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Tower of Babel 3
London, November 2015

Barnaby Barford has made his very own Tower of Babel out of 3000 bone china bricks piled high in the V&A’s Medieval & Renaissance Gallery. Each brick of the six metre high installation depicts a shop front around London photographed by the artist. At the bottom are the abandoned shops and pound shops resulting from austerity and at the top are the high-end boutiques catering for luxury-minded consumers.

It took Barnaby two years to produce the bricks, which represent the great British public’s obsession with shopping. And, it’s a playful swipe at consumer culture being a new form of religion, and a way to find heaven.

I met up with him in front of his Tower smiling and meeting people, full of his own invention, but with a slight hangover. And who can blame him, when he has already sold two thirds of his bricks which rise incrementally the higher you go up the tower: starting at £250, and rising to £6,000 a pop - a clever blend of art and commerce.

It’s great to see a young, living artist enjoying his sculpture in-situ and making money at the same time. Like any good work of art there was a buzz of positive energy around it that really got people talking. My friend and cultural companion Jani Rad's favourite shop Moi 2 is featured about a third of the way up the tower and shop owner Glyn has already brought the miniature version, which she is proudly displaying in her boutique.

Barnaby’s fine bone china bricks are for sale at the V& A’s online shop here: http://thetowerofbabel.vandashop.com/shop/0002

 

Read more: Barnaby Barford's Tower of Babel

London, November 2015  chanel 1

Thank God for Charles Saatchi, despite his wife-hating ways! Say what you like, but yet again he has done the art loving public a great service with his beautiful ‘new’ gallery on Kings Road, Chelsea. Housed in the old Duke of York’s headquarters in a grand, Grade II listed building, it is a far cry from his first gallery space, a disused garage in Boundary Road, North West London. 

In contrast with the worthy, but slightly uptight V&A, where gallery attendants go apoplectic if you so much as point at an exhibit, and photography is verboten, the Saatchi is steeped in cool. The sensory experience starts in the wild garden (designed by the Rich Brothers) planted with bees in mind, where bird song piped through overhead speakers impart a sonic tranquility and trees with butterfly leaves lead you to the entrance framed with Doric columns.

I have come to see Mademoiselle Prive, a retrospective of the work of designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (1883-1971). There is no entry price and the staff, who you do want to speak to you, are ferrying about in black uniforms wearing head microphones. The exhibition begins with a reconstruction of Chanel’s Paris showroom on 31 Rue Cambon, its sweeping staircase lined with multitudinous mirrors indicating her rise from back-room seamstress to influential couturier. In the ‘Deauville hat shop’, her trademark floppy fedora hats are assembled so that an animated miniature Coco, dressed in signature skirt suit and pearls, climbs out from one hat box and walks elegantly across the stand to another. Her disembodied voice informs the space that her relationship with British aristocrat Boy Capel was the catalyst to her opening shop and the success that followed.

Read more: Mademoiselle Prive at the Saatchi Gallery, London

19th October 2015
Indigo-guizhouThe recent V&A David Bowie and Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty exhibitions provided insights into the visionary genius of fashion leaders. It’s current exhibitionTextiles of India explores the origins of producing beautiful fabrics from the earth’s raw, natural resources.

Blues, reds, yellows and greens

India has provided the world with cotton and silk for centuries. Indian cotton was known to the Romans as  “woven winds”.  By the 1630’s fine quality, cheap fabrics imported from India by the Dutch and the British caused the complaint: “You can’t tell servant from master.”

The art of extracting colour from nature begins with a nod to indigo dyeing. Indigo is the magical blue colour derived from the leaves of the plant Indigofera tinctoria. And, India’s name is inextricably linked with both indigo and Indikon, the ancient Greek word for dye. Issac Newton named the sixth colour of his prism after it in 1660 when the East India Company were importing the pigment into England. An infinite array of patterns can be produced on cloth by string or wax resist dip-dyeing.

From the deepest red to the lightest pink, the shades so indicative of India’s crazily colourful chintz, are extracts from the root bark of the chay plant (Oldenlandia umbellata) which grows around the southern tip of India and in Sri Lanka. Unlike indigo, chay requires a mordant or a fixative to bind colour with cloth. A vibrant golden orange extract of turmeric flowers, plants  and roots (Curcuma longa) combines with indigo to make green. Surprisingly, pomegranate rind is rich in tannins from which numerous earthy and yellow tones come.

Read more: Textiles of India at the V&A

23rd January 2015

Flowers by Barry Morrisey The Café Art exhibition in the cosy café in Hampstead School of Art on a cold winter night was a heart-warming event. All of the artists taking part have in some way been affected by homelessness. Café Art was set up in 2012 over a cup of coffee by philanthropists Michael and Paul to give this different group of artists a chance to re-connect with society.  

So far around thirty-one cafés in London are participating by lending their walls to Café Art projects (www.cafeart.org.uk) And, this colourful network has outreached to Bristol, Bath and Bournemouth. The Guardian has hosted a Café Art exhibition in their foyer and Christie’s housed a pop-up event. Picture exchanges between Café Art in London, Fresh Arts in New York and Home Ground Services in Melbourne have also helped to highlight the cause and International exposure is a great confidence boost for the artists concerned.

“Fundamentally, Café Art works because it gives an opportunity for ten different homeless charities to get together without the need for competition amongst them. For us, the purpose is to get the artist to the next level and to get the public seeing their work. When an artist sells a piece of work we connect them directly with the buyer and we don’t take a commission,” explained Michael.

Read more: Cafe Art Where Homelessness, Great Art and Coffee Meet

1st October 2014

 

Sam and BillIt was my pleasure to attend the premier of Spandau Ballet’s film Soul Boys of the Western World at the Royal Albert Hall. And, even better still, dancing to the rampant live set afterwards amid the heaving mass of fans up on thier feet in the balconies, boxes and stalls.

The film charts the rise and falling apart of a band that emerged during the diehard politics of the Thatcherite era from a somewhat grimy post-war upbringing in North London. It is not surprising that five tense alpha males making great music in exotic locations (so plenty of footage of hunks in swimming trunks) came to an impasse somewhere on the road to world-wide fame.

Director George Hencken, an attractive young woman, borrows extensively from the limited storehouse of New Romantic newsreel footage and from the boys own personal archives to weave a coherent and brutally honest documentary. We emapthise with their highs and lows and gain greater insight into how Spandau Ballet originally came about and how they have come together again.

The atmosphere under the pink and purple mushrooms, the outstanding acoustic features of the Albert Hall roof, was charged with love and appreciation for the bands' reunion.  And for friendships going back more than thirty years -from the Blitz club in Covent Garden, where the boys played their debut in 1979, which I also had the pleasure of attending.

Other stalwarts from the 1980’s; Boy George, Philip Sallon, Steve Strange, Rusty Egan, Chris Sullivan and Robert Elms were perched in priority seats in the boxes and blended easily with Pride actor Bill Nighy and the BBC’s fittest comedian John Bishop at the after show party.  

Hearing the now classic pop songs Gold, To Cut a Long Story Short, Only When You Leave and Chant No.1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On) rendered in an impressively rocky way, made sitting still impossible. These  boys have more than a touch of the time traveller about them and succeeeded in bringing a huge crowd of people along with them into the present moment.

It was a magical evening. The energy, love and loyalty between Spandau Ballet, their fans, friends and families is palpable. I'd be surprised if anyone slept a wink that night, and the buzz continued well into the next day; something that always made these soul boys special.

 Photo of Sam Burcher and Bill Nighy by Jani Faramazi Rad

Soul Boys of The Western World goes on general release from October 3rd 2014

25th November 2013

isabella blow

The Isabella Blow exhibition is a beautiful manifestation of the creative triangle between muse Blow, designer Alexander McQueen and milliner Philip Treacy of incredible, unparalleled imagination. Two out of three of this formidable team committed suicide whilst still young, and it’s easy to see why with this overload of talent.

Philip Treacy’s variety and volume of hats has to be seen to be believed; a snail hat made of silk net and wire with stalk eyes, a plump green silk orchid hat with feather stamens, a rich red velvet concertina hat bisected by an open zipper partially revealing the face, a purple brocade trilby with an extended brim, black and red masks smothered with veils of swarovski crystals and a clam shell hat. There is an assortment of fascinators garlanded with clouds of red butterflies, cut out pop art red mouths, and white foam anarchy symbols. And feathers are fashioned to wrap around the head like downy snakes.

Rather like the reptile house at London Zoo, a collection of nature inspired installations are set behind glass. A gold mannequin clad in a stunning black corset, Yves Saint Laurent lilac snakeskin wedgies and a stingray teardrop clutch bag is eyecatching. She is entirely submerged in an underwater world of inky blue lobsters and shimmering black sand. Above the Perspex meniscus line, an intricately designed 16th century black galleon hat is sailing on the model’s head, its feather sails stiffening on the wind. 

An Alexander McQueen full length pink and black dress made from yet more feathers on silk with sculptured shoulders and a long train is undoubtedly the star of the show. A taxidermy bird of paradise headpiece completes the ensemble. Kimonos provide a timeless structure for a number of McQueen’s other outfits, notably a wedding dress worn with an ecclesiastical circular hat. And fellow St Martin’s graduate Tristan Webber has cleverly juxtaposed an armorial helmet with a red silk and blue appliqué silk dress teamed with purple suede platforms by Terry de Havilland.

Read more: Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore

 

bandana beatles        

Mr Brainwash aka Thierry Guetta is an LA based artist and the inadvertent star of Banksy’s film Exit Through the Gift Shop, which was originally intended to be about Banksy himself, but Guetta turned out to be more entertaining. The association with possibly the world’s most famous street artist has resulted in exhibitions in LA, New York and London for Mr Brainwash, whose current show opened in London this week.

He stops short of using a live animal like Banksy did in his first LA extravaganza, hiring and painting an elephant to match the wallpaper. However, animal themes permeate the cavernous Old Sorting Office in the West End where the central exhibit is a giant gorilla made of old tyres. A carosel of decoupaged and painted horses are dancing around the space, a cute baby elephant made of rubber and daubed with pink paint is sitting on a plinth in the corner, whilst spray-painted cows, horses and a bull pop up all over the place.

Read more: Mr Brainwash Does Art Good

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