The Art Prize

Although much of London seems to be opening up now, including many of the large gallery and museum spaces (Tate just reopened this week), many of us are still choosing to (or having to) stay away from potentially crowded areas or indoor public spaces at the moment.

For this reason, I’m grateful for some smaller exhibitions in galleries and spaces where it’s possible to socially distance. The first real-life exhibition I’ve been to since March was The Art Prize, which is being held at the offices of Ashurst law firm in Spitalfields. Thanks to the fact that this is held in the entrance and lobby of a workplace, there are safety measures in place to ensure social distancing and there were only a few people passing through. If you go on a weekend day, there is also much less likelihood of many other people being there at the same time.

The Art Prize

The Art Prize is held annually and is open to emerging artists working in any medium. I was initially unsure how much I would enjoy seeing art in such a corporate space. I’ve seen art in office spaces before and the décor and atmosphere can often strip artworks of their meaning, making them flat and lifeless. This may be more down to the choice of art shown in these spaces, than the spaces themselves as work shown for The Art Prize was lively and felt more as if it was in dialogue with the space, than being suppressed by it.

The Art Prize

One of the first pieces we saw and loved was Grace Su’s large painting in the first area. The painting was in muted tones and at a first glance, not looking with any real concentration, I thought that this was a figurative painting of a woman in a bed and someone sitting at a table -so far, so Lucian Freud. Looking again, I noticed the odd split panes and framing of the images. Looking closer still, my eye was drawn to what was happening at the very top of the piece – a woman, drowning in spaghetti! Was this the figure who was sitting at the table? It was clear that there was all sorts of hidden narrative in this work. Reading the text about Grace, I also discovered that “Her representation of women often acts as a re-appropriation of historical paintings – produced by men. In re-appropriating female images from a perspective of art history, her work resonates with the context of the ‘personal and historical’” which of course makes me love her work even more!

‘Safe Haven’ – Grace Su

I particularly enjoyed the second area in the exhibition. Here, a very colourful and exuberant selection of work transformed a waiting area.  A large work by artist Donal Sturt (you can read an interview with him here) was an eye catching piece, for its use of childlike drawing and lettering. It looks as though a bunch of small children had been let loose on the canvas with paint – the kind of art that would produce the (literal) comment “my 2 year old could have done that” – although Donal’s tool being retro computer program MS Paint adds another dimension to the piece, and again, an interesting piece to see in a modern office space.

Another work which I think interacted particularly well with its unusual setting was Stefan J Schaffield’s piece ‘Sculptural Skin’. This was placed in a nook with a wire mesh backing (I’m guessing this is an interior design feature to let more light into the space). Seen from one side, the piece looked framed by the nook, from the other side, it was imprisoned. Reading later about Stefan’s practice exploring ideas of vulnerability and fragmentation, I think the ‘cage’ element added by the placing of this work really works and adds to his intention.

I really enjoyed so many of the works in this great exhibition, and loved the fact that colour was key in many of the works I saw. In the final room, I loved Pippa El-Khadi Brown’s piece Takeaway? – a huge, expressive painting, where I have no idea what’s going on, but with such attention to detail like the chessboard and pot plant. What’s not to love?

Pippa El-Khadi Brown – ‘Takeaway?’

Another artist whose use of colour is what drew me in, but in a very different way, is Rachel Rodrigues. In her work, the subject was very clear –  ‘The Sitting Room in Summer’ showed a family group posed for a portrait. But, the colour is slightly ‘odd’ – everything seems a bit red. Reading about her work, I find that she sees colour as a psychological tool to offer greater depth of meaning. Looking at more of her work online, these wonderful, lush, odd, jarring colours are a staple element in her painting.

‘The Sitting Room in Summer’ – Rachel Rodrigues

Finally, I want to mention Shannon Alonzo’s work which “embodies the exploration of Caribbean diaspora identity, specifically, the tension created through historical omission and the desire to re-imagine a collective sense of self.” Her piece ‘Development of Nonconformity’ drew me in as it is a contemporary take on historical scientific drawings. A close up geological cross-section reveals tools/weapons and skulls and bones. For me, it asks me to consider who I may be walking over, ignoring violence to, or ignoring the deaths of in my history or geography, and therefore my present existence.

‘Development of Nonconformity’ – please excuse the reflection in my photo – see Shannon’s website for better images!

I really look forward to seeing more from these artists – crossing fingers for lots of positive feedback for all of them on this great exhibition!

The Art Prize is on now until the 25th September at Ashurst London and you can also see content about the artworks and artists online.

Lockdown Art, part 3 – by Sian Matthews

Following on from Charlotte and Corrina, and a couple of months into lockdown I’m here to share the artworks I see every day in my own home. Like many people right now I am missing visiting galleries and museums. As much as I am enjoying seeing everyone share their work via social media and think it is brilliant that galleries are making their collections available online (including our own online show!), there is nothing like experiencing great art in person (and lets not forget the social aspect of gallery visits!).

I am definitely very fortunate to own and be able to display art in my home and the extra time I have found myself with as of late has meant that I have been able to appreciate it more than I would have under “normal” circumstances. A large amount of the art I own also means something to me on a personal level, most of it created by friends or linked to past experiences and memories, it has helped me feel connected to the world beyond my own four walls in these trying times.

Main gallery wall.

First up are two of the four portraits created of myself at our second ‘Intersect portraiture project’ on IWD 2019. These were drawn as the practice round by our artists before guest sitters arrived, to get acquainted with the process and with each other. The other two drawings from this sitting are safely tucked away in storage, not just for space reasons but also because its probably a little narcissistic to have a whole wall full of images of myself above my bed, right?

Next up is a print by artist and illustrator Steven Rhodes which is actually a birthday card from a friend which I framed on account of it looking a little like me and my cat Phoebe.

Two of the artworks I own were made by friends while at University and were destined for the skip after being exhibited at Free Range in 2016 due to a lack of storage opportunities. Obviously I felt awful that my friends were having to bin the work they had poured all their efforts into the last few months and which had earned them their degrees so I saved what I could. This ended up being ‘Red painting on wood’ by Kinga Pilarska and 1 of the hundreds of random Gnome heads created by and scattered around by Robin Gosselin-Monasevic.

Another artwork hanging on my wall and created by a friend is this print by Jess Nash, who you can read more about in my previous blog “An Interview with Jess Nash

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a ‘thing’ for print making, especially etchings, woodblocks, lino, and cyanotype. I always appreciate the processes of making the art work, sometimes more than the final outcome and the piece itself! which is why printing in all it’s forms, watching artists carve and mark blocks, as well as exploring these processes myself in my own work appeals to me. So, you could imagine my excitement when I discovered printmaker and tattoo artist Lacey Law on Instagram. Her work is often much more figurative than I would usually be drawn in by, most of her woodblock prints are tattoo flash in a different medium to the typical drawings on paper but I adore them.

Back in 2018 I was lucky enough to receive an edition print of ‘Comfort’ for my birthday from my partner and it has held pride of place on my wall ever since. I have been watching her carefully on Instagram throughout lockdown, (watching her carve blocks is oddly satisfying) and have been dying to get my hands on one of her smaller prints she has been making on paper scraps, but her work sells out in minuets and I have just not been quick enough…. Yet!

Do you know of the Stoned Fox meme? Chances are you have seen it somewhere even if you don’t know what it is first-hand, this taxidermy fox is a viral hit and has literally travelled the world. His creator Adele Morse is an artist working in London who specialises in sculpture and taxidermy. Since the original fox went viral Adele has made many more anthropomorphic critters including a raccoon, a hedgehog, some rats, many more foxes and a little goat named Billy, who also recently became a viral sensation in Morocco for being the spawn of Satan/witchcraft/a summoned demon of some sort (You couldn’t make it up!).

Last year Adele tried to get her original fox back from some people who had broken him and generally treated him quite badly, the catch was that to get her own artwork back she was going to have to buy him back. To raise the funds for this a friend of Adele’s set up a GoFundMe to bring the fox home! For a small donation you would be sent a print of the fox and the knowledge that you helped an artist regain some control of her own work.

At one of the 2018 TOAF fairs two illustration students turned their stall into a participatory project, inviting visitors to have their animal portrait drawn. I still have my cat portrait framed on the wall.

Because of recent development work in the town, last year a group of artists and designers in Harlow found themselves having to say goodbye to their studios at Gatehouse Arts. The decision was made by Abbie and Harry at SnootieStudios to put on one last goodbye show in their gallery in which they celebrated the work created in the studios as well as works by artists who have had a past connection to the studios and gallery or who just live and work in Harlow. Having grown up in the town and previously working on an exhibition in the gallery with a group of friends back in 2015 I was able to submit and exhibit my own etchings in the exhibition along side many others.

For the Private view Abbie and Harry made their own home brew beer in the bathrooms of the studios and bottled it in vintage (unused) medicine bottles and printed up their own labels, naming their creation ‘good booze’.

I’ve known Abbie and Harry for many years and this eccentric idea and design is so typically them, I had to keep a bottle! It now sits proudly in my kitchen with Audrey, my Venus fly trap… because why not?

And lastly, for this blog anyway, sat on my bookshelf is a memento from the first exhibition I was involved in with Sweet ‘Art. I created these 3D representations of the Femfest posters by casting a real Femfresh bottle in plaster and then painting. Originally created as special press invitations we also had a few on display at the exhibition itself, do any of you remember them?

There are other artworks scattered around the house, including some of my own work so maybe if this lockdown carries on much longer I’ll do a Lockdown Art part 3.5 and show off a few more examples but for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed snooping around my collection!