How to fall in love with new artists

I go through phases with art. Sometimes I'm all about what my colleague calls 'brown paintings' (the works of Constable and his traditional cohorts), and sometimes I want to find something new and exciting. Right now, I'm all about the latter. Last week, I looked at Kerry Brewer's weird world of God knows what; the week before it was Julien Spianti. Both artists are new to me, and I'm not stopping there.

I can spend hours blog surfing to find new artists that stand out to me, but lately I've been using Zealous (check it out here - it's basically an online library for the arts).

I'm really into some of the photography on there. I first saw a project called 'One Day in Paris' by Laurence Garcon on Zealous, which gives us a walk through this iconic city, all blurry-eye and love-drunk. The same shade of yellow dominates each picture, filling us with the warmth of new love. [Update: unfortunately the works aren't on Zealous anymore :(]

Laurence Garcon, One Day in Paris

Laurence Garcon, One Day in Paris

Laurence Garcon, One Day in Paris

Aside from Laurence Garcon, there are some really great photographers on Zealous - have a flick through the 'featured' list and let me know which ones you like (and which ones you don't, if you're wearing your critic's hat).

There's an artist who caught my eye on Zealous. Stefano Perrone's 'Wish Things Were Different' series looks like modern-day Futurism. For those who don't know, the Futurist artists were active in Italy between around 1910 and 1930. They loved speed, technology and violence, and saw that as the future. Perrone's images look like Futurism with a more literal aesthetic - his subjects are having their humanity replaced with machines.

Stefano Perrone, Wish Things Were Different 

Stefano Perrone, Wish Things Were Different 

I hear a lot of the Zealous artists will be showcasing their stuff at Zealous X, a free event on London's Southbank, from 28th November to 1st December. I really hope these two little gems will be among them.

Kerry Brewer at Unity Gallery: wowzers

Kerry Brewer, Beehive

The wall blurb for the latest Kerry Brewer exhibition at Unity Gallery says her paintings need to be stood in front of; they need to be watched. And that's not arty-bullshit (honest). Like any good painting, these are not just snapshots of scenes. In fact, you see both less and more than that in each painting. 

Stay with me, I know it sounds like I'm venturing into the realms of arty-bullshit-speak here.

Kerry Brewer, Birds and Fishes II

You see less because the picture is like a photograph that is so out of focus that you strain to see what it actually is. And you see more because the composition seems to move in and out of focus as you move closer to and further from the painting. I guess that's something to do with the layers and layers of glaze she puts on each canvas. I hear each work takes between three and eight months to complete, but it's worth it to get an effect that doesn't just break space by appearing three-dimensional, but breaks time by becoming a mini-movie on canvas (ok, maybe that was vaguely arty-bullshit).

Kerry Brewer, Garret

I mentioned that you can't really see what the paintings are of. My partner in crime, Alex Price (check his stuff out here) and I were saying that it's interesting to briefly glance at these paintings. I saw two men having a night-time altercation on a beach; Alex saw a donkey on the sand (he's a much nicer person that me). I said each of the figures are painted as if they are white-hot flames; Alex said it is as if you were seeing the scene underwater. We later spoke to the artist, who seemed to take a lot of joy in the fact that we didn't know what the scenes actually depict. By her own admission, why would she go to such great lengths to make them ambiguous and give away her secrets just like that? I realised that just as the subjects are secrets locked beneath layers of paint and glaze, they are equally personal to the viewer. Everyone sees something different, and I reckon none of us see what Brewer sees.

Kerry Brewer, The Start

Of art in general, I always say you're not seeing reality, but an artist's depiction of reality. Of Brewer's art, the artist won't give you that; but gives you a lot more. She gives you the freedom to make up your own mind as to what you're seeing (an offering she uses to distract us from the fact that these paintings will remain a personal secret of hers). 

The ephemeral surreality of Julien Spianti

This weekend, I decided to branch out a bit and take a look at some new artists. Among them was French painter, Julien Spianti. Take a look at a couple of her pieces:

Julien Spianti 

Julien Spianti

I love her style. At first, it reminded me of Jenny Saville (see a couple of her paintings below) but, on closer inspection, Saville's background shading is more angular and her chunky monkey subjects are positioned as a social statement. Saville focuses on the world in front of her; but Spianti has gone to that small space between nightmares and reality, and just made it that bit more beautiful.

Julien Spianti

Julien Spianti

Although it feels like we are just seeing one moment of a long and surreal eternity, her subjects' settings are always timeless. They are never inside, never outside, meaning the air is as still as the former and cold as the latter. Her faceless figures have a forced anonymity. It's fitting, considering these are people living in an all-consuming nothingness, suffocated by layers of thick paint.

The outlook is bleak, but damn, it's beautiful.

Here are those Jenny Savilles I promised. See what I mean?

Jenny Saville

Jenny Saville

Laura Knight at the National Portrait Gallery

I've mentioned Laura Knight on Artwork Wednesdays a couple of times. With exhibitions up and down the country and a performance on the big screen, she's the Cornish artist du jour (well, she's not actually Cornish, but we adopted her).

As you may have seen, she's now the focus of a retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery - and what a glorious retrospective it is. Some of the artworks I've seen before, such as Self Portrait. Others are totally new to me, like Lamorna Birch and his Daughters. It just looks and feels so real. And it really shouldn't - she has certainly got pretty palette-happy here! She's used a rainbow of colours to represent sunshine and it just works. Plus I think the way he's carrying his daughter like she's a little doll is pretty charming. Bless you, you pea-headed man.

Dame Laura Knight, Lamorna Birch and his Daughters

Dame Laura Knight, Self Portrait

This is how the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery starts, all bright colours, pretty girls and warm sunshine. It's the arty version of easy listening.

As Knight's work progresses in the exhibition, it gets slightly grittier. In room two, she's moved on to gypsies and circus performers, which was quite an avant garde choice for subject matter in her day (as the second ever female Royal Academician, straying off the beaten track didn't phase her). If you're anything like me, when you think of gypsies, you immediately think of this:

But I think that might have been a little scandalous, even for Laura.

No, she painted more rugged, traditional types with the weathered faces of people who've spent a long time outdoors.

Dame Laura Knight, Gypsies at Ascot

Despite moving into a slightly more serious subject matter (well, in comparison to galavants in the Cornish sun), a sense of freedom remains. 

The next room slams into you with all the force of an army. Which I suppose was deliberate, because it is a room full of war portraiture. Her shock and fear is written on the walls of the gallery: "I look back with horror at those war years. I could make a long list of factories and workshops where I was employed picturing the making of instruments to kill... but one wants to forget." This is the image that stuck with me most. They look relaxed and in routine at first, but there's no life in their eyes. Very creepy. Knight keeps her trademark multi-coloured palette, but you have to look a little closer to see the array of colours she uses. I suppose she felt she needed to inject at least a little joy into everything she painted, even compositions such as this.

Dame Laura Knight, Take Off

All in all, it is a great show - it really shows how diverse she was. It's not all carefree Cornish ladies dancing around on hills. You've still got until October 13th to take a look for yourself! Enjoy.

Incidentally, this post came from an indirect request. I'm always happy to listen to what you'd like me to write about! If you're not based in London and want me to report back on a show in the capital, or if there's just an artist or artwork you'd like to know a little more about - that's what I'm here for. Just tweet me @ajbs500 or drop me a comment in the box below.
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