Portraits from around the world including Frances

Portraits from around the world

The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2016 exhibition is currently at Sunderland Museum after opening at the National Portrait Gallery. The exhibition includes fifty seven portraits of very differing subjects from around the world including; young people on a riverbank in England, a tired worker in the UAE and young cyclist friends in Lithuania. The prize winning images are from South Africa, the USA and Israel. Some portraits are taken in the studio while others are taken in situ. Sometimes the subject is aware they are being photographed, sometimes not. The emotional range of the images moves from happy and carefree to harrowing and a cause for concern. The exhibition also includes differing photographic processes, such as photogravure and the wet plate collodion process or tintype. Something for everyone then.

School photograph 

The winner of the first prize in the exhibition has been described, perhaps with tongue in cheek, as the ‘ultimate school photo‘. The image is from a series by Claudio Rasano titled ‘Similar Uniforms: We Refuse to Compare’ which in the words of Rasano, as quoted by the British Journal of Photography, was focused on “preserving individuality in the context of school uniforms“. The subject of the photograph is Thembinkosi Fanwell Ngwenya, a student in Johannesburg. He poses in his school uniform against a neutral background. So far so much like a school photograph, albeit a very good one. But the photographer draws out his personality and you see him as an individual. As a result you want to know more about him; who are his friends, who are his family, what is he studying, what is his future. You are concerned for someone you’ve never met. The ‘ultimate school photo’? Well maybe but certainly an image that is skilfully taken, gives a connection to its subject and ultimately makes you want to know more about them.

Images of young people 

The prize winning portrait is just one of quite a number of portraits of young people in the exhibition. For me the following are three of the most outstanding sets of images. 

A pair of images by Sian Davey are of her daughter Martha, photographed at sixteen with her friends over two summers in what appears to be an idyllic rural spot. Beautifully taken there is an air of innocence in these honest images of Martha and her friends. At the same time they seem to show young people on the cusp of becoming adults and moving on from long summer days.

The strongly titled ‘Be Murdered’ by Judy Gelles creates a feeling of concern and worry for its subject. The image shows a young girl in a pose that is young, bright and confident. Her hands held as if she is skipping or dancing, one sock slightly higher than the other; she holds her body in a manner that suggests she won’t conform to how you expect her to pose for the camera. The image itself doesn’t conform to the accepted norm of a portrait either in that it doesn’t show the subjects face; it also includes text around its subject. The text on the image are the words of its subject and describe: her situation, her wishes and her fear for the future. Her fear for the future is where the title of the image comes from. 

An image of a Boy Scout in Lagos, Nigeria is, with its handsome subject, and the mustard yellow and deep green of the scout uniform against a yellow backdrop, strikingly beautiful. It is of a young person who wears his uniform proudly and, as with so many of these images of young people, you can’t help but feel concerned for their future. Looking at the image of the Boy Scout you get the feeling it may not be the only uniform he will wear.

The People’s Pick

The ‘Boy Scout’ took third place in the People’s Pick with ‘John’, an image commissioned by the Cheka Sana Foundation in second place. The image of ‘John’ is a companion image to ‘Anastazia’. Both photographs are of young and perhaps vulnerable people in Tanzania. Photographed against a white background both images show young people who comport themselves with great dignity despite their incredibly difficult lives. Anastazia looks almost serene as she holds her hands to her chest exposing her bare arms, one of which is badly burned. First place in the People’s Pick went to ‘Frances’ an image by Josh Redman that also won the John Kobal New Work Award.

Caravaggio and Frances

It is quite easy to see why ‘Frances’ won the awards it did. The photograph is an image of Frances, a woman who at 83 was probably quite new to nude modelling. If so she looks absolutely comfortable in her skin. The photographer Josh Redman was apparently a sculptor for many years and this training may account for the use of chiaroscuro and side lighting to render the image so renaissance perfect. The beauty, the worldliness and serenity of Frances combined with the photographers choice of lighting makes the image look like a Caravaggio, albeit one with a beautiful subject.

Rules of engagement 

Although the images are all portraits and moving through the exhibition you may expect to use the same aesthetics again and again, the images are so wide ranging in subject, presentation and gathered from so far across the world it’s difficult to be that lazy. You move from one image to the next adjusting your rules of engagement as you go; this one is like a renaissance painting, this one uses a different photographic process, consider this one with its text overlay, does the family relationship between artist and subject matter, does our European outlook change our point of view. The exhibition has similarities to the BP Portrait Awards which is also shown annually at the National Portrait Gallery. Different subjects, different methods, different relationships, but at the end it all leads to one absolutely fascinating exhibition of portraits that is so easy to connect with.

The Taylor Wessing Photographic Prize 2016 exhibition is currently on show at Sunderland Museum now until Sunday 4 June 2017.

Find out more about Sunderland Museum.

Find out more about the National Portrait Gallery.

Find out more about the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize.

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Punk 1976-78, a British Library exhibition

The starting point for the Punk 1976-78 exhibition is a bit of social history via newspaper cuttings to explain the backdrop behind the cultural explosion that was punk. The headlines chosen do give an accurate impression of the times. They remind us of those heady days of; industrial unrest, riots, rock royalty Eric Clapton drunkenly giving his support for Enoch Powell, the rise of the National Front, immigrants getting the blame. 

But while it’s necessary to explain the backdrop the exhibition isn’t about that. What it is about is the positive attitude that punk brought. Its DIY approach to music, the “be the change you want to be” attitude, the strength in numbers (thinking of the Anti-Nazi League here), the shot in the arm that it brought to the arts particularly fashion and graphic design (hats doffed to Jamie Reid), and why not be a film director (hello Don Letts) and if the media is not your message then why not write, print and distribute your own message (Mark Perry’s ‘Sniffin’ Glue’ first among many). The big artists of the era were the Ramones and the Sex Pistols and they, along with the Clash, do occupy quite a bit of space in the exhibition but certainly not at the expense of other artists including the women of punk who are very well represented. 

In addition to the newspaper headlines, a timeline and an excellent Pete Frame punk family tree also set the scene. The family tree is about the ‘New Wave Nine’ and is incredibly interesting but didn’t help me answer the question ‘who created punk?’. The answer for me is either the Ramones or the Sex Pistols but sifting through the evidence of the exhibition it is probably both of them simultaneously on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

Lets look at the evidence provided in the exhibition. In 1976 the Ramones released their eponymously titled first album to perhaps less than rave reviews and it stalled at 111 in the Billboard charts. The Sex Pistols didn’t get to release their album until 1977 but it debuted at number one in the UK charts. The Sex Pistols were beaten to the punch but were they following in the wake of the Ramones? The story of the Sex Pistols chaotic start to their recording career is well documented in the exhibition.

Mike Thorne, born in Sunderland and educated in Oxford, is a producer, arranger, engineer, composer, musician and was A & R man for EMI long enough to sign the Sex Pistols. The Sex Pistols signed for EMI in October 1976 and the EMI pressing plants began production of ‘Anarchy in the UK’ releasing it on 26 November. That Bill Grundy thing happened on 1 December leading to EMI dropping the Sex Pistols and withdrawing the record. After a short stay with A&M, who it is said pressed 25,000 copies of ‘God Save the Queen’ only to destroy all of them, Richard Branson signed the Sex Pistols to Virgin. 

The Sex Pistols eventually got their music out to the wider public with ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’, an album lyrically full of snarling wit held together by colossal playing from Paul Cook on drums and Steve Jones on guitar. Who played bass is a mystery but it was probably Steve Jones all along. 

The Sex Pistols sold incredibly well which was either despite of or because of the obscenity trial that dogged the release and distribution of the album, it was not stocked by many large chain record stores. 

So the delay in getting an album out had nothing to do with one band following the other and musically the Ramones and the Sex Pistols are very different. The Ramones with a song like ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’ and their cover of Chris Montez’s ‘Lets Dance’ sound at times like a pop group from the 60s. While the Sex Pistols never let up from being themselves, okay maybe a nod to Iggy and the Stooges and early Small Faces both of whom they covered but still uncompromisingly themselves.

Women in punk are well represented with a good deal of the exhibition including a filmed interview (Stories from the She Punks) devoted to them. A larger than life size image of Poly Styrene seems to dominate one wall and the Slits and Patti Smith have a presence too. It was perhaps the women of punk that were more innovative than the boys of punk. X-Ray Spex released four singles over 12 months between 1977 and 1978 and all of the tracks including the B sides are still relevant today. The Slits were formed by 1976 but didn’t get their album ‘Cut’ released until 1979 but everything about their absolutely classic album defies description and what a cover image. Patti Smith of course beat everyone to the punch by releasing her John Cale produced album ‘Horses’ to almost universal critical acclaim in December 1975.

Anything to dislike about the exhibition? Not really but there is one frustrating thing. The existence of one of the most important parts of the punk era, the fanzine, is well represented. All the big ones are there including ‘Sniffin’ Glue’ and my favourite ‘White Stuff’, it was largely about Patti Smith. But they are quite rightly locked behind glass meaning you can’t pick them up and browse through them. I wish it had been possible to duplicate them somehow to allow the visiting public to browse and re-read the heady days of punk.

Anything to really like about the exhibition? Well apart from the brilliant photography which blown up life size almost makes you swoon, it is how the exhibition realises it’s not just the music but everything around it that makes punk what it is. The times we lived in yes but more importantly things like; the design genius of say a Jamie Reid, the fans doing it for themselves with a fanzine, the incredible and just so right photography from many including Robert Mapplethorpe and Roberta Bayley and of course last but not least the peace, love and understanding of a generation that rocked against racism and won.

Punk 1976-78 a British Library exhibition is at Sunderland Museum until 26 February 2017.

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Nissan and what work means

Nissan: 30 Years On

A wonderful exhibition called ‘Nissan: 30 Years On‘ combines great photography and video with words that, not only compliments the images but also gives both an insight into Sunderland’s industrial heritage and the reasons why we work. The exhibition is at Arts Centre Washington.

Backstory 

Nissan began production in Sunderland in 1986, a time of relatively high unemployment for the area following on as it did from a sorry end to the miners’ strike and a period of decline in shipbuilding. Although Sunderland does well in industries such as digital and creative and has a lively cultural scene it would seem that it is its automotive industry that is making the major contribution to the cities prosperity and wellbeing. 

Photography and words

The major part of the exhibition are photographs of the Nissan plant in full work mode (something worth seeing in itself) alongside photographs of a number of Nissan workers both past and present. The photographs of the plant are combined with words and phrases that reflects both Sunderland’s industrial heritage and the reasons why people work at Nissan. The words are more than titles, they are part of the photograph, placed either at the head or foot of the photograph in a fairly large font. Similar in look to a watermark but more an intrinsic part of the story the photograph conveys. In one photograph which bears the words ‘Coal Face’ a Nissan worker labours close up under the bonnet of a car. An aerial photograph of robotic arms whirling, twirling and spot welding has the words ‘Open Cast’. Both of these are of course references to Sunderland’s industrial heritage but a question posed by the exhibition is why do today’s Nissan workers work there? One of the photographs has the words ‘Security Blanket’ – possibly a reference to the financial security work brings. Another has the words ‘Hobby Horse’, as in a child’s toy or pastime – possibly both a reference to being able to buy toys for the bairn or pursue a favourite pastime. A photograph of the interior of a car door looks like an aerial view of a golf course and has the words ‘Nine Iron’ – maybe some Nissan workers enjoy playing golf, who’d have thought.  

The photographs of the plant and the words chosen are a great combination and equally so are the portraits of Nissan workers with quotes on why they work at Nissan. Some of the Nissan workers give reasons such as gaining knowledge of the industry and extending their skills. Naturally some reasons are centred around money and what that can give you; provide for families, pay bills, have holidays and generally have the wherewithal to pursue life goals and do what you want in your free time. But there is another reason for working which has nothing to do with career or earning money. At least two of the workers quoted spoke of friends and friendship and maybe that is a large part of what work is or can be. Friendship, camaraderie or just simply having mates. On a bad day, in a post-caring world, that can seem a bit of an alien idea.  Just some nostalgia for the days when work was the shipyards and the mines, a time when we looked out for each other, maybe this exhibition proves that those needs still exist.

The exhibition also includes an absorbing video of the work processes in the plant called Tact Time (the title refers to the time spent on the allotted task). And, perhaps as a nod to Nissan’s Japanese history, some excellent haikus, my favourite begins “Female on forklift…”. 

The creative people

The photographs and video are by fine art and documentary photographer James Sebright. His portfolio website has some wonderful images from China, Tokyo, Hong Kong and the quite moving ‘… Syria before the War’, check out the barbershop photographs. The well chosen words are by the equally talented creative writer Rachel Cochrane. Her website showcases an array of her creative talent including podcaster and playwright and the statement that she is “particularly inspired by photography”, with this exhibition that certainly shines through. Both are local, a fact that probably accounts for the great degree of empathy they have with their subject. 

Exhibition book

Would I want to see anything more from this exhibition? Well yes I would. With all exhibitions I’ve enjoyed it’s always nice when a book of the exhibition is produced. A record of the wonderful images and words in the exhibition with a little bit of background information. This exhibition is an incredible record of Nissan and its place in the community and deserves to have a book made from it. Besides, and I’m not wishing this, post Brexit those jobs may be lost. Here’s hoping that kind of disaster is averted and we have the real thing a little while longer rather than just this very wonderful record of the way we worked.

Since first posting this Nissan’s Chief Executive, Carlos Ghosn, following on from guarantees by the government, has announced that Nissan is to make significant investment in the Sunderland plant. Sighs of relief all round… but a book of the exhibition would still be nice.

The exhibition ‘Nissan: 30 Years On‘ is on at Arts Centre Washington until 4 November 2017. 

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Dora the weeping woman and Felicia one of the first to fall

Conscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish Civil War at the Laing Gallery

Conscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish Civil War at the Laing Gallery

The Weeping Woman

As you walk through the door of the second gallery of ‘Conscience and Conflict’ you can’t help but be stunned by the Picasso on the wall facing you. ‘The Weeping Woman’ or ‘Femme en Pleurs’ gives voice to the emotions the Spanish Civil War had on us then and now. The mute anger that is pent up inside that can only resolve itself in tears. The weeping eyes reflecting the cause of the horror and the handkerchief gnawed at by teeth held in a bone white jaw that seems to be stripped of flesh and the mouths sensuality. ‘The Weeping Woman’ is Dora Maar, Picasso’s then lover and a woman he had painted with so much beauty that same year in ‘Portrait of Dora Maar’.

In the eyes of ‘The Weeping Woman’ are reflected the same aircraft that bombed Guernica a Catalan town of no military importance that the Luftwaffe, at the behest of Franco, chose to use as a dry run for the Second World War. This act of aggression gave fresh impetus to the need for ‘Air Raid Protection’ or ARP in Britain and this concern shows itself in the work of at least one of the British artists in this exhibition.

Guernica

Picasso’s response to the bombing was ‘Guernica’ a mural sized oil painting in black, white and grey which now hangs in Madrid following the death of Franco in 1975. It’s difficult to overestimate the impact that Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ had on the British artists work shown in this exhibition. The painting ‘Premonition’ by Walter Nessler which appears to the modern eye like a Pink Floyd dystopia drawn by Gerald Scarfe, shows London’s landmarks in a twisted landscape with an ARP gas mask swinging from one of its tallest buildings. It is a premonition of the air raids on London that would occur within a short number of years.

The impact of ‘Guernica’ on other works in the exhibition is also evident, particularly in ‘Spanish Head’ by F.E. McWilliam. ‘Spanish Head’ is a sculpture of an elongated head with pointed teeth in a wide open mouth. The head seems to be modelled on the fallen warrior at the bottom left of ‘Guernica’ who lies on his back, facing skywards, mouth wide open with teeth bared in a silent scream.

Clenched fist

F.E. McWilliam in the sculpture ‘The Long Arm’ gives us the clenched fist salute of the anti-fascist Republicans and this symbol of defiance is elsewhere in the exhibition. Joan Miro includes the clenched fist salute in his work ‘Aidez L’Espagne’ which was originally meant to be used as the design of a new one franc stamp which would be sold to benefit the republican cause. Joan Miro’s design is of a person painted in red and yellow with detail picked out in black on a blue background. The colours are the same as those used in the ‘Lone Star’ or ‘Estelada’ Catalan flag.

Hearts and minds

Winning the hearts and minds of the public was necessary if the Republicans were to win the civil war. This can be seen in the paintings of Clive Branson which document ‘Noreen and Rosa’ reading a book on Spain published by the Left Book Club, a ‘Demonstration in Battersea’, and ‘The Daily Worker’. The book which accompanies this exhibition tells us that an exhibition of works on the Spanish Civil War which included Guernica attracted more than 15,000 visitors in working class East London. From that it may be said that the daily worker was already won over to the cause of the Republicans.

To help with this effort, public posters were produced by designers working with some excellent photographers. Pere Catala Pic’s poster ‘Aixafem el Feixsme’ shows a ‘peasants’ foot wearing a Catalan sandal coming down on a broken swastika. While another shows a background of a sky filled with bombers with a foreground of a dead child with the words ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’ a harrowing image with a harrowing and instructive text. And yes it is the title of a Manic Street Preachers song.

Felicia Browne

While all of the work seems to come from artists who are trying to come to terms with the Spanish Civil War and ‘do their bit’ by filtering their emotion through their art, one artist seems to be more representative of the common man who just simply wants to do the right thing.

Felicia Browne’s work seems to be devoid of any message about the civil war. The drawings she did, while very well executed, seem to be just direct reportage of the facts without any politics or sentimentality. But Felicia Browne fought and died in the Spanish Civil War. Her role was to be one of the foot soldiers, one of the common people, who sadly lose their lives while doing the right thing against impossible odds.

Felicia Browne wrote of the boredom of war, the long periods when nothing much happens. But when it did and she was called on to join a group tasked with blowing up a munitions train she went. 

When fired upon by fascists a colleague fell and Felicia went to give first aid. The fascists turned their fire towards her and she fell dead with bullet wounds to the chest and back. The first British volunteer to die.

Maybe because of this – the sacrifice, the doing the right thing – Felicia Browne seems to stay longer in the memory than all of the very fine art around her in this very fine exhibition.

Find out more about Conscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish Civil War.

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BP Portrait Awards from down south to up north

BP Portrait Awards from down south to up north

BP Portrait Awards from down south to up north

Have to disagree with ‘Time Out London’

In a ‘Time Out London‘ review of the BP Portrait Awards at the National Portrait Gallery the writer asks the question ‘the problem with portraiture is the people. You have to ask yourself if you care about any of the faces staring out at you… and the answer almost overwhelmingly is ‘no’.’

The writers viewpoint is almost mocked by the first portrait in the gallery attached to the article.

The portrait is by Geoffrey Beasley and is titled ‘Eddy in the Morning’. Eddy is a slightly disheveled young man with bed hair, stubble and a crumpled white t-shirt. His eyes stare out of the canvass not at the viewer but into the day; the classes and lectures he will attend, the pals he’ll meet up with, the night out he needs a clean shirt for and beyond that into the future of summers touring Europe, a year out backpacking and then getting that cool job in London. ‘Eddy in the Morning’ is every mothers son, every fathers pride, every guys best mate.

‘Eddy in the Morning’ didn’t win a prize, although being one of the fifty five portraits chosen from 2,377 entries to be displayed in the National Portrait Gallery’s ‘BP Portrait Awards’ is prize enough.

And first prize goes to…

The first prize went to Thomas Ganter for ‘Homeless Man with a Plaid Blanket’. This portrait as Ganter tells us takes a homeless man and portrays him the same as any noble or saint in any portrait through the ages when only the rich or the church could commission it. Ganter makes us ask questions of ourselves. In our streets we don’t look at the homeless people, we give them a wide birth, we stare intently forward ignoring the question ‘do you have any spare change please?’. Would it matter that much if we dropped a coin into the cup or stopped to chat? Just because we spoke to them doesn’t mean we have to take them home and give them a better life. But the conversation may make both of us a little better.

Great chefs make great subjects

Like ‘Eddy in the Morning’ many of the portraits are of a son or daughter, partner or a good friend and maybe because of this the empathy the artist has with their subject can be seen in the paintings.

One of the portraits that doesn’t seem to have a family or friend connection and could be a commission is Henrietta Graham’s ‘James Martin’. Commission or not the empathy is still there and we seem to understand this great chef more because of the portrait. Maybe that is what a very good and skilled artist can do, bring out the heart and soul of their subject regardless of the connection. Of course painting a great chef in his kitchen where his heart and soul probably are probably helps.

There is a very happy connection between the painting by Tim Hall and his subject. The ‘Henrietta’ of the portraits title ‘Henrietta and Ollie’ is the painters wife and Ollie is the family pet. ‘Henrietta’ is of course Henrietta Graham and in the portrait she is seen working hard surrounded by the tools of her trade on a portrait of another great chef ‘Rene Redzepi’. At Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens where the exhibition is currently on show the two portraits stand side by side maybe to emphasise this connection.

My favourite things

Visitors to the exhibition often ask each other which is their favourite; with so many to choose from it could be ‘Juan Mosca’ by Rodrigo Hurtado, where the subject seems to be everyone’s granddad or ‘Princess Julia in Meadham Kirchoff’ by Ben Ashton, where the clothes by Meadham Kirchhoff seem to lift off the painting. ‘Northern Bather’ by Gareth Reid reminds this viewer of the work of Dame Laura Knight, but perhaps a favourite favourite is ‘Jordan’ by Alan Coulson, a rather wonderful painting of the quite handsome Jordan – a person who in the video ‘What the Artist Saw – The Judging’ by the National Portrait Gallery says rather bashfully ‘I’m a nobody…’. Well nobody is a nobody and maybe it takes art, culture and above all these portraits to remind us of that.

Artists and old lace

A set of portraits that shouldn’t go unsung are the portraits by Dutch artist Sophie Ploeg the winner of the BP Travel Award in 2013. Her winning proposal for the award in 2013 was to interpret the use of fabric and lace in seventeenth century portraiture. This she has done by visiting many galleries including the Holbourne Museum in Bath, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem to study portraiture where lace and fabric is an integral part. She also visited modern lacemaking centres such as Bruges and Honiton. What has came from it is a fascinating set of portraits that echo the seventeenth century and yet appear so contemporary with the sitters being very modern women. The portraits on display include amongst others the original 2013 winner ‘Pleating Time’, ‘The Long Wait’, The Handkerchief Girl’ and the fascinating ‘She Becomes Her’ where the sitter wears the toxic Venetian Ceruse to whiten her complexion and provide a mask between her real self and the viewer.

Sunderland’s next big exhibition

Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens have the BP Portrait Awards from the National Portrait Gallery possibly because of the success of their last major exhibition which was Grayson Perry’s ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’. The museum is the only gallery in England, apart from the National Portrait Gallery of course, to host the exhibition and that is testament to the cities burgeoning status as a home for art and culture in all its guises. Wonder what they’ll get next…

Find out more about the BP Portrait Awards.

Find out more about the National Portrait Gallery.

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Dame Laura Knight Portraits at the Laing Newcastle

Dame Laura Knight artist, rebel and proto-feminist

Dame Laura Knight artist, rebel and proto-feminist

Dame Laura Knight is one of arts rebels, eccentrics, early feminists, an artist with the common touch and someone who achieved much but given easier economic circumstances could have achieved so much more.

Economically things could have been easier. Dame Laura’s parents parted quite early and the children were brought up with the help of a grandmother known as Big Grandma and a great-grandmother known as Little Grandma. Her mother, who was an art teacher, died of cancer at an early age and relied on her daughter to take the classes she became too ill to attend.

Her mother, who had studied at an atelier in Paris, is said to have told Laura that one day she would become a member of the Royal Academy. Dame Laura Knight became the first female member of the Royal Academy and secured her reputation as someone who could take the boys on at their own game and win and in doing so became an early feminist.

Dame Laura Knight’s slightly eccentric image was probably secured when she began turning up at Gypsy encampments in a vintage Rolls Royce which she had turned into a makeshift studio in order to paint portraits of the Gypsies. Her ability to empathise with her subject comes across in all her portraits but no more than in these paintings of the Gypsies.

Dame Laura painted members of the Gypsy Smith family many times including, Lilo Smith, the matriarch of the family, the beautiful Freedom Smith, who was deaf, had little speech and who she referred to as ‘Beulah’ and Gilderoy Smith the son of Lilo Smith. Gilderoy is the subject of ‘The Gypsy’ painted in 1939. Gilderoy with his weather lined face, deep and slightly weary expression and beautiful eyes has to run every other subject in this group at least a very close second.

Empathy with her subject is also seen in the group of paintings of coloured children at the racially segregated Johns Hopkins Hospital where she spent many months with her husband Harold while he completed his commissions. The now politically incorrect title of ‘The Piccaninny’ painted in 1927 is one of great beauty and charm. While in Baltimore she also found the models for her ‘Madonna of the Cotton Fields’ also known as ‘Mighty Like a Rose’. Whilst there she also attended civil rights meetings with Pearl and Irene Johnson who were campaigners against segregation.

Her feminism continued into her war work where she made many paintings of women in the forces or in industry. Her most famous painting is ‘Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech Ring’. A painting that comes with the epitaph that Ruby had mastered in a very short time the ability to make a breech ring for a Bofors gun that would normally take up to nine years training.

Dame Laura’s rebel status is confirmed by ‘Self Portrait’ painted in 1913. In art school in Nottingham female students weren’t allowed to paint nude models instead they had to make do with clay or wooden models. Her ‘Self Portrait’ shows the artist at her easel painting a picture of Ella Naper who poses for Laura nude. All three appear in the painting, Laura Knight, the nude model and the painting of the nude model. Apparently it was all done with mirrors I would guess the Royal Academy wished it had never been done at all.

A favourite painting of fans and one of the lead images of the exhibition is ‘Ballet Girl and Dressmaker’ painted in 1930 for Chicago industrialist Earl Hoover. The painting shows the ballerina Barbara Bonnar sitting presumably waiting to go on while her dressmaker puts the finishing touches to the outfit the ballerina is wearing. The dressmaker appears intent and focused on making the ballerina perfect while the ballerina appears powerful and athletic even in repose. This mistress and servant relationship also appears to good effect in ‘Gwen Frangcon-Davies’ which she painted in 1924. In the ‘Ballet Girl and Dressmaker’ the painting is lit from the upper left and the ballerina also looks out of the painting to the upper left as if in anticipation of the dance to come and her time in the limelight. The painting seems to live inside and outside it’s frame.

Dame Laura Knight rebel… probably, proto-feminist… probably, eccentric… maybe, wonderful artist… definitely.

Dame Laura Knight Portraits is showing at the Laing Art Gallery until 16 February.

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Sunderland… photographs and video art are just everywhere

Greame Street 1972 in a wonderful set of black and white photos and videos

Greame Street 1972 in a wonderful set of black and white photos and videos

Everywhere you look in Sunderland you see photography and video art. It’s in the galleries, museums and on the streets. The Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art and Sunderland Museum are showing ‘You Are The Company in Which You Keep’ and the rest of Sunderland appears to be showing photographs everywhere as part of the month long festival ‘The Social: Encountering Photography’.

Sunderland Museum has the work of seven artists who use photography and video as their medium.

Among the seven are:

Natasha Caruana

The work from Natasha Caruana is entitled ‘Fairy Tale for Sale’. It is a series of photographs from the online adverts placed by women who for various reasons have decided to sell their wedding dress. In order to sell their now redundant wedding dress they have put online photographs of their dress shown in the best possible light and of course the best possible light is when it was worn on their wedding day. To anonymise these photographs the faces have been covered with sticky paper or blue tack, scratched over, scribbled on and in one instance covered with distorted smiley faces.

There are so many of these photographs that you realise that women selling their wedding dresses aren’t in the minority although I’m sure, or maybe I’d like to think in my romantic mind, that some kept them even if they just ended up in the kids dressy up box.

The photographs ask so many questions, the most obvious being why? If you bought into the fairy tale enough to buy the cake, the ring, the dress, why jettison part of that fairy tale? Is it economics, weddings can be incredibly expensive, merely practical, where do you keep a meringue like confection of a dress in any reasonable kind of state until death do you part, has the dream turned sour and you are now contemplating divorce? It may also ask the question do woman really buy into this ‘is the most important day of your life’ idea that they have been drip fed or do they feel obliged by society norms?

There is one photograph in the ‘Fairy Tale for Sale’ series of a bride walking towards the camera in her finery with a guy walking beside her holding her hand and dressed in a t-shirt, track suit bottoms and trainers. If he was the groom I guess he wasn’t buying into the fairy tale.

If you visit Natasha Caruana’s website you can view some of her other work which include; ‘The Married Man’, which is a series of snapshots taken on 80 dates she had with married men, and’ The Other Woman’ which is a series of portraits of the other woman in a relationship.

Both series of photographs ask many questions both in their subject matter and how they have been photographed. The images in ‘The Married Man’ are a series of snapshots and seem almost as furtive as the men she snapped must have been. While the portraits in ‘The Other Woman’ series speaks volumes about the women through their expressions, how they present their bodies and the settings they are in.

With this kind of subject matter Natasha Caruana appears to be almost fearless in her use of the camera to take on and explore difficult subjects.

Daniel Meadows

As a photography student in 1972 Daniel Meadows rented an empty barber shop in Greame Street in Manchester’s Moss Side. The shop then became a free photo studio. To have your photo taken there was free because, as Daniel Meadows says, he was learning his trade and was unsure of the outcome.

It may be that Daniel Meadows was being unfair to himself and his abilities as the photographs produced are a joy to see. Rich in their black and white textures with an almost oily feel to them. I would loved to have known what combination of film and paper he used or if it was it all down to how he lit them?

It may be that if the studio hadn’t been free we may not have had such a broad spectrum of children, teenagers and adults turning up to have their photos taken. The images include a hard-working mum, (is there any other type) with her hair brushed back to tidy it up a bit, a handsome, possibly middle-aged guy in his Sunday best, sharp suit, sharp dressed guy, a foster mother with four of her foster children, a lovely looking guy called Jazz Cole, a young mum with her baby on her knee and more cheeky kids than you can imagine including Angela Loretta Lindsey aged 8 with her brother Mark Emanuel who together make one of the lead images for the exhibition.

Although the series of photos is a chronicle of that particular time in Manchester’s Moss Side and Manchester does have a very strong character of it’s own, the images could still be a chronicle of any working class area in any relatively large conurbation; yes it could be Newcastle, Gateshead or Sunderland in the 70s.

Daniel Meadows has been known to say that he is a fan of Ivan Illich’s ‘Convivial Tools’ and he speaks of the democratisation of media. With Greame Street in 1972 Daniel Meadows certainly democratised photography, what could he do to make it more democratic… drive around in a double decker bus inviting people in to have their photos taken?

James O Jenkins

James O Jenkins has produced a series of photographs of people dressed ready for taking part in various annual activities that take place the length and breadth of the United Kingdom and he has given the series the title ‘United Kingdom’. It goes without saying that the photographs are incredibly well taken and produced but one thing that James O Jenkins has done is take the people out of their natural setting of the festival or occasion and placed them against a white backdrop. The result seems to accentuate the eccentric nature, if that is fair comment, of the characters the people dress as.

The photographs include amongst many others; The Hunting of the Earl of Rone, the hunt according to their website ends with him being thrown into the sea; The Whittlesea Straw Bear Man Festival, which appears to be a person dressed in a huge black beard and a hat of ivy; The Burryman, which is a man covered in burrs and sporting flowers both as a hat and about his person. There’s many more wonderful characters in the series and with some of them you realise that the ‘Mighty Boosh’ may be more real than we think.

There’s a lot more to be seen in and around Sunderland at the moment and just considering these three wonderful photographers hardly scratches the surface.

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Definitely as you like it with the RSC

All the world's a stage... says Melancholy Jaques

All the world’s a stage… says Melancholy Jaques

The RSCs production of ‘As You Like It’ began 10 to 15 minutes before the audience got themselves seated, 10 to 15 minutes before the time on the ticket. I say 10 to 15 minutes before but I was actually in the bar ordering drinks for the interval with my good chum Helen at this time but Orlando and Adam were certainly on the stage when we went in.

Orlando and Adam spent the time before the start clearing leaves from the court grounds. Orlando played by a boyish looking Alex Waldmann is a youth of high birth who has been sorely treat at court and not allowed or denied the status and education that his birth warrants. Orlando also has a great friendship with Adam, a man of advanced years who chooses to leave the court and suffer the privations of the Forest of Arden with Orlando rather than see out his days under the tyranny of the court and leave his good friend. In a simple, silent scene the RSC had spelt out their relationship… Shakespeare’s words did the rest.

The staging by Naomi Dawson and lighting by James Farncombe deserves a deal of the credit for creating a perfect ‘As You Like It’. The stage is full of high columns that when illuminated with brooding lighting create a heavy, dark atmosphere perfect for the scenes of tyranny but when illuminated with lighting of a sunnier disposition create a light, summery atmosphere that is perfect for the comedy and exploration of love that takes place. Part of the stage would also rotate at the appropriate moment creating a sense that the actors were arriving to their cues through a dense forest. The stage was a perfect setting.

The tyranny at court almost seems like merely the thing that gets the play started and puts everyone in their positions and on their cue for the exploration of love and comedy that unfolds.

The comedy certainly unfolds with Touchstone played by Nicolas Tennant. While his red nose and clown makeup may not have suited everyone, clowns are a bit scary aren’t they, he appeared every inch the court jester or a very good stand up comic which at one point he turned into. His scenes with Audrey played by Rosie Hilal where he is basically after sex and sees his only chance is through marriage with Audrey, who is quite happy to trade her sex for marriage, were excellently played out with Melancholy Jaques played by Oliver Ryan. Thankfully the whole wedding would have been a legal farce anyway as Sir Oliver Martext played by David Fishley as a big, stoned Rastafarian, that everyone would love as a friend but maybe not to officiate at their wedding, couldn’t quite get it all together for the couples big day.

The play has a number of themes one of the most important is friendship, particularly that of Orlando and Adam but even more so is the friendship of Rosalind and Celia played by Pippa Nixon and Joanna Horton. The friendship between Rosalind and Celia is beautiful to see, Celia will always protect Rosalind but is not frightened to put her in her place particularly in the scenes where Rosalind gabbles away not allowing Celia to speak. Through Joanna Horton Celia became, I was told, the friend that every girl needs, someone who will always watch out for you and have your back.

The most important theme of the play though is love and Rosalind played by Pippa Nixon is such a fully formed Shakespearean character played out so well that love not just the lust that Touchstone has is so well explained and explored through her play acting with and schooling of Orlando, her scolding of Phebe and her indignation on behalf of Silvius.

One of the difficulties of convincing people who haven’t seen the play is that a woman dressed as a man can convince someone who is besotted by them that they are in fact a man and not the love of their life. This difficulty is simply thrown aside by Pippa Nixon’s transformation from the pretty Rosalind into the tall, handsome Ganymede… with a sock stuffed down her pants for added masculinity. Well the play itself does admit that it doesn’t work quite fully; Phebe, played by Natalie Klamar may lust after Ganymede but in her speech to her true love Silvius she constantly remarks on parts of Ganymede that don’t quite add up, the pretty redness of his lips, his complexion, but Phebe feels ‘he’ll make a proper man’.

The play revolves around Rosalind, she is the most complete female character in Shakespeare and even some of the best lines spoken by say Melancholy Jaques such as ‘all the world’s a stage…’ appear light compared to Rosalind’s dialogue and delivery.

Nearing the end Rosalind as Ganymede conjures up the perfect ending for the play. As Ganymede she promises to marry both Phebe and Orlando and make Silvius content. The play ends with Rosalind returning as a woman and everyone being matched with who they should be.

Now back as Rosalind, Pippa Nixon finishes the play perfectly with the epilogue that may have been written in deference to men who may have been put out that Shakespeare had given the best lines and the best part to a man dressed as a woman dressed as a man who is really a woman… my head hurts thinking about that.

And the play had music by Laura Marling, a double bass, new age hippies, a bare chested wrestling match by two fit guys and a lot of beer being thrown around… could it get any better?

Hats off to the RSC and here’s to their return next year.

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Art, Dos Ponts

Art, two points... the MACABA and CaixaForum, two art forms, two years... oh and two pics

Art, two points… the MACBA and CaixaForum, two art forms, two years… oh and two pics

Art, two points

The MACBA in Barcelona currently has an exhibition which is running over two venues, the MACBA and the CaixaForum. It takes into consideration two art forms, modernism and the avant-garde. Makes reference to two years when Barcelona presented itself to the world, 1888 and 1929. And you can get your picture taken twice, once before seeing the exhibition and again after to see what effect it has had on you.

Barcelona in 1888 and ‘modernisme’

Before 1888 there was a fortress in Barcelona, a fortress built by the Catalan people and much hated by the Catalan people. It was built at the behest of Philip V of Spain to prevent the citizens of Barcelona from rebelling. For three years the Catalan people were forced to work building the fortress and during this time residents of the La Ribera area were made homeless.

In 1888 Barcelona held the ‘Universal Exposition’ and took the opportunity to rid itself of the hated fortress and create the ‘Parc de la Ciutadella’ for its citizens and to house the ‘Universal Exposition’ in which Barcelona would present itself to the world.

At the entrance to the ‘Universal Exposition’ stood the ‘Arc de Triomf’. The arch is inscribed in Catalan with the words ‘Barcelona Welcomes the Nations’. The arch is now part of the ‘Passeig de Lluís Companys’ leading to the ‘Parc de la Ciutadella’.

The arch was designed by ‘Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas’ a Catalan architect who formed part of the ‘modernisme’ movement.

The ‘Universal Exposition’ was a huge success for Barcelona and invigorated it’s economy, architecture, technology and development and showed it as a world class city.

At the beginning of the MACBA exhibition is Oriol Vilanova’s ‘Copia (2000)’ which is made up of hundreds of postcards of Triumphal Arches including the ‘Arc de Triomf’ of Barcelona.

‘Modernisme’ is Catalan for modernism and is a type of modernism peculiar to Barcelona. It is represented by the work of Antonio Gaudi whose architecture can be seen in Barcelona in magnificent structures such as the Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlló, Park Güell and many more. ‘Modernisme’ may have been a well accepted art form in Barcelona but it was always subject to change from exponents of the avant-garde.

Barcelona in 1929 and the ‘avant-garde’

In 1929 Barcelona held an ‘International Exposition’ to show how far Barcelona had came and showcase Catalan industry. It required massive urban design and renewal and a movement away from the ‘modernisme’ style architecture that was predominately Catalan towards a more international ‘avant-garde’ style.

In setting up the 1929 ‘International Exposition’ Barcelona invited many countries to create a pavilion. There were ten pavilions in all including, Germany, France, Sweden and Italy, all built in one or another of various ‘avant-garde’ styles. One of the most successful was the ‘Barcelona Pavilion’ designed by the ‘Bauhaus’ architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

In the MACBA exhibition there are images by the German photographer Thomas Ruff of the ‘Barcelona Pavilion’. The images are slightly blurry and could to the observer give the impression that a U.F.O. has landed and a photograph has been taken quickly before it takes off again. In 1929 a Mies van der Rohe building like the ‘Barcelona Pavilion’ probably looked like a U.F.O. had landed amongst the ‘modernisme’ buildings.

The 1929 ‘International Exposition’ was again another huge success for Barcelona not only in presenting itself to the world as a city that was moving forward with its industry and technology, the improvements it made to its infrastructure but in it’s acceptance of international avant-garde art forms.

Barcelona after 1929 and two more things

The MACBA exhibition shows us two more things. One is Barcelona’s history and the other is how Barcelona has accepted the ‘avant-garde’.

In relation to history we see amongst other things the Spanish Civil War with a short film showing Franco coming to power and the destruction that the Civil War caused. Next to it is a painting that appears to be Picasso’s Guernica wrapped up in brown paper, tied up with string and with the upper right corner torn off showing a horse with a dagger in its mouth.

Barcelona has came to accept and revel in the ‘avant-garde’. It’s own Catalan born artists or those who have studied and worked in Barcelona have been held in high esteem. While artists from around the world have been invited to create some fantastic works in Barcelona.

Joan Rabascall, born in Barcelona in 1935 and a well known Catalan artist is there with amongst other things ‘Atomic Kiss’, with it’s bright red lips having bright red lipstick applied while an atom bomb explodes above them, the image is used to advertise the exhibition. And again with images from his series ‘Spain is Different’ such as ‘Kultura’ with its TV screen filled with soccer balls.

Antoni Tàpies, born in Barcelona in 1923 has his piece ‘Rinzen’ hanging at a great height in the stair well of the building. The piece comprises a bed with it’s feet against the wall so as to be hanging vertically with it’s bedding hanging from it as if in the act of falling. The word ‘rinzen’ is apparently Japanese for sudden awakening.

Miquel Barceló, studied fine art in Barcelona and was part of the ‘avant-garde’ ‘Taller Lunatic’ group. Barceló’s ‘Saison des Pluies No. 2’ is part of the exhibition. The painting has rain slashing diagonally across it and is made up of greys and whites and some kind of earthy colour. The painting itself seems to contain earth, the paint is risen so far off the canvass you can get a different and wonderful interpretation of it from every angle. Barceló is also the creator of ‘Gran Elefant Dret’ a physics defying elephant that stands on it’s trunk in Barcelona.

Antonio Miraldi, who is from Terrassa in Catalonia and has worked in many mediums is represented with the ‘Brides Chest’. Which is a brides ‘bottom drawer’ with hundreds of toy soldiers, all painted white, spilling out.

Of the non-Catalan artists in the exhibition there is Claes Oldenburg who is an American artist born in Stockholm and is well known for his oversized replicas of everyday objects. His piece ‘Mistos (Match Cover)’ is there and is a large replica of a book of matches, some matches burnt out, some bent and one erect and in flames. It is a smaller version of the 22 metre high version he created for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Another non-Catalan artist is Craigie Horsfield a British photographic artist. There are a number of photographic collections in the exhibition but this one by Craigie Horsfield shows mostly pictures of the citizens of Barcelona rather than it’s buildings. The photographs are very large and are in most cases a head and shoulder shot. The selection is a wide representation of Catalan people and many are beautiful and if not conventionally beautiful they are full of character. All the images are a joy to consider and dwell on but one stands out. The image is of a woman, black hair, dark eyes, strong nose, no make up. She is called Monica and appears to be a Catalan everywoman. So much the Catalan everywoman that Monica could be the woman that served you at lunchtime, the teacher with a crocodile of children on their way to the park, the driver who brought you from the airport, the pharmacist who advised you, the art gallery curator who brought you ‘Art, Dos Ponts’ and all of these things while also being very strong, very beautiful and very Catalan.

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Middlesbrough in video

I can't dance, I can't sing... err actually you can...

I can’t dance, I can’t sing… err actually you can…

Bricks

In 1972 the Tate bought 120 bricks that Carl Andre had arranged into a rectangle of 10 long by 6 wide by 2 deep and put the resulting sculpture, called ‘Equivalent VIII’ into a number of displays without attracting much opprobrium. That was until 1976 when the media realised the bricks were there and launched an attack. On the 15 February 1976 the Sunday Times went with the headline “The Tate Drops a Costly Brick” and declared ‘the Bricks’, as they are more popularly known, as an institutional waste of taxpayers’ money. The Daily Mirror said “Whichever way you look at Britain’s latest work of art… What a Load of Rubbish”. The Daily Mail may have had something to say about it at the time, they certainly did in 2012 when Julian Spalding had a pop at ‘the Bricks’, in an article about a Damien Hirst retrospective. The Daily Mail headline for that piece was “It stinks! Art critic Julian Spalding was banned from Damien Hirst’s Tate exhibition after calling him a talentless conman… but we smuggled him in – and here’s his verdict”. I think when they say “we smuggled him in” they mean he had to queue like everyone else.

The Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art or ‘mima’ has a number of Carl Andre’s works on show in an exhibition called ‘Mass & Matter’.

Carl Andre is an American born sculptor, sometimes known as the ‘Master of Matter’, whose work often uses everyday or industrial materials arranged in a simple minimalist pattern. The reasons behind his approach may be because his youth was spent in towns and cities with heavy industry and shipbuilding. It may also be because his father was a draughtsman and his grandfather a bricklayer. He himself worked for some time on the railroads, a world of flat lines, iron and wood. He may have also been influenced by Constantin Brancusi whose work marries together the changes he needs to apply to the material to create representational art with the materials natural forms.

Carl Andre is also a writer and much of what he writes is typed into shapes on the paper in the style of Concrete Poetry where the shape on the paper is as important as the words. This love of poetry it is said he received from his parents.

The ‘mima’ exhibition has fifteen Carl Andre pieces in brick, wood, metal and paper.

The sculpture that you can most closely associate with his most controversial work, ‘Equivalent VIII’ or ‘the Bricks’ is the sculpture ’60 x 1 Range Work’. This sculpture is made up of a series of brown triangular bricks stood on end to form a long prism, and yes it does look like a Toblerone. There is a very large nod to ‘the Bricks’ in another piece called ‘The Bricks Abstract’. This is a collection of comments and criticisms from February 1976 arranged into a grid like structure.

In wood the exhibition has ‘Timber Piece (Well)’ which is made of 28 identically sized blocks of red cedar put together into a 213 cm high by 122 cm wide sculpture, and yes it does look like a giant Jenga. In wood it also has ‘Phalanx’ which is made up of 14 cedar blocks formed into an arrowhead. It is understood that this may be a reference to Stonehenge which Carl Andre visited in his youth.

While pieces such as ‘Phalanx’ stand erect and tall much of his sculpture is flat. The sculpture ‘Weathering Piece’ is certainly flat. It is made up of six square plates of six different types of metal, 36 square plates in all. These have been left to weather and then laid flat on the gallery floor into a square. In other similar Carl Andre works the visitor is allowed to step on to the tiles to feel what appears to be very solid move slightly under their feet. There is no restraining rope around the ‘Weathering Piece’ to stop the visitor from stepping on but I couldn’t see a sign that said ‘Go on step on it… You know you want to!’ so I didn’t. Probably best to ask the curator first anyway.

Viewing all the pieces in the exhibition you start to feel a little bit of the love for the materials that Carl Andre, the ‘Master of Matter’ must have had for them when he was creating the sculptures. The work feels honest and earthy and simple, it almost makes you feel nostalgic for the heavy industry that some of the materials came from. And although Carl Andre is known as the leading ‘minimalist’ the changes in the materials brought on by the natural processes of weather and ageing seem to add quite a bit of beautiful complexity and not minimalist at all.

In 2013 Carl Andre has pretty much won over his critics of the 70s… well maybe not the Daily Mail.

Ada

Alex Katz has an exhibition at the ‘mima’ titled ‘Beneath the Surface’ which contains many of his stylised paintings. The painting in the advert for the exhibition is ‘4.30pm’ which with three strips of colour, one for the sky, one for the horizon, one for land and sea, some strips of clouds and a number of small white boats make the perfect coastline captured forever in the late afternoon. It seems so simply done yet so perfect. Many of the paintings are huge, covering a wall in some cases but some of his smaller works, some in ink or charcoal are just as interesting. The exhibition has many wonderful paintings, collages, watercolours and a fine collection of 36 of his drawings never seen before in the UK.

Alex Katz was born in America in 1927 and has through a long career became one of the most prolific of artists and one of the most influential in not only the visual arts world but also within the fashion and style worlds. His iconic stylised paintings can be seen reflected in commercial art. Perhaps that should not be surprising when he has said that style is the content of his painting. It is generally agreed that his work sits comfortably within Pop Art and there are similarities between his work and say Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘Drowning Girl’ or David Hockney’s ‘A Bigger Splash’.

Alex Katz paintings are representational, you can see people and places and things in them. But to make representational art during a time when the American art world was championing abstract expressionism must have been tough, especially with critics as big as Clement Greenberg the champion of abstract expressionism. But Alex Katz appears to have rode out any criticism and seems to have been very confident in what he does despite criticism that could be have been so career damaging.

The exhibition has much to recommend it but apart from the wonderful images two things stand out. One is the prose that adorns the walls as comments to and additions to the work and the second is the number of times Ada, his wife and muse of over 50 years, beautiful with her dark hair, dark eyes and full red lips, is included in his work over and over again. With regard to the prose around the walls at the entrance to the gallery there is a note book where ‘mima’ have asked people to write a comment in poem form on the exhibition.

Amongst many wonderful contributions of which many are from children, there is one which I assume is from a woman which reads:

‘Come and paint my face
Bright red lips
Wide eyes
Turn me into a beauty
Long black hair
Oh Mr Katz
What you could do for me’

I think I know how she feels.

Juan Pablo Echeverri

Colombian artist Juan Pablo Echeverri as part of Vamos, that’s Spanish so I think that is supposed to be bracketed with exclamation marks but I can’t find the upside down ! on my typewriter, has created through hundreds of photos taken in a ‘photo booth’ a piece of art called ‘Miss Fotojapòn’. Echeverri through sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle changes in clothing or hair has created an immense set of images which asks questions of identity and gender.

He has also created a video of the people of Middlesbrough called ‘Around the World – Video Portrait of Middlesbrough’ and that is what the image at top of this post is from. In the video people dress up and sing and dance. The video is so happy and uplifting that it’s nice to think that every town and every city has people willing to dress up, sing and dance in the name of art or fun or silly. There are so many beautiful faces around here, some full of character some that conform to more traditional lines of beauty, that maybe we should ask Juan Pablo Echeverri to do a video of us and get our own all singing, all dancing, all silly, all fun ‘Around the World – Video Portrait of Wherever You Are Now’.

Hey ho!

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