Studio Inspirations: This week in London

A quiet week in the studio for me in terms of practical work, but I treated myself to some much needed gallery time, exploring Olafur Eliasson’s new exhibit at the Tate Modern, Frank Bowling and France-lise McGurn at the Tate Britain and the Frieze Sculpture garden in Regent’s Park. In this week’s post I wanted to share some of my favourite works from these exhibitions and discuss how I find inspiration in experiencing work in person.

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Olafur Eliasson: ‘In Real Life’

Eliasson’s work has fascinated me, ever since my colleague and friend Bobby Forsythe – who you may know from my post on NEXUS, and who you should definitely check out – became inspired and intrigued by his practice during her studies. Eliasson predominantly works with light, shape and experiential art, however ‘In Real Life’ is a culmination of his works since 1990, encompassing installation, sculpture, photography, sculpture, light, experience and projection. 

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Stepping into this exhibition is like stepping into another dimension, where nothing is quite as it seems and everything requires a second, lingering look. Most prominent in the exhibition are Din blinde passage (Your blind passenger) 2010; a 39 meter corridor filled with fog and tonal light, and Your uncertain shadow (colour) 2010; a large scale projection which fills the opposite wall with coloured silhouettes of the viewers. Both pieces are visually stunning in their own right, but what I find most intriguing about these pieces is how the presence of other spectators can totally change the way you – an individual – views the work. Particularly in these two pieces, the more people present in the space can make the work more visually full, yet can be distracting from the virtue of the work. I consider this often in my own work, in terms of the viewer/subject/painter relationship, but also how spectator dialogue and a feeling of awkwardness viewing nudity with other people, can influence the reading of my paintings. Just as this occurs due to the themes in my work, it occurs in Eliasson’s work in a physical manifestation: how many silhouettes appear in technicolour, or how much you experience in a fog tunnel.

Frank Bowling: ‘The Possibilities of Paint are Never-Ending’

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As detailed in the exhibition guide, Bowling has spent the last 60 years “relentlessly [exploring] the properties and possibilities of paint” as is evident in his current exhibition, which showcases the development of his work over his 60 year career. Although I had only come across Bowling’s work recently, I was instantly drawn to his vibrant use of colour and the distinction in techniques in his works, which combine collage, print, layering, painting, sculptural elements and stencilling in his large, luminous works. 

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I absolutely loved the layout of the exhibition, with each of the 9 rooms dedicated to a different era or collection of Bowling’s work, presenting how each period of his life inspired or influenced his next experimentation and process. Some of my favourite pieces were from his ‘map paintings’ and ‘poured paintings’ of the 60’s and 70’s. The works in these collections really speak to my interest in process and materiality, as well as tonality and colour. I found it incredibly interesting to absorb the dialogue of the other people viewing the exhibition; just as I have found when observing people viewing my work, many of the spectators were discussing what the abstract shapes reminded them off, how the colours were similar to other pieces, where they saw landscapes or starts in the speckled paint, and if the titles meant anything. As I have often discussed with abstract works, this quest for meaning can be one of the most intriguing things about the practice, and often the lack of meaning is more interesting that any supposed meaning.

France-Lise McGurn: ‘Sleepless’

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Another colourful and intriguing exhibition at the Tate Britain, is McGurn’s site specific exhibition exploring city life. I was instantly drawn to the vibrant figurative work, with bright colours and delicate line work, reminiscent of Venetia Berry and Celia Hempton. But it was not only the style of the paintings that caught my eye, and their figurative nature, but also the use of site specificity in McGurn’s painting of the wall and the way the paintings extend from canvas to wall, to ceiling, giving them a fluidity and motion that reflects the hustle and bustle of urban life. What is also incredibly interesting and again reflects the themes of France-Lise’s work, is the evident underpainting, the scrubbed out faces that appear to change before your eyes as you scrutinise the overlapping bodies, hands, clothes and faces. I was also drawn to the inclusion of cigarettes, chewing gum and pearls, affixed or indented into the wall, which once again gave the paintings the feel of life and autonomy, moving away from the restraints of a canvas, or the ‘white cube’ gallery. 

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McGurn’s application of paint is also incredibly interesting, similarly to some of Hempton’s site specific installations, the visible brushstrokes and washed effect of the paint mimic the physicality of it’s application, referencing the makers own body in the creation of bodies – just as I have also considered in my own practice.

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Frieze Sculpture Garden

Although my work does not encompass sculpture, I am always fascinated by those practitioners who use three-dimensional work, especially those who do so alongside other techniques. The Frieze sculpture garden is always a wonderful experience, both as an exhibition but also an installation within an external setting, where children cheerfully climb on and jump around the works of some of the most famous contemporary artists in the world. My favourite piece from this years’ selection was – as you could probably guess – Tracey Emin’s When I sleepwhich portrays a curled up figure in Emin’s undeniable style. I love the dichotomy of this 4-meter-long bronze body reclining in between playing children, workers of their lunchbreak and families playing Frisbee, it reminded my of the breadth of life, contrasting the stillness with the motion in a way that was touching and sensitive.

This interaction is similar to my musings on the presence of other spectators with Eliasson’s work, showing the importance of setting, audience and context.

Overall, these 4 collections of work have confirmed my interests in viewer reception, context and process, as well as making me consider site specificity, development of work over time and paint application. Despite having a little break from physical work, my mind is always a buzz with new ideas and concepts that can grow my practice. 

Felicity BeaumontComment