Exercise 3: Gallery visit

As I was unable to visit any galleries in the last couple of weeks for health reasons, I was glad that I had been able to visit galleries a little earlier in the month. I decided to take some time to investigate two of the pieces that stuck in my mind from those exhibitions further.

The first of the pieces that I found very memorable was Susie Hamilton’s Hotel Corridor 2 (2008), Acrylic on canvas. My first impressions on the exhibition were noted here but my relevant comments are reproduced below:

What I found interesting is that although both were similar in composition, Hotel Corridor 1 had a sense of movement about it due to the blurred walls whereas Hotel Corridor 2 felt as though you were staring down a long deserted corridor. Being directly in front of them made you feel immersed in the painting. It probably would have been even more effective if I had been standing as I was having to look slightly up from my chair which distorted the perspective slightly.

18/5/2017 EDIT – For one-point linear perspective the viewer’s eye level needs to be at the horizon line i.e. the vanishing point for the perspective to work properly (technical reason why I felt the perspective was distorted)

This piece was placed in the centre of a wall along the length of the gallery and was next to a similar piece, Hotel Corridor 1 (2008). I liked the tone of red used in Hotel Corridor 2 as it was less vivid that Hotel Corridor 1 and to me had more of the soulless, gloomy atmosphere of a generic hotel room along with the bland halogen lighting which is often functional but very unflattering to the scenery and the guests!

Art movement: I found this difficult to pin down but I would guess urban art as Hamilton is interested in portraying public spaces as wildernesses.


Looking at Hamilton’s website I found her artist’s statement which was fascinating:

My paintings are mainly of human figures but also of apes, birds and other creatures, all represented in a brief, decisive, energetic way. While the monkeys, birds and insects fly free, the human figures are strugglIng, toiling and trudging through the wilderness of the world. The wilderness may be a natural one, a desert, an ice field, a mountainous landscape, a frozen forest (traversed by Sami reindeer herders or Arctic explorers or cowboys or Berbers) or it may be a glossy, impersonal public space such as a superstore, banqueting hall, casino or mall. This last kind of urban wilderness has inspired series of tourists, clubbers, diners and elderly shoppers. The settings are frequently overwhelming in the sense that they dwarf or challenge the living creature. They are both beautiful and demanding–qualities dictated or enhanced by the presence of strong, glaring light which exposes, blitzes, transforms the figure and sets up an arena of contrast between dazzle and darkness. The figure in sunlight also casts strong shadows, inscribing it in both time and space against a boundless white background. Struggling and beleaguered though they may be, my shoppers, Sami, explorers, horsemen are also resilient, singular, vigorous and determined with their liveliness enhanced by the quick, spontaneous way in which they are represented.

The second piece that was particularly memorable was Michael Andrews’ Thames Painting: The Estuary (Mouth of the Thames) (1994-95), oil and mixed media on canvas. My first impressions from this gallery visit can be found here but the relevant comments are reproduced below:

Admittedly, I saw the online image of this painting before I visited and it didn’t appeal but seeing it in real life was a revelation. The online image really does this painting no justice. First of all the scale is impressive, the use of texture and colour is incredibly evocative of the Thames Estuary. The tiny figures are very detailed and are wearing victorian dress. The cloudy sky is reminiscent of Turner (who was an influence) but there is something ominous about the painting at the same time. When you read that he painted it after being diagnosed with terminal cancer and it definitely made me wonder if this had influenced the colouring of the painting. There were examples of the early sketches for this are part of the archive.

Art movement: post-war British art

Thames Painting: The Estuary (Mouth of the Thames)

© the estate of Michael Andrews, courtesy of James Hyman Gallery, London. Photo credit: Pallant House Gallery, Chichester

Below are the notes and thoughts that I made in my sketchbook whilst at the exhibition:


The positioning of this piece was at one end of the gallery and it seemed very innocuous amongst the other works (which were mostly pop art). Yet I found myself completely entranced. The longer I looked at it the more I seemed to see. The figures almost appear to be from a time gone by. The fact that some of the figures are less defined than others at one moment creates the sense of a misty morning and yet I feel although they could also be the same figures at different times and evokes a sense of movement.

On further investigation it appears that Tom de Freston is as beguiled by this piece as I am in his post on ArtUK. de Freston’s suppositions over how the piece was created are fascinating and certainly encourage me to attempt these techniques for myself over the coming months as I hadn’t thought of laying the canvas on the floor and allowing oil based media to form pools. I am also intrigued to see what effects I can achieve by adding turpentine afterwards to washes.

According to a review by Alastair Sooke, Thames Estuary was part of an unfinished series (he passed away before it could be completed). He suggests that the idea of a ferryman could be a reference to Charon which is an interesting proposition.“It’s an amazing picture,” Calvocoressi says. “A great, primeval landscape, with this extraordinary effect as though the tide has washed over the canvas. To make it, he mixed solutions of turpentine and grit and poured them, from a bucket, on to the canvas, which he had placed on the floor. He then used a hairdryer to blow the liquid about, just like the wind blowing the tide. It’s as direct as that: unpainted, almost.”

Looking at some of Michael Andrews’ other work I found Recollection of a Moment in October 1989 – The Tobasnich Burn, Glenartney (1992), oil on gesso on board. I love the sense of drama, Andrews has captured that moment when your heart is in your mouth watching something like this unfold. The composition emphasises the size of the cliff and the consequences should he fall in the next moment.

Andrews, Michael, 1928-1995; Recollection of a Moment in October 1989 - The Tobasnich Burn, Glenartney

© the estate of Michael Andrews, courtesy of James Hyman Gallery, London . Photo credit: British Council Collection

Looking back I can see influences from the colour palette of Thames Estuary in the oil painting that I am currently working on:


The final part of this exercise was to read Claire Bishop’s But is it installations art?.

In the 1960’s “Minimalism drew attention to the space in which the work was shown, and gave rise to a direct engagement with this space as a work in itself, often at the expense of any objects. Since then, the distinction between installation art and an installation of works of art has become blurred. Both point to a desire to heighten the viewer’s awareness of how objects are positioned (installed) in a space, and of our response to that arrangement.”

“…led viewers and critics to think about installation art as an immersive experience. By making a work large enough for us to enter, installation artists are inescapably concerned with the viewer’s presence, or as Kabakov puts it: ‘The main actor in the total installation, the main centre toward which everything is addressed, for which everything is intended, is the viewer.’…one of the dominant themes of installation art since it emerged in the 1960s: the desire to provide an intense experience for the viewer”

Political installation artists: Vito Acconci & Hélio Oiticica.

Bruce Nauman attempts to thwart expectations through video feedback, mirrors and harsh coloured lighting.

Installation art of 80s “was more visual and lavish, often characterised by giganticism and excessive use of materials.” Claes Oldenburg Pickaxe (1982), Ann Hamilton Cildo Meireles.

Martin Creed (2001), Anish KapoorMatthew BarneyLiam GillickThomas Hirschhorn (rejects the label of installation artist), Paul McCarthy, Dominique Gonzales-Foerster

Many in the 1990’s put more emphasis on the viewer’s active participation to generate the meaning of the work. Rirkrit Tiravanija, Christine Hill,  Carsten Höller.

Installation artists that turn it into interior design. Jorge Pardo, Michael Lin, Gregor Schneider.

Artist-curated exhibition:  Mike Kelley, John Bock.

“The variety of work detailed above demonstrates that installation art means many things…a persistence of certain ideas in the work of contemporary artists who continue its tradition. These values concern a desire to activate the viewer – as opposed to the passivity of mass-media consumption – and to induce a critical vigilance towards the environments in which we find ourselves. ”

My understanding of this article is that installation art makes the place an integral part of the work so that the work cannot exist without considering the environment that it is sited in.

[All links accessed on 30/06/17]


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