Energy, Concept and Material – The Art of Steve Dilworth

The following paper was originally presented live at the SSAH / Art UK Sculpture in Scotland Symposium, held at Edinburgh University in February 2019 and subsequently published in the Scottish Society for Art History Journal No 24 (2019-2020) Sculpture in Scotland issue in November 2019

Steve Dilworth in his studio, Isle of Harris. Photograph by Steve Russell Studios, courtesy of Pangolin Gallery, London

‘A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Is sculpture a chain?’ Steve Dilworth, early sketchbook, mid 1970’s.

Since the 1970s, Steve Dilworth has been redefining sculpture in his approach to making objects and handling of materials. Dilworth’s extraordinary work crosses many boundaries in terms of how we think about sculpture and art objects. 2019 marks his 70th birthday and the 40th anniversary of the Hanging Figure, a lightning strike in the history of art and a significant point of departure in Dilworth’s practice. It was the first of his works constructed from the inside out, a union of energy, concept and material that continues to evolve in his work today. He is one of the country’s most innovative, globally significant artists and I hope that this paper will be the start of a much broader conversation about his work.

When I first encountered Dilworth’s art in 2006, I was immediately struck by how powerfully distilled it was. Since then I have continued to write articles about it, gradually coming to terms with what makes it so unique and important, not just to me, but to many people around the world. In 2014, in response to the lack of information about the artist in the public domain, I began researching Dilworth’s work with view to writing a definitive biography, a story I wanted to tell through his trajectory of objects. First, I needed to see that whole trajectory. After discussing key works with the artist, forming the skeleton of the project, I started tracing, visiting and documenting as much of his work as possible.

By the end of 2017 I had documented over 500 works, a process which became rather like mapping the family, genus and species of living things as part of an expedition. These related branches of objects became the thematic vertebrae of each chapter and the backbone of the book, which I completed in October 2018. During the three-year research phase I conducted extensive interviews with the artist, his family, peers, colleagues, private collectors, curators and public collections from the UK, Europe and the USA.  What motivated me from the beginning was the question of what makes ‘a Dilworth ’and why is his work so resonant on a global scale?

Steve Dilworth ‘Heart of the Thief’ (Sandiron, coins 1993) Photograph courtesy of the artist

Steve Dilworth was born in 1949 and spent his formative years in Kingston Upon Hull, Yorkshire. His earliest memories are significantly tactile, linked strongly to the natural world and to discovery through play, a quality ever present in his studio practice. He remembers a ‘profound experience’ as ‘a young boy,[1] when he defied the taboo of a do not touch sign at the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull, running his hands over a Henry Moore bronze while nobody was looking. It was a ‘tactile experience of form’ that ‘seeped through his skin’.[2] Returning to the Ferens in 1997 for his solo exhibition Earthing Memories, Dilworth stated; ‘It is this memory that has demanded an attitude in making sculpture. It calls for an integrity while making objects which carry messages and experiences of the future child.’ [3]

As a student at Maidstone College of Art, his interpretation of sculpture went way beyond traditional carving and casting. One of his early sketchbooks, dated 17 March 1970, records his assertion that ‘Sculpture is a name describing an object. What I mean by an object’ is ‘anything which is tangible, such things as thoughts, wind, emotions etc. Therefore, it follows that my writing must be sculpture.'[4] It was an idea that was not acceptable at the time. After he had left college, a chance encounter with the Isle of Harris stayed with him and in 1983 he and his family moved permanently to the island, a landscape he has been collaborating with ever since.

Dilworth’s international reputation has been growing since the late 1980s. He is renowned for his ground-breaking work using once living and found material, often held inside outer forms of wood, bone, stone and bronze. He also incorporates elements drawn directly from land and seascape, such as calm water, storm water, mountain air, the North wind and darkness. These are elements gathered at a particular time and place, in an exacting way that sit right on an edge between concept and material, the physical and metaphysical. He also uses the concept of sound and its absence in objects such as Air Rattle (1992).

Dilworth is fascinated with intersectional points between living things and material, reality, belief and the unconscious. He is an artist who believes that his job is to ask questions rather than provide answers. There is a sense of engagement with the inherent mysteries of life in his work whether in particle physics, Nature or the Divine. Life is acknowledged in its totality in his work, even those aspects we might deny, fear or despise. In nature you cannot have growth without death and decay – that transformation of core energy and awareness is a powerful part of his work.

The human scale of his work is as grounded as it is aspirational, from intimate hand-held objects to monumental outdoor works in stone, bronze and works in the landscape using animal fat, stone, fire and peat. One of the unusual aspects of his work is that it is crafted from the inside out, using the energy of raw material as the starting point, with as much care and attention given to the internal structure as the outer form.Often what is most valuable is hidden inside where we cannot see it. We have to believe or imagine it is there. The way the outer surface is crafted communicates the value and integrity of that process of seeing. It is ‘sculpture’ as a process of recognition – of who and what we are as human beings. We may have Google-mapped the entire world, but in truth there are many things which we (rightly) still do not understand and ultimately cannot control. The objects Dilworth makes acknowledge that baseline of human vulnerability.

Steve Dilworth ‘Ark’ 2000 Bronze, Nickel, Silver, Hooded Crow. Photograph by Steve Russell Studios , courtesy of Pangolin Gallery, London.

When I first interviewed Dilworth and asked what drew him to sculpture as a discipline, he replied;

I’m an atheist and an anti- theist. Art has replaced all of that spiritual side. So what it is to me is to try to make some sort of sense of what is a nonsensical place- of what we are. It is just exploring that and trying to understand. I don’t really see it as sculpture per se, but as objects and that’s what I make. For me the fantastic thing about making objects is that you’re making real things, they’re not about something, they’re not pretending to be something else, they are actually what they are- what it is in its entirety, whether you can see it or not.[5]

That grounded insistence on ‘making real things’ is one of his defining characteristics as an artist. This is not sculpture to be placed on a plinth or mantelpiece and admired from afar, but objects that connect on a primal level with the nervous system. During the wider interview process I discovered work passed down through families as invested objects, rather than inherited investments, creating their own narratives. They are objects that contain and exude their own energy in very profound and unexpected ways. Recently when Dilworth created a memorial piece in bronze, this precious object was not for display in a home or garden but intended to be thrown into a loch. Rather than marking a final resting place or fixed point in time, it exists as fluidly as human memory. Very unusually it is an art object not of possession, but an act of acknowledgement, a ritual of grief and loss, reconnecting those human emotions to cycles in the natural world. Dilworth’s progeny of Throwing Objects from the early 1980s to the present are for lobbing into an internal landscape. Some can be defensive, others are objects of comfort and healing on multiple levels. People recognise the gravity and intent of these objects intuitively, directly through the hands.

Steve Dilworth ‘Swift’ (Dunite and swift, 2012) Courtesy of the artist and Kilmorack Gallery. Photograph by Tony Davidson

The meticulous crafting of Dilworth’s objects communicates an attitude of respect and intention. Sometimes hollows are carved that connect your fingers with a certain trajectory and people often use these as meditative or grounding objects. Holding Swift (2012), in both hands, thumbs to eyes, there is a bodily sense of alignment with your internal centre of gravity, rather like the pull of a divining rod, linked to the body of the bird inside and to the idea of flight. The object also has a mysterious, mask-like quality, drawn from the collective, unconscious tribe of us. Although it is beautifully crafted, my experience through interviews is that people are not just reacting to the surface, but holistically to the work which seems to trigger genetic memory. In the artist’s monumental works and land works there is a very fluid sense of material and archetypal connection to form.

Dilworth’s Venus Stone(2007) for example, is crafted from tonnes of black granite, however this tapered form and presence defies all expectations of stone. Rather than being fixed, immovable and earth bound, it is at one with the changing weather and seasons in reflection, evaporating into the immense sky above, becoming air. Originally it was to stand on a base that allowed it to rotate with the wind as well, forming another axis of movement. The fertile, imaginative Feminine is undeniable in Dilworth’s Venus Stone and its masculine companion work Claw, in fourteen tonnes of black granite, is equally potent and elusive as sculpture.

Steve Dilworth ‘Venus Stone’ (China black granite 2007) Photograph Courtesy of the Cass Sculpture Foundation

When Dilworth took surplus frozen blocks of sand eels, which had been harvested for fertiliser in the Western Isles and wove them into ‘a burial shroud for the sea’ (Sand Eel Weaving, 1989), he was not claiming dominion over these once living things as an individual, but transforming human created waste into a statement of reverent care. Those tiny eels are the food and energy transfer within an entire ecosystem. The smell of preservation, a temporary halt to decay and the golden silvery weave of a precious cloak affirm what we know when we look at human impact on nature all over the world. Later in Sea Chest (2009-2010), which contains a sand eel cast in bronze, the concept evolves, with the precious metal and the once living object held inside.

The Isle of Harris is a great working partner for Dilworth. It is a place where he says he can ‘still see the curve of the earth’[6] and where evidence of geological changes millions of years old are out on the surface of the landscape. It is also a place where you have to come to terms with human history and your own presence and footprint, relative to the enormity of natural forces. Acknowledged in the earliest recorded objects made by human beings, this is art integral to life and our creative renewal. In many ways, Dilworth’s work has more in common with the prehistoric Venus of Willendorf (29,500 BCE, Natural History Museum, Vienna) than he does with his contemporaries. What is often forgotten in our digital age is that the origin of art was ritual and that the process of making fulfils a different need to the branded cultural consumption that now dominates our world.

Willendorf Venus Natural History Museum, Vienna, Austria. Image: Wikipedia Commons

Dilworth taps into human ritual and collective memory, describing himself as ‘a channel’ or ‘like an idiot being given keys to the library.’[7] Some people describe him and his work as ‘shamanic’. I see it as that, only in so far as a shaman is a leader who having absorbed the entire history and culture of the tribe is a keeper of collective memories, an individual able to penetrate the modern man-made barrier between the physical and spiritual. There is a very close connection with an entire cultural ecology in indigenous shamanic practices, an approach to our place on earth as human beings which in the context of 21st-century life is urgently relevant. Dilworth’s work may look tribal, but it does not directly reference other cultural artefacts. When folklore or other narratives emerge, it is often after a work has been completed and not consciously researched. Making is the research and meaning in itself.

Joseph Beuys used materials such as fur and fat in his sculptural installations, but Beuys adopted shamanism as a role, a way of fighting rationalism as part of a wider social agenda. He constructed mythology around his practice in installation, teaching and performance, that is very different to Dilworth’s use of raw material. Comparisons are sometimes made with Damien Hirst’s work, but this is also wide off the mark in terms of craft and intention. Dilworth was confronting the use of once living material over a decade earlier and, in Dilworth’s art, it is not the shock value or mythology of the material driving the object but the essential charge within it. That charge as concept and reality first came into being in 1979 with the completion of the Hanging Figure, where the synthesis of material created transcendent circuitry. Like the positive and negative ‘parts of a battery that come together with the chemical electrolyte between, it is a store of energy and the vital spark of electricity that creatively lights the world.’[8]  It is an object of life, rather than death, creation over destruction.

Steve Dilworth ‘The Hanging Figure’ (Human skeleton, bovine heart, liver, meat, horsehair, blackthorn, seagrass 1978-79) Photograph courtesy of the artist

As the artist has stated; ‘All things contain energy. It is self-evident, and by changing their shape or position you can alter the energy or strengthen it. You end up making power objects and that is ultimately what sculpture is for me. It is not primarily visual art. An artist creates music, art or whatever but it transcends the material. Otherwise it is worthless.’[9]

The origin of Dilworth’s contemporary art practice is the unity of energy, concept and material inside this work. The Hanging Figure is a contentious and deeply humane piece which importantly raises many more questions than it answers. It is a fusion of human and animal, composed from a human skeleton (a decalcified box of bones bought from an anatomical supplier) and an unravelled calf including a bovine heart, liver and meat, bound together by horse hair, blackthorn and sea grass. It ‘represents […] a deepening exploration of the energies and origins of raw materials that have shaped all of the artist’s subsequent work.’[10] ‘Sea grass and blackthorn was used to bind, strengthen and articulate the spine; a knot tied left to right and right to left, creating a rhythm of lines, 300 in all connected to different parts of the body.’[11] Dilworth cites the ‘authenticity of the material, the energy of it’ being extremely important in the making of the object.[12]

‘If an object is anything it must contain its own power and be independent of time and place.’[13] ‘What you’re trying to do is make three dimensional poetry by weaving these elements, by changing the form and the density, you try to create an object that is stronger and more powerful than the space it occupies.’[14]

Although the exterior of the figure looks female, the skeleton is male, an interesting dynamic in terms of human psychology, identity and gender. The integration of animal and human feels true to evolution and of the way that deep rooted aspects of self can be suppressed in contemporary life. It is a work that makes the uncomfortable reality of what it is to be human visible again. However, it is more than a memento mori. Although reminiscent of ancient burial rites and mummification on the surface – this is not a funereal work. The Hanging Figure posed ‘deep question marks’[15] for the artist during the process of making and it remains one of his most polarising works, due to its raw, undeniable union of concept, energy and material. It is a work that has been exhibited in the UK, Europe and America. Sold in 2011 to the Richard Harris collection in Chicago, it’s a work that should never have left this country.

Taking the lessons of the Hanging Figure forward meant crafting objects the right way, with the right materials and intention, through the self-confessed ‘imperfect’ channel of the artist. This idea breaks new ground in Darkness I &II (1988) where the concept and technique are resoundingly equal. Two 14 x 12cm lidded caskets, made from lead, copper, brass, ancient bog oak and darkness are objects of human gravitas in pyramid form. The internal lead chamber of each vessel has a certain weighted logic, in capturing and containing darkness, as concept, energy and material. Regardless of the age, or our beliefs, the idea of darkness carries physical, psychological and emotional weight. There is also an edge of absurdity in trying to capture it. During an interview on Harris in 2014, Dilworth described the process of collecting the core material;

I chose the darkest time of the year in midwinter between the moons and I walked up the valley away from any natural light – the perfect natural darkness and sealed it up… What I like about that is darkness is quite tangible – steering perilously close to canisters of London Fog, but it is a material, on the edge of where concept becomes material. I find those barriers fascinating. I do realise there is a risk involved in it, in the work being overtaken completely by the idea, but I’m very serious about it.[16]

During one of our interviews on Harris, Dilworth described the process in bringing calm water to the energetic centre of an object;

I could go and get it again at an appropriate moment, but it is a pretty rare moment to get the sea that calm. I do save it- just in a plastic bottle, not kept in anything special, that would turn it into something else. I take some water out of the calm water bottle, put it into a flask and then syringe, fill it, squirt it out so it is rinsed with [calm water] and start again. With air, I would [also] rinse it out. Sometimes the air is gathered by sucking in, in a ritual and sometimes as a vacuum, but the intention is to get it as right as I can. Not just opening the two on the off chance of getting some into it.  It must have a degree of integrity to it. You have to try, even if it isn’t perfect. That’s what it has to be. You do your best given what you’ve got at the time.[17]

Steve Dilworth ‘StormCentre’ (African blackwood, air taken from the centre of a storm depression, 1993) Photograph courtesy of the artist.

A distant cousin of Darkness I & II, Storm Centre (1993) (Fig.6) is another example of taking a seemingly intangible element from Nature and transforming it experientially. The outer form is made from African blackwood and contains a core of pure silver, holding a phial of air taken from the centre of the Braer storm in January 1993, the most intense extratropical cyclone ever recorded over the northern Atlantic Ocean. Dilworth described collecting the core material during an interview on Harris; You have this particular moment when it’s utterly still, deep in the depression of the storm, an uncomfortable place to be. It was quite opportunist, when the storm hit I thought- I’ll just collect that.’[18] When I first saw this work I knew nothing about its origins – it ‘reminded me of a metronome with the pendulum arm removed, all time and rhythmic life stopped in calm violence. What struck me was the idea of containment, the healing properties of silver within and the close, straight grain of one of the hardest, densest woods on earth. If you placed this material in the emotionally conductive element of water, it would sink. Now when I think of Storm Centre I think of the emotive, atomic nature of that stilled core substance of palpable air, alive in the mind, inverted to a point, deep in the annihilating eye of the storm, expanding’ beyond the periphery. It’s an alignment of nature, intention and thought, an object truly “greater than the space it occupies.”’[19]

Dilworth’s objects carry no prescribed message, meaning or written explanations and there are only isolated instances of the artist using titles or text as a means of critical reflection. Ordinarily the titles of his work simply state the core material as the point of ignition. In 21st century art practice Dilworth is a rarity, a conceptual artist who consistently reminds us of the primacy of touch – ancient in origin, there at the birth of art as ritual and part of our genetic memory as human beings. His work brings us face to face with Nature and our own natures, in unexpected, often challenging and revelatory ways. The core energy of his work is the human drive to out-create destruction, individually and as a species, which is why his work is so pertinent, here, now, and for all time.

[1] S. Dilworth, Earthing Memories Exhibition Catalogue, Ferens Art Gallery, Kingston Upon Hull 1997

[2] S. Dilworth, Earthing Memories (n.1)

[3] S. Dilworth, Earthing Memories (n.1).

[4] S. Dilworth, note in sketchbook dated 17 March 1970

[5] S. Dilworth in conversation with Georgina Coburn, Isle of Harris. 25/08/2006.

[6] S. Dilworth in conversation with Georgina Coburn, Isle of Harris, 18/05 2015.

[7] S. Dilworth in conversation with Georgina Coburn, Isle of Harris. 20/05/2016.

[8] G. Coburn, ‘Chapter 5 Diversions in Natural History’, in manuscript for Journeyman – The Art of Steve Dilworth.p.6.

[9] S. Dilworth, Pangolin Gallery, London website: http://www.gallery-pangolin.com/artists/steve-dilworth    accessed 16/04/19.

[10] G. Coburn, ‘Chapter 4 The Hanging Figure’, in manuscript for Journeyman – The Art of Steve Dilworth. p.1.

[11] S. Dilworth in conversation with Georgina Coburn at the Mortal Remains retrospective exhibition. An Lanntair, Isle of Lewis. October 2013.

[12] S. Dilworth in conversation with Georgina Coburn (n.10).

[13] S. Dilworth, Acts of Faith Exhibition Catalogue, An Lanntair, Isle of Lewis 1992

[14] S. Dilworth in conversation with Georgina Coburn, Isle of Harris. 25/08/2006.

[15] S. Dilworth in conversation with Georgina Coburn (n.10).

[16] S. Dilworth in conversation with Georgina Coburn, Isle of Harris 06/10/2014

[17] S. Dilworth in conversation with Georgina Coburn, Isle of Harris 18/05/ 2015.

[18] S. Dilworth in conversation with Georgina Coburn, Isle of Harris, 16/10/2014

[19] G. Coburn, ‘Chapter 6 Feeding the Malestrom’, in manuscript for Journeyman – The Art of Steve Dilworth. p.14.

Paula Rego: Obedience and Defiance

23 November 2019 – 19 April 2020

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two)

Paula REGO (b. 1935) Angel , 1998 Pastel on paper mounted on aluminium, 180 x 130 cm Collection: Private collection © Paula Rego, courtesy of Marlborough, New York and London Photograph courtesy Museu Paula Rego: Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, Cascais

‘My favourite themes are power games and hierarchies. I always want to turn things on their heads to upset the established order, to change heroines and idiots…at the same time as loving the stories. I want to undermine them, like wanting to harm someone you love. Above all though, I want to work with stories that emerge as I go along.’ Paula Rego

Obedience and Defiance is the first major retrospective of Paula Rego’s work to be shown in Scotland, with a very timely focus on the politics of power and political agency. Featuring over 80 works from the 1960’s to 2010’s, it’s an intensive trajectory of self-examination and discovery. What I took away from this show, and what I know will stay with me, is the pure inspiration of creative protest and the towering strength of feminine resilience. As you move through each room, Rego’s intelligence, will and evolutionary craft are courageously forged in the mind. Informed by her thirty-year friendship with the artist, Catherine Lampert’s curation creates an intimate and appropriately monumental sense of Rego’s stature and humanity. Paula Rego moves very naturally between deeply personal and collective fields of reference. Whilst autobiographical or culturally specific narrative triggers are often the drivers, her compositions invite wider interpretation and debate. Rego’s art actively hands imaginative power back to the viewer in a spirit of free association.

The artist’s Girl and Dog series is a good example, inspired by her husband’s battle with MS and the role of carer. A viewer may know nothing about the personal history/ iconography in Untitled (1986 acrylic on canvas), but immediately the positioning of the figure and the inferred relationship is unusual and arresting. Firstly, the girl child/ woman is the dominant presence or agent in the image, rendered in a way that embraces benevolence and malevolence simultaneously. Cemented and entwined at opposing angles with a large black dog perched on her lap, this isn’t just a girl with her pet we are witnessing.  Despite the presence of yellow, lilac and blue, the tonality and delineation are heavily set. The female protagonist’s determined brow is only just visible, focussed not on play or the potential for a walk, but about to snap closed the final link in the metaphorical chain around the dog’s neck. The girl’s spiked yellow arm band and dress, which feels like the costume for a circus act, has an edge of ambiguity and menace. In another emotive twist, the dog is rendered empathically. Despite his robust form, his black eyes are drained of life. He sits not just obediently, but with resignation, staring ahead and beyond the picture plane, tended and equally trapped.

These starkly defined figures, tempered by love, impending loss and resentment are on one level a double portrait of real life, however they also transcend the personal, presenting a rich seam of universal triggers and the possibility of multiple narrative interpretations. The archetypal examination of the caregiver role, the dynamics of power between an animal and its master, the balance or imbalance between masculine and feminine aspects of the psyche or within society, our capacity for loyalty and compassion, dominance and submissiveness, creation and destruction, life and death, are all at play in this work. Rego is consistently fearless in addressing the complexity of human emotions and desires.

In a similar way, Rego’s Dog Woman series, which has its origins in a Portuguese fairy tale, presents the viewer with hidden motivations and truths about the human condition. In many ways they reflect constrained civilization, fraught with frightening and liberating physicality of the animal within. Bound to their masters and existing on an edge between love and punishment, these are powerful figures of feminine aggression and sexuality, so often relegated to a corner of the room, the psychological belfry or society’s hidden basement. Rego courageously brings them into the light and into public consciousness in exhibition works like Dog Woman (1952 pencil on paper), Sleeper (1994 pastel on canvas), Love (1995 pastel on paper mounted on aluminium) and catalogue works Bad Dog (1994 pastel on canvas), Dog Woman (1994 pastel on canvas) and Baying (1994 pastel on canvas). The Dog Woman series is a highly significant body of work, not just in terms of Rego’s oeuvre and development as an artist, but for what these images represent in terms of the ongoing struggle for equality.

Paula REGO (b. 1935) The Cake Woman 2004 Pastel on paper mounted on aluminium150 x 150 cm Collection: Private Collection©Paula Rego, courtesy of Marlborough, New York and London

Throughout the exhibition, Rego emerges as an absolute Master of her art. Witnessing the distillation of her voice from masked abstraction to unbridled boldness is an empowering experience. Regardless of inherited circumstances, making art gives licence to explore what is forbidden, reinterpret history and initiate change. Rego’s avenging Angel (1998, pastel on paper mounted on aluminium) strikes me as not just standing at her shoulder in this respect, but as an unwitting symbol of her own right hand. Angel is an expression of compassion and action, with a sponge to taste bitter gall in one hand and a vengeful sword in the other. These emblems of passion and sacrifice are not just the artist’s Arma Christi, but feminine weaponry originating in lived experience and collective memory.

In a domestic image such as Sit (1994, pastel on canvas), we see the societal command of a title which pins the female protagonist to an armchair, hands behind her back and feet crossed, invisibly nailed in the manner of Christ’s crucifixion. It’s a timelessly stark predicament with the suggestion of pregnancy, dressed and upholstered in pleasing, demure florals. The woman’s eyes are directed above and it’s the whites of her eyes which hook in the mind and slowly creep under the skin. Sit isn’t just an image of enforced expectation; dutiful woman, wife, mother, but one ‘anointed’ with fear. ‘Giving fear a face’ is perhaps Rego’s greatest gift, because it is only when trauma is acknowledged that it can be processed and creatively transformed, individually and collectively. Storytelling is how we make sense of ourselves and it’s the retelling in Rego’s work, drawing on ancient mythology, folklore, popular culture and current affairs, that is personally and politically transformative. Her work is a reckoning with inequality and injustice, using imagination to affect change in the world and reimagine a different state of play. This ‘turning the tables’ of expectation, about what it means to be human, female and an artist, is a defining characteristic of her practice.

Rage against oppression and inequality have always been present in Rego’s art. From her early 1952 pencil drawing Dog Woman in a crouched position rabidly barring her teeth, to ‘violent cutting’ of The Imposter (1964 oil and mixed media on paper collage and canvas), and later pastels tackling human atrocities such as war, anti-abortion legislation, FGM and sex trafficking. Throughout her career, she has always grappled with human nature and its contradictions, never shying away from our potential for complicity. Rego’s great strength and where she really comes into her own, is in the dynamic suspension of all that we are and are fighting to be, in taut, monumental pastels, dominated by female protagonists. Her use of this medium is unexpected and completely transformative, giving soft intimacy a distinctive edge of urgent, burgeoning consciousness. Rego’s high definition pastels articulate rather than blend away truth. The artist’s trajectory extends toward integration of masculine and feminine, seizing what has been historically denied or hidden. Works like Joseph’s Dream (1990, acrylic on paper on canvas) and Painting Him Out (2011, pastel on paper mounted on aluminium) actively reclaim creativity, despite enduring social hierarchies and the received canon of art history which casts women as submissive or irrelevant. Rego actively embraces the desire and entitlement of making images, traditionally assigned to “Masters”;

‘Painting pictures is like being a man, really. It’s the part of you that’s the man. Even the way you stand or sit, confronting the work like a man and it has to do with the aggressive part. It has the kind of push, the thrust which you must normally associate with what being a man is.’

Empowerment is doing and making, redefining yourself, your perceived role in society and its underlying structures in the process. In the spoilt, ego driven art world of the late 1990’s and 2000’s, Rego reveals what art can stand for and against- not just in her own time, but for all time. All great artists transcend themselves and Rego is no exception. Growing up in Portugal under the totalitarian rule of António de Oliveira Salazar, a highly repressed society in terms of gender, class and colonialism, the seeds of protest were sewn. In such conditions, expression becomes encoded and survival an imperative. Rego’s escape route, to Britain and the Slade School of Art in the 1950’s, presented her with a different set of cultural and institutional constraints to negotiate. Discussing her coming of age experiences in the 2017 documentary Secret and Stories (directed by her son Nick Willing) the artist’s congruence and openness about what it is to be female is still painfully relevant. While advances have been made and legislation may have altered in certain countries, class privilege is still the only thing affording freedom of choice for many women throughout the world. Every advance in the fight for equality must also be measured against the epidemic of modern slavery. The trafficking of women and girls is a growing industry which Rego makes visible in her work. The artist as witness has an incredibly important role to play in terms of political agency and visibly upholding freedom of expression, doubly so in a “post-truth” world.

Paula REGO (b. 1935) Untitled No. 4 1998 Pastel on paper, 110 x 100 cm Collection: Private Collection © Paula Rego, courtesy of Marlborough, New York and London

A survivor of oppression and injustice is also a witness and this transformation of self-awareness is at the heart of all Rego’s work, extending far beyond autobiography. This powerful gaze of resilience is exchanged with the viewer in the Abortion series (1998-1999), where Rego skilfully reveals lived experience we cannot turn away from. It is full frontal confrontation with life and a rallying call to action, delivered without gore and in deliberately palatable colours. Rego defiantly makes unnecessary suffering visible to the world. Her direct response to the lack of votes in Portugal’s 1998 referendum was to create large scale pastels and etchings for wider dissemination, making female experiences of illegal abortion visible in the public domain for the first time. These images were instrumental in raising awareness about a taboo subject and aided the second referendum which legalised abortion in 2007. However, Rego’s Abortion series isn’t simply a visual campaign. Her series delves deeper than anyone else has dared, into the foundations of power written on the body and internalised. The way that trauma is held in the body as memory and physical response, strikes me immediately looking at Rego’s drawings, pastels and etchings from this series. Rego has spoken candidly about her positioning of the female figure in these works. The dynamic of tension created in blurring the line between anticipation of penetration by a lover and the abortionist’s hand is a deliberate trigger of profound unease. Untitled No 5 (1998 pastel on paper) is a good example, where the woman braces herself against the bed, legs separated by two folding chairs, dressed in a floral sundress as if on a date. The suggestion of seduction and violation are equally present. Although depicted clinically, the human need for affection, love and sex become disturbingly entwined with ideas of Romance and trauma in this image. The wider question of how we learn to become women enters the frame.

The dualism of human fear and desire within and hidden by institutions of church and state also join the debate.  As Rego has stated ‘guilt doesn’t come into it.’ It is atrocious that it (abortion) is forbidden’, causing untold suffering and deaths that are entirely preventable across the world. Whatever your gender, life experience or beliefs, what Rego resoundingly confronts the viewer with is survival. She places her female protagonists front and centre, clothed in school uniforms and grimaced in pain, defiantly meeting our gaze.  Untitled No 1 (1998 pastel on paper) is an image I returned to several times. A woman in a red headscarf and blue dress sits knees drawn up on a bed with a pink doormat beneath her. Her strong features and steady gaze are a counterfoil to the tension in her mouth and jaw. It feels like she is biting the inside of her mouth, waiting. Beside her is a patterned porcelain bowl, a refined vessel in contrast to the red stained basin and bucket stacked under the bed. The inference is that this isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last. The woman’s muscular poise in that moment are composed of absolute dignity, in the most undignified of circumstances. Her presence and right to be is undeniable, communicated in Rego’s masterful composition. The artist places the viewer in a position of potential complicity with her suffering, at bed height, our feet squarely on the ground, the right foot almost touching the protruding buckets. The reality of this work is inescapable in all its brutality and injustice, with shock supplanted by knowing and compassion. Even in the face of horrific, highly controversial subject matter, such as Two Women Being Stoned (1995 pastel on paper mounted on aluminium) or Mother Loves You (2009 etching and aquatint) from the FGM series, the artist creates a space for honest reflection. Rego’s work is raw and highly sophisticated in equal measure. Her magnificent triptych The Betrothal; Lessons: The Shipwreck, After Marriage A La Mode by Hogarth (1999) is another wonderful example. There is just so much experience, knowledge and insight in every panel!

Seeing the evolution of Paula Rego’s practice throughout the show is a triumph of self-determination. It’s an eternal dance between obedience and defiance that declares an unbreakable spirit with absolute clarity. Her willingness and courage to go wherever the creative process takes her, without a predetermined outcome, allows the artist to explore our deepest human drives. Rego’s rare, unfaltering honesty define her art and political agency, inspiring not just contemplation in a gallery setting, but action in the wider world. Grounded in everyday life, she works her magic, weaving stories and renegotiating the nature of power in the process.

Paula REGO (b. 1935) Impailed 2008 Conté pencil and ink wash on paper, 137 x 102 cm Collection: Private Collection ©Paula Rego, courtesy of Marlborough, New York and London

https://www.nationalgalleries.org/exhibition/paula-rego-obedience-and-defiance

WILLIAM BLAKE

TATE BRITAIN 11 September 2019 – 2 February 2020

William Blake (1757-1827) ‘Europe’ Plate i: Frontispiece, ‘The Ancient of Days’ 1827 Etching with ink and watercolour on paper 232 x 120mm The Whitworth, The University of Manchester

‘I must Create a System or be enslav’d by another Mans. I will not reason & compare: my business is to Create.’ William Blake, Jersusalem

‘Rebel, Radical, Revolutionary’, William Blake is an artist that exemplifies creative freedom and authenticity by being unmistakably himself. In the history of art there is nobody quite like him. He’s a beacon of imagination and hope in turbulent times and a brilliant counterfoil to 21st Century branded artistic production. Best known for his poetry and still a largely unsung visual artist in the UK, this timely exhibition presents the opportunity for reappraisal of his work- and what it takes to be an artist. Political, social and spiritual shackles appear symbolically throughout Blake’s work. The artist’s great legacy is breaking them, part of his unwavering belief that; ‘Poetry fettered, fetters the human race. Nations are destroyed or flourish in proportion as their poetry, painting, and music are destroyed or flourish.’If ever there was a time to be reminded of the essential value of imagination, nationally and globally, it is now.

In Blake’s time, the French revolution and the American war of Independence challenged Britain’s perceived colonial “greatness.” The Enlightenment co-existed with slavery and the beginning of mass industrialisation; aspects of cultural inheritance that arguably have never been adequately addressed as a matter of national consciousness. Despite labels of eccentricity, Blake’s work and aspirations remain potent triggers for wider discussion. A very poignant element of the exhibition is the recreation of the Broad Street space where Blake staged his disastrous 1809 solo show and the adjoining room which projects his work on a scale not realised in his lifetime. Are we any more enlightened to receive this work? is a question that hangs over the exhibition space for a new generation.

William Blake (1757-1827) A Large Book of Designs: The First Book of Urizen. Plate 7 1794 Colour printed relief etching predominantly in black, grey and pink, with hand colouring 145 x 105 mm The British Museum, London. Acquired 1856

This is the largest show of Blake’s work for almost 20 years, an overwhelming experience of colour, complexity and vision, with over 300 works including watercolours, paintings and prints. Core Tate works are joined by loans from the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, the Huntington Art Collection, California, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, the Bodleian Library, Oxford, Cincinnati Art Museum, the Library of Congress, USA and private collectors to create a stunningly rich and memorable retrospective.  

I first discovered Blake in childhood and was instantly dazzled. I spent a lot of time in the library- not reading but poring over images in the art section. At the time I had no idea what Dante’s Divine Comedy was, but Blake’s ice and fire images of the Simonaic Pope and his kaleidoscopic Saint Peter, Saint James and Saint John with Dante and Beatrice seared themselves into my growing consciousness. His work made me intensely curious and hungry for more. Mysterious Hecate (now known as The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy), Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils and The Body of Abel found by Adam and Eve were, and still are, explosive, highly distilled revelations. The radiant energy of Blake’s distinctive line and the stylised muscularity of his figures are pure visual poetry -human imagination unleashed. He’s ‘the eye altering alters all’ personified, still living and breathing through his art. As I walked through this show, holding the hand of my younger self, the adult was no less awestruck.

William Blake (1757-1827) Saint Peter, Saint James and Saint John with Dante and Beatrice circa 1824 – 1827 Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper 365 x 520 mm The British Museum, London. Acquired 1918
William Blake (1757-1827) The Simoniac Pope 1824-7 Ink and watercolour on paper 527 x 368 mm Tate

Like his frontispiece to Jerusalem, The Emanation of the Giant Albion, (Plate 1 c. 1820 Relief and white-line etching with hand colouring on paper) Blake encourages us to cross a threshold, holding a lamp aloft to light the way. Looking at his work, there’s no doubt that he valued imagination above all else as the most divine human attribute. I love him and his work for communicating that truth, to be carried forward in dark times. In his Design excerpted from ‘The First Book of Urizen’ (1794 Colour relief etching predominantly in black, blue, grey and pink, with hand colouring) the human figure is cast between heaven and earth, feet in the clouds and hands braced against rock to break a collective fall. It’s a feat of mental and moral acrobatics rather than an illustration, frozen in time, primal and exalted. It’s the creation story of the human mind that feels like it’s predating God. While Blake illustrated many narratives from the Bible, John Bunyan’s Christian allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress, Shakespeare, Milton and Chaucer, his personal mythologies are among his most intriguing works. Seeing Blake’s illuminated books (bound and unbound) in this exhibition is one of its joys. Hand colouring defines every page as a precious, uniquely crafted work and an absolute labour of love- the most underestimated quality in all art making.

William Blake (1757-1827) Har and Heva bathing, Mnetha Looking in circa 1785 – 1789 Pen and grey wash on paper 183 x 273 mm © The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Love permeates Blake’s creations and it’s wonderful to see the contribution of his wife Catherine, who from 1788 was printing plates and helping to colour his illuminated books, acknowledged in the show.  Ever ‘an angel’ to him, she supported and enabled his creative life. We’ll never really know the full extent of her hand in his work, but the contemporary observation that they were of ‘one soul’ can be felt in the seamless complexity of layered ink and watercolour. The epic prophecy and intimacy of Blake’s work is truly breath-taking, from the sensuous luminosity of Har and Heva Bathing, Mnetha Looking On (1785-9) from his first prophetic book, the poem Tiriel (1789), to the depth and delicacy of experimental monotypes like Pity (1795) and Newton (1795-1805). Colour and texture abound in these hybrid works, which Blake called his ‘frescos,’ initially ‘painting tacky ink on board and transferring it through pressure onto paper, enhanced with ink and watercolour.’ The highly skilled draughtsman and engraver becomes a painter, impossible to tell where one discipline stops and the other begins. As an illustrator, seeing this degree of experimentation in Blake’s work in print, tempera, watercolour and ink is exciting territory. Equally humbling are the delicate pages of his Songs of Innocence and of Experience which invite close inspection of minute detail.

William Blake (1757-1827) Pity c.1795 Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper 425 x 539 m Tate

Blake’s exact relief printing techniques, his sublime symbolism and intricate personal mythology remain largely unexplained. This is a show of tantalising clues to the artist’s identity and scope, with text and imagery entwined in the viewer’s imagination as the story of Blake’s life unfolds in each room. Arranged chronologically, the curation focuses on the conditions and patrons who enabled the artist to pursue his singular path. As a visual artist, he will always be a source of cryptic fascination, one who ultimately enables the imagination of the viewer. Multiply by each individual and the vision is infinite, such is his gift.

William Blake (1757-1827) Portrait of William Blake 1802 Pencil with black, white, and grey washes 243 x 201 mm Collection Robert N. Essick

Thought to be by his own hand, Portrait of William Blake (c. 1802–3 Graphite and wash on paper), crystallises a gaze that you cannot turn away from, uncannily present and utterly absorbing from the first room to the last. In final room of the show I was confronted by an image I hadn’t encountered before, The Sea of Time and Space (Vision of the Circle of the Life of Man (1821, Pen and ink, watercolour and gouache on gesso ground on paper), an eternal flow of life, punctuated by the full stop of Blake’s last work The Ancient of Days (1827, Relief etching printed in yellow with pen and ink, watercolour and gold body colour on paper). The interlocking design is intensely powerful, with saturated depths of smouldering colour and a God-like hand resting on the precision of a divided compass. Originally published as the frontispiece to his 1794 work Europe a Prophecy, a circle closes in this final version, in Blake’s words; ‘I’ve done all I can- it is the best I’ve ever finished.’ We could ask no more of any artist.

In a material dominated world, Blake’s work offers pure resilience in its distilled singularity and higher purpose. He’s a Romantic artist par excellence, transforming how we see through experimentation and belief in worlds beyond reason, made real in his extraordinary art.

William Blake (1757 – 1827) The Sea of Time and Space (Vision of the Circle of Life of Man) 1821 Pen and ink, watercolour and gouache on gesso ground on stiff paper 48 x 574 x 27 mm National Trust Collections, Arlington Court (The Chichester Collection) © National Trust Images/John Hammond

https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/william-blake-artist

Cut and Paste – 400 Years of Collage

29 June – 27 October 2019

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two)

Eileen Agar The Lotus Eater (1939, Collage, watercolour and ink on paper) National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh. Purchased 1979.

Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage is the first survey exhibition of collage ever to take place anywhere in the world, featuring over 250 works from the sixteenth century to the present day. There is an astonishing range of practice on display, including works by Hannah Höch, Annegret Soltau, Claude Cahun, Pauline Boty, Natalia Goncharova, Valentine Penrose, Toyen, Edith Rimmington, Eileen Agar, Linder, Penny Slinger, Carolee Schneemann, Cindy Sherman, Nancy Grossman, Deborah Roberts, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Juan Gris, Joan Miró, Max Ernst, George Grosz, Raoul Hausmann, Eduardo Paolozzi, Max Bucaille, Roland Penrose, Joseph Cornell, Kurt Schwitters, Joseph Beuys, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Peter Blake, John Stezaker, Christian Marclay and Terry Gilliam. Give yourself ample time to explore them and to take in the accompanying show Beyond Realism at Modern One, featuring some of the NGS’s finest Surrealist works.

In many ways this ground-breaking reappraisal of collage couldn’t have happened anywhere else. The NGS collection is blessed with significant acquisitions, long term loans and bequests from astute collectors such as Gabrielle Keiller, artists Roland Penrose and Eduardo Paolozzi, providing an excellent foundation for deeper exploration of the artform. Joined by works from the Tate, the Victoria and Albert Museum, The Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, Stephen Ongpin Fine Art, The Mayor Gallery, The Fry Art Gallery, Bernard Jacobson Gallery, Annely Juda Fine Art, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Alison Jacques Gallery, Richard Saltoun Gallery, England & Co, a/political, the University of St Andrews and private collectors, the exhibition is a fantastic opportunity for discovery of previously unseen work. Works from the Murray Family collection, UK and USA, featuring Pauline Boty, Edith Rimmington, Max Bucaille, Franz Roh and Toyen are outstanding.

Cut and Paste isn’t about defining collage but celebrating that there are many more ways to see, revealed primarily in the work of lesser known artists who are among the highlights of the show. These previously neglected works demand greater visibility and more research. The language of ‘revolutionary cubist masterpieces’ by male artists like Picasso persists, yet in the wider context of the show, they become relative to other equally revolutionary masterworks by artists yet to enter public consciousness. Although the exhibition’s chronological layout would have been better served by collage -like juxtaposition of art from different periods confronting each other, there are so many vital examples of this art form speaking resoundingly for themselves that they cannot be ignored. It’s incredibly gratifying and hopeful to connect with pioneering works by women and other marginalised artists, doubly so in what feels like an increasingly fragmented world circa 2019. Part of what collage does incredibly well, often in testing times, is provide an unbridled form of expression and much needed protest.

Raoul HAUSMANN (b.1886) The Art Critic, 1919-20 Lithograph and printed paper on paper Collection: Tate © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018

Admittedly collage is an artform close to my heart in history and practice. The process itself is liberating in its free association, formed from materials immediately to hand and permitting everything in a spirit of playfulness and experimentation. That impetus tests what could be- creatively and culturally. At its best, it’s an art of ‘disruption’ and active dissent that reminds us of how essential art is in everyday life. The grotesque central figure in Raoul Hausmann’s The Art Critic (1919-20, lithograph and printed paper collage on paper) depicts an entire society whose opinions can be bought. The artist cuts straight to the heart of an increasingly absurd displacement of power during the Weimar period, a time not unlike our own in the corruption of ‘post-truth’ politics and ‘fake news’ rhetoric. Seeing John Heartfield’s response to the rise of Nazism in 1930’s Germany affirms the power of collage as vital satire and political resistance. Equally the work of Hannah Höch, presents the viewer with counteraction to gender stereotypes. In Astronomie (1922, Collage, gouache and ink on paper, The Mayor Gallery, London) Höch uses grid elements from crochet, knitting and embroidery design as the basis for a more expanded vision of the feminine- as human and therefore equal. In Höch’s work, ideas of design, domestic and cosmic intertwine. Craft and fine art practice become inseparable in a union of ideas and technique.

Hannah Höch Astronomie (1922, Collage, gouache and ink on paper) The Mayor Gallery, London.
Hannah Höch From the Collection: From an Ethnographic Museum (1929, Collage and gouache on paper) National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh

From the Collection: From an Ethnographic Museum (1929, Collage and gouache on paper, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh) is a very sophisticated example of how much simple ‘cut and paste’ can reveal and how it can be used to collectively question the status quo. The ‘other’ in this work is cultural and feminine. The head of a Nigerian Benin sculpture is radically turned, fused with the eye of a woman from a fashion magazine and a child’s body, resting on a lion’s foot of power and a contradictory stump of domestic furniture. Framed in a starkly modern, geometric space, the human form doesn’t feel accidental or randomly placed, but designed as a question mark on multiple levels. The expression of this figure, like a mythic Susannah confronting the invasive, violating gaze of the elders, challenges generations of Western Art making. This confrontation with ‘masters’ expands to hierarchies of power in relation to gender, race, cultural identity and social engineering. I’ve always thought of this small, radical figure as a powerful feminist totem of resistance.  Höch’s critical eye is sharp as a scalpel and expansively aware, beyond the individual maker.

The attitude of collage is pivotal in that respect, ripping, tearing or cutting to heighten awareness of reality, or point to an alternative reality. Like Carlo Carra’s Atmospheric Swirls- A Bursting Shell (1914, ink and collage on paper), created in response to the first Balkan War 1912-13, the best examples of this artform are those that explode preconceptions, creating a perceptive shift of some kind. When Carolee Schneemann created Body Collage (1967, 16mm film transferred to digital format 3:30 mins) her ‘intention was not to simply collage [her] body (as an object) but to enact movement so that the collage image would be active found, not predetermined or posed.’ This is a statement against the passivity of looking (or being cast as the passive object), initiating change. As Penny Slinger (b 1947) states very eloquently, ‘collage is not just a technique; it represents an approach to reality.’

Penny Slinger I Hear What You Say (1973, Photomontage ) Penrose Collection, Sussex

Slinger’s photomontage sequence I Hear What You Say | I See What You Mean | Read My Lips (1973) interrogates our approach as viewers/ consumers by collaging parts of the body, creating contradictory frames within frames of internal reference. Initially this fleshy exposure seems to mirror the crudeness of advertising. However, these collaged elements are positioned to play with the idea of being able to read, hear, see and interpret the feminine. The ambiguity of desire and control is juxtaposed with direct means of communication. Using increasingly sexualised visual language to reclaim meaning is a tactic employed by many contemporary artists, often with momentary effect. Here the question is more subliminal, encircling the viewer in their own truth of body and mind, the possibility or impossibility of being seen, heard or understood inside the dominant culture. Linder’s Pretty Girl (1977, magazine and collage) juxtaposes images of soft-core pornography and household appliances, bringing them equally into the foreground as ‘objects of desire.’ Linder’s collage instantly makes its point, infiltrating and subverting the language of mass media consumption. This is art with something to say, above and beyond artistic persona, celebrity or brand.

Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) articulated how the practice of collage redefines the artist;  ‘The medium is as unimportant as myself. Essential is the forming. Because the medium is unimportant, I take any material whatsoever if the picture demands it. When I adjust materials of different kinds to one another, I have taken a step in advance of mere oil painting, for in addition to playing off colour against line, form against form etc. I play material against material.’

That material can also be material reality. This provocation of possibility is what excites me most about this artform, from the fantastical collage novels of Max Ernst to the stitch form self-portraiture of Annegret Soltau.

Annegret SOLTAU (b.1946) GRIMA – Selbst mit Katze (der Schrei) / GRIMA – Self with cat (the scream), 1986 C-print © DACS 2018. Courtesy of Richard Saltoun Gallery

It’s interesting to see the pre- modern history of collage (1550-1900) including silhouette portraiture, scrapbooks, early photomontage, botanical clippings, flapbooks, boxed/ dressed engravings and tinsel prints presented in the show. The presence of these works, combining craft practices with expanding knowledge and advancing technology, inform perception of later works. This is particularly true when the idea of traditional ‘female accomplishments’ is ripped apart and reconfigured, as in Annegret Soltau’s GRIMA- Selbst mit Katze (der Schrei) /GRIMA-Self with Cat (The Scream) (1986 C-print). Pauline Boty’s Untitled (c1964, Collage, gouache on paper) is a great metaphor for this type of agency, emergent in the work of unsung female artists throughout the exhibition. In Boty’s Untitled collage, use of Victorian engravings recalls the work of Max Ernst, divided and conquered by vivid blue gouache and a female hand, sharpened by red nail polish and poised to sever the head of a female child in period dress with a pair of scissors. In the foreground a promenade of exotically lush vegetation leads the eye to a vanishing point beneath a god-like hand of action. As Boty suggests in Ken Russell’s 1962 44 min film Pop Goes the Easel, her collages often capture a moment before something is about to happen, which may be humorous or tragic. Pop Art is often packaged in the gift shop as bright and shiny, succumbing to the very forces it seeks to expose, however Boty’s work presents a different slant on a movement which she helped found in Britain. The hand shown in this small collage amplifies the authenticity of her voice, asserts the role of the artist/ activist and subverts the traditional, belittling relationship between Craft and Fine Art, female artists and male ‘masters.’

Valentine Penrose La Strategie Militaire /Military Strategy (c1934, collage on paper) Penrose Collection, Sussex

The subversive nature of collage also leaps from the open page of Surrealist Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore’s Aveux non avenus- Disavowals (1930). It’s a text that reimagines the autobiography / artist memoir in a non- linear way, fluidly testing ideas of gender and identity. Valentine Penrose’s collage book Dous des Feminines / Gifts of the Feminines (1951) is displayed in the same section, a deliberate counterfoil to Max Ernst’s collage novels on the part of the artist, centring on female relationships, sexuality and experience. Her nearby collage, La Stratégie Militaire / Military Strategy (c1934, collage on paper) sees the head and torso of a classical marble statue positioned inside a piece of ridiculously Baroque furniture, as if sitting in a bath. Hovering askew over a mountainous chasm, with the fragment of a map dangling from one finger, the traditional embodiment of power is rendered precarious, attended by a blank faced figure in robes gazing upwards towards authority. The composition lampoons its subject, but it is also a very knowing refraction of absurd inequality in the real world. Here, Surrealism isn’t escapist male fantasy, but heightened reality, exposing truth.

Edith Rimmington The Family Tree (1938, Photomontage with gouache) The Murray Family Collection, UK and USA

The Family Tree(1938) by British artist, poet and photographer Edith Rimmington (1902-1986) is another illuminating dreamscape in that respect. The use of photomontage and painting is seamless, delivering a powerful perspective on generations, extending to infinity on a jetty over dark, primordial waters. A snake is entwined around the left-hand line of a double link metal chain, not so much bound together as lain side by side. The presence of the serpent feels like an ironic reference to Eden’s mythic fall, male and female bound together in ‘the’ singular family tree of humanity. The eclipse which lights our way could be sun, moon or a pinhole camera, in a timeless progression of darkness and light. It’s an incredibly strong, mysterious composition that ignites the imagination and provokes curiosity about Rimmington’s oeuvre.  Given the year it was created, and the spirit of unrest prevalent in the whole image, this iron chain feels prophetically encoded. Disarming beauty and essential protest permeate this show and it’s an absolute pleasure to see so many works by relatively unknown artists announce themselves. Rimmington subverts expectations of the title/ subject to a remarkable degree, with an enviable command of the artform. Any backward notion of feminine accomplishment is eclipsed entirely by this work. The artist’s sense of agency, intuition and determination is palpable. That’s the joy of this show- reconnection with art empowered, in spite of the spin that surrounds us.

Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage Exhibition Catalogue. National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh 2019. Front cover Max Bucaille (1906-1996) Alice au pays de poissns et des marguerites, 1947. The Murray Family Collection UK and USA.

https://www.nationalgalleries.org/exhibition/cut-and-paste-400-years-collage

#NGSCutPaste

ARTIST ROOMS: Self Evidence Photographs by Woodman, Arbus and Mapplethorpe

6 APRIL – 20 OCTOBER | SCOTTISH NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY

FRANCESCA WOODMAN (1959-1981) Francesca Woodman, Untitled, 1975-80 Photograph, gelatine silver print on paper, 15.60 x 15.60 cm (paper 25.20 x 20.30 cm) (framed: 45.80 x 40.20 x 2.00 cm) ARTIST ROOMS National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. Acquired jointly through The d’Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008 © Courtesy of George and Betty Woodman

‘If I stand in front of something, instead of arranging it, I arrange myself.’ Diane Arbus

In the 21st century, the Selfie has become an extended form of advertising and validation, increasingly in step with corporate interest. People are the app for 24hr addictive consumption of who they aspire to be, driven by market demand, or perhaps more accurately, corporate engineered desire for the next upgrade. Rapid fire clicking and scrolling is the order of today, in how photography and images of self are consumed, liked and followed. The idea of ‘self-evidence’ in this Artist Rooms exhibition is extremely compelling and timely, examining ‘three of the twentieth century’s most influential photographers’ and reactions to their work from a younger ‘Snapchat’ generation. It’s a moment to take stock of the extraordinary work of Woodman, Arbus and Mapplethorpe, what photography is in human terms and what it really means to take a shot.

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9th Hippodrome Silent Film Festival

20 – 24 MARCH 2019. HIPPODROME, BO’NESS

Forbidden Paradise (1924) Directed by Ernst Lubitsch.

Above all else, the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema is a joyful celebration of film and music. Speaking to other audience members, who had travelled far to Bo’ness for the unique atmosphere and live experience, it’s clear that the festival and this small town, delivers something very special. Home to the oldest cinema in Scotland, it is also a centre for national and international cinema heritage. This year’s programme offered thrills, chills, laughs, unexpected discoveries and truly memorable performances from some of the world’s finest accompanists. I arrived for the third day of the festival, staying until closing night and was delighted to see many films for the first time, introduced in the best possible way.

Hippfest’s traditional fancy-dress Friday Night Gala is always great fun, inspired this year by the glamour and military moustache twirling of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1924 Romantic Comedy-Melodrama Forbidden Paradise. This new restoration from the Museum of Modern Art, New York, was vibrantly accompanied by Jane Gardner (piano), Roddy Long (violin) and Frank Bockius (percussion). The trio complimented the tone of the film brilliantly and heightened its pace, enhancing the tension of court intrigues and Lubitsch’s characteristic brand of knowing comedy. Channelling the passion of Pola Negri as vampish, authoritarian ruler Czarina Catherine, it was an enjoyable, crowd pleasing caper, well suited to the whole occasion. Pre-screening period music by The Red Hot Minute Band, accompanied by fizz and canapes, added to the party atmosphere.

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Glasgow Film Festival

20 February – 3 March 2019

February means Glasgow Film Festival, the joy of connecting with the world on screen and joining some of the best audiences on the planet.  The opportunity to see retrospective classics, discover emerging filmmakers and cinematic rarities is always a draw, but there is a special buzz around Glasgow, a combination of people and programming that makes it unique. As a visitor, staff, volunteers and audiences make you feel welcome and the additional bonus of introductions and Q&As from filmmakers add considerable value to the whole experience. The Pioneer strand of films by first and second feature directors was particularly strong this year with Border, Complicity, Float Like A Butterfly, The Man Who Surprised Everyone, Woman at War and Werewolf among my overall festival highlights. Regardless of the subject matter, there was something about each one of these films that made me feel hopeful. It is always exciting to discover artists whose work you want to follow in future and seeing the ways filmmakers are responding creatively to man-made chaos, past and present, was thoroughly inspiring!

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Christian Marclay : The Clock

Tate Modern 14 September 2018 – 20 January 2019

Installation View.Tate Modern. Christian Marclay, The Clock 2010. Single-channel video installation, duration 24 hours. Tate Photography (Matt Greenwood).

Being eclipsed, suspended and enslaved by time is our real-time immersion in modern life, moving inevitably towards eternal midnight.Christian Marclay takes what it is to be human and winds it into the mechanism of TheClock so seamlessly, with such artistry and grace, that words like ‘genius’and ‘masterpiece’ are entirely justified. After experiencing three-and-a-half-hoursof this work, I was profoundly moved, elated and frustrated that watching the full 24hrs wasn’t an option during my visit. There aren’t many works of “NOW” I’d want to spend that kind of time with, but The Clock is something else. It’s a work of art you enter into and become part of, rather than passively watch. Marclay has managed to create a work as addictive as the multidimensional concept of time and existence it encapsulates, an unrelenting and strangely beautiful meditation on time running out for us all. Despite its modern materials and contemporary masterwork status, Marclay’s Clock transcends the time it was made. It speaks of universal human experience through sound and image in a compelling, urgent way. I place ‘sound’ first, because Marclay’s craft and foundation as an artist is making objects from audio. The Clock is a highly distilled example drawn from a lifetime’s exploration, which is the real source of its genius.Fortunately for the UK, one of six limited edition copies of The Clock has now entered the Tate collection, jointly purchased with the Centre Pompidou, Paris and the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Originally commissioned by The White Cube, London, where it debuted in 2010, The Clock is an incredible artistic achievement in its union of concept and craft. A montage composed of over 12,000 clips, spanning 100 years of film and television,screened over 24 hours in real time may sound like a work tailor-made for film geeks. (And I won’t lie, part of my irrepressible joy in this work stems from that.) However, the way that Marclay handles this material brings wider frames of reference and association brilliantly into play. Although it is an epic work of art, film and human history, The Clock is also a very intimate experience, where your own projections/ narratives meet those of the maker(s). I heard quite a few people on exit reminiscing with friends and family, delighted, thoughtful and wondering in awe about how it was made. Marclay was aided by six assistants in finding and sorting suitable material over three years. However, the vast amount of footage needed to construct The Clock isn’t as impressive as the skill required to create cohesion and expanded meaning in the final 24 hr edit. The most powerful sense of identification inside this work isn’t ultimately based on how many film-clips you recognise, entwined with your own viewing/ life history, but with the collective human orientation towards understanding. Wonder and curiosity are as much a part of the projection as the threat of advancing time and fear of death. In human terms The Clock is an admission and a creative act of defiance, a monument to human perception and memory that makes us who and what we are.

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Bringing Silent Film Home

New Silent Film restorations Little Annie Rooney (1925) and Fanchon the Cricket (1915) produced by the Mary Pickford Foundation and released by Flicker Alley.

Mary Pickford in Little Annie Rooney, DVD Image courtesy of Flicker Alley.

‘No role she can play on the screen is as great as the role she plays in the motion picture industry. Mary Pickford the actress is completely overshadowed by Mary Pickford the individual.’

Herbert Howe in Photoplay, 1924.

When I look around at the brightest, most popular female stars in Hollywood today, I can think of no one you could repeat Howe’s phrase about- at least not yet, while we are in the process of reclaiming our inheritance. The more we discover about the early history of cinema, the more it seems that successive generations have been duped into believing that female roles, behind and in front of the camera, have always been secondary. Surprisingly, when the artform was still in its infancy there were many more prominent women working in the industry at all levels, including Lois Weber, Ida May Park, Cleo Madison, Dorothy Arzner, Mabel Normand, Nell Shipman, Dorothy Davenport, Frances Marion and Mary Pickford. It shakes the contemporary view of linear progress to find examples of female stars like Pickford, with superior earning power to today, studio governance and creative control, writing, producing, acting and directing. As we grapple with the cumulative effects of gender disparity in the film industry- and the wider world, making the work of female pioneers of early cinema visible is an imperative.

Sadly, it is estimated that over 80% of all Silent Films are irretrievably lost. We can only see a mere fraction of what was created, an experience further reduced in quality by inferior online copies, which is why new restorations are so vitally important. Mary Pickford’s Silent screen career is inspirational, setting an example of what can be when women are able to shape their professions from the ground up. As a co-founder of United Artist studios with D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, Pickford ‘the individual’ was blazing a trail in the motion picture industry before the studio rule book as we know it was written. She forged a career with enviable creative control as a producer, a tide now finally turning in the world of Film and TV circa 2018.

New restorations of Pickford’s Fanchon the Cricket (1915) and Little Annie Rooney (1925) are very timely releases, not only in broadening our understanding of Pickford as an artist/producer, but as part of a wider reappraisal of women in film, integral in the history of World Cinema. These new deluxe, dual disc Blu-ray / DVD editions from the Mary Pickford Foundation, released by Flicker Alley, are ‘the first of a planned series of her films’ and what a delight it is to see them!  The care taken in both restorations has delivered clarity of vision, crisp tonal definition, exquisite colour tinting and a seamless flow of storytelling. Sensitively accompanied by new scores, there’s a fresh, exuberant spirit in how these films are presented, perfectly in keeping with the intelligence, empathy and wit we see in Pickford on screen. Big screen cinema/ live musical accompaniment experience aside, you won’t find a better introduction to Pickford’s work for contemporary audiences.

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16th Inverness Film Festival

7-11 November, Eden Court Theatre and Cinemas

Namme, Directed by Zaza Khalvashi

In the 21st Century entertainment industry, “On Demand” is sold as a self-gratifying concept. We’re fed the idea of how powerful we are, handed a remote control to watch what we want, when we want, in the confines of our individual homes. Armed with devices we use daily to take endless shots of ourselves, we can even shape our own content. But ‘on demand’ can also mean the desire to see alternatives, driven from the ground up, joining a collective audience and driving change. In that respect, independent cinema has never had a more vital role to play in our world.

As IFF Director Paul MacDonald- Taylor suggested in his introduction to this year’s festival, ‘some of the greatest films come from countries that don’t have English as their primary language, we just have to be open to the idea of subtitles and an entire world will open up to us.’ This year’s IFF programme was the perfect antidote to the ‘divisive’ state of current affairs, a powerful, celebratory reminder of all the ways we share experiences through film. The Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky once said that ‘relating a person to the whole world… is the meaning of cinema’ and I felt that so strongly this year, more so than any other. Standing back and reviewing what I’ve watched over the last five days, my IFF18 highlights seem to reflect an urgent need for a sea change in how we relate to Nature, the world and each other. Whilst I was thrilled by Maurice Tourneur and Clarence Browns’ 1920 Silent Film The Last of the Mohicans, laughed along with Canadian teen comedy Don’t Talk to Irene, was incredibly impressed by Paul Dano’s directorial debut Wildlife, and completely dazzled seeing Powell and Pressburgers’ The Red Shoes on the big screen, new world cinema features Capernaum/ Capharnaüm, Namme, Foxtrot, Sunset /Napszállta and Sidney and Friends had the most significant impact on me. This year’s IFF Audience Award winner Capernaum would seem to indicate that I’m not alone in taking the cinematic road less travelled and appreciating the ride.

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