Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Flurry of Group Shows

This is my painting of Wilfred Owen for Brick Lane Gallery's 'Peace Camp', curated by the gallery and Bob and Roberta Smith. Wilfred Owen is one of those people who are/were very valuable but were so forced upon me at school that I've only just discovered him (he was 'a Shropshire lad' too so perhaps we got it hotter and stronger than anyone else when I was growing up). He was the first thing that entered my head whilst musing on what to make for the show and I decided to paint him at the canal where he was shot. It's worth making more than one visit to 'Peace Camp' to catch the various performances going on in the gallery space, although I'm far too late posting this as it finishes on December 31st. There's a schedule of performances on their site if you have time to hurry down there prior to new year. It's a busy show, there must be over 100 artists, and some interesting work.

I've also been involved in 'Grotto' at Studio 1.1, a similarly chaotic and lively show, that aims to 'take Christmas by the throat'. I'm showing a Melting Snowman. It's worth spending time here as there's a lot to see and there are a number of gems to uncover. It's on until mid-Jan.

Also did the painting prize at the Residence, which I think was their last show prior to moving to brand new premises. Although I wish I'd read the small print as I didn't know that they were planning to hang the show upside down. I often add text to my pictures and would have liked the idea more had I included a picture without.


Friday, December 01, 2006

"Visions of China"

Just back from a very enjoyable and long overdue break to Hong Kong and environs. We stayed in the fantastic Langham Place Hotel high above the colourful chaos of Mong Kok, in Kowloon, opposite Hong Kong Island itself. The Langham is the tallest building in Kowloon, perched above a 'high-end' shopping mall, crowded in with colourful street markets, mad restaurants and more neon than you can shake a stick at. I preferred Kowloon to the smarter 'Central' district on Hong Kong Island. It has bags more atmosphere and I for one felt as though I was in a Japan video for ten days. So, while my lungs are still full of temple incense, and my nostrils remember the stench of corner cafes cooking tripe and the fug of the pollution, some highlights and/or recommendations:-

'Central' is good fun, and reached by Star Ferry from Tsim Sha Tsui at the bottom of Kowloon or a couple of metro stops. We enjoyed the street markets, Hollywood Road 'Antique District', the ex-pat bars and some of the streets that cling against the 'escalator' that carries you up the steep levels. The majority of Central is 'office land' however, like our City but negotiated largely above ground by walkways and shopping malls to keep determined bankers and brokers out of the humidity. Of the bars in the (largely) ex-pat district of Central we spent a very enjoyable afternoon getting hammered with our friend Jon (also over from London) in 'The George' (traditional Olde Worlde pub with 80's music) followed by '1997' (Gay on Fridays but only until 10: they actually take down the rainbow flag and the entire crowd changes within 20mins) and Soda on Wyndham St.

Talking of Gay pubs, there aren't any really apart from Tony's in Bristol Avenue (mental karaoke bar) which was very friendly and seem to really like Brit visitors and Wally Matt's (trad pub), both in Kowloon. Hated the 'Rice Bar' in Central which was empty apart from bunches of funereal lillies and a couple of ancient suspicious looking ex-pats. It's dark and the walls are covered in drapes. We called it the 'last chance saloon'. Out of there in ten minutes especially as the barman wouldn't let me smoke (unusual for Hong Kong... no wonder it was empty).

The street markets are mostly in Kowloon, and very cheap. The goldfish and flower markets are beautiful and very relaxing. The Temple Street night market is amazing, mainly full of tat to be honest but very colourful. Loads of fortune tellers and street food too. Our favourite was the Bird market. I bought a bird cage (God I bought loads of rubbish back, as ever) and we had a chat with a Minah Bird which was hilarious.

Saw some amazing temples, including Wong Tai Sin in New Kowloon which is a good one. Large, with a 'good luck garden' to wander around in and other areas too. Lots of fortune tellers again, and face readers. Amazed that so many small domestic temples are everywhere, on street corners, cemented into walls, in dry cleaners, car exhaust shops. The only places you don't see them are in the sanitised office block area of Central and the shopping malls.

Had a few trips out including to (Portugese) Macau which is worth going to for the Portugese restaurant 'A Lorcha' (have octopus salad followed by clams and pork!) and Lantau which is really tranquil. Of the two Lantau was my favourite. It takes about half an hour from Hong Kong on a ferry to get to Lantau then a bus for a hour to get to the monastery. You can get a combined ticket to go up the enormous bronze Buddha on the hill and a veggie meal in the monastery afterwards (but not with the monks). It's not really spoilt or touristy and I felt very relaxed and at peace with myself afterwards. Of course then we went and sunk ten pints of lager in Central.

Also went to Stanley, a sort of rich ex-pat's enclave with a very touristy market, but it's nice by the harbour and a huge temple to Tin Hau (she's to do with the sea), and a smaller more isolated temple a walk away from the harbour. Went to Aberdeen (nice fishing port) on the south side too, but not much there apart from the wholesale fish market.

We had some astonishing dinners. Breakfasts were solely bacon and eggs in the hotel (call me old fashioned) but the good thing about having a foodie for a partner meant that we tried loads of different places and had some amazing things. I'm not that adventurous normally but we went everywhere from back-street caffs to huge clamourous dim-sum restaurants full of shouting families, main-road noodle bars and out-of-the-way restaurants where almost everything was in Cantonese. In the majority of places we ate in we were the only westerners and it's worth knowing that lots of places off the beaten track have at least one English language translation menu even if it's not strictly accurate. 'Shun De Yummy Fish' is good (you can choose your own eel) on one of the roads parallel to Temple St (possibly Woo Sung St) and 'Heaven on Earth' on Knutsford Terrace is a good Chinese restaurant popular with westerners and locals alike.

'The Peak' is worth going to. If you can cope with the 'white-knuckle' 45 degree tram ride up the side of the hill to the 550 odd metre summit. The safety record is spotless but you never know. The view is amazing if the air isn't too polluted, but there's a ghastly couple of shopping malls at the top. The one you have to go through to get to the actual viewing gallery is just depressing and unnecessary and one of those ones where you are tricked through the shops with no option to bypass them.

I had hoped to see some traditional Chinese painting. Luckily, we caught the last day of the Qi Bashi show at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, traditional views of landscape and nature on silk scrolls. Enjoyed the show even more as reading about Qi Bashi himself (1864 to 1957) he sounds like an awkward old bugger who had strong ideas on how his work should be bought and sold and seems to have spent most of his time thinking up rude signs (in perfect calligraphy) for his studio door to keep out the riff-raff.

Can't wait to go back. Would also like to explore further into China. I normally only ever go west rather than east so it was all new for me.

Horrah for the Artistic 30's

Been in Hong Kong... of which more shortly, but meant to post about Bloomberg's 'New Contempories', in Club Row before I went and ran out of time.

I loved Andrea Buttner's large format donkey piece, actually a woodcut made up of ten large sheets. I like the quality of woodcut printing and I've never seen it on this scale before. I imagine the sheets were enlarged up but I like to think they are actual size prints rolled off enormous inky 3'x2' planks following months of hard-won carving.

I also enjoyed the corner installation of Henrietta Simpson's meticulous and haunting suburban houses and roads 'Between Heaven and Hell in Suburbia'. Domestic size oils in gilt frames. All fake half-timbering and picket fences with no sign of life, not even a twitching curtain. They look like cul-de-sacs in Surrey and are oddly unsettling. They reminded me of my home town and I imagine probably work on that level with most people; the work could even be called 'A Thousand County Towns'. They are various although similar sizes and are hung in a corner, like a small gallery of small-town depression.

My fave was Neil McNally who is showing a row of very affecting watercolour studies of gas oven deaths and lonely hangings. There's very little information on Neil on the Bloomberg site, other than his date of birth (1971) and that he left his BA at Goldsmiths in 2005. Presumably he spent a decade or so doing something else prior to his BA but it's none of our business and I like that approach. It underlines the mysterious nature of his work. In fact, while I'm on the subject I like people who resist traditional biographical detailing full-stop... the work's the thing. I would love to go and see these again. All the suicides are named, but we're not told anything further. Quite right too.

All my favourites were in their mid-30's. I find this happens quite a lot at the moment. I respond to the work before knowing how old the artist is though so I'm not being drawn in artificially. I do think it is just something about older artists (or rather not-so-young young ones) having hammered away for so much longer that they have worked up a more original or genuine way to speak about the world. It's on until 20th December.