Saturday, 1 December 2018

Completed Painting: 'Untitled (From The New School) 9'

All Images: 'Untitled (From The New School)', Acrylic & Paper Collage on Panel,
30 cm X 30 cm X 10.6 cm, 2018

Here is No. 9 in the 'From The New School' series.  These seem to be arriving thick and fast, right now - and without too much strife.  That's definitely one of the advantages of deliberately versioning the same simple composition, again and again.  Essentially, it just frees one to concentrate on content (and what happens between the lines).  The initial premise  was that they should reflect numerous different philosophical or ideological interpretations of education, or of school life.  Perhaps, then - the previous observation just emphasises how any institutionalised education system inevitably risks promoting a degree of 'thinking inside the box?' (whichever box that might actually be). 

At some point, I suppose I'll start repeating myself with these, but I hope that's some way off yet.  Certainly, I already have ideas for the next few - and do find that my days spent at work, in a large secondary school, stimulate an endless stream of direct experience - and reflections on education generally, as possible inspiration.  However much milage there may, or may not be in this series - it's already shaping up to be my most extensive to date.

This one should be pretty easy to interpret, I suspect - imagining, as it does, a school as an institution constructed largely of rules and regulations.  There are days (most days, to be honest), when it seems as much energy is spent navigating behavioural expectations, rules of conduct, Health & Safety regulations, national legislation, and government directives - as it is upon teaching and learning.

Luckily, that all also generates a range of pleasing, strongly-coloured information graphics, symbols, hazard stripes and hatched exclusion zones - a gift for those of us with a tendency toward formal or geometric abstraction.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Completed Painting: 'Untitled (From The New School) 8'

'Untitled (From The New School) 8', Acrylic On Panel, 30 cm X 30 cm X 10.6 cm, 2018

Here's the second of my recently completed 'From The New School' paintings.  It's fair to say that Number Eight is rather less emotionally charged than it's immediate predecessor in the series - being very consciously a style exercise, above all else.  Reference to my previous post will reveal that the distinctly graphic aesthetic of this one - with its tight, geometry, austere palette, and tendency towards synthetic abstraction, is lifted directly from one of the panels I recently completed for my school workplace.  In that respect, it still refers mostly to my own specific experience of school life, rather than being a more generalised or theoretical meditation on Education per se.

It is also the case, of course, that this piece's stylistic mode also originates with a specific school student's work.  That further bolsters the idea that this series of 'FTNS' paintings as a deliberate deliberate engagement with ideas about appropriation (or even plagiarism), as much as with the ideological or theoretical underpinnings of Education.  But then, plagiarism is also a very live issue in contemporary education - be it a function of our digitally supercharged, post - Benjamin culture, or just a timeless teenage reluctance to always put in the requisite effort expected by their teachers.  Perhaps that's a bit cynical - as my previous post demonstrates that the latter is most definitely not always the case.  More to the point - am I in real danger of disappearing up my own self-referential fundament, in my habitual attempts to make all these connections and call-backs (or even, to ask this very question)?

Alternatively (and less pretentiously), could it be that this particular panel mostly represents a bit more art therapy for me?  It is, after all - an undeniably enjoyable exercise in painting-by-numbers  and discovering just how crisply I could paint all those masked edges.  Maybe that's enough for now.   

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Completed Paintings: 'Dystopia 1 & 2', For Rushey Mead Academy, Leicester

'Dystopia 1', Acrylic On MDF, 172 cm X 122 cm, 2018

As I've mentioned previously, one of the most enjoyable aspects of my employment as a secondary school Art Technician, is the occasional chance it affords to generate original artwork for the institution.  Here are the latest results of that process.

'Dystopia 2', Acrylic On MDF, 172 cm X 122 cm, 2018

'Dystopia 1 & 2', Rushey Mead Academy, Leicester, November 2018

In the process of installing these panels, adjacent to the school's main Reception - I also produced an information panel to accompany them.  So, instead of blithering on at length, I'll include that text here.  It pretty much tells you everything you need to know.

‘Dystopia’ Panels
Based on Work by RMA Students, Heena Kumari Naratomo &
Nelakson Anthonystan

In 2017-18, Year 7, 8 & 9 Art students undertook a major project on the theme of ‘Dystopia’.  Those working with Miss Chhana considered how, in the future, our physiology and thinking might be affected by digital and cybernetic technologies.  Students explored visually the ways in which technology increasingly merges with our lives; whether we will control the machines, or they – us; and if bio-mechanics really is the next stage in human evolution.  Above all, they were asked to reflect on whether current assumptions on the matter might spell a utopian, or dystopian future. These issues, and the ethical considerations around them, will clearly affect the lives of our students’ and their children.
Starting from a self-portrait photograph, each student developed a final piece in which their face or profile became incorporated into a composition of patterns, shapes and mechanical motifs - all with a strong ‘Techno’ or Science Fiction feel.  Strong, graphic line-work was used - often over more freely-painted backgrounds, or with areas of applied collage.

The panels you see here were painted during 2018, by Art Technician, Hugh Marwood - working directly from final pieces made by students, Heena Kumari Naratomo, (L.) and Nelakson Anthonystan, (R.).  Only very minor changes were made in the process, and the large paintings remain very faithful to the original student designs.

Nelakson Anthonystan, 'Dystopia 1' Original Artwork, Fibre Pen
On Paper, 29.7 cm X 21 cm, 2018

Heena Kumari Naratomo, 'Dystopia 2' Original Artwork, Fibre Pen,
Watercolour & Collage On Paper, 29.7 cm X 21 cm, 2018

As you can see, this was pretty much a translation job, as the students' original designs were so powerful, and only needed a minimum of tidying-up and tightening.  All the real decisions had already been made, long before I got involved.  That meant the execution of the actual panels was essentially just a therapeutic technical exercise for me - involving a bit of projection, and lots of lovely methodical brushwork.  Really, what's not to like?

So, thanks should of course go to the two students concerned; to my colleague, Sheetal Chhana - for making it all happen in the first place; and to the School management for sanctioning and funding the production of the finished panels.

There are certainly worse ways to earn my daily bread...

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Completed Painting: 'Untitled (From The New School) 7'

'Untitled (From The New School) 7', Acrylics On Panel, 30 cm X 30 cm X 10.6 cm, 2018

I've seemingly entered a phase of creative 'bitting and bobbing' since the conclusion of the 'Visions Of A Free-Floating Island' exhibition, in Nottingham, at the end of September.  It's perhaps to be expected - given that the show represented the culmination of an extended and concerted period of concentration on one specific body of my work, under the banner of 'This S(c)eptic Isle'.  The processing of implications in the aftermath of that is ongoing - and as is concerned with how my practice might situate itself within the world, as it is with the specific work itself.  The former boils down to questions about what I actually want from all this (or even from the next few years of my life), but I'm disinclined to rehearse yet more self-indulgent internal debate just now.  Here's some new work, instead.

While I catch my breath - I'm also resting my eyes and brain from cardboard boxes, flags and fridges, for a short while at least.  It's nice to just freewheel for a spell, and to drop back onto one or two other pre-existing projects, free of deadlines and organisational admin.  One such project is my ongoing series of 'From The New School' paintings, to which I've added two new pieces in the last month.  This is the first.

Andrew Smith, 'The New School', Acrylic & Digital Print On Canvas, 2016

Regular visitors with long memories may remember that these small panels - each constructed around a common compositional motif, derive from a painting, 'The New School' - made by my friend and co-conspirator, Andrew Smith, in 2016.  We had actually been discussing a potential project in which each might reinterpret or actively disrupt the work of the other, prior to first encountering his small canvas at that year’s ‘A Minor Place’ exhibition (another three-hander, with Shaun Morris – as was ‘VOAFFI’).  I fell in love with it immediately, both for its spare Modernist geometry, and for the numerous associations it (and its delightfully allusive title) triggered with my own employment in the field of secondary education.

My role, as a member of school Support Staff, affords me the partial luxury of being an observer of the educational scene - at least more than were I an actual teacher.  Nevertheless, it's still impossible not to be aware of, or affected by, the continual upheavals, both structural and ideological, impacting on education, in recent years.  The reality is probably that it's always been the case, and that the interminable wrangle over what is actually taught - as well as how, and why, may be one of the only true constants within education.  That's before getting to grips with how it might be organised, overseen, and funded.

Whatever the truth, my response to Andrew's image quickly coalesced in my mind as an indefinite series of re-imaginings of the same standardised motif, with each change in mood, style or handling reflecting a different interpretation of at least some of the above.  That fits neatly into my customary practice of working in series, whilst also being perhaps my most overt example of painting in a quasi-conceptual kind of mode.  This notion of painting as a somewhat meta activity - in which different approaches or methods of handling are applied in a deliberate and knowing manner, continues to intrigue me - even if recent fashions may have tended away from the ironic, to some degree.  However, whilst it may privilege concept over expression,  this approach doesn't preclude the delicious paradox of applying a degree of Expressionism, as a conscious tool.  'Untitled (From The New School) 7', is starting off in that direction, I feel. 

For the reality is, this one's as much about the stress-related emotional crisis experienced of late, by a close work colleague, and friend - as it is about the institutional factors which may have contributed to it.  Witnessing his struggle to preserve a professional front, whilst seemingly assailed by inner conflicts, has been tough at times, and this painting feels like my attempt to communicate a degree of empathy regarding his travails.  That also explains the dedication applied to the painting's edge.

Shaun Morris, 'The Street (The Garage)', Oil On Canvas, 2017-18


My idea this time was that the ‘New School’ architecture should, suggest a pressurised edifice, in which something possibly infernal is being suppressed.  It’s worth mentioning two specific visual memories that directly shaped this iteration of the motif.  One is a fairly recent painting by Shaun Morris, entitled ‘The Street (The Garage)’, from which, I now realise - I’ve pretty blatantly nicked the idea of fiery illumination emerging through gaps in a darkened building.  For that, I should acknowledge Shaun’s original authorship, whilst perhaps reflecting wryly on how one strategic act of appropriation has now triggered yet another.  The second visual influence is the amazing desert-cabin-exploding-in-reverse sequence from David Lynch’s film, ‘Lost Highway’ [1.].  That movie is often overlooked in favour of his subsequent ‘Mullholland Drive’, but is a stunning piece of work in its own right.  Either way, its themes of psychological turmoil, and deployment of specific architectural locations as analogues for the disrupted mind, seem pretty apposite.  I actually find the particular sequence under discussion to be one of the most memorable in all of cinema, so I guess it was bound to come out in something, sooner or later.

[1.]:  David Lynch (Dir.), 'Lost Highway', US/France, Ciby 2000/Asymmetrical Productions, 1997

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Luminarium At Lakeside Arts, Nottingham

All Images:Architects Of Air, 'Luminarium'

After visiting Mandy Payne’s exhibition, at Lakeside Arts, Nottingham, as discussed in my last post, my friend, Lorel and I also had time to look inside another attraction, situated nearby.

Credited to Alan Parkinson and Nottingham-based Architects of Air, the pop-up ‘Luminarium’ is a complex, bouncy castle-like environment [1.], comprising a number of organic chambers and tunnels, arranged around a larger central dome.  It’s supposedly inspired by the internal spaces of gothic cathedrals and Islamic architecture, but there’s more than a hint of 'Doctor Who', or the psychedelic 60s about it all too – not least because the overwhelming impression of being subsumed within an amorphous, organic environment of intense coloured light.  By employing translucent coloured PVC to construct the outer walls, the designers have cleverly harnessed nothing more than ambient daylight to saturate the structure’s internal cells with intense colours – something which could be experienced in full effect on the sunny afternoon we were there.

The main intention is clearly to create a kind of immersive, sensory zone, designed to stimulate relaxation or contemplation (another clue being the slightly cheesy ambient music also permeating the environment within).  I won’t pretend there’s any particularly profound  artistic relevance to this in the traditional sense - although dance music’s chill-out rooms, and the current fascination with meditation and colour therapies, are obvious cultural referents.  Nevertheless, I guess there’s nothing wrong with suspending one’s analytical faculties in favour of something more directly experiential, from time to time. 

And there certainly is much simple pleasure to be had from wandering around inside what mostly feels like an almost womb-like structure - whilst seemingly suspended in healing chromatic radiance, and freed from the hard edges of the modern world.  Or there would be - if it weren’t also full of over-excited small children [2.], whose instinct in such an environment, is less to ‘chill out’, than to charge around, shout with glee, and bounce off the walls at every opportunity.  The resulting atmosphere might be described as slightly fraught.  I wouldn’t want to appear too much of a killjoy though.  Plenty of fun was being had - even if not of the intended variety.  Perhaps the real mistake was to expect anything else on a weekend - which is, of course, prime family time.  Maybe a few adults-only sessions might be in order, although, even as I read that back - I wonder if it might not open up a whole new can of worms.  Either way, it did all make for a bit of amusing R&R, and some pleasing photos – and that’s surely enough.

Unfortunately, ‘Lumniarium’s stint at Lakeside is over now.  However, it looked pretty popular, if ticket demand and the queues to get in are any indication – so I expect it’ll inflate itself somewhere else, before too long.

[1.]:  I can't help wanting to use the term, 'overblown' here.

[2.]:  See - womb-like.