‘Night Garden’ Vincent Hawkins at Sid Motion Gallery

The magical world of a garden at night….

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Vincent Hawkins, Life Amongst the Chimney Pots, 2018, oil on canvas

Imagine a ‘world’ of darkness that is disconcerting and mysterious. This is the scene I discover when I enter into the land of Night Garden, not the BBC children’s television programme but a retrospective exhibition of paintings by the artist Vincent Hawkins.

Night Garden is the name of a series of new work by the artist showing at Sid Motion Gallery, South Bermondsey. Since 2018 Hawkins has been painting works inspired by his garden at night.

The second exhibition in a new gallery space at Hatcham Road, the show explores relationships between figurative landscapes and abstract surfaces. It is Vincent Hawkins’ first solo show in the UK.

Hawkins (b.1959) has exhibited widely with solo shows in Chicago and Paris. He was shortlisted for the Jerwood Painting Prize (2006), was a finalist in the John Moores Painting Prize (2012) and a Prize Winner in the John Moores Painting Prize 24 (2006). Vincent Hawkins was first shown by Sid Motion in a group show in 2016.

Night Garden features recent paintings of the artist’s own garden at night-time. The canvases remind me of works by George Blacklock and Howard Hodgkin but without the vibrant colours (Hawkins rapidly layers paint with inky black brush strokes or sketches white lines onto dark backgrounds). In Vincent Hawkins’ studio different types of paint are overlayered – so acrylic is applied first as a base layer, then oil paint. He doesn’t think of himself as an abstract painter but someone who describes real things, such as  ‘bodies’, ‘wings’, ‘limbs’, ‘garden fences’ and ‘trees’, which I suppose is part of the haptic language that is to do with real life – what the eye actually sees. For Hawkins, this is a process of revealing figurative landscapes whist maintaining abstract surfaces. To quote the gallery catalogue: ‘Once your eyes adjust, as it were, a dense backdrop of a domestic landscape starts to appear. The black surfaces reveal depth and even multicolour, knobs, posts, trestles can be made out, but their perspective warped, allowing a sense of mystery to exist’.

I visited Hawkins’ exhibition last Friday and was struck by his ability to release forms into the environment rather than to contain them within the edge of the canvas. Indeed, as you look at each dark surface, you allow your mind to relax and find yourself exiting through the gallery wall into the space beyond the building.

There are examples of  paper studies here too – they look like starting points for the paintings on canvas, yet they are works in their own right. Each enormous piece of paper is folded, painted on both sides and cut. They are quite organic structures that obscure, hide and reverse what’s underneath, which adds to the mystery.

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Vincent Hawkins, Folded Drawing 2, ink on paper, 2019

Sid Motion gallery have formally announced that they are representing Vincent Hawkins and I really look forward to seeing more as I am a great fan of his artwork. I hope you are too!

Alexandra Baraitser (curator, artist and founder of The Bricklayers Brunch Artists Network)

‘Night Garden’ is on until 15th June 2019. Sid Motion Gallery, 24a Penarth Centre, Hatcham Road, SE15 1TR Open: Thurs-Sat, 12-6pm Sundays by appointment.

 

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The story behind This Instead of That

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Although I know what I ‘want to do’ in an exhibition (I can often see the ending clearly before I have begun), I don’t always know ‘how’ to shape it and This Instead of That came along after an experience of not knowing what was going to happen. I wasn’t certain of what I wanted but knew that my idea had potential.

This is the story of This Instead of That.

I was sitting at a cafe with the artists Olha Pryymak and Julie Fountain on a beautiful spring March day last year. We’d just hung a show Silent Painting at Tripp Gallery and the sun was out and we were resting after an intense day. Silent Painting had been accepted to tour to Lewisham Arthouse in November 2018, but I didn’t want to repeat the show with the same work but in another London gallery.

‘How about we respond to each other?’ I said. ‘Make a new proposal for the Lewisham space about friendship, collaboration and exchange?’ Discussion amongst colleagues and contemporaries has been a central strand of fine art training, and is often sustained beyond the confines of art school. Artists have drawn upon informal networks, social networks, collaborations, shared studios and other innovative modes of exchange. For hundreds of years artists have shared ideas, derived energy from their peers or collaborated: there’s Matisse and Gauguin, Sonia and Robert Delaunay, Gilbert and George, and Jake and Dinos Chapman – to name a few.  On that afternoon, in the sunny cafe in Kings Cross, I suggested that we could expand the show by asking an artist to find another artist they were inspired by and who they wished to collaborate with. It wasn’t clear at that point how this was going to evolve – some galleries draw on the model of inviting established practitioners to select and show emerging talents, I was hoping for something more responsive or site specific.

I brought in Trevor Burgess as my artist to respond to. I’d known about his work for a while and had admired his paintings hugely, we had similar interests and concerns to do with light, paint, surface and colour. He thought that my idea This Instead of That would fly and suggested we send out proposals. In the meantime Lewisham Arthouse Gallery agreed to the new theme.

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Trevor, Olha and Julie visited my studio in August 2018 to discuss the project and to work out options to progress with This Instead of That. How were we going to do this? A visit to each other’s studios? Choosing a particular piece to respond to – making a version of it for the gallery at Lewisham Arthouse? Or something less specific… encouraging the other artist to follow a new path by giving them a new direction or idea?

For Lewisham Arthouse, Julie Fountain asked Olha Pryymak to respond in a conceptual way to a specific quotation from Tim Lotte’s autobiography The Scent of Dried Roses. Julie made paintings responding to Olha’s herb inspired work about mental health.

In my studio, Trevor selected a small canvas that was of a shop floor from a 1960s department store (Artemide). He was inspired by the presence of the figures and the patterned compositions. I worked from his painting Wigs and Chips (depicting shop windows seen from the street). We started to bounce ideas between us.

We hung the first This Instead of That show at Lewisham Arthouse Gallery in November 2018.

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After the Lewisham Arthouse show I could see that there was clearly scope to expand the project to other artists. At this point I invited Trevor Burgess to co-curate a larger version of the proposal. Once he was on board the show rapidly developed into an exhibition at Arthouse 1 in Bermondsey. Nelson Diplexcito and George Wills, two painters who had been in dialogue together for many years, were invited to take part. Rebecca Fairman asked Hermione Allsopp and Meg Lipke, then Catherine Ferguson and Tim Renshaw.

 

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Trevor hanging This Instead of That at Arthouse1 in March 2019

It is very satisfying to see pairs of work side by side that are connected both visually and ideologically. The exhibition at Arthouse1 put a strong emphasis on the relationship between artists and the bond that they share that can be further explored in the gallery space.

This Instead of That made it possible to make a conversion of an idea (or two) that has the transformative effect of changing its core meaning. The artists in both versions of the show have shown how embracing new ideas from other artists about their own work, can divert work in a new direction, transforming artistic development and allowing for extended collective discussion and understanding.

This Instead of That is open to the public Thursday – Sunday 3 – 7pm or by appointment.

There will be an ‘In Conversation’ event with the artists and a Tea Ceremony by Olha Pryymak on Saturday 30th March 4 – 6pm.

Arthouse 1,  45 Grange Road London SE1 3BH. tel. 077131 89249 Nearest tubes: Borough, London Bridge, Bermondsey.

 

 

 

 

My paintings and me – stuck on a train!

It all started on a beautifully warm sunny Saturday morning in early September. I was catching a train to London to deliver two small canvases to the Mall Galleries for their Discerning Eye competition. The train suddenly stopped and an announcement was made that someone was sitting on the roof of a train ahead (parked at the next station) and that there was going to be a delay to our journey. After some time the electrics of our train went out, which meant no power for the toilets or the air conditioning. Little did we know that he had climbed further from the train roof onto some scaffolding used to access the power lines. The train was hot and crowded.

After a couple of hours we heard the news that we could get out of the train by manually pulling open the doors- much cheering ensued- and jumping down to the tracks. As you may know this is a fair jump without the platform there. But just before we did so, we were told that the poor person was attempting to commit suicide. My worries about my own day and how I was going to reach the time deadline at Mall Galleries suddenly seemed a lot less important.

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I passed my canvases to a passenger outside and then jumped the two metres down by sitting down on the edge of the doors (a method recommended by the driver). We walked to the next station (a few miles on bumpy shingle or metal track, still carrying the two paintings). We then got to the point where we were not allowed to walk any further- although the platform was tantalisingly close so was the desperate human being perched like a bird on a distant and high wire.

It became evident that the train had been very full: there were elderly people and families with small children. There was quite a crowd.

It was another long wait on the hot and exposed tracks before I realised that some young lads on their way to a rugby match had discovered a way out. It was a steep path down through brambles to a high fence topped with barbed wire with a car park beyond. I watched as a queue of younger “up for anything” people started to form a queue waiting to descend. Ignoring the transport policeman’s warnings that it was too risky (it was no more than a scramble!) I decided to go for it. So did several others – a very tall man with pink hair and a worried girl with the way-too-short skirt not at all suitable for scaling fences. Another woman was bemoaning the fact she had the wrong shoes on today! Luckily I was wearing jeans and trainers. The man with the pink hair offered to hold my canvases for me so I didn’t have to worry about dropping them over the fence. I helped the lady with the high heels – luckily I am quite agile with some past experience of acrobatics (but that’s another story).

I swung my paintings over the fence to the man below. I then swung my leg over the barbed wire (luckily by now some kind neighbour had fetched an old sleeping bag to cover it), balanced precariously on the top of a chair, which had to be held down to stop it rocking, and finally managed to climb down. At last my paintings and I were free. Me and the pink haired man walked to the tube station where we parted, wishing each other luck.

I made it to the Mall Galleries with half an hour to spare before they closed after a journey of over 7 hours. The experience hasn’t put me off exhibiting in galleries far from home – sometimes you can’t control what happens on the way.

 

My Painting travels to Piccadilly Circus

20170512_101159Last week I delivered a painting to The Royal Academy of Arts, London.

I decided to avoid London traffic and take the work on the train. The journey from my studio near Whittlesford Parkway station to The Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly Circus was both nerve-racking and exhausting.

To start with, there was the incident on the train at Stevenage when a man walking past (whilst the train was moving) used my painting as a handrail! I say again, he mistook it for a handrail. It was sitting upright on two empty seats and he used it to steady himself as the train moved – squeezing it hard with his fist. My mouth dropped open and in a moment he was gone. I checked for damage but the canvas was ok and snug under its bubble wrap.

On the London Underground two people actually wanted to help me carry my artwork: there was the friendly lady on the escalators at Tottenham Hale who was worried I would drop my ticket and tried to take the canvas from me (all the while I am thinking that she does not have any art handling experience and that we are on a moving escalator). Then there was the young person on the tube who made a lunge for the painting (four months to paint, oil on jesso on canvas)  – digging her nails into the corner I add – and I mentioned that I had my other hand there safely holding the sides not the front. She replied I didn’t want you to struggle and I said Thank you with a pained smile and tried not to think about about the damage done when her fingers gripped it as the Tube swayed.

You are probably thinking why doesn’t she frame her canvas or put it in a glass frame? Well, I like the viewer to see the surface of the cotton duck canvas – it is part of the painting. I also think the white edge of the primed canvas should be available to see. Also,  wooden frames sometimes compete with an image and no frame means simply the painting and the gallery wall are seen together as one.

20170512_140751I am going to start saving to pay for a taxi…… but I hope not to have to collect this canvas from central London next week. If it is exhibited at The Royal Academy of Arts in the Summer Exhibition 2017 later this year and it is sold then how to get it home is somebody else’s problem. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is at the RA in July, 6 Burlington Gardens,
London W1S 3ET

Marianne North: Pioneer Painter

I was recently inspired by a programme: Kew’s Forgotten Queen (BBC Four) about the pioneering Victorian plant illustrator, adventurer and botanist Marianne North. This was a a documentary in which the presenter and actress Emelia Fox retraces some of the painter’s steps made on a trip to the Sarawak jungle in Borneo 160 years ago. Fox, like the painter is strong and is filmed clambering through difficult territory (it is obviously hot). She is probably the same age that North was (around 40) when she embarked on these trips. The programme helps us to imagine North in her long skirts with her heavy easel strapped to her back, struggling to a height to spot a rare plant. Marianne North painted her subjects in the jungle itself and not the studio. She has inspired me because she was courageous, tough, determined and driven.

A botanist and painter, North travelled the world discovering rare pitcher plants (and more). An impressive 832 paintings line the walls of a special gallery at Kew’s Marianne North Gallery  .

North turned to her passion botany after her father Frederick North who was Liberal MP for Hastings died in 1869. It was then that she made trips to America, Canada, Jamaica, Brazil, Tenerife, Japan, Singapore, Sarawak, Java, Sri Lanka, India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Seychelles and Chile.

It helped that Marianne North had wealth and connections. It is a shame that as a woman she needed to use these to get her important discoveries known. However she was an amazing person and incredibly gifted painter and made a significant mark in the world of male dominated botany!

Why We Draw

An artist friend of mine recently said that she wasn’t entering the Jerwood Drawing Prize because she didn’t draw. It seems surprising that an artist doesn’t draw, however a drawing artist or an artist that doesn’t draw is accepted in the contemporary art world. I  had a long intense period of drawing once when I had tiny children and couldn’t find time to paint. There have also been periods in my life when I have not made drawings.

Radio 4 recently broadcast a fascinating programme about drawing, Why we Draw (14th July 2016). The radio show emphasised the importance of finding alternative drawing techniques for seeing the world. There was discussion around seeing drawing as something that everyone could acheive – we can learn to read or play chess so why not learn to draw? Hockney was interviewed and made the point that we should not question our ability to learn to draw.

But drawing can be tricky. The mistake that many beginners make is to draw what they think they know and not what they can actually see. I am a figurative drawer and for the figurative artist drawing is about planning ahead. In my work I try to draw the scene as I see it (figuring out dimensions) and not from memory.

Drawing for me is a pleasure – an intense period of concentration away from the other stuff going on in my life.  A tool used by artists, architects, designers, engineers and illustrators alike.

 

Starting Fresh: The Blank Canvas

 

The potter and writer Edmund De Waal has recently written a 400 page book called The White Road, a sort of biography/ travelogue . In it he talks about all number of things that relate to white porcelaine but one sentence in particular interests me: White is a way of starting again.
We like to start a canvas, poem or pot with a clear mind. The artist is like the mountaineer embarking on that icy climb, suddenly aware of the white landscape and making decisions about his or her next move into blankness . Every limb poised for action against the white void. Some would find this daunting but others would enjoy the moment of uncertainty and adventure.
 I know painters who spend hours just staring at the blank canvas before starting again.
But how does whiteness help us begin again and what is it about the blank canvas that excites us as painters? The blank canvas allows the artist to reassess and reset everything before the planning process  – the workings out in our minds prior to drawing on the surface (the propositional practice of mark making).
Sure it feels good to look at a white canvas with a clear plan or knowing that the finished painting is going to work. It’s also nice not knowing how things can work out.
As a curator I also enjoy the whiteness of the blank gallery prior to installation day. Exciting to imagine where to hang each piece and to wonder how the installation will look.
I have a copy of the book The White Road and look forward to reading it.
You can order Edmund de Waal’s book  The White Road for £16 (RRP £20) by visiting bookshop.theguardian.com