Thursday, 20 September 2018

Andrew Smith, Shaun Morris & Hugh Marwood: 'Visions Of A Free-Floating Island' at Surface Gallery, Nottingham

My 'Sentinel' Sculptures, 'Visions Of A Free-Floating Island', (Upstairs) Surface Gallery, Nottingham,
September 2018

After seemingly endless months in the planning, Shaun Morris, Andrew Smith and I have finally opened our exhibition ‘Visions Of A Free-Floating Island’ at Nottingham’s Surface Gallery.

Sculptures By Andrew Smith (Downstairs)

My 'Sentinel' and 'Childish Things' Sculptures, With Paintings By Shaun Morris (Upstairs)

My 'Childish Things 1 (Misled)', With My 'Fridges' and (L.) Painting By Andrew Smith (Upstairs)...

...And Again, With 'Childish Things 4 (Mistaken)' and Paintings By Shaun Morris

'Childish Things 4 & 1', with 'Sentinels' and Paintings By Shaun Morris (Upstairs)

This is the most ambitious joint venture, in both scale and scope, that we’ve attempted to date - and is the culmination of an extended period of hard graft on everyone’s part.  Indeed, it was only as the adrenaline started to leave my body on opening night (to be replaced by my first sampling of the excellent beer selection laid on by Surface), that I realised just how tensely focused I’ve been for the entirety of this year - and for much 2017 too.  That was in part due to my branching out into the (for me) unfamiliar territory of sculptural assemblage for much of this cycle of work, and perhaps also - some anxiety about its undeniably Brexity sub-themes running out of currency, by the time we actually made it into the public arena.  As it turns out – that particular fear has proved entirely unfounded.

Sculpture By Andrew Smith, with Work by All Three (Downstairs)...

...And Again.

Work By All Three (Upstairs)

Painting By Shaun Morris...

...And Again, with 'Sentinel 5' (Upstairs)...

...And Two More By Shaun

On a more practical level, there was also the familiar old worry that we’d fail to fill Surface’s ample spaces with new work of consistent quality (always a personal neurosis of mine).  That also proved to be unfounded, and I actually think that we’ve populated both floors of the gallery pretty satisfyingly - with no obvious lacunae, or indeed anything that I feel even remotely embarrassed about.  In the event, what did nearly catch us out was the extended time needed to install a show of this scale, over two floors.  It’s fair to say this one went pretty close to the wire.  In the event, it required two exhausting late night shifts - and a heroic, last minute sprint by Shaun to ensure we could open in proper order.

'Fridges' by Me, and Writing By Andrew Smith (Downstairs)...

...And The Same 'Fridges' Again'

Eight of My 'Flagging' Pieces (Downstairs)...

...And The Other Two.

'Coloured-In' Piece by Andrew Smith..

...And Again, With His Sculpture, And Painting By Shaun (Downstairs)...

...And More Work By Andrew, With My 'Childish Things 2 (Mistreated)' and 'Fridge 1'.

Anyway, open we did, and it was gratifying that, when I raced over for the opening, after a full day’s work – I found a show, not only ready to meet its public, but also looking pretty well curated.  As a result, our opening event was very enjoyable, despite (or perhaps because of) those waves of relief, and somewhat euphoric exhaustion).  I should certainly take this opportunity to thank all those who turned out (many travelling, on an evening of variable weather) - and who stayed for the duration, to make it a convivial success.  Foolishly, (and again due to fatigue, perhaps) I neglected to take shots of the event itself with bodies in the room – so you’ll just have to take my word for that.  But at least there are enough general views of the show itself here, to give a reasonable impression of what all the fuss is about.

'Childish Things 4 (Mistaken)' With Shaun's Paintings (Upstairs)

'Childish Things 2 (Mistreated)', With 'Sentinels' and Shaun's Paintings (Upstairs)

It inevitably takes a while to properly reflect on the nature of what might actually have been achieved in these situations - but there’s a couple of weeks of the exhibition’s duration, for that to occur.  I’ll be back there, with Shaun and Andrew, for an Artist Talk on Saturday 22 September, and that will inevitably focus my thoughts on the matter further still.  I’ll attempt to put some of them into a subsequent post.  For now, it just remains to spread the love…

(L.) Paintings By Shaun, with (R.) Two of My 'Flagging' Pieces 

More of Shaun's Paintings...

... And Yet More Still


Thanks go to:

Jez Kirby, Nathan Dean, and the rest of the Committee and Volunteers at Surface Gallery, Nottingham:  For giving us a home, and helping us to realise and market the whole venture.  They’ve been consistently approachable and tolerant of our own quirks.  It’s worth mentioning, to any other not-too-well established artists in search of a venue - that the Surface ‘offer’ is really pretty impressive.

Chris Cowdrill and Miri Bean:  For designing the publicity material and our accompanying exhibition booklet.  Chris, in particular, has done similar work for us on several occasions now - and always labours far beyond what we can actually afford to pay him for.

The residents of West Leicester:  For unknowingly furnishing a seemingly endless supply of fly-tipped, damaged toys and unwanted fridges - and for parking innumerable white vans around the place, for me to catalogue.

Tim Durham and Susie Fletcher:  For both providing more specific examples of the same, and always encouraging me to keep having a go.

Rushey Mead Academy, Leicester:  For an equally copious supply of cardboard boxes, and for the use of their circular saw to cut all the MDF, after hours (and to Tim and the rest of the Art Team, for tolerating the long weeks when I had it all piled up in the Stock Room).

Lorel:  For always turning out (even with a bad back), and for putting me up - when I finally just had to go to sleep.

City Self Drive, Leicester:  For lending me great vans of my own (and for always being reliable, and easy to deal with).

And, of course – Shaun and Andrew:  Without whom…

Paintings By Andrew, Including (L.) The One Which Lent The Show It's Title...

... And The White Van That Helped Deliver It.

‘Visions Of A Free-Floating Island’ continues until Saturday, 29 September, at Surface Gallery, 16 Southwell Road, Nottingham NG1 1DL.  We'll all be jointly giving an Artist Talk about the exhibition and our work, between 14.00 - 15.00 on Saturday 22 September.  Maybe we'll see you there...

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Completed Mixed Media Piece: 'Fridge 7'

All Images: 'Fridge 7', Acrylics, Paper Collage, Screen-Print, Adhesive Tape,
Spray Enamel, French Polish & Plastic Letters on Salvaged Refrigerator Door,
 55 cm X 136 cm, 2018  

This post brings me up to date with documenting all my recently completed work.  It deals with ‘Fridge 7’ – the one that nearly got away, as my attention shifted to the ‘Sentinel’ and ‘Childish Things’ series of sculptures, over the Summer.  It had sat untouched for quite a while.  Luckily, it was far enough advanced for its completion to be a relative formality, once I did return to it.

‘7’ is actually the largest of the ‘Fridges’ to date, although it essentially follows the same general format as the others, in combining relatively abstract imagery, built from paper and tape collage, photo-derived screen-printed motifs, and fridge magnet letters [1.] – and applying them to a salvaged refrigerator door.

Anyone following the evolution of my ‘This Sc(e)ptic Isle’ project, over recent months, will remember that the abandoned fridges populating my neighbourhood (and possibly yours too?), are a recurrent motif in the work – as well as providing a plentiful supply of ready-made painting substrates.  I didn’t even need a screwdriver to collect this door, as it had been considerately detached and left propped against a wall – just as though someone knew I’d be coming along.  The refrigeration theme is also echoed in the lower portion of printed imagery – it representing a radiator grille from the reverse of a completely different appliance.  I’ve been very attracted by the abstract geometry of those grilles, as I’ve documented the fridges on my regular photographic patrols – and can’t help wondering if there's even be a potential side-project in there.

Above the grille, is another section of photo-derived print, representing yet another of the project’s key motifs (and indeed, another frequently-observed category of street trash) - the abandoned trundle toy.  Several prime examples of those have been dragged home and repurposed in the form of the ‘Childish Things’ sculptures – but they’re actually just a small selection of the ones I’ve photographed to date.

Although it’s hard to divine at this stage, the abstracted ‘background’ of this piece even incorporates a third category of ‘TSI’ motif, in the form of a dismembered Union Flag.  It’s largely subsumed into the rest of the overlying imagery by now, but can perhaps still be guessed at from some of the vestigial geometry (the still-prominent triangle on the right hand side, in particular).

And that, along with a fairly blunt clue in the overriding text, are a reminder that all this work has carried a simmering undercurrent of politics throughout - as well as being a report on the way we live, revealed in the discarded refuse I move amongst each day.  It feels like a long time now since I collected and re-ordered all the found on-line comments that comprise my ‘Below The Line / Beneath Contempt’ text - but they seem to have lost little of their currency, as I’ve plundered it for choice phrases to apply to the ‘Fridges’ and ‘Sentinels’, ever since.  The original sources were as much an indicator of the futile divisiveness on both sides of what has come to be universally termed ‘The Brexit Debate’ - as any useful guide to the validity of one viewpoint over the other.  I pretty much know where I stand on the matter – as, I’m sure, might you.  But what is terrifyingly obvious, is that - after all these months, Britain is no closer to achieving anything remotely resembling resolution (or even just a degree of political maturity) on the matter.  If anything, the levels of delusion appear only magnified, as each side becomes ever more entrenched.  In effect, this country seems intent on acting-out one of the most embarassing, extended, quasi-suicide bids in recent history.

If it’s cries for attention we’re really talking about, the self-serving buffoon, who deployed the ‘have cake – eat cake’ metaphor that feeds ‘Fridge 7’, is certainly one of our leading ‘experts’ [2.].  He could even become our own Idiot-in-Chief, should such overweening personal ambition ultimately hold sway.  That thought chills me to the marrow, but it seems we really shouldn’t underestimate the gullibility of the British people these days.  And of course, the dissembling nature of such a character – playing the blimpish comedy role to mask far more sinister intentions, is pretty typical of the caliber of leadership we now endure.  Now we’re so far through the looking glass, he might actually be the figurehead most suited to the tin-pot, failed state, that Britain appears to be intent on becoming.

However this may all one day shake out – it was never really my intention to become simplistically polemical in my work – even as some kind of response felt called for.  Dogmatic ranting, and even personal abuse (see above) may provide a temporary (and even enjoyable) release - as ‘the ‘BTL / BC’ trolls demonstrated, but they’re unlikely to achieve much in the long run.  And so, I find myself attempting to repurpose them, somewhat despairingly - in search of more oblique or allusive responses to the baffling absurdity of both domestic and global affairs.  Ultimately, it feels like bleak humour may be the only properly resilient way to maintain a degree of sanity, just now.

Forthcoming Exhibition:

That’s it for finished work, then.  By the time you see this, Shaun Morris, Andrew Smith and I will be installing our latest joint exhibition, ‘Visions Of A Free-Floating Island’ at Nottingham’s Surface Gallery.  The work goes up on Wednesday, 12 September, ready for our Opening Event on the evening of Friday, 14 September.  Obviously, you’re more than welcome to join us, should you find yourself in the vicinity.  The exhibition will be up for two weeks - until Saturday, 29 September, and we’ll be giving an Artist Talk on the afternoon of Saturday 22 September (once again, the more - the merrier).  Space allowing, I plan to include as many as possible, of the ‘Flagging’, ‘Fridge’, Childish Things’ and ‘Sentinel’ pieces, shown here over the last few months.

[1.]:  Appropriately enough, the larger "CAKE" letters are actually made of some sponge-like material (aimed at the very young).

[2.]:  One might also be tempted - I suppose, to draw a connection with the current favourite T.V. anaesthetic of the disengaged classes, 'The Great British Bake-Off'.  "Let them eat cake", indeed.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Completed Sculpture: 'This S(c)eptic Isle': 'Childish Things 4 (Mistaken)'

'Childish Things 4 (Mistaken)', Salvaged Trundle Toy, Salvaged Cardboard Boxes,  Spray Enamel,
Acrylics, Paper Collage, Official Notifications, Gas Capsules, Adhesive Tape & French Polish,
90 cm X 81 cm X 57 cm, 2018

Amongst all the stacking of cardboard boxes to create my ‘Sentinel’ sculptures, over summer – I also found time to put together the fourth of my ‘Childish Things’.

‘Childish Things 4 (Mistaken)’ had lagged a bit behind its fellows, largely because of the time it took to prep. and achieve anything like a presentable paint finish on its scuffed plastic bodywork.  Anyway, I got there in the end, and it was indicative of the serendipity characterising this whole phase of work, that - just when I needed it, I found a sturdy box large enough to support that white lump, whilst also balancing it well, visually.  In fact, there were actually two of them – the other providing a plinth for ‘Childish Things 3’.

I don’t buy the idea of a sentient ‘Universe’, but if such a thing were presiding over our affairs, it would seem to have mostly smiled on this first concerted foray into sculpture over recent months.  As a mostly two-dimensional artist (to date), it’s easy to overlook how much of a sculptor’s [1.] time is spent sourcing materials, solving constructional/technical issues, fighting the laws of physics, and just plain laboring.  I think I can regard myself as fortunate that, while making these pieces, most things fell into place fairly easily, without too many practical frustrations.  I actually got some kind of result with each of the sculptures I set out to make this year - which definitely feels like a reason to be cheerful.  I’ll let others decide how artistically successful I’ve been (or if indeed, it was at all worth it).

As before, there are various questions one might ask, in an attempt to interrogate ‘4’ for possible meanings or interpretations.  Of course, they are really for the viewer to ask, but some that occur to me might include…

  • As with the other ‘Childish Things’, this vehicle is clearly going nowhere fast.  Does its parlous state indicate that the wheels really are dropping off?

  • And, if that is true – might it be the fault of rough terrain and treacherous conditions, or is it down to neglect or faulty manufacture?

  • Perhaps even more dispiritingly – could it have been deliberately sabotaged?

  • The jolly yellow triangles and plasticised notifications, borne by untaxed vehicles are a common sight in many streets nowadays.  Must we assume this is another?  If so – was it laid-up as a result, or penalised for a SORN infringement?  At what stage in that process was the missing wheel removed?

  • What might this say about our nation’s ability and willingness to fund its public services and infrastructure through tax-raising?  Is there a correlation between the rutted, pot-holed tarmac that threatens everyone’s suspension, and the number of untaxed vehicles beside the pavement?

  • Are those tax-averse motorists waging some misguided, Clarksonite fight for personal ‘freedom’, on political/philosophical grounds, or just selfishly trying to duck out of paying their communal dues?  Alternatively – are they simply reliant on a vehicle to commute to a job that doesn’t pay enough to cover the running costs?

  • If it’s an offence to remove an Untaxed Vehicle notification – is there a penalty for salvaging already-detached ones from the gutter, to apply to a sculpture?

As I post this, ‘Childish Things 4’ (along with its fellows, and accompanying ‘Sentinels’), is already wrapped, in advance of exhibition.  Shaun Morris, Andrew Smith and I will be installing our show, ‘Visions Of A Free-Floating Island’, at Surface Gallery, Nottingham in a week’s time - ready for our Opening Event on Friday 14 September.  We’ll be up for two weeks, including three Saturdays, so, if you’re in the Nottingham area, and want to see what all the fuss is about or yourself – you know what to do… 

[1.]:  Let's face it - 'Sculpture' is a bit grand a descriptor for what I'm doing here, really - isn't it?  I guess, if anything - I'm acting as an assembler ('Assemblist'?) really.  Do any of these distinctions even matter any more?