Saturday, 29 January 2011

Fresh Moleskine pages

As part of my artistic discipline, I try at least to fill a double page spread in my current Moleskine sketchbook. I don't seem able to use any other brand as I have become used to the paper texture, the way it copes with water colour washes, and the general robustness of the books as I do put them through some rough treatment.


The beauty of the Moleskine books, (I am not paid to say any of this, but I wouldn't say no to sponsorship and free books as they are costing me a fortune.) Is their quality. I have heard some say the size on the paper makes it difficult to use washes, but I've never found that. I quite like the way the paper initially repels the water but eventually absorbs it leaving subtle changes that really add something to the work.

In my ' Five artist material must haves,' I neglected to deal with paper and sketchbooks. This post will go someway towards remedying that. I have in the past used just about every brand of paper and sketchbooks, and I still look out for anything new on the market. When I was using coloured pencils as a main medium I needed very smooth paper, Bristol board was my favourite. I found I could only get that in sheet form or in spiral bound sketchbooks. I would never use a spiral bound book for daily work as it would fall to bits in five minutes. Daler Rowney make some very good hardbound sketchbooks in different sizes, but the texture of the paper was very inconsistent. I was driven to distraction by it's unreliability. When I finally succumbed to the Moleskine after much resistance, ( I thought they were rather pretentious and needlessly expensive) I realised why they were so popular.

 These days I keep a couple of A4 books for working at home, One large 21cm x 13cm moleskine book for my daily prayers, and a small satellite pocket book for carrying around. I am covered for all occasions.

My current book that I started on January 16th is slowly filling up. I am posting some up to date images of the latest work. I am shocked by the change in my work from my first Moleskine begun in 2002 when I was at The Royal College Of Art. I'm sure to a lot of people it all blurs into one . One day I'll exhibit all the books in chronological order, or have them published in one volume in a way that will make the changes easier to see. Until I do, I shall publish the images here. I may do a post on my early books if there is enough interest

Friday, 28 January 2011

My 3D Art Dolls

Now and again, I get an overwhelming urge to make something. I do consider 2d art 'something' obviously, but the urge is to produce something tactile, 3D and separate from my daily work. I don't own a sewing machine ( I am eyeing up a nice Bernina machine with ungodly lust) and I intend to buy one when finances allow. So all my sewing has to be by hand. Unlike my artwork and my Moleskines, I approach fabric work with a little more organization and preparation. I decide on the item I wish to make, collect odds and ends of fabric, then look around for a pattern to adapt. I was useless at sewing at school, couldn't see the point frankly! And I hated the fact that I had to make a prissy nightdress case when my brother was out playing with his friends. I associated sewing, embroidery and cooking with every stereotype of the happily downtrodden housewife I saw around me. (this is the Middle-East I'm talking about.) I never saw any artistic value in needlework, I just found it faintly distasteful, something you took up when you got periods and boobs... ugh!
Now, of course I know better, and really wish I'd paid more attention. My English grandmother was a brilliant dressmaker/needleworker. In fact one of my most memorable Christmas presents I received from her was a complete wardrobe of beautifully made clothes for my doll Claire. She made day wear, nightwear, underwear... clothes for every occasion. My Arabic grandmother was a more prosaic needleworker, she'd could use a sewing machine but preferred the services of a dressmaker like most Middle-Eastern women.
 I've had to start from scratch. learning by trial and error, my only secret to durable, well-made items is to use tiny stitches very close together. One bonus of not having a grounding in sewing is that I am not put off by the impossible. I just keep trying unorthodox ways until I am satisfied.

The Changeling
 The Changeling was based on fairy tales about Goblins who swap newborn human babies for one of their ... ahem... less attractive variety. I adapted a baby doll pattern. I used antique porcelain teeth given to me by a very generous friend, and his eyes were enamelled copper to give them a human limpid look. The best part of making him was creating his accessories; his bed, bedding and lumps of poop, these were lovingly fashioned out of balls of Fimo clumped together, then painted and varnished.

Underage sex
 This one is a model of a schoolgirl who delivers all her babies while waiting for the school bus. I made-up the pattern for this one as I went along. it was quite difficult to create an expanding stomach that can house her babies but deflate when they were pulled out. In the end I used an expanding tubular bandage. My favourite part is the model of the road and pavement where she waits for the bus. If anyone is interested in details, let me know and I'll give you more exact instructions.

Al is the name of my third doll. He stands for everyman who loves himself above all else and there are a few of those around. Again I made the pattern up as I went along. His face is a combination of paint and embroidery. He appears to be holding his baby wrapped by a blanket. Once the blanket is removed it becomes obvious that his baby is actually his penis ( I AM NOT OBSESSED WITH PENISES!)
 I have a few more pieces that are in the planning stage, and a couple waiting to be photographed and added to this blog. If you are interested I will post them shortly.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Taboos in Art: The Erect Penis.

A moleskine sketchbook page with penis.
This post is a little light relief from the relentless negativity of criticising artists whose work I don't love. I will resume that post later on but for now, something a little different.
What is the rudest image you can think of? What kind of image would drive you to avert your eyes and back out of the room? Stumped yet? Well according to censorship boards in even the most liberal societies it is the erect penis! Fainted yet? apparently the sight of an erect penis is so potent it can corrupt your maiden aunt and send a community directly to hell.
 I have always had a thing about penises (or is that peni?) I just checked that out and it seems both are correct the first being the English form, the second is Latin. I like the shape, the texture and the fact that they have a life of their own. The vagina is more secretive, it doesn't give much away, very much like a woman in fact. The vagina is hard to read, mysterious and complicated. None of that makes it any less valuable or attractive. Don't get me wrong, I am a woman, a ferocious feminist and a standard bearer for vagina power, but this post will focus on the male tackle, I shall deal with the vagina in a later post. I still maintain a penis is more endearing, a little ridiculous and a comic solution to a natural design puzzle. The combination of penis and scrotum (just the words induce juvenile giggles!) are a funny little package, they have their own separate existence from the man they come attached to. And I defy any man to assert any control over his errant 'manhood'.
Another of my own creations from my trusty moleskine.
My so called penis obsession continues.
A less obvious penis portrait.
The penis comes in an infinite variety of shapes and sizes, no two are the same. That in itself makes it a fascinating subject for the artist. A phallus can actually look depressed, sleepy or perky and ready to greet the world, if only it could speak. I have been accused of being obsessed with willies, and they do feature fairly often in my work. I refute the obsession part but freely admit making full use of the image when I think it is called for. Since time began, men have tried to brainwash us into seeing the male genitalia as a symbol of might and superiority, they have tried oh so hard to instil in us a hushed reverence for the power of the penis. But at the back of their minds they must have been aware of the comedy aspect of the 'todger', 'dick' and 'sausage'. Were they overcompensating? Did they really believe that they could condition us to forget how silly it looked by enforcing blanket respect?
Part of a series on 'manhood'.
God really did play a dirty trick on men! He gave them physical strength, ruthless focus and dominion over everything but made them pay for it by choosing the least sober and serious option his design comitee could come up with. So hurray for the penis, that comical little body part that has over the centuries turned the world upside down and back again.Where
would we be without it!
Map of New York as a Penis.
Penis Costume culled from the bowels of the internet.
Uncle Melon's Instructions.

Gold Penis Pendant
Jake and Dinos Chapman etching.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Artists I don't love and why. Part II Gary Hume.

Gary Hume
 this artist comes from the same place as Gavin Turk. Another artist whose banality seems to go undetected no matter how obvious it gets. Gary was lucky enough to be painting life size portraits of doors (nothing wrong with that!), at the same time as Damien Hirst and the rest of the YBAs at Goldsmiths. He was lucky enough to have taken part in Frieze, and to have caught Saatchi's eye. But then what? Once he ran out of doors to paint he had to find something else to create without revealing his lack of artistic talent and complete absence of technical ability. So he was clever enough ( I said he was talentless not stupid!) to find stepping stones that kept him an art world darling. He resorted to painting very stylized images of b list celebrities, making simple sculptures and fighting artist block. Don't get me wrong, I would never suggest any of the artists I don't love are anything less than sincere. Their desperation to be taken seriously as artists is probably stronger than most. Deep inside they know they are rubbish and  their work is meaningless . It must be awful living with a terrible secret that could be found out at any minute.
 I place some of the blame on art schools. They no longer 'teach' art theory, perspective, composition or anything that could be taken as technique. It's all smoke and mirrors. The most successful are the ones who can mimic true art most convincingly. I am starting to sound like Brian Sewell but I won't apologise for that. You'd expect a writer to know the ABC wouldn't you? You'd expect him to have basic literacy skills? A writer wouldn't get very far with an 'impression' of a story. The same with musicians. A certain level of music theory is taken for granted. So why not art? I understand that an artist must be free to express him/herself without constraints. But surely you can only express yourself freely when you have a language! When you have the tools to give your ideas life. Instead we get the artists we deserve. Tongue-tied inarticulate painters producing meaningless banality.
 Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm asking too much and being a backward-looking reactionary. maybe I shouldn't look for work that challenges me on more than a surface level. Maybe I'm wrong to want to look at art and think "wow! I wish I could do that!" To want to be in awe of the artist's eloquence and ability to realise his ideas.
The writer Julie Burchill once said fine art is the least moving of the arts, that music, theatre and film can move her to tears but a painting can't. Maybe she is looking at the wrong art, and the wrong artists. Art can and has moved me to tears, but most of those who do have been dead for a few centuries.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Five artists I don't love and why. Part I Gavin Turk

This article is a little more difficult to write, I am not a mean natured person and I don't like hurting people's feelings. But I want to be honest here! These are personal opinions based on my own taste more than anything. Artists like all creatives have big-egos, even the least successful and modest of them harbours a yearning to take over the world. Deep down they have a dangerous megalomaniacal hunger for recognition that has to be kept in check if only to avoid being sectioned. The lucky few attain success and get the attention they crave through sheer talent and hard work, with a bit of luck thrown in if only to place them in the right place at the right time. Others, get where they want to be through being blessed with the gift of tongues. They are blessed with the gift of artspeak! They are able to persuade an artistically illiterate public that they have something special, a shining, unique power to act as a conduit from the God of high art to the lowly, talent free masses. They are encouraged by dishonest critics who don't actually know what makes good art (not being artists themselves) Sometimes, these anointed ones really do have something, but more often than not it's just polished bullshit. It's this group that bring down the red mist over my eyes. I am not exaggerating my feelings. I am passionate about art, but I am just as passionate about hating crap!
 Disclaimer: these opinions are my own, you may strongly disagree and this is your right. You may wish to show me the error of my ways and that is your right also.
 There is no particular order for this group, I despise their work equally.

 Gavin Turk
 Mr Turk failed his Masters Degree at The Royal College Of Art because they appeared to recognise in him a bullshitter par excellence. And for once I agree with them. This 'artist' has based his entire career on one flimsy anorexic idea. He pinches from the genuinely, originally gifted and skims off the top. Now don't get me wrong, throughout history artists have advanced our aesthetic sense by stealing ideas and building on them. I am happy to admit to being a thief of this kind. But what Mr Turk does is exploit a work in a way that involves little input from him, and at the same time nicely hides his lack of ability. Where is the blood, sweat and tears? Where is the evidence of his inner struggle? When I see a piece of work I want to see a piece of the artists soul. Or is that an old fashioned idea now? Examples of his work are his horrible Sid Vicious sculpture, and his bronze cast crap like sleeping bags, apple cores and bin liners. Other 'gems' include framed bits of paper with stains from tea and coffee cups. The funny thing is, and possibly one redeeming factor is that he appears as baffled by his success as most honest art critics. Deep down I'm sure he's terrified that he'll wake up one morning and find that he's been unmasked. That his secret has been exposed. Till then he just can't believe how he manages to pull off this scam!
He says; "When I make art, it is part of a social contract, it's not something I'd do on a desert Island." Now personally, when I make art the last thing I'm thinking about is society at large. I make art because I am compelled to do so. I couldn't live without the means to express myself in some way. Most artists would say the same. But not our Gavin!
 Maybe I am just jealous of his place in the artworld, of the respect and attention he receives, Maybe I should be happy that he has made such good use of his minuscule endowments. Saatchi really was his big break, and I guess if it hadn't been Gavin it would have been some other talentless but oh so desperately aspirational artist such as Blue curry or Roisin Byrne.
 Have I been a little harsh? Maybe. I have never met Gavin Turk and never will. He may be the sweetest most genuine person you could ever meet but I just don't rate him as an artist. And that is the point of this post.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Five artists I don't hate and why.

When my children were small we would play a game where we would make a mental raft. On this raft we'd place musicians, actors, comedians or even teachers (yes, they did like some!). This was the group that were safe. Anyone that failed to make the cut would suffer the big flush. We'd cut out pictures of the worst offenders or draw some if photos weren't available and then conduct a farewell ceremony where the bits of paper would be flushed down the pan. As an adult I suppose I should have set a better example and encouraged them to be more benevolent, but what the hell! I can be as small-minded and vindictive as the best of them and it gave me enormous pleasure to flush the likes of Sir Gordon Of Sumner (Sting), and Damien Hirst headfirst down the toilet.
 This list will be along the same lines, I will list five artists whom I shall grant status and respect and a further list of five artists who have caused my displeasure.
 If you are mature, well-balanced and grown-up, look away now and go read an article by Waldemar Januszczak. If like me you have vengeful, mean streak that needs airing every so often, read on and feel free to add your own contenders. I get the power of Veto, so I give you fair warning.
 The first artist that I shall smile upon is:
  5) Stuart Pearson Wright 
For those of you ( if anybody is going to read this) who are expecting a kiss-arse fest, you've come to the right place. The next post is where I get mean. Stuart Pearson-Wright is a young Eastbourne Born (?) artist. His ability with the brush/pencil/ and printing plate are outstanding. Now I will be honest in admitting that I am drawn to artists who have mastery over their tools. I get it that technical ability is not a subject for polite company these days. But when I see work that makes me want get out my sketch book and practice, practice practice, I can't help but fall in love a little. Stuart is one of these artists! His pencil drawings are beautiful, his paintings aspirational and his prints.... I want one!
 His newer works puzzle me a little. He apears to have gone off on a personal journey of sexual exploration. His pervy images of wanking subjects don't quite do it for me. His apparent celebrity obsession comes over as a little predictable even though most men would probably invent reasons why they simply must  include Keira Knightly in their work. Other than those two minor misgivings, Stuart Pearson-wright is one of my favourite contemporary artists, and I would certainly make room for anything by him on my wall.
Domestic Scene Etching, 2003 Etching, aquatint and drypoint on paper 1000 x 580 mm

Mr and Mrs Cramp, 1999 Oil on linen 1500 x 1200 mm

4) Tracey Emin 
Now Tracey, where do I start? Tracey Emin as a person and as an artist stirs up a lot of feelings in people. Everyone has an opinion on our Trace! And I must admit I tended to dismiss her as a talentless, attention seeking brat. I would argue with anyone who dared cite her as an interesting artist. She was a prime candidate for the big flush. I don't know when the exact moment my Tracey epiphany occurred, but it happened. It may have been her blankets that first moved me, or the relentless criticism she attracted, most of it hurtful and personal having nothing whatsoever to do with her work. The words on the blankets struck me as honest and authentic. She wasn't holding back or playing up to an audience. She was revealing something of herself and I appreciated that. Coming from a mixed background like hers, her remark about 'wogs' chimed with mine. I remembered an incident at Heathrow airport where my poor mum, all blonde hair and blue eyes was trailing luggage and three obviously brown children was sworn at by a porter for being a wog lover and breeding like a rabbit. I, like Tracey had no idea what a wog was. All I knew was that it made my mum's face go red, and change her mind about asking for assistance.
I decided to give Emin's work another go. Without the goggles of prejudice I saw something I'd missed. I saw a brazen, defiance. A thrust-out chin daring people to do their best, take a swing. And she is brave and honest to a fault. She has no guile, a mixture of childish naiveté and a cunning knowing. I read her book Strangeland, which fleshed out her personality and helped me a get a bigger picture. The more I read the more I liked her and appreciated her work. 'Tracey Emin' the persona is part of her oeuvre; you can't disconnect her from her work. A lot of people don't seem to get that. And anyone who still doubts her talent should take a look at her 'Baby Things'. a work she created for an exhibition in Folkestone which she reprised for the group show at the Foundling museum in London last year. Alongside giants such as Paula Rego and Mat Collishaw. Tracey's work stood out with its gut wrenching simplicity. A tiny lost mitten left atop the railings outside the museum, a lonely, well-loved teddy under a bench. The work spoke so eloquently of loss and separation it could only have come from her heart. All I can say is that Tracey Emin is a national treasure, and I love her.

Artist Tracey Emin in her east London studio. Photograph: Karen Robinson

Appliquéd blanket, 'Western Oriental Gentleman.' (I'm not sure of the actual title.)

'Baby Things' from a group exhibition at The Foundling Museum 2010
3) Henry Darger
Henry Darger spent over 40 years, in a small Chicago apartment creating a mountain of work that was only discovered when he was moved to a nursing home shortly before his death. His landlord came across this treasure trove, he found works such as In the Realms of the Unreal which included The Story of the Vivian Girls, in what is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, and extends over 15 immense, densely-typed volumes of 15,145 total pages. The text is accompanied by three bound volumes of several hundred illustrations, scroll-like watercolour paintings on paper, the work of six decades, derived from magazines and colouring books. In addition, Darger wrote an eight volume, 5,084-page autobiography, The History of my Life; a 10-year daily weather journal; assorted diaries; and a second work of fiction, provisionally titled Crazy House, of over 10,000 handwritten pages.
 Darger has spent his early years in a home for the feeble minded even though he regarded himself as a smart alec with a superior intellect. He seemed unable to connect with people but never gave up trying to adopt a little girl to replace the baby sister that he was separated from in early childhood.
 I have heard some question the value Darger's work as art. They see it more as the ramblings of a mentally ill individual. But I defy anyone who sees this work not to be awed by its quality, its strength and its cohesion. He may not have intended it to be seen by others but that doesn't take away any of its power and beauty as well as its sheer variety. I say Darger's art is of the highest order. It is art at its purest. He only ever listened to his inner voice, so he avoided the prostitution that often comes with fame and notoriety. I recommend him without reservation to anyone who thinks you have to whore yourself out to the media, or follow the whims of a fickle market. I say Darger was a true artist and that's that.

Watercolor, pencil, carbon tracing, and collage on pieced paper. 19 x 70-1/2 in.

'Storm Brewing'

Henry Darger's workspace/apartment.

Religious Collage, Henry Darger
2) Stanley Spencer
I first came across Spencer's work when I bought a poster of his ‘Resurrection.’ It showed a village scene, I later found out it was his beloved Cookham, all the graves had opened up spilling out their residents who were all emerging joyous and overcome with happiness. He was another unconventional painter who was unsparingly honest. It was thanks to this shocking honesty that painters like Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon felt they could take such liberties with their models a generation later, lovingly including every blemish and crease. I have heard Spencer dismissed by some morons as a fuddy-duddy little Englander whose whole world was Cookham. But you only have to look at his paintings of Patricia Preece, his second wife, a lesbian who refused to consummate the marriage. Spencer exposed his desperation, his paintings telling us far better than any words how he felt. He was no innocent fool; he knew that in return for lost innocence we get experience. Not always a fair exchange but it's up to us to make the choices. Spencer was a religious man; his religion imbued almost everything he produced in a sensual, original way. That sometimes puts people off but it's their loss frankly!

Stanley Spencer, “Double Nude” (1937)

Stanley Spencer, Love Letters (1950)

Hilda and I at Pond Street, 1954

1) Robert Crumb, Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Sophie Crumb.
Drum roll here please! I've listed the artists here in reverse order, not in any way judging their value or importance but listed in a very personal way to reflect their impact on me. So I Arrive at Robert Crumb, AKA God! I should also take the time here to give equal billing to his amazingly talented wife and muse Aline Kominsky-Crumb and their daughter Sophie. What a family! So they are comic artists, so what? If you are one of those prissy art snobs that categorises and splits art into craft/comic/fine etc, stop reading here. In my opinion there is only two kinds of art: stuff I like and stuff I hate. That's it!
Robert Crumb was my education, far more than college, university or even the Royal College of Art! I pored over his pages studying his lines, his hatching and cross-hatching. His technique (entirely self taught) is idiosyncratic, true and elegant. He can draw hands and feet with ridiculous ease. His trees, cars and buildings make me jealous. His talent is indisputable. His is never afraid to tell it like he sees it. He has been unfairly accused of racism and misogyny, but that is a shallow baseless judgement only made by the lazy-minded sheep-like followers of the right-on brigade. If you can't be bothered to look deeper to see where the work is coming from go and look at anodyne works of Thomas Kinkade (Painter of Light, or shite?) or some other hobby artist. Crumb lives his life the way he draws, no-holds barred and he doesn't give a shit who gets offended. Whoever described his as the Breugel of our times was spot on. Lack of fear and unconventionality seem to be a running theme with my five artists!
'The little guy that lives inside my brain.'

'The Future According To Robert Crumb.'
Aline Kominsky, his lovely (even though she has trouble believing it) wife was the subject of my dissertation for my printmaking degree. I was looking around for an artist that inspired me enough to write a few thousand lines about, when I came across her book ‘Need More Love. I started looking through it casually, but I ended up reading it cover to cover in one sitting. I could understand why someone Like Crumb would be attracted to her. She was fearless, funny and very, very bright. This shone through her work, which was so revealing in places I was literally reading while covering my eyes with my fingers! It is a human instinct to present a face to the world that is somewhat prettified and censored to show only the best of us. Aline doesn't seem to have this instinct. Every part of her life and psyche is fair game. And I love her for it.
“Heeb,” 2006, cover Collaboration with Robert Crumb Ink and watercolor on paper 11 7/8” x 9 1/4”

Alice Kominsky Crumb, Sex Crazed Housewife, 1 of 4 pages, Ink on scratchboard, 15 x 12
Now, imagine if you will the Great Robert Crumb joins forces with the indomitable Aline Kominsky, Nuclear fission occurs and Sophie springs forth, like Athena from Zeus' forehead. A force of nature fusing the talents and attributes of both her parents. Sophie's art has matured and refined over a short time to become some of the most exciting work at the moment. Not that you'd expect anything less with genes like hers! Her blog gives some idea of her talent, take a look here.
 This family have made such a large footprint on contemporary art, they have managed to lift an entire genre from its obscure little niche and drag it kicking and screaming to a grateful new audience. Their work transcends genre and enriches art in general. And I am so glad they did.

A page I pinched from Sophie Crumb's blog !

A piece from Sophie's recent solo show.

Another sketchbook page stolen from Sophie Crumb's blog.
So there you have it! A short list of artists that have really meant something to me. There are of course loads more that I will talk about in future posts but these are the ones I turn to for inspiration, they never fail me. For that alone they will all be saved. That however won't be the fate of those who appear on my next list. It will be a list of five artists I don't love. It will be brutal! It will send shivers down the backs of the global art community, no one is immune (except for the group mentioned above and my beloved... kids... dogs but that's it... I think.) For now.

If anyone has any suggestions for candidates for the great art flush email them to me here.
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