A touch of English Magic

William Morris, enragedA little bit of gritty glamour is currently in residence at Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, as Turner Prize awarding-winning artist Jeremy Deller presents his critically acclaimed exhibition, English Magic.

The show, which includes additions especially commissioned in response to the museum’s permanent collection, offers a curious look at the country we live in, with juxtaposed imagery, surreal responses to our tax angst, and some exquisitely political murals.

Set in galleries over two floors, part one invites you to sit for a few moments on a bench repurposed from a crushed Range Rover and watch a film intersecting scenes of owls and other birds of prey with scenes of vehicles being destroyed, set to a soundtrack of a steel band playing. Glance up and you’ll notice illuminated examples from the museum’s taxidermy collection gazing thoughtfully as though you may well be the next titbit on the menu.

Archive photography of Ziggy Stardust on tour is interspersed with scenes of the violence of workers’ strikes, troubles in Ireland and more.

I want to be invisible

Upstairs, the past is superimposed by present and future – with truths matches to surreal but infinitely possible imaginings. Vast murals take precedence – wry, simmering works that seem to demand “had you noticed…?” Directly inside gallery five, painted buildings billow with flame-edge smoke – a portrayal of what could happen if civil unrest over tax evasion resulted in rioting in St Helier, Jersey: “The event quickly gets out of hand; protesters overwhelm the local police force and burn the town to the ground.”

A Good Day For Cyclists

At the far end of the space, a gigantic mural titled A Good Day For Cyclists shows a hen harrier carrying off a Range Rover, providing a visual protest against persecution of the powerful against the seemingly powerless.

I won’t list all the exhibits here (though the drawings by prisoners, “many of which are former soldiers” merit a mention), so will leave you with my favourite, shown at the top of this post. The mural shows the rise of Victorian artist and socialist William Morris from the waters of Venice to restore the view he so loved – colossus, visionary and champion of the common, everyday people – not all that unlike Jeremy Deller.

English Magic is at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery until 21st September 2014. Find details here.

Art review – The Power of the Sea, RWA

The Power of the SeaWith expert and evocative curation from artist Janette Kerr and academic Christiana Payne, The Power of the Sea immerses you in an ocean less of tranquility than of peril and otherworldly eeriness.

Ask a person to name the first word that comes to mind when they think of the sea, and you’ll find that no two people offer the same response. This exhibition has served up the artists’ equivalent of these answers – in the form of paintings, etchings, sculptures and so much more.

Device for Disappearing at Sea by Andrew Friend1

Andrew Friend’s Device for Disappearing at Sea, shown above vaguely resembling a collection of immense, upturned banana peels, bemused me until I saw the photograph of it far out at sea and recognised it as a portal to another realm – or perhaps to some Malaysian isle where tropical fruits flourish.

Succession by Jethro Brice

Jethro Brice’s painstakingly precise model, Succession, gives the delicious impression of the viewer being a giant visiting a Lilliputian land under threat from encroaching tides, bringing the concept of rising seas into sharp focus. In one of the smaller side galleries, Annie Cattrell’s wave machine seems to exhale the breaths of a vast creature sleeping, and Janette Kerr’s passages plucked from logbooks detailing 19th-century Atlantic crossings form both a disquieting prose poem and an ode to the sea’s shifting shades and moods.

Annie Cattrell's Currents

And, yes, of course JMW Turner is present, along with John Constable, Joan Eardley, Paul Nash and others, each presenting a different view of our relationship with the oceans that both provide sustenance and threaten our survival, offer sun-lit pleasure and stormy exhilaration, yet ultimately erode the islands we call home.

This is an exhibition to take your time over, to let the stillness of some pieces to creep into you, before others shudder through you with enough strength to set your teeth clattering.

Until 6 July 2014 at the RWA, Bristol. All images provided courtesy of the RWA.

Under the gaze of Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf is one of those literary legends it’s easy to feel you know, thanks to her crisp, taut prose and thoroughly frank diary entries. Now you can get to know the great author in a whole new way, with an exhibition to be held at Britain’s National Portrait Gallery.

Virginia Woolf by Vanessa Bell 1912 © Estate of Vanessa Bell, courtesy Henrietta Garnett cr National Trust, Charles Thomas

Virginia Woolf by Vanessa Bell 1912 © Estate of Vanessa Bell, courtesy Henrietta Garnett cr National Trust, Charles Thomas.

Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision will feature painted portraits, photographs, drawings and rare archival material, including a letter from Virginia to her sister, Vanessa Bell, written shortly before her suicide.

Guest curated by biographer Frances Spalding, the exhibition promises to explore Woolf’s many facets, novelist to public figure, intellectual to campaigner, as well as offering vivid glimpses of her private life. Via an array of archival material, including letters to and from her friends and acquaintances, extracts from her personal diaries, and original books that were first printed through the Virginia’s beloved Hogarth Press you’ll get to meander through Woolf’s early life, literary interests and remarkable achievements, absorb her fascination with London, awareness of modernity, and her developing feminist and political views.

Virginia Woolf in an Armchair by Vanessa Bell, 1912 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Virginia Woolf in an Armchair by Vanessa Bell, 1912 © National Portrait Gallery, London

For me, these two portrait of Woolf by her sister seems to offer a glimpse the great writer in a moment’s introversion.

I wholeheartedly intend to find the time to go along, but can’t promise I won’t be pretending to myself that I’m actually spending the afternoon with the literary lady. Wouldn’t it be fab to discover her take on today’s political, feminist and cultural issues?

VIRGINIA WOOLF: ART, LIFE AND VISION runs from 10 July until 26 October 2014 at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Colour Into Liquid Air – an art exhibition

gracjana rejmercanovas paintsHands up if you find this time of year a challenge! Yep, thought so. The utter drabness is hard-going, isn’t it?

Fortunately artist Gracjana Rejmer-Canovas seems to have come up with an antidote, just in time.

Gracjana rejmer-canovas

Gracjana’s vibrant artwork, ‘Colour Into Liquid Air’ is taking over Habitat’s Platform space on the Kings Road in London this February and March. The Slade School of Fine Art graduate has been invited by Habitat to transform its white gallery space into a sea of colour.

gracjana rejmer-canovas painting

Citing her influences as the American Abstract Expressionists and the Colour Field Painters, Gracjana will display her work as an cohesive whole that can be separated into an array of canvases of different shapes and sizes, each offering up its own intrinsic splash of life.

gracjana pigments

For the project, Gracjana will dye linen and cotton canvases with natural pigments and then layer on acrylics and oil paints. Sounds satisfying, no?

gracjana rejmer-canovas shoes

“The result will be walls and floors awash with paintings, and a complete interior world of colour,” says the curator of Platform, Holly Wood. “Her palette of materials and references take you on a journey and remind you of brighter days and faraway trips.”

The boldness of the art on show could be just the thing to get you through till spring.

gracjana rejmer-canovas sea of colour

Rejmer-Canovas’ ‘Colour Into Liquid Air’ at Platform will run until 23 March 2014 and is supported by the Polish Cultural Institute, London. A video of the making process in the space will be shown in the space on loop. Opening times: 10am-6pm weekdays 9:30-6pm Saturday 12-6pm Sunday. The exhibition is FREE to attend.

gracjana rejmer-canovas dyes

A text art exhibition

Mike Chavez-Dawson’s Rorschach drawingI’ve always been drawn to artwork that makes use of words. This Friday a new exhibition of poetry and text art exploring concepts of mortality launches in Edinburgh – called The Dark Would.

Exhibition contributors include Fiona Banner, Erica Baum, Caroline Bergvall, Stephen EmmersonAlec Finlay, Steve Giasson, Susan Hiller, Jenny Holzer, Marton Koppany, Richard Long, Tom Phillips, poet Ron Silliman, text poet and curator Tony Trehy, author Carol Watts, conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner and sculptor Richard Wentworth.

Albion by Stephen Emmerson

Albion by Stephen Emmerson

The centrepiece is a hauntingly poignant quilt, devised by experimental arts organisation arthur+martha. The denim quilt bears fragments of the life stories of Manchester’s homeless, embroidered by the people themselves. I love the way it takes anecdotes and memories and transforms them into something that can potentially keep the cold at bay.

arthur+martha photo by Lois Blackburn

arthur+martha quilt – photo by Lois Blackburn

Other highlights include Mike Chavez-Dawson’s Rorschach drawings, made by writing the names of dead poets and then smearing them by folding the paper – you can see a video of him doing it here.

Mike Chavez-Dawson Rorschach drawing

“This is an extraordinary gathering that asks what it is to have a body and to lose it,” says curator Paul Robertson. “Perhaps this is best done by people for whom language is itself a state of in-between-ness… artists who use language and poets who are artists. Here, the material of language is used as a metaphor for human material, our own bodies. Whether poets or homeless people, outsiders or art stars – we all have to find our way through the dark.”

The Dark Would will be on show at Summerhall, Edinburgh, EH9 1PL, from 7 December – 24th January, with a launch (open to public) from 7pm on Friday 6 December 2013.