tate gallery

Playing to the Gallery

I don't need to tell you that Artists are, generally a very snobby lot. Despite the lack of a traditional working model with formal titles such as 'manager' or 'director', they are still bound into a bitchy heirarchy based on their gender, success and chosen discipline.

For example, artists are either Fine Art, or they are not. All artists generally look down upon designers. And for the sake of fairness all artists and designers generally look down on everybody else. Got it?

“It’s very important, even to this day, how one defines oneself. I always define myself as an artist who happens to use traditional craft techniques and templates… because if you’re a craftperson and you want to expand, you’re forever shackled to that definition.” Grayson Perry

So Painting, Sculpture and 'MultiMedia' are seen as more creative than Graphic Design, Illustration, Fashion and Product Design. However, like a bohemian game of snakes and ladders, points can be gained and lost easily. A good degree can move you up, but little or no success takes you down ten points. A successful career in illustration for example, is worth more than being an unsuccessful sculptor. Then there is publishing, lecturing, shows and galleries all playing their parts. Then as you drill down further, even within Fine Art you have the figurative painters, like me at the bottom, with sculptors and film makers above. And sitting right at the top, like a bunch of avant-garde angels are the performance artists who are looking down on everyone.

The performance artists demand attention - it takes commitment on both sides. They demand your time, a place and as many senses as can be assaulted within their frame. I remember visiting the Turner Prize in 2012 when we meandered through the spaces of Luke Fowler, Paul Noble and saw the wonderful piece by Elizabeth Price. Then we were abruptly brought to our senses by Spartacus Chetwynd's performance. She brought the whole of the gallery to a halt and even dragged in bystander Noel Fielding to play a part. It was disruptive, challenging and immersive.

But, overall I am deeply embarrassed at my lack of knowledge in this genre. And with the prolific Marina Abramovic due to launch her memoir in 2016 and Laurie Anderson guest directing the Brighton Festival this year - Performance Art is big news.

So, when Helena Vortex invited me behind the scenes to sit in on a rehersal for her sold out show, Infamous Rising, I jumped at the chance.

Described as 'a journey through one woman's psychotic episode', Infamous Rising explores: 'pseudoscientific whitecoats and Jungian archetypes, an astronaut's dramatic fall to earth, an all-encompassing obsession with the colour orange, how to become the perfect man, a partial transformation into a faun, and the and rise to the Drag Kingdom.'

In reality Helena and her fellow performers interact with each other and a psychedelic backdrop incorporating stills, moving image and sound. The overall effect combines balletic movement with a hypnotic soundtrack and a feast of visual imagery that charts the journey of Helena's rebirth into the drag king Ace Heartbreaker.

It's heroic, sexy and very very clever.

I leave with a renewed sense of admiration for Helena and all performance artists. They are post-modern masters, blending together a diverse range of references and media to craft their vision. Performance requires discipline, collaboration and a mastery of the physical, visionary and aural. Unlike a canvas that can be transported anywhere, they work within the confines of the space, its context and also with time. They have nowhere to hide and put themselves literally in the centre of their work, inviting adulation and criticism like no other form of art.

In short, they deserve their place at the top of the creative tree. As works of art themselves they have destroyed any boundaries between art and life and exist at the cutting-edge of culture.

So as a dedication to all performance artists, here is the ultimate avant-garde angel - watching over all of us.

Grayson Perry quote from "Face to Face: Interviews with Artists by Richard Cork"

Photos are from rehersal of Infamous Rising at The Iron Duke, Brighton 19th Jan 2016.

Infamous Rising is on until Saturday 23rd Jan. Tickets are onsale here

Read my blog with Helena here.


Simple Pleasures

At times, I take this art business very, very seriously. Which to be honest, to those that know me is quite odd, as overall I don't think I am a very 'serious' person. However, Art is something that I can get all quasi-religious about and, given a willing audience will gladly spout all sorts of platitudes to the point of utter tediousness. Do not, for example, ever offer to join me at the latest Turner Prize - trust me, no-one gets out alive.

An iconic Turner Prize line-up from 1991.

An iconic Turner Prize line-up from 1991.

So, it is a relief, frankly when I can find an environment that evokes the sublime experience I am craving but also means I can relax my inner tendency to dissect, conceptualise and critique. Yesterday, I visited the Courtauld Gallery and indulged my senses in the visual delight of The Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.

Kees van Dongen (1877 - 1968), Torso, The Idol 1905

Kees van Dongen (1877 - 1968), Torso, The Idol 1905

Back in the days of Art School, it was the height of naffness to admit a penchant for a bit of painterly Impressionism. And The Courtauld was, in a word, stuffy. Interestingly, the gallery still seems a little apologetic and lacks the blockbuster zeal so recently adopted by the Royal Academy (which was also stuffy, but now isn't), the V&A (always cool, but perhaps needs to calm down on the Disney-ing tendencies shown in Bowie and McQueen) and of course The Tate (lost the plot). But, this I think makes it all the more charming.

It shows small but relevant shows, most notably the stunning Schiele,'Radical Nude' and at the time of press the 'Soaring' Cornish Abstract painter, Peter Lanyon. However, whatever is on - it's worth the flight to the top of the North Wing. When you get there, the intimacy of the space, combined with the scale of the paintings and lack of visitors gives you the sense of being lost in the attic of some long abandoned stately home.

Modigliani, The Female nude circa 1916.

Modigliani, The Female nude circa 1916.

And, personally, I discovered an 'unfinished' Degas, or study that I find completely wonderful in its ability to capture mood, light and form with the paint seeming to barely stroke the surface.

Degas, Woman at a Window, 1871

Degas, Woman at a Window, 1871

And all this, before you venture downstairs to see the really big-hitters from Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh and Gauguin.

It really is a pleasure throughout, and, for me a joyous exploration in the medium of paint. This stuff is easy on the eye, accessible and arguably less challenging than all the other '-isms'. However, much as I love an un-made bed, porcelain crabs and The Black Square, sometimes what we really need is to stop over-thinking and just celebrate our human capacity to capture pure beauty in just a few dabs of pigment.

"The moment you cheat for the sake of beauty, you know you're an artist."
- Hockney