Wednesday, 30 June 2010

In The Company of Alice

I'm still not sure what to make of my first visit to the Gagosian last Saturday. I was looking forward to seeing some Picassos up close, as anyone usually is, but I was aware that the period the show was covering was a time I was quite unfamiliar with. He was getting on a bit, he was famous, he was spending time with his family in the sun and becoming ever more inventive, showing no signs of slowing down (I read in a review somewhere that he was making the equivalent of 3 works a day over the last 20 years of his life). These may seem like reasons to be cheerful and optimistic about seeing the show but with someone like Picasso I'm quite safe, in that I know what I like and I like to keep that fondness safely locked away. His ever constant production of painting after painting after ceramic after sculpture after paper cut-outs made me feel a bit lost. After a while I became a bit indifferent to the wealth of experimentation I was seeing around me.

There were some pieces I really liked. I liked the large self portrait of him swimming, albeit what looked like quite badly but I think that was a reason it gave it it's charm. The drawings of the bull displayed as if in sequence was great as it showed the thought that went behind the structure of his drawings. Pieces like these were a couple of the stand-outs for me in what was a fairly easy going show. One of the main things I won't forget is the surly looking guards (are they guards? Wardens? Assistants?) hovering around as if waiting for James Bond to run through the gallery so they could take him out. It wasn't conducive with a friendly vibe but then again perhaps they get happier, more approachable people in when the artist on show is not so famous.

Anyway, on to what I really wanted to mention. After we left the Gagosian my friend and I had a stroll in the Saturday sun up to another gallery in an area of north London I didn't know very well. Tucked away on Wharf Road near Angel you could easily miss it if you didn't know where to look. We rang on the buzzer of what seemed to be one of many new warehouse spaces. Buzz it went and we walked into quite a basic two floor space. The complete antithesis of the Gagosian, we walked in undisturbed, picked up the painting list and worked our way round. There was a chap behind a desk in a small room to the left as you walked in but apart from him and a woman in yellow shoes we were the only people in there.

There were portraits from artists of differing notoriety and age. Chris Ofili had a self portrait of him wearing an orange tee shirt, there was quite a cool portrait by Grayson Perry of him in his drag made of a shiny ceramic, like a kind of mosaic. The range of work there made it interesting and varied. The variation made it compelling. A piece by a guy (or girl?) called NS Harsha called Sky gazers was a collection of what must have been over a hundred faces looking up to the sky. Each person was different, but painted in such a way that they reminded me of the characters in an old copy of the Body Book I had when I was about 8. Basic black outlines and blocked in colours for their clothes. When you stood back and realised they were all looking up at you, as though you were this big person looking back at them from the sky was quite satisfying. Chantal Joffe was another who had a couple of portraits on show. The crude outlines and large-eyed characters in her work gave them an innocence which I really liked, and the unfinished feel of them gave the subjects a coarse reality. The splodgy marks of a nose, the wonky arms and strange mouths made them real, and I guess that's something which is quite important about portraiture - the ability to make the person you are painting real. I think if you make them seem human, with faults and mistakes, a likeness will come through. I can't seem to find the 2 pieces she had on show anywhere online (Stella, and Megan), but I have managed to find some other pictures that should give you an idea of what I'm talking about (see above post, I haven't managed to work out how to embed pics within the body of text yet).

At the top of the painting list was a quote by Gertrude Stein, "If you do not solve your painting problem in painting humans, you do not solve it at all". I'm pleased I went so I could see this range of people in portrait form. Loads of people working out what they are trying to portray, so I guess in the process of what Gertrude must have meant.

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