Monday, 16 November 2009

London with Leo

Anish Kapoor's Sculpture outside The Royal Academy of Arts.

I had a lovely time a couple of weeks ago, with a spur of the moment visit to London - one of my favourite places. We did so much, and had such a great time I have been putting off writing about it, for fear of not being able to convey how great it all was, but here goes.

Grayson Perry is one of my all time favourite artists and his exhibition was about to end at the Victoria Miro Gallery so I decided there was nothing else for it - I had to go. My brother Leo could get a couple of days off work and was in need of a mini holiday so we planned a marathon trip round lots of fantastic exhibitions in London. With only one night away, we left Glasgow at 7:30 in the morning to guarantee as much time away as possible. I really rather like train journeys - as long as you have some nice snacks, something interesting to read and your ipod, the whole experience can be quite relaxing.

After a lovely lunch in Carluccios (excellent gluten free menu) we walked to the Victoria Miro Gallery. Somewhat hidden behind a MacDonalds, the gallery is in a large converted warehouse in Islington. I was astonished by the lovely space, so unexpected after our hunt to find it. Large white rooms and a tranquil Japanese garden at the back. Grayson's work was at the the top of a high concrete staircase. His Walthamstow Tapestry, 3 metres by 15 metres, had been specially made for the space in a huge room. The colours used in the tapestry were much more garish than the palate Grayson uses for his pots and were more similar to the brash brightness of the embroidery on some of his dress designs. The work is crammed with familiar brand names: IKEA, Sony, Laura Ashley, Heinz, the list could go on and on. Yet, when you look at the work as a whole, the pictures, patterns and shapes rather cleverly take precedence over the text, which could easily have been overwhelming. The tapestry takes you on a journey from birth to death with a middle aged lady in a headscarf as the centrepiece. Leo thought she was The Queen and I thought it was Grayson in a head scarf - perhaps that was his aim? Alongside the tapestry there were two magnificently sized etchings, made up of over five plates each, a tapestry for Alan Measles (Grayson's bear and childhood companion) and several grand looking pots. They were very large- I think if he had included smaller pieces the enormous tapestry would have overwhelmed them. I love the way he layers transfers, drawings, clear coloured glazes and gold lustre to create a rich collage on the surface of the pots and I love his style of drawing. He is a master of creating beauty...but almost always with a nasty, fantastical edge.

Leo wanted to see Ed Ruscha at The Hayward Gallery. It wasn't something I would have gone to if I'd been on my own but I thoroughly enjoyed it and got far more from his work that I would ever have imagined. His integrity shone from the large canvases, with the concrete jungle of The Hayward providing a suitably industrial setting. Many have attempted to make the kind of works he makes with too much of an ego driven eye on trying be cool or fashionable. You could tell, without question, that Ruscha was creating from his heart and his works since then have been taken up as iconic by imitators. His work is beautifully and meticulously made and the colour almost vibrates on the canvas. His mountain series was particularly captivating and I also loved his early work focusing on single words on a colour.

We walked along the South Bank back to our hotel near St Paul's Cathedral and the moon above the Thames was huge. I took this photo on my phone.

In the evening we met up with Saskia Pomeroy who exhibited in our Printmakers exhibition this year. She took us to a fantastic pub in Islington, The Duke of Cambridge, for a delicious meal.

The next morning, after the best coffee in in London at Cecconi's, located behind The Royal Academy, we went to the Anish Kapoor exhibition. The Steel Ball sculpture in the courtyard is spectacular, reflecting down a birds eye view of the surrounding architecture. It was a strange experience to go into the grand rooms of The Royal Academy and see them bereft of paintings. The gallery spaces were busy with school children on trips with their teachers. Their excitement and sheer numbers gave the space a noisy buzz. Their presence couldn't have been more appropriate, as for me, Kapoor's work conveyed a childish sense of playfulness and possibility and I don't use the word childish in a derogatory way. Taken to a grand scale his work reminded me of playing in a sand pit and trying to make the tallest mound of sand, or collecting as much mud as possible in buckets - the kind of meditative play that pushes the task in hand to the limit - the toppling of the sand, the overflowing bucket of mud - and then Kapoor seems to ask: what would happen if we could just keep going? Leo and I waited for some time for the cannon to fire its large wax pellet at 50 miles an hour through two gallery rooms. In previous firings some of the wax hadn't made it far across the room at all but the one we saw fired at great speed and stuck to the facing wall - very satisfying! The build-up to the firing, which happens every twenty minutes throughout the day, and the deadly silence of the crowded gallery, followed by a collective rush of relief when the cannon fired, made the piece far more powerful that one could imagine unless one had been there to witness it. The whole exhibition was energising and untaxing but had a lasting quality that meant I have returned to think about the pieces often in the couple of weeks since I saw them.

Having cooked from the excellent Leon cook book, I wanted to go there for lunch. We found it near Carnaby Street with the queue spilling onto the street. It is very much healthy fast - food with each dish being given to you in a little cardboard box but it was hearty and enjoyable and just the fuel we needed to continue on to the next and final exhibition.

We walked (via some shops!) to The National Gallery to see The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture 1600 - 1700. It couldn't have been more of a contrast form the art we saw that morning. The Sainsbury Wing Galleries which are very dark at the best of times were even more dimly lit, ready for the drama we were about to witness. I am phobic about wax models, and even shop dummies, so I wondered if I'd get round this exhibition at all. However, I had my headphone audio tour playing and hearing about the amazing craftsmanship that went into the life size carvings I managed to just relax and was able to marvel at the incredible work and serious devotion that went into making everything from the paintings to the sculpture. No detail was spared when depicting Christ's suffering and, as the audio guide pointed out, this is shocking for people in the present day and especially those without a Catholic background. However, the exhibition helped me understand that the feeling these pieces of art were trying to create in the viewer or worshipper was all important and, really, that is a universal stipulation for all great art. I think my favourite room was devoted to St Francis of Assisi. Francisco de Zurbaran's painting 'Saint Francis Standing In Ecstasy' depicted St Francis as he was said to have been found by a Pope who entered his tomb many years after his death - standing bold upright, eyes gazing upwards. It was incredibly powerful and painted with the most unbelievable skill and sensitivity.

Many of the pieces had been taken from their places of worship for the first time and the significance of this was not lost on me. These pieces mean very much more to many people than works of art and the purpose for which they were made, three hundred years ago, has lasted. 'Lasting' is what makes good art great. We talk about that all the time in the gallery when Jill and I are choosing work for exhibitions.


Anonymous said...

Loved your blog.

The lady in the middle of the tapestry isn't Grayson but everyman (like all the large figures are in the tapestry, they stand for the seven ages of man). She is crying because she has just purchased the handbag and the the thrill of consumerism has just worn off - this could be saying something deeper such as she can't find meaning in her life, although when she wanted the handbag and at the point of sale, perhaps she glimpsed it. That is one of Grayson's explanations but if you ask him tomorrow he would be likely to come up with another brilliant post-rationalisation.

I love your description of your art loving holiday. it made me appreciate my city more, so thank you.

I also think you've painted your shop a lovely colour.

Zoe said...

Thanks, I love that explanation, I know all about the thrill of consumerism and handbag shopping...

I love hearing Grayson talk about his Art. He's a brilliant communicator.

I'm glad you enjoyed my Blog!

Kathryn Mackenzie said...

Hi Zoe,

Your descriptions of your trip, and of the exhibitions you visited, are fantastic! I've now been recommended the Anish Kapoor exhibition by a few people so I'll definitely need to get to that on the next trip to London.