Sunday, 27 May 2012

Elvis Costello at Bristol Colston Hall 22/5/12

The last time I saw Elvis Costello was the early 80s: In 1981 at the Hammersmith Odeon, on Xmas Eve 1981 at the Rainbow, and a couple of years later at Southend Cliffs Pavilion. To be honest, like Elvis, I liked a drink back then and I can't remember much about any of them (apart from the Xmas Eve gig - which was brilliant).

On the evidence of last Tuesday's performance by Elvis and the Imposters - essentially the Attractions with Bruce Thomas replaced - it is hard to believe that it is 30 years later. Elvis had a cold but his voice was still strong, especially compared with others of his vintage (stand up Ian Anderson of the Tull).

The band kicked off with I hope You're Happy Now, and three other upbeat favourites, culminating in Radio Radio. Elvis then adopted the role of cheery compere for the evening as he invited people up on stage to spin the wheel to select hits from his amazing back catalogue.

The band - especially Steve Nieve with his trademark farfisa-like organ sounds and versatile fills - worked hard and could not be faulted; and, apart from strong vocals, Elvis produced some excellent guitar work - including several songs where he delivered head-full-of-acid riffs on his Jazzmaster that resonated around the Colston Hall.

People dragged up on stage not only spun the wheel to select the tunes but also drank at the stage bar, danced in the dancers' cage, and took photos with Elvis. The Bristol audience were happy to join in with the repartee and a good time was had by all. Finally, after an impressive set of over 20 songs before the encores, Elvis and the band finished up with a couple of extended encores, including Ship Building and a brooding rendering of I want You (sorry, the visual quality of the following clip is not so good).

In my previous blog post I mentioned that that my enthusiasm for Costello had waned after his first seven albums - but on the night there were only a handful of songs I did not recognise. At the end of the evening I was reminded that Elvis Costello is one of the most talented composers and performers that we have seen in the past 30 years. I intend to go back to his later albums and investigate them further. There is a live CD and DVD available, recorded in May 2011 in the US and based upon the the Spectacular Singing Songbook - although the tracks included will only partly be similar to what was played at Bristol (by definition). Click to access the actual full Bristol set listing or to access a wealth of information about the Revolver tour.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Totnes & Dartington Open Studios May 2012

This weekend over 30 studios in Totnes and Dartington are open to visitors as part of the latest Opinion Studios exhibition.

On Friday we visited several of these. The Birdwood House Gallery is showing textiles by Susie Gillespie.


Her work is based upon prehistoric textiles and she uses antique flax yarn and hand-spun Nepalese nettle. The results are textile pieces which have a textural richness and a tactile appeal, while retaining the appearance of 'Art' pieces.

Around the corner we called into Miranda Garner's at Castle Court, where she is showing her paintings of the Devon coast and inland scenes which have a stylised and colourful appeal. Her work is also on display at the Dartington Hall visitor centre.

We then called into Deborah Duffin's studio which is just off the top of the High Street. I've admired Deborah's work since I saw it at TAAG last year. However, the display at her studio has allowed far more of her work to be shown, whether it be cleverly-contructed sculptures made from wire and recycled materials or painstaking and beautiful drawings which start from organic observation but which develop lives of their own.

Finally, we drove a couple of miles up the road to see the Dartington Print Workshop. This is a significantly sized room (at least four times the size of Double Elephant) containing around four presses and all the facilities needed for printmaking - whether it be linocuts, collograph, drypoint or monoprinting. We were able to see work being produced and to look at completed work (and potentially buy it). On the way out we called into the newly-opened visitor centre for Dartington Hall.

Totnes and Dartington Studios are open over the weekend up to and including Monday 28th. Booklets detailing the artists, the venues and their locations are available all over Totnes:

Lucian Freud at the NPG - Finishes May 27th

The Lucian Freud Portraits exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery finishes this weekend. Freud was born in Germany in 1922 but came to England in 1933 when his family fled the Nazis.

He enlisted with the merchant navy during the Second World War but was discharged after illness. After the war it was a trio of paintings of his first wife Kitty Garman that first established him.

Kitty Garman

The early paintings see Freud developing his style and the subjects seem to have larger-than-life eyes (rather like those stylised large-eyed portraits of  children in the 1960s and those by Margaret Keane).

'Small naked portrait' at the Ashmolean

Remarkably quickly, however, Freud found his realist style and subsequent pictures appear stylistically very consistent, with their trademark reds and greens giving a livid appearance to the flesh. Freud spent hundreds of hours on each of his pictures and photos of his studio show it quite spartan apart from the splodges of paint where he removed the excess from his brushes and the sheets that he used to wipe them.

The Freud studio with model, picture and dog

Painting Leigh Bowery

The exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery was being planned when he died at the age of 88 in July 2011 and is essential viewing for anyone interested in figurative portraiture in the late 20th century.

After painting David Hockney

The gallery space at the NPG is bit cramped, especially given the number of people trying to see the works, and it does not flow particularly well, but the works themselves are a revelation for anyone who has only seen reproductions or the occasional Freud elsewhere (such as that at the Ashmolean).

His last (unfinished) painting

There are some links to the exhibition (video etc) here in my previous post about it. You can also access a 'proper' recent review of the exhibition at the A kick up the arts blog here.

Lucian Freud 1922 - 2011

You have until Sunday if you want to see this exhibition (although it may already theoretically be 'sold out').

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Henry Bruce & the Chapmans at Cockington Court

It's great to see contemporary art being regularly shown in Torquay. It really started with 'the Gormleys' at Torre Abbey in 2009 (actually titled 'Field for the British Isles') - 40,000 small clay figures, standing together, all staring towards the viewer.

Following the success of that, there was the 'Tamed' exhibition, which featured Damien Hirst's 'Mother and Child Divided'.

Last year there was the impressively mounted Robert Lenkiewicz 'Death and the Maiden' exhibition at Torre Abbey (see previous post here).

And more recently, this April, there was an excellent small Henry Bruce installation at Cockington Court entitled 'Parts that Make up the Whole'. Here are a few pictures:

Currently showing at Cockington is My Giant Colouring Book by Jake and Dinos Chapman. This is a series of 21 etchings loosely based on images and dot formations from children’s connect-the-dots colouring books. The images 'explore dark and subversive themes for which the Chapman Brothers have become infamous'.

I'm not a big fan of the Chapmans myself but if you want to catch the exhibition you have until Sunday May 27th to get along to Cockington Court.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

One Year of Blogging (and welcome back, Elvis)

Well, against all the odds, the blog has been going for a year now, with a total of 7,000 visitors; and is getting about 25 hits a day - Although to be honest only about a fifth of these actually involve reading the blog. Oddly, most of the hits come from Google Image searches - notably searches for Richard Hamilton's Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? which I used to illustrate an off-the-cuff post about nothing in particular. I had intended to do a piece on Richard Hamilton after his death last year but, as is often the case, felt that I could not do justice to someone who had contributed so much to the art world over 50 plus years.

Richard Hamilton - Swingeing London '67

I'm still not really sure why I'm blogging - especially as so many of my draft posts don't get finished or see the light of day. I do, however, like to share favorite blogs that I have stumbled across with others. Also, like Pinterest, blogging is addictive (and the blog has the continuing benefit of pissing-off my kids).

Tomorrow I'm off to see Elvis Costello at the Colston in Bristol and have high hopes. After his initial excellent seven albums I lost a bit of interest - especially when he started cropping up on US comedy and chat shows. But last year I rediscovered his 20th album - When I was cruel - in a charity shop and he was back on form (ten years ago). So maybe I'll post something about the gig, if it's any good. (See post about the gig and links to YouTube videos here). Meanwhile, thanks for reading this.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Mondrian & Nicholson at the Courtauld Gallery

Just a brief reminder that the Mondrian/Nicholson: In Parallel exhibition at the Courtauld closes on 20 May. This is a small exhibition but one that is well worth seeing if you can get to it this weekend.

To quote the Courtauld: "This exhibition explores the largely untold relationship between Piet Mondrian and Ben Nicholson during the 1930s. At this time the two artists were leading forces of abstract art in Europe ... This is a unique opportunity to experience some of the greatest works ever produced by these two exceptional artists."

Mondrian: Composition with yellow, blue and red (1942)

The Courtauld is a great little gallery - far more intimate and manageable than the Tates or the National etc. When you have done Nicholson/ Mondrian you can explore the main collection that the gallery houses. A highlight for me is the collection of paintings by the Fauves (including key works by Matisse, Derain and Dufy), the German Expressionist paintings, and the works by Kandinsky.

Ben Nicholson: Painting (1943)

However, the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists are also well represented (with well known pictures by Van Gogh, Degas, Cezanne, Manet and Gaugin), and there are some exquisite works from earlier periods (including paintings by Gainsborough, Goya, and Rubens). This introductory video summarises what's on show:

You can take a virtual tour of most of the gallery here.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Ceramics: Fritsch, Cooper, Foakes, Perry & Sada

Recently I've been getting into ceramics. My interest was initially sparked when I saw Elizabeth Fritsch's stuff at the Wales National Museum in Cardiff - pieces that are heavily influenced by art, architecture and (apparently) music.

At Cardiff they also have a significant permanent collection, including some more popular stuff, such as work by Susie Cooper.

A year or so later I was really impressed by the clever re-invention of ‘canoptic’ pots in acrylic and ceramic by Lucy Jane Foakes at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen at Bovey Tracey.

I wasn't too familiar with Grayson Perry's work until last year, when I went to his curated exhibition at the British Museum (meant to blog about it at the time but after visiting 7 London exhibitions in 3 days it all proved too much ...).

Anyway, the exhibition was excellent and, apart from Perry's work, included ceramics and artefacts from many other cultures. I would particularly recommend the reasonably-priced catalogue that accompanied the exhibition (compare the price of this with that of Hockney and other catalogues).

More recently, I visited the Bernard Leach pottery in St Ives. I'd previously avoided this because Leach ceramics appeared a bit too traditional for my taste. However, I'm glad to say that the visit was definitely worth it and it opened my eyes to the whole 'making' process involved in the manufacture of ceramics (I have a set of photos that I also intend to post sometime).

In the Leach shop they had some fantastic modern pieces by Elke Sada.

So now I'm hooked and I'm always on the lookout for stuff I can add to my small collection. Acquisitions have included a pot by Louis Hudson (£10) and this small East German pot by Strehla VEB (sold to me by an antiques dealer as Danish) for £9.

My most recent purchase was this Jessie Tait designed Midwinter Sienna pattern partial tea set (bought for £4 from a charity shop).

I'll be adding occasional postings about future finds from now on. Here finally, to be going on with, is a great Taj Mahal jampot which I picked up for £5 at an antiques fair (obviously it didn't appeal to anyone else as it was still sat on the stall at the end of the day - the earliest I usually manage to get along to these things).

If you have an interest in modern ceramics you may want to take a look at my Pinterest board.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

TAAG at Teignmouth - Six Days of Art

Still haven't managed to completely tear myself away from Pinterest - so not much blogging this week. But on Wednesday I popped into TAAG in Teignmouth, where they are showing a number of artists as part of the Teign Artists' Six Days of Art.

This year the format has changed and artists are being shown at 3 venues across the Teign area over two long weekends. This is not very clear on the Teign Artists website but you still have this weekend to catch up with what's on show.

Patricia Bray, Josie Gould and Petra Lewin (who graduated together with Fine Arts degrees from Plymouth University in 2010) are featured at Teignmouth. In addition there is work by Jane Branch and Des Maxwell-Clark. When I called in at TAAG, Petra Lewin was on duty and it was great to have a chat with her. I've always been a fan of Petra's work (see previous post here) and at this show she has several large abstract canvases plus original monoprint & collagraph works. 
Josie Gould also has some great mixed media work including a number of seascapes (to which reproductions here can't do justice).

These are just my personal preferences - there is plenty more to see, so take the opportunity to drop in at TAAG or at the other venues over the weekend, if you can.  

As a postscript, on Friday I visited venue 3 at Devon Square in Newton Abbot. This has some terrific art by James Tatum and Karen Pearson, together with examples of other crafts. However the outstanding part for me was the collection of linocuts by Elizabeth Rashley.

It's worth going along to the Newton Abbot venue just to see this collection of work.