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‘English Work’ at the V&A.

The current ‘Opus Anglicanum’ exhibition of Medieval ecclesiastical embroidery at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum took me way back to my student days when I was lucky enough to be of the generation when it was still possible to study Embroidery A’level. My lovely embroidery teacher allowed us to take off on flights of fancy with creative embroidery whilst instilling a respect for the timeless techniques of the past. It is hard nowadays to imagine a state school sixth form running an A’level course with only three students, but at the time we never even questioned it! Alongside our study of artistic and contemporary stitch techniques the history of embroidery was an integral part of the course and I was thoroughly absorbed for a while in the world of ecclesiastical embroidery and it’s techniques. The no photography protocol of the V&A meant me taking out my note book and sketching some of my favourite  fragments, and even this was time consuming, leaving me to speculate on the unnumerable hours that were spent actually stitching these pieces!

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The language of this exhibition was not unfamiliar to me as a past student of ecclesiastical embroidery, although I did hear several people wondering “What is a ‘chasuble for?” or “Which is the ‘split stitch’ and which is ‘couching’? ” ( A chasuble is the highly decorated tabard that a priest wears over his normal robes whilst celebrating Mass) Split stitch and Couching are shown  here:embroidery-stitches

In the 13th Century, English embroiderers were at the pinnacle of embroidery workmanship. Church and high society aspired to commission their garments from the English embroiderers in London.   bologna-cope

Large embroideries like the  Butler Bowden and Syon Copes were made by highly trained professionals, both men and women. They were employed in workshops which were funded by merchants and noble patrons. The merchants took the profits, not the embroiderers who received only modest payments for their work. Most workshops were in London where the necessary capital was available and which was the principal port through which the imported materials arrived. The phrase ‘opus anglicanum’ was first coined to  describe the highly-prized and luxurious embroideries made in England of silk and gold and silver thread, full of elaborate biblical imagery.’English Work’ or Opus Anglicanum remained the most sought after work until well into the 15th century.

I was looking forward to the rare opportunity to see ‘up close and personal’ the incredible detail in the embroidered vestements worn in the Medieval Church. I found it sad to think that the hours of work that were put into the embroideries were lost on the congregation, as they would not have had time or opportunity to ‘read’ the pictorial stories depicted on the garments, nor would they have been able to see the minutiae of the stitches that created these incredible works of art. There are exquisite examples of intricate stitching and beautiful fragments of embroidery in this exhibition, but I did feel that it was a missed opportunity on the part of the V&A. In comparison with the recent exhibitions of the past year , this one fits the norm of a dry, old fashioned, ‘museum’ exhibition. I had the impression of wandering amongst embroidery and theological aficionados, who, albeit enthusiastic, certainly did nothing to enliven the atmosphere.

The staging of this exhibition is in a dry, traditional style, some of the beautiful work is presented so far back in the glass cabinets, that it is impossible to make out the details. There are fantastic stories depicted in many of the Church garments, none of which were adequately told in the labelling. The minute stitches really needed to be magnified, but there was no way of doing so. A short film demonstrated the technique of one style of stitching, but was small and nestled between two glass cases, so difficult to see if there were more than two or three people looking. All in all I left, even after my second visit, feeling frustrated at the lack of interactive or engaging display.

However, if you have any interest at all in the world of textiles or history, then this may be the only opportunity  for a long while to see such a comprehensive collection of some of the worlds greatest embroidered treasures, so essential viewing !

Miniature jewels of India

Curve gallery, Imran Qureshi exhibition

The Curve Gallery at the Barbican Centre in London, has always been one of my favourite haunts. A chance encounter with the current exhibition of work by Imran Qureshi, considered to be the leader in contemporary Indian Miniature painting left me moved and fascinated.

The gallery has been painted with rich and deep grey walls, and these have been decorated with floral motifs taken from Qureshi’s paintings. If this sounds a little bit twee, don’t be misled, these flowers are exuberant splashes of sanguine colour, literally dripping down the gallery walls and splashed onto the floor. Slightly disconcerting on entering the exhibition,as one tends to walk around the painting on the floor, hesitating to defile an artwork, but very quickly the fascination with the minutiae of Qureshi’s paintings overcomes this hesitancy and  I quickly found myself stepping into these seeming bloody floral pools in order to approach the paintings for a closer look.

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Imran Qureshi.  The Curve at the Barbican Centre

The installation of the miniature paintings is an artwork in itself, and the ninety metre long Curve draws us in to Qureshi’s world. Recurring motifs of trees, fireflies and splashes of blood red ink across the landscapes put us in mind of the inherent violence in the natural world, encapsulated by the beauty and finesse of organic forms.

Imran Qureshi

Imran Qureshi. Barbican Curve Gallery

I was fascinated by the mastery of traditional miniature painting techniques, gold leaf work, fine watercolours and intricate drawings, all of these used to create truly modern pieces, and telling a contemporary story The arc horizon lines reflect the Indian miniature tradition, whilst the subversive violence of random splashes and drips bring the viewer dramatically into the present.

Imran Qureshi at the Curve Gallery London

Imran Qureshi. Curve Gallery, Barbican centre

Barbican centre, Curve gallery

The curve. Barbican Centre

The exhibition runs until the 10th July 2016

Arty East Dulwich

Stephane Godec

East Dulwich is now renowned as one of London’s up and coming areas, this formerly dowdy corner of South East London boasts broad leafy streeets and burgeoning high streets. Property prices are rising a higher rate here than anywhere else in London and this ‘gentrification’ bemoaned by some old timers, has resulted in an upsurge of trendy restaurants, design-led shops and personal trainers in every green space. Of course, the past inhabitants of East Dulwich (formerly known to many as part of ‘Peckham’) were those drawn to a cheap area of London to live in, and voila, a community of creatives emerged. The Camberwell and Goldsmith’s Schools of Art are within easy reach, so many ex-art students have remained in the area, growing careers and families in this leafy corner of South East London. ‘Incomers’ have been attracted by great transport links to the City, Docklands and the West End, bringing a whole new demographic to the area.

Jeannie Avent gallery

Jeannie Avent Gallery

 

The Dulwich festival incorporates the Artists’ Open House event, two weekends when the local artists literally open their homes and studios to the public, and this is a fantastic opportunity to see how artists work and live. As an artist, I know how much pleasure comes from the opportunity of meeting like-minded people, getting face to face reaction and feedback to new work, and chatting about art and design. This melting pot of artists and designers spreads over the ‘Dulwich’ corner of South East London and I love the opportunity of seeing, not only what these creative souls have been working on over the past year, but taking a sneaky look behind the facades of the Georgian and Victorian streets into other people’s homes! A stroll around the back streets is punctuated by the Artists’ Open House signs posted outside the participating properties, some front doors are left open, (Something unimaginable in this area twenty years ago!) some doorbells need to be rung, but in either case a warm welcome, often with the offer of a glass of wine, and snacks is always to be had, so don’t be shy, go out there and see what there is on offer!

This weekend we made the most of a blisteringly hot day to visit a few of the open houses around the Lordship Lane and Bellenden Road area, and the artists have kindly agreed to me sharing a few images of their work, of course this is only the tip of the iceberg as there are in all over 150 homes or studios open for the event, which runs over next weekend, the 14 – 15th May.

Tig Sutton Has been working on expressive brush marks, gloriously free in their movement, the subtleties of colour have been enhanced in their translation ito fine art prints, this is a bold move forward from his monochromatic prints of fine linear expressive drawings last year.

Ceramicist Sacha Tanyar ( Twitter handle @bansheeplum) is showing her gorgeous ceramics with friends illustrator Angus Robertson and painter Louise Hardy. A little foray into the back yard unveils cute hand painted bird boxes created by Sacha’s partner too; a real family affair!

bird box

hand painted bird box

David Hopkins

David Hopkins. Portraits

The home of David Hopkins is that of the archetypal artist, canvasses stacked against the walls, paintings covering every surface, portraits gazing around every corner, and occasional lighthearted looks at patisserie and foodstuffs. It was a delight to talk with the softly spoken David, who explained that his portrait subjects’rarely look directly at the viewer as he finds it disconcerting, and sees this as a tribute to Velazquez who also avoided the direct gaze of his subjects.

Sarah Kier

Sarah Kier

Scenic artist, Sarah Kier has been working on a series of paintings exploring the maps showing bomb damage to streets in the Blitz. The maps have been stencilled onto canvas and painted using scene painting techniques that she has used in her work for shows such as War Horse. Sarah is currently working with the National Theatre.

Ellen Hanceri

Ellen Hanceri 

Printmaker Ellen Hanceri has translated her block printed designs onto textiles, ceramics and homeware. Simple printed images tessellate in a style reminiscent of the woodcut designs of the 1940’s. Ellen is showing her work alongside ceramicist Ben Swift who has recently been developing a body of work that explores the torus form. I, however was instantly captivated by a display of his mini ceramic animals and a mantlepiece crammed with small cylindrical vessels before looking around the front room with the beautiful collection of suspended torus’ (or should that be torii?) along the walls!

Staying with the Liliputian theme, my next visit was to the front room of Stephane Godec who works under the label NoBookEnds. Stephan creates fantastical worlds from cut and folded paper using vintage books. He transports us from the city to the seaside with his little row of beach huts emerging from an old book, and his meticulous paper cuts are also shown as framed pieces of multi layered collages.

No Book Ends

No Book Ends. Intricate paper cuts from vintage books by Stephane Godec 

My final visit this weekend was to the workshop of Richard Wood who makes bespoke furniture. Richard’s pieces are refined, simple and elegant with a lightness of touch that is truly contemporary, the aroma of wood shavings permeates the workshop, and instantly transported me to my childhood, watching my grandfather turning wooden bowls on his lathe in the garage – happy days!!

If you happen to have the opportunity of wandering the streets of Dulwich next weekend, I would thoroughly recommend it, you never know what treasures you might find behind those front doors!

Leonardo at the Science Musem

Leonardo da Vinci, has always been a source of inspiration to me as an artist. I was looking forward to admiring his draughtsmanship in the ‘The Mechanics of Genius’ exhibition at London’s Science Museum. However, not a single original drawing was on display!!

Don’t misunderstand me, the exhibition was fascinating, hands-on and interactive, but it really missed the opportunity of presenting Leonardo’s mastery of engineering throuugh drawing. There were fantastic models, created for Leonardo’s 500 year centenary, and these were illustrated with tiny photographs of the original drawings alongside the displays. The design of the exhibition was great and did incorporate large scale blow – ups of Da Vinci’s drawings, the technology of the 21st century was used to animate some of the drawings on screens, all great, (and he would have been right up there with the technological advances of the 21st century!) but none of the real thing!!!

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Leonardo da Vinci, Flower studies

Having got over the initial disappointment of no works on paper I focussed on the wonderful ideas depicted in the exhibition, it is true that Da Vinci was one of the world’s great thinkers and the exhibition carefully emphasises the fact that although many of da Vinci’s engineering drawings were not new ideas at the time, he invariably took existing concepts to a new engineering level.

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Spring catapult 

The beauty of the forms and lines in his designs show the qualities of a true artist, and surpass the functional.

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Machine for twisting rope.

Details of the constructions were fascinating to me as I followed an enthusiastic 10 year old from one interactive experience to another.

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File making machine

So many of the concepts were ahead of their time, and many of the engineering concepts are staples of today’s civil and aeronautical engineering world. The exhibition cleverly linked the concepts in Leonardo’s work to today’s exploration in nano technology, future transport systems and development in engineering inspired by natural phenomenae such as the recreation of synthetic spiderweb strands, and development of intelligent underwater navigation systems.

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Spiral form flying machine and pyramid parachute.

So here I am, overawed by the genius of apioneer of engineering, and hoping for the opportunity one day of really seeing those drawings!

Dancing shadows. Alexander Calder at the Tate Modern.

My culture fix this week was a fleeting visit to the Alexander Calder show at Tate Modern. Renowned for his iconic ‘mobiles’ Calder’s early work was a revelation to me. He trained as an engineer and it is this grounding in the principles of engineering that allowed him to create his seemingly impossibly balanced kinetic sculptures in his later life. But it was the fragile three dimensional sketches in wire that fascinated me on entering the exhibition.

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Alexander Calder at The Tate Modern, London

Photography is strictly prohibited in the exhibition, and rightly so, but this does make life a little difficult when the likes of me want to explain the delicacy of Calder’s sculpted wire forms. I have photographed from the little catalogue given to visitors, a couple of the images, just to give you an idea of what I am talking about, but really nothing beats the real thing. Of course it is the essential three dimensionality of the work that makes it so fascinating; from one angle you are looking at a vague tangle of wires, and then as you move around, it turns into the most wonderful horse, expresssed in the minimum of line, or a pair of entangled circus acrobats performing their act, arms and legs akimbo!

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Alexander Calder. Tate Modern, London

As I moved through time in the exhibition my imagination was caught by Calder’s development into the astrological forms. these delicate pieces of line/wire work are so fragile, yet monumental in their simplicity I was drawn to opening my well thumbed note book and start sketching. So, you see, there is good reason for banning photography after all; it makes us lazy artists get out that trusty pencil and paper again!

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Sketch of Calder sculpture, Tate Modern

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Sketch of Calder sculpture, Tate Modern

And of course, once you start, it’s hard to stop!

Moving into the next chronological section of the exhibition were the famous suspended ‘mobile’ sculptures. I half expected to be underwhelmed by these, having encountered them so often in books and art history lectures, but no, this was a whole new experience. The fragility and subtlety of these pieces was breathtaking in its gentleness. I had expected hard, wiry forms, but the wire is so fragile that in some pieces, such as ‘tightrope’ the forms seem to hover mid-air, poised to make their next flight.

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Tightrope. Alexander Calder. Tate Modern

Throughghout the galleries I was struck by the importance, not of the physical sculptures themselves, but of their effect on the light and space surrounding them. The shadows change with a constant evolution, the sculptures themselves are often in continuous motion and the emotional waves that emanate from these pieces made me feel quite wobbly myself at some points!

A brief, certainly not intellectual, review of this exhibition is my encouragement to all, if you have the chance, to see the work for yourself if ever you have the chance!

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Section of suspended mobile sculpture by Alexander Calder. Tate Modern

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Tate Modern, exhibition brochure

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