Q&A: Malcolm Le Grice

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of The London Filmmakers Co-op (LFMC). This month Tate Britain has been exhibiting archive material in their exhibition Shoot Shoot Shoot, telling the story of the LFMC's journey and I've been giving tours of the exhibition.

The LFMC were a ground-breaking organisation which inaugurated a tradition for the production, distribution and exhibition of independent filmmaking in the UK. Their films were non-narrative, non-commercial and in complete opposition to Hollywood style filmmaking.

Instead they focussed on the material of the film itself, colours, sound/image interplay and the poetry in their imagery. In the early 60s they also worked from the legendary Arts Lab space in London, a multi-arts venue set up by Jim Haynes. The image below right shows their cinema at the Arts Lab, my mum used to go in the 60s so I've been lucky enough to hear about it first-hand, it was a basement space where you'd take your shoes off, throw yourself down on a mattress on the floor and enjoy the all-night screenings of experimental films by LFMC members and other 60s icons like Yoko Ono.

Many of the members of the LFMC were fine artists, including Malcolm Le Grice who was teaching art at St Martins in the 60s, at the time of the group's founding. Alongside making his own films, he established the UK's first experimental film course. Today it's commonplace for film to be taught in art schools but in the 1960s this was a radical idea.

Last month the BFI celebrated his work with a series of screenings and reconstructions, I met Malcolm at the BFI and asked him about working with the LFMC

JB: Did you have any long-term aims for The London Filmmakers Co-op when it was first set up?

MLG: The London Filmmakers Co-op was started in 1966 but I was not then a member. At the time I was involved with the Arts Lab in Drury Lane … In 68 together with Simon Hartog, we defined the merger of both organisations, my diagram plan is still on the wall at LUX (see image below). This expanded the co-op from just a distribution organisation to include a cinema and production workshop. I became the architect and organiser of the workshop with film printing and developing, with the objective to make filmmaking cheaper and more available to experimental film makers. This succeeded and in the next 4 or 5 years and dozens of new filmmakers emerged in the UK.

JB: How important do you think the LFMC was for contemporary independent filmmaking in the UK and how did it give rise to our current culture of independent filmmaking and festivals?

MLG: The co-op became the centre of experimental film screening, making and distribution, very active and the major film co-op in Europe. The more general Independent film, the Independent Film Makers Association emerged more from the exclusively Political film makers - for example Cinema Action, Berwick Street Collective, and sought to become part of the film and TV industry. Many co-op film makers engaged with this, there were different objectives but no fundamental conflict. I was very involved in both, through my membership of the BFI Production Board and the lobby group to set up Channel 4 TV.

JB: Comparing the professional kit that is accessible to young filmmakers and film students today, can you describe the sort of kit and equipment you had access to back in the 60’s and 70s?

MLG: Our kit in the 60 and 70s was virtually all 16mm film, cameras were hard to come by and borrowed where possible. Film stock and lab costs were very expensive, only the co-op workshop offered printing, Processing and editing and cut costs. Early video kit was primitive - black and white and low resolution. From about 1984 higher resolution portable video, Vid 8, then Vid Hi8 and then in the 90s HD digital Video came. Also lower cost visual computers gradually opened up more sophisticated video editing and effects.

JB: How important was gaining the respect of film institutions like the BFI and galleries like Tate Britain to the LFMC?

MLG: What respect? … Any attention to Experimental film and the Co-op work is still minimal and sporadic, particularly at Tate which still treats experimental film as marginal. Virtually none of the pioneering work of film and expanded cinema of the early period has been bought and exhibited in National Collections. I have fought this battle for almost 50 years. Some recent recognition by BFI, NFT and Tate is still minimal and fringe …

Thanks Malcolm for the insights in to your practice and workings of the LFMC!

PUNK: The Ultimate Fashion Statement

I wrote about Punk fashion for The Roundhouse, in time for their celebration of Punk London: Roundhouse Punk Weekender. Click here to see the article online, or read it in full below.

Where did punk really begin? New Yorkers claim it grew out of their music scene headed by bands like the New York Dolls, but Londoners reckon the punk scene stemmed out of a specifically British mindset. Britain saw a flurry of youth subcultures emerge during the post-war years; Teds, Mods, Skinheads … and punk came on to the scene as an expression of rebellion. Punks railed against traditional notions of gender, family and hierarchy, with punk fashion being the strongest symbol of this.

Punk epitomised a D.I.Y attitude to fashion as a reaction against the consumerism of 70s Post Modernism – and image was everything. Young punks wore a mish-mash of recycled clothing, often sourced from charity shops. Garments were destroyed, torn and defaced in a style more anti-fashion than fashion, as a statement against pristine clothing favoured by the affluent. Straps, often attached to trouser legs, were a blatant reference to sexual bondage gear. Purposefully ripped T-shirts were held together with safety pins and women combined tartan kilts, laddered fishnets and heavy Doc Martens to challenge gendered clothing. Extreme hairdos, body piercings and an aggressive stance all tested the boundaries of social acceptability.

To be vilified for your stance was a badge of honour not a condemnation.

Provocative music and fashion fused to create the Punk scene. Former art student turned entrepreneur, Malcolm McLaren, formed The Sex Pistols whose message was a clear call for confrontation. The Sex Pistols arrived in a hail of spitting, gobbing and loud-mouthed lyrics; Johnny Rotten blamed it on his sinuses, Julian Temple likened it to the hail of arrows at the Battle of Agincourt.

Soon after punk’s emergence, designer Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren started producing punk inspired clothing for their shop SEX on London’s King’s Road. Described by Westwood as a “crucible”, their shop displayed phallic images, graffiti and bondage gear. The couple created punk fashions including T-shirts emblazoned with anarchic slogans. This became an iconic, if more costly, version of punk fashion and gave rise to the formalizing of sub-culture fashion statements – but could this readymade, manufactured punk fashion still be classed as Punk D.I.Y (one of punk’s main hallmarks)?

Punk soon became popular with art students who embraced it as a music and fashion statement and a number of Punk Bands emerged, many all-female. While openly expressing scorn against Punk’s obsession with petty violence, filmmaker Derek Jarman nevertheless produced the Punk-inspired film Jubilee as a rant against the corruption of money obsessed 70’s Britain. In Jubilee Queen Elizabeth I is transported to a 70s London ruled by Punk anarchists. Modern critics consider it to be the best example of the Punk genre in film, but Punk audiences at the time hated it. Siouxsie Sioux who had a role in the film denounced it as ‘hippy trash’ and Vivienne Westwood condemned Jarman as exploiting Punk. Westwood wrote an open letter, appropriately enough, printed on a t-shirt - ‘I had been to see it once and thought it the most boring and therefore disgusting film I had ever seen’ she wrote.

In November 2016 Joe Corré, former ‘underwear king’ and son of Westwood and McLaren, plans to burn £5million worth of Punk memorabilia as a protest against Punk London, claiming Punk does not belong in the mainstream. Ironically Vivienne Westwood, often nicknamed the Queen of Punk, was honoured by the Queen in 1992 and is now a Dame. Corré’s gesture raises an interesting reflection on the original Punk scene. While it’s easy to re-appropriate versions of Punk fashion - ripped jeans, frayed hems, studded leather, tartan and straps for example have become mainstream and are even seen on high-end catwalks - we shouldn’t forget Punk’s 70s origins as a politicized subculture with serious social objectives.

Whether punk has at times been hijacked by the mainstream, its influence on arts culture and fashion in particular, is undeniable. Never before has the clothes we wear been dictated by a subculture so powerfully. Malcolm McLaren probably said it best; “Punk’s influence on music, movies, art, design and fashion is no longer in doubt”.

Image Credits: Ted Polhemus, Alex Levac, Derek Jarman, V&A, John Selby.

SCREENING: Duggie Fields at BFI Flare Festival

I'm excited to share the news that my interview with Duggie Fields is going to be screened at BFI Flare, London's LGBT Film Festival on March 26th.

BFI Flare is screening a programme dedicated to Duggie Fields to celebrate his work in art, music, film and video collage.

The programme will include a rich selection of Duggie recent video work, Derek Jarman's home movie 'At Home with Duggie Fields' and my interview 'A Life in Colour'.

Find out more by clicking here!

MoMA x Tate Collective

Recently I worked with Tate Collective to co-produce and write online content and film video content for a collaboration with MoMA Teens. ‘A Tale of Three Cities’ was a free all-access online art course, exploring the artistic and cultural scenes in London with Tate Collective, Chicago with Art Institute of Chicago and New York with MoMA Teens.

We made some videos with London based filmmakers at Reel Nice to share stories about London’s diverse cultural happenings. We met and interviewed skaters at the Southbank, graf artists in Waterloo, singers in Shoreditch and got inspired by artists in their studios.

Damien Hirst's Newport Street Gallery

Damien Hirst has been provoking critics since the 90s so it’s no surprise that the opening of his Newport Street Gallery was met with mixed criticism. The gallery will focus on solo exhibitions of artists from Hirst’s own collection, and opens with a series of John Hoyland’s abstract expressionist paintings.

Hoyland’s richly saturated canvases are given the perfect backdrop, and in this space their zingy colours really pack a punch. The first room is stunning, showcasing his red paintings which bear the influence of Mark Rothko. Hoyland is often criticised for imitation, and while it’s true that his work is much indebted to colour field painters like Barnet Newman, they have their own flair and subtleties.

For me however the triumph of Newport Street Gallery is its arresting renovation by architecture studio Caruso St John. The space comprises three converted Victorian warehouse style buildings which were built in 1913 as scenery painting studios to serve London’s burgeoning West End theatre scene. Now it’s an impressive 37,000 sq ft white-walled paradise, airy, light and uplifting.

While the work might not inspire all, the staircase really is something to write home about …

Style and Substance

Amadip Esment is doing it right ...

It’s a foundation that was set up 50 years ago and has grown to become an incredibly purposeful and strong community based in Mallorca. Amadip Esment works with and trains young people with learning disabilities, providing jobs on their farm, in their two restaurants and at their printing business with the aim of increasing integration in the workplace.

Their restaurant in Calvia not only serves the best food on the island, with all ingredients organically grown on their farms, but is impeccably cool. There's a perfect balance of nature and design, from the vintage school chairs to the wooden flooring to their lush herb gardens.

If you're ever there, check it out.

www.amadipesment.org

Q&A: Christopher Jarratt

I'm currently the Resident Blogger for Tate's Art Exchange, an online platform for artists, educators, creators and anyone interested in art to share ideas! It's free to register and packed with interesting ideas and projects to try with students or at home, take a look if you have time. Along the way I've met and interviewed some really inspiring artists, including Christopher Jarratt.

As an artist and maker Christopher designs and produces whimsical pieces like giant slingshots, spinning tops and hairbrushes. What particularly excited me was Community Kite Project, which Christopher set up in 2011 with a collective of artists, designers and makers. Together with Christopher they run kite-making workshops, which have taken them around the world working with diverse audiences of all ages.

here's a snippet of our chat…

JB: I noticed you write about imagination and the ‘fantastical ideas’ we dream when we’re children. Would you say this is your main influence? Where do your ideas for your objects and projects come from?

CJ: Story telling, daydreaming and play. These are key influences for me and I try and channel these things through my everyday life which hopefully in turn is sparking my imagination which in turn gets me creating things and coming up with new ideas. It's very easy to rationalise these types of things out of our mindsets as we get older. I feel there is huge value to everyone to keep these actions alive. If my work can spark these things in others, that is great.

JB: You formed Community Kite Project back in 2011 and have since been running kite making workshops. What first drew you to the idea of kites?

CJ: I have always had a passion for making and flying kites (especially single line kites). They seem to have an ability to tell stories as much as create them. This thing you have created, flying in the wind connected to you by a thin bit of string, it's a very special relationship. It is only able to fly because you are holding on to it. If you were to cut the string, it won’t fly away (like it feels it is trying too all the time!), it will just drop to the ground.  Most people need to just look at a kite and they smile.

Kites are full of useful information, from the physics of flight and material properties through to the sculptural/architectural aspect of kite making and the painting of the canvas. The visual history of politics, life, love and belief has been represented on kites for as long as people have been making them.

Want to know more? Check out Christopher's website below.

Late at Tate with Jenny Moore

Across April, May and June I worked with Tate Collective colleagues and artist Jenny Moore to co-programme a series of performative interventions at Late at Tate's Spring Series at Tate Britain ... under the title What Am I Looking At?

Working with the theme Speculate we broke each month into sub themes; Question, Disrupt and Transform. Jenny Moore's performance art practice felt like the perfect balance of audacity, surprise and wit to visualise these concepts to our audience.

We wanted to stage series of performative pieces that questioned traditional gallery etiquette. Across the three months our team grew, working alongside The REC and dancers from Siobhan Davies Next Choreography programme. We also built up a network of performers that grew with each event which massively benefited the project.

For each night we staged different sets of performances, some nights we lay amongst artworks, filling the space with the sound of The REC. One performance in Tate Britain’s historic 1840 Room (known for housing Millais’ famous painting of Ophelia) used giant weather balloons and bicycle pumps. The group clumped together, their breathing became louder and in tune with the balloon pumping to create a contagious rhythmic resonance, until dispersing as if nothing had happened … wandering back through the space. 

In another choreographed performance, we worked with mirrors in the Rotunda. Architecture, artworks and audience were reflected in scattered but lyrical impressions, forming almost Cubist images of the space around us.

Tate x LSFF

Ok I’ve been a little quiet … I spent the past few months co-programming Turbine Festival, ok … excuses, excuses!

We took over Tate Modern for one day with installations, music, films, workshops and performances.

I was lucky to work with LSFF and Philip Ilson to put together the Turbine Festival Cinema, screening 27 inspiring and creatively diverse short films ... and subsequently perhaps the biggest Q&A I've ever seen!

Thank you to the team at LSFF and the filmmakers who helped make this happen, it was incredibly exciting to screen a programme of this format and scale.

Q&A: Duggie Fields

"Life is the big riddle ..."

Having grown up with a print by Duggie Fields on my wall I was pretty excited to meet and interview Duggie at his home and studio the other week. Soon after my parents met in the late 70s, and after so many attempts to win my mum’s attention, my dad bought her a print of Duggie Fields’ Dynamic Perversity … well at least he’s got good taste, she thought, and the rest is history.

L-R: Duggie Fields: Dynamic Perversity, 1980 and Dynamic Landscape, 2007

Duggie Fields arrived in a blaze of colour onto the 70s art scene. He’s known for his very graphic imagery, his use of bright colours and often features limbless figures reminiscent of Classical statuary but with his own take. Early on his work shifted between minimalism and constructivism, before turning to his signature style – what he terms post-Pop figuration.

L-R: Duggie Fields: Landscape into Art, 1999, Neo Classic, 1992 and Dancer, 1969

Duggie's home is an artwork in itself, a living gallery of Duggie’s work. We talked about everything from his inspiration and colour palette to his own music and video pieces, hanging out with Andrew Logan & Zandra Rhodes and being a style icon inspiring a Commes des Garcons catwalk show.

L-R: Duggie inspired Comme des Garcons Fall Catwalk 2007, Duggie with Andrew Logan in 2002

The video’s coming soon, so in the meantime here’s a little window into the vibrant, and vivacious world of Duggie Fields.

I’m curious to know how the change came about when you switched from studying architecture and moved to Chelsea to study fine art? Did that initial architecture training influence your painting?

I started painting when I was in my early teens and it was something I did everyday; a real passion. For years I drew using graph paper and tracing paper with a set square and T-square and I make my pictures geometrically. If you look at the figures, they have ruled and sometimes straight edged outlines. When I moved to digital I found that the computer put up a grid and I was already used to working on graph paper … so it was an easy transition.

So you started using computers in the 90s, how do you think new media affected your work – did it change it?

Yes, it allowed to me do things I’d never dreamed of doing. As for making music, the idea I can construct something that sounds musical myself is still a revelation to me.

Duggie Fields: The Big Riddle

What imagery initially influenced your work?

My earliest passion was comics, in the 60s I had a huge comic collection. When I was experimenting with paint in my teens I used to go outside and pour paint onto a canvas, letting the wind blow the paint onto the canvas from different heights. Then I gradually got more conceptual until I started seeing figurative elements without wanting to. I remember the transition; one day I had a Donald Duck pin and I stuck it in the middle of this 5ft minimal canvas and suddenly transformed it. That made my leap into figuration.

Do you have advice for young artists?

Think about what you enjoy doing most and how to keep yourself in touch with that, then you’ve got survive in the external world but keep that internal focus – that’s the toughest bit but that’s the most rewarding.

Thank you Duggie for a glimpse into your world ... the video's coming soon so watch this space!

Keep up with Duggie by following him on twitter @duggiefields or check out his website below

Q&A: Gaby Sahhar

'The exhibition considers how an artwork's presence is in a perpetual state of flux'

Partial Presence at the Zabludowicz Collection's London space aims to capture the ever-changing presence of an artwork and how it constantly evolves from conception and fabrication to eventual display and archive. The exhibition has been curated by students from Goldsmiths' MFA Curating course and The Cass London Met University, and what's really special is their choice to exhibit both established and young, emerging artists alongside each other.

This space is an atmospheric location for the exhibition, it was once a Methodist Chapel built 1867-71, and is far from a typical four-white-walls gallery. Each work has been carefully positioned in relationship to its neighbour, some in clusters according to the work's own personal journey and history. Gazing up at the cavernous main room or winding through its narrow back corridors I found myself captivated by the space itself, while each of these works have their own unique story, they also seem to contribute to and soak up a new history specific to their surroundings.

Gaby Sahhar is one of the youngest exhibitors, on display are two pieces from his We are becoming the horse series including his short film, I got the chance to catch up with him at the opening night and talk to him about his excitingly original and dynamic practice.

Above: London based Artist Gaby Sahhar at Zabludowicz Collection

What was the idea behind the We are becoming the horse series, what was it about horses that interested you?

Filmed between London and Tokyo, We are becoming the horse is a projective work that suggests that humanity is approaching a state of redundancy with the evolution and standardisation of technology as a new model. Using my original footage of abandoned horses on the Thamesmead estate and of rush-hour in modern-day Tokyo, it explores the marginalized and redundant status of the horse in a society it helped to build, aligning this equine plight to the human condition. The glitch-aesthetics of the video combined with the broken down display screen and surveillance sculpture take the conversation further, revealing technology itself as an unreliable and vulnerable body. 

Above: Stills from the We are becoming the horse film

I’ve seen some photographs showing how you created the Lake series which are really atmospheric, can you talk me through the process?

I was making a lot of paintings about different forms of energy in the body and exploring the different waves of energy we experience. Originally when I produced the paintings I wanted them to feel extremely fluid and to depict all the forms of energy we experience on the spectrum, from hyperactivity to irritation and energy driven anger. I eventually began to understand that energy in the body was an over controlling thing, which I tried to show in the paintings by using paints such as enamel blacks and inks. However, after making the paintings and seeing them side by side in the studio I wasn’t pleased with them and they didn’t seem to be fluid at all or very energetic or reference the body, so I decided to be self-destructive and take them to a lake - an environment which I saw as very fluid and still dominated by nature, not humans. I then decided to walk into the lakes with my paintings and started drowning them under the water whilst also getting myself very wet and cold in November. I was so much happier with the result as everything felt heightened by the environment afterwards. The paintings in the lake had connotations of body’s now, and the water magnified the colours. To date I think it is still one of the best works I have ever done.

Your work seems really diverse and experimental, is there any particular influence or theme that links it?

My practice consists of film, sculpture, painting and installation. I am driven by environments, humans and animals and in particular the emotional impact that 21st century life in the city has on humans and how our species adapts to it, creating odd narratives in site-specific locations to express this. I often use animal analogies as a metaphor for these themes. 

Above: Images from the Lake series

You seem to take a lot of risks with your work especially as it's so diverse ... are there any challenges?

Sometimes it feels like my practice is one big challenge. Often when I am making site-specific work it can be dangerous if I don’t fully understand my surroundings. I often re-visit places where I know I am going to be doing a lot of work to ensure the best results. I also seem to develop ideas which are a struggle to realise in real life. Adapting my ideas can be hard, especially working in a timescale when you’re studying. More recently, filming wild horses has been a bit of a challenge, I have had to learn a lot about horses to know how to approach them and learning how not to startle them when you’re holding a lens to their face.

Gaby has exhibited and worked collaboratively on shows such as Invisible Hours at SLG 2014, De/Construct at Whitechapel Gallery 2014, Deep within the Bosom of the Night at Harts Lane Studios 2014, Artcube 2014/2012, and Frieze London 2014/2013. He also designed a TATE limited edition handset for Vodafone UK in 2012.

Visit Gaby's website to below find out more about his unique and compelling practice

Partial Presence at the Zabludowicz Collection is on now until 22 February and free, it's an exciting show in an amazing space so catch it while you can

More info here

New Brutalist Image: Tate Britain

This year Tate Britain is shining a spotlight on the intensely creative and influential 1949-55 British movement 'New Brutalism' focusing on architects Alison and Peter Smithson, engineer Ronald Jenkins, Eduardo Paolozzi and photographer Nigel Henderson. While New Brutalism is often referred to as 'short-lived', the show proves its enduring impression. A strict emphasis on functionality dictating form, material and structure was at the heart of the New Brutalist movement. While its primary imprint fell on architecture, Tate's show sheds light on the photography, sculpture, painting and collage that contributed to bringing this new aesthetic to life.

Eduardo Paolozzi: Collage Mural, 1952

Hunstanton Secondary Modern School, Norfolk

In 1955 architectural critic and writer Reyner Banham wrote The New Brutalism (read it here) which set the group's title in stone. He defied the critics who rejected Brutalism as a movement too close to its description, instead celebrating its 'ruthless logic' and 'coherence of the building as a visual entity'. For Reyner Banham it was 'architecture of our time' and vital for paving the way towards a new modernism. Perhaps the best example is Hunstanton School, Tate has the original ground plans and illustrations on display. This was the first major triumph for architectural duo Alison and Peter Smithson, who won the competition for its commission while they were both only in their 20s. Form entirely followed function, some elements of the building were even left exposed like the water tower, and their steel, glass and brick emphasis took inspiration from Mies van der Rohe.

Above: Henderson & Paolozzi: Study for Parallel of Life and Art, 1952

Below: Paolozzi: From Patio and Pavillion, 1956

The success of Hunstanton relied on a collaboration between the architects and Ronald Jenkins, Eduardo Paolozzi and Nigel Henderson. Along with architects, artists, writers and critics they formed The Independent Group and met regularly at the ICA to debate and challenge established views of Modernism. Together the group organised cutting-edge shows including Parallel of Life and Art curated with Reyner Banham at the ICA in 1953. Parallel of Life and Art pulled together black and white photographs from both fine art and non-art sources such as archaeological studies with works hung unconventionally at varying heights and angles. The exhibition merged art and science, questioning both art's place in society and its curatorial display, what unified the photographs was their role in recording human existence. Despite falling under the Brutalist title, this show expressed a lyricism and poetry that relied not on pristine aesthetics but a deeper connection to the outside world.

Left: Photographs of Hunstanton School by John Maltby and Reginald Hugo de Burgh Galwey, 1955

L-R: Room view of Tate's 'New Brutalist Image', Victor Pasmore: Jenkins Office Cabinet, 1952

New Brutalist Image 1949-55 at Tate Britain is on now until 4 October and free

More info here

Artists and Models: Tate Britain's Archive Spotlight

Tate Britain's current Archive display has unearthed a series of stunning sketches, paintings, photographs and letters that explore the relationship between artist and model. Check it out if you're at Tate, it's open until 19 April and free.

There's a dedication to Eileen Mayo who had a meticulous approach to drawing and design and greatly valued life drawing, she even worked as an artist's model herself.

Then there's Marita Ross ... a captivating and particularly popular 20th century artists'  model, she was cutely nicknamed 'Angel Face'. Her bold poses and exciting confidence challenged the static past for artists' models. She also worked as a writer and journalist, have a look at the witty poem she wrote about the model figure ...

Hide and Seek with Rubens at The Royal Academy

The Royal Academy's current show attempts to break down the work of Peter Paul Rubens thematically from poetry to violence to lust and everything in between, so I was expecting all senses to be triggered and hoping to see a showcase of the enduring influence of Rubens on Western art. 

I was ready for Rubens' optimism, colour cascades, voluptuous nudes and dreamy classical subjects but instead was faced with a display of Constable’s landscapes, Reynolds' portraits of the wealthy and not much by Rubens. It's tricky to trace Rubens' legacy when his presence is so low key in the display. 

L-R: Rubens: Maria Grimaldi, 1606 and Sir Thomas Lawrence: Mrs Arthur Annesley, 1790

Rubens travelled from Antwerp to Italy at the age of 23 and stayed for eight years, becoming a court painter to the Duke of Mantua who continued to fund his travels. He soaked up inspiration from the Renaissance masters Titian, Tintoretto and Michelangelo among others, who he credited as shaping his artistic style. Despite these influences he's often cricitised for displaying a lack of gravitas in his own work, but there’s something reaffirming about Rubens' sense of optimism particularly in his idyllic mythological scenes where nudes are softly modelled in glowing light and dynamic yet harmonious compositions.

L-R: Rubens: Hermit and Sleeping Angelica, 1626 and van Dyck: Jupiter and Antiope, 1620

Jenny Saville’s curated room with modern allusions to Rubens (from Picasso to Sarah Lucas) did breathe some fresh air. This room finally felt like a celebration of the painter's own impact on art history. Cy Twombly’s Bacchus may owe more to Titian, but it proves the enduring influence of the grand masters of the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and shows a raw and new approach to classicism that continues the painted tradition.

L-R: Francis Bacon: Sleeping Figure, 1959 and Cy Twombly: Bacchus, 2004

Perhaps I'm a bit shallow but I was left wanting more bounty and Bacchanalia … the kind of thing Rubens does best..

L-R: Rubens: Venus Frigida, 1614 and Edouard Manet: Study for 'The Surprised Nymph', 1860

Tate Collective x Joceline Howe: Shape Studio

This December's Late at Tate was dynamic, exciting and impressively loud! Working alongside artist Joceline Howe, Tate Collective decided to focus on an intriguing and slightly ambiguous artist, Marlow Moss, for our event on the night.

Marlow Moss is another great artist so many of us had never heard of … or at least I, admittedly, hadn’t. Tate’s current display hopes to change that, with a delicate and focused display of her characteristic Abstract paintings and Constructivist sculptures.

Moss was definitely going against the grain in the mid 1920s when she changed her name from Marjorie to Marlow, chopped her hair into a mannish crew cut and began wearing a man’s blazer and cravat. At a time where many women still couldn’t get the vote and gendered conformity was expected, Moss was a daringly obvious and proud lesbian artist.

Living and travelling between London, Cornwall, Paris and Amsterdam, Moss was very much engaged in the International Constructivist movement. She had met Mondrian during her travels to Paris, where she exhibited frequently, and his influence is unmistakable; the same geometric criss-cross grids and black painted shapes float on pure, white backgrounds.

So, back to the entertaining bit ... we'd decided our main aim for the night was that all participants had a heap of fun, as well as the chance to discover and respond to the work of Marlow Moss and bring Constructivist geometry to life ... so a Shape Studio seemed the perfect place!

Drawing directly on the paintings and sculptures of Marlow Moss we isolated block-coloured geometric shapes and constructed them in cardboard covered in bright fabrics. We invited visitors to get creative at our Shape Studio in Tate Britain's South Duveens, placed against a white backdrop individuals, friends and families arranged themselves and their shapes to create an individual Marlow Moss inspired image and all captured by artist Nicky Giraffe.

Did you come along to Shape Studio? Find your pics, taken by Nicky Giraffe, here on Tate Collective's Facebook

Check out some GIFs from the night on Tate Collective's Tumblr

Sexism/Sensationalism/Seduction? Allen Jones at the RA

Allen Jones still has the power to push buttons, his current show at the Royal Academy has reignited longstanding debates questioning objectification over empowerment inherent in his fetishised female forms.

The show pulls together iconic works like Chair from the early 60s to recent images of commercial icons including Kate Moss. Perhaps I should have been offended, but instead I was entirely seduced by Jones’s women. I was struck by the contradictions and ambiguity embodied in the female representation in his drawings, paintings, sculptures and furniture.

Jones controversial stance was evident from the outset even as a student at the Royal College of Art, where he trained alongside David Hockney and Peter Phillips, eventually being kicked out in 1960. In 1964 a year spent in New York marked a turning point in his career, he established his bright, flattened, Pop iconography and stylised women, launching his name into fame. It was in 1969 that he really made his mark however - exhibiting Chair, Hatstand and Table – cast fibreglass women wearing leather bondage gear in erotically charged poses transformed literally into household objects. When they were exhibited at the ICA in 1970, feminists let off stink and smoke bombs in protest, paint stripper was later poured over Chair at the Tate in the 80s attempting to destroy the offending body. There’s a Duchampian sense about this outrage however; just as Duchamp’s wheel attracted criticism it got people debating, critiquing and most importantly, created a barrage of attention – these protests against Jones ironically acted only to elevate his name as an artist to be reckoned with.

L-R: Chair, 1969 and Table, 1969

Of course the outrage is completely logical; Jones presents us with simplified yet idealised, plastic mannequin-like, objectified women, mostly nude and generally passive while his men are clothed and active. Arguably Jones follows age-old stereotypical female representations; the body becoming object to be viewed by male gaze, his bondage-clad mannequins are intrinsically fetishised and sexualised. John Berger’s comments on art historical canonical trends spring to mind; ‘to be born a woman is to be born into an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men’ he expressed, ‘men act – women appear’. On the other hand, unlike the sculptures from classical antiquity and beyond that Berger was commenting on, Jones’s women make no attempt to conceal their nakedness, on the contrary they embrace nudity with their powerful stance – in one triptych Three-Part Invention the female subjects overshadow and dominate their male counterparts.

L-R: Three-Part Invention, 2002 and First Step, 1966

His focus on figuration both eschewed and embraced Clement Greenberg’s championing of Abstract Expressionism and its focus on flatness. Rather than abstracting form, he found a new way to flatten the human body, “Pop seemed to be a new way of representing the figure” he explains. Even his sculptural works often blend into the flat plane behind them.

L-R: Stand In, 1991-2 and Fascinating Rhythm, 1982-3

Is he a misogynist or merely following in the footsteps of classic sculpture? Jones denies that any of his works have a fine-art source, yet there’s no ignoring that the idealised female form he presents to us follows the traditions of classic painting and sculpture. Jones said recently ‘I think of myself as a feminist’ and perhaps it is a sense of playful pleasure in the female form that elevates them from mere misogyny.

Allen Jones at the Royal Academy of Arts is on now until 25 January 2015

Q&A: Nicky Giraffe

On the Road to the Sea is the first book from artist Nicola Adriana Rowlands  AKA Nicky Giraffe, showcasing Nicola’s contemporary photography alongside a collection of Victorian/Modernist poems. This unique pairing of Nicola’s own surreal, entrancing photographs and the poetry of Charlotte Mew is a beautiful intertwining of their two narratives. The book has already been shortlisted for its cover design by the British Book Design & Production Awards ’14.

On the Road to the Sea can be purchased here.

I caught up with the captivating Nicola at her recent book launch in Chelsea to discover more about her creative practice and inspirations.

How would you describe your work?

I call myself a surrealist artist … I am interested in the interaction between the imaginary and reality. I create to get to an emotional universal truth. I want to create work that is active, that projects and imbibes emotion onto the viewer through the composition and color. I hope that through my work I use a combination of reality and imaginary to transport people to somewhere they have been before or would like to/wouldn’t like to go. I guess it’s about communication and transportation from reality to a familiar surreality. Staging and choreography are inherent in my work as well. Most of my photography is preceded by drawings/sketches/stage design … so I suppose like poetry it’s a contrived image making process that hopefully results in something that appears more effortless and ephemeral.

What influenced your new series and book On the Road to the Sea?

The poetry of victorian/modernist/lesbian poet, Charlotte Mew. But on a formal level, I’ll let you in on a little secret, the colour palette in each separate series is influenced by a specific Rothko painting.

L-R: Untitled #1 from On the Road to the Sea, 2013 and Untitled #2 from On the Road to the Sea, 2013

How did you discover Charlotte Mew’s Poetry?

Charlotte, in an odd way found me, her poetry read as a visual language and posed questions about my own image-making processes and why I am a photographer. Charlotte and I were introduced by the poet Jane Weir, who looking at a montage of my photographs, intuitively drew a line between my work and Charlotte Mew's famed poem The Farmer's Bride. The montage was shot during my first trip to Derbyshire at the end of March. 

England's grey sky was cut open with ice-blue, black silhouettes of winter trees and lambs teetered on the hills, and I walked for my first time on the cusp of winter slipping to spring. It was an afternoon of revelation and the photographic sequence are a southern Californian's instinctive response to this northern European shock of nature in transition. In those moments I shot compulsively. It was as though I was translating, editing and creating my reactions through my lens, through my eye — but why photography? 

Answers came from this yellowed, well-thumbed copy of The Farmer’s Bride, where I first read Charlotte's poem of the same title. Alongside my work the poet painted, framing herself into my experience; I recognized myself – the woman, 'flying like a hare', across the fields, escaping the farmer’s grasp, spoke of liberation. The same emotional release I experienced as I captured the photographs … my images, climaxing with a nude erected on a frost bitten wall. In its visual and linguistic representation of specific moments, poetry becomes photographic in its method and process, through the medium of poetic language. Photography and poetry, both devices of artifice, strive with impression and image to project and then communicate whatever preoccupations rise to the surface in the artist’s consciousness.

L-R: Untitled #2 from Fame, 2013 and Untitled #3 from Fame, 2013

What mediums do you work in? 

Photography and film. However, my work is preceded by writing, research, drawing and painting. When I say painting I mean sketching or storyboarding - with really cheap watercolours. For this project I spent a lot of time hunkered in the V&A library researching and getting yelled at for bringing paints into the library. For On the Road to the Sea I shot on 120 film with a Pentax 6 x 7, I processed and developed the film and prints myself. As most of my work is staged, I suppose you could say that people, costume, scenery are my mediums as well, all of which are placed within the frame. 

Do you think that growing up in LA informed your interest in film?

LA affected everything … that crazy, bizarre, beautiful, SURREAL place. It’s a place where make believe is taken seriously and it’s only when I left LA that I realised how engrained the idea of play, façade and hyperrealism is to my work. Growing up I was always in theatre and ballet, I know that this has had a huge impact on my work. I was lucky to have spent most of my academic years in after school arts programmes. I come from a theatrical family, my sister and I were always putting on shows, making movies and dressing up.

LAX from Greetings from ... Los Angeles

What are your challenges at the moment? 

At the moment, the biggest challenge is wearing so many hats! I mean, I love hats! But sometimes it gets frustrating, exhausting and confusing being your own business manager, assistant, PR person, mother, grandma, critic, doctor etc. I am coming off doing a show in LA, having my book published, finishing a film and screening it at festivals, and an exhibition here in London and finally it feels like a space has opened up for creating work again (which I hope speaks for itself).

I’m excited to get back into the trenches… But I feel incredibly lucky to be in total control of the creation and presentation of my work.

So … what’s next?

I have some ideas brewing … things are going to get a bit sculptural.

Check out the link below to explore the alluring world of Nicola Rowlands (aka Nicky Giraffe)


Myth, Memory & Mourning: Anselm Kiefer at the RA

“I am a storyteller with a broken story” confesses Anselm Kiefer. His monumental retrospective at the Royal Academy spans forty years and chronicles his attempt to make sense of his German heritage. Kiefer’s obsession with Holocaust remembrance and emphasis on rich symbolism from mythology, folklore, religion and alchemy to poetry and opera are what he is sometimes criticised for; occasionally labelled as sentimental and contrived. Call me impressionable, but for me his outright symbolism and its accessibility is precisely what draws me in to Kiefer’s web of myth, memory and mourning.

The show begins with his late 60s early 70s series of himself performing the Nazi salute. These works signalled his arrival as a highly confrontational artist and led to him being misunderstood by some as Neo-Nazi. What followed was a lifetime of work which includes painting, sculpture and installations which intertwine recognisable iconography of German history, expose how compelling and seductive images of mythology can be and how, more dangerously, they can tap into the collective unconscious.

His early series of attic paintings feature his own attic studio, and with their theatrical wood grained texture they are the very stuff of German folklore reminiscent of Grimm’s Tales, Norse Myths and ancient legends.

Moving through the gallery we’re drawn in to the claustrophobic Margarete and Shulamith series. Paint is viciously handled, treated like earthly matter, the materials are sacred but appear gouged and destroyed like the lives of the heroic female victims they represent. Here too are representations of Van Gogh’s sunflowers and wheat fields, now decaying and menacing.

Further massive canvases of forests and fields are encrusted with earth, clay, dried flowers, remnants of discarded clothing, even teeth. Layer upon layer of impasto paint cracked like the dried earth they represent, some depict paths though Teutonic forests, railway lines disappearing into unknown destinations alluding to German folk stories but also are powerful signifiers of the Holocaust.

Kiefer’s Morgenthau series, despite being based on an abandoned American Government plan, awakens an aesthetic optimism. Drawn up in 1944, the original plan proposed to turn Germany into an agricultural state, effectively as a means to destroy its weapons industry and create a new pastoral idyll. References to alchemy, destruction and rebirth are themes Kiefer returns to time and again acting as a metaphor for human tragedy and rebirth … “creation and destruction are one and the same” he tells us.

With its wealth of symbolism the show is compelling and profound – it’s on until 14 December, see it and unravel some of Kiefer’s broken story for yourself.