Monthly Archives: October 2017

The Arborealists: The Art of Trees 2017; Into the Woods

The Arborealists are a loose collective of artists who like to paint trees. They came together in 2013, though at whose behest, exactly, I’m unable to say: not only is the catalogue that accompanies their first London show one of the most confusing such documents ever written, but on the afternoon of my visit there is no information on its walls either – not even the names of the artists (though I’m told this will soon be rectified). What I can say is that they take some of their inspiration from the Brotherhood of Ruralists, the 70s anti-modernist group of which Peter Blake and David Inshaw were probably the most famous members: their instincts are, in other words, broadly Romantic, though this doesn’t preclude the possibility of abstraction in their work.

Challenging as an exhibition like this is to review effectively (it includes the disparate work of some 22 Arborealists), as a tonic for calm it works like a dream, the artistic equivalent of the Japanese practice of forest bathing. Yes, it has its sinister corners, not least Joanna Greenhill’s 2015 film Grey Cranham, in which a pair of headlights appear in the darkness at the edge of a forest (it plays on a loop in the basement); and a couple of the canvases, all twirling roots and amber halos, do bring to mind, rather unfortunately, the covers of old prog rock albums. But for the most part, the room is inspiritingly lush, a verdant realm in a more than usually urban patch of London.

Even more cheering, some of these artists can really paint. I can’t remember the last time I found so much skill in so modish a private gallery. Hannah Brown’s Victoria Park 7 (oil on marine plywood and oak, 2015) is masterly in its balance of light and shade, the merest hint of autumn – and perhaps something nastier and more melancholy, too – in the afternoon shadow that creeps over a pond and towards a group of sun-dappled limes. So, too, is Golden Birch (oil on gesso board, 2016) by Ffiona Lewis, a painting so gorgeously illuminated – the canopy it depicts is not green, but a dazzling sunflower yellow – I found myself closing my eyes for a second as if to bask in its radiance.

Maxwell Stein, 2013 by Jemma Appleby.
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Maxwell Stein, 2013 by Jemma Appleby. Photograph: Courtesy Jemma Appleby / Hayloft Gallery
For the artist, trees are an infinite subject, one that embraces not only light and colour, but heady symbolism, too (the tree of life, the tree of knowledge). From a distance they may resemble cathedrals; close up, they’re cities teeming with activity. Blaze Cyan’s monochrome etching Wellington Woods II has a feeling of distant rafters, the tops of the trunks of his Scots pines aimed vertiginously at a blurry sky, while Michael Porter’s mulchy Forest Floor (oil and acrylic on canvas, 2011) zooms in microscopically on bark and fungus: think Richard Dadd’s Fairy Feller minus the satyrs and centaurs. To stare at this painting for an extended period is to lose yourself, to be both giant and elf simultaneously. A few of the Arborealists bring man explicitly into the equation, sometimes to brilliant effect. Jemma Appleby’s charcoal drawing Maxwell Stein (2013), for instance, depicts a famous bungalow by Frank Lloyd Wright in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. But while the architect intended the building and its grounds, designed for two teachers, to be an affordable utopia, in Appleby’s telling, the looming trees, now fully mature, suggest encroachment, the loss of certain cherished ideals.

The hottest art shows of 2018

Revolt and Revolution
Get the new year off to an angry start with this exhibition about art, popular culture and protest. Peter Kennard’s classic CND photomontages of the 1980s and a raw, intimate recording of The Internationale by Susan Philipsz are among the political artworks in a survey of how art is inspired by dissent, resistance and rebellion. Yet can protest art really change anything? The most pungent political art of modern times includes Picasso’s Guernica and John Heartfield’s anti-Nazi photomontages, but neither stopped Hitler.
• 6 January-15 April, Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

William Blake
Britain’s most political and most mystical artist saw himself as a radical prophet crying out against war, poverty and enslavement. Blake’s passion for liberty and human fulfilment blazes in his illuminated books. He spent some of his most introspective years at a cottage in Felpham, Sussex, and this exhibition explores how that part of England infuses his vision of Albion, in which the whole of history plays itself out amid stone circles and village greens.
• 13 January-25 March, Petworth House, West Sussex.

Detail from The Sea of Time and Space (Vision of the Circle of the Life of Man).
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Detail from The Sea of Time and Space (Vision of the Circle of the Life of Man). Photograph: National Trust Images/John Hammond/John Hammond
The Enchanted Room
Italy at the start of the 20th century was an old country desperately seeking a future. This made it one of the most fascinating laboratories of modernist art, and this exhibition lent from the Emilio and Maria Jesi collection at Milan’s Brera Art Gallery is packed with works by such giants as Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà and Giorgio de Chirico. The energy and aggression of futurism collides with the melancholy of De Chirico’s empty piazzas.
• 24 January-8 April, Estorick Collection, London.

Owned by Charles I … Leonardo da Vinci’s St John the Baptist.
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Owned by Charles I … Leonardo da Vinci’s St John the Baptist. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
Charles I: King and Collector
The only British king to provoke a revolution and get his head chopped off was also our only truly imaginative royal art collector. This exhibition sets out to reunite art treasures that were sold by the Commonwealth after the execution of Charles I in 1649. If it works, it should be stupendous, for Charles owned Leonardo da Vinci’s John the Baptist and Caravaggio’s Death of the Virgin among other drop-dead masterpieces that are today spread through Europe’s museums.
• 27 January-15 April, Royal Academy, London.

Bristol’s once troubled Arnolfini gallery starts

A dynamic director – and Grayson Perry – are helping to turn the fortunes of Bristol’s Arnolfini around

Grayson Perry’s wall-hanging tapestry, entitled Battle of Britain, at the Arnolfini.
Grayson Perry’s wall-hanging tapestry, entitled Battle of Britain, at the Arnolfini. Photograph: Richard Baker/In Pictures via Getty Images
Mark Brown Arts correspondent

Mon 1 Jan ‘18 20.17 GMT Last modified on Mon 1 Jan ‘18 22.00 GMT
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On a midweek lunchtime approaching Christmas, more than 300 visitors are in the busy, buzzy Arnolfini gallery in Bristol. Around a dozen people are rooted to the spot reading Grayson Perry’s social media tapestry Red Carpet; downstairs, the cafe and giftshop are packed.

It’s a far cry from a busted arts organisation, one that was judged so troubled that in June it was removed from the national portfolio of Arts Council England.

The main reason the Arnolfini is busy is that it is staging Perry’s self-fulfillingly titled The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! It was first shown at the Serpentine in London, where there were queues to get in.

Claire Doherty, the Arnolfini’s new director, approached Perry about staging it before she formally started in August. She recognised she needed a big-bang moment, a catalyst for the future. It was even before the bombshell day on 27 June when the gallery was removed from the national portfolio.

In an interview with the Guardian, Doherty chose her words carefully about the day. “The decision was made. I think it is really challenging … but it was made on the basis that the financial model was not perceived to be viable by the Arts Council.

The Arnolfini ‘should be an engine, with the heat going out, rather than coming in’
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The Arnolfini ‘should be an engine, with the heat going out, rather than coming in’ Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA
“My priority has been to come and look at the organisation and devise a financial model that is viable, and it is absolutely critical going forward. That involves also rethinking the Arnolfini in terms of its future vision.


“One of the reasons I took the job was that I was ready for rethinking what an arts organisation with this history, and this reputation, could be for the future,” Doherty said.

In the art world, Doherty is seen as the right person for the job. Innovative and dynamic, for 15 years she ran the internationally respected arts producers Situations, a company she founded.

Cardboard, chewing gum, celebrity spectres

Exhibition at London auction house features ‘hugely inspiring’ work by artists creating outside the mainstream

Ophelia by Rakibul Chowdhury.
Ophelia by Rakibul Chowdhury. Photograph: Sotheby’s
Maev Kennedy

Wed 3 Jan ‘18 16.44 GMT Last modified on Wed 3 Jan ‘18 22.00 GMT
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The first exhibition of outsider art to be held at Sotheby’s will open at the London auction house next week, showing a lifesize cardboard sculpture of a runner, minutely detailed drawings by a former punk rocker, and works in embroidery, found materials and chewing gum.

The exhibition will feature pieces by artists working outside the traditional art world, including some who are self-taught and some who have social, physical or mental health problems. All are supported by the arts charity Outside In.

Frances Christie, the head of modern and postwar British art at Sotheby’s, said she found the works “hugely inspiring”.

Exhaust Dog by Jacob Rock.
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Exhaust Dog by Jacob Rock. Photograph: Mark Heathcote/Sotheby’s
“I think the work of this charity is very important – and perhaps showing this art in a venue in central London, which many of the artists would not otherwise come into, is also important,” she said. “The art world can be quite intimidating, and that too is a barrier to acceptance.

“I hope people will come and just look at this art as art, and be delighted.”

The exhibiting artists include James Lake, who makes large-scale sculptures entirely from cardboard – a medium he believes blurs the boundary between high and low art. He developed an interest in art while undergoing treatment in his teens for bone cancer, which included the amputation of his right leg.

Gold Run by James Lake.
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Gold Run by James Lake. Photograph: Sotheby’s
Some of the artists have won international recognition, such as the musician and writer Nick Blinko for his pen and ink drawings. Like several of the other artists, the lead singer of the 1980s punk band Rudimentary Peni has spent periods being treated for mental illness, and has spoken of the difficulty of balancing creativity with his prescribed medication.
Marc Steene, the director of Outside In, said the organisation had grown from a desire to challenge the status quo of the art world, to question its values and judgments, and to create opportunities for artists working outside the mainstream.
As outsider art has gained recognition, many artists have found a market for their work – for example, Rakibul Chowdhury, who has exhibited in Paris. His work Ophelia is inspired by the famous Millais painting, but Chowdhury shows her surrounded by figures from gossip magazines. He writes: “I want to keep painting my pictures. I want to sell my work. I want to go shopping.”