Saturday, 16 November 2019

Music Re/View 6

All Images: November 2019

Katamari Damacy is a video game about replenishing the cosmos by rolling a sticky ball — a katamari — all over the planet, gathering objects along the way / That's pretty much how these annoying, contrary youngsters like to go about their entire business / The band taunts you, smashes you over the head, and dares you to ask for more / their mammoth ideations never cease to thrill / A new city is being built on old floodplains and dogshit parks / the product of a boundless creative spirit and unwavering technicality / Instead of quiet-loud / It is primordial and juvenile, dumb and clever, arch and true

it's impressive what these four dudes can do at such a young age / Where there are melodies, there are complete meltdowns into chaotic noise; where there are / Offhand theories / there are unsettling shouts of terror and where there is light, there is of course— / a very particular kind of clattery racket / I don’t have the music theory background to even begin to parse out the record’s absurdly difficult / banjo and drum machine parts / and even the longer ones seem to go by in a blip / There are synthesizers / and an armful of / accordions / atop numerous squalls of industrial garb / The vocals are, frankly, batshit crazy... / a short burst of gibberish-core / upgraded with the litany of / Alfred Schnittke

Unfortunately, this means that the end product is rather unrefined and the experimental, improvised nature of their creations can be tiresome from the listener’s perspective / At times, they seem to meander off / In effect, if you are caught by the Katamari, you have reached the event horizon / while praying you never make eye contact / Lack of resolution is probably the album’s defining aspect / no amount of gravitational force can pull you out / older dudes who long for the days when prog bands like King Crimson and Emerson Lake & Palmer ruled / could easily fall off at any moment

one gets the feeling that this is an important moment for guitar music / The kitchen-sink mentality lays itself out in front of our very own eyes, symbiotic metalworks mutating and taking on new forms / it’s messy hi-fi / It’s the sinister Katamari Keita Takahashi never wanted made flesh / What’s also exciting is the way these songs rock and groove / There’s so much going on here that nothing ever gets bogged down enough to fees indulgent or wanky / I still can’t do any better of a job describing these nine maniacal songs / But here’s what I do know: this is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard / For all the talk of / prime counter-programming / it’s clear that these are either genii at work / finding a way to use the avant-garde toolset / like noted explorer of the sonic outer limits Shirley Bassey / or you’re being had

In fact, expect nothing at all from the band because it is the only way to enjoy these phenoms / we realise that there are some things / about as congruous as David Lynch having been to the same film school as / people who watch drum tutorials online / Indeed, there’s humor here / which is so powerful that / you may never want to hear it again in your life / And with that, there’s just nothing more to say. Listen or don’t / That's your prerogative

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

'Constructed City' 4: More Material

All Images: West Leicester, October 2019

In a sudden, climatic turnaround - the day following that described in my last post, was clear, bright and dry.  Slowly, Leicester began to dehydrate - as I ventured out with bike and  camera, to document the latest building progress, over the way.

The two main buildings which first triggered my 'Constructed City' thoughts, are all but complete now - leaving this immense, emerging structure, on the bank of the River Soar, as the current main event.  It's an absolute monster, but is progressing rapidly all the same.  It feels like only a few short weeks since I first photographed skeletal steel-frame girders being bolted together, but already, one end is extensively glazed - and acquiring its first and second layers of skin.  My challenge will clearly be to negotiate extreme weather events, in order to keep up with developments, as Winter draws in.  Luckily, I can be there within minutes of leaving my own door - making short, regular forays, around other commitments, pretty achievable.

This site should continue to supply plentiful visual material for a while yet, but will inevitably reach a state of less-inspiring completion, all too soon.  From a purely visual point of view - it's all those complex, interlocking grids, meshes, patterns, and overlaid planes that really interest me.  In comparison - once sealed, the completed building, however sleek or monumental, will almost inevitably present a disappointingly bland face to the world.  This project feels like it's more about urban mutability, and active processes of transformation, than a celebration of the results.

And this building certainly doesn't represent the end of the story, in any case.  It's actually just another piece of a much larger jigsaw.  A massive swathe of the surrounding Great Central/St. Augustine's/Frog Island region of the city will undergo 'renewal' in the near future - meaning there's plenty more construction work to come.  Indeed, as I cycled around the main site - I noticed tell-tale signs of the large, cleared and fenced-off plot opposite, beginning to wake up.  A tower crane is already erected, some big plant is appearing, and the inevitable, lone Security Jobsworth got out of his car to glare at me - as I pointed my lens in their direction.

I guess I should just be grateful that all this time, effort and manpower is being devoted to  building my subject matter around me.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

'Constructed City' 3: Groundwork Continued...

All Images: 'Constructed City' Screen Prints (Work In Progress), Leicester Print Workshop,
October 2019

Another weekend comes round, and I've managed to put in a few more hours on the very early stages of my first run of 'Constructed City' screen prints.  In fact, with the weather outside simulating some kind of Biblical deluge, hunkering down for an afternoon at Leicester Print Workshop seemed a perfectly sensible option - even if the short drive there through floundering Saturday afternoon traffic, was to become bafflingly complex.  As ever, once there - the logic of getting out of my own little cave, and capitalising on the LPW facilities, immediately made perfect sense.  Inevitably, the simple expedient of going somewhere else, specifically to work, focusses one's energies a bit.  You've made the effort to get there (and are paying by the hour for the privilege), so you might as well just crack on, and find out what might be achieved.

And the greater discipline that might imply, feels like it could be a useful strategy after an extended period relative creative sluggishness.  The decision to make printmaking the primary conduit for this new project (for the time being, at least), means it must largely progress at those times when I can access the necessary facilities.  That's weekends and school holidays, essentially.  Raw material can be collected, and sketchbook images,  developed, as on ongoing process - but actual results will be dependant on realistic scheduling and a degree of, for want of a better word - rigour.

Perhaps for the same reason, it feels like I'm digging in for a longer haul, this time round.  Previously, my forays into printmaking have resembled relatively short-lived 'smash and grab' incursions - often inserted as a side-issue into a wider-ranging overall project.  On those occasions, a few days of relatively hasty print activity, have usually yielded a shortish run of moderately resolved prints - followed by long months when I neglected to set foot in the workshop at all.  This time round, the hope is to adopt more of a little-and-often approach.  These prints will inevitably take longer to reach a conclusion, but are likely to do so in a more concentrated, multi-layered manner.  My hope is that imagery might evolve more organically, as a result of process, this time - and capitalise more fully on the bits and pieces of printing technique I've absorbed to date.  That's the plan, anyway.

As far as the images in this post go, it's really just a case of the customary work-in-progress views of printing tables and drying racks.  A second application of ink was applied to most of the sheets already in play, and a small number of new ones added.  A little experimental colour-mixing was carried out (albeit very much down the neutral end of the spectrum), and some consideration given to the layering of transparent inks.  On the sodden journey there and back, I reminded myself just how brilliant Magazine's 'Secondhand Daylight' album [1.] still sounds, and reflected that, just when you feel any residual interest in football dwindling away altogether - Leicester City splash their way to a 9 - 0 win.  Perhaps, this really is the end of days...

[1.]: Magazine, 'Secondhand Daylight', Virgin, 1979


Friday, 25 October 2019

Mark Bradford, 'Cerberus' At Hauser & Wirth, London

Mark Bradford, 'Gatekeeper' Mixed Media on Canvas, 2019

I found myself  in London again, the other day - with my good friend, Susie, for a bit more strategic gallery-going.  This time, the exhibition in question was Mark Bradford's 'Cerberus', currently on display in Hauser & Wirth's impressive Saville Row spaces [1.].  The visit proved well worth the train ticket, and - as with the Oscar Murillo show I viewed a few weeks back, 'Cerberus' both impressed and inspired.  Indeed, it provided a further reminder (were it needed) that abstract painting, albeit in distinctly hybridised forms, is not only still alive - but positively thriving.

Mark Bradford, 'Cerberus', Mixed Media on Canvas, 2018
(And Details Below)

I've been looking at Bradford's work for a while now - having encountered one of his large, heavily distressed canvases at Tate Modern, a few years ago.  On that occasion, I was instantly drawn to his intensive multi-media approach, involving sanded, carved and tattered layers of collaged material, references to a kind of notional urban landscape - implied maps and found text fragments.  The piece I saw that day, and the others I've seen on various screens since, spoke to certain works I had recently produced myself (not least my 'Maps') -  and have continued to influence others I have produced more recently.  I'm happy to acknowledge such correspondences, but can't claim to be operating with anything even faintly resembling the confidence, conviction monumentality (or, indeed - success) evident in Bradford's work,

Mark Bradford, 'Sapphire Blue', Mixed Media on Canvas, 2018
(And Details Below)

And monumentality is definitely the impression one gains on first entering the larger of two galleries at H&W.   The expansive space is dominated by two huge pictures, and another, truly immense, one.  The largest (which also lends the exhibition its title [2.]) encompasses a vast panorama - emphasising that these works might most usefully be regarded as pieces of terrain.  It's a sensation only magnified during the extended seconds it takes to pace its length at close quarters.  One could really 'get one's steps in' with this work.

And, as with much of Bradford's previous work there's often the suggestion of looking down upon an urban sprawl, as if from some 'eye in the sky', whilst being simultaneously being pressed up against the ragged, textures and urban grit of its ghettoised underbelly.  Predictably enough, I'm drawn to that vivid sense of an artist drawing directly from the streets, for visual stimulus, conceptual/emotional inspiration, and actual raw materials.  And the reality is that Bradford is hardly a painter at all, in the purely technical sense.  Some fluid, coloured media may be involved, but his works mostly coalesce from the accumulation of physical 'stuff' (much of it sourced in the field), and the varying degrees of violence he can bring to bear upon it.  

Mark Bradford, 'A Five Thousand Year Laugh',  Mixed Media on Canvas, 2019

And, it transpires, he knows plenty of what he speaks.  Bradford's studio, and the streets to which he most often returns, are located in South Central Los Angeles - a stereotypically forbidding zone of disenfranchised minorities, social deprivation and infamous race riots.  As a gay black man, raised during the Civil Rights era, but now embedded in such a gritty  environment, it can feel superficially counter-intuitive to discover he has maintained a genuinely refined and cultured demeanour - whilst never shying away from the daunting realities of an environment which must have consumed so many others.  In interviews, he has described the varieties of prejudice he encountered, growing up in the Liemert Park district, but is as quick to point out the strongly protective matriarchal context in which he was raised.  In fact, for much of his early life, Mark worked in his mother's beauty salon - seemingly a nexus of female mutual support - before seizing the opportunity of a formalised art education, previously unavailable to other creatively-inclined family members.

Mark Bradford, 'Cerberus', Hauser & Wirth, London, October 2019

Possibly, he resembles the Colombian, Murillo in this respect.  Both hail from the less entitled side of the social or ethnic tracks - yet now function at a high level within the elitist, top-dollar milieu of international 'High Art'.  Instead of feeling excluded from a field as once abstruse and ring-fenced as abstract painting, they cheerfully hybridise its purist pretensions, and revel in its positives.  Certainly, Bradford has turned it all to his own, far less exclusive, ends - re-energising a mode of expression once deemed a bastion of white privilege or entitled machismo, whilst remaining culturally grounded and politically engaged.  He deploys its visual vocabulary with unabashed verve, and yet consistently immerses political or sociological themes within it.  Further still, he has used his market leverage and increasingly elevated profile to instigate consciously inclusive art projects within his community and beyond. In reality, such a practice is all about confounding lazily entrenched stereotypes, both socially and artistically - and it's a pretty inspirational example.  Even without the admirable element of community outreach - It still might just constitute the equally-weighted, 'have cake - eat-cake, equilibrium between the visual and the thematic/theoretical that I've long been yearning for myself. 

Mark Bradford, 'The Path To The River Belongs To Animals',
Mixed Media on Canvas, 2019

Anyway, to return to specifics, it seems that these new 'Cerberus' paintings also represent something of a departure in Bradford's overall oeuvre.  As has often previously happened, The starting point  was a map of both socio-historical, as well as geographical significance.  In this case, it was made by the authorities, to chart the Watts riots, that brought violence and devastation to the L.A streets, in 1965.  An important element of this was a series of colour-coded dots (referred to, by Bradford as 'hotspots'), plotting looted buildings, burnt-out buildings, and those where fatalities had occurred.  But this time, as the work evolved, he allowed his subsequent additions, incursions and excavations to occur more organically than was previously the case.  Many of those hotspots were removed - surviving as phantom memories of the events they once signified.  The blocks and street grids that still remain (generally as relief delineations in some form of extruded mastic), rise only intermittently through far-more clotted and congested landscapes than ever before.  In places, they suggest mere vestigial foundations (the remnants of some conflict or disaster, perhaps); elsewhere - the still just-visible roofs of inundated neighbourhoods.

Mark Bradford, 'Frostbite', Mixed Media on Canvas, 2019

If the pieces in the neighbouring room are generally smaller in scale - they are no less vivid.  If anything, they feel less topographical, and even more visceral (in the biological sense).  To locate oneself in these territories, is to wade, knee deep, through the very guts of a place.  Any fragments of a community, that might remain, are merely glimpsed through an avalanche of overgrown detritus and shattered building materials.  In a piece like 'Frostbite' one can imagine the city becoming submerged beneath the scummy surface of some freezing lake (I actually read this a something altogether more tropical, but I guess the clue's in the title).  In other instances, it might be that its remains are obscured by a dense tangle of forest vegetation [3.]These may then be the most apocalyptic examples of Bradford's work, to date.  Certainly, they are the most organic - suggesting ruin on a more cataclysmic scale than ever before, it seems.  But we should remember that Mark Bradford came up thinking about 'beauty', from an early age, and that he appears incapable of making anything without a certain degree of elegance about it.  This work may presage apocalypse - but it's also possessed of a profound and terrible beauty.

Mark Bradford, Stills From: 'Dancing In The Street', Video, (2:50), 2019

Which makes it all the more appropriate to conclude by discussing Mark's accompanying video 'Dancing In The Street'.  Interestingly, what initially appears to be the result of tricksy multi-layered video editing, was actually produced by a far more direct expedient.  Archive footage of Martha and The Vandellas, singing their classic song [4.] was simultaneously projected and re-recorded from the open door of a moving van, as it drove around the streets of South Central (I really like the lower-tech simplicity of that).  There's a definite historical resonance here, for many regarded that song's lyric as a call to arms during the racially-charged unrest of the mid 1960s.  In Mark's footage, Martha's face shimmers across the facades of tawdry buildings which might so easily have been torched or looted in '65 - and which now bear the scars from subsequent decades of social deprivation and predatory economics.  But there's a fragile and ghostly beauty at work there, too.  We shouldn't forget that, for many, 'Dancing In The Street' was mostly just a perfect slice of Pop heaven - even in the most pressured of times.  Cerberus may snarl like a hell-hound - but Martha sings like an angel.

Mark Bradford, 'Cerberus' continues until 21 December, at Hauser & Wirth, 23 Saville Row, London, W1S 2ET.  I suspect that, as art experiences go, it may be pretty hard to top, for quite a while.  

[1.]:  It's only natural to be pretty cynical about the international art market, and the interests of power and wealth it so clearly serves.  It is then, only fair to note that, even in a top-end gaff like this - Joe and Josephine Punter can still wander in off the street, and view such high-quality gear, absolutely free of charge.[2.]:  That quasi-mythological title suggests a potentially infernal region - and some clear sentinel presence also.  If we are to detect some socio-political context here (as we must - where Bradford is concerned), we should query the real function of such a border guard.  Is it to seal the perimeter against alien incursion - or really to contain the Hell within?

[3.]:  There's something distinctly Ballardian about this - I'm inevitably reminded of 'The Drowned World', for all its London-centricity.

[4.]:  Martha and The Vandellas, 'Dancing In The Street' (M. Gaye, W. Stevenson, I. J. Hunter), Gordy, 1964

Monday, 21 October 2019

'Constructed City' 2: Groundwork

Sketchbook Study, Collaged Inkjet Prints On Paper, October 2019

For far to long now, I've been complaining about my creative energies having dwindled somewhat.  It's certainly true that there's been a distinct dearth of finished work to discuss on here, for some months, and perhaps - an associated disinclination to communicate much generally.  But, whilst activities may have slowed somewhat - at no point have they dried up altogether.  We all have slightly fallow periods, and a sense of the greater continuum of creative practice is all that really matters.  It's pointless to fixate on what hasn't happened, therefore - and far more instructive to simply carry on discussing the stuff that has/is.  It's supposed to be a process, after all - and not just a steady succession of 'outcomes' (ugh!).

Sketchbook Studies, Collaged Inkjet Prints On Paper, September 2019

So, whilst we're still a long way from anything one might deem complete here - it seems well worth documenting the tangible start of what I hope may grow into a new body of work.  If nothing else - there's always a thrilling blend of aspiration and trepidation connected with starting something new, and I wouldn't be without that.

Sketchbook Study, Collaged Inkjet Prints On Paper, September 2019

I've already mentioned my growing engagement, as a subject, with the major redevelopment and construction projects currently transforming my own central Leicester back yard.  One particular edifice now looms above these very rooftops - as a vast agglomeration of steelwork, scaffolding and other associated materials, even as I write.  I've been enthusiastically documenting such sites for quite a few months now, and the associated photographic library of raw material is already encouragingly expansive.  I've recently started to print and reconfigure some of those images, to create a series of collaged composite sketchbook studies - like those above.  Incidentally, it's a while since I've used sketchbooks like this, to develop imagery.  This probably indicates a general desire to let ideas gestate a bit more intensively, but also a need to feel my way into a slightly new way of thinking with a degree of caution - I suspect.

All Remaining Images: Work In Progress (Screenprints), Leicester Print Workshop,
October 2019

I'm sure I'll continue to generate more such studies, and to work back further into others as ideas develop - but there already seems enough potential there to get out from between the pages of the sketchbook.  Thus, the other images here show the very early stages of transforming some of this material into a new run of screen prints, at Leicester Print Workshop.  I've been a bit of a stranger at LPW over recent months, but always enjoy the hours I put in, when I do get down there.  Hopefully, I'll become a more regular fixture in the coming months, as I've decided this new project should be a largely print-based undertaking (funds permitting - at least).

Anyway, what you see here really does represent a very early beginning - and I'm definitely still just feeling my way.  The handful of printed statements laid down to date will probably be obscured behind numerous further layers, if my current plans play out.  In fact, they should simply constitute some form of ground, over which further elements may subsequently float - hopefully drawing on the new learning I gained on LPW's CMYK screen printing course, earlier in the year.  Either way, I'll try to keep documenting any progress made, in the interests of keeping open my communication channels with the wider world.  Too much introspection really can only get you so far, after all.

Finally, for what it's worth - I've already burdened this project with the slightly bland working title of 'Constructed City'.  Such things really shouldn't matter too much, and certainly not at such an early stage.  Nevertheless, anyone familiar with my working habits might already expect me to be worrying away with unnecessary pedantry, at the nomenclature, in future  posts.  Some things never change.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

'All I See Is Little Dot, Dot, Dot, Dot, Dots...)'*

Main Images: Digbeth, Birmingham, August 2019

Still loving them...

And This...

* Talking Heads, 'Drugs' (D. Byrne/B. Eno), Sire, 1979