Well, even if I haven’t got to see everything I would have liked, it’s been a good year, especially for encountering artists I hadn’t come across before, Rana Begum for one. Her work somehow combines facets of minimalism with various kinds of patterning, some of her pieces (many?) depending for their effect on a kind of optical illusion. You thought you knew what this was? Then look again. And again. Whereas her show at the Djanogly gallery in Nottingham gave a fuller sense of her overall practice, at Ketttle’s Yard in Cambridge she filled a chapel annex with baskets you were forced to bend your way under and around, and at Tate St. Ives, in addition to a selection of small paintings, she hung painted fishing nets from the walls and filled a table with a variety of white sculptures based on different shapes and sizes of fishing floats. Fascinating.
Camden Arts Centre has a knack of presenting interesting work by lesser known artists and this year’s exhibition of abstract work by Amy Sillman was no exception. Great use of colour in the larger abstract pieces, set off against cartoon-like and politically (small p) figuration. I nearly missed Heidi Bucher at the Parasol Unit, a medium-size gallery next to Victoria Miro off City Road and was so pleased that I didn’t. Not dissimilar in some ways from the working practices of Rachel Whiteread or Anthony Gormley, Bucher [she died in 1993] made latex casts of building interiors (doors, windows), objects and clothing, the resultant ‘skinnings’ hung from ceilings or displayed on walls. Beautiful and deeply, deeply unsettling.
Just about as unsettling as the huge paintings of faces – mostly faces, overflowing flesh and faces – in the brilliant exhibition of Jenny Saville’s work at the Scottish National Gallery. I’d never seen as much of her work in one place before and the effect was close to overwhelming. But brilliant.
Caroline Walker is an artist whose development I’ve been happy to follow for quite a while now [ever since those days when I could afford to buy it!] and the paintings that comprised Home, again at Kettle’ s Yard, are amongst her best, not least for the care and dignity she gives to her subjects, all of whom are/were female asylum seekers living in London.
Finally, mention of three near-perfectly curated [to use the word in its proper sense, for once] shows : Picasso 1932 at Tate Modern, Cezanne Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery and the Permanent Collection rehang at Tate St. Ives.
The final painting is invariably, to borrow Picasso’s phrase … ‘the sum of its destructions’, with numerous earlier paintings – or perhaps better to say images, forms, shapes, fragments – buried or lost beneath the surface. And whilst these moments are variously submerged, obscured or obliterated, traces remain. There is is still a presence, a memory of each of these events and objects hidden behind the image, beneath the ground. Like a sediment, a past, an unconscious perhaps – still active, still agent.
Camden Arts Centre File Note, edited by Gina Buenfeld & Martin Clark
That paragraph is about the paintings of Amy Sillman, whom I wrote about in my previous blog post, but reading it again made me think of Heidi Bucher, whose work is currently on show at the Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art until December 9th.
These are not paintings, though their effects are not dissimilar, nor are they exactly sculptures (though there are also sculptures on display), they are ‘skinnings’. Latex works made by covering the surface of a chosen object – doors, windows, walls – with gauze, pressing liquid latex against and peeling it off again just before it finally dries. Peeling it off not completely clean, but bringing with it traces of the object being skinned. Streaks and patches of paint; fragments of wood or cloth; memories.
For me, there are two outstanding pieces in this fascinating exhibition, one on the ground floor, one the floor above.
Bucher’s dragonfly costume is fixed to the centre of the upstairs wall of the gallery, with large plate glass windows to the sides looking out onto the trees of the garden at the rear. An extravagant, almost impossible costume for some wild and wonderful gala evening; a giant insect that has pullulated to fleshy, iridescent abundance.
In a dominant position to the left as you enter the main room of the gallery, hangs what is perhaps the quintessential Bucher art work – and the one that harks back most obviously to the quotation in opening paragraph, with its references to the lingering presence of memory, to a unconscious, mainly hidden past.
The Bellevue Kreuzlingen was a psychiatric sanitarium in Switzerland, the one to which Freud sent one of the patients, Anna O, the subject of one of his first case histories, to be treated. A short film showing at the gallery shows Heidi Bucher in the act of making this work, this skinning; tearing away the vast sheet of latex from where it has been clinging to the surfaces of wall, wood, window and glass and, as it is freed, covering herself with it as she crouches beneath it, smothering herself in it as if to inhale the air, the vestiges of breath that still cling to it, as if to hear the kaleidoscope of whispered conversations, troubled minds. In a later moment from the same film, she runs along the corridors of the building, pulling the latex skinning behind her like a shroud; like a wedding dress with its heavy, flowing veil – some half-mad Miss Havisham caught up in the fevered consciousness of others.
Heidi Bucher : Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art, 14 Wharf Road, London, N1 7RW, till December 9th, 2018.
Amy Sillman : Camden Arts Centre, Arkwright Road, London, NW36DG, till January 6th, 2019.
If you’re in North London and looking for something to do of an artistic nature – looking rather than making, though making happens there as well – Camden Arts Centre on the corner of Arkwright and Finchley Roads is a good bet. Even if whatever’s showing doesn’t do it for you, there’s always the good little café with an adjacent two-tier garden. And, more often than not, the work in display is, at the very least, interesting. Sometimes, a lot more than that, with the bonus of discovering artists whose work you weren’t previously aware of, even if you should have been.
Such was the case when I came along with my daughter, Molly, last year and we were introduced to the work of the 90-year-old Romanian artist, Geta Bratescu – 90 and still working. And so it was this week, when my partner, Sarah, and I went to see Landline, an exhibition by the American artist, Amy Sillman. Enthralled. Delighted. Excited. “Wow!” from one room to another.”Wow!’ Just, I mean, “Wow! Look at that!”.
With the help of a zine [The OG. Fall-Winter 2018-19] put together by Sillman especially for this show [she’s into zines in a big way] and an Arts Centre File Note, edited by Gina Buenfeld & Martin Clark, our responses did become a little more articulate.
Aside from a large and rather beautiful animation based on Ovid’s Metamorphosis, showing on video in the central space between the galleries, Sillman’s work here divides into two main categories: paintings, oil and/or acrylic on canvas, and acrylic, ink and silkscreen works on paper. The former, mostly quite large – 190.5 x 167.5 cm, around there – seem more considered and while individual, wear their abstract expressionist legacy with ease. There’s Guston there, clearly – those heavy lines – [Guston in the works on paper, too] – a notion of de Kooning, perhaps – and in one piece, Avec, the greens and rectangular shapes have a hint of Diebenkorn. One of the articles we browsed in the Reading Room suggested Joan Mitchell as an influence, but I didn’t see it myself. [I’d have plumped for Grace Hartigan.] And besides – what does it matter, all this naming? Hints of this person, that person. [It’s the curse of once having done a History of Art course at Birkbeck.] Sillman is who she is.
The paintings are striking – and the hang gives them room to be so – striking in their immediate overall impression, and then again when you give them time, standing with them, moving close, standing still, moving away, interesting in a more complex way. It’s useful what the File Note has to say …
All of her paintings are long and often arduous exercises in accumulation and excavation, aggregation and erasure, coalescence and collapse. Over many weeks and months, surfaces are work and reworked, abandoned and returned to, scraped back and covered over.
So that what we see in the final painting is a sum of all the images, the marks that have been there before and partly obscured, painted over, nudged, shifted, changed. Change, that seems to be the key word for Sillman. As if, even though she has had, finally, to accept that a work is finished, it’s only finished against her wishes. Against her aesthetic.
We’re committed to something scrappy but good, earnest but smart, ironic and not cynical, a strange FORM! … We haven’t figured it out but we love art that offers change above all: insistent, unremitting change that won’t resolve into finality or finesse. We want to know what happened before and after. We can’t stand the knowingness, the smugness, of a goddamn good painting.
Amy Sillman. The OG#11. Metamorphoses. 2017
In an slightly earlier sequence of drawings shown here – the Pink Drawings from 2015-16, using acrylic, charcoal and ink on paper – a large display of them spread along one wall – the pleasure comes from the vitality of the colour, the vigour of movement, the swiftness of the marks, the solidity of the black.
The most recent of the works on paper are more instant, direct and disturbing – one series was started in response to Trump’s election. In some there is a single figure on his or her knees, vomiting, shouting, screaming …
… in others there is a swift overworking of line and colour not dissimilar to the technique used in the paintings.
The powerful double-sided pieces that comprise Dub Stamp in its entirety hang in a line across Gallery 3, the more immediate, predominantly black and white figures along one side – the one that presents itself first – shifting on the reverse to a mixture of brightly coloured abstraction and strongly inked irregular shapes and lines.
As you walk round, the images cluster against one another, coalesce for a moment and then divide. There’s an ugliness here and a hint of beauty: faced with the horror that underlies much of modern life, how might an artist respond? You can’t pin the answer down, it’s always shifting, changing. Try covering up the ugliness, the truth, and it will still show through.
Let me say again, this is a terrific show and it continues until January, 2019.