Gallery visit. Tate Modern and Basquiat

A day trip to London and I chose to look at some of the free exhibitions at Tate Modern and to visit the Basquiat exhibition at the Barbican.

At Tate Modern I enjoyed an exhibition on artists’ working practices. I would have liked there to be far more information but it was great to see some pictures I had researched in real life. A painting by Bonnard that I looked at for Part 2 was paired with some preliminary sketches and there was also a Morandi painting which I had looked at during Part 1.

Fig. 1. Bonnard
Fig. 2. Morandi

The first two exhibits were an Anthony Gormley figure ‘Untitled (for Francis) 1985. and an Agnes Martin ‘Faraway Love’ 1999 which were contrasted for their approach to realism/abstraction. From the gallery guide: “Martin was one of many twentieth-century artists whose work turned away from the recognisable world and towards abstraction. Gormley’s sculpture shows how, at the same time, artists have continued to find new ways to represent the human figure…Gormley sees his sculpture as a tool to link ‘inner and outer worlds’ while Martin believed strongly in the power of abstract painting to elicit experiences of beauty.”

There was an interesting room full of photographs and videos of artists in their studios which I enjoyed. I always like seeing videos of artists working on YouTube.

Basquiat at the Barbican in ‘Boom for Real’ was a fascinating insight into a unique artist. Again, the artist’s practice was an interesting part of the exhibition. From early graffiti art as Samo, Basquiat moved very quickly and very young into a successful career as a painter. He channelled a mass of cultural influences into his work from race history to Gray’s Anatomy, Picasso, Michelangelo, jazz, sport. He was prolific and seemed to work straight onto canvas seeing himself as the art equivalent of an improvising jazz musician. I think his work is appealing because he was so direct and so much himself when he made it. It is fascinating but also quite alien. I felt there were few points of connection between Basquiat’s mind and my mind. It was a very odd feeling.

There was no photography allowed at Basquiat.

In the weeks after seeing these two exhibitions I have frequently thought about the way different artists make art. Agnes Martin, Morandi, Bonnard and Basquiat are all artists who have produced important, influential work. But their approaches are so very different. Considered or spontaneous, abstract or representational, symbolic or realistic, political or domestic.


Gallery visit. Julie Mehretu, Serralves, Porto, Portugal

On holiday in Porto, I was delighted to find the contemporary art gallery Serralves had a major exhibition of work by Julie Mehretu whose work I enjoyed seeing as part of a study visit at Tate Modern last year.

I find her massive canvases intriguing with a combination of architectural-style drawing,  vigorous mark-making and controlled use of colour. These are layered with thinly applied acrylic paint creating a depth of impressions.

It is not obvious what all the marks mean to the artist. In Venice (fig. 1a & b) The architecture of Venice lends itself to the repetition of ornate structures especially windows which gives an impression of the overwhelming nature of being in the city.

Fig. 1a Venice (with figure for scale). Ink and acrylic
Fig. 1b. Venice (detail). Ink and acrylic.

In Plovers Wing (fig. 2a & b) The architectural drawing is there but more abstract and is combined with beautiful, mysterious, coloured shapes. Do the shapes describe the movement of the wing in the title?

Fig. 2a. Plovers Wing. Ink and acrylic.
Fig. 2b. Plovers Wing. (Detail). Ink and acrylic.

While researching online to find out more about the artist I was interested to read an article in The Guardian by Brian Dillon from 2009 which describes Mehretu’s use of studio assistants who transfer the drawings – which are abstracted from photographs – onto canvases. Looking at the canvases you marvel at the detail combined with the overall impact.

A canvas where mark-making comes to the fore is Mumbo Jumbo (Fig. 3a & b). Shoals of ink marks make their way across the colourful canvas. The architectural drawing is hinted at but is not as prominent as in other canvases.

Fig. 3a. Mumbo Jumbo. Ink and acrylic.
Fig. 3b. Mumbo Jumbo (detail). Ink and acrylic.

Mehretu’s drawing/paintings work from a distance and in detail.  They seem coherent and accomplished on every level.

Alice Neel exhibition. Victoria Miro Gallery.

I have been interested in Alice Neel’s work since seeing a documentary on the artist on BBC iplayer. I was keen to see this exhibition featuring her work.

Neel successfully brings out aspects of the sitter’s personality. How does she do this? In many ways her paintings look quite naive with black lines delineating the subject’s outline, blocky tones, colourful clothes, distorted proportions and often sketchy backgrounds.

But the personality shines through.


The Ashmolean – permanent collection

After the Degas to Picasso study day I took the opportunity to look round the permanent collection. With only an hour to look round I couldn’t see all of the extensive collection. I enjoyed two rooms full of small oil sketches. I didn’t know this was a thing but there were beautiful sketches by artists like Constable, Leighton, Camuccini and many more. These were preparatory sketches for classical landscape painting so were free-er and more modern-looking than the finished pieces. Some were unfinished showing the process of building up a landscape from pencil or charcoal sketches to tone and colour. In this unfinished picture Camuccini sketched general lines of composition in black chalk concentrating on the middle distance rather than the foreground.

Giovanni Battista Camuccini. Landscape with trees and roots.

Others focused on a single aspect such as a cloudscape by Constable.

John Constable. Study of Clouds. Oil on Paper


Frederic Leighton. Gateway, Algiers. Oil on board.

I loved the composition of Frederic Leighton’s sketch ‘Gateway, Algiers’ featuring a glimpse of the sea through a white archway and feeling of heat created by the colours with hints of blue, pink, grey and cream and strong shadow. The line of the sea is on the golden section.

The modern art section of the Ashmolean is small and tucked away but featured some amazing pictures. Sadly, there was no photography allowed.

Wassily Kandinsky. Murnau-Staffelsee 1. 1908

Wassily Kandinsky’s Murnau-Staffelosee 1. 1908. is a stunning landscape painting with vibrant colours depicting a late evening scene. What are those flashes of blue white  in what appears to be the foreground?

I also loved Howard Hodgkin’s “Like an open book” 1989 – 90. The thick, colourful paint makes the picture a physical presence which is reinforced by the painting over the frame. It is like a memory made solid & quite remarkable.  Sadly it isn’t featured on the Ashmolean’s website.

Neither is Jenny Saville’s amazing drawing “Study of arms II” 2015. Charcoal and pastel on tinted acrylic ground on watercolour paper. A beautiful figure study of Saville’s daughter showing the movement of her arms while sitting for a drawing.

To do: I have come to the conclusion that you can’t rely on a modern art gallery to put all their collection online! I will sketch as well as writing notes and am seriously considering taking coloured pencils to better represent pictures in my learning log.

Flesh. York Art Gallery

I found the exhibition Flesh challenging, especially pieces which looked at decomposition or what’s on the inside. The exhibition looked at how artists have portrayed bodies and necessarily, mortality. I found myself averting my eyes from

Fig. 1 Berlinde De Bruyckere, Romeu (mu deer), 2011. Photo by Anthony Chappel -Ross

Berlinde De Bruyckere, Romeu (mu deer), 2011. Photo by Anthony Chappel-Ross.


Fig. 2 Ron Mueck, Youth 2009, Photo by Anthony Chappel-Ross

Ron Mueck, Youth, 2009, with Dr Jo Applin, Courtauld Institute of Art, Co-Curator of Flesh. Photo by Anthony Chappel-Ross.


Fig. 3. A Little Death, Sam Taylor Wood

There was a sense of unpleasant queasiness in the air – you didn’t know what horror you would be presented with next.

I was drawn to a small still life by Chardin.

Fig. 4. Still Life. The Kitchen Table. It is beautiful. The colours, composition and light are just perfect.

Chardin is doing something very different in his picture to Sam Taylor Wood in “A Little Death”. Her video challenges us to look on death and decomposition. In her own description of the video she describes it as “shockingly violent” and “frightful” which makes me feel better about not wanting to look. Is Chardin thinking about death? The eggs could refer to life and birth and the salmon to death – or is he just thinking about dinner?

I thought about why decay in particular is so difficult to look at. Does it provoke fear? It certainly provokes disgust which is a natural reaction to something which is related to disease and ill health. Should we overcome our disgust and look closely, or should we accept it and move on?

I have been thinking recently about artists whose work appeals to me and have come to the conclusion that they are often skilled at evoking a mood or atmosphere – not necessarily a happy mood – but something that pulls you into a different place. In this case, being pulled into a world of death and decomposition was never going to be a particularly happy experience. It did provoke a lot of thoughts about why we like art and what art we like and also thoughts about death and decay as a subject for art.

Robert Rauschenberg study visit

Robert Rauchenberg at the Tate Modern is an overwhelming blast of artistic ideas. It is astonishing that one person could produce so much work in so many different areas. Did he ever have a crisis of confidence? The exhibition doesn’t tell us.

One thing that struck me about the exhibition as a whole was that all the art seemed to be manifestations of Rauchenberg’s personality. “his quest for innovation was fired by a boundless curiosity, the joy of working with what was readily available, an enthusiasm for collaboration and a passion for travel” (exhibition notes). The personality of the artist was an important aspect of the work.

I have discovered that virtually all art is much more meaningful experienced in person rather that viewed online or in a book. Rauschenberg is very much an artist of ideas. Was it important to see his work close up? I think it was. There was a physicality about Rauchenberg’s work which I didn’t expect. Looking at his “Combines” – work combining canvas with objects found around his New York neighbourhood – brought home the physicality not only of painting but also of searching for objects and making them into his art.

There was a strong emphasis on collaboration in Rauchenberg’s art especially in the area of performance art, dance and engineering. Open Score involved two tennis players  with customised rackets. These contained sensors that triggered bonging sounds and turned lights off when the ball hit them. When the venue was completely dark, 500 people performed a series of actions following instructions prepared by Rauschenberg. They were filmed by infra-red cameras and projected on large screens for the audience, who could not see them otherwise.

Holiday Ruse 1991 Robert Rauchenberg

It was good to meet fellow OCA students and discuss their reaction to Rauchenberg’s work.

What I take from this exhibition.

  1. don’t be afraid to experiment
  2. art materials are all around you
  3. collaboration is fun
  4. idea for painting. Take a walk. Every minute pick up an object and store it in order. Paint your impressions of the walk. Incorporate the objects on a grid?



Exhibitions at the Bowes Museum: Shelf Life. The ornaments are talking to me. by Mark Clarke and still life pictures from the permanent collection.

In Shelf Life, contemporary artist Mark Clarke assembles ornaments and pictures bought from flea markets and charity shops into meditations on the life of his mother who died of Alzheimer’s. Inspired by her groups of ornaments and pictures, the shelves are arranged in various themes Dinnertime, Once upon a Time, Time To Kill, Showtime and Prime Time. I enjoyed looking at the objects and the way Mark Clarke assembled them. I like the selection and juxtaposition of images. It was also interesting to talk to the gallery attendant who said: “I don’t know if it’s art.” I find myself at a bit of a loss when faced with someone who is asking: “but is it art?”

Once Upon A Time. Mark Clarke

I also took the opportunity to look at some classic still life painting in the museum’s permanent collection.


Fruit and Flowers 1866. Henri Fantin Latour.

Henri Fantin Latour’s painting Fruit and Flowers is a perfect still life. The colours balance between the flowers and fruit, the tipped basket and spilled fruit add a dynamism. The table slopes slightly. The textures of the glossy vase, woven basket, fruit and flowers add interest while the actual painting is beautiful with a light touch capturing the fragility of the flowers and the weight of the fruit.

Plums, melons, peaches. Jaques Linard 1642

I was also very taken by this much earlier still life by Jaques Linard. Plums, melons, peaches is a beautiful picture with glowing colours. It is interesting how the colour moves from cooler tones on the left to warmer ones on the right. it is a satisfying balance.

I think I’m attracted to the simplicity of these paintings in contrast to more elaborate still life and flower paintings I have seen.

As a side note, I must use capital letters when writing down artist’s names – I spend a lot of time searching for images using mis-spelled names which is quite annoying.