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Vincent Van Gogh in Britain

If you have not visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam then Van Gogh in Britain at the Tate Britain is a chance to see the selected works of one of the world’s most gifted artists. The exhibition covers the time frame that Van Gogh spent living and working in England, firstly taking the wholesale orders of art prints, packing and despatching them for the Dutch art dealers Goupil. 

During 1873-76 Van Gogh learns about art at the warehouse and visits the Royal Academy Summer exhibitions where he admires the work of John Everett Millais and John Constable. Exposed to life in Victorian London, he buys a top hat and becomes a fan of the hand engraved woodblocks made by the “Black and White Illustrators” in The Graphic and the Illustrated London News. He later buys 21 volumes of The Graphic, almost the complete run from 1869-80 and allows the lines and marks of the engraver Gustave Dore to influence his own work.



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Barbican Art Gallery, London UK Sam Burcher and Jane Wallace review.

October 2017

Basquiat UntitledThis is the first large-scale exhibition in the UK of the work of American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988). Clearly, something is amiss that not a single work by such a prolific 20th Century artist is held in a public collection here. Interest in Basquiat has piqued since his Air Power (1984) sold as part of the late David Bowie’s art collection for £7.1 million at Sothebys in London, November 201

There are over a hundred startling paintings on three floors plus film of the artist speaking to camera. A strikingly prodigious young talent, it is fitting that his work has been gathered from a variety of sources for an international audience. His vibrant, raw imagery, abounding with fragments of bold capitalised text offer insights into his encyclopaedic interests ranging from anatomy to symbolism, skilfully integrated into paintings and collages. Leonardo da Vinci's Greatest Hits (1982) is a good example.

Coming of age in the late 1970’s in the post-punk underground art scene in downtown New York led to a meeting with Andy Warhol and collaborating on murals and installations for the Mudd Club, Area and Palladium nightclubs, which typifies his role as metteur en scene of this particular era in modern art. Famous (1982) conveys the Warhol connection, whilst Untitled (1980) conveys the mood.  

Read more: Basquiat : Boom For Real

30 Sept 2017 

The V&A distinguishes itself with yet another fantastic exhibition, Jane Wallace reviews.


SalomeToday marks the preview of Opera:Passion Power and Politics, the Victoria and Albert Museum’s autumn exhibition in collaboration with the Royal Opera House. Probably the coolest museum in the world, the V&A is placing itself at the cutting edge of art, fashion, history and more recently music. Under the direction of Nicholas Coleridge, the Chair of Trustees, Conde Nast Chairman and ancestor of the poet, the V&A is a veritable goldmine.

It was in 2013 that the now famous David Bowie Is exhibition blossomed, decorating the hallowed walls with everything David Bowie. From stage costumes to blotchy penned lyrics,to “Life on Mars” Major Tom to much more, all charting the seamless shift of personas from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke et al. To be there was to know this chameleon-like pop star so much more intimately. Mothers from the provinces brought their teenage sons to peer into the memorabilia. 

Savage Beauty, Europe’s first major retrospective of Alexander Macqueen’s exquisite couture, followed hot on Bowie’s heels in March 2015 breaking all previous records for ticket sales. In all, 493,043 people saw the show and over the last two weekends of its run the V&A remained open all night.  

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29th September 2017

image.pngIconoclasts explores the experimental and often transformational practices of thirteen groundbreaking artists inviting us to engage with what modern day iconoclasm might be. Whether these talented artists are iconoclasts of 21st Century remains to be seen. Meanwhile, all are driven by an urge to produce art in an intriguingly diverse way. The sumptuous space inside Sloane Square’s Saatchi Gallery provides an excellent setting to discover the variety of work on offer.

A standout three-dimensional piece is Echoes of the Kill by Alexi Williams Wynn. She uses a special blend of wax, steel and wood to describe the deepest hollows of cow and horse lungs. She represents them as translucent coral, a golden forest or synaptic bronchioles of higher forms of intelligence. In fact, Williams has been lucky with lungs, recently given the chance to open the dead body of a Narwal washed up in Belgium and given one of its lungs to create art with. An upcoming solo show of her works in Ghent will feature an installation including the whale lung.

If you like textiles, you’ll love gay textiles! Josh Fought creates calendars, memorials and waterfalls from glittery pink weaves and from indigo hemp. His large tapestries are adorned with self-help books, affirmations, time-faces, nail polish, gloves, pretzels and badges in the most delightful way. He combines Duchampian-punky everyday found objects with the language of a community.

Renne So’s innovative and playful knitted portraits explore the transformation of visual identity from illustration to ancient civilisations. She uses a 1980’s knitting machine to create motifs as diverse as a Victorian top hat to the curls of an Assyrian beard. Black outlines filled with flat blocks of colour portray mysterious genre scenes, the central character repeated throughout her portraits inhabits a infinite world of negative space.

Of the painters, Danny Fox is probably the name to watch. His large-scale oils present the human figure as hero, following the history tradition of painting. A large portrait of a man on a horse, The Salt that Killed the Ramen, evokes the bright colours of Mexico as does Ice Cream Seller. The latter particularly has a provincial feel, except the lone man is pushing an ice-cream cart instead of a plough, so has been modernised in that way. Fox has travelled far and wide from his birthplace of St Ives creating allegorical and representational work.

Another painter playing with history is Makiko Kudo, who recalls traditional Japanese prints and inhabits them with dreamy, Manga-like characters. He says, “Constructing a painting is similar to dreaming. Shuffling different landscapes, creating stories and connecting them with emotion and imagination, like a collage or a jigsaw puzzle. His watery landscapes evoke skilful impressions of Monet.

Thomas Mailaender’s Illustrated People (2014) are edgy, photographic prints of bodies that bring a new and surprising meaning of the phrase “double-take.” He burns the original negatives of past social conflicts onto the skins of unknown subjects with a UV lamp and photographs the temporary results. The strips of film stand out from the patches of red-raw skin on white flesh, an example of Mailaender’s fascination with the wrong things in the wrong place. His compulsive breakdown of human beauty is inventive, amusing and thought provoking.

Other exhibitors are Maurizio Anzeri, Matthew Chambers, Daniel Crews-Chubb, Aaron Fowler, Dale Lewis. Kate Mccquire and Douglas White.

The show runs until 7th January 2018 at the Saatchi Gallery, London, free entry.

hokusai-wave-kanagawa1st July 2017 

The celebrated Japanese artist known as Hokusai (1760-1849) believed that when humans reached the age of 61, their life cycle began again. It follows that his best known work, Great Wave (1831), was produced when he was in his 70’s. Changing his name many times during his long lifetime, he settled on the name he called himself after the North Star, also meaning North Studio.

Hokusai lived in Edo, the former name for Tokyo, with his daughter Oi. They were constantly moving due to poverty. A fervent Buddhist, he produced hanging scrolls of Monk Nicheran sitting on a rock (1811). Everywhere he went, he recited a mantra. 

His most notable works utilised Prussian Blue, a newly acquired import into the Japanese market in the early 1900’s. He blended this pigment with indigo to produce the finest and widest shades of blue. It was the series of 36 views of Mount Fuji that finally gave him a living and made his name. Fuji features in the background of Great Wave and prominently in Red Fuji where the mountain is coloured a fiery orange-red.

At the end of his life he had more than 200 students and would throw his drawings out of the window as good luck charms, fortunately these were retrieved, along with many of his letters. When he was 90, he wrote that just 5 or 10 more years of life would make him the perfect artist. But, he already was a great artist, his unceasing quest to understand form enabled him to recreate the unlimited perfection of nature with a brushstroke.

Hokusai believed that all phenomena have spirit and is interconnected. You just have to look at his nature paintings such as Peonies with Canary, Azalea and Lesser Cuckoo (1834) and his series of Waterfalls to see that. He attributed life-giving powers to Mount Fuji, his talisman and symbol of immortality. He died at 90, his last painting a poignant scene of the spirit of a black dragon ascending his beloved mountain. 


An exhibition of his work is on display at the British Museum until 18th August 2017

September 2016

2016 is the 40th anniversary of Punk Rock and the British Library has a modern collection of punk and new-wave memorabilia on show.

Andy and the clashBy his own admission curators are always trying to draw attention to their collections. So, an exhibition celebrating punk’s 40th anniversary is Andy Linehan's opportunity to show that the British Library collects modern material as well as Shakespeare, Alice in Wonderland and the Magna Carta, all recent exhibitions.

The British Library Sound Archive is amongst the most wide ranging in the world and mirrors what the written word archive does. Its ambition to get hold of a copy of everything published in the UK relies on donations from record companies. Andy explained in the sunlit piazza overlooked by Paolozzi’s four metre high bronze statue of Isaac Newton measuring time inspired by a William Blake engraving how the exhibition came about.

“We utilised our own collection of records, fanzines, music press, flyers and personal documents, he said. "But some of the material, for example the letter from EMI Records sacking Glen Matlock, the original bass player with the Sex Pistols, we borrowed from England’s Dreaming author Jon Savage’s punk archives stored in Liverpool John Moore’s University.”

How easy was it to organise and who has seen it?

“It’s a complete mix of material and that’s one of the nice things about it. People of an age reminiscing about their youth and younger people discovering something completely new.  Yesterday someone walked through with a couple of kids aged around 6 years old and one put on the headphones to listen to the Pistols and started reacting to the music, so the idea that kids can get something out of it is brilliant. We got lots of press interest in Japan, France, and America, so tourists put us on their ‘to see’ list."

Read more: Punk 1976-78

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:

Read more: Barnaby Barford's Tower of Babel (2)