Sunday, 28 June 2015

Postcard from Newport (Mon.)

Newport Transporter Bridge viewed from below.
I grew up just down the A48 from Newport (in Chepstow) and have always had a fondness for the town, immortalised in the wonderful video Newport (Ymerodraeth State of Mind). However, my teenage memories of the town don’t really extend much beyond browsing pop albums in the W.H. Smiths basement and knowing that Newport was the ‘Home of the Mole Wrench’*.  Since then I have passed through it many times, mostly on the M4, where the principal impressions are made by the looming hilltop mass of Celtic Manor Resort and the excitement of the Brynglas tunnels, which (according to Wikipedia) were "the first tunnels in the British motorway network and are still the only bored tunnels". So it was with considerable pleasure that I joined a day-long expedition of Newport with the C20 Society - expertly led by Judi Loach.
(NB click on images to enlarge.)
Highlights of the day included:
Newport Civic Centre
Designed by Cecil Howitt, construction of the Civic Centre was begun in 1937, but suspended at the outbreak of War; building recommenced in 1950, but the clock tower was not begun until 1963 - and then despite a public vote objecting to its cost. Our visit was principally to see the suite of murals by Hans Feibusch (assisted by Phyllis Bray) executed between 1961 and 1964. The murals tell the story of local history. We were subsequently privileged to view a portfolio of Feibusch's original drawings and cartoons for the murals held at Newport Art Gallery.
Hans Feibusch, murals at Newport Civic Centre: (l to r) The Burning of Newport Castle, The Battle of Agincourt, The Surrender of Raglan Castle, 1961-4
Hans Feibusch, The Battle of Agincourt, (detail of murals at Newport Civic Centre), 1961-4
Hans Feibusch, Steelworks, (detail of murals at Newport Civic Centre), 1961-4
Hans Feibusch, The Building of the George Street Bridge, (detail of murals at Newport Civic Centre), 1961-4
Odeon Cinema
An excellent example of Art Deco cinema architecture by Harry Weedon and Arthur J. Price, built 1937-38
Harry Weedon, Odeon Cinema, Newport, 1937-8
Harry Weedon, Odeon Cinema, Newport, 1937-8 (detail)
Newport Transporter Bridge
This was a real treat! The bridge, opened in 1906, is beautiful - much more slender and delicate that I had imagined from seeing it in the distance. It was thrilling to climb up the tower and walk across the upper deck looking down to the River Usk below, descend on the other side, and return as a passenger on the suspended 'gondola'. Wonderful.
(Click on image to enlarge.)
View across the upper deck - walkways are to the right and left.
View up river from upper deck - click on image to see full width
View down river from upper deck - click on image to see full width
Belle Vue Park
A public park laid out in 1892-4 to designs by Thomas Mawson, featuring an elegant Edwardian pavillion and conservatory, and a bandstand.
View of Newport Transporter Bridge from the terrace at Belle Vue Park
The expedition also included visits to the Church of Sts. Julian & Aaron, Holy Trinity Church, Christchurch, and Duffryn housing estate.
Thanks to the C20 Society and Judi Loach, in particular, for a splendid day.
* For what seemed like years (back in the late 1960s/early 1970s?) all local letters were franked by the Post Office with the legend Newport (Mon) The Home of the Mole Wrench; I had no idea what a Mole Wrench was. Evidently, it is a self-grip wrench (allegedly) invented by Thomas Coughtrie in 1955 and manufactured by M.K. Mole and Son, based, from 1960, in Newport.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Philip Guston - Timothy Taylor

Philip Guston, Head and Bottle, 1975
Philip Guston is at Timothy Taylor until 11 July 2015.
What an extraordinary painter Philip Guston was. Born in 1913 he was of the same generation as Jackson Pollock - in fact he and Pollock became friends when they studied at the same college in the late 1920s - and, like Pollock, Guston became a successful and respected Abstract Expressionist in the 1950s. Yet in the 1960s he abandoned abstraction in favour of figuration, deploying a completely original, seemingly crude, cartoon-like iconography of clocks, bottles, shoes, light bulbs, books and paint brushes, and a one-eyed, disembodied head - taken to represent the artist himself. It is hard now to appreciate what a brave, even outrageous, move this was - Peter Schjeldahl writing in 1984 recalled his own response: "I hated it. It seemed a rank indecency, a profanation, a joke in the worst conceivable taste". As he further recounts, gradually "my resistance disintegrated, and the very paintings I had abhorred started giving me surges of pleasure ." Guston is a 'painter's painter' - the eyes of those  to whom I mentioned this show lit up when they heard his name; Schjeldahl, again: "The paint-handling is beautiful, with a beauty that in the comfortless context [of the iconography] is heartbreaking." Guston eventually became a key influence on a generation of 'neo-expressionists' emerging in the 1980s.
This small show brings together some wonderful paintings, including a late abstraction - Traveler III, and some very fine examples of his 'neo-expressionist' work from 1969 up to 1979 (Guston died in 1980) and a selection of ink and charcoal drawings.
Read reviews by Adrian Searle and Fisun Güner.
(Peter Schjeldahl quotes are from his essay on Guston in "Art of Our Time: The Saatchi Collection", vol.3, London: Lund Humphries (1984), pp12-13)
Philip Guston, Traveler III, 1959-60
Philip Guston, The Hill, 1971
Philip Guston, Frame, 1976
Philip Guston, Story, 1978
Installation view of drawings and small works by Philip Guston at Timothy Taylor

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Jason Brooks - Marlborough Contemporary

Jason Brooks, Origin I, 2015
Jason Brooks: Origins is at Marlborough Contemporary until 18 July 2015.
Jason Brooks (BA Fine Art, University of Gloucestershire, 1991) is a painter of extraordinary facility who executes monumental photo-realist portraits and richly textured abstractions with equal virtuosity. His work is also typically informed by a wickedly subversive intelligence and sense of humour - as is evident in the current show.
The visceral impact of the 'Origin' paintings is well described in the catalogue by Michael Bracewell,
 ... a seeming molten, liquefying, congealing, drooling, dripping, flaring and trailing chaos of ridges and deltas and novas and marbled accretions of alternately Stygian and industrially-bright multi-coloured paints.
The eye is seduced by the apparently wholly abstract gloops of colour until following the diagonals leading in from the top corners it detects a form coalescing out of the chaos, one that is irresistibly suggestive of Gustave Courbet's scandalous L'Origine du Monde (1866).
Download the exhibition catalogue here
Jason Brooks, Origin II, 2015
Jason Brooks, Origin III, 2015
Jason Brooks, Origin III, 2015 (detail)
Jason Brooks, Origin IV, 2015
Jason Brooks, Origin V, 2015
Jason Brooks, Origin VI, 2015
Jason Brooks, Origin I, 2015 (detail)

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Agnes Martin - Tate Modern

Agnes Martin, Untitled #10, 1990
Agnes Martin is at Tate Modern until 11 October 2015.
This is a terrific exhibition. Agnes Martin's subtle grids and pale striped paintings - so subtle in some cases that they seem almost not there - occupy a unique space between Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. They exude a calm and ordered beauty.  However, it seems that they were not borne of cool calculation but from a sometimes troubled mind. Martin was a schizophrenic and her story is fascinating. From a poor, prairie farming family in Canada, Martin arrived in New York in the late 1950s where she worked alongside artists including Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly and Robert Indiana. In 1961 she was found wandering the streets uncertain about who and where she was. She was hospitalised several times and on at least one occasion subjected to shock therapy. In 1967 she renounced art, bought a pick up truck and an Airstream caravan and ended up in New Mexico on a remote patch of land - no electricity, no telephone, no neighbours - and built herself a house. Around 1972 she returned to painting and continued to do so until her death at 92 in 2004.
Read a feature article by Olivia Laing. Read reviews by Adrian Searle, Rachel Cooke, Alastair Sooke, Janet McKenzie, Kelly Grovier, Zoe Pilger and Charley Peters.
Agnes Martin, Untitled, 1959
Agnes Martin, Friendship, 1963
Agnes Martin, On A Clear Day, 1973
Agnes Martin, Untitled #3, 1974
Agnes Martin, Untitled, 1977
Agnes Martin, Untitled 5, 1998 (detail)
Agnes Martin, Happy Holiday, 1999