Saturday, 24 June 2017

Live from Death Row

When I was 18 my ambition was to teach in a prison. I was smart and it seemed like a perfectly natural path for me to follow at that time. All I had to do was get the grades to put me into the right university for the course. I flunked. 

35 years later and now an artist, I am reminded of that ambition as I find myself looking at an exhibition of art and poetry by people on death row in San Quentin prison.

The exhibition is being shown at Sun Pier House a community arts centre and cafe in Chatham. The cafe area is large, calm and light with panoramic windows. The artworks and the writing sit naturally in the spaces between bookshelves, cabinets, objects, sofas, tables and people. Outside the swans float over the sparkling, rippling water of the bay with the cranes from the old shipyard in the distance. It's a beautiful day. I start to look at the words and pictures on the wall while waiting for my coffee. By the time it comes I have already been moved to tears twice. 

I see a lot of art. Art with ridiculous price tags. Art about art. Art that thinks its politics. Trending art. Art that tells you exactly what you’re supposed to feel about it. Art that's really not art at all. I see a lot of shit claiming to be gold and even gold claiming to be shit because that's the joke the audience believe it's in on. Then there's art as asset, moved like currency between members of a very small club. It has all become rather unreal as if art does not belong to artists anymore. It no longer communicates the fundamental and transformative need for a safe space in which you can talk to yourself about what it's like to be human.

In these truly crazy and fragmented times it is becoming harder to hang onto the belief that there even is a universal, let alone reflective, human experience. But here in these paintings, drawings, poems and writings there is no doubt about it at all. There may be a beginning and an end but it is really that journey in between that ultimately defines us all as human. Not where we've been. Not what we own. Not what we look like. And certainly not how we die. 


I discovered this exhibition and ArtReach while doing research for my own online project about death and dying.  ArtReach is a charity set up and run by UK artist Nicola White. In 2010 Nicola began corresponding with a death row artist via the Lifelines organisation. She visited San Quentin in 2015. From this visit ArtReach emerged and has now organised several exhibitions of death row artists and writers.

See also:

Articles and Reviews

Monday, 24 April 2017

Not a long holiday...

Apologies if you've been looking here for the latest shows at the Hastings Arts Forum and haven't found them.  Unfortunately, I haven't just been on a long holiday but have had an​ ongoing back problem. This means I can't lift, bend or sit so have been unable to help hang the new shows for quite a while. I have also been unable to sit at a computer so haven't even been able to review anything. This all completely sucks.

The only upside is that I've had a lot of time to think and have concluded that there obviously needs to be more people writing about art in Hastings.

As a consequence I have come up with an idea for a Hastings based writer-in-residence project that will pair creative writing groups, journalists and students with local galleries. The writers will be resident for half a day in the galleries and will have to produce a piece of writing based on the experience. They could review the show or write a short story inspired by an image in that show.  Other possibilities could be poetry or any other kind of creative piece that explores thoughts and feelings while immersed in a gallery.

Once I am more mobile again  I will  start working on a proposal for this project so watch this space. I will also try and post up a few images from upcoming HAF shows even if I wont be able to hang them or sit down and write about them for a little while longer!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017


Elegy is a project I have been thinking about for some time. It now has its own page on the website and all submissions and ideas are welcome. 

Death looking into the window of one dying 
Jaroslav Panuška, 1900

Elegy - An Open Project about death and dying

Life's only certainty is its end. The manner of that end is unknown but the universal consensus is that it be quick, peaceful and painless.

Such a luxury does not correspond to the facts of human ageing and prolonging life medically, as an end in itself, is an increasingly double edged sword. Nor does it correspond to a contemporary environment where violent death as entertainment merges into 24 hour media cycles of violent death as reality.

Death defines life. The extent to which it is an abstraction is dependent mostly on where and when one’s life is located. It can also be choice as well as no choice.

It is always present
It is often welcome.
It is often feared.
It is also mostly ignored.

This project is an entirely open platform for people to communicate about death and about dying. This can be in the form of video, audio, text, poetry, images, animation, playlists or a combination of these things. Each submission will be given its own page and the only stipulation is that videos do not exceed 5 minutes and playlists do not exceed 5 tracks.

If you would like to contribute to this project please send an initial email with your contact details and a brief outline of your idea. New and existing work can be submitted and in some cases I may be able to help facilitate new projects

Please send messages via website: Elegy Project

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Stains and Traces III - Hastings Arts Forum

Stains and Traces has become a tradition for Hastings Arts Forum and the third exhibition on this theme opened on the 7th February.
The idea of "representing the presence or absence of a figure,  as well as anthropomorphic echoes and resonances", originated with former HAF chairman, Ian Welsh, who does in 2014.
Curated from open submissions,  this edition of the show has thirteen participating artists who once more encompass the diversity of mediums and messages that seems to be a hallmark of the Hastings Arts Forum.
As might be expected with such a theme, there are dark resonances in some of the work here. Jo Welsh presents object, collage and print works that communicate trauma and loss associated with illness and death. Her references to X-Rays and personal objects in the collaged print works are delicate and moving while ‘Widow’s Weeds’ and her object boxes have a much starker impact.

Sally Meakins’ photographic series also depicts objects and scenes associated with an absent person. It  signals not only their physical absence but also the complex emotions relating to such a  oss. This is very effective particularly in the large and haunting image ‘Your shirt on my chair’.

Lorrain Mailer addresses issues of post-traumatic stress in two very different pieces. ‘The Elephant in the Room’ is an intestinal tangle of knotted sheets suggesting both the physical and mental impact of alcoholism. ‘Blow a kiss, Fire a Gun’ is an empathetic homage to the desperation of refugees attempting to escape from the trauma of war.

Caroline Sax uses her multifarious mediums with sublime delicacy to draw attention to the amount of packaging waste that ends up in the ocean. Detailed statistics are stencilled onto treated and painted fabric and then covered with objects that instantly communicate the sheer volume of container shipping that is on the seas at any given time.

Artists who focus specifically on the human figure in this show include Raymond McChrystal whose ink and graphite portraits and nudes are subtle, sympathetic and occasionally seem to morph seamlessly into physical landscapes.

This merging of nature and figure is also apparent in the work of Kathleen Fox who has placed long strips of Australian paper bark against vibrant backgrounds allowing for multiple visual interpretations.  Trisha Neve’s delicate silk paintings similarly have multiple possibilities.

The remarkable tale told by Nigel Oxley needs some time to fully appreciate. In a series of 6 images he tells of a love affair conducted across a gulag wall in Poland and recreated here using the letters, objects and photos found after his fathers’ death. He has provided folders for viewers to read that provide not only the background to this story but also translations of the letters and words that appear in the image series.

Brian Rybolt’s photographs are very much about the stains and traces that are left behind in the structures of abandoned buildings and on walls. In many of these beautifully presented images, places and spaces often regarded as sad, neglected and ugly are shown to be resilient and full of their own defiant character

There is not much painting in this show but Sean Madden’s confident use of colour and paintwork provides an anchor against which Yvette Glaze’s architectural ceramics sit beautifully. Mark Glassman’s traces of figures almost washed away by the browns of the shingle and the sea work well with the more conceptual pieces in Gallery 2.

The final artist in this show is Jacob Welsh but I had to leave before his work was hung so I’m afraid he’s missing. If anyone can send me an image I will put it up.

7 Feb – 19 Feb 
Private View: 10 Feb, 6.30 - 8.30pm 

Click on names for links to artist websites where I could find them:

Caroline Sax
Jo Welsh
Jacob Welsh
Sally Meakins 

Friday, 2 December 2016

Hastings Arts Forum - Creative Christmas

It's that time of year again and the Hastings Art Forum has been beautifully transformed into a mini Christmas market. 

Hastings and St Leonards have been given several 'London'  monikers recently - Shoreditch on Sea....  Walthamstow on Sea - so I may as well jump on that bandwagon and say that the Hastings Arts Forum Christmas Show looks a lot like Camden Market on Sea! 

All the arts and all the crafts are represented as well as all the materials. There are cats, hats, cards, scarves, paintings, photos, prints and collage. There are bangles, bracelets, baskets, bears, bags, bowls, books, badges, lampshades and lavender bags. There are dogs, decorations, ornaments, cushions, clocks, mirrors and mosaics.

Between them is a dizzying array of methods and techniques in glass, wood, china, paper, wool. felt, fur, wire, silver, canvas, paint and plastic and no doubt several things I've missed.  

There is also the most awesome Christmas tree I have ever seen. Not actually sure it's for sale but was so inspired by it I may try and make my own!

Creative Christmas at the Hastings Arts Forum
1st - 23rd December
Private View: 2 Dec, 6.30 - 8.30pm 
Creative Christmas is a curated show, exhibitors are selected based on the quality and uniqueness of their work ensuring a broad range of beautiful, high quality artefacts.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Kate Gritton, Valerie Grove, Wheel N Come Again!

Kate Gritton works with oils, acrylics, sometimes plaster and all sorts of other things to create deeply layered works in which mesmerising surfaces emerge from a long process of painting and working on the canvas. Her prints and collographs likewise emerge from such a layered process. The suggestions of movement in her work are on a large scale. Slow and powerful shifts of the forces of nature that are never still but are only noticed when they become so dramatic they impact on human life.

As well as the paintings there are a series of prints each contained within identical, square white frames. The contrast between the whiteness of the frames and the deep, earthy colours and shadowed darkness in these prints works is very effective with each piece a window into another world.

These are really two very interesting artists to put into the same show. Their work complements the other beautifully.  Both use contrast in light and dark very effectively and both use a lot of earthy and natural tones. In the case of Valerie Grove these tones are direct, as her working substances are barks, leaves and wood fibres with the thickly applied paint steeped in natural materials to create its own unique and delicate shade and texture. As you approach each work the textures come into focus and this creates quite a spectacular impact especially with three stark, geometric monochromes.

Wheel N Come Again - an Afro-Caribbean Arts and Film Programme

Gallery Two is full of stories. 'Wheel N Come Again' is a programme of connecting films, paintings, photographs and installation that creates an environment to reflect on the human and familial experience of migration over generations. As such it looks at identity as a construct of individual relationships and experiences in and between different national contexts. The title is a Jamaican expression that relates to the past and how it is remembered, perceived and interpreted to provide knowledge and to allow a continuity of individual and collective memory. This can be distilled into three words: Rewind. Replay. Review.

The multimedia 'Border Ritual' which is a pastiche of the interrogative repetition of border encounters, is set out in its own little retrospective and very atmospheric scene. Each individual aspect of the project is presented in several different but interlinking forms. This includes a zoetrope, revolving on a vintage Bush turntable, which contains images repeated in video and as prints. The audio soundtrack to the video is also accessible by placing the needle on the record which is quite a thrill.

The dialogue between the past and the present here is very clear as it is in the series of photographs hanging throughout the centre of the gallery, each of which have a very personal accompanying letter that relates to the people and the time in each image. What strikes you most as you enter the gallery, however, is the very contemporary drama and life that leaps out of the bright and vibrant colours of a wall of paintings although these too have links to the symbols and motifs of cultural history.

This is an ongoing project in which the four artists (Carla Armour, Farah Way, Tokini Fubara, Akila Richards) create and develop work in response to the film programme which includes full length features and documentary pieces, as well as several shorts. All are available to view in the gallery and there will be evening screenings next week. For more info and screening times check here: Wheel N' Come Again.

Surface Tension
Wheel N' Come Again
Hastings Arts Forum
November 1st - 13th
Private View November 4th - 6.30 -8.30 

Monday, 31 October 2016

The Big Draw at the Hastings Arts Forum

I missed the Big Draw which is a shame. I came into the Hastings Arts Forum this morning and got to see the last few pieces from the Big Draw before they were all taken down and packed away. I really wish I had seen more now - they are colourful, spontaneous and fun but also connected to the serious realities of the present. This is all that remained hanging up today so just a few pictures I'm afraid.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Roberto Landin Solo at the Hastings Art Forum

Unusually for the Hastings Art Forum, the next two weeks will feature just one artist in the whole two-gallery space. It is not easy for a single artist to fill up this much space with consistently good or interesting work, especially at short notice, so what Roberto Landin has achieved here is really quite spectacular.

Gallery One is hung with large paintings that use simple and harmonious spectrums often containing metallic hues to reflect the light in the room. The paintings are the newest works of Roberto Landin and four of them were made especially for this Hastings Art Forum show.

They are accompanied by a totem of brightly coloured ceramic skulls that complement the use of colour in the room. A smaller totem of green seems to form a single piece with the painting behind it, while shiny, white skulls, cones and other decorative ceramics, beautifully glazed or part-glazed, sit almost in piles on ascending plinths.    

This gallery is a showcase for the artist’s colour sensitivity in paint and for his skill as a ceramicist. The combination of colours, objects and shapes and the way in which they are arranged has left nothing to chance and it looks fantastic.

From the seamless arrangement of Gallery One you step into the equally seamless Gallery Two. The room is made dark by blackout curtains and is lit entirely by hanging and sculptural light installations that cast a delicate, subterranean neon glow. Entering this room you encounter four massive sculptures of human bodies that are very far from the idealised and unrealistic norm. All are beautifully lit and their equally massive shadows rise majestically up to the ceiling above.

This room is composed of earlier works. The oldest is a huge canvas of two figures, one with a protruding tongue, painted over the pages of a bible. The tongue is a motif that recurs in several different forms including an intimate video installation viewed in soft orange focus through a perspex box. It also features in two mirrored works - one contains a circle of sacred hearts, tongues and organs fused into one object, while the other has two rows of disembodied tongues chattering into infinity.  

This gallery has an element of circus sideshow in which the audience comes to see a spectacle, possibly something grotesque, that reaffirms perceptions of their own normality. However, as soon as they step inside they are part of the show and the boundary between what is perceived as normal and what is not ceases to exist. Such merging of art and audience is underlined by the fact that Roberto Landin is also a performance artist and there are two performances scheduled.

The first will be a meditation on sound in which the audience is asked to understand sound as something physically felt rather than heard. This will explore how the body resonates with sound and how that connects to the emotional catharsis often associated with music. Performance times are is 12pm to 4pm on Saturday October 8th.

The second will be a meditation on gender. The artist will appear androgynous and will sit facing an empty chair. Members of the audience can sit opposite the artist for as long as they wish. No words will be exchanged. The point is to feel and reflect on what you have seen using the artist’s performance persona as a projection board for your own response.This will take place from 12pm – 4pm on the following Saturday October 15th. 

What is contained in the two galleries is pretty much the entire creative output of Roberto Landin since 2010, which gives the show the feel of a small retrospective. However, it also reflects a very contemporary artistic practise. This is not an exhibition so much as a complete artist environment which makes it as contemporary as it gets. It is something for the visitor to experience rather than to view and has the potential to transform, particularly in the context of the performances. It may also transform some perceptions of what art can or should be. Not one to miss. 

Roberto Landin 
From Light to Dark
4th October – 16th October

Private View:  Friday 7th October - 6.30 - 8.30pm

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Paperworks at the Hastings Art Forum

Paperworks at the Hastings Art Forum
20 September – 2 October

Private View: 23rd September 6.30 - 8.30 

Traditional expectations of works on paper are drawing or watercolours. However, this group exhibition completely overturns any conservative notion of how paper should be used in art. The only works that appear to be watercolours in this show are far from traditional and the drawing consists of graphite renditions of rubbed pavements reassembled into huge paper rolls.

This is a celebration of one of the oldest, most flexible and varied materials we have. It is paper as a means to convey images in multiple forms, as a material for sculpture or installation and as recycled object transformed from practical to conceptual use. In the latter category, for example, books such as the one below must be opened by the viewer to make sense.

The beautifully produced concertina artist books of Nikki Davidson Bowman are collages of images and words perfectly bound into multi-dimensional art objects. Caroline Sax's tiny sculptures are unrecognisable as paper and seem to be made of a different and harder substance altogether.

There is a humorous nod to the subject in several of Ian Barraclough's prints, particularly his depiction of the unique qualities of the final sheet on 9 different toilet rolls.

Gill Streater's work reminds us of the importance of paper to calligraphy while Helen Rawlinson uses paper like a textile on which to add thread, buttons and colours to create small and imaginative abstracts.

Collage features in several guises in this exhibition. The pop art sensibilities and clean minimalism of Duncan McAfee, the apocalyptical colour and atmosphere of Kate Gritton and the surreal compositions of Jeff Stancliff which are compelling, mysterious and not entirely comfortable to view.

As always with such a large group show there is too much to comprehensively preview plus the detail in the works cannot possibly be conveyed here. So to conclude here are images that cover all the participants with their websites following below.

Paperworks at the Hastings Art Forum
20 September – 2 October
Private View: 23rd September 6.30 - 8.30