Jon Thompson

2014 was a difficult year and keeping going was the main thing. As the saying goes, ‘when you are going through hell, keep going’. So it was a while ago that I went to see the wonderful Jon Thompson’s show at Anthony Reynolds Gallery in London.

Jon Thompson is no youngster and when he makes something it is the thing itself imbued with years of both knowledge and experience. His Toronto Cycle, almost music for the eyes, contains a group of works referencing famous painters, for example Van Gogh. VG1 and VG2 are works that reference Van Gogh early work (1) and later work (2). Interestingly, the later work has the brighter more vibrant colours. What Thompson has done is analyse the colours in Van Gogh’s work and the proportions they are used in and then made his work using those colours in those proportions. He has done similar works with Gaugin’s palette of colours. Vibrant, Melodic.

The Toronto Cycle: Cadence and Discord  (VG1)

I think they are stunning. That he has made the horizontal (as in say Mark Rothko) look also vertical (as in a Barnett Newman ‘zip’) is brilliant. That he has divided the two halves like tablets of stone, commandments of colour, is inspired. This is the work of an artist.

His latest works contained some blinding colours, oranges that almost fluoresced, blues that illuminated the space. My particular favourite was a deceptively simple  green cross of colour.

I love deceptively simple. I am deeply suspicious of making something that should be simple over-complicated.  I think that shows a lack of real understanding and basic communication needs, masked by jargon and processes.

Thompson strips things back like a revelation. Not only do you see his work, you can hear and feel it. Magic.

Anselm Kiefer

London, Royal Academy for the Anselm Kiefer show.

Anselm Kiefer post-Holocaust German artist.

He is important in that he is the first German artist to tackle the Holocaust, His imagery merges with his German culture: the wood, the forest and the woodcut (think Durer).

The early works are really brave. To be the first to say something really uncomfortable, something nobody wanted to say or look at and not know how you will be received, whether your compatriots will lynch you, beg you to be silent or ignore you is very brave. He puts all that German culture, forests, Wagner, mythology up there with what happened, that insanity, that moment when stupid, inhuman brutality ran riot with a cold ruthless amorality.

But 40 years later he goes on painting it. I felt it was no longer art. It was starting to become a commodity.

Did I like it? Generally no. There were some brilliant pieces. The more abstract and the more spiritual and some of the early work. But the later work becomes what he mocks; monumental, butch posturing, heroic and rather obvious.

Ultimately, I found his work very documentary; more commentary than art. In 100 years I don’t reckon it will stand up as great art. It is stunning comment at the time, or at the first time, but with very literal, heavy and obvious symbolism. It lacks the lightness of touch of a Renaissance Italian painting which too is littered with symbolism. It lacks the spiritual depth of a Rothko or Barnett Newman. It says nothing new. It Is more reportage. It could be journalism. It doesn’t rock my soul. It doesn’t show me something I didn’t know. Maybe it showed the Germans new at the time; something they were in denial about, but, in fact, did know. It maybe revealed to them what they need to deal with, but it has become heavy and repetitive with very few moments of real insight.

But well done to him for doing that. For telling it like it is.


Piet Mondrian

Just back from Margate, a coastal town in the UK with a wonderful art centre, The Turner Centre. They put on some brilliant shows. Right now, they have on a show of Piet Mondrian’s work (Liverpool Tate also have a show of his later work for which he is more famous). In the Turner show you see the progress of the artist from his early work to the work that he is famous for and that features in the Liverpool show.

We managed to walk through the show backwards. I seem to do that a lot, turning the wrong way in the gallery. So we went back in time and then retraced forward in time. It was amazing. I say this as a big fan of Mondrian’s later work. I have loved it since I was a teenager. I can’t say why; it just has a really pure feeling about it. It is it. I like things that are it rather than things that are about it.

So here is this man who tries out different ideas- he’s very good at each thing he tries.. He tries Impressionism, very nice and sellable (he needs to eat). He tries Pointilism, Fauvism, Cubism. He works his way through the ism’s of the early 20th Century art movements. And then he tries Mondrian-ism.

It is fascinating to see the change. He starts painting these large flat plains of colour in a recognisable landscape, but more backlit than front lit as in the Impressionists. The Impressionists are interested in how things look under light. He is interested in light and colours. Then suddenly you get a red and blue windmill. And the next year a checkerboard. And one year later you get Mondrian, full blown and in his stride. By then he is about 48 years old. How wonderful, still trying, still finding himself and his ideas.

I’m a scientist and I love contemporary art. For me it is an experiment in a studio. And here are some results. Beautiful, aesthetic, complex, deceptively simple:

And even less and more:
These are the results of a middle-aged man who has experimented all his life. He has dared to leave the safety of the known; the tried and tested. Seldom do we have the experience or ability to create something new.
Like any great science result, I wish I had made this.

Folkestone Triennial

Just back from the Southern Coast of England in a town called Folkestone which sits in the county of Kent. Every three years they have a triennial art event with international artists. Great idea and great stuff. The theme of this year’s Triennial, curated by Lewis Biggs is ‘Lookout’.

I spent most of the time in ‘Green/Light’.  It is designed like a hop garden, which was a common agricultural space in Kent for beer brewing, but it also references the gas-works that were on the sight that produced the first electricity for the town.  The work captures the light with its reflective elements and because of that, when you walk around it you become part of it. It is an immersive Cathedral-like space which, while referencing hop-gardens, becomes more like Standing Stones which you find in places like the Orkneys Islands and of course Stonehenge. It contains a circle within a square, with the outer part made of old hop-poles and the inner of modern shiny material, all held together with twine, the string used in hop fields.  I saw lots of people just standing there enjoying being in the space, smiling and relaxing. It gave me a great sense of calm; a spiritual moment. Sublime.

Folkestone Triennial 2014 opens

Jyll Bradley’s Green/Light sculpture in a disused gasworks

Other highlights for me were Krijn de Koning piece, a cave-maze structure with various views and  Amina Menia’s sound-piece on Bread, a subject dear to my heart, where she had recorded various people’s feelings/recipes/cultural meanings of bread. Folkestone is a very mixed town economically with many migrants coming in from across the Channel. There is a tribute to some along the ‘Leas’, the seafront promenade, where many Belgians arrived during the First World War to escape the invasion of their country. Another piece I loved was Alex Hartley’s. where he has put a hanging balcony arrangement out of the rooftop of a hotel on the seafront. It reminds me of protests and sit-ins and acts as a Lookout. I love the endeavour of the work; precarious and earnest, authentic and true.

So if you are in the area, check it out. It takes about 4 hours to get around the entire place, but you also see Folkestone and the sea and can just choose one piece, like Green/Light to sit in, stand in and just calm down in. I love bi/triennials where you get to see so much art in one go. With so much horror and childish nonsense as usual dominating the news, that human beings make this stuff we call art is very humbling.  Oscar Wilde says ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’. Well for me, art dignifies humans and fascism denigrates us. Most of what is happening or what is given attention to in the world is fascism, denigrating humans with childish notions of power and immortality, so lets instead be with the art.