Jean-Michel Basquiat - Boom for real 04 January 2018

In 1988 I remember watching a South Bank Show documentary about a young American artist who had just recently died from a heroin overdose. It told a story of SAMO a teenage graffiti writer living in a box in central park in the late 1970s who scrawled the city’s walls with wild esoteric prose who went on to be discovered by Andy Warhol and eventually to become one of the most successful and highly paid artists of the 80s. I was immediately hooked on Basquiat.

Since then, apart from a small show of privately owned works in a Cork Street gallery in 2003,  I’d never seen Basquiat’s work in all its raw glory… until the Barbican opened the first large scale exhibition this September. The show is a real assault (in a good way) on the senses and a compelling journey through Basquiat’s story.

It begins on the mezzanine level with works created for the New York / New Wave show curated by Diego Cortez in 1981. Made on different materials, wood, canvas, paper and scrap metal the work sets the scene for what’s to come. Crude renditions of urban life accompanied by seemingly random interruption of colour and hand written text.

The journey continues by taking a step back into Basquiat’s formative years under the moniker of SAMO. It was fascinating to see early articles in The Soho weekly news along with photographs of SAMO graffiti on walls around Manhattan. The real highlight was the original artwork for postcards that Basquiat would create and sell with Jennifer Stein.

The exhibition continues through rooms showing Basquiat’s involvement with The Mudd Club and subsequently Arena, highlighting Edo Bergoglio’s Downtown 81 which shows a day in the life of Basquiat as a down and out artist drifting through various downtown art scenes.

At the half way point the volume goes right up showing the work produced at the Great Jones Street studio leased for Basquiat by Warhol. Here the work shows an eruption of creativity. Wild colour, marks and language run over crudely constructed canvases. The works both captivate and confuse, intrigue and repel. At moments it’s like looking into an insane mind that has an unbridled stream of consciousness.

There’s no rules and no limit to Basquiat’s work. It is unapologetically visceral, it speaks loudly in a covert language and it astounds and perplexes in the same glance. For me there’s an uncompromising honesty to Basquiat’s work that reflects a truly unique artistic perspective that we’ve not seen since.

The exhibition runs until 28 January 2018

£16.00 adults

Read more
basquiat.jpg (1)

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. Not everyone will be taken into the future. 21 November 2017

Not knowing a great deal about contemporary Russian artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. I was wonderfully surprised to find their current exhibition at the Tate Modern to be a wonderfully immersive journey and compelling story of two artists who’ve challenged convention and perceptions over the past 60 years.

Known for their large scale conceptual installations and use of fictional personas their work challenges and critiques the conventions of former Soviet visual culture contrasting the drab reality of life under the Soviet regime with amplified propaganda images of overly optimistic depictions of Soviet life.

The exhibition begins with a focus on Ilya who worked as an artist outside the official parameters of the Soviet art establishment during the 1960s up to the beginnings of Perestroika in the late 1980s where he moved to New York and began collaborating with Emilia.

For me the show maps a progressive creative journey that twists and turns with the most unexpected images, forms and experiences. The earlier rooms which focus on Ilya’s fictional characters and stark contrasts between the propaganda and reality of Soviet life are fascinating and visually disruptive. More formal state sanctioned imagery is forced almost brutally into social realist depictions of Russian people appearing like huge collages.

The later rooms are really immersive in the way both artists create conceptual spaces and narratives that engage and challenge perceptions. ‘The Man Who Flew into Space from His Apartment’ is a visual sensation. Raw and intense it also creates a humorous story through the rudimentary human catapult at the centre of the space. In contrast ‘How to meet an Angel’ presents a more elegant and refined situation while still maintaining an endearing humour.

If you’re in the Bankside area do check out the show. It’ll charm, surprise and hopefully enlighten.

The exhibition runs until 28 January 2018

£13.30 adults


Read more

Getting to know Eduardo 05 May 2017

On the latest of the design team’s cultural outings we gathered together our creative baggage and headed out to the Whitechapel Gallery on the edge of The City to see the Eduardo Paolozzi exhibition.

Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) was one of the most innovative British artisits of his generation and pushed the boundaries of contemporary sculpture, textile, ceramic, collage and print crafts. His most well known public piece of art in the UK was to be found at Tottenham Court Road Underground station in the form of a vast sprawling multi coloured mural which danced overhead across the Central Line platform and interchanges. These murals are now being renovated and reconstructed in Paolozzi’s home city of Edinburgh before once again going on display to the public. These works however only give a small view into the vast creative output and talent of this progressive ideas man.

A recurring theme in Paolozzi’s work during the sixties is the combination of man and machine which can be seen in his sculpture and vivid screen prints. The sculptural pieces were pioneering in the art world by their use of concrete to reflect the modern world in a raw and brutalist style. Produced at the same time and in direct contrast to his sculpture a series of screen prints burst with bright colours and metallic inks. The process involved layering up multiple inked plates to create intricate, bold and inspiring images which sit comfortably in the Pop Art bracket.

During the eighties Paolozzi experimented in sculpture and the process of making. He would copy and recast artworks in plaster, then assemble them into new forms, destroy them and then again reassemble them before casting the whole creation in bronze. The whole point was that the “art” is in the creative process of the making and that the final piece was irrelevant. These are very modern concepts of art and something that younger artists would go on to build upon in contemporary art across the world.

Following our highbrow outing we decided to keep things real by heading straight to Poppies Fish & Chips shop in Spitalfields to process all these concepts over mushy peas and a pint.

Recommended by Living Group this exhibition runs from 16 February – 14 May 2017 at The Whitechapel Gallery, London

Read more

‘Switched’ on. 07 February 2017

If you can’t get enough of bold uncompromising architectural structures, concrete floors, walls and sweeping staircases, minimalist features, simple signage, beautiful lighting and stunning views, then you’ll love the newly built and freshly set Switch House; Tate Modern’s ‘power pyramid’ extension.

Designed by Herzog & de Meuron – a swiss based architectural firm – it’s 11 floors high, and expands the museum by 60%, housing art exhibitions, restaurants and bars.

Tate’s director Sir Nicholas Serota told a press briefing in London that the aim was to create “a new museum for the 21st century that reflects a truly international view of art”.

The views from the balcony are breathtaking. Definitely an ‘I Love London’ moment. That view is worth a visit alone.

Oh, but ‘please respect your neighbour’s privacy’. All will become clear!

Read more

Rauschenberg at Tate Modern 01 February 2017

Rarely does an artist whose work defies all conventions conquer the mainstream and seldom do artists who’ve achieved enormous financial success gamble it all on non profit socio-political projects. Robert Rauschenberg however, did both. 

The current retrospective of Rauschenberg’s work at Tate Modern takes you on an immersive journey throughout his career. Beginning with early experimental works carried out at Black Mountain College where he was tutored by the renown Bauhaus teacher Josef Albers who encouraged students to work with everyday materials. (An influence that clearly motivated Rauschenberg throughout his working life.) 

This raw early work shown in the first room is truly compelling. To see the human body photograms on blue print paper and the abstraction of the tire print is quite a privilege as few artist’s formative work is ever shown. The next room takes you into Rauschenberg’s experimental work of the 1950’s. Here you can see the ‘Combine’ work where he added real objects (often found discarded on the streets of Manhattan) into visceral paintings. There’s a palpable energy in the work at this stage of the show which is rough, honest and unapologetic. You really get a sense of an artist who is creating work free from a commercial agenda.

The show moves swiftly onto Rauschenberg’s more famous works created in the 1960’s dominated by his explorations into screen printing. These works really absorb the viewer’s attention into the multi image layers, overlays of incidental typography and gestural brushwork. There’s a wonderful depth to the silkscreens not only visually but also in terms of subject matter. Of all his contemporaries Rauschenberg was clearly bolder in addressing the political events of the 60’s.

A rather unexpected addition to Rauschenberg’s work in the 60’s are props, sets and footage from his lesser known performance art. Becoming one of the founders of the Judson Dance Theater Rauschenberg not only designed and created the sets and lighting but was also credited with choreographing performances.

This really is a show which keeps giving. Just when you think you’ve recovered from the revelation of Rauschenberg as a master of dance you’re thrown into his experimentation with technology. ‘Mud Muse’ is a wonderfully playful installation of a large metal tank containing a 1000 gallons of bentonite clay mixed with water. The tank is pumped with air which causes the mud to pop and bubble, the sound of which causes the air to be re-injected into the tank. 

The end of the show takes you through the collaborative of the ROCI ‘Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange’ foundation where Rauschenberg travelled to countries behind the global iron curtain producing works inspired by each location visited. One work produced in the series was donated to national museum of the host country. This work sees Rauschenberg leveraging photography, print and new techniques to create artworks that sought to communicate across cultural and political divides.

The Rauschenberg retrospective really does deliver a compelling visual and sensory journey through an intrepid lifetime’s work by an artist who acknowledged no boundaries in his artistic expression.

The show runs until 2 April at the Tate Modern. Don’t miss out.

Andy Richards

Read more

The Farm Agricultural Park 06 December 2016

Sicily, at the toe of Italy’s boot remains a charming time capsule distinct from its modernised other half. The Greek and Roman ruins, ancient necropolis’, ranging lofty landscapes that calve gorges and dramatic slopes to the Mediterranean and misty Mt Etna provide a timeless backdrop for a relaxing holiday.

In the province of Agrigento 10km in-land, is the old dusty town of Favara. It was once a great fortified settlement of the Greeks and in modern times was and still is known for its agricultural trade and sulphur (among other) mines. ‘It is regionally famous for the Easter Lamb, a local pastry produced there from almonds and pistachios’ of which I sampled and can validate its quality. Not to mention the orange tart. It was sad to see that final bite disappear!

In the last 80 years, quite possibly as an effect of Mussolini’s Agricultural policy of fascism in the 1930s, the region suffered from drastic levels of unemployment that still grips the town today. In light of seeing their home town become little more than old brick, wood and clay shells, ‘Andrea Bartoli and his wife Florinda Saieva bought several buildings in the semi-abandoned city center’ and from it, created an oasis of life. The Farm Cultural Park opened in 2010 and has since drawn in tourists from around the world to view its exhibits, screenings, talks, cultural events cafes and shops.

The area itself is pleasing to the eye and almost a little bizarre. Boldly coloured playful murals depict local life, old chairs and cupboards are suspended from the flaking building walls and politically charged statements hide playfully within the natural landscape of buildings. All the while the stray cats and dogs play their endless game of hide and seek between the narrow baking streets of old cafes re-furbished restaurants and a-top craggy stairways.

The main exhibit at TFCP was a photographic exploration titled ‘The Commonality of Strangers’ by Mahtab Hussain. I was surprised to find that it was in fact a Britain-centric exhibition; a collection of portraits and interviews of immigrants both new and old, that set about ‘demystifying who these individuals are, while confronting the viewer with the reality of their experience and why they came to live in the UK’.  

The accounts of the individuals are highly personal, sometimes shocking and always surprising. You cannot help but notice the stereotypes you lazily accept being wiped away before your eyes. Their opinions on subjects and the eloquence and the depth that they understand, leaves you with a clear impression that they obviously know more about these issues than the everyday Britain born Caucasian. Yet they are not necessarily angry or bitter. They are grateful, rational, concerned and in many cases have lived with the changing of policy on immigration first hand. They have seen the benefits when it works and also mourned the effects of its failures.

If you find yourself in Sicily it is no mean feat to drive to Favara. Spend an afternoon walking around The Farm Cultural Park and buy a local pastry or two. It is only very small, but it leaves a big impression.

You can view the exhibition online here:

Read more