Friday, 29 June 2012

Turner, Monet, Twombly

The world of J. M. W. Turner, Claude Monet and Cy Twombly is awash with sea, sky, and landscapes, and is a place where it seems colour and atmosphere are of higher importance than subject matter. All three of these artists appear to express their emotions through colour, and by looking around Tate Liverpool’s new exhibition, it appears the similarities don’t end there. This show hosts an abundance of work by each artist, and shows a progression in Impressionist painting that leaves the most contemporary of the three, Twombly, adrift between modern and traditional techniques.
Each artist has clearly been influenced by their predecessor, but individually they have pushed the boundaries of impressionist painting to create their own signature styles. Arguably all three share romantic colour palettes at times, and certainly expressive brush strokes, but where Turner and Monet paint landscapes, Twombly has opted for a more abstract approach. Still, his brave sweeps of paint do seem reminiscent of the raging seas in Turner’s pieces, and the bold reds and blacks in ‘Petals of Fire’ a progression from earlier muted yellows and browns. The question this exhibition seems to ask is, what of the mortality of classical painting? Is it still somewhat alive in Twombly’s work?
With regards to technique, there are perhaps more similarities between Twombly and Monet, particularly if we are to consider the importance of brush strokes. Twombly in particular ladens canvases with thick paint in a much bolder way than Turner ever did, even at times emblazoning his pieces with their titles, as in ‘Wilder Shores of Love.’ Monet and Twombly also have a shared use of pink, which creeps into many of their pieces. This exhibition has several of Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’ on show, as well as other iconic works such as ‘London, Houses of Parliament, Burst of Sunlight in the Fog,’ and
 ‘View of Rouen,’ all of which are mirrored in Twombly’s romantic use of pinks and purples. The misty blues and oranges in Monet’s pieces are however more reminiscent of Turner, who often opted for an earthy palette, using the colours of the elements. Monet’s ‘Morning on the Seine’ and Turner’s ‘The Thames Above Waterloo Bridge’ both share pastel qualities and subtly represented scenery which make them fit well together within this show.
It is interestingly the use of white which seems to link Turner to Twombly in this exhibition. From smaller series’ of oil paintings by Turner such as ‘Red Sky Over a Beach’ and ‘Sea and Sky’ there is an evident likeness to Twombly, with only hints of other colours bleeding through. This unexpected lightness from Turner, and sometimes an unexpected darkness in his other pieces, is also something we see reflected in the contemporary bold works of Twombly.

What this exhibition has done has created a sort of timeline of progressive Impressionism. Even if you fail to see the similarities between these three artists there is no denying the shared expressive force created by their paintings, and the crucial importance of colour. Monet’s ‘Water lilies’ are certainly a highlight of this exhibition, their misty blues expressing a quiet melancholia in response to the artist’s personal grief. However all three artists have equal weighting within the show, offering viewers both small and large examples of their work, and an opportunity to consider any shared motivations and painterly techniques. All considered truly radical painters in their time, Turner, Monet and Twombly’s explorations of colour, light and emotive expression have created some stunning pieces, more than 60 of which are on show here.
Monet’s interest in Turner is well documented, but Twombly’s adoption of such classic styles is a new consideration which Tate Liverpool is opening up to the masses. While at times these artists have conspicuously different styles, this amalgamation of their work is a fitting and thought-provoking one, and in a way, all three are keeping each other alive through their work.
By Liz Buckley

This review was first posted on ArtFace, read more here

Image: Claude Monet
Poplars on the Epte 1891
© Tate, 2011

Monday, 25 June 2012

A Little Place Called The Cornerhouse...

The Cornerhouse, situated on the top corner of Oxford Road next to Oxford Road Station, is one of Manchester’s most buzzing creative hubs, offering work from artists, publishers and independent filmmakers alike. This cultural hotspot has three cinema screens, along with 3 floors of gallery space showing the best of local and international contemporary art. The Cornerhouse has also certainly succeeded in merging arts and culture with relaxation and socialising by having a lively cafe and bar on its first floor, which is always bustling with both locals and tourists. There is also a shop on the ground floor selling art books and publications, which additionally serves as an international distribution service.
The Cornerhouse opened its door to creative individuals in the mid 80’s, and has remained at the centre of alternative and contemporary arts from the word go. This artistic Mecca even has internationally-renowned artist Damien Hirst as one of its patrons! On the gallery side, the venue welcomes both up-and-coming and established artists, often providing individuals with the opportunity for first-time solo exhibitions, or brand new commissions especially for the Cornerhouse.
With several important galleries residing in Manchester, the Cornerhouse does well to maintain such a strong and diverse visual arts programme, despite being a slightly smaller venue than some others. Its exhibitions are open to all kinds of media, from sculpture, to painting, to large scale installations, to (especially) film. The flagship cinema at the Cornerhouse has a wide and varied film programme, showing a range of productions including foreign films, brand new independents, animations, re-releases, avant-garde pictures, and many more. They even run two of their very own film festivals every year, known as ‘¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Film Festival,’ and ‘Exposures: New Talent in Moving Image.’
Both the cinema and gallery spaces at the Cornerhouse provide a platform for new artistic talent, which is what makes it such an important cultural hub in Manchester. The people there also understand the importance of learning within the arts sector, and so provide everything from art courses to curator-led tours of each exhibition.
Earlier this year the Cornerhouse and Manchester’s Library Theatre in St. Peter’s Square decided to merge, in the hope of creating a new cultural organisation for the arts. This amalgamation will have its very own building by 2014 in Manchester’s First Street area, creating a new home for various artistic platforms. This will hopefully open many doors for the Cornerhouse, allowing it not only more space but the opportunity to build a new identity.
Always at the epicentre of innovative artistic thinking, the Cornerhouse believes it will become more dynamic than ever after its move to First Street, and will continue its duty in serving Manchester and the rest of the world a vibrant selection of visual arts.
by Liz Buckley

Image Courtesy: Press Office, Cornerhouse

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Manchester Faces Forward

Manchester has traded goods, most importantly cloth, with Africa for at least the last two hundred years. The Whitworth Gallery’s new exhibition entitled ‘We Face Forward’ asks its visitors, what place do these kind of traditions have in modern society? Comprising of 32 artists from 9 African countries, this show includes a selection of both new commissions and existing West African art that is being shown for the first time in the UK, as well as many pieces from the Whitworth’s own collection. ‘We Face Forward’ is running throughout the summer and is part of a city-wide celebration of Manchester’s relationship with West Africa, with events and exhibitions taking place at various venues. What many of the pieces on show consider is, are textile-based African artworks indicative of continuing sustainability, or a dying practise?
Meschac Gaba’s flag has become the emblem for ‘We Face Forward,’ as it has been created by blending together the flags of each West African nation with the flag of the UK, symbolising harmony and an ever-growing friendship between our communities.
The curators for this exhibition say the idea for ‘We Face Forward’ grew from some of the existing textile collections already residing at the Whitworth. A selection of these are on show as part of the exhibition, including examples of wax prints, tie-dye, batik and adire, showing not only African artistic practises but the adoption of such techniques in our own culture. Garments such as Chief robes, warrior tunics and dance skirts demonstrate the colourful and rich heritage that Africa has shared with us, and show that textiles are used here as an expressive medium, and not just as an ethnographic curiosity.
Despite the friendly bond between Manchester and West Africa, artists such as Armadou Sanogo and Romuald Hazoume have chosen to explore problems of white supremacy and slavery in their work. Sanogo’s piece entitled ‘Disabled Gaze’ seems to be perhaps indicative of an ignorance in the West regarding African cultures, and the artist has chosen to leave his works frameless as a way of diverging from Western traditions of framing. Hazoume’s work combines satire with seriousness in his exploration of human labour. In his videos, photographs, and installation of a street seller’s cart piled high with discarded items such as sunglasses and mobile phones, he hopes to demonstrate the waste caused by consumerist trades, and the continuing danger faced by African traders as they struggle to get by.
Nii Obodai’s stunning black and white photographs are indicative of the artist’s personal search for what he feels the future holds for him. He asks the viewers to consider their own future, and how much we really assert our independence...should we question the identity which we have let society construct? A lot of the work on show for this exhibition questions cultural conventions and how our views and practises can be corrupted by power. Obodai’s photographs explore a West African identity, and demonstrate the difficulty in understanding a culture which is so distant from our own. He believes the beauty of one’s surroundings can often bring people back from crisis or despair, and remains hopeful for a future of freedom and equality, which is symbolised by the light shining through his photographs.
A lot of the pieces on show here indicate a hope that our cross-cultural bond with West Africa is growing ever stronger. Francois-Xavier Gbre’s photographs of derelict buildings in the midst of crumbling down represent a moment of great change, metaphorically representing the relationship between the UK and West African Nations. Attempting to bridge the gap between dreams of equality and reality, Marthine Tayou’s new work for this exhibition ‘The World Falls Apart’ creates almost a forest of towering wooden poles, emblazoned with a mixture of trade goods and sacred objects, perhaps in the hope of making Western Souvenirs and African items indistinguishable. Amidst the poles of wood, Tayou has hung sculptures, or ‘diamonds,’ made from cotton and metal, and these spill out into the park outside the gallery.
This cultural celebration of Manchester’s contextual ties with West Africa not only brings to light problematic issues of the past, such as the slave trade and Africa’s struggling economy, but creates a colourful collaboration of varying work, which shows the sheer wealth of talent and imagination in West Africa, in both traditional and contemporary mediums. ‘We Face Forward’ encourages a new appreciation of the West African culture, with humbling photographs and stunning textile creations, making viewers support the growing friendship between Britain and West Africa, and hope for a less consumerist future.
By Liz Buckley

Images: Meschac Gaba, Ensemble, 2012 - and Barthélémy Toguo, Jugement Dernier I, Courtesy the artist, Whitworth Gallery and Gallerie Lelong

First published on