Archived posts: Art

Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today


Yesterday we popped over to the wonderful South London Gallery in Camberwell to check out the preview of their latest show: Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today.

The exhibition is the first from the gallery to be shown across two sites: their main building, and their new space just across the road, the former Peckham Road Fire Station.



The show brings together highlights from the Guggenheim’s collection of recently acquired Latin American art, including installation, painting, performance, photography, sculpture and video.

Here are just a few of those:

Over in the Fire Station, Jonathas de Adrade’s piece, Posters for the Museum of the Man of the Northeast (below) features 77 fake posters advertising the real Museum of the Northeastern Man in Recife, Brazil. Viewers are invited to move the posters around – effectively to rehang the room. Go on, unleash your internal curator.


Rivane Neuenschwander’s piece Mapa-Múndi/BR, below, invites viewers to select a postcard and send it to someone. Each of the postcards shows somewhere in Brazil that is named after somewhere not in Brazil: bars, churches and stores with names like Alaska, Baghdad, China and Las Vegas (a motel).


Back in the main gallery, Amalia Pica’s piece A ∩ B ∩ C features large primary coloured acrylic shapes stacked against the gallery walls, which are presented in a performance piece each week (Saturdays at 1pm).



The catalogue blurb for the piece says that the shapes: “refer to 1970s Argentina. During this period, set theory was forbidden from being taught in elementary classes, in response to a concern that it might ultimately prompt citizens to conspire against the military junta. In A ∩ B ∩ C, Pica invites performers to manipulate translucent colored shapes, producing new configurations that, emancipated from the historical anecdote, use abstraction and intersection as an invitation to reimagine forms of collaboration and community.”

So essentially these are rebellious Venn diagrams made real.

The show was previously on at the Guggenheim in NYC, and at the Museo Jumex in Mexico City. It’s part of the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative, which supports contemporary art and artists from three regions – South & Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East & North Africa — through acquisitions, curatorial residencies, exhibitions, and educational programmes.

The show alone is worth a visit, but there’s the extra incentive of getting to take a look at the gallery’s new site, the Grade II listed former Peckham Road Fire Station.

It’s just a few doors down from the main gallery, across the road next to the current fire station. Donated to the gallery by an anonymous benefactor, only the ground floor is currently open, and it’s only open for the duration of this show, before a full refit begins ahead of the re-opening in 2018. So it’s worth getting in there for a look while you can.


The show opens tomorrow, and runs until 4 September 2016.

Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse


We were invited along to a ‘blogger’s evening’* at the Royal Academy on Friday to check out their new show, Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse.

The show documents the huge popularity of gardens as a subject amongst painters during the second half of the 19th century, and the beginning of the 20th. It’s a very Royal Academy show: beautiful, accessible, and popular / populist. It’s all extremely civilised. That could be damning with faint praise, and certainly some of the paintings in the exhibition are almost offensively pretty – but overall, it’s a good show, particularly thanks to the later works by Monet.

At the beginning of the evening we were given a passionate and informative introductory talk by art historian Graham Greenfield, who explained that although gardens had existed throughout history, they had largely been habitats of the rich and privileged. With the industrialisation of the 19th century though, and the growing middle class, gardens had flourished as domestic spaces. An explosion of affordable publishing had allowed a rapid and extensive spread of horticultural knowledge through books and seed catalogues. (As well as the paintings, there are photographs and ephemera on display in the show, including some beautiful copies of the Dictionnaire Pratique D’Horticulture et de Jardinage.)

Gardening had become a thing.

And at the same time, the Impressionists were responding to the advent of photography. Painting had been freed up from being directly representational, and could now be far more expressive.

Within this context, the show presents the work of a wealth of big names: Renoir, Cezanne, Pissarro, Monet, Sargent, Kandinsky, Van Gogh, Matisse, Klimt and Klee. The show is organised by various themed rooms (Impressionist Gardens, International Gardens, Gardens of Silence and Reverie, and Avant Gardens – see what they did there?) Threaded throughout these are rooms dedicated to Monet.

The first room, showing the early days of Impressionism, is perhaps the least interesting – it feels as if all the artists are working from the same fixed viewpoint. But as the show progresses, the work becomes more and more interesting, as it slowly evolves into something closer to abstraction.

The paintings that really caught our eye were Gustave Caillebotte’s Nasturtiums (1892), and Gustav Klimt’s Cottage Garden (1905-7).



But Monet is the undoubted star, and the work he made based on his gardens in Giverny takes centre stage.

It’s the final room that holds the real show-stopper, with the three paintings that make up Monet’s triptych Water Lilies (Agapanthus) having been brought together for the first time outside of the USA. They cover three walls of the octagonal Wohl Central Hall, so that as you stand in front of the central panel, your vision is filled with Monet’s incredible painting. You feel as if you’re simultaneously floating in and above the water of the pond. And at the same time, you’re drawn to the surface of the canvas, to the individual brush strokes – you can see why these paintings were so inspirational to Jackson Pollock. They’re quite wonderful.


They are part of the series of huge (around 2m x 4m) canvases Monet made at Giverny, the Grandes Décorations. You can see others from this series in a couple of dedicated oval rooms at the Musée de L’Orangerie in Paris. (If you can’t visit there in person, you can always Google your way round.)

The show is definitely worth a visit – be warned though, it’s busy, and probably well worth trying to get there early in the day, ahead of the crowds, while you can still have some chance of feeling like you’re enjoying the peace and calm of a beautiful garden.


* Why is it that that sounds so undignified?

Turner colour experiments by Olafur Eliasson


We nipped over to Tate Britain over the weekend to check out the Late Turner exhibition, which is more than worth the trip if you have time. His use of colour and light is quite extraordinary, and it’s incredible to think that he was painting his stunning, almost abstract canvases in the 1840s, a good sixty years before Monet started doing the same.

But, what really caught our eye was the separate show, upstairs in the Clore Gallery, of colour experiments by Olafur Eliasson, based on J.M.W. Turner’s work.


The colour experiments are part of an ongoing series of oil paintings by Eliasson, working with a chemist to mix paint colours for each nanometre of light in the visible spectrum. The seven on show at the Tate are direct responses to seven of Turner’s paintings, some of which are on in the Late Turner show, including The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons:


Over on the Tate site, Eliasson has this to say about them:

‘For each of his paintings, I bring the colours and light into a schematic system which is then transferred to a round canvas without a centre. This shape generates a feeling of endlessness and allows the viewer to take in the artwork in a decentralised, meandering way. The fading colours in each sequence deter the viewer’s eye from resting on a single line or spot. Instead, the eye must negotiate its way around the work, which creates a sense of personal narrative.’

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Eliasson’s canvases are truly beautiful – unfortunately there’s not much indication of how they are produced, just that they’re oil on canvas. Though this studio shot over on Eliasson’s Facebook page is rather lovely:


This short Tate film explains more about the project:

Lovely stuff.



Over the past seven nights, London has played host to a stunningly beautiful light installation, Spectra, by the artist Ryoji Ikeda.

Installed at Victoria Tower Gardens, right next door to the Houses of Parliament, the installation (which ended at dawn this morning) consisted of a bank of forty nine static high-powered searchlights, grouped together in a 20 metre square grid, creating a single beam of light that shot up into the night sky. From afar the light looked elegant and faint, a thin line reaching up to the clouds; up close, where you saw just a portion of the whole beam, it became solid and powerful.

At the gardens themselves, Ikeda had composed an ambeint soundtrack to listen to as you wandered in and out amongst the lights. The atmosphere around the lights was remarkably peaceful, even with the large crowds drawn to the site each evening like moths to a flame.

The installation has travelled the world over the past few years, appearing in different forms in different cities. In London, presented by Artangel, it was one of a series of art commissions marking the centenary of the First World War.

Our creative director and resident photographer Alistair has been out and about for the duration of the project, photographing it from various different perspectives.


God’s Own Junkyard

We nipped into Chris Bracey’s God’s Own Junkyard in Soho yesterday – what a treasure trove!

Bracey creates neon signage for fashion and film, and the exhibition / pop-up shop collects together a stunning mix of his work as well as some found signs, old movie props, and other bits and bobs. He started making signs in Soho back in the 70s (his work feels entirely at home on Beak Street) and he’s since worked with the likes of David Lachapelle and Martin Creed, Tim Burton and Stanley Kubrick. Not a bad client list.

God’s Own Junkyard is at Circus of Soho, 47 Beak St, London W1 until the end of January.

British Design 1948–2012

We nipped along this morning to the big new show at the V&A, British Design 1948-2012, a retrospective of the creative industries in Britain since the end of the Second World War. Timed to make the most of the Olympic hordes who’ll be hitting the capital this summer (the show ends the same day as the Olympic closing ceremony), it’s a clear attempt to grab back some of the glory from the sporting crowd. Which is no bad thing.

This is the first big exhibition of post-war design that the V&A has staged, and it covers fashion, furniture, fine art, graphic design, photography, ceramics, architecture and industrial products. It’s good to have all of that creative output lumped together, even if it does mean that you can only have a few key pieces from each discipline. Pleasingly there’s rather more graphic design than we’d anticipated, particularly from the period just after the war, with work from Abram Games, Edward Bawden, Reginald Mount, and David Gentleman.

The show is grouped into three main areas, Tradition & Modernity; Subversion; and Innovation and Creativity, which run more or less chronologically from 1948 to the present day. The three groupings don’t necessarily help, creating rather forced divisions between periods and styles. But there’s lots of great stuff on display, including four hand-painted maquettes for British road signs by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert; and a page from Design Research Unit’s British Rail Design Manual.

The second section, Subversion, deals mainly with the rise of the art school and a more youth oriented period of design – so you get Jamie Reid’s Sex Pistols posters, Vivienne Westwood’s punk clothing designs, some Beatles album covers, and of course Peter Saville, Barney Bubbles and Neville Brody. Which is all well and good, but unfortunately this part of the exhibition is designed with a rather clichéd underground vibe – lots of black walls and industrial fittings, which really cheapens the work on display, making it feel like we’re walking through some sort of gaudy themed tourist attraction.

The third section focuses more on manufacturing industries, technology and architecture. Somehow the curators have managed to use Apple’s iMac as a pioneering example of British technology design (Jonathan Ive, the iMac’s designer is from these shores, sure, but come on…). Elsewhere there’s a model of Concorde, an E-Type Jag, a Topper sailing boat, and Kenneth Grange’s Brownie Vecta camera.

Meanwhile, graphic design in this section is represented by Wolff Olins’ hideous London 2012 logo (it just doesn’t get any better does it?); their Orange logo from 1994, and Alan Fletcher’s lovely V&A logo from 1989 (rather happily referencing Ian Dennis’s National Theatre logo, which is shown earlier in the exhibition).

Our favourite exhibit though was these Globoots from 1969:

They were unique at the time of their production, being double dip-moulded in two different plastics, so that the translucent uppers and opaque soles were made in one piece, without seams. And crikey, don’t they look like a certain coloured computer designed in the USA by a British bloke called Jonny?

Our only real gripe is that it features way too much art. The show is British Design 1948-2012, not British Art & Design 1948-2012, but we’re treated to work from Henry Moore, Eduardo Paolozzi, Allen Jones, David Hockney and Damien Hirst. Obviously there’s crossover between the disciplines, and many of those artists worked in design as well as art, but the pieces shown are their artworks rather than their design pieces. So for example, we get Hockney’s We Two Boys Together Clinging painting rather than any of his fantastic stage designs. This seems like a real shame, given how much great design has had to be left out to make room for the art.

Overall though, it’s a great show, and anyone interested in design should get along quick smart.

The show opens on Saturday 31 March, and runs until 12 August.

Picture credit for top image: Children crossing sign, by Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir for the Ministry of Transport, 1964 © Margaret Calvert

Serpentine Pavilion 2011

We nipped over to the Serpentine Gallery over the weekend just in time to check out their latest pavilion (we’re a bit late on this one – it’s been up since the beginning of July, and comes down at the end of this week). It’s the 11th in their series of annual commissions, this time by architect Peter Zumthor.

Sometimes the pavilions can be architecturally audacious, but slightly disappointing as an actual experience. Here, that feeling is reversed – the architecture is restrained to the point of absolute minimalism: a simple black box, which frames a garden designed by Piet Oudolf (the chap behind New York’s brilliant High Line).

The black simplicity of the box feels very sombre, almost funereal – although this is slightly offset as you get closer to it, and realise that it has a rough, organic texture.

You walk into a corridor between two walls, which works to separate the internal garden from the outside world, helping to create a quiet, contemplative space. The light within the corridor was very beautiful in itself, with pools of daylight at the doorways:

We liked the fact that the black box playfully references the classic white box we associate with art galleries, and that inside it you find yourself contemplating the sky* and the other visitors as much as the garden. We were there on a dull autumnal day, and we’d love to see it at different times and in different weather conditions.

*In that resepect, it reminded us a great deal of the artist James Turrell’s work.

If you’ve not been, and can squeeze it in, it’s definitely worth a trip – and this weekend the Serpentine is holding a Garden Marathon, the 6th in their marathon series: a two day event with artists, scientists and thinkers exploring all manner of garden related ideas.

Good stuff.

Nick Asbury on Tunnocks

~ While Alistair is away cycling the length of Great Britain, we’ve invited twenty disgustingly talented people to each write a post for our blog. Today’s post is from really-rather-good freelance copywriter Nick Asbury. ~

This is a post about one of the great designers of the last century, whose work helped build one of the best-loved confectionery brands in the world: Tunnock’s.

First, some background.

Tunnock’s have played a big part in my life this year.

It started when someone tweeted about a poem Ted Hughes wrote on a Tunnock’s wrapper back in 1986. It’s now on display in the University of St Andrews, home of the Tunnock’s Appreciation Society (yes, there is one).

This led me to set up an online project called WrapperRhymes, full of poems written on wrappers. Greig Anderson of Effektive Studio created the identity and website. We’re open for submissions if you’re interested.

Later, I stumbled across another example of Tunnock’s-inspired art, this time of the visual kind. It’s an exhibition that took place in Glasgow last year, and it’s quite lovely:

Above: Greyfriar’s Bobby, by Joy Bain

Above: Mr Tunnock, by Callum Thom

Above: More cake? by Fiona Watson

What’s fascinating about all this is that the art takes its cue from the Tunnock’s packaging, rather than the product itself.

Largely unchanged since the 1950s, the wrappers have been key to the brand’s success. It’s not just that they’ve gained a retro appeal over the years. The point is that they were beautiful in the first place, and no one has messed around or ‘refreshed’ them since.

So who designed the Tunnock’s packaging? The packaging that has inspired great art and poems by Poet Laureates? Once again, it’s the work of the most prolific designer in the business – Anonymous.

It’s strange how a lot of the best design work slips out there unattributed and unheralded and is only properly appreciated years later. I’ve read just about every article I can find on Tunnock’s and there’s no mention of any name.

Pause a while and think on that when you’re designing your next logo.

Then have a teacake to cheer yourself up.

[Images from Glasgow Art Exhibition are copyright Glasgow Print Studio]


~ Alistair is raising money for Cancer Research UK during his ride – please wander over to his Just Giving page and donate a little cash. ~

Clare Skeats on Foundation

~ While Alistair is away cycling the length of Great Britain, we’ve invited twenty disgustingly talented people to each write a post for our blog. Today’s post is from the marvellous Clare Skeats – an incredible book designer, and brilliant design teacher. ~

Since 2009, I’ve been lucky enough to work as an Associate Lecturer on the Central Saint Martins Foundation Course in Art & Design. This involves leaving my stress-inducing desk for a day each week and immersing myself in the creative educations of 30 or so young people. For those of you who don’t know, Foundation is the year of study (usually undertaken around age 19) in which students experience learning in every art and design discipline, before deciding what to specialise in for a BA. Its main objective is as much to de-programme school conditioning, as it is to inform, provoke, equip and inspire.

I often find myself having to explain to people who have not come through an art or design education, what, exactly, the point of Foundation is. A frequently occurring question is ‘why do they need to do that?’. Fair point. Why should it take a year longer to graduate in jewellery design than say, marine biology? Doubts aside, almost everyone I speak to who has done this year of study (myself included), cite it as one of the most vital, pivotal and enjoyable years of their education. But it’s a year that is quickly overlooked – it’s the support act for the more talked-about BA. It’s also no secret that some Foundation courses are facing closure due to funding. So I wanted to use my 15 minutes in the We Made This spotlight to celebrate this stage in an artist’s or designer’s development and explain why I think it’s so special.

One of the first things we have to do on the course is to get students over their fears – fears of a new place (often a new country), new people, a new way of working – and one excellent (if unlikely) way of doing this is to get them to do something where we deny them an element or two of their control.

These two objects (above and top) are the results of an exercise where the students were asked to sculpt an elephant from clay, in 30 seconds with their hands behind their backs. When restrictions such as these are imposed, it’s impossible not to produce something with this much honesty and charm – it’s such a pure and uninhibited response to a creative brief. The laughter that ensues when these roughly-hewn grey lumps are offered up, represents a significant threshold of the first few days experience.

A major requirement of Foundation students is for them to keep a sketchbook. A Foundation sketchbook is instantly recognisable by its bulging form. It is the fertile receptacle of ideas, inspiration, tests, mistakes, frustrations and triumphs.

I love the sense of urgency and spontaneity that comes across in this spread by Sing Yu Chan (progressing to BA Fashion Design Technology (Menswear) at London College of Fashion); the instant visual connection he makes between the reference on the left and its hasty translation to cardboard and string weaving samples in the centre.

This impressive escalation of an idea (below), which grew from an exercise in folding a sheet of paper, is another example of sketchbook brilliance from Yang Yang (progressing to BA Costume Design at Wimbledon College of Art). It demonstrates so succinctly how a sketchbook can give a platform to the most ambitious (if ephemeral) creative plans.

One of the things I get most excited about with teaching at this level, is the scale of ideas that can be suggested through the most humble of materials.

This rather unassuming-looking object by Florence Lam (progressing to BA Fine Art at Central Saint Martins) was produced in response to a visit to a recent exhibition of South African photography at the V&A. The black line (which is intended to be continuous – encircling the floor, walls and ceiling of the gallery space), is intended as a comment on Apartheid. I was surprised by my reaction to this piece when I saw it – yes it’s just some bits of foam board and black paint – but peering through the miniature doorway, it was so easy to imagine oneself in this impossibly cavernous and divided space. The scale is so perfectly judged and the whole piece is so much more than the sum of its parts – it’s an unexpectedly powerful expression of an idea from very limited means.

Another masterful deployment of basic materials can be found in these wonderful, organic, pod-like objects from Yao Wang (also progressing to BA Fine Art at Central Saint Martins). Who knew that a balloon, a bucket, Plaster of Paris and physics could produce such beautiful forms?

When I was speaking to Yao, shortly after her prototype stage, she had an urge to remove the shreds of balloon – an understandable drive to ‘finish’ the project as she’d first intended. But we decided that the unforeseen beauty of the red latex stretched over the smooth plaster was way too interesting and so ‘finishing’ the project in its most conventional sense became completely unimportant. Whilst we try to instil a disciplined approach with a focus on pragmatic problem solving – it is these unexpectedly brilliant outcomes and deviations that keep the students open to possibilities and reminds us as tutors not to be too rigid.

Allowing students the flexibility to bend rules is always a difficult one to judge. On the one hand, we put time and effort into writing a brief and we want the students to learn to respond to set questions with rigour and focus – but on the other, we run the risk of sucking the life out of a project if we’re too dogmatic. The following film piece by Venice Wanakornkul (progressing to BA Fine Art at Central Saint Martins), is the most perfect and playful example of why we need to allow students to bend rules. When faced with a brief to produce a piece of work in response to a culture (chosen from artefacts within the V&A), Venice opted to focus her outcome on the culture of museums. Hm…. not quite what we’d asked for – but the idea Venice had, subverted the brief in such a delightful way, we simply had to allow her to pursue it. Here is her film:

I never cease to be surprised and impressed by how sophisticated some students are in their thinking at this stage – how they utilise research and process information. The images here are from the sketchbook of Michael Ng (progressing to BA Product Design at Central Saint Martins) and they are such an impressive demonstration of lateral thinking in response to the Culture project described above.

Having made some initial drawings of these Japanese artefacts in the V&A (traditional cases for holding small objects), Michael undertakes further internet research, before leaping to references of inter-locking pens, stacking crates and coffee cups, then back to Samurai warrior helmets for a further re-think on the form, before producing this prototype to a more geometric design. Michael went on to develop the design even further, incorporating lights, (yes lights!), but I think even up to this stage of his project, his sense of investigation and spirit of ‘how can I make this better?’ is so wonderfully clear to see.

The experience of teaching on Foundation has lead me to re-appraise my own working methods and to be more open to wider influences. It has made me reconnect to my own experiences on Foundation and reminds me of a time when everything seemed new and different – sometimes uncomfortably so. But most importantly, it puts me in an environment once a week, where industry cynicism makes no unwelcome intrusions and anything can be possible.

With thanks to the staff and students on the Central Saint Martins Foundation Plus course, 2011.

[The opinions expressed above are those of Clare Skeats and do not necessarily reflect those of Central Saint Martins.]


~ Alistair is raising money for Cancer Research UK during his ride – please wander over to his Just Giving page and donate a little cash. ~

British Isles Map

So this is rather lovely – a map of the British Isles created out of text that relates to its geographical location – so the Isle of Wight is illustrated with the word 1970, for the epic festival that occurred there in that year.

It’s by Angus McArthur & Alison Hardcastle, and you can pick it up from Theo.