Girl on the edge of the bath by REQ
Banksy’s mural of snogging coppers, painted on the side of a pub near Brighton station, has become almost an established part of the city’s tourist trail as the Royal Pavilion and the Brighton Pier. What began life as a piece of subversive street art is now such a valuable commodity it is encased behind protective Perspex. “Poor Banksy,” reads a scrawl of graffito nearby, “they put you in a frame.”
It’s more than 30 years since Joe Strummer sang “You think it’s funny/Turning rebellion into money” and the transition from art-guerrilla to gallery-fodder is now a well-beaten path, as demonstrated by two Brighton-based artists, Ryca and Req, whose work is featured at the Ink_d gallery this month. Of the two, Req’s is probably the most mainstream approach – day-glo icons rendered in Warholesque garishness. Like the Pop Art they imitate, Req’s paintings are perfect for today’s time-starved gallery-goers who like to get in and out of an exhibition without being held up by anything deep and meaningful. Like a microwaved lasagne, this stuff slips down easily and doesn’t invite you to linger.
Req is after something more understated. In a chequered career, he has painted a portrait of John Peel on the side of the Albert pub (near the above-mentioned Banksy), decorated the walls of Infinity Foods, recorded for Skint Records and Warp Records, produced albums for the painter and rapper Kid Acne and played a number of gigs in France. Phew – no wonder he now wants to slow down. His ‘spray-paint realism’ aims to marry renaissance naturalism with hip-hop brio. It’s an ingenious idea. His subject is the female nude and he ably demonstrates how subtle flesh tones can be brought to life through spray paint. Req’s paintings are lovely to look at, but in his rejection of modernism is he anything more than the Norman Rockwell of the North Laine set?
Expect darker and more disturbing visions next month when the gallery features the work of Lidia de Pedro.
Finding myself in Milan on business recently, I took the opportunity to duck out of the garish carnival of the city’s street life to take in an exhibition featuring one of the few artists who can out-dazzle a Milanese fashionista: Roy Lichtenstein.
The title of the show – Meditations on Art – is surely the curator’s idea of an in-joke. There is nothing pensive about these big, beautiful and bright compositions. They bring you the modern world as it is – loud brash and exhilarating.
Washington Crossing the Delaware II
Lichtenstein had one idea early on in his career and it lasted him his entire working life. It was, though, a very good idea – modern media is so saturating and enervating that we crave for it to be lampooned, turned into burlesque, and transformed into ironical high art. As early as 1951, he was sending up American artists in works such as ‘Washington Crossing the Delaware II’ which satirises the painting of the same name by Emanuel Leutze. But it was when he changed his aim from pompous American history painters to the no-less affected creators of modern comic books that he truly struck gold. The Benday dot pattern which Lichtenstein made his signature style was also appropriated – it is a process invented by a printer named Benjamin Day which uses the four process colours – cyan, magenta, yellow and black – to create subtler shades through precise repetition.
The reiteration of a single attitude, no matter how novel, can grow wearisome. I most enjoyed the sculptures in this show, where the light-headed comic book themes are rendered in clunky slabs of bronze and gold.
As I made my way around the gallery, it occurred to me that a final irony of Pop Art is that it shoved aside the comic book art it from which it stole, rendering the artists not piratical pioneers but the very emblem of mainstream cool – the ‘anti-aesthetic’ has become the only aesthetic, pop culture the sole culture. As Lichtenstein might put it: ‘Wham!’
Most people find the prospect of complete strangers barging around their house as appealing as coming across Freddy Krueger inspecting your knife drawer. But at this time of year, artists across Brighton and Hove throw open their doors and invite the public into their most intimate places – both domestic and imaginative.
Not all visitors come with the aim of discovering marvellous new art. Like prospective house buyers, some people seem to be driven by a desperate need to know what other people’s toilets look like. There’s nothing wrong with this – part of the charm of the Artists Open House project is that it mixes the rarefied endeavour of artistic creation with the quotidian concerns of a normal household.
For those who are more interested in craft than kitchenware, there’s plenty to see this year. More than 1,300 artists are displaying their works in 234 venues – that’s an awful lot of shoe leather. Fortunately, the open houses are arranged into trails and grouped into geographic areas, so a little forward planning will obviate the need to hurtle from one side of the city to the other in some ill-advised remake of Wacky Races.
The Hanover Art Trail is a reliable scene of imaginative and intelligent work. At the Church of the Annunciation on Washington Street, seven sculptors have mounted an appropriately contemplative show – Valérie N’Doye’s ‘Mother and Child’ light boxes are moving and delightful. A completely different note is struck at Egremont Place where the ‘Open House Virgins’ have produced a witty and sexy collection.
Over in Hove, The Happy House and Garden is an exemplar of the Open House idea – pastels, abstracts and figurative work showcased in a home that would render Kirstie Allsopp deliquescent. Off the arty track, up in Withdean, AfricArt on Redhill Drive features fantastic contemporary African and British sculpture.
The festival closes on May 23, so next weekend is your last chance to indulge in a spot of aesthetic house hunting – unless loo seats really are your thing.
A new exhibition at the Ink_d gallery in Brighton promises a “selection of British artists who work in traditional methods but with a subversive nature and walk the fine line between craft and fine art.” I went along to the private view last night to see what kind incendiary material was on offer.
I suppose if you think the Iraq war was an unmitigated success and that fellatio is the epitome of decadence, then you might be irreversibly scandalized. Call me uncouth, but I found the show less shocking than Lady Gaga’s new video.
The first item I was confronted with was a vase by Dan Baldwin bearing the legend ‘Fuck Religion’. I ventured upstairs where a brass plaque by Lori Bell aka Lady Muck informed me that ‘Bankers are Wankers’. Within a matter of minutes I had absorbed two messages akin to the shocking information that Paris is the capital of France.
In the upstairs front room the Lichtensteinesque depictions of oral sex created by Carrie Reichardt aka The Baroness (what’s with all the aliases btw?) struck me as witty on first encounter, tedious on the second – like an acquaintance who insists on repeating the same salacious joke. And Nick Reynolds’ piggy banks have no place at all in this supposedly anarchistic company – they are irredeemably cute.
The point is that setting out to shock is a shaky strategy for the modern artist. We’ve seen Jeff Koons bring porn into the public gallery. Julian Schnabel’s numbskull plate paintings tested our patience ten years ago. Artists can’t go on provoking gasps with the same old routines. I guess a truly subversive artist would suggest that bankers are martyrs and that Jesus saves.
One artist of true power in the Ink_d show is Paul Scott. His Cumbrian Blues series features bucolic scenes which on closer inspection reveal unsettling significance. They are subtle and satisfying and they prove that the quietest voice often speaks with the most authority.
Julian Cloran: Visual Diary
Julian Cloran is a Brighton-based artist whose paintings and sculptures burst with vivid colour and vibrant imagery. Drawing on surrealism, abstract expressionism and comic book culture, Cloran has fashioned a unique artistic vocabulary reflecting a creative imagination which is all his own.
Cloran explains that he is a self-taught artist who began painting as a kind of therapy.
“The house I grew up in was full of arguments and art was a way of escape from the atmosphere of rows,” he says. “I guess aged about 11 I was influenced by Lust for Life. I can see now how creaky Kirk Douglas’ performance was and how melodramatic the movie is – but at the time it struck me with great force. This was how an artist should live!”
Cloran cites his main influences as Peter Blake, Pop Art in general and Magritte but adds: “There are probably a ton of influences I’m unaware of – they just seep into your consciousness. “
Julian Cloran: Untitled
One group he has little time for is the New British Artists – the likes of Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Marcus Harvey who have rarely strayed far from the headlines since the notorious Sensation! show at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1997.
“I think they are one-trick ponies,” he says. “They take an innovative idea – from Duchamp say or from Jackson Pollock – and they endlessly recycle it. It becomes tedious. Sam Taylor Wood’s installation of David Beckham sleeping is a good example of the art world feeding off celebrity and Damien Hirst is probably the best known franchise in the art world. Good luck to him, but Tesco has as much to do with exciting art as he has.”
Cloran concludes: “I know that if you are going to sell your work you have to promote yourself – and the fact that I haven’t is probably down to a character failing. I need to paint; I don’t need to sell myself.”