Saturday, May 12, 2007

Cocks and Wolves

By way of an update we are enjoying our new district. I don't miss Whitechapel one bit and I've been surprised by the number of people who recoil when you say you've 'moved to Hackney'. This place beats Whitechapel hands-down. I haven't felt this positive or certain about a part of London since I first found Limehouse 20 years ago. I feel a sort of lift walking out on to Well Street Common every morning, rather than a growling depression picking my way up the scuffy backstreets behind the hospital up onto the choking Commercial Road. I haven't sorted out my studio yet, and we're nearly there with the rest of our stuff. We did a mini-blitz over the bank holiday weekend, but there's still been some time for too many drinks and of course, art, although strictly as a consumer until I find where the blazes I packed my brushes.

Went to see Martin Creed at Hauser & Wirth Coppermill on Sunday. The vast warehouse space in Cheshire Street has been used brilliantly to within an inch of its life, and has a very successful accord with the work. I loved the massive left hand wall, which has been painted with slanted black stripes on white that reflect playfully in the polished concrete floor. Also the tiny row of seven nails sticking out from the wall that graduate in size from maybe one inch to four inches and are lit in such a way that they cast a beautifully complicated diagonal shadow. The enormous iron girder in the centre of the room is also made elegant and beautiful rather than ugly and hulking by careful positioning and lights. It's perhaps 15-metres long and made up of three separate components. The roar and noise of the trucks and cleaning vehicles swooping up the market detritus of Cheshire Street late on a Sunday afternoon seemed to be rumbling from the depths of the iron pieces themselves. There's also a pleasing but sinister scribbly sketch of a smiling woman with green hair, a yellow neon piece that flashes up 'FRIENDS', and, in the corner of the room, a lone gallery attendant with her back to us plays an upright piano, slowly and one note at a time. I liked the vast white square suspended in the front of the industrial walls, and just as I was admiring how perfectly empty and clean and, well, just how perfect it looked, the lights went off. Instead of coming back on again (and going off again and coming on again), the whiteness flickered into life and a vast projected black and white close-up a freshly trimmed cock began gently fucking a willing female participant from behind. The film was so perfectly composed, with such a kept register, I feel certain the models must have had apparatus holding them in place. I think that there were a few surprised viewers in attendance (this is twenty-foot of close-up moving cock remember). We watched for a while, not for long enough to discover whether said fuck completes itself, blinking into Cheshire Street. G spotted some nice graffiti and snapped it. I thought the show was the best starting point for thinking about using a space to the work's advantage I've seen in a long time.

Less captivating was Leon Kossoff at the Sunley Room, National Gallery. I can't help feeling that most of his investigations of the old master paintings should have been kept under wraps. A good many of them remind you of the dynamics of the original works, some upward surges of energy or a busy crowd racing across the picture plane and expressions on faces in a crowd (like Pound's 'petals on a wet black bough'), but others felt like private memory-joggers not for the viewer's eyes. I felt the show could have been ruthlessly edited and about twenty pictures removed. There are some good ones though, so it's worth going. Unfortunately, the Christchurch Spitalfields picture (I think the only non old-master 'exploration') is not one of his best (bird shit / putty sludge), and the Rembrandt painting too sort of sits there as a conused mess on a scruffy board rather than impresses with craters and hard-won dips and slurries, having been wrestled out of Kossoff's wet world of painted chaos.

Popped into the NPG afterwards and thank god that fucking Andrew Logan's 'Zandra Rhodes' has fucked off into storage. I hope someone pushed it over the banisters. Crazy G seemed interested to know when the the next BP award is. The answer is of course hopefully never (being as it's the art world's answer to the Eurovision Song Contest).

Aside from Martin Creed there's another couple of shows i'm telling almost anyone who will listen about at the moment. The first is Arboreal at Transition, that aims to explore man's place in the world by rubbing the physicality of organic form up against coarse synthetics. Nature verus hard material.

I particularly enjoyed Lee Maelzer's photographs of Chistmas trees. A row of photographic prints of the corners of several different sitting rooms (or the same room every year?), at Christmas time that have been attacked by household fluids resulting in unexpected chemical shifts. As though fragile memories of special family time have been soaked in bleach. The prints have that creamy/fuzzy chemical distortion of old polaroids that have been sleeping in family photo albums for 30 years, taken one step further into a kind of irreverent danger zone as it feels wrong to spray this destructive stuff on special times.

Talking of childhood, and in the same show, I was transfixed by Debbie Lawson's expansive landscape made of a large cheap veneered wood panel, that reminded me suddenly of the doors in my parent's proud 1960's semi and of the wardrobe doors in the bedroom my brother and I shared on which we had a large sticker of an orange teddybear. Debbie's veneered landscape doesn't house teddybears however, but instead a braying pack of wolves that appear to be both on a mission of hunger but also lost in an endless landscape that seems expansive and undulating but also suffocating. The wolves are also made of veneer and delicately spliced into the broader panel. Maggi Hambling has also used veneers and wood slabs, chiselling out likenesses of her dead dad and her lover Henrietta but whereas those felt like like signposts on the way to broader portraits Debbie's are highly finished successful works in their own right. I'm a big fan. Like most shows at Transition it made me want to return to my studio and work... or, more correctly in the current domestic chaos, sort my studio out so that I CAN work!

The other show that has me gushing at the moment is the marvellous exhibition of Picasso etchings at Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood. Picasso carried out the 31 prints of birds, animals and insects in the mid-30's to illustrate a classic natural history text 'Histoire Naturelle'. They are really lively and pleasing and of course being Picasso almost annoyingly brilliant. There's some great shapes and textures and each one uses slightly differing techniques and styles. Each has wildly differing characters: some are delicately done and described in about three marks on a plain ground. Some are bold and weighty. I'll never get tired of visiting this exhibition as it's one of those ones that reminds you of the sheer joy and pleasure of making marks on paper and just how much freedom can be enjoyed in such simple processes. Luckily it's on until July so I'll be able to see it some more yet. My favourite is the toad with the two big eyes swirling in different directions and a back so detailed and hatched into you can almost feel the hard damp nobly bits. It's brilliant and will make you smile loads, so if you find yourself bored to tears in Vyner Street down pop down the road and look at a frog or a dragonfly instead.