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Moses Wonders - Michael Lee, Art Psychotherapist

Moses Wonders – Michael Lee, Art Psychotherapist

‘Research in the field confirms that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts, develop inter-personal skills, manage behaviour, reduce stress and increase self-esteem.’

Cate Smail – Art Psychotherapist & Director ArtTherapy4All

All of us could do with a little more art in our lives. In actual fact, at some point we have more than likely all taken part in and drawn some benefit from art therapy. Misconceptions about the practice abound, but its simplest definition is really just personal expression through the production of art. Anyone who has ever stood back, looked at a piece of art they have produced and seen in it recognisable symbols (yes, even phallic ones in year 10) or ended up laughing hysterically as a result of an artistic experience, has engaged with the basic principles of art therapy; self-expression and self analysis. Of course, art therapy in practice is far more complex than this and requires the comprehensive skill and experience of trained practitioners. The application of psychoanalytic and therapeutic art sessions is akin to that of a doctor, or teacher and is essentially a combination of both; involving delicate and painstakingly cultivated patient and tutor relationships. A classic recurring myth I have come across is that art therapy is used primarily for prisoners or victims of abuse. Although these are often the most common uses to be portrayed as examples of art therapy, this generalisation excludes the massive proportion of patients who take part in the process for a whole variety of other reasons.

Many people use art as therapy without attending any kind of session and often without even realising they are doing so, myself included. I recently came across an old sketchbook containing drawings from a particularly difficult period in my life. Suggestive symbols of my mental state immediately jumped out at me. At the time they were produced, most likely nonchalantly scribbled whilst waiting for a train, I certainly don’t remember seeing anything insightful in them at all. But years later, now removed from the emotional state I was then caught up in, the subconscious expression of these feelings in artistic form are crystal clear to even the untrained eye. Those who choose or need to use structured sessions require the guidance and support of a therapist or the insight of a psychoanalyst to help them to identify or make sense of the problems they may be having. Subconscious symbolism is not always as easy to spot as mine was, classic mechanisms such as size (eg. tiny child/huge adult) or colour (eg. heavy black scribbles) are just the tip of a visual iceberg, with each person interpreting the world around them differently. Thus the same symbol in one work could have an entirely alternate association in another. There is no definitive language of symbols. The skill of an art therapist lies firstly in their encouragement to ensure the student engages with the process; secondly in their gentle suggestion of certain techniques/subjects they think might be appropriate for each individual client; and thirdly in their ability to both analyse pieces themselves and to guide the artist to interpret the symbolism behind their own works.

‘It is used with the young and the old, the well and the unwell’

Melanie Stevenson – Art Therapist & Director at ArtTherapy4all

At the Art + Healing exhibition preview last Thursday, showing at Street Gallery in University College London Hospital, I was pleased to see the eclectic mix of patients represented in the huge variety of stories behind the works. I have always believed passionately that art production can benefit every ailment; mental or physical, extreme or seemingly trivial, as well as being useful and enjoyable for those with no obvious problems at all. The Change was created by a patient who was having sessions to help her to deal with going through the menopause; another through a painful divorce, as in Absence and Detachment 1: Where He Lay. Some had been through particularly traumatic experiences; abuse/torture/loss of a loved one, other contributors were art therapists trying to explore their emotional artistic expression, or former patients inspired by their experience to take up art therapy training themselves. The work speaks for itself. Benefiting from the directness of expressive practice it is both fascinating and intensely personal. Not necessarily a stream of consciousness as you may expect, the sudden, passionate expulsion of repressed feeling (although of course some are), but often intricately constructed or crafted, hours of dedication and difficult work coming together to create a resulting piece of art which have, in some cases, literally saved lives.

‘Without Combat Stress and Art Therapy I do not think that I would still be alive today’

Richard Kidgell, Artist, Art therapy client (Combat Stress Veteran)

Art + Healing is on until 5th June at Street Gallery at University College London Hospital opposite Warren Street tube station. The exhibition is supported by a number of organisations including ArtTherapy4All, The Art Therapy Agency, London Art Therapy Centre and University College London Hospital and Arts Centre.

See the website for more details

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Notebooks – Saveria Cristofari, School Counsellor

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A Piece of Me Still Remains – Amanda Trought, Artist

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The Weathered Tree – Hilary Forbes, Art Therapist

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The Change – Anonymous, Art Therapy Client (private practice)

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Absence & Detachment 1: Where He Lay – Anonymous, Artist, Art Therapy Client

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Goldfish Bowl Girl – Anon, Art Therapy Client at The Open Art Studio (Freedom from Torture)

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My Love – Angela Morris, Art Therapy Client

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‘Synapses’ A response to diminishing interiors – Melanie Stevenson, Art Therapist (Dementia) and Artist

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A Girl in a Bad Place – Harlie Tree, Artist and Art Therapy Client

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Lost But Never Forgotten – Melanie Stevenson, Glass Artist and Art Therapist

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Untitled – James Walters, Artist

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Cars, Lorries and Buses – Leonard, Patient, UCH

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It’s OK to be me – Peter Kimble, Art Therapy Client

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Mess – Julie Dixon, Art Therapist

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Clean New Blood – Kayleigh Orr, Art Therapist (in Palliative Care)

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‘Missing’ – Rob Cracknell, Artist

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13 – Anonymous, Art Therapy Client

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Care and Neglect – Helen Omand, Artist and Art Psychotherapist

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Hole In My Soul – Anonymous, Art Therapy Client

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Absence & Detachment 2: What about the children? – Anonymous, Artist, Art Therapy Client

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You may remember I posted back in September about the Wing Assignment. Well they’re back. With a new assignment on the horizon and some previously unseen works, the Wing Assignment spread its wings again to an insatiable crowd last Thursday night. Set in the deserted chapel of an old asylum in Peckham, (used as a venue for music video shoots, among other things) the show presented some fabulous works which were not able to be shown last time, as well as re-exhibiting previous favorites. The venue provided a suitably dramatic surrounding for the pieces, heightened by the powerful shadows which danced around the space created by the halogen lights and much-needed patio-style heaters (minus numbers in March? Really?). It resulted in a unique atmosphere; extended shadows, stained glass windows, cracked stone walls, drink, laughter and art. A bit of a bachannal if you like, but less debauched and without the hedonistic cherub (albeit with his wings). Someway through the melee, Nina, artist, curator and art marketeer extraordinaire, managed to quieten the throng to announce the eagerly awaited next assignment.

Christened the Scent Assigment, this year’s project uses the human body as its core fundamental. Not only focusing on one of the major ways in which we, as a species, input exterior information, it will explore the extremely unique individual response we all have to a common experience – the smell. Nina and Asa, the artistic partnership behind the assignment concept, have developed a special one-off scent created specifically for this project and incorporating a feremone in the concoction. Participating artists will need to record and communicate their responses and reactions to this airborne melee in order to take part.

The night before, a series of workshops took place in the asylum, primarily for kids but enjoyed by adults and teens alike. As they painted, stuck and dipped wings made from clay (and some entrepreneurial types sold a few to milling adults) Denise Baker-McClearn kept us warm and sated with a selection of her irresistible cakes, quiches, teas and coffees (see website for recipes, commissions etc).

A small selection of my photographs from the day are shown below, with a load more on Flickr (see tab at top).

To take part in the next Assignment email: register@wearetheassignment.com and to catch a last chance glimpse at the pieces from the last show get yourself down to the William Road Gallery.

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William Klein, Bikini, Moscow, 1959. Image courtesy of Tate

Have you spoken to a single person who doesn’t like black and white photography? Those who look disdainfully at monochrome images, convinced of their lesser artistic capacity? If so, they are surely in the minority. It seems to be ingrained in our modern aesthetic values that when it comes to colour and photography, less is more.

A rather generalistic statement I admit, and one which doesn’t come without a good few exceptions. But, from my own experience certainly, black and white appears to be favourite, particularly when capturing gritty city scenes, or images with an element of sinister undertone. Perhaps it is because it is unusual to our visual senses; we see in colour. To observe a scene which we know intellectually is in colour, but is in our visual field desaturated, may be intriguingly unusual to us. Perhaps it is less fundamental; more closely linked to social conditioning, culture, environment. To a large proportion of society, (and particularly my generation, brought up on a bloated diet of Hollywood blockbusters) the American film industry’s perception and subsequent projection of morals, life plans, love and everything else, was indoctrinated in us from an early age. We lapped it up; the escapist dream delivered to our doors in brightly coloured tardis-esque 80’s Video Vans. Even back then we understood that black and white films were adult, and thus, boring. Of course, that’s because they actually were adult. TV and film in black and white was reserved for the memory of our grandparents’ childhood, or intellectual art-house films frequented by beardy oxford types with glasses, smoking cigarillos (I want to be that cliche).

In the days when all films were in black and white and the Hollywood industry had yet to discover emotional subtlety in filmmaking, it was just the way it was. Viewers were astounded when the first technicolor film was released; ironic really, as colour is actually more natural to us than black and white. In short, society has been increasingly prompted to associate monochrome with maturity, sophistication and glamour; ‘classic’ black and white. The anti-colours. Dark, brooding, the shade of midnight and the stage-set to most of our irrational fears. The psychological associations of black and white in our culture and consciousness go far deeper than visual art, but suffice it to say that we do afford it a certain artistic significance when it comes to this, particularly in photography.

Daido Moriyama – Provoke no. 2 1969 (printed 2012). Image courtesy of Tate

The William Klein and Daido Moriyama exhibition at Tate Modern showcases in parallel the work of these two key figures in photography over the past 60 years. The exhibition is set out almost as two mini-exhibitions which follow one another, the links between the two artists being suggested by their successive placing but not creating a direct comparison in the line of sight. By utilising this curating method the Tate allows the viewer to draw their own comparisons through memory of just-seen images. The immediate similarity is of course the choice to shoot almost exclusively in monochrome. William Klein, whose dramatic photography adorns the walls of the first 6 or so galleries, captures subjects in their immediate moment. His documentary style is perfected by his ability to portray the scene as if he were not there, as if you, the viewer, are there in that moment. Many of those whom look at the camera give the impression of glancing over your face on their way to something more interesting, others seem completely at ease. It is a singular skill perhaps borne from the knowledge of how to make yourself nonthreatening or inconspicuous to those around you, and likely an element of luck and dogged persistence. Either way, it instills the photographs with unpretentious, genuine drama and voyeurism. For Klein’s images, like Moriyama’s, succeed in conveying both the gritty, tumultuous drama of charged events, as well as the staid reality of everyday in downtown ’60s New York or Tokyo.

William Klein – Armistice Day 1968. Image from Tumblr: dandismodextrarradio

William Klein – Gun 2 New York 1955. Image from Photoforager

William Klein – Elsa Maxwell’s Tory ball, Waldorf Hotel, New York 1955. Image from 1000 Words Photography

Like Klein, Moriyama also began experimenting with manipulative photographic techniques and sometimes other media altogether. But it is clear that both always believed photography to be their fundamental means of expression. Klein’s forays into paint, architecture and sketching always took photography as their basis and attempted to build on it; similarly, Moriyama’s film experiments looked to push the photograph beyond its static boundaries.

William Klein – Dakar, school’s out, 1985. Painted contact 1998. Image courtesy of Tate

They freely recognised the pure motives behind their work. It was refreshing to read Moriyama speak of  photography as “not a means by which to create beautiful art, but a unique way of encountering genuine reality“. A simple, honest and entirely worthwhile explanation for his craft. The beauty of life. Those who love art create it, buy it, view it, read about it, but those who do not consider themselves to be interested in art are mistaken. Their lives are art, each moment a missed Moriyama. The sea-swell of anger through a crowd, a glittering night out in the big city, the frustration or loneliness of a forgotten soul; all unique moments passing by, crying out to be frozen for dramatic effect, but missed. If you take one thing from this exhibition let it be the desire to seek out those seconds; commit them to suspension and allow them to enlighten you. We are art, our lives are art and everything we create. You are an artist.

William Klein – Kiev Railway Station, Moscow 1959. Image from ukhudshanskiy

William Klein – Piazza di Spagna, Rome 1960. Image courtesy of Tate

Daido Moriyama – Memory of Dog 2, 1982. Image courtesy of Tate

William Klein – Gun1 New York City, 1954. Image from Kroutchev Planet Photo

Daido Moriyama – DOCUMENTARY ’78 (’86.4 Setagaya-Ku, Tokyo), 1986. Image courtesy of Tate

William Klein – Candy Store, New York, 1955. Image courtesy of Tate

Joran Rapa Manche – White Flag

If you ever feel the need to assess your belief in your own artistic talent just take a trip to your nearest MA art show.  The work at Camberwell College MA show 2012 is astounding in its accomplishment and creativity. My own attempts at artistic production, though still valid in their own sphere of inception, pale humbly in comparison. To those who claim nonsensically that art today is of a lesser standard than years gone by, I challenge you to explore the rooms of the illustration section and still stand your ground.

An immense maze of rooms, the MA show presents work from all courses; Book Arts, Designer Maker, Conservation, Digital Arts/Online, Fine Art, Graphic Design, Illustration, and Printmaking, of which I sadly had time to view only a single section – that of Illustration. Approaching to see the entrance brimming over, I entered the crowded room filled with students, teachers, families and friends, and was immediately introduced to Huanxi Jiang’s darkly surreal storytelling. The series of works, including ‘Where Are You’, use intricate pencil marks and spatial exploration to tell a magical tale of otherworldly events. A stark contrast with others in the show such as Mel Winning, whose mix of digital and traditional media results in unsettling figurative portraits situated somewhere between dream and reality.

Huanxi Jiang

Huanxi Jiang – Where Are You

Mel Winning

The undertones of these works, which emanate a sense of foreboding, are not unusual in this show. As I traverse the corridors and rooms of the building, working my way through a maze of bold graphics and enticing narrative, I am struck by two things. The first is that a great amount of the work is inherently ‘dark’ in its symbolism, its imagery and undertone seemingly encapsulating a dreamlike or nightmarish state. I wonder if the module gave a related topic as a suggested theme? Or whether the emotion of a whole generation of disillusioned twenty-somethings collectively majors on the sinister? Possibly both. It ties in with the second thing which struck me as I wandered, taking in lonely clouds and illuminated furniture; that a large proportion of the students in the rooms I encountered were from eastern and oriental backgrounds and those that weren’t often incorporated a similar eastern illustrative style. I pondered on why this might be. Traditional Chinese folk art and calligraphy could often qualify for the criteria of the modern illustration sector and have, in recent decades, entwined with digital media to propagate styles such as modern Manga and Anime. My own experience of these genres are that they can often be quietly shocking. Reminiscent of Grimm fairytales, traditional stories are presented in animation form initially invoking childlike sensation; fairies, bright colours and fantasy settings, but soon introduce malevolent characters, understated violence and frightening imagery. The combination of sweet childish dreams and nightmarish situation is exhibited quite regularly in the pieces at this show. Sofia Lobato’s works, particularly, struck me for their initial saccharine appeal, which on closer inspection morphed into sinister connotations.

Yinan Zhang

I find this type of work inherently absorbing. Not only is the technical aspect detailed, imaginative and beautifully presented, but the subject is provocative. Reaching out to the child in each of us it often challenges the idea that children are naive, less able and intelligent than adults. Children feature in pieces such as Shadow & Other Stories by Dong-In Kim, or Boy in the Box by Fei Wang, as brave characters facing the unknown and terrifying. Children in manga cartoons often also take this role, dealing with the worst creations of our imagination and standing tall against them.

Fei Wang – Boy in the Box

Dong In Kim – Shadow & Other Stories

Dong In Kim – Shadow & Other Stories

Contrasting this ominous emotional thread are works by artists such as Olivia Whitworth, whose roots in architecture and design imbue her pieces with careful craftsmanship. Exploring the theory and symbolism of modern life, she combines a tongue-in-cheek style with serious questions, inviting the viewer into her illustrative world. Alix Bigois Jeambrun creates patterns and textiles for home interiors. Her storytelling, using collage and bright colours often feels like still animation, drawing your eye instinctively through the dialogue.

Olivia Whitworth

Alix Bigois Jeambrun

I could have spent hours more searching through the art-warren, discovering the many other artists on display at the show. Whether young or mature, male or female, domestic or international, the work created by these students proves without doubt that London art schools are indeed awash with stupendous talent.

Sofia Lobato

Polly Alizarin Harvey

Joran Rapa Manche – White Flag

Ruchi Shah

Runlin Chen

Kyle Henderson

Yves Klein – The Void ’58

At least half of the people I spoke to about the Invisible Art Exhibition at the Hayward Gallery turned their noses towards the sky before I had even finished voicing the title. Quite astounding, seeing as it’s the most natural progression the art world could have taken. For as long as we can remember, art has been about the aesthetic. The visual. The wall/canvas/fresco/marble etc. As early as 1917, with Duchamp’s Readymades, we started asking why. Why should we not progress, invent, explore, move outside of the boundaries history has placed on art?

Conceptual art theory is inherent in this exhibition at the Hayward gallery. The belief that an idea is just as valid as the physical, is embodied in almost every piece in the show. It begins with Yves Klein, a champion of Conceptual art. His works on Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility, and The Void ’58, are a challenge, a provocation, but also an exploration into previously uncharted territory. A brave venture into the white noise of a blank canvas. What is in there? The power of the void can be overwhelming, a fact exemplified by an infamous example, the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911. A mass of visitors queued to stand and gaze at the space the painting had previously inhabited; the story behind its absence was thrilling enough to attract record numbers. Ironically, most of these visitors would likely have scoffed at  an empty plinth displayed as sculpture, but they were nonetheless uncontrollably enticed by the very same concept.

Empty space where the stolen Mona Lisa had hung

On arriving at the Hayward you are asked to enter the gallery at the usual exit point, and feel almost as if you are not in the Hayward at all as you walk the familiar course from back to front. Yoko Ono’s piece, Painting for Burial, 1961, consists of a short list of instructions on what to do with a canvas at dawn light. It is beautiful in its infinite potential. Each viewer’s imagination will take a unique turn at her suggestive poetry. Where is the place she speaks of? The physicality of the text is merely a reference to the idea, the main part of the piece, which is itself a non-physical thing; an abstract concept. Despite their physical manifestation ie. the text on paper, the work itself can be defined as ‘invisible’.

On the night of the full moon, place a canvas in the garden from 1:00 AM till dawn. When the canvas is dyed thoroughly in rose with the morning light, dismember or fold it and bury. The ways of burial:

1.) Bury it in the garden and place a marker with a number on it.

2.) Sell it to the rag man.

3.) Throw it in the garbage.

Yoko Ono – Painting for Burial 1961

Another example of this is Chris Burden’s White Light/White Heat ’75, in which he lay suspended on a plinth in a gallery above eye height for 22 days without food. Visitors could not see him there but reported a ‘sense’ in the room, a feeling of presence. Burden reported hearing a visitor say “He can hear us, and he doesn’t answer, but he can’t help listening…it’s like God”. Gianni Motti’s Magic Ink,’89 is a selection of works drawn onto paper in invisible ink. Knowing that the drawings were there drove me instinctively to imagine what they were and established me in the position of artist. Like Ono’s burial piece the make up of the work will change for each viewer, becoming essentially dependent on their imaginative participation. Motti’s drawings also provoke questions about the physical quality of imprints, as does Song Dong’s poignant Writing Diary With Water ’95-present. Dong began practicing calligraphy as a young boy with water on a stone, as a cheaper alternative to ink and paper. Years later he describes the process “Although it is just a stone, it actually has become thicker day by day, with my own thoughts added on it.”

Chris Burden – White Light / White Heat ’75

Gianni Motti – Magic Ink ’89

Song Dong – Writing Diary with Water ’95-present

Tom Friedman’s 1000 hours of staring, ’92-97, uses the process of staring as a medium for his work. Exploring why the transferring of emotion is often not considered to be a valid medium through which to create artworks, his Untitled (A Curse) ’92, a space above a plinth which has been cursed by a witch, is similarly thought-provoking and again explores our shifting perception of unseen forces. As human beings we both believe in and place primary importance on forces such as emotions. People instinctively consider love, intelligence, and empathy as having intrinsic worth. If in our daily lives we respect non-physical elements as significant, then why is this not the case in art? Consider the blind person visiting an art gallery. Their experience is through imagination, idea and verbally transmitted emotion through a third party. We don’t consider their experience to be worthless, so why do we think it of someone with sight who has the very same experience? We should be encouraging ideas, not devaluing them.

Tom Friedman – 1,000 hrs of Staring, ’92-97

Tom Friedman – Untitled (A Curse), ’92

After hurriedly shuffling out of the room in which Teresa Margolles’ cooling system installation, Aire / Air, ’03, circulated the vapour from water used to wash the bodies of murder victims, I noticed that observing other people going in and out of the room was fascinating in itself, provoking varied reactions of disgust, horror, intrigue, humour and distaste. The show concluded with an uplifting physical participation piece, Jeppe Hein’s Invisible Labryinth, ’05. Putting on the headset, which vibrated as you hit a ‘wall’ in the maze, I felt slightly self-conscious, but I was soon exchanging stifled giggles with approaching fellow explorers as we walked carefully around the room, occasionally stepping back and turning to find the correct path.

Teresa Margolles – Aire / Air ’03

Jeppe Hein – Invisible Maze ’05

The exhibition celebrated both our imagination and the strength in the power of suggestion. On a number of occasions I found myself questioning whether these things really were invisible; what if Warhol’s invisible sculpture was actually there? I managed to resist the urge to run my hand over that plinth and certainly wouldn’t have gone near the space which held the witch’s curse (just in case). In the end the show sent me on my way with a huge grin on my face, feeling like a child who had just stepped out of a (sometimes Grimm) fairytale.

Sketch of Damian Ortega’s Hollow/Stuffed:market law ’12 (c)Kate Withstandley

Excellent. Politician art again! But isn’t all art is political, though? As is pretty much everything, in fact. Even animals have their own hierarchy system, intrinsically political in nature. We can’t avoid it, particularly us human beans, struggling to cling to the vine. We need structure. For society to function we need be told what to and what not to do, often to unbelievable extremes. Unfortunately, as is regularly the case, the top of our self-imposed hierarchy mistreat and manipulate us and we in turn mirror their behaviour in our microcosmic lives, sometimes abusing others around us and even the planet on which we live. Damien Ortega’s work often deals with political issues concerning his native Mexico, but the themes he tackles in his new exhibition, Traces of Gravity, run through society and mankind as a whole and he explores them alongside and through, traditional human emotive characteristics.

Congo River ’12

Set in the ground floor gallery of the White Cube, Mason’s Yard, Congo River consists of a number of carefully placed (but seemingly chaotic) car tyres, spread around the floor and built up in piles. What appears to be white powder can be seen in places, but it’s nature is not immediately obvious. It is in fact salt, and has been spread along the tops of the tyres in a straight line. The salt indicates the snaking stretch of a river and, depicted as a line of white powder, could be addressing the topic of cocaine smuggling. It is interesting that the line of salt can only be seen as a dead straight line from two viewpoints – at either end. At any other point the line is broken into many as it crosses various levels of the tyre, possibly a comment on the continued damage to great rivers through industrialisation. The same broken/unbroken illusion is created by the placement of the tyres whereby they appear as carefully peaked mountains from each end, but a chaotic sprawl in the round. Although the physical set-up can clearly be a visual metaphor for a river running through landscape, other elements complement the intended notion. It spoke to me of disruption. The choice of materials; salt and rubber – natural elements refined by humans. The contrasting natures; chaos and order – line/broken line – our human chaos disrupting the order of nature. It’s also notable that all of the works in this exhibition are monochrome, or variations of black and white, invoking the traditional connotations of white as pure, black as impure – white representing nature, while black is humanity and industry. Contrast and juxtaposition emphasising the vast gulf of difference.

Hollow/Stuffed:market law ’12

In an empty darkened room on the lower ground floor hung what looked at first glance much like a whale or shark, suspended on hooks and bleeding white matter. Moving closer I realised that no, indeed, I had not mistaken this for a Damien Hirst exhibition, the suspended being was in fact Hollow/Stuffed:market law, a representation of a submarine made from industrial sacks. Salt is used again, flowing from a small hole at the underside of the front end; a reference to the use of narco-submarines in cocaine smuggling along the South American coast to Mexico. The lighting in the room is dramatic, with a quite literal and perhaps also metaphorical, highlight on the work and the issues it confronts. The steady stream of salt, piling up like the sands of an hourglass, seem to be pinpointing ongoing wastage; not in Mexico alone but as part of our global throwaway culture. Embodying the principle of interactive, living art, the installation is constantly changing. I wondered what it might look like when the salt runs out. When the belly of the beast, so to speak, is empty. Will it just hang there as a few empty sacks, signifying our failure and as an unsettling portent for the future?

Preserved ’12

‘Preserved’, in the final room, continues to use salt as a primary material. Creating a negative image, the salt gives the spatial void around the vehicle solid form, a technique also employed for the adjacent ‘Fossilised’, concrete casts capturing the space inside old cameras. Rachel Whiteread’s House, ’93 strikes me as a precedent; the exploration of unused and unnoticed space and its transformation from void to form ties in with Ortega’s preoccupation with change and adaptation. For ‘Preserved’ Ortega utilises alternated lighting, striking the installation with two spotlights and enforcing varied viewpoints upon the viewer, highlighting again the disparity between changes of perspective.

Fossilised ’12

Damian Ortega’s work is both aesthetically pleasing and intellectually stimulating. Like all my favourite art it made me work for the meaning, encouraging and challenging me to decipher its threads. Much of my interpretation may not have been intended by the artist, but was generated through themes within the pieces linking and developing with my own ideas. Although seemingly an impassioned plea inviting discussion and dialogue, Ortega’s work could also be seen in an instructive form; an offer of guidance to our political leaders. Perhaps even, in its most abstract form, a morality tale through salt.
All images (c) Damian Ortega unless otherwise noted

Last week, in the middle of Kentish Town, I could have sworn I was in in Egypt. Or Morocco. Or even Norfolk. Nevertheless, I was in the sun; albeit that reflected sun, which refracts like a kaleidoscope, emanating a patchwork of bold colour from the paintings of Birkin Haward. In the tiny Beardsmore Gallery, on what is, currently, a guaranteed rainy day, I gazed at these pieces as if seeing a glimpse of technicolor Oz from the grey of Kansas.

Salthouse Heath, Red Tarpaulin 290111 acrylic

Tilbury Power Station from Gun Hill 210212 acrylic

I feel lucky to be able to say I have worked with Birkin. Both artist and architect, he is outstandingly accomplished in each field. When I joined van Heyningen and Haward (the architectural practice Birkin founded in 1983 with wife Jo van Heyningen) in 2008, I was instantly aware of his artistic talents – his hand-drawn perspectives alone are legendary in the architecture world. However I was not privy to his personal artworks until summer 2010 when I assisted him in producing some prints for his exhibition at Salthouse Church in Norfolk. One look and I was hooked. I took the family up to see the exhibition, was warmly welcomed into the family home by Birkin and stunned by the atmospheric monochrome pieces hung in Salthouse church, most of which were markedly different to the current exhibition.

Old sea defences Happisburgh 2010 Charcoal

The contrast between the two styles of painting can in some part be attributed to his recent change of circumstance. In 2009 Birkin moved away from architecture to become a full-time artist; still keeping links with the architecture world by working as a consultant, but primarily focusing on developing his craft and producing exhibitions. This change has resulted in a subtle shift in style, infused with the ethos of Mondrian, Rothko and a pinch of Cezanne. These bold, dramatic statements move me in a different way to the Salthouse pieces.

Sizewell Beach – White Hut, 2011 acrylic on canvas

The traditional Birkin style is of course always there as the framework; his striking gift is the ability to create a scene and evoke the accompanying emotion from mere suggestion. Line and tone are intimately explored to draw out their capacities and fulfill their ultimate potential. Birkin can see how these pieces, elements of a whole, can be pared down to the most dramatic to create almost just a clue, for us the viewer to decipher: the fence designating the line of the field, the gradual shift in tonal range of an approaching storm. He sees it inherently.

Morston Harbour 111111 acrylic

The evocative nature of his pieces was most evident in pieces such as storm at sea. You get the sense that, in the manner of Turner, he  sat and created this picture right there, in front of that storm. As if he had been amongst that melee of the elements, had felt them overwhelm the landscape with their old magic and deep power.

Storm at sea 1 2009 Charcoal

In contrast, his newer works are less a record of a place and more an interpretation. A translation of scene through unique artistic vernacular and sense experience. Their joie de vivre bursts through the confines of the canvas and inhabits the room. Since moving away from the limitation and stress of the office, Birkin has been freer to travel. To expand his aesthetic language beyond the sometimes rough and raw Norfolk setting in which he grew up and to invoke the hue and light of foreign isles. The result is a juxtaposition of colour and abstraction of view through glorious and celebratory geometrical compositions. Even brooding Norfolk is awash with sunshine, reflected, as it is on the viewer, onto the formerly brittle scenery from climates afar.

Military Post Red Pyramid dashur 130312 acrylic

His father (Birkin Haward Sr.) was also an architect and artist and it is clear that creativity is imbued in Birkin to his very core. His skill in deciphering and analysing spaces and forms runs through both his artistic and architectural work; by inserting and interpreting, he conveys something entirely his own. What is certain is that there is plenty still to come. Birkin has certainly not yet finished making his mark.