Funding the arts: Just do it, dummy.

Last night I popped into the wonderful Art NOW panel discussion, hosted by the Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery and held at the gallery itself. It’s such a lovely venue – you can see me gushing about how much I love it here.

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The Dulwich Friends organise a whole lot of events – hundreds a year, I hear! – for Friends and friends of Friends alike. At this particular one, Will Gompertz was lined up to chair a discussion on the art sector today, with panellists including Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller, Jerwood Gallery curator Liz Gilmore, and the Arts Council England’s Peter Bazelgette. However, as the fascinating story of Nazi art hoarder Cornelius Gurlitt continues to unfold (take a look at my original post on it here), Will Gompertz had journalistic duties, so we were instead treated to a night hosted by Andrew McDonald.

Each of the panellists really showed their different personalities in their answers. Jerwood’s Liz Gilmore came across as someone who is just really passionate about giving artists a platform for their messages and ideas. Since opening only two years ago (and amassing 1,000 Friends in the process!) she said they have unconsciously exhibited a lot of older artists, including 76 year old Rose Wylie, who was their first artist. Take a look at this:

Liz was saying that the role of the curator is not to define art, but to give a voice to artists who are, in her own words, speaking the ‘language of feeling’.

Peter Bazelgette, who was visiting from the Arts Council England has a personal relationship with the gallery, as he grew up in Dulwich. It was nice to hear from someone who has a connection with the space from a personal perspective, and he reminisced on the Gallery’s role in his childhood. When asked how an artist makes it out of obscurity, he called on the fine example of Grayson Perry, who has done just that and managed to become a national treasure. Andrew McDonald was saying that today’s outrage is tomorrow’s mainstream, and Grayson Perry’s success is testament to this.

Jeremy Deller is a controversial kinda guy. As the discussion kicked off with the elusive definition of art, he said he wouldn’t put a definition on it. Whether a child’s art or a prisoner’s art; it’s all still art and definitions invite boundaries, he said. Duchamp’s Fountain, which I previously wrote about here, is only an artwork because it is signed by an artist; so what does it even mean to be an artist? Just as Jeremy said it's not something you can control, so all you can do is stick to your guns with your fingers crossed and hopefully that establishes a connection with an audience.

When discussing talent, Jeremy mused that you don’t have to be technically proficient in something to be good at it. You can be the most photographic painter in the world, but not be an artist. Being an artist is a je ne sais quois situation. But as an art appreciator, judge art subjectively. Let it make you happy, sad, and angry.

So far, so fairenoughIwasexpectingtohearthiskindaconversation; but then the discussion took an interesting turn.

Opening the questions to the floor, we got onto the perhaps inevitable subject of class in art. It’s no secret that art in education struggles to get the same recognition as the STEM subjects, so when Ofsted comes knocking on state schools’ doors, arts fall by the wayside and stay there. This means that art is taught differently in private schools in comparison to state schools or, more bluntly, art is taught differently to the upper middle class than everyone else. Long-term, it is an issue if we continue to focus on STEM as opposed to STEAM, to borrow Peter's phrase. If private school students who grow up to stay middle class are taught the importance of art but working class kids aren’t, the former will be the only ones who go onto work in the arts sector. As a result, it will continue to be posh, inaccessible and limited in its potential. In fact, as someone who went to private school and state sixth form and noticed a significant difference in how art was viewed, the whole reason I started this blog in the first place was to make art less high-culture, and more ah-that’s-nice.
We are recognised around the world for our creativity and ability to teach the arts, so it would be a shame to see this dwindle.

As a knock-on effect, society will continue to divide over how important art is. Public funding will become harder and harder to come by; and then how will we propel the burgeoning creative industries? Economically, they are growing at twice the average rate so it pays for itself and continues to improve us both individually and collectively. Liz Gilmore was saying that Jerwood Gallery relies on philanthropy for a third of their finances, which struck me as a pretty hefty chunk.

We need this funding because galleries deliver such a strong quality of life, providing access to the corners of society that might not otherwise be creatively stimulated. Take prisons, for example, where art is a way of encouraging productivity, a creative mindset and even therapy. Do this right, and we’ll take another step in the direction of a happier, safer world.

Good God, I sound optimistic.

With or without galleries, artists will always exist, but we need to remember that where galleries go, tourism, education and success follows. So if it pays for itself in the long-run, both financially and culturally, funding the arts shouldn’t even be a question. 

Pieces I love at Scream Editions' pop-up art nook

A few weeks ago, I was keen beaning it over Scream Editions, which is the online offshoot of legendary Eastcastle Street gallery, Scream. The whole ethos of Scream Editions is to provide prints of artworks at more affordable prices, so you can see why I'm a fan. And lucky for me, they've just opened this:

Londoners need to make the hop skip and jump over to Carnaby Street for their pop up gallery - it's well worth it. For such a little space, they've gone to town! Check it out:

I love these pieces so much. They're so obvious, so brash and so in your face it's almost comforting to be told to 'shut up for a bit' by an artwork. And Magda Archer's Toffs Love Dogs piece just belongs in my house.

I love dogs. And I've been told I can be a bit of a toff.

The pop up gallery has lots of awesome activities going on this month, but hurry - doors shut for good on April 18th and Scream returns to being a purely digital gallery.

The monumental photography of Gerard Rancinan


Big, brash and obnoxious; that's how I like my art.

Gerard Rancinan's new show at New Bond Street's Opera Gallery opened last night and boy, did I love it. These five monumental pieces stretched from floor to ceiling:

The whole show brings together five of the fifty photographs from his Trilogie des Modernes series (if you're wondering what the 'trilogy' is here, they are accompanied by three books, three films and three pieces of music). Ranging from 2.8m - 4.7m high, they are at once indulgent, guilty and mesmerising pieces.


My little chum Bould and I stood in front of the second one for about half an hour and kept finding new things (the Trilogie is photography's answer to Xtina's video for Dirrty). A plate full of cocaine, an alarming religious figure, a wedding dress train made from old plastic packaging; these people are having one hell of a party. We wondered just how much of the composition was 'real', and how much was digitally enhanced, but video footage of the photoshoots on the wall show Rancinan as quite the director. You can take a look at the videos here.

Let me readjust my Art Historian's hat for a moment. I just love how he has an identical approach to both subject and form. He's taken something oh so familiar, poked and prodded it, made a few alterations and come out with something that is, in the art historical sense, monumental. With the subject, he takes scenes that remind us of Mantegna or da Vinci and gives them an aesthetic twist that would make them at home in a Baz Luhrman film. With the form, he has taken a size that is usually reserved for big oil paint masterpieces and handed it to the medium of photography.

Nice. Even these guys loved them:

Funnily enough, 2D representations just don't work with these pieces. In order to appreciate Rancinan's sumptuous disorder in its entirety, you'll have to pop down to Opera Gallery before the show closes its doors on 3rd April. Get your skates on, Rancinan fans.

The crisis of the object: Magritte's techniques

I had a really interesting day yesterday. By day, I work at a marketing agency called Catalysis. There’s a whole creativity thing going on, and the powers that be invited an artist in to talk about what we, marketers, can learn from the wonderful Rene Magritte.

My first exposure to Magritte was when I was doing an art project at school on the responsibilities of young people. I looked at young mums and used this image as reference:

The Spirit of Geometry, Rene Magritte

My 16 year-old self certainly understood the image in a completely different way to my 24 year-old self. As I found out yesterday, that was Magritte’s way of ‘modifying’ an ‘object’.

When Magritte was only 14, he watched his mother’s corpse as it was fished out of the River Sambre. The image of her floating there, with her dress obscuring her face, was to have a significant impact on his art.

Throughout his up-and-down career (at least from contemporary critics’ perspective), he would juxtapose ordinary objects, giving them an unusual context and thereby giving a new meaning to familiar things. You may know The Treachery of Images, which is a painting of a pipe with the words ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe,’ or ‘This is not a pipe,’ beneath it.

The Treachery of Images, Rene Magritte

He may sound wrong but Magritte is totally right. He is quoted: "The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it's just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture "This is a pipe", I'd have been lying!” The idea is that even the most hyperrealistic of subjects is still not the subject itself.

In approaching the ‘crisis of the object,’ in which the Surrealists questioned everything about reproducing an object onto a canvas or plinth, they took the question of "what is art?" close to the question of "what is reality?". There's a noggin-scratcher for ya.

Magritte's constant play with reality and illusion has been attributed to the early death of his mother. Psychoanalysts who have examined bereaved children have hypothesized that Magritte's back and forth play with reality and illusion reflects his "constant shifting back and forth from what he wishes—'mother is alive'—to what he knows—'mother is dead'”. In dealing with these two crises – of the object and of bereavement – Magritte employs the following techniques:

Object isolation, in which something is placed out of context

Time Transfixed, Rene Magritte

Modification, in which new elements are added to an object

The Son of Man, Rene Magritte

Hybridization, in which the object is combined with something unusual

Collective Invention, Rene Magritte

Scale change, in which proportions are altered

The Listening Room, Rene Magritte

Accidental encounters, in which an object is juxtaposed with an unlikely object

Hegel's Holiday, Rene Magritte

Double image puns, in which a picture contains two images

Perpetual Motion, Rene Magritte

Paradox, in which the object is convincingly portrayed doing something it cannot do

Golconda, Rene Magritte

And double viewpoints, in which he shows two convincing views at once

Not to be Reproduced, Rene Magritte

So next time you need to do something tricky, do the complete opposite first. And say Magritte told you so.

The artists of the first Falmouth Art Gallery

I did a bit of gatecrashing while I was on holiday in Cornwall over the weekend. A group of arty and not-so-arty types had spent ten weeks learning about art in Cornwall from the wonderful art historian Cath Wallace, and I tagged along for the conclusive event in Falmouth Art Gallery.

Fal Art Gal is currently displaying its historical exhibition ‘Artists of the First Falmouth Art Gallery’. In 1894, the first Falmouth Art Gallery opened in Grove Place under the Directorship of Henry Scott Tuke (Love love love. His art was the subject of my dissertation, many moons ago) and fellow artist William Averst Ingram. Celebrating 120 years to the day, the exhibition shows art from Tuke and Ingram, along with other gems like Elizabeth Forbes, Stanhope Forbes, Norman Garstin, Thomas Cooper Gotch, Charles Napier Hemy, Laura Knight and John Singer Sargent.

My favourite part is the wall hung in the contemporary style, using anaglypta wallpaper and a dado rail beneath a double hung selection of art. As well as having a more ‘spacious’ curatorial style, galleries in 2014 tend to have cream or light walls, but they were darker back in the day. You know how most old portraits have a really dark background? I’d hazard a guess that it was to compliment the dark walls of galleries – it really makes it feel like the sitter is in the room with you, giving the painting a little more life.

Portrait of Charles Napier Hemy, John Singer Sargent

Anywho, that’s a tangent. One painting really stood out to me – Hevva Hevva by Percy Robert Craft, which is on loan from Penlee House.

Hevva Hevva, Percy Robert Craft

I’ll give you a bit of background info, as told by Cath Wallace on Friday morning. When a shoal of pilchards would come into the bay, a lookout man on top of the cliff would signal to a huer, who would run through the streets shouting “Hevva, hevva!”. The villagers would then rush down to the shore to help the fisherman net the pilchards.

That’s what’s going on in this big, big, big painting. Cath asked us what makes this painting a ‘Newlyn school’ painting, and to me, Newlyn school imagery focuses on working Cornwall. Not just portraits of the working classes on their breaks, but showing them actually in the act of working. Every single person in this huge (and it is huge) painting is working in some way. There is no person lazing around anywhere.

I also love the composition. The drain runs from the bottom right hand corner all the way to the sea, leading your eye to the far distance. Although the fisherman hauling the shoals of pilchards ashore aren’t shown in this scene, they are the undrawn subjects – everyone here is rushing around and it’s all, ultimately, for the fish haul. The painting is even called Hevva Hevva.

Out of all the many paintings from the artists of the first Falmouth Art Gallery, favourites varied in our little art appreciation group. Surprisingly to me, most people went for the smaller paintings. Personally, I like it big and brash but there’s a painting in this show to suit everyone’s tastes. 
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