A trip to the Barbican Conservatory

February 25, 2015 § Leave a comment


The Barbican Centre is a mass of grey buildings that is best known as host to a theatre, several concert halls, a cinema and an art gallery. However, what many people don’t know is that high up on top of this iconic building, thousands of tropical plants have made their home, overlooking the City of London.

The vegetation is housed inside the Barbican’s Conservatory and allows the viewer to step out of rainy London and into a tropical haven. It is only open to the public on select days, often Sunday’s but I really wish I took the opportunity to visit much sooner! The interior is stunning and contains over 2,000 species of tropical plants. The lush shades of green are a startling and welcoming contrast to the Barbican’s grey exterior. As a viewer, you are able to climb up multiple levels and admire the beauty of this oasis from every angle. At the top I found a room full to burst with cacti while on the lower level is a pond full of koi fish. This blog normally concerns itself with the more classical visual arts, but I assure you that you would be able to appreciate the conservatory just as much as any art gallery or exhibition.

The conservatory has a sense of tranquility and serenity that I certainly find difficult to locate in central London. It was the perfect place of refuge during a dreary Sunday afternoon and is something that everyone should be able to have the joy of discovering. I thoroughly recommend spending your next lazy Sunday reconnecting with nature.

Rosie Chomet @ Karamel

February 18, 2015 § Leave a comment


The most famous artists are painters. Yet it is illustrators who have drawn a lot of the art that we are exposed to. Everyday things that we do not even think about artistically: food packaging, advertising, greeting cards and books, are all usually the domain of the humble illustrator. I grew up with Peter Blake’s pictorial accompaniments to Road Dahl’s books yet I am (embarrassingly) hard pressed to list the names of many other illustrators. Recently however, I had the pleasure to get to know Rosie Chomet, a young London based illustrator who’s images are colourful, fun and witty and has been commissioned by the likes of the European Cultural Learning Network, Gail’s Bakery and the Quarter Newspaper. Luckily for all my London readers who have not had the opportunity to see Rosie’s work, she is currently on display with the LCC Illustrators at Karamel Restaurant. I also got to interview Rosie here on Gallery Girl!

Gallery Girl: How did LCC Illustrators come together?
Rosie: I wanted to put on an exhibition at Karamel that showcased a diverse range of fresh new illustration. I thought the venue would be the right size for about four illustrators to exhibit, so that each would be able to display around ten pieces and show off a good range of their work. So I asked three other students from my course, whose work I thought would compliment each other’s and provide an interesting variety of styles, if they would like to exhibit with me.

Where do you get your inspiration?
I am inspired by everything around me, even the seemingly mundane- there is always something of interest to pick out. Often I will just perceive the slightest oddity and my imagination runs away with itself! I am constantly inspired by the work of other artists too, whether it be on Instagram, from books or in galleries.

You recently did some work for Gail’s Bakery, are there any more food collaborations to look out for?
Yes, last summer I did the promotional illustrations for Gail’s Bakery’s Ice Cream Sandwiches, which was great! I am currently working on another food-themed collaboration but it has to be kept secret for now!

The exhibition is inside a vegan cafe and many of your images contain a lot of food imagery, are you hoping the exhibition space will help people get involved with your artwork?
I actually had a piece called ‘Meat Heads’, the same concept as ‘Cake Heads,’ but I didn’t think it would be appropriate to exhibit inside a Vegan cafe! Yes, I hope the exhibition will lead to more exposure for my work and connections with people who might be interested in using me as an illustrator or graphic designer.

What are your plans after University and what do you hope to achieve with your art in the future?
I still have another year left before I complete my degree, so I haven’t decided exactly what I will do afterwards – I may do a Masters or just go straight into work as a graphic designer and illustrator. In the future my aims will, as they have always been, to achieve clear visual communication whilst still being playful and pushing the boundaries. Through my work, I want to make people think, to see things in a different way, to stretch their imagination just a little bit more.

When I think about illustrations, the first thing I think about are children’s books. Your artwork proves that illustration is not limited to literature, however, would you ever consider working on books and if so, what would be your dream book to contribute artwork for?
I would love to do children’s book illustrations. I feel that words and images can have such a magical pairing and that illustrations can truly bring a story to life. I think much of my future work will definitely involve both words and images. Ideally, I would like to write and illustrate my own books and create my own stories and characters. My dream book to contribute artwork for would have to be Illustration Now! It is the most incredible series and has been one of my biggest sources of inspiration.

You have an impressive range of products in your online shop, what is your personal favourite?
My personal favourite would have to be ‘Crazy Heads’, although I like ‘Falling in Love’ as a throw pillow design- and you can never have enough throw pillows!

What are your favourite things to illustrate?
People, people interacting, faces, long hair, animals (particularly cute ones), food and interesting objects like light bulbs.

Any illustrators that we should know about?
Oh an infinite number! A few that come to mind though are Barbara Wurszt, Yumi Sakugawa and Beatrice Alemagna.

I personally think many of your prints would make amazing fabric – would you ever consider selling fabric or making clothes from your art?
I would like to explore that possibility more, definitely. In my online shop, many of my designs are already available on throw pillows, tote bags and t-shirts. I would like to expand my designs not only on fabrics but also across things such as stationary, notebook covers, pencil cases, bowls etc. The possibilities are endless!

The LCC Illustrators are on display at Karamel Restaurant until 6 March

You can find more about Rosie on her blog, instagram and shop

A Cabinet of Curiosities @ Barbican

February 12, 2015 § Leave a comment


The new exhibition at the Barbican is called ‘Magnificent Obsessions.’ It is a display of the personal collections of fourteen modern and contemporary artists and all I can say is that the display is magnificent and I am obsessed.

The collections on display allow us to see inside the minds of some of the most famous artists produced by western society in the last century. Each collection is displayed alongside the artist’s work, allowing us to see the direct influence on their art. The work of all the artist’s on show is highly sought after and collected, yet we often neglect the fact that artist’s often collect too. The collections on display at the Barbican allow us to see directly inside the artist’s personal environment. These accumulations of objects are just as insightful, if not more, than a look inside the artist’s studio.

The exhibition begins with the collection of Hiroshi Sugimoto. The artist is most famous for his black and white photographic prints, mostly of nature. I was surprised to see that his collection mainly consisted of medical illustrations, which appear to be mostly red in colour. These crimson images, red with the blood of life are a stark contrast to his dark images, although they too are sinister in their own way. Also on display are historical doctor’s tools as well as a case of glass eyes that glare at the viewer as they examine the collection.

The show flows cohesively into the next section that is devoted to Damien Hirst’s collection of a series of skulls and taxidermy animals. Together the two collections would easily be at home inside the Natural History Museum. Hirst’s objects prove that his formaldehyde animals and glittering diamond skull are his modernised versions of the contents of his historic collections.

Many of the collections following Hirst and Sugimoto present themselves like cabinets of curiosities, stacked full of memorabilia and objects of interest in a seemingly random fashion. Some of these collections are exact replicas of how they were displayed inside the artists’ own personal and domestic environments. These displays have come from the collections of such artists as Hanne Darboven, Dr Lakra, Sol Le Witt, and Peter Blake. Among these are also a series of curious trinkets amassed by Martin Parr that have been decorated by images of dogs. My personal favourite collection is that of Martin Wong. Wong’s wares were mostly collected from China town gift shops; yet appear to be dominated by western Disney cartoons rather than the manga or anime that one might expect. His stockpile includes a series of Donald Duck trinkets and my personal favourite item in the whole exhibition: a lamp formed out of a hamburger sitting atop of an elephant.

Also of note is Howard Hodgkin’s collection of Indian artwork, which is presented within a carpeted and pale green gallery. Next door to this, the textile idea is repeated in Pat White’s segment of the show. White’s display is a stunning presentation of dozens of pieces of fabric that are hung from the gallery ceiling like multiple rows of clothes lines.

The collection that attracted the most attention at the press view, and probably will do with the general public due to the fame of the artist, was that of Andy Warhol. On display here is a series of brightly coloured cookie jars, which are on display at the Barbican for the first time outside of the United States. The bright colours of the toys and cartoons assembled by Warhol are almost certain to have been of some influence on him and his art.

This exhibition is a fascinating look at the infatuations and passions of some of the world’s most famed artists. It is a show that would insight the curiosity of all: young and old, artistically inclined or not. Simple a must see!

Magnificent Obsessions is on display at Barbican until 25 May 2015

Fang Zhaoling @ Ashmolean

February 6, 2015 § Leave a comment


When we think about contemporary art from China, those of us who know anything about it will be able to name several artists: Ai WeiWei, Xu Bing, Qiu Zhijie etc. However, most would be hard pressed to be able to list any women. Throughout history, in both the east and the west, the role of the artist has been an almost solely male occupation. The past 50 or so years has seen the west become increasingly more acceptable of female practitioners but this recognition of female talent has not always been a worldwide triumph. Now however, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford is hosting a retrospective show of the work of the late Chinese artist, Fang Zhaoling.

Fang’s Oxford show does not just coincide with the museum’s large collection of contemporary Chinese art. The artist studied at the famed university and her mother stressed the importance of female education. Most of the images have been donated to the Ashmolean by the artist’s family, with some work being on show for the first time. The work on display has both a strong sense of influence from China and Britain, which seems more than fitting for an exhibition of art from a Chinese woman in Oxford. One moment we are awe-stricken by stunning Chinese landscapes and the next we are reminded of our own marvels, which include many depictions of Stone Henge.

The show moves chronologically, following Fang’s life and showing how her work developed. At the beginning we see hanging scrolls of calligraphy and still lives comprising of Asian vegetation. These earlier works show the artist copying from her teachers who included celebrated artists Zhao Shao’ang and Zhang Daqian. One of the artist’s best compliments from the beginning of her career – although a backhanded one – was that her calligraphy did not look like it was done by the hand of a woman. Also on show are images of flowers, a subject that typically would have been more acceptable to have been painted by a woman, with the flower itself symbolising a female.

However, Fang did not restrict herself to societal ideals and branched out into a predominantly male domain by depicting more narrative scenes and tackling controversial issues such as Vietnamese refugees arriving in Hong Kong. In fact, many of the artist’s landscapes seem to illustrate travel, perhaps as a result of her own constant voyages between Hong Kong and Britain.

My favourite aspect of Fang’s work is her disproportionate figures that seem to hold their own against her staggering landscapes. The artist also branches out from the Chinese tradition of painting with brush and ink by experimenting with oil paint, however, I must admit, the brush and ink work is my favourite.

This show is a wonderful celebration of Fang’s life and a victory in the display of modern Chinese art by a female artist. This is well worth a look before it closes!

Fang Zhaoling: A Centenary Exhibition is on display at Ashmolean Museum until 22 February

Bolt @ GRAD London

January 20, 2015 § Leave a comment


The Russians are famous for their ballets. Having been lucky enough to see members of the Bolshoi dance in very close proximity, I can vouch for this. When we think of ballet, we think of elegance and grace. If asked to describe the costume of a ballerina, you would probably imagine soft pastel colours and delicate details. Yet on display at GRAD London is a completely unexpected exhibition comprising of the clothing for a completely different setup to what we are accustomed to: the attire for Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1931 comedy The Bolt.

The Bolt was an extremely short-lived production having been promptly censored after being interpreted as satire. The storyline was a celebration of industrial life. Music is played throughout the gallery that features noises that replicate those made by hammers and machines. The Bolt acted in support of communism and socialism and recounts the true story of a sacked worker who threw a bolt into his former factory’s machinery in revenge of his position.

The characters on display include bureaucrats, drunkards, factory workers and terrorists with these being the original names given to them by the ballet’s creator. On display in the gallery are a series of elaborately dressed mannequins as well as photographs of rehearsals and illustrations of costume designs from Tatiana Bruni. Bruni’s gouache and watercolour sketches look like works of art in themselves, in fact, if I did not know their intended purpose; I would have had no idea that they were preliminary designs for something else. Her images comprise geometric caricatures coloured in bright, primary colours, with a clear influence from Kazimir Malevich.

Bruni’s watercolours serve as the perfect backdrop to the black mannequins that have been dressed in the original clothing worn by the dancers of The Bolt before they were forced to resign. My personal favourite is a costume in which a male dancer appears to be wearing a boat, that I am sure would not have been at all easy to dance in. The whole ensemble appears to be extremely comical and I have no doubt that the original production would have been a joy to see, even if the Soviet authorities had other ideas about it.

The Bolt has plenty on offer for the lovers of dance, fashion, art and Russian culture, a crowd pleasure that is full of fun!

Bolt is on display at GRAD London until 28 February

Jeff Koons @ Pompidou Centre

January 13, 2015 § Leave a comment


Jeff Koons is the king of the American contemporary art world. His work is bright and controversial. He has had a career that has spanned over three decades that was the subject of a major retrospective show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York last year. It has now come to the Pompidou Centre in Paris and as I was in France over Christmas, I just had to take a look.

The reviews for the Paris show have been mixed. Most of them however are negative. I find that it is often the case when someone reaches dizzying heights of success that the criticism they receive ceases to be complimentary and takes a harsh turn. While many may dismiss the artistic talents of Koons, I adore it. The Pompidou Centre looks like a rainbow has burst open and spilt cartoon characters and children’s toy motifs all over the gallery.

The retrospective moves chronologically, beginning in 1979 and includes a mix of painting and sculpture. Popeye and Michael Jackson are just a couple of the well-known characters that are on display following an artistic makeover by Koons. There are also golden mirrors and inflatable toys that have been cast in stainless steel. These inflatables are Koons’s version of the infamous ready-made that was first positioned in the art gallery milieu by Marcel Duchamp, who, ironically, is also on display at the Pompidou Centre. However, Koons’s ‘ready-mades’ have a little more artistic skill than those made by Duchamp. Koons creates steel structures that mirror brilliantly bright balloon animals and blow up inflatables that one would expect to find on the beach or at a children’s birthday party. Among these is a blow up lobster for the beach as well as a spotted dog ring. These have been painted so that the shiny steel is hidden to imitate almost exactly those one would expect to see a child carrying around with them on holiday. These are created almost in the same vain as Warhol’s Brillo boxes, dramatically imitating real life. Also on show here are shiny three-dimensional cartoon elephant and birds made out of steel as well as a huge pink balloon dog and a hanging red heart from the 1994 ‘Celebration’ series, on loan in Paris from the collection of Francois Pinault.

Paintings are also on display. These have been filled with play-doh, toy horses, adult film stars and cartoon characters. The juxtaposition of all these elements displayed on one canvas shouldn’t work, but it does. They are bold, brash and certainly not for the faint hearted.

I have no doubt that Koons’s artwork splits audiences. It is pop art for the twenty-first century. For those who love bright colours and cartoon imagery, this is definitely the show for you. The perfect winter treat to brighten up a dreary day!

Jeff Koons is on display at Pompidou Centre until 27 April

William Morris & Andy Warhol ft. Jeremy Deller @ Modern Art Oxford

January 5, 2015 § Leave a comment


William Morris and Andy Warhol are two artists that I would not think to put together. Jeremy Deller however, thinks differently and has curated a fascinating show that displays the pair’s work side by side at Modern Art Oxford.

When you walk into the main galleries inside Modern Art Oxford you are immediately handed a hefty exhibition guide, at least twice the size of the leaflets that normally accompany blockbuster, paid shows. For a free exhibition outside London it seemed slightly bizarre. I thought it too big to read immediately, however it shows that the subject of display chosen by Turner Prize winner Deller is one that he clearly gave a lot of thought. In fact, Deller met Warhol in his twenties and even spent a fortnight working at his infamous New York ‘Factory.’ Yet, it is not Warhol who is first shown to us in Oxford, but Morris, with the opening work being a tapestry panel from his Quest for the Holy Grail displayed against walls that have been covered in his celebrated wallpaper.

The show begins in a room themed around the idea of mythology with a juxtaposition of Morris’s beloved Camelot and Warhol’s love for Hollywood, with prints of Joan Collins and Elizabeth Taylor adjacent to the Morris tapestry. Also shown are the two artist’s political interests. This is seen in Morris’s socialist publications that have been displayed beside early issues of Warhol’s Interview magazine. Also on display in the political spectrum are Warhol’s prints of Chairman Mao, race riots and the electric chair. Yet Deller has argued that these have not been displayed for explicitly political reasons but in order to emphasize the artist’s love and obsession with Americana.

While the link between the two artists does seem to be a little forced, in their production the similarities appear to be more direct. Tapestry, weaving and screen-printing provided both artist’s to create work for the masses. There are dozens if not hundreds, even thousands of artworks by both Morris and Warhol in circulation, which is not something that can be said for many artists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Both artists employed factories in order to produce and reproduce their work and would become everlasting icons for future generations.

This show is fascinating, even if Deller’s comparisons are tenuous at times. I urge everyone to see it, even if it is to see the strangely attractive display of Warhol prints against Morris wallpaper!

Love is Enough: William Morris & Andy Warhol is on display at Modern Art Oxford until 8 March

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