Art

Lyle Perkins – Ease of Use

French Riviera

13 November – 13 December 2015

When I first met Lyle Perkins in Los Angeles in 2011, the London artist was a visiting artist-in-residence at the Raid Gallery Downtown.  The Arts District is full of legally-zoned industrial spaces where artists live on the fringes between Tinseltown and Skid Row. The latter milieu seemed to inform Perkins’ representational watercolors depicting the overfilled shopping carts of L.A.’s homeless, images which most Angelenos are conditioned to filter out of their sun bleached dream vista. But as an outsider, Perkins’ studied them, subtracting the person to whom the cart belongs and the dirty streets and surrounding areas they traverse. Against a white space they look like highbrow children’s book illustrations until after staring at them your mind fills in the blanks – the misery of mental illness and poverty

Since moving to London two years ago I regret not seeing Lyle as much as I’d seen him in L.A. where I even managed to get him to play guitar in my ad-hoc band in Silver Lake, Purple Thermus. Family responsibilities and all that. This past week however I managed to extract myself from my basement flat and trek to Bethnal Green for his latest opening at a store front gallery called French Riviera.

‘Ease of Use’, is a small exhibit consisting of a series of paintings based on everyday objects, a broken chair for example, painted in a manner both representational and abstract. Here again, Perkins extracts commonplace objects from reality by boosting the colours to extract the formal configurations from reality. Within the tightly conceived compositions, the subject matter questions sculptural forms without the sociological implications of his Los Angeles work, however unintentional they may have been.

As before Perkins experiments with the structure of the canvas, leading him to layer brightly coloured hues and create multiple planes and gestural motions. His use of utilitarian subject matter has been compared to Gerhard Richter’s painting Tisch (1964) and attempts to create a new vernacular distinction between photo realism and painterly abstract vision.

Since I’ve run out of art speak I’ll copy and paste from the gallery description:

“This dialogue continues in a number of works such as Buddy (2015) and Pymmes (2015) where the subject is displaced against a vivid yet ambivalent setting. In paintings such as Barnard Park (2015) and Chair in Finland (2015), natural surroundings are depicted whereby Perkins evokes an ‘emotional formalism’ within these oddly surreal paintings, that are contemporary in atmosphere and yet, timeless in subject matter.”

As a subject of common interest, we chatted about L.A. with a third person who’d never been. “It’s so amazing, you have to go” he said to the somewhat incredulous friend and I was startled by his affection born from distance perhaps and more likely the general soggy misery of London in winter. He was really selling it. She’d better hurry though. That same Arts District is evolving into a desirable locale and places like Raid and the 18th St. Arts Center may soon make way for not-so-affordable luxury residences. THe overflowing shopping carts will end up in a landfill and their owners disappeared. It’s a story played out in every major city, especially here in East London where you need to run a hedge fund just to live on the outskirts. An exaggeration maybe, but it could point to a yearning that seeks non-reality in everyday objects when you’ve put down stakes in a city of smoke but your mind is somewhere over the rainbow.

French Riviera is a gallery in Bethnal Green, East London, presented by artists Samuel Levack and Jennifer Lewandowski as an extension of their long-standing collaboration.

Originally published in Saachi Gallery Art & Music Magazine

 

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Art, Travel

Ciao, Chianciano!

Biennale Of Contemporary Art 2015 – Museo D’Arte Di Chianciano Terme

by Gregg Lopez

If you’re an art lover thinking of taking a road trip to Tuscany this fall – and really who isn’t? – type Chianciano Terme into your GPS (granted you’re in Western Europe), and let the satellite guide you through the winding country roads and beautiful amber laced vistas that inspired the Renaissance. When the sun begins to set you’ll recognize the famous somber hillsides from so many restaurant landscape paintings, the golden aura that captivated Diane Lane in Under The Tuscan Sun and helped her heal from her divorce and find romance once again.

There you’ll find the Chianciano Art Museum, the internationally renowned collection of London-based Italian collector Roberto Gagliardi housed in a four-story former hotel on a street with many hotels.

There are so many beautiful mid-century hotels in fact that it seemed odd how empty the town was when my wife and I rolled up in our rented Citroen with our toddler and a studio apartment’s worth of luggage stuffed in the back. Apparently the season lasts only two months in the spring. In the hot summer months, most tourists clamour for places less landlocked, perhaps unaware of the thermal spas that are a 10 minute drive from the piazza.

Look for the building with the sign that says ‘Art Museum’ in block type (and not ‘Hotel’ or ‘Nail Salon’) and you’re in the right place. We were ever so glad to be in the right place after our car broke down in Nice and we arrived four hours after we’d originally scheduled. Marie Gagliardi was gracious enough to keep a bottle of prosecco cold, which we enjoyed on the roof of the museum.  

Upon entering it’s likely you’ll be startled by a dark figure sitting facing the front door. A shiny black clothing mannequin wearing a floral print shirt and holding a mandolin.

“I know it even scares me sometimes when I come down here.”

It’s the first of many mannequins you’ll see at the Chianciano. In addition to paintings and sculptures spanning from contemporary to antiquity, the Gagliardis own a vast collection of vintage clothing, and rather than keep them in a separate room, they’ve placed mannequins all throughout the galleries positioned as if viewing the artwork.

After our first good night’s sleep we were able to relax on the spacious balcony and the little guy could run around the room on the tile floors, spin around and kick his little Minions ball back and forth. He’s really getting good at football.

Before getting the tour of the gallery we would be hitting one of the famous sulfur springs I remember from my visit to Italy as a child with my mother. My memory is vague but it seemed like it was a ditch on the side of the road with steam clouds rising from the dark water filled with old Italian ladies seeking the fountain of youth. I remember being told of the health and restorative properties of the eggy-scented sulfur water and, after a season of fast food, child care and deadlines, I needed a thermal fix.

By the guidance of google and GPS we navigated our way up a narrow winding road and managed to find the thermal baths of St. Filippo. Rather than the roadside ditch of my memory these thermal baths are towered by the Mount Amiata in High Val d’Orcia, a natural Tuscan environment that belongs to the UNESCO world heritage sites. Chianciano Terme can trace its history back to the 5th century BC and the Etruscans, who had built a temple dedicated to the god of Good Health. I hoped the baths could sort out my allergies at the very least.

In Roman times, word spread of the curative power of Chianciano water. Horace visited the area on the advice of his physician during the 1st century BC. Luxurious Roman villas were built in the area near the thermal baths. Today, amongst the 20th century hotels, the calm restorative feel remains.

After the relaxing baths and one of many outstanding meals at local restaurants it was finally time to tour the museum guided by the Gagliardis.  Two floors and 3000 square metres of classic, contemporary and historical works: Louden, Liu, Rembrandt, Goya, sketches by Toulouse Lautrec, Munch and Magritte, a 1950 portrait of Umberto II, pieces from the China’s Han dynasty, W.A Turner’s self-portrait, many paintings from the tortured psych of Frances Turner (no relation) whom the Gagliardis supported (“She came in here and asked us if we wanted any art.”).  The Mayor of Chianciano was on hand as well to welcome us. They’re quite passionate about promoting the town as an international destination for art lovers or just lovers in general and I’m happy to assist hence this piece of holiday propaganda you hold in your smart-phone ravaged thumbs.

Here’s the deal. From the 5th of September to the 13th, the museum will host the 4th Biennale of Contemporary Art, a premier exhibition bringing the finest contemporary artists from around the world. The Biennale is a celebration of carefully selected artists and their work, emphasizing beauty and overall quality. By eschewing recurring themes, movements or styles the viewer can appreciate each work as a single entity. The work will replace the regular collection and be lovingly displayed in the museum itself, but the festival takes over this whole town, with concert and wine tastings – and it’s all free. An area steeped in rich cultural diversity and artistically inspiring scenery. In many ways it’s the perfect location for an international art festival. The sleepy villa will instantly come alive.

The night before we left, we had the second best pizza in town – a restaurant with a kids’ room. A perfect summer night dining al fresco while being able to watch the kids play through a window. This is where we really felt the vibe of this town, low key, friendly but not at all dull.  

The next afternoon, before popping off for good, we took nice warm summer stoll around the empty tourist mecca, gelato, a little shopping and “the best” pizza before we were to embark on the three hour drive down south towards Castelforte. Walking through the piazza it was clear that the absence of a nearby beach accounted for the lack of foot traffic and the feeling that we had an entire resort to ourselves. You sort of wanted to walk down 500 years or so to a beach, but we settle for a benetton shop. Despite being the only punters inside, there were three clerks on duty. And everything was 30% off.  

Everything’s fine in Chianciano and we were sad to leave.

 

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Art

Christian Marclay – White Cube, 28 January – 12 April 2015

Christian Marclay

White Cube, 28 January – 12 April 2015

As you stroll through the wide entrance hall of Bermondsey’s White Cube gallery, sound and video depicting bottles rolling along the pavement are cast at foot level from eight digital projectors. Marclay shot this footage, a piece called ‘Pub Crawl’, near his East London home as he tapped and kicked the bottles, beer spilling out, during early morning walks after the neighborhood clubs shut. Played together, they transform common street sounds into accidental music, and the stark, clean gallery entrance into a grimy side street. Due to the placement of the projectors, visitors’ legs get in the way and create opaque shadows, a small flaw in an otherwise novel idea.

The main attraction of the opening weekend of the show was the London Sinfonietta performing, alongside Marclay, in one of the larger rooms, the parameter of which has been outfitted with wall long shelves (the kind you might place your drink on in a pub) covered in hundreds of empty pint glasses. A security guard was on hand to shush people who are folding their programs too loudly or coughing. The reason for this is the whole performance is being recorded and cut directly onto a disc master to be pressed onto vinyl in another room which houses a hydraulic record pressing plant created by The Vinyl Factory. The crowd seemed fairly engrossed in the whistling sound created by mic’ing pint glasses – spacey abstract chirping from the Planet Pint Glass – complemented by violin, cello and various percussion instruments, including rattling caps in a glass.

The other side of the room was mostly empty as there was less interest in the paintings that combine the splashing paint of abstract expressionism and comic book motifs depicted in a pop-art style. The connection between reading comics and drinking beer made sense to me but may have been less obvious to the more high-minded visitors. It did serve as a bridge between the aforementioned after-hours beer bottles and the incredible comic book installation ‘Surround Sounds’.

For this, Marclay used the Adobe After-Effects app to create animated projections within a darkened room where visitors sit on a carpeted floor bathed in comic book onomatopoeia (WHOOSH!, ZOOOM!, and so on] projected 360 degrees from floor to ceiling. My 16 month-old seemed to have a blast, or rather a BLAST!, chasing after the colourful scans of gnomic phrases. There’s no sound or music, but, in the same way that Marclay has always subverted sound into art and back again, the overwhelming effect of seeing this superhero lexicon is unavoidably loud.

Drinking, vinyl records and comic books – this exhibit show much covers all the essential elements of the modern world.

Originally published in Saachi Gallery Art & Music Magazine

Gregg Lopez

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Art, Politics

Poster Politics

Barack_Obama_Hope_poster

From a marketing standpoint, Shepard Fairy is a genius. Anybody can nick, say, Jim Fitzpatrick’s Che Guevara poster, silkscreen it and sell it to nascent hippies at an outdoor music fest. It takes true visionary balls to steal wholesale, and continually, the more obscure socio-realist work of artists who used their draftsmanship to topple fascism, and re-purpose it to sell handbags at Saks Fifth Avenue, after of course helping to elect the next Leader of the Free World.

If you lived in a US blue (liberal) state circa 2008, you couldn’t head to the shops without seeing at least one hybrid automobile with Barack gazing skyward on a bumper sticker that said ‘Hope’. The ubiquitous four-colour screen prints hanging from record stores and coffee houses promised deliverance from eight years of anti-science, anti-gay, war-mongering Republican rule.

Early in the presidential primaries, Obama was cast as the underdog against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination. While older liberals worried that America wasn’t ready for a black president, Hillary being the safe choice to beat the Republicans, ‘hipsters’ thought differently. The old school trusted only white establishment figures. The new school cheered Will Smith in Independence Day as he punched space aliens in the face. Hillary was a product of the old school. She ran ads using Republican-style scare tactics. She wore pant suits.

Shepard Fairy, an LA-based street artist/guerrilla marketing maven with multiple arrests – who spins vinyl under the name DJ Diabetes – asked the Obama campaign for permission(!) to work up an image, and before long, five thousand posters were printed and a new rock star was born.

Fairy however did not ask permission from freelance photographer Mannie Garcia, whose Associated Press photo was the source of the image. A lawsuit followed and the parties settled out of court. It would not be his last infringement suit.

“That’s always been my style”, Fairey says. “I don’t get permission. I just do it.” (That quote is from another article that I’m using without permission or attribution).

Mocked by Republicans (‘Nope”, Dope’) who cited the image as evidence that Obama himself was the fascist idol to fear, ‘Hope’ drew in the young voters and that November, Obama beat war vet John McCain and his screechy sidekick Sarah Palin in a landslide.

Transmogrifying Obama’s face into a logo was a slick tactic, creating a hard, colourful shell like a Dunkin’ Donuts sign. Clean, simple, no hanging letters or burned out neon.  So when the right-wingers re-emerged with the birth certificate controversy, a borderline racist attempt to cast the president as an illegitimate foreign usurper, the White House responded by selling birth certificate coffee mugs on their website.

As MC Hammer would say (to a borrowed Rick James lick), “You can’t touch this”.
Four years later, those (non-removable) stickers have faded, Guantanamo Bay is still the bustling extrajudicial detainment camp it always was; aerial drones whoosh over the Mid-East desert and Shepard Fairy is busy stacking paper while his assistants digitally scan classic pro-union, anti-fascism, and black power posters, incorporating the ‘Obey’ logo and readying them for subsequent purchase in malls across America.

With the exception of Ron Paul’s apparent anti-war and drug prohibition stance, none of the current Presidential contenders have a handle on the counter-cultural zeitgeist. But Paul’s commemorative gold coins serve the wrong marketing demo, plus with the exposure of The Ron Paul Political Report, his race-baiting fanzine from the ‘80s/‘90s, it’s unlikely that Will.i.am will write a song for him.

Gregg Lopez
http://murderedman.bandcamp.com/album/nightmare-ave

 

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