Monthly Archives: January 2012

Alice in Wonderland and Matisse study visit

Study visit 21st January 2012

Tate Liverpool- Alice in Wonderland
The Walker Art Gallery- The art books of Matisse

I was eagerly awaiting the Alice in Wonderland exhibition at the Tate Gallery in Liverpool, so as my second study visit, I was much more prepared and a lot less nervous as we met in the foyer. The exhibition was split over two floors, the ground floor offered a modern take using the underlying theme of ‘Wonderland’ which in some instances just made you wonder what the link with Carroll and the story actually was. Some pieces such as the bright neon lit tubes that formed words hanging over our heads, ‘Tate touché from my madinah: In pursuit of my ermitage’ by Jason Rhoades, was a stunningly visual and eye-catching installation. However it seemed a very tenuous connection to Carroll and could have stood its ground in another exhibition. Highlights for me from the ground floor were the 3 images by Annelies Strba. Her dreamy photographs/manipulations of an Alice like figure floating, feels more in keeping with what we have come to expect from the more traditional view. With the pieces on show here Nyima 438, less layered than the other images, Nyima 405 which seems to be very heavily layered with a composition that seems composed of a chess board black and white floor, a green leafy forest and the Alice character. The other image on display Nyima 445 has very vivid colours that capture the eye with the contrast between the red dress and the purple and green background, and I found the technique used in all the images of having the different layers all blended added a different quality to the art that could be interpreted as dreamlike.

The second part of the exhibition was in a gallery a few floors up, walking up the stairs I didn’t know what to expect on my own journey into the rabbit hole, and on entering the gallery I found it in stark contrast to downstairs, but also to some of the later exhibits. The open white space had gone to be replaced by heavy, dark colours, red walls and velvet drapes creating little rooms with the subdued lighting adding to the Victorian parlour feel. With the exhibition going through a number of rooms and almost winding paths, the flow is confusing and I have to wonder how much of this is a considered effect, and how much is like this due to the layout of the venue. I’d been aware of Carroll’s photographs previously after reading a book by Anne Higonet, but there were certainly some elements in this that surprised me, the connection to the pre Raphaelite brotherhood with work by Rossetti , Holman Hunt, and Hughes was one of these, and even more so the link to surrealism. As a fan of Dali and pre-Raphaelite art, I never expected that I’d see examples of these in the same exhibition and it shows that Carroll had such a wide reaching influence with the themes in Wonderland that future generations have taken the seed and planted it to become something very different but also traceable back to the origins.

As I went through the gallery into the more contemporary artworks, I found that the inspiration from Alice in Wonderland became quite tenuous, in a lot of cases it wasn’t obvious that it was inspired by it, and they could have stood alone outside of this exhibition. One of the stand outs of this section was the work by Anna Gaskell and her prints of a modern day Alice, not only were they large, bright coloured acrylic images, but they had a stand out obvious similarity to Alice that was missing in some of its contemporaries.

All in all, I really enjoyed this exhibition, while it wasn’t without its flaws, there was too much to look through and some parts didn’t flow as well as it could have done, I’d personally like to have seen less to allow me to focus on the areas that I really enjoyed.

 

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Part two of the study day was the art books of Matisse, and I went into this with a totally open mind as I hadn’t previously seen much of his work until I started researching him via the links that were sent over prior to the visit. The first part of the exhibition, I found to be quite understated, drawings to accompany poetry, such as that of Stephanie Mallarme, were either black on white, or white on black, a mixture of strong lines and sweeping lines, some very simple but I found them all very striking and powerful.

The second part of the exhibition was a vivid contrast of colours with these art books such as the famous ‘Jazz’ being on show. Looking at this from my photography perspective, the features that stood out to me were the primary colours, red, blue, yellow, very strong and eye-catching colours. Matisse has a way with strong lines and shapes that are a mixture of curves and jagged edges that managed to convey a sense of energy and movement. Despite the age the books were painted in, 1940’s to 1950’s they seem incredibly modern. Icarus stands out as it is so simple in its form, blue background, bright yellow stars dotted around the outside of the image and a black abstract figure broken up by a small splash of bright red on the chest.

My favourite overall image was ‘Le cheval, l’ecuyere, et le clown’ (The horse, the rider and the clown) from Jazz. The leading lines, strong horse shape and the contrast border really grab my attention. There is plenty of detail in the art, and I find it’s something that I can come back to again and again and not get bored of looking at it.

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OCA Study visit- Open Eye Gallery Liverpool

I went on my first study visit with OCA on the 15th December 2011 at the new Open Eye gallery at Mann Island in Liverpool. The exhibitions I saw were ‘American Power’ by Mitch Epstein, and ‘The Pleasure Principle’ by Chris Steele-Perkins.

This was my first study visit so when the details came through and it suggested some prior reading and listening, I was keen to be as prepared as possible. As I hadn’t has any experience of either photographer I was interested in knowing more to me to get the best of the visit.

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Mitch Epstein- American Power

When I looked at the American Power website, it encourages the viewer to look at their daily relationship with energy or ‘power’. With the purpose of heightening the awareness of the toll of using and producing the vast quantities of energy needed to keep modern society going.

The images in the exhibition were:-

– POCA high school and Amos Coal Powerplant

– BP Carson refinery

– Hoover Dam and Lake Mead

– Las Vegas

– Martha Murphy and Charlie Biggs

– Century Wind Project

– IOWA 80 truckstop

– Biloxi

The large format of the images and the smaller than usual number of images in the exhibition really added to the subject. I felt that the viewer took longer to look at and appreciate the images. For the POCA high school image, I felt that I needed to stand back from the image to take it all in. My eyes at first were drawn to the red of the American footballers tops, its only then that you notice the power plant in the background towering over the town.

As a contrast, the BP Carson refinery has so much detail in it, that as well as looking at it from afar, you also need to go closer to look at the detail. The trees at the top corners act as a frame, and the contrast of nature v man made can be drawn. The US flag really grabs my eye and reminds me that oil is such a big part of American life and history, Only when you step back from the image can you get a sense of the scale, and that’s where the large format of the prints adds a scale that isn’t available when viewing images over the modern techniques such as websites, slideshows etc.

Las Vegas

I found the contrast between the fantasy side of the holiday resorts, the pyramid and the castle, compared with the left of the image where it was all flat car parks with a huge number of cars showing the level of support needed for the entertainment and leisure industry that is so predominant within the city. In the background there is ‘Trump’ tower standing head and shoulders over the city, and further back the desert and hills that have not yet been taken over by commercialisation.

Century Wind Project

This is a contrast between two differing sides, the town and on the edge, a wind farm. It focuses, I think, on how nature can be harnessed to provide energy.

IOWA 80 truckstop

In contrast to the other images, this focuses on what springs up from the power industry, with businesses around the haulage firms providing a living for families, opposite to the view that power/energy is a destructive and negative entity at times.

Martha Murphy and Charlie Briggs

I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing in this image, it provoked more questions than answers at the time. What had happened, what was the relationship here, what did the objects and symbolism mean, if anything? It also didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the series. However when I got back home, I went onto the American Power website again and looked once more at the image and the back story. It wasn’t;t what I imagined, they weren’t a couple, they were employer and employee looking at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The American power here is about the natural elements and the sheer power of human spirit.

Biloxi

This image was one I’ve seen on the publicity for the series of the images, and when I was first viewing it on a PC screen, I couldn’t grasp what I was looking at. Only when I stood in front of the huge image, did I realise that I was looking at upturned cars, mattresses and bedding pinned onto the trees after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Its the large scale that added so much to the content, allowing you as the viewer to get a better perspective and the small number of images encourages the viewer to take their time to take all the detail in.

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Chris Steele- Perkins- The Pleasure Principle

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I found this to be quite a contrast compared to the Mitch Epstein exhibition. It didn’t have the same impact. I found that there didn’t seem to be any obvious correlation between the subjects, it doesn’t flow as a series. It could also have benefited from being more selective in the number of images it included. Also the images were quite small,so for some of them such as the cricket match needed to be viewed on a larger scale.

The title of the series was ‘The Pleasure Principle’, yet to me while it had some images of the 1980’s balls and parties, that could be under ‘pleasure’ it didn’t seem an accurate title, it seemed to me that some fell under excess and with this the images of the elephant and cricketers didn’t seem to fit in.

Images on display were:-

– Prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s admirers at the Conservative party conference

– Blackpool beach

– Golden mile, Blackpool

– Prince Edward at Berkeley Square ball

– Juliana’s summer party x 2

– Hypnosis demonstration at Cambridge university ball

– Berkeley Square ball

– Nightclub London x2

– British Movement demo, London

– Ballroom dancing, Blackpool

– Territorial army practice repelling a Soviet invasion

– Circus elephant, Crystal Palace

– Photo opportunity during a territorial army exercise

– Cricket match, Hampshire

Positives

– The photographer has managed to become invisible and get the images with the subjects not being aware, and continuing as if they were alone

Negatives

– Choice of images, not enough similarity between them to be a linked series

Summary

I really enjoyed my first study visit, I got a lot of benefit from sharing the experience with other students and discussing and debating, the contrast and message of the images. For a good few hours, this was well worthwhile and its good to meet fellow students, so I’d definitely go on more future visits and I’ll certainly keep an eye on events at the Open Eye gallery.

The Open Eye Gallery

Parts of the gallery are excellent for display, high ceilings, spotlights, and clean neutral colours, however some of the space has bright natural light that reflects on the glass framed images so you need to move about the gallery for the best positioning.

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