Saturday, 23 September 2017

Robyn Denny - Newlyn

Robyn Denny, Away (Here and Then Series), 1968-72
Robyn  Denny is at Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange until 6 January 2018.
RobynDenny was a significant figure in the development of post-war British abstract painting. In David Mellor’s judgement, “For eight years between 1961 and 1969, Robyn Denny painted what are arguably some of the most accomplished abstract paintings made in Britain in the twentieth century.” He is best known for his geometric abstractions of the 1960s and 70s. In 1973 he was the youngest artist to be given a retrospective at the Tate. His dedication to abstraction, however, meant that he became increasingly unfashionable and, together with contemporaries such as Richard Smith, all but disappeared from public view. (In an interview, entitled ‘The Invisible Man’, Richard Smith recalled: "Robyn Denny keeps saying, 'Our time will come, Dick. Our time will come.' And he's been saying this for years and years.")
As a student in the 1950s (St Martin’s, 1951-4, RCA, 1954-7), Denny belonged to the first generation to be influenced by the American Abstract Expressionists, principally through exhibitions at the Tate (1956 and 59), and shows by Pollock (1958) and Rothko (1961) at the Whitechapel.
Denny’s early work was characterised by gestural painting and typographical abstraction. The apotheosis of the latter was a mural commissioned for Austin Reed (‘great, big, wide, biggest’) in 1959.
In 1960 Denny was a key player in the organisation of ‘Situation’, an exhibition which responded directly to the scale and innovation of the American painters. The criteria for inclusion in ‘Situation’ were that paintings should be ‘abstract (that is, without explicit reference to events outside the painting) … and not less than 30 square feet.’ All accounts report that the exhibition was poorly attended, but the label recurred in ‘New London Situation’ at the Marlborough Gallery in 1961 and in an Arts Council exhibition, ‘Situation: an exhibition of recent British abstract art’ in 1962.
The paintings of the 60s were typically, large-scale, featuring geometrical forms, suggestive of doorways, with flat planes of colour in precisely adjusted, usually, muted colours. Later work changed the emphasis from vertical to horizontal and included areas of brilliant colour. In 1981 Denny moved to Los Angeles and made paintings which were typically monochromes out of which outcrops of scratched, coloured marks would emerge.
It is wonderful that this overlooked artist is now being shown in this exhibition.
Waldemar Janusczak has tweeted re this exhibition - "Go see everyone. I love Robyn Denny's work." Well, me too - but I fear I am unlikely to get to Newlyn in the next few months; I hope the exhibition will tour.
Robyn Denny, Line Up 2, 1962
Robyn Denny, By Day 4, 1967
Robyn Denny, Aday 2 (Here and Then Series), 1968-73
Robyn Denny, Sweet Nature 4, 1976-77
Robyn Denny, Travelling 1, 1976-77

Friday, 22 September 2017

Jean-Michel Basquiat - Barbican

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1982
Basquiat: Boom for Real is at Barbican Art Gallery until 28 January 2018.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s star burned bright and brief. In 1976, aged 16, he and Al Diaz, working as SAMO (‘Same Old Shit’) spray painted cryptic messages on buildings in Lower Manhattan; in 1979 their partnership ended, marked by the graffito SAMO is dead. In 1980, he showed work in a mixed exhibition in New York, was picked up by a gallery and met Andy Warhol with whom he went on to collaborate. Through the early and middle 1980s he exhibited widely in America and internationally and was written about in the art press; in 1988, he died of a drug overdose, aged 27. In 2017, Untitled, 1982 sold for $110.5 million (£85 million).
The paintings he made in the 1980s pulse with energy and bristle with ideas; texts and images combine and collide in an expressionist explosion. He was a hip-hop Cy Twombly. This will be an exhilarating exhibition.
Read reviews by Sarah Kent, Mark Hudson, Jonathan Jones; read an interview with exhibition curator Eleanor Nairne.
Click on images to enlarge.
Jean-Michel-Basquiat, Untitled, 1980
Jean-Michel-Basquiat, Skull, 1981
Jean-Michel-Basquiat, Leonardo da Vinci's Greatest Hits, 1982
Jean-Michel-Basquiat, Hollywood Africans, 1983
Jean-Michel-Basquiat, Pablo Picasso,  1984
Jean-Michel-Basquiat, Self Portrait, 1984
Jean-Michel-Basquiat, Glenn, 1985
Jean-Michel-Basquiat, King Zulu, 1986
Banksy has paid his own hommage to Basquiat with a couple of pieces on the Barbican walls -
Banksy, 2017

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Käthe Kollwitz - Ikon

Käthe Kollwitz, Self Portrait, 1904
Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz is at Ikon until 26 November 2017.
In his succinct and moving account of Käthe Kollwitz’s life and work, Neil McGregor makes a persuasive case for her being one of the ‘greatest German artists’. (Listen here.)
Kollwitz worked, principally, as a printmaker and took social injustice, pain and suffering as her overriding themes. Her compassionate approach achieves work of considerable pathos – evident, for example, in Woman with Dead Child, 1903. The model for the child was her own son, Peter. As McGregor points out, this proved to be tragically prophetic: his discussion focuses on her sculpture Mother with Her Dead Son, which is in the Neue Wache (New Guardhouse) on Unter den Linden in Berlin, where it serves as a memorial to ‘victims of war and dictatorship’. (See image at bottom of page.) The sculpture was her own memorial to Peter. The story is that at 18, in 1914 at the outbreak of the first World War, Peter wished to volunteer for military service but, being under 21, could only do so with parental consent. Peter’s father at first refused but was persuaded to relent by Käthe. Peter was killed in action a mere 10 days after joining up. Grief, guilt and a fervent pacifism marked the rest of Kollwitz’s life. She died in 1945.
Although her work may seem unrelenting in its representation of pain and suffering, it is also beautiful and, I think, unsentimental in its honesty. This exhibition mostly drawn from the print collection of the British Museum is a rare opportunity to see work by this major artist.
Listen to Neil McGregor’s BBC radio talk: Käthe Kollwitz: Suffering Witness; listen to a review of the exhibition on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Review (16.9.17, starts at 27mins.)
Read a review by Skye Sherwin.
Käthe Kollwitz, Woman with Dead Child, 1903
Käthe Kollwitz, Not (Want), 1893-7
Käthe Kollwitz, Bust of a Working Woman With Blue Shaw, 1903
Käthe Kollwitz, Death and Woman, 1910
Käthe Kollwitz, Self Portrait, 1924
Käthe Kollwitz, Self Portrait, 1924
Käthe Kollwitz, Mother with her Dead Son in the Neue Wache, Berlin
Käthe Kollwitz, Mother with her Dead Son in the Neue Wache, Berlin

Friday, 15 September 2017

Rachel Whiteread - Tate Britain

Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (Clear Torso), 1993
Rachel Whiteread is at Tate Britain until 21 January 2018.
I am, generally, more drawn to the forms and textures of the everyday than to the stuff of fantasy; Rachel Whiteread’s work speaks directly and poetically about the fascination and strangeness of the often-overlooked objects and spaces of mundane reality. Her life’s work has followed a consistent and focused practice of casting ordinary objects and the spaces they define. She takes familiar objects but makes them strange, she makes the invisible visible, she makes the very air solid – in concrete, plaster, resin, rubber or metal. The strategy may be consistent but the variety of scale and character is exhilarating. From the largest works -  House (1993 – now demolished), the ‘nameless library’ that is The Judenplatz HolocaustMemorial (2000) in Vienna and the WaterTower (1998) in New York – to the smallest, the spaces beneath chairs, Untitled (One Hundred Spaces) 1997, and the form of hot water bottles, eg Untitled (Clear Torso), 1993.
This exhibition promises an exciting survey of 25 years of remarkable work.
Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (Amber Bed), 1991
Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (One Hundred Spaces), 1993 (detail)
Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (Floor), 1995
Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (Stairs), 2001
Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (Hive) I, 2007-8
Rachel Whiteread, Due Porte, 2016
 Selected larger works (obviously not in exhibition)
Rachel Whiteread, House, 1993 (demolished, 1994)
Rachel Whiteread, Water Tower, 1998
Rachel Whiteread, Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial, Vienna, 1996-2000

Sunday, 2 April 2017

James Rosenquist, 1933 - 2017

James Rosenquist, Untitled (Joan Crawford says...), 1964
James Rosenquist died 31 March 2017.
James Rosenquist's masterpiece was undoubtedly F-111 (1964-5). This 85 foot long painting (illustrated in 4 sections, below) interlaces the titular American fighter-bomber deployed in Vietnam with the iconography of mid-twentieth century consumer capitalism and technology - the 'American Dream' of material prosperity underpinned by military power and threatened by nuclear apocalypse. As Rosenquist put it himself, the bomber was “flying through the flak of consumer society to question the collusion between the Vietnam death machine, consumerism, the media, and advertising.”
Rosenquist initially earned a living as a billboard painter and turned this experience of large-scale painting of advertising images to develop his distinctive, monumental paintings of images drawn from the vocabulary of popular culture. The scale of these paintings is evident from the installation shot of Star Thief (1980), below.
Read obituaries by Martin Pengelly, Ken Johnson, and an appreciation by Jerry Saltz.
(Click on images to elarge)
James Rosenquist, President Elect, 1960-1/1964
James Rosenquist, Study for President Elect, c1960
James Rosenquist, I Love You with My Ford, 1961
James Rosenquist, F-111, 1964-5
James Rosenquist, F-111, 1964-5 (Installation views - MoMA, NY, 2012
James Rosenquist, Star Thief, 1980
James Rosenquist, installation view of Star Thief, 1980
James Rosenquist, The Swimmer in the Econo-Mist #3,  1997-8
James Rosenquist, Untitled #3,2006
Ugo Mulas, James Rosenquist in his studio, 1964

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Pop Art in Print - The Wilson, Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum

Ed Ruscha, Mocha Standard, 1969 - screenprint
Pop Art in Print is at The Wilson, Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum until 4 June 2017.
Drawn from the print collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum this is a substantial exhibition of American and British printmaking from the heyday of Pop Art, along with a few examples of more recent, Pop-inflected work. Most of the major figures of the period are represented, including, amongst the British artists - Peter Blake, Patrick Caulfield, Richard Hamilton, Allen Jones and Eduardo Paolozzi; and amongst the Americans - Robert Indiana, Roy Lichtenstein, Edward Ruscha, Wayne Thiebaud, Andy Warhol and Tom Wesselmann. Many familar and iconic images are here alongside some less well known material including examples of concert posters, wallpaper and textiles. A really interesting exhibition.
(Click on images to elarge; all images from the V&A website.)
Richard Hamilton, Adonis in Y Fronts, 1962-3 - screenprint
Peter Blake, Beach Boys, 1964 - screenprint
Roy Lichtenstein, Crak! Now Mes Petits...Pour La France, 1964 - offset lithograph
Andy Warhol, Birmingham Race Riot, 1964 - screenprint
Richard Hamilton, Interior, 1964-5 - screenprint
Richard Hamilton, My Marilyn, 1965 - screenprint
Eduard Paolozzi, [from] Moonstrips Empire News, 1967 - screenprint
Tom Wesselmann, Seascape (Tit), 1967 - screenprint
Patrick Caulfield, Cafe Sign, 1968 - screenprint
Peter Blake, Babe rainbow, 1968 - screenprint
Patrick Caulfield, Small Window, 1969 - screenprint
Julian Opie, Sara Gets Undressed (lenticular), 2004 - Lambda print overlaid with lenticular plastic