Collecting Gauguin, Samuel Courtauld in the ’20s

Published in The Boar July 2013

Minute in size, it was refreshing to visit the small gallery of The Courtauld and be presented with such a select number of an artist’s work. The majority of the exhibition consists of Paul Gauguin paintings acquired by The Courtauld, as well as those on loan from other galleries, such as The Barber Institute in Birmingham.

I was intrigued by the exhibition’s inclusion of a poster featuring one of Gauguin’s paintings of a Tahiti woman, from the first Post-Impressionist exhibition, which was put together by Roger Fry. The poster helps to locate Gauguin in the context of other startling artists and their new radical wave of artistic expression. It singles out Gauguin from amongst the group of artists he was exhibited with, or at least indicates Fry’s admiration of Gauguin in choosing his work as the poster image. Gauguin is renowned for fleeing Paris to go to Tahiti and focussing on subjects outside of the European sphere, where the rest of his Post-Impressionist contemporaries were located. There is a sense that The Courtauld is aiming to revive Gauguin’s subversive qualities and create an experience of discovery in the exhibition (discovery being an fitting theme to Gauguin’s subjects and forms). Though The Courtauld might not have always been thought of as pushing boundaries, this exhibition like its predecessor Becoming Picasso, could be seen as an attempt to resurface and reanalyse an artist in the ‘traditional’ artistic canon.  Continue reading

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Kenneth Branagh’s Macbeth: The Limits of Desire and Dis-ease

A slightly different version was published on The Student Journals website in August, and is available here

Kenneth Branagh’s performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth in “The Scottish Play”, as it is superstitiously referred to, was broadcast live on 20th July in cinemas nationwide. I was fortunate enough to get a ticket to see this performance, just before tickets sold out both at the live venue and in cinema.

The play opened in the midst of battle, accompanied by an unforgiving rain shower, drenching all the actors and probably the front row of the live audience. The stage floor was covered with a thick layer of mud, which became increasingly slippery and malleable in the downpour – I was quite happy to be watching in the cinema, as the smell must have been incredibly pungent! This stench would have intentionally increased the live audience’s uneasy involvement in the world of the play, creating quite a different experience from watching it on the big screen.

The mud made the actresses’ dresses dirty, as though to indicate a contamination to virtue and honour in the increasingly soiled and rotting ‘body’ of the Scottish kingdom. Indeed, in this play, everything becomes tainted and sick. As well as the noticeable impact on clothing, the mud also affected the way the entire cast moved, indicating the physical effort with which they positioned themselves (literally and metaphorically) in their social spheres and interacted with one another.  Continue reading

What’s Next? For the arts

Published in The Boar June 2013

What Next?’ started out as a small group committed to discussing and raising awareness about the latest Arts Council cuts and the future of the arts. It has now become the umbrella term for the first national gathering of arts and cultural organisations, aiming to promote public investment. As more of an idea or an experiment than a movement, it is possible for anyone to get involved and take it in their own direction.

Proving, debating and evaluating the value of the arts has become a heated topic in recent months. Although the What Next? ‘movement’ has formed against the backdrop of the national spending review, it is not limited to being a direct campaign about the cuts to public funding (said to be a further 30% for 2015/16.) Nor does it just make the case that Maria Miller has made, for the economic value of the arts. Instead, it has created a carefully phrased, positive manifesto to emphasise the beneficial aspects of all art forms for communities. Most importantly, it aims to encourage the public to think more conscientiously about the different ways the arts enhance their lives and engage with them to ensure the public start to actively participate in this debate. Their founding statement expresses their targets:

We believe that if we act together, we can maximise the effectiveness of our resources, our arguments, our ideas. True to the spirit with which we make and offer our art – imagination, persuasion, delight, generosity, conviction – we will find new ways to engage everyone in Britain in the power of the arts and culture and the benefits they bring to our collective and individual lives.  Continue reading

What to do with The Parents

Published in The Boar 16th July 2013

Helen Cobby shares her tips on how to entertain your family on a quick Warwick university visit.

When ‘The Parents’ say they are coming to visit does that send you into a panic? How to keep them occupied all day? What to do with them? How to get them out of your hair? Well here is my guide on how to survive and ensure you all have a good and harmonious time in Leamington, whether you are going to be entertaining the family as a Fresher in October or during Graduation this summer.

There are many unique and unusual independent cafes in Leamington with the right ambience and high quality boosts of caffeine or sugar to put everyone in a good mood. If the weather behaves, Bar Angeli is my number one recommendation with its outdoor seating in the cobbled courtyard of Regent Court. Their hot chocolate is the best in town, and their pastries and muffins would be perfect for a morning snack or a late, indulgent breakfast. Bar Angeli is Italian run, making for a vibrant yet chilled atmosphere, complete with unique rustic décor. Keeping with the Italian theme, Café Corleone also does amazing hot chocolate and superb coffee, and is of the same high standard as Bar Angeli, being owned by the same people. Alternatively, Gusto Ricco can make for a fun experience. It has several higgledy-piggledy floors with odd furniture. Watch out for their delicious carrot cake. Lastly, Blueberry Hill Patisserie on Chandos Street is a cutesy option with a fresh feel to it due to the simple, open décor. I’ve yet to try any of their cakes, but they all look invitingly homemade.  Continue reading

‘David Bowie Is’ exhibition at the V&A – thoughts before and after seeing the show

Musings before seeing the exhibition 

Well, for starters I haven’t seen this exhibition yet, but like everyone else in the country I am getting wild about going! This unmediated enthusiasm aside, how to talk about an exhibition you haven’t seen? … well, we all attend exhibitions with preconceived ideas (if we didn’t, we wouldn’t go in the first place), so I’m going to run with that.

David Bowie for me kindles memories of my childhood, especially images of driving in the car with my mum with ‘retro’ cassette tapes playing Bowie’s Greatest Hits on full blast. His is the soundtrack to my mum’s experiences whilst she was growing up – yet it is also something that she has passed onto me. (Though I have to admit that it really is just Bowie’s most famous songs that I’m familiar with). So like everyone else, I feel his music means something personal to me – even if it is just a drive home from school with the mother. I have also used Bowie’s LP covers as make-up inspiration, some of which have turned out better than others…

The idea of this exhibition is haunting me in more ways than one – Why has this exhibition come now? This has definitely caused a lot of stir and speculation. The Review Show had a whole fat chapter on it (I remember one guest remarking that it is better to have this exhibition on Bowie and a new album than to be faced with his obituary – which is a slightly extreme and desperate way of justifying its existence I thought; but nonetheless how true, what a gift). Though however tenuous a justification for the need of this exhibition, next thing we know, other ‘vintage’ artists are copying this potentially narcissistic trend and curating shows about themselves (Annie Lennox springs to mind). This suggests it must be a popular and positive phenomenon, even if just in a financial sense….  Certainly, tickets for Bowie’s exhibition at the V&A have sold out faster than for any other show they have put on. I tried to secure tickets not long after the show opened and to my horror all weekends had sold out and the first time I could go was July.

However, the questions that are really bugging me include: Should artists be allowed to celebrate themselves in this self-congratulating way? Has the respected position of the artist finally gone too far? Should past stars be allowed to make such a commercial comeback? Who are they doing it for?

On the other hand, although I do feel sceptical about the integrity of the exhibition and of Bowie’s comeback image as a whole (and anxious about the potential negative ways it could impact upon his musical legacy), I am slightly reassured by the fact that Bowie curated the show himself. This at least is the careful and respected Bowie that we all know – indeed, ever since he started out as a musician and artist he made sure he has been fully in control of his self-presentation, (musical) experiments and choreography.  Surely a retrospective and celebratory exhibition of an artist will be the most honest and tasteful if it is done by the artist him/herself? … Or is this cheating – does it make the handling of the subject matter too easy? Does a curator need more emotional distance from the subjects they present in order to be truly effective?

Due to the subjective nature of curating, there can never be satisfactory or universalised answers to these questions – maybe this is something Bowie has taken advantage of? Nevertheless, this mixing of art and music is certainly a cause for celebration. Maybe I should stop worrying and asking so many questions and just sit back to indulge in this arty orgy. I look forward to finally seeing this exhibition in the distance month of July.

David Bowie Is finally seen

We were greeted with a quote from Bowie stating no work of art is stable and assuring us that the audience brings its own meaning to the work, making art multiple. Already, the generosity and inclusivity characteristic of Bowie’s art and ways of working is brought out, making us as the viewer feel important and needed. This is reminiscent of Bowie’s electrifying presence on Top of the Pops when he performed ‘Star Man’ in 1972. A ‘reconstruction’ and film footage of this is included in the exhibition to startling effect helped by the aid of mirrors. The wonderful moment when he points straight at the camera is superbly recreated.  Continue reading

“Women don’t paint very well…it’s a fact” said Georg Baselitz this month – Helen Cobby presents her rebuttal

Published in The University of Warwick student newspaper, The Boar, in March 2013

Baselitz’s recent claim that “women don’t paint very well” and that art should be “brutal” has caused a great stir. He is intentionally provocative. He comes across, and indeed deliberately positions himself, as a lucky and wealthy man, with such prestige that he feels he can say anything he likes and get away with it.

Although his ideas are outrageously ridiculous and can be offensive, his views force us to re-assess the impact essentialist notions of gender still have upon art and the art market, and vice versa. Some say we are in a post-feminist society, but here feminism definitely comes in handy.

Baselitz is a German artist who emerged after the war with all guns blazing. He rebelled against abstraction, wanting to paint the chaos of post-war Germany as it was. Like many of his contemporaries, he explored what it meant to be German in a modern world filled with pain, humiliation and denial of societal and psychological traumas. He revived German Expressionism (which had been denounced by the Nazis) and re-made the human figure central in painting as a way to display harsh realities and the tragic atrocities of what man can do to man.  Continue reading

A-wei A-wei with Art’s Borders

Published in The University of Warwick student newspaper, The Boar, in April 2013

The exciting modern ‘No Borders’ exhibition is an artistic intervention at the Bristol Museum. It critiques and challenges globalization, which many have said is a positive global phenomenon. Walking into this exhibition I was hit by predominately negative portrayals of globalization and the nature of borders from different cultural perspectives. Due to the many different mediums used – film, photography, paintings, sketches and even venetian blinds – it stimulated my senses, pushing me out of my comfort zone.

The great highlight was to finally have the opportunity to see artwork by the internationally acclaimed Ai Weiwei. Indeed, this is the first time his piece A Ton of Tea has appeared in the UK. Needless to say, he is one of the most famous current examples of an artist intertwining art and politics, and has made a big impact in the media both within art circles and in wider human rights debates. His life has even ‘become’ art due to Howard Brenton’s film about Weiwei’s arrest, which was premiered last week. This resurgence of Weiwei in the news (and within other art mediums) makes this exhibition all the more stimulating and pertinent. With Ai Weiwei, the boundaries between politics and art are definitely broken down.  Continue reading

‘Landscape to sculpture: John Bridgeman 1916 – 2004’

Published in The University of Warwick student newspaper, The Boar, in February 2013

This new temporary exhibition at Leamington Spa Art Gallery is the first retrospective of the war artist John Bridgeman’s diverse practice, bringing together not only the story of his life and development of his work, but also charting and commenting upon social history – particularly that of WW1 – and his fellow contemporary artists, such as Henry Moore and Paul Nash. There are also references to other artists from different periods, indicating Bridgeman’s extensive art-historical knowledge and academic approach to his own artwork.

Bridgeman was Head of Sculpture at Birmingham University from 1955 to 1981, and later lived in Leamington for over 40 years.

On display there is a vast collection of paintings, sculpture, maquettes and drawings done with a huge range of media, techniques and styles. This shows Bridgeman’s exceptional training as an artist and experimental craftsman.

The exhibition begins by looking to the past and to artists such as Turner and Whistler, which are evoked in Bridgeman’s early landscape paintings. The first three oil paintings are inspired by Whistler’s Nocturne Series Blue and Gold 1872-5. There is a peacefulness and ‘mistiness’ to these paintings that noticeably disappears in Bridgeman’s later work completed during and after the war.  Continue reading

Ready… Steady… Cook!

Published in The University of Warwick Student newspaper, The Boar, in November 2012

Great excitement! The homemade food shop COOK has arrived at Leamington Spa. Located on Warwick Street in the heart of the town, this authentic and bordering-on-gourmet food outlet is not to be missed.

As well as providing authentic, genuine home-cooked ready meals, this trendy parlour comes equipped with extremely friendly staff who are always ready to offer you tasters and nibbles whilst you browse.  Continue reading

Leamington Spa’s taste of Little Italy

Published in The University of Warwick student newspaper, The Boar, in March 2013

Looking for an escape from the limited restaurant selection on campus and the generic chain restaurants out in the real world? There is no place quite like La Coppola.

Whether you live on campus or in Leamington, La Coppola will make for a unique treat out with friends or an unforgettable date. It provides a refreshing restaurant experience that goes beyond  the food.

Family owned and with all Italian-speaking waiters, it immediately feels like a special place. As you open the door you are greeted with warm smiles. Your walk to a table will be lit up by fairy lights draped among blossom branches running along the ceiling.

Murals on the walls depicting rural Italian scenes add to the feeling that you have stepped out of cold, wet England and into a delicious holiday. Even the outside of the restaurant is full of promise, stimulating the imagination with lavish displays of colourful fruit and vegetables – a beautiful display with the promise of healthy eating.

The menu is refreshing, with choice ranging from brochette starters, pizzas, risottos, different meat dishes, and they specialize in fish. Even for vegetarians, there is plenty to choose from. My favourite is Melanzana Parmigiana, which is baked layers of aubergine and parmesan in a rich tomato sauce, topped with buffalo mozzarella. There are many side dishes available, ranging from chips to some healthier options.  Continue reading