

Cornish Light at Falmouth Art Gallery



If you know any Cornish folk, you'll know that we're fiercely proud of our heritage and individuality (sometimes with a slight leaning towards exaggeration. I never said that). My non-Cornish other half thinks we're mad. Actually, he probably just thinks I am. He finds it most amusing that I claim Cornwall has its own language (we do), its own tartan (again, we do), and a peculiar, inspiring and unique natural light that isn't found anywhere else (obviously). So I was delighted to go home to Falmouth Art Gallery to see its latest exhibition celebrate this Cornish light I've been adamantly defending.

Cornwall is a peninsula virtually surrounded by water. The bright sunshine reflects off the sea onto the land, which is what has attracted and anchored so many artists to our little part of the world.

Henry Scott Tuke, Study of bathing boys

The artist that springs to mind most prominently when I hear the words 'Cornwall', 'sea' and 'natural light' is Henry Scott Tuke. Many of his works depicted the nude in its various forms, but the paintings are more about the light reflecting off the skin than the skin itself. Some people argue he had love affairs with his subjects. I'd say he had more of a love affair with the light.

William Enelyn Osborn(e), St. Ives Pier (Smeaton's Piter)

In this exhibition Falmouth Art Gallery presents two of its many, many Tukes alongside the works of other masters and contemporary painters. A stand-out piece for me was William Evelyn Osborn(e)'s St. Ives Pier, which shows up frequently at Fal Art Gall. Of the contemporary artists, it was Benjamin Warner and Myles Oxenford who stole the show. You can read more about them both on the Beside the Wave website.

Artists and artistic styles come, go and evolve, but this exhibition celebrates something ever-present: just as the light constantly reflects from sea to land, so it will continue to inspire the artists of Cornwall. And ain't that just lovely?

Manet’s Un Bar Aux Folie Bergere (or the difference between seeing and looking)



We see thousands of images every day. Really, thousands. Flick through a magazine and you'll see hundreds at least. Of this plethora of pictures, there are some images that crop up over and over again (the Mona Lisa, Warhol's Marilyn, etc). When they become 'part of the furniture', it's easy to ignore them; it's easy to think you know them. But awareness isn't knowledge.

Edouard Manet, Un Bar Aux Folie Bergere

One of my favourite ever artworks is Manet's last truly celebrated work, Un Bar Aux Folie Bergere. It's all over the place. You'll know it, even if you don't know you know it. I certainly did, and because of this, never bothered to look into it. It was just another nice image I felt like I knew. When I was forced to look into it (those damn lecturers at uni were always getting in the way of my precious drinking time), I discovered that it's so much more than a 'nice image'. I bloody love it because I looked at it over and over and noticed something new every time. Kinda like Xtina Aguilera's video for Dirrty.

On a wider level, one of the things I love about Un Bar is because it proves that a non-sensical (that's a word.. yeah) painting isn't necessarily crap. Our barmaid is standing in front of a mirror that, despite the seemingly face-on angle, is turned to show us her Folie Bergere derriere. The reflection doesn't make sense, but let's move past that. Is it even the same woman? She seems plumper from behind. Now, this may be something to do with my long suspicion that mirrors are THE DEVIL and make you look far fatter than the skinny goddess you are... Or it may have something to do with what else we see in the mirror reflection: Manet has made the viewer turn into a top-hatted fella. The reflection is reality; and she is an average woman. But we are a drunk Parisian dandy and we are seeing the barmaid for something she isn't: a ten-inch-waist virtuous beauty.

Nope, the barmaid is only curvy, beautiful and virtuous in the mind of the punter. In truth, as we see reflected in the mirror, she begins a transaction of desire by leaning in flirtatiously. This causes the flattered customer to imagine her as his perfect woman: a brilliant body, decorated with flowers, a slight sadness at her situation and a milkiness to her complexion that is only interrupted by a touch of rouge.

I could go on for hours (I love a bit of symbolism, and this painting is HEAVING with it) but I'll leave my mini-analysis as a springboard and let you continue to look at it in your own way.

Just remember this: the artworks we see all the time, the ones that become icons of art in their own right, aren't just famous for being famous. They're celebrated for a reason - give them more than a glance and you'll see them in a way you've never seen them before.

Sounding out the meaning behind installation art



So I've just spent the day moving into my new digs in Camberwell. I don't really know the area, so I've been poking around to find out a little more about the area that bore the Young British Artist movement in the nineties. This took me to Camberwell's crown jewel, South London Gallery.

Its current exhibition, At the Moment of Being Heard, brings together a bunch of installation pieces that explore all things aural. A bunch of international artists, musicians and composers display pieces that place an emphasis on the intimacy of listening. Conversely, Reiner Ruthenbeck presents a series of photographs that capture the moment noise arises in daily life, without actually making a sound. There's something unsettling about that. Putting life on mute makes the familiar unfamiliar, in a way.

I'll admit I used to have no time for installation-based exhibitions like this. But I've recently realised that, as art has moved away from the easel and canvas, traditional aesthetics now take a backseat to philosophical substance. Galleries like South London Gallery are a great example of this, and I'm looking forward to seeing what other ideas lie on my new doorstep.

Do you have any arty institutions that are close to your heart and home?

Gauguin and his Ta-heat-i babes



Excuse the god-awful pun.

If you're a blog trawler, you may have noticed that bloggers have been teaming up with Barclaycard to focus on what's hotter this summer. Well, if the weather can't pull its weight, the blogosphere ought to...

So what's hotter in art? This time next week, the National Portrait Gallery will open its doors to the anticipated Dame Laura Knight retrospective. The female artist painting in a world of male artists is perhaps most famous for her ballet and theatre depictions, but, being Cornish, she knew how to capture the light and heat en plein air. Check it out...

Dame Laura Knight, Rose and Gold

Ain't nobody shivering there.

But when I think of heat in art, my mind instantly goes to Paul Gauguin. He was a French post-impressionist painter who ditched his 1920s rat race life in Paris (including the wife and kids, naughty naughty) to live a hedonistic lifestyle pursuing the ladies of Tahiti. Quite the scandal. He daubed his years away, and was never fully appreciated until he was dead and gone.

Paul Gauguin, Deux Tahitiennes

The reason I associate Gauguin with intense heat is the fact that he picks up on high temperatures in a way no one but a non-native to a tropical climate could. His colours aren't light and breezy; his paint is thick and his tones and shades switch between bright and dark. Gauguin's heat is heavy and oppressing, which is ironic considering Tahiti was the paradise he ran away to.

Paul Gauguin, Maternity

London's Courtauld Gallery has a great permanent Gauguin collection, and is celebrating its temporary acquisition of two new pieces with a retrospective this summer. The first of the two late openings is tomorrow - see you there folks.

What artist or artwork signifies heat for you?
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