In 1865 a young girl vanished down a rabbit hole, emerging into a fantasy land which has captured the imagination of children and adults ever since. Like other 19th century novels such as Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ and Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ , the original novel has been eclipsed by the sheer volume of spin-offs, copies and related art-work, films and TV shows. This exhibition is the first to try and explore how the fantasy world of Wonderland influenced the world of visual arts.
The magic world created by Lewis Carroll is a highly visual one, populated by bizarre yet appealing anthropomorphic beasts and characters. Caroll himself drew illustrations for his books and some of these are shown in the exhibition alongside the original manuscript. You can also see the original drawings made by the artist John Tenniel, who provided 42 wood engraved illustrations for the first edition of the novel.
Wonderland was embraced by the early Surrealists who were engaged in creating their own fantasy land in which natural laws were suspended and physical objects lost their solidity. The spirit of Alice is alive and well in paintings by Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí. Conceptual artists of the 60s and 70s, such as Marcel Broodthaer, Joseph Kosuth, Peter Blake and Yayoi Kusama also drew on Carroll’s world of twisted logic and linguistic ambiguity.
Scale and perspective (“Drink me!”), meaning and nonsense (“Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in Coils”) and the perception of reality (“All persons more than a mile high to leave the court”) provide the link to contemporary art, with artists such as Anna Gaskell, Annelies Strba and Torsten Lauschmann all on display.
In the end the sheer volume and diversity of the art purporting to have been influenced by Alice and her illogical friends can make the exhibition somewhat confusing. With its seemingly endless collection of Alice memorabilia including biscuit tins, playing cards, crockery, numerous early editions of the novel, photographs of the children Dodgson based the novel on after a punt down the river Isis, there is plenty to keep the fans entertained but the artwork itself is patchy and in some cases, just plain bad, creepy or irrelevant.
The motivation of the great man himself in photographing and spending endless hours entertaining pre-pubescent girls has been well explored and the presence of five artworks which have been declared ‘unfit for children’ suggests that this aspect of the author’s psyche has not been ignored.
The exhibition opened on the 4th of November . If you are a fan of the female predecessor of Harry Potter or fascinated by 19th century fantasy literature you will find plenty to absorb you. If you are a lover of great art you may well be left unmoved. Ultimately, we are reminded that ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is no more a children’s book than ‘South Park’ is a kiddies’ cartoon. Don’t take the kids but take the child inside you and catch this exhibition before it disappears, like the Cheshire cat, on January 29th 2012. Visit Tate Liverpool’s website for more information.
Recent controversy over the reselling of tickets for this exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci’s surviving paintings at the National Gallery in London, which have been re-selling at an eye-watering £300 (18 times their original price) is an indication of the appeal that this paragon of ‘Renaissance Man’ still has for the public in general and art lovers in particular. The Renaissance ‘Rock-Star’ is famous for being an engineer, scientist, inventor and polymath but this exhibition is the first to concentrate on his technical development and artistic aims as a painter.
The exhibition, which opened on November 9th and runs until February 5th 2012, was a sell-out and has been a critical and financial success for the gallery, despite the fact that there are only nine paintings on display from a total of around 16 known to have been painted by Leonardo. However, there are also numerous drawings and sketches giving an insight into the thought process behind the creation of each painting.
The works cover the period of approximately 17 years, between 1482 and 1499, when Leonardo was in the paid employ of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan and a patron of the arts during the Milanese Renaissance. The most famous paintings of the period ‘The Last Supper’, which was commissioned by Sforza, and the iconic ‘Mona Lisa’ are not in the exhibition but, despite the absence of arguably the two most famous paintings in the history of art, the exhibition is considered as a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to see ‘the most complete display of Leonardo’s rare surviving paintings ever held.’
Indeed, one of the paintings “Christ as Salvator Mundi”, was originally attributed to one of da Vinci’s pupils. It’s provenance is still disputed by some critics but a later revaluation saw the value of the painting inflate from a trivial £45 to a staggering $200 million – an inflation rate even higher than that of the exhibition tickets!
During this period of Leonardo da Vinci’s life he was able to concentrate almost entirely on developing his painting technique. Thanks to the Duke’s patronage he had the time and the resources to develop his skills to the point where he could blend an almost photographic realism with a deeper sense of mystery and idealism, creating icons of beauty which still leave us breathless more than 500 years later.
The paintings on display include ‘La Belle Ferronière’ , ‘Madonna Litta’ , ‘Saint Jerome’ and two versions of ‘Virgin of the Rocks’, one owned by the gallery and recently restored. Although the ‘Last Supper’ itself is absent, there is a copy of the painting made by his contemporary Giampietrino, together with sketches and the preparatory drawings Leonardo made for the original.
So if you feel compelled to join the carefully controlled crowd flocking to this exhibition try not to pay £300 for the privilege, although if the hype and the critics are to be believed, and this really is a unique and not-to-be-repeated-in-our-lifetime opportunity to see some of the most beautiful paintings ever created, it may just be worth it.
Leonardo Da Vinci, Painter at the Court of Milan runs until 5th February. Ticketing and opening time information are available at the National Gallery Website.
Until the 2nd of January, Tate Britain is showing a retrospective of Barry Flanagan’s early works. Best known for his leaping hare pieces, Flanagan studied at St Martin’s School of Art from 1964 -66, and the exhibition covers his progress from 1965 -1982. Flanagan was a pioneer – as one of the first scultptors to use unconventioal matierals such as sand, sticks, and hessian rags, he created controversy and paved the way for a new generation of sculptors who would look for the physical and emotive qualities in ungalmorous materials, including waste materials.
“Time and again, we see Flanagan bringing the best out of his unpromising materials, shedding new light on traditional sculptural concerns such as weight and matter, surface and space.”
- Evening Standard
As Flanagan’s career progressed, he began to work increasingly in the far more traditional medium of bronze. These bronzes include depictions of elephants, cougars and horses, as well as hares. These sculptures seem to have fairy-tale like qualities; they echo human feelings, but never in a sentimental or truley anthrompommorphsied way. Flanagan’s particular focus on hares began when he saw a hare in a butcher’s and was struck by its appearance. He said that hares are
“rich and expressive,” with “the conventions of the cartoon and the investment of human attributes into the animal world”, both of which are “very well practised devices in literature and film… If you consider what conveys situation and meaning and feeling in a human figure, the range of expression is, in fact, far more limited than the device of investing an animal – a hare especially – with the expressive attributes of a human being. The ears, for instance, are really able to convey far more than a squint in an eye of a figure or a grimace on the face of a model.”
I personally find Flanagan’s work most interesting when considered side-by-side with his interesting bohemian character and lifestyle. He was a true and uncontrived eccentric, who regularly wore tweed suits paired with sandals, regardless of the weather, and late in his life, played out an itinerant existence in a vintage camper van, with his partner Jessica Sturges.
Nottingham’s Lakeside Centre is showing several lesser-known pieces by LS Lowry until 5th February. Lowry is best known for his depictions of working-class life in Salford and other industrial Northern towns. His matchstick figures are instantly recognisable, and the combination of realism in his work with a gentle and understated feel have meant that his style is very accessible and is extremely popular both in the art world and outside of it.
The new exhibition at Nottingham is exciting because it shows more varied subject matter, like his landscapes painted at the Lake Dsitrict, Yorkshire Moors, and Derbyshire, along with a brooding set of self-portraits, known as the “Horrible Heads” series. Later in his life, Lowry also created several seascapes while on holiday at the Seaburn Hotel in Durham, and he also depicted the ports and coal mines that surround the town. Neil Walker, curator at the Lakeside Centre, said:
“This is a timely exhibition revealing Lowry as an artist far more complex, individual and varied in his subject matter than is widely recognised. it will include works from public and private collections many of which have rarely been seen in public before and will come as a complete revelation to those who only associate him with pictures of the Lancashire mills.”
From 1905, Lowry studied at the Manchester Municipal College of Art, where he studied under Peirre Adolpeh Valette, a French impressionist artist, who was an important influence on him. Lowry said that “I cannot over-estimate the effect on me of the coming into this drab city of Adolphe Valette, full of French impressionists, aware of everything that was going on in Paris.” He then went on to study at Salford Royal Technical College, where he developed his interest in industrial landscapes.
By the 1950s, Lowry was a celebrity, and my most accounts was a shy man who got tired of being approached by strangers. There is a story that he always kept a suitcase by his door so that he could claim to be just about to leave if anyone called on him and he felt like being on his own. In one case this backfired when a visitor offered him a lift to the station, and Lowry had to buy a ticket to take him just one stop to avoid detection.
Since his death in 1976, Lowry has inspired a cultural legacy; as well as his inspiriing innumerable artists, the Lowry Gallery in Salford Quays, was names after him.
The Dianogly Gallery at Nottingham’s Lakeside Centre is open from:
OK; so a bit of an indulgent posting for me this week, as cityscape paintingsare one of my favourite expressions of the artistic urge. I hope you’ll like them too.
I’m actually pretty crazy about all of Irina Rumyantseva’s work; it was hard to pick just one. I’ve chosen City Dreams because of the unusual and fresh choice of pinks and purples along with a stetchy, graphic cityscape. I also recommend Irina’s portraits of cows and cats.
City Dreams by Irina Rumyantseva
Next up is Stewart Wilson’s For the Weekend. Strong, luminescent colour and a bold, loose and yet together painterly style are all winners in my book.
For the Weekend by Stewart Wilson
My third pick this week is Kris Hardy’s 6th Avenue. Again, this painting just has a winning combination of elements that really float my boat – from the acute perspective angle to the sketchy, painterly style, and suggestion of rain, it’s all there. This is an art piece that would work either in a home or corporate setting.
6th Avenue by Kris Hardy
And for my final pick… OK; as a Bristolian I am biased here; but I love all of Paula Lundy’s work and especially her depictions of the Clifton Suspension Bridge in the moonlight. I really like the way her paintings remind me of a Tim Burton film.
China is a truly exciting country when it comes to fine art at the moment, and one of its brightest stars is Ai Weiwei. Keen art fans might remember his 2010 “Sunflower Seeds” installation at the Tate Modern, where he piled millions of porcelain sunflower seeds onto the gallery floor. The seeds had been individually hand painted by 1,600 artisans in Jingdezhen, China. At first, visitors were invited to walk around in the seeds and experience the satisfying crunch underfoot. Unfortunately this was not to last, as the gallery fenced the installation off due to safety concerns as a result of the porcelain dust.
Ai has an eclectic career background; he studied at Beijing Film Academy in 1978, where he was a founder of avante-garde art group “The Stars”.In 1981, he moved to the US, and studied at Parsons School of Design and the Art Students League of New York. He’s also been a professional blackjack player, and is regarded as a top-tier professional player within the blackjack world.
rAi Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds. Source- tate.org
As well as being known for his elegant large-scale installations, Ai Weiwei is also known for his human rights work and opposition to the Chinese government. This summer, he became known around the world after he was held under arrest for two months following his criticism of the Chinese government’s stance on democracy and human rights. The European Union and United States opposed the detention, and the Tate Modern changed their display to read “Release Ai Weiwei”.
Ai is now out of detention, but forbidden from leaving Beijing. Despite this, he’s just opened a new exhibition, and this time it’s in Taipei Fine Arts Museum in Taiwain ; though he won’t be able to actually attend it. It’s called “Ai Weiwei Absent” and most notably featured an installation on grand scale, called ”Forever Bicycles”. The piece is made of over 1000 bicycles, arranged in a 10 ft high display area. The piece reflects the rapid pace of societal and technological changes in China. The museum’s website says:
Its layered labyrinthine space creates what appears to be a moving abstract shape that symbolizes the way in which the social environment in China is changing.
The exhibition also features a self-portrait photo sequence of the artist as a young man, along with a series of bronze heads representing the Chinese Zodiac. The general theme and message of the exhibition focuses around Ai’s forced absence. He remains defiant; after his release, he was forbidden from using Twitter or talking to the media, but has continued to do so regardless.
Ai WeiWei’s Forever Bicycles. Source – thecoolhunter.net
Tate Modern - Release Ai Weiwei. Source - wikipedia.org
This year’s Turner Prize exhibition is held not in London, but in Newcastle’s Baltic Gallery. The exhibiton will now alternate year-on-year between the Tate Britain and other major art galleries around the UK. The 4 artists shortlisted this year are:
Karla Black is from Scotland and studied at Glasgow School of Art. She makes ephemeral sculptures from materials such as cellophane, paint and sellotape, which often have a visceral feel. Images are sourced from www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk
Forget About Faces - Karla Black - 2008
Karla Black - Forget about Faces - 2008
Hailing form Halifax in Yorkshire, Hilary LLoyd makes work in mixed media and dimension, ranging from video to photography to performance. The subject can be anything from roller-skating to paint patterns left behind on a studio floor.
Hilary Lloyd - Installation. Source: artlyst.com
George Shaw is a painter based in North Devon who makes surprisingly emotional and nostalgic photorealist paintings of mundane clips from urban landscapes. Image source: www.guardian.co.uk
George Shaw: Scenes from The Passion: The Cop Shop, 1999-2000
Glaswegian Martin Boyce creates really strong and striking architectural sculptures, which take inspiration from modernist design history. Image source: www.channel4.com
Sculptural Installation by Martin Boyce
The Turner Prize Exhibition runs at the Baltic until 8th January 2012. The Tuner Prize winner will be announced on 5th December 2011.