Shozo Michikawa – SASAMA @ Erskine, Hall & Coe, London / 1 – 24 September 2020

Shozo Michikawa – Natural Ash Sculptural Form, 2020, stoneware, 43 x 16 cm. Image Courtesy Erskine, Hall & Coe, photography by Stuart Burford.

If they look a little like domestic props in a cubist interior, then the fleeting similarity between a vase form in a painting by Georges Braque or Juan Gris and the ceramic sculptural forms of Shozo Michikawa is no more than that, an immediate visual impression. As with all ‘It looks a bit like…’ statements, to labour any comparison in this case would be a fruitless indulgence.

The thought does however point to an interesting divergence between painting and ceramics; that is the central importance of technique in the discipline of ceramics. When I talk about Shozo Michikawa’s work I feel more comfortable using the term ceramics rather than pottery. I guess this is a subconscious bias away from functional studio pottery and towards something which might be vainly reaching for the exalted, the rarefied – art basically. Under the slightest scrutiny this bias falls apart because of the fact that in order to produce anything of quality in pottery, whether it is slip-decorated table ware or non-functional gallery ceramics, the amount of practice, failure, recovery, and knowledge required is staggering. When it comes to pottery, you can’t fake it.

Shozo Michikawa, Shino Sculptural Form, 2019, stoneware, 19 x 15 cm. Image Courtesy Erskine, Hall & Coe, photography by Stuart Burford.

Shozo Michikawa was born in 1953 in Hokkaido, Japan. At a certain stage during his initial career in business he took up evening classes in art. It was here that he discovered his passion and talent for pottery. A few years later, Michikawa quit business to devote himself to ceramics. Over the years he learned the skills involved in pottery and some more conventional examples of traditional tea bowls (chawan) are included in the current exhibition at Erskine, Hall & Coe.

Stoneware tea bowls by Shozo Michikawa. 9 cm high to 9.5 cm high. Image Courtesy Erskine, Hall & Coe, photography by Stuart Burford.

Michikawa is an artist who has always shunned a studio pottery affiliation, a system which forms the core of the Japanese pottery scene. He prefers to have the freedom to produce exactly what he wants without having to consider the demands of the client. Free of the limitations of studio pottery, Michikawa has developed a range of unique sculptural series in which he experiments freely and playfully, riffing on traditional Japanese pottery shapes and using classic glazes such as shino and kohiki. The pieces in this show were made during the bi-annual Sasama International Ceramics Festival during a three-day firing in an anagama kiln. Michikawa founded the Sasama International Ceramics Festival in 2011 and the exhibition includes photography of the Sasama region by Yoshinori Seguchi.

Shozo Michikawa, Kohiki Sculptural Form, 2020, stoneware, 38.5 x 13.5 cm. Image courtesy Erskine, Hall & Coe, photography by Stuart Burford.

Another point of divergence between painting and ceramics is that it is fascinating to watch a talented potter at work – something which is not always the case in painting with its ponderous interludes. This is true for example in the case of Ken Matsuzaki throwing tea bowls off the hump. But where the pleasure of watching tea bowls form, each one masterfully imperfect, may be mesmerising, watching Michikawa turn a dull, dumb block of clay into a dynamic exploding/imploding sculptural form is seat-of-your-pants stuff. (See the link below for a 2018 recording of Michikawa throwing at Leksands folkhögskola Art College in Sweden.)

Shozo Michikawa, Kohiki with Handle, 2020, stoneware, 61 x 27 x 14.5 cm. Image Courtesy Erskine, Hall & Coe, photography by Stuart Burford.

If the forms at times seem to be frozen in a state of collapse or explosion, then it is because in the process of creating them they come close to doing both. One essential skill to develop as a potter is to do as much as possible of the final shaping of the piece on the wheel to minimise the amount of trimming and altering required later. Michikawa takes this dictum to another level as he slices and gouges the form to create the basis for what will shortly emerge as the final piece, or as he transplants bits of clay from one part of the form to another where they will perhaps be more useful. The artist’s thinking is laid bare and it is a thrilling pleasure to observe him reassess the shape as it develops and to recover from near failure with brutish and excruciating-to-watch interventions. The throwing of the lacerated form is executed by hand, using traditional Japanese forming tools, and by using lengths of timber wedged unceremoniously into the centre of the piece. With the form of the clay prepped in this way, the final shape comes together with a few delicately controlled spins of the wheel. From start to finish there is an economy of process and mastery of technique which are the very same as those which have been employed in Japanese ceramics for centuries.

Watch a fascinating demonstration given by Shozo Michikawa at Leksands folkhögskola (Art College), recorded on July 15, 2018.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxJrIoEn__o&t=1441s

Michael Canning – Matter, motion, minutes @ Waterhouse & Dodd London, 26/09 to 20/10, 2017

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On Tuesday September 26th a new exhibition of paintings by Irish artist Michael Canning opens at Waterhouse & Dodd London. I am delighted to have been asked to contribute the catalogue text for this show, and the text plus images from the exhibition can be viewed by clicking on this link:

Exhibition catalogue – Michael Canning / Matter motion minutes

The exhibition, entitled Matter motion minutes expands on a theme which the artist has been exploring for the past twelve years. On walks around the countryside surrounding his studio in the west of Ireland, Canning collects wildflowers and weeds from roadside verges and fields, and returns to the studio with them. The paintings he produces from this raw subject matter invoke the lessons of painting’s rich past, but are also ruminations on the very nature of our perception of the world around us.

If you are in London from the 26th, this show is not to be missed. To view more of Michael Canning’s work, and for directions to the gallery, follow this link:

Michael Canning at Waterhouse & Dodd London

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Painting In The Present Tense, 2012 – 2017, Oil and wax on gesso panel, 100 x 70cm, Image copyright of the artist, courtesy of Waterhouse & Dodd

200 words #19 / Secundino Hernández

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Secundino Hernández, Rojo, 2016. Acrylic, alkyd, oil and lacquer on linen, 310.5 x 287 cm, 122 1/4 x 113 in. Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London © Secundino Hernández

I first saw Hans Hofmann’s paintings in the flesh in 1999 in a small collection at the Met – (part of a pilgrimage of sorts which included a visit to Hofmann’s mosaic mural for the New York School of Printing on West 49th Street, which features in the banner image for this website). I remember being surprised by the imperfect physicality of his canvases, buckling under the weight of paint. Still, as rough and ready as these paintings looked, they were the genuine article.

If the finish of Hofmann’s canvases was an initial disappointment to a naïve art student brought up on reproductions, then it was a joy to discover many years later the fresh and rich paintwork of the Spanish artist Secundino Hernández. This, I thought, must have been what Hofmann’s surfaces looked like before they acquired a layer of New York grime.

Matisse observed that “…a big painting needs more architecture, more technique”. Hernández works on a far larger scale than Hofmann did, but through his considerable technique his canvases somehow retain a very human measurement. The paintwork, modulating in tone and colliding with the same comfortable friction that Hofmann termed push and pull, is complex yet well resolved.

If certain places bring to mind certain colours, then Spain presents them all at once. Hernández works in Madrid, and his paintings seem to resonate with the opaque intensity of a sunlit urban landscape.

Secundino Hernández at Victoria Miro

Richard Tuttle / My Birthday Puzzle @ Modern Art / March 31 – May 13, 2017

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Richard Tuttle, Releasing: Biologically Poor Endings, IX, 2016, quarter-inch birch plywood, canvas, crayon, acrylic, graphite, acrylic gesso, nails, 68.6 x 66 x 3.5 cm, 27 1/8 x 26 x 1 3/8 ins, courtesy Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London

There was a time when Richard Tuttle’s understated assemblages were considered by some commentators to be so insubstantial as to be an affront even to minimalism. Better to be made of nothing at all than to be made of almost nothing, they might have said. It might have been the almost-there fragility of his assemblages to which they took exception, cobbled together as they seemed to be, out of the most commonplace craft materials such as string, glue, fabric, scraps of timber, and acrylic paint. At a time when minimalist art was predominantly the slick, machine-made product of an extended process of intellectual refinement, Tuttle’s unkempt art school project rejects seemed outrageously unsophisticated and unfinished. Continue reading “Richard Tuttle / My Birthday Puzzle @ Modern Art / March 31 – May 13, 2017”

Frieze Art Fair /London / #4

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Installation view of Annely Juda’s presentation of Yoshishige Saito at Frieze Masters 2016. Image courtesy of Annely Juda Fine Art.
Back at Frieze Masters there were yet more fascinating finds to be made. In what was another example of a well-presented mini survey, Annely Juda Fine Art was showing work exclusively by the Japanese sculptor Yoshishige Saito (1904 – 2001). Saito had a significant influence on a later generation of Japanese artists including Lee Ufan, Katsuro Yoshida, and Nobuo Sekine; artists who went on to develop what became known as the Mono-ha movement. Yoshishige Saito’s work however, is often seen as a bridge between European modernism and Russian Constructivism in particular, and the more conceptual art which developed in Japan in the 1970s. After most of Saito’s body of work had been destroyed in the Second World War, the artist began to create larger sculptural installations. After winning the prestigious New Artist’s Prize in Japan, Saito received international exposure at both the Venice and Sao Paulo biennales.

Continue reading “Frieze Art Fair /London / #4”

200 words #3 / Michael Krebber

Michael Krebber / MP-KREBM-00087

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Michael Krebber, MP-KREBM-00087, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 150 cm, 2015.                                      

© Michael Krebber, courtesy Maureen Paley, London.

We might think of a painting as finished when the decision is made to stop working on it. Having over-cooked a canvas or two however, a good painter will know what it feels like not to be able to undo something and call the previous mark the last.

The decision to stop is just one amongst a sum of decisions that make up a painting. In Michael Krebber’s work this decision making process is laid bare in the scarcity of visible marks. If we look at a painting as a sum of decisions that have been made, then the fewer marks we find on a canvas should mean fewer decisions. A painting with very few marks would suggest a type of Minimalism.

If Krebber’s painting can be called minimal, it is of a different order to that of say Robert Ryman, whose decision to use just one colour gives an illusion of economy. Michael Krebbers’ paintings operate in a condensed field where some marks are presented but all are possible, and where the first mark is equal to the last.

Maureen Paley – Michael Krebber

 

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Making & Unmaking / curated by Duro Olowu @ Camden Arts Centre, June 19 – September 18, 2016.

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Installation view of Making & Unmaking: An exhibition curated by Duro Olowu at Camden Arts Centre, 2016. Courtesy of Camden Arts Centre. Photo: Mark Blower.

To keep an increasingly sophisticated gallery audience engaged, large public galleries necessarily participate in a type of competitive curating.  In order to maintain visibility, it is critical for these institutions to put together programmes of high quality exhibitions. Many commercial galleries and smaller public spaces on the other hand will quite often cobble together group exhibitions on the flimsiest of premises. The results can be dispiriting, and it can seem like an exception to see a well researched group show in many spaces of this size. However, to call ‘Making and Unmaking’, curated by fashion designer Duro Olowu, simply a group show would be to undersell it. In the relative intimacy of the Camden Arts Centre, this assembly of work by over sixty artists has the feel of something epic.

Partly because of the amount of work on display, I found myself going back to this show more than a couple of times. The volume of work in the show, and more importantly the quality of so much of it, made it impossible to appreciate fully in a single visit. The selections that have been made and the expertly paced installation achieve precisely what they are meant to; they encourage the viewer to move back and forth between what seem to be superficially different works, in an attempt to spot possible connections and extract a thread of meaning from the whole. The subtle  connections and comparisons between the artworks multiply exponentially as we walk around the show; a testament to the curatorial skill behind this project. Without being intrusive, curator Duro Olowu emerges as a generous and confident presence behind the exhibition. It is unsurprising to find out that Olowu is a collector of objects, perhaps even a hoarder, and something of his collectors instinct comes across in the work he has assembled for this exhibition. It resonates with the thoughtfulness of the arrangements and the time that evidently went into their selection and acquisition. Continue reading “Making & Unmaking / curated by Duro Olowu @ Camden Arts Centre, June 19 – September 18, 2016.”

Mary Heilmann – Looking at Pictures @ Whitechapel Gallery, London, June 8 – August 21, 2016

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Mary Heilmann, Cup Drawing, 1983, Oil on ceramic, 30.48 x 48.90 x 4.45 cm.
©Mary Heilmann
Photo credit: Pat Hearn Gallery
Courtesy of the artist, 303 Gallery, New York, and Hauser & Wirth

Lucio Fontana thought of ceramic as the most aristocratic of sculptural materials. And it is likely that at about the time he began to work with ceramics at the Manufattura Mazzotti in the 1930s, the medium was still held in some degree of reverence for the delicate craft it often demanded. Fontana was one of the first of several modern artists to appropriate ceramics as part of their wider body of work, to stand alongside paintings even. In turning their attentions to it however, they also tended to drift far from the aristocratic.

Mary Heilmann has also built up a body of work which incorporates ceramics and painting, but one in which the presumed appropriation of the traditionally ‘craft’ medium belies a more intimate relation between the two components in the artist’s work. Heilmann studied ceramics and sculpture at the University of California at Berkeley from 1963 to 1967, before moving to New York in 1968, where she took up painting. It is easy to see ceramics as an adjunct to the artist’s painting, especially given the scale of some of the early paintings we encounter as we walk into the first room of the Whitechapel Gallery. But it would be negligent to assume that this formative period spent working with such a raw and pliable medium did not have a sustained influence on Heilmann’s painting.

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Mary Heilmann, The Thief of Baghdad, 1983, Oil on canvas, 152.4 x 106.68 cm.
©Mary Heilmann
Photo credit: Pat Hearn Gallery
Courtesy of the artist, 303 Gallery, New York, and Hauser & Wirth

The exhibition opens with some canvasses in which the impact of the male-dominated New York painting scene is tangible. There are some large and loose colour field works which seem to riff off the experiments of Joseph Albers or Mark Rothko. While the scale is substantial and the effect from a distance is one of a solid, carefully built up surface, these paintings are surprisingly unkempt. The slightly wobbling edge of an area of painted surface indicates hurried execution, as do the splashes and drips which enliven the chunky sides of the canvas. There are experiments with the square; often blocked in with thick satin interlocking strips of black acrylic over candy striped washes which bleed into each other like distinct river currents. These are nominally investigations into the kind of optics which occupied Albers over the course of a lifetime. With the newly arrived Heilmann however, we see a bold and almost irreverent hunger to work through what was current or recent in American painting. Continue reading “Mary Heilmann – Looking at Pictures @ Whitechapel Gallery, London, June 8 – August 21, 2016”

PICPUS – Summer 2016 edition featuring an article from theglazelondon.

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Image: Front cover PICPUS Summer 2016.

I am delighted to see the very first article from theglazelondon appear in the latest edition from PICPUS press. PICPUS is a free quarterly broadsheet featuring writing on a wide range of topics, mainly within the arts. It is edited by Charles Asprey & Simon Grant, and is available in various galleries, museums and bookshops, including the Camden Arts Centre. Keep an eye out for it!

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Tomma Abts @ greengrassi, London, April 28 – June 18, 2016.

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Installation view, Tomma Abts, Greengrassi, London, 2016.

Photo: Marcus Leith. Courtesy of greengrassi, London.

Painters tend to approach the work of other painters in a matter of fact way. When they walk around a show they might go straight to the side of a canvas to scrutinize how the artist dealt with the edges, or perhaps contort themselves into unnatural positions to verify whether the surface reflects the gallery spotlights, or instead resists their potentially cheapening glare. More often than not, painters will point to the craft of a painting, how it was put together, rather than what it is trying to say or how it makes them feel. It’s a bit like the art world version of kicking the tyres at a car show.

With Tomma Abts’ work one could talk about craft, and how the paintings were produced, for longer than most people might listen, before ever getting around to subjective responses. There is so much to discuss regarding the physicality of Abts’ work, despite the fact that in reproduction it comes across as unremittingly graphic. This work has to be seen in the flesh, as it is only when the viewer is face to face with it that it truly discloses.

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Lya, 2015
acrylic & oil on canvas
48 x 38 cm (18 7/8″ x 14 1/2″)

Photo: Marcus Leith. Courtesy of greengrassi, London.

For some reason, whenever I think of Tomma Abts’ work I get the sensation that I am looking at work which is minimal. Perhaps it is the cumulative effect of so many sharp edges, and the general predominance of a single colour in more or less each painting, and the overall equivalence of tone within canvases that have several colours, that leaves the single abiding sensation of having seen something exceptionally understated. This is not the case however. There is a great amount of general activity going on in each of these paintings. Up close, there is a rawness to the masked out edges of straight lines, which betrays the handmade reality of these paintings. There is relative discord too in the colour schemes; no more so than in the piece entitled ‘Oeje’. Then there is the support itself; a slight plumpness in the folds of the canvas around the corners of the stretcher interrupts what, from a distance, looked more like a machine cut panel. This added level of physicality becomes even more apparent on such small canvases than it would on much larger ones, and might threaten to become an irksome feature in itself were it something that the artist had simply overlooked. But it is inconceivable of course that Abts had not considered the consequences of using a material of such thickness. It is the evidence of the handmade that arguably makes this work even more interesting than reproduction might suggest. Continue reading “Tomma Abts @ greengrassi, London, April 28 – June 18, 2016.”