QUERUBIM LAPA

On a visit to Lisbon I found that the azulejo tradition is not only more deeply rooted in Portugal’s culture than I realised but that it remains alive and is being continually renewed.

The Lisbon metro has been decorated in azulejos over the last twenty years, using modern techniques like screen printing and styles and themes that are completely contemporary. Then, when we were walking past the Pasteleria Alcôa at 37 Rua Garrett, I saw the tiled shop front made by Querubim Lapa in 1960, a beautiful, softly-painted panel in shades of blue.

Lapa, I discovered, was one of Portugal’s principal contemporary ceramic artists. The high esteem in which tile painting is held in this country meant that after a training and early career in easel painting, he was able to concentrate entirety on ceramics.

The shop in Rua Garrett, originally for Casa da Sorte, was a collaboration between architect Francisco Conceição Silva and Lapa. Lapa rated his contribution so highly that he asked for his application for the chair in ceramics at the school of fine arts to be assessed on it alone.

When Casa da Sorte closed, there was concern for the future of this fine ceramic work, but, when Alcôa took over the building in 2015, they undertook not to disturb it.

"ALTERNATIVE VISIONS", CHELTENHAM

Max Frances, Hidden

I was in Cheltenham at the weekend, exhibiting at Handmade in Britain in Cheltenham Town Hall, a well-chosen craft fair with very good quality work in all media. While I was there I went to The Wilson, Cheltenham’s museum and art gallery, which has a famous collection of Cotswolds Arts and Crafts, which I have wanted to see for a long time.

We caught The Wilson’s temporary exhibition “Alternative Visions: Undiscovered Art in the South West” just before it closed on Sunday. Several of the artists deal with physical or mental pain and their work is raw and sometimes difficult to look at. I was struck by the directness of their statements and the absence of artbollocks.

Sometimes they are witty too. I very much liked Max Frances’s statement attached to his sculpture “Hidden”, in which he said, “I am an artist made of wire, string and the bones of someone else I used to be. For me, creativity is as necessary as respiration. I fight my demons with pencils, and paint them into corners. Inspiration comes from nature and the magic and mystery to be found behind the banal mask of the everyday. All nature is precious, but I am especially fond of vultures. As a scavenger myself, I enjoy using found, recycled and unexpected (cheap) materials. I find beauty that is overlooked, ignored or disdained.”

MAURIZIO CATTELAN’S "AMERICA": TEN LAYERS OF IRONY IN A GOLD TOILET

It’s quite a hoot that the Guggenheim Museum offered to lend the White House Maurizio Cattelan’s America – a functioning gold toilet – after turning down their request for a Van Gogh landscape.  There are ten layers of irony in this:

  • A toilet made of gold.
  • A gift of a toilet made of gold to a man who is reputed to have chairs made of gold.
  • A gift of gold that is intended as an insult to the President.
  • A functioning toilet made of gold that visitors to the Guggenheim are permitted to use.
  • A functioning toilet that Guggenheim guards protect closely and inspect regularly.
  • A reference to Duchamp’s readymade Fountain that is not a readymade at all.
  • A precious, commoditised version of Duchamp’s inherently worthless Fountain.
  • A reference to the once-shocking Fountain that is now so clichéd that it causes no offence whatever in the art world.
  • ” One can imagine creating reverse readymades from some of Duchamp‘s pure readymades, such as shoveling snow with In Advance of a Broken Arm, or like an Italian conceptual artist actually did, urinating in Fountain. Of course, the irony is that in urinating in Duchamp’s urinal, the artist created a reverse readymade by retuming it to the use for which it was originally manufactured.” Derridada: Duchamp as Readymade Deconstruction, Thomas Deane Tucker.
Duchamp, In Advance of the Broken Arm

  • Playing at political radicalism without being radical at all. So old hat. So fake. Duchamp imagined a readymade in reverse, for example, using a Rembrandt as an ironing board. The only artists who took him up were the students of the Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1968, who confronted the police with old masters from the walls of the school.

RADIO SILENCE

Modigliani

Apologies for the lack of posts over the last few weeks. I have not gone away. We have builders at home, who have turned everything upside down, and next week it will get worse when the roof comes off and the back of the house is knocked down. Thank goodness we got the central heating fixed before that happened.

In the studio all I’m doing is repetitive glaze tests and packing parcels to send to galleries before Christmas.

I hope to get to the Modigliani exhibition at Tate Modern in due course. He is a painter I have never liked, and hearing the curator talk about his social circumstances and bohemian life reinforced my suspicion that he is artistically negligible. But I keep an open mind.

RACHEL WHITEREAD AT TATE BRITAIN

My preparation for Handmade in Britain is in on track, so I went to see the Rachel Whiteread retrospective at Tate Britain (above).

Whiteread has shown remarkable consistency over the thirty years since her Slade graduation, casting objects and the space around them to give us surprising views of the familiar world. Her high profile works, like House (1993) – the concrete cast of the inside of a house in east London – are familiar, but this exhibition introduced us to less familiar works, made in a series of major preoccupations during the course of her career. Her recent work comprises resin casts of doors and papier maché casts of fences and sheds walls. I particularly liked the assemblages of small objects on shelves made between 2005 and 2010 in materials of different colour, like Lineup (below), reminiscent proximately of Edmund de Waal and ultimately of Giorgio Morandi.

Whiteread began casting in papier maché and plaster and advanced to concrete, but she has cast in just about every possible material and has shown tremendous concentration and impressive craft. For the larger pieces she has drawn on specialist assistance, notably in House, which is described in a contemporary film of the construction process.

House was produced at the suggestion of James Lingwood of Artangel, which works with artists and  funders to produce large creations outside galleries. “We knew the sculpture would generate interest from the beginning,” Lingwood said, but  “House was a lightning conductor”. It divided opinion among both critics and the local population. Andrew Graham-Dixon called it “one of the most extraordinary and imaginative public sculptures created by an English artist this century”, Brian Sewell described it as “meritless gigantism”.

The film of house featured the fabricators who are essential to much contemporary art. Glen Adamson has said that the contribution of fabricators is not just overlooked but hidden because it is so important that it may reduce the reputation of the artist. Their role is different from that of bronze casters in traditional sculpture because traditional sculptors made their own models, and the relation of fabricators to artists is more like the relation of builder to architect. If you look carefully at the film of House, you will see that the construction was by Tarmac.

PAINTINGS BY THE EAST LONDON GROUP

We went to the Nunnery Gallery in Bow yesterday evening (above) to see the paintings of the East London Group and for the launch of East End Vernacular, a book about these pictures and other documentary paintings of the area, published by the blogger of Spitalfields Life.

The East London Group were working class painters who came together at the Bethnal Green Institute in the 1920s and were taught by John Cooper, also at times by Walter Sickert and Phyllis Bray. They painted what they saw and knew well, the streets and interiors of their locality. They were good and achieved some national success before the Second World War, though usually with some condescension to their class and lack of education. Some continued to paint after the war, hurriedly trying to record a disappearing East End.

Walter Steggles (1908-1997) The Scullery, 1927

The Nunnery is part of the Bow arts centre, which exemplifies the changes that have occurred here since the 1970s, with the coming of new nationalities and cultures, middle class artists and intellectuals.

Albert Turpin (1900-1964), Sally, c.1930

The show is curated by Emma-Louise Williams and Michael Rosen, who is an energetic promoter of the vernacular. On sale in the bookshop is his memoir So They Call You Pisher, which records his home life with Harold and Connie Rosen, who had a huge influence on him. They were left-wing academics, they studied language as it’s spoken and advocated the use of the demotic in English teaching, which Michael practices in his visits to schools. I liked the funny chapter in his book about his school teachers, because I was in his year at school and they were my teachers too.

Albert Turpin, Lakeview Estate, undated

This picture of the Lakeview Estate is undated, but it must have been painted after 1958, when Turpin was about sixty. The estate was designed by the avant-garde architect Berthold Lubetkin, most famous for the Penguin Pool at London Zoo, whose motto was “nothing is too good for ordinary people”. Lubetkin gave up architecture after fruitless battles with conservative town planners and turned to pig farming instead.

The author of East End Vernacular does not sign his blog or give his name. He only calls himself The Gentle Author – I suppose that’s how he signed his book. He said that people from outside the East End are always surprised when they discover its culture, but he couldn’t imagine a book called “West End Vernacular”, nor even “North London Vernacular.”

The Working Artist: The East London Group
The Nunnery, 181 Bow Road, London E3 2SJ
29 September 2017 – 17 December 2017

Opening Hours: 10am – 5pm

JAPONISME IN GRAPHIC ART

To reinforce the point about the similarity of Kós’s graphic style to the Beggarstaffs (James Pryde and William Nicholson), here (above) is one of their best designs, a highly original theatre poster for A Chapter from Don Quixote by W. G. Wills, performed at the Lyceum Theatre in 1895 and starring Henry Irving. Irving didn’t like and it wasn’t used but it was often reproduced, so it has become familiar. The common elements of asymmetry, strong outline, flat colour and empty space are even more evident in Nicholson’s Queen Victoria print (below). (The originals of both designs are in the V&A.)

There is the same in Lautrec’s posters (above) and Gauguin’s painting, but the immediate source for ­Kós must have been the graphics of the Secession (below). The ultimate source, of course, was Japonisme, and in particular Japanese woodblock prints. So Kós’s renderings of his country’s rural folk art also had metropolitan and international sources.

Kolomon Moser, Woglinde, 1901