N e w Y o r k C i t y 2014
N e w Y o r k C i t y 2014
I came across PILLET, the definitive book on Edgard Pillet and I have been desperate to have it since. Well, after a bit of online sleuthing I came across a copy of this rare book at an alarmingly reasonable price.
Beautifully printed by Editions Georges FALL in 1967, the book is a rather gorgeous catalogue of his works: graphic, elegant and surprising. Pillet’s use of colour is startling.
This one’s going take pride of place on my bookcase. Just flicking through it really picks you up on a grey autumn’s day.
Graffiti. Its universal. Public art for the public by the public. It’s also age old. The cavemen were at it. Its nothing new. Some loathe it. Some love it. Most of us carry on with our daily lives and just accept it. Or stop seeing it. Jean-Michel Basquiat made it cool. The art establishment lapped up every colourful splatter. He also brought it full circle with his neo-tribal approach. I guess we’re still cavemen at heart.
Last week Topshop flew over Tokyo-based graffiti artist Houxo Que to bring some day-glo magic to its Oxford Circus window. I initially thought, “Great, amazing idea.” Topshop are so quick on the mark, always one step ahead. To have a grafitti artist in your window, creating a hyper-colourful canvas was a very clever way of getting people to stop, look and walk in through the doors. The frenzied kaleidoscope of florescent yellows, pinks and oranges mirrored the clothes inside. Fast, upbeat throwaway clothes for the increasingly savvy customer.
But why Houxo Que? With the all the amazing graffiti artists in London alone why fly in somebody from abroad? I feel this was an amazing opportunity missed and that the gesture was somehow shallow. Topshop is at the heart of London retail and has its many fingers on the pulse of cool. It draws in girls and women of all ages, not to mention boys and men or, indeed, tourists gagging for a slice of Kate Moss style. This was mere window dressing and it probably did the trick. However, companies like Topshop can afford to take risks, be a little bit braver than the rest. That whole store should have been given over to street artists to do something radical and inspirational.
Banksy: Before + After
I’ve always likened graffiti art to tattoos on a metaphorical urban skin. Heavy.Tattoos are interesting as they can be both tribal or individualistic – a way of marking yourself as different from the rest. After all, our bodies are quite generic – in most cases two arms, two legs a head, a torso. The permutations within those parameters are endless, of course, but a tattoo separates you from your doppelgänger.
Graffiti is a way that the individual can make their mark on their environment – illicit, clandestine, rebellious. Apparently so. The success of the artist Banksy throws this into question. Graffiti, an anti-establishment art form, is now firmly embraced by the establishment. The defacing of the Banksy on Essex road seemed brutal at first but was this the work of teenager up for a laugh or was this the lampooning of Banksy for “selling out”? I wonder if Banksy approves? It is a logical conclusion as the Banksy arguably stopped being graffiti once it had a stratospheric price value placed on it. This is a grey area. You could also say that the Banksy piece is now as officially public art as, say, a Henry Moore sculpture.
Grafitti + Commerce
The Banksy on Essex Road was infamous for the Tesco shopping bag as flag. Tesco is the largest supermarket chain in the UK. It has stores everywhere. Not only mega stores that sell everything from clothing to celeriac but also satellite outposts that are strangling the life out of many a British high street. It regularly undercuts its competitors and independent grocery stores, or corner shops as we call them, don’t stand a chance. Even it’s logo takes its cue from the colours of the Union Jack, the British flag – red, white and blue. It doesn’t get more patriotic than that. The rapidness with which a new store appears is jaw-dropping. The logo is such a familiar sight you could say it was a kind of corporate graffiti,tagging its irrepressible might on practically every street corner.
Yesterday a guy called Ujk, pronounced “yook” popped into my friend’s shop, The Willow Shoreditch, for a coffee. Ujk is Montenegrin for wolf. He had a quite a look going on. Black woman’s poncho teamed with tough boots and a lot of studs. I especially liked his flat cap with the studs on the beak. We had a long chat about his life as an artist, fashion designer and special effects make up artist. He customises leather pieces and does a lot of graffiti. He also squats, moving from one place to another, an urban nomad/ modern day punk Romany. He was a big fan of MuTATE Britain and Joe Rush. MuTATE is an art movement of underground artists founded by Joe Rush and his Mutoid Waste Company. They create huge, moving robots out of industrial wreckages and monumental canvasses of graffiti. Rather than show their art in traditional galleries they choose desolate locations such as underneath the Westway Flyover in West London. Their logo is a devilish play on that of the hallowed – be thy name – Tate gallery. It would be amazing if their art filled the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern but that would go against the grain of what they do.
Ujk was quite drawn toward this type of art. It resonated with his beliefs and way of life. He talked about Joe Rush with the admiration and adoration of a teenage groupie. It was quite refreshing to hear such an honest and open response to art. As he said, “Art should be dangerous and strong.” He comically mimicked The Modern Artist throwing a cup of paint at a canvas and sighing contentedly at his new masterpiece. Ujk said Yuk! Inspiring.
Wolf Man: Friend or Foe?
Clarissa Cestari’s work, from the previous post, reminds me of the late Hans Hartung, one of my heroes. The day I own a Hartung sketch will be one of the happiest in my life. I first came across the work of Hartung many years ago as an art student. There was a retrospective of his work at the Tate Britain – this was way before the Tate Modern existed. I actually prefer Tate Britain. I loved the way you could criss cross your way between pre-modern and modern art… staring at a Turner one minute, pondering Marguite the next. I also loved the Rothko room which housed The Seagram Murals – my favourite works of art. Its almost criminal, blasphemous even, the way they are now displayed at their new home, the Tate Modern. That dark room commanded a deep reverence the moment you walked in. It was a cathedral shrouded in silence. A truly spiritual experience. Now they’ve placed them in an overlit, raucous corridor, well at least that’s how it was the last time I saw them.
I digress. Back to Hartung. I was totally blown over by his drawn work. The abstract mark makings in black. They were alive, so strong was their energy. Broad strokes drawn in a frenzy, mad spindly scribbles, a wash of paint here, a smudge there, a flash of primary yellow. Its the sort of art that the moronic make comments such as, “Even I could do that, my three year old daughter could do that.” Have a go, mate.
Its easier said than done. There is something deeply intuitive about the randomness of the drawings/ doodles. Naivety is contaminated by cynicism the older we get. We need distraction to tap into it. Take doodling whilst on the phone, for example. Why is it that you can never consciously recreate the freedom and dynamism of those marks? That’s the power of a Hartung. The ability to tap into the deepest recesses of the subconscious and make it all look so easy_
The Creative Process
Clarissa Cestari’s large canvasses are instantly engaging – magnified, curvilinear brush strokes of apparently thick, luscious paint. The broad, sensual streaks are at once familiar and suggestive. I like how she quietly subverts tradition and turns the rules of painting upside down. Paint and the process of painting are both subject matter and muse.
Brazilian Cestari defies easy categorisation. This is abstract art in one sense yet the paintings are large scale reproductions of projections of real brush strokes. Each line of these intricate compositions is painstakingly rendered by a paint-loaded syringe, slowly tracing line after line, curve after curve with the steadiest of hands. Distinctions are blurred. Questions are asked. Is this painting or is this drawing? The artist’s hand becomes “invisible”. Contradictory. The fluid lines abruptly fade to blank. The spontaneity of the brush strokes belie studied control. The strokes overlap, interact with and interrupt each other in a fragmented dance that is simultaneously fluid and illogical. Moments of clarity and elegance are interspersed with confusion and chaos. Rushing waves, hair, Japanese Nanga style painting, the complex patterns of finger prints, the groves in an old record, post-feminist metaphors – the use of a syringe to apply the paint carries notions of icing bags, cake decoration and domestic bliss – are some of the messages these extraordinary pieces convey. So much of contemporary art strives to say so much with mixed, sometimes convoluted results. These paintings speak with a casual ease. Like Damien Hirst or Anish Kapoor, Cestari is economical in her approach. On an initial level the work is universal due to scale and its graphic, visual nature. Peel back the layers and you find the hidden meanings. This is art to be enjoyed but also art to make you think. The two don’t always go together.
There is something quite human about Cestari’s work – conflicting emotional states, fragility, strength, grace, destructiveness, unpredictability. The sum of all our fears. So much said. All from the quick swipe of an artist’s brush. Genius? Without a doubt.
Clarissa Cestari. Currently showing at the east central gallery, 13 March – 24 April, London
The size debate reminded me of a French artist whose work I’ve always found intriguing – Marie-Ange Guilleminot. A friend of mine gave me a limited edition book of her most recent work then, some 16 years ago?! Its entitled Mes Poupées – My Dolls. Its an abstracted study of the female form that reminds me of dough and domesticity – Dough-mesticity! Ha! In a way the anatomical nature of her work also recalls the work of Cathy de Monchaux.There’s an eerie beauty about these soft, suggestive shapes. You can read Pierre Leguillon’s profile on the artist here.
Andy Warhol: Triple Rauschenberg, 1964. From the Sonnabend Collection
I once had the pleasure of sitting on the same bench in the line-up room (Mid-town Manhattan NYPD) that J Lo and P Diddy sat when he got arrested! Claim to fame, hey! Lucky for me I was the victim that instance and not the criminal. I ended up there after waiting 4 hours to see a detective after being scammed on Craig’s List with a bogus apartment sub let. Since then found out that sub letting in Manhattan’s actually illegal so I was actually breaking the law anyway. Gawd, that place was ancient. You’d have thought that being the busiest precinct in Manhattan things would be a bit more 21st century. Nada. It was like stepping back on the set of Cagney and Lacey. They’d only had computers , at the time two years ago, for a year! Push button phones? I don’t think so. Archaic.
Anyway, whilst waiting I snuck a few photos on my iPhone. Talk about holiday pics! Never saw the deposit on the apartment. The scheming devil had fled to Peru. But I got the experience of a lifetime – got to see a real slice of New York far from the touristy breeding grounds. The posters reminded me, in a way, of one of my favourite Warhol pieces: The Triple Rauschenberg. Adios.