Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Freezing in NY

Just back from a blizzard-filled New York City. It seemed freakishly cold as we queued for our cab at JFK, and luckily we managed to make the safe confines of the Chelsea Hotel just before the sleet and snow really got a grip. Unpacked in our room (with a balcony this time, and quite a smart one for a change), got glued (as Warhol used to say) and repaired to our favourite diner for dinner.

The next morning, I realised I'd packed precisely 3 thin black suit jackets, several neck scarves and ties, a couple of rock'n'roll t-shirts, some skinny black jeans and a pair of cuban heels. More Nick Rhodes than Scott of the Antarctic. So we struggled with newly purchased umbrellas (which, given the wind, were useless) against a howling sleety gale up towards mid-town in search of sensible winter wear. Wasted half a day in and out of Macy's and various others and in the end, returning to Chelsea for lunch bitterly cold, I bought a fantastic black fedora ($50), and a big olive-coloured overcoat for $40 in a cheap gent's outfitters within 5mins walk of the hotel lobby. All set.

Stayed mostly around Chelsea again that second evening. It was just disablingly cold. Had a few Martini's (including a rather yummy 'what happened to my legs' cucumber one... *falls under table*) and some beers, most of which I barely remember due to Martini prefix. Woke up on Saturday to six inches of quite nice crusty snow, and the NY smoking rules meant that my hangover was clearer than i deserved, chiefly because it was far too cold to go outside even for an old puffer like me so I wasn't sneaking out for headache-forming fags all night . After breakfast (eggs and ham pour moi, syrupy waffles the size of a house for Crazy G) we headed over a couple of blocks to the galleries. Almost no street salting around Gallery Land, so all was draped in nice crusty snow and looked very pretty.

Saw a brilliant show of Brazilian street art at Jonathan LeVine by eight graffiti artists from Sao Paulo. Amazing bold colour and shapes that seemed to explode all over the gallery space; large hung works were joined up by painting directly on the gallery walls, so that it was difficult to tell where one artist ended and another began. Just when I was wondering who was getting paid and how I noticed that some of the work was broken down into smaller components with little red dots here and there. Big work chopped into commercial chunks.

I liked Mathias Schmied's 'I Hate the Way I Love', at Josee Bienvenu, some of the most startlng works on paper I've seen in a long while. The bulk of the work uses cut-up comic heroes, and pop 'POW!'s and 'THUD!'s pinned to the walls like insect specimens. There's also a disturbing series called 'Pin-Ups':- glamour models cut from magazines, again pinned up, with sections of their sexy torsos scalped out and draped out across the surface of the gallery wall like miniature innards in an autopsy. Very fragile small scale papery work, but made more powerful for being shown surrounded by acres of white in a massive space.

Also enjoyed Matt Ernst's 'Future of an Illusion' at 511, playful mixed media collage that had strong childhood undercurrents that interested me. The gallery has a lovely big white dog which sort of nudges and sniffs you and follows you round as you look at the art. I was in raptures over 'Mystic Visions' by Alan Davie at ACA Galleries, bright likeable canvases full of mysterious folklore referencing and occult imagery, cartoon snakes and all-seeing eyes. At the friendliest gallery, Kathryn Markel (one of only two galleries in the entire 529 W 20th building that said 'hi' or 'good morning' and 'if you need any help please don't hesitate to ask', etc), Gerald liked Dragana Crnjak's beautiful wall pieces, while I explored Lenore Thomas's sensitive wax tablets.

At the Chelsea Art Museum we saw 'Dangerous Beauty', including a confrontational work by a surgically bruised Orlan and, one of my favourite artists, Barbara Kruger. You know what the show is all about from the off. As you descend the steps into the museum's sunken exhibition floor you are faced with an expanse of artfully arranged multicoloured Ikea bathroom scales below vast projections of catwalk models and an accompanying dance track.

I was disappointed by Karel Funk's 'The Hooded Man' at 303 Gallery. I was brought up short by one of his 'from the back' images of hooded, capped youths ('Untitled 12'), in March's Art Review (now a good magazine again... couldn't believe it turned into 'World of Interiors' for about seven years), and was looking forward to the exhibition, but I found the work empty in the end. Gerald made the comment as we left the gallery 'What's the point? They just look like photographs...?', which seems glib when you understand that the artist probably spends six weeks on each painting, but they do look like technical exercises. A layered up photographic likeness that leaps off the page of an art mag. Fucking fantastic painting it has to be said, although it did occur to me that you can framework the backs of people's heads with more hyperbole than you can the fronts. I wanted to turn the boys round so that I could see them. I wanted them to look like Collier Schorr's pictures of high school athletes or young soldiers remade with Karel's astonishing technique. Actually, if I'm honest, I wanted to see them naked (sorry).

Actually, talking of being naked, one of the most powerful shows in Chelsea was Oliver Herring at Max Protech. Again, I was familiar with the work from the art press, but this time the reality was breathtaking. Oliver makes, out of polystyrene or some other base material, blank life-size images of his subjects naked, then photographs every inch of their bodies, and fixes the finished photography all over the statues building up a montaged likeness over the body contours. Not only are you seeing photography collaged so that it attempts to portray the world as we see it, as constantly moving viewpoints, you can also move around the image and experience it as sculpture as well. Hours of fun.

Anyway, that's enough art. We got pissed again on Saturday, ('Phoenix Bar' and 'Nowhere'). I bought loads of books, (including an interesting exhibition catalogue from 1999 that draws parallels betwen Nadar and Warhol and, on a hunch, a copy of Van Gogh's letters for the plane), and ate loads of big American grub (although was workin' a semi-atkins so no chips allowed). On Sunday the temperature lifted slightly so we explored some of Brooklyn and Williamsburg (crunching through sunny snow) and in the evening went to our favourite Japanese restaurant (Sharaku, 14 Stuyvesant St) then met up with Retro Bar Alex at Joe's Pub for Kiki and Herb, who seemed more anarchic on home turf (Kiki and Herb, not Alex). Monday, shopping at Bloomingdales (I bought some new raybans) and a blow out lunch at BAR on 23rd St, taxiing out of manhattan around 4.30pm for the red-eye back to London. Having caught the weather on CNN it seemed we were leaving the city just in time for the setting in of ordinary spring:- Bugger. Nevermind... I quite enjoyed battling through a dramatic, snowed in New York... and I'm VERY pleased with my new hat (see above).

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Some Very New Paintings

The first is 'Aunt Sylvie, Drunk, 1970s', which for me has a air of Abigail's Party about it. I imagine most family photo albums have a faded polaroid of a slightly tipsy aunt gurning for the camera after a smidge too much pomagne. The yellow is my invention, to throw Sylvie into a 1970's gaudy colourway.

'The Road to Tintagel' is one of my new Cornwall pictures, of the ruins of King Arthur's castle and the winding pathways and roads that lead to it and around the coast. This place was so romantic to me as a child, full to bursting with magic and mystery (I even collected stones in Merlin's Cave believing them to be talismanic). I enjoyed painting the expansive rugged landscapes. I wanted them to be deep and spatial so that your eye moves around, and the air around the landscape thick with the remnants of legends and stories of ghosts and wizards.

'The Beach' is Blackpool at some point either at the very end of the 1960's or early 1970's. I don't plan to identify the figures in the picture as I want the viewer to consider it in the light of his or her own life... (Although my work is rooted in personal memory and my own nostalgia, I believe the subjects dealt with are universal). I was quite pleased with my bus. There are number of stories going on, if you want them, or the focus of the picture is the sad boy. I was amused by the layers of clothes everyone's wearing. The old man asleep in the deckchair is in full three piece Sunday best. I want to paint the tower too... I have some fantastic faded pictures of Blackpool Tower against brooding skies (stormy afternoons). One of the few obsessions I miss from my East London subject is the sinister Hawkmoor churches I used to paint, and Blackpool Tower in my hands at least could be a similarly mysterious monument. We used to stay in a bed and breakfast in Blackpool run by a Mrs Vera Broadbent who used to let me play on her organ. I can't remember the name of the B&B but I do remember the taste of ginger beer served from the small bar in the sitting room, and reading palms in the breakfast room (at the time I was obsessed with fortune telling and the occult).

'Blood Brothers' is my brother and I, in my parent's bed, making funny faces. I like the way that Paul is looking towards me as though taking his lead from me for the camera.

'New Arrival' is about the birth of my sister. My mum has just returned from the hospital and i'm holding my baby sister with a wide-eyed sense of exitement and wonderment. I enjoyed painting the teaky 1970s furniture (my parent had some VERY funky furniture I have to say... including a fabulous orange leather sofa) and the antique stereo in the background. When I look at this picture I remember the smell of my new born sister, the lemon coloured blanket and the records my dad played on said antique sound system.

I've been working on some drawings as well. This one is called 'Mother's Dentistry, Cold Morning'. I once went with my mum to the Dentists, and being too young to be left in the waiting room on my own was taken to be sat in the room while the denist set to her. I remember this as one of the most terrifying experiences of my young life. Watching a masked man in a white coat and surgical gloves, gauging at my Mothers mouth with steel and mirrors, surrounded by glaring artifical lights and strange smells and fluids. The horror was extreme, and I had to carried off, hysterical and screaming, convinced that my mother was being tortured to death in this alien environment. The shapes in the drawing become the violence of the Dentist's attack.