January round up

Blogging has been a bit lax in 2018 so far; January, as everyone knows, is a tough nut and I’m very glad it’s over. That said I did do some pretty cool things last month that I’ve been wanting to blog about, so here goes.

Modigliani exhibition at the Tate Modern

I went on a Friday afternoon and it was PACKED, I thought for a minute of turning around and leaving again but I persevered. Once I got out my little sketchbook and started drawing, the crowds seemed to melt away a little and I was able to get a good look at the paintings. It was particularly interesting to see these after having done a lot of life drawing recently because I could really see how Modigliani was tackling the problems that beset me every Thursday night in life class. Thinking about the ways he keeps the proportions and creates volume while also capturing the aliveness and individuality of the model was really useful. One of my favourite paintings was Caryatid 1913-14  see below for the original and my sketch of it, I love the simplicity of the hands and feet and how he conveys volume and shading using the width of the line.

I also loved his portraits of Jean Cocteau and Barnowski – my copies below. The androgynous dandyism particularly drew me and made me think about how lines express gender – what signifyers are we looking for when we state, “that is a man” or “that is a woman”? And what are we missing?

While I was drawing the nude below I enjoyed listening to two older women having a conversation about the fact he had painted her pubic hair and the various ways in which they like to maintain their own bushes. Eavesdropping on conversations while drawing, and writing down the juicy bits is one of my favourite things to do.

 

 

Peeping Tom: Moeder – London International Mime Festival

The other day, I was describing what it’s like to do animation to my friend Sara: how you start by observing a movement, watching it again and again, how you break it down into it’s constitutent parts and exaggerate each one before putting it back together again to create the illusion of action or feeeling. She immediately said, it’s just like mime! Sara went to mime school for two years, so I trust her. We decided to go see some together and her mime friends recommended Peeping Tom, a Belgian dance company that happened to be performing at the Barbican for the London International Mime Festival.

The show was in the biggest Barbican theatre and it was almost sold out, I had no idea that mime was so popular! In his Guardian review Matt Trueman describes Moeder (Mother) as follows:

Paintings swallow people whole. Sketches bleed. Sculptures spring to life. On the gallery walls, madonnas routinely disappear, replaced by self-portraits of men. Art has a life of its own. […] Set in a shifting, amorphous art gallery with white walls and windowed rooms, it shows us a strange spectrum of motherhood. Pregnant women flail around in high heels. Cleaners splosh in flooded rooms. A coffee machine becomes a lover and a child lives her whole life in an incubator. All the way through, birth jostles with death; illness with care; machines with human creation.

The movement in Moeder was disturbing, characters constantly flailed and fell, tipping over on their insanely flexible limbs, unable to stand. Sometimes characters convulsed for minutes at a time while live sound effects of smashing glass were amplifed throughout the huge theatre. We were in the top seats of the upper circle (the only affordable ones) and I longed to be a little nearer the action to see how they were doing these things with their bodies, but at the same time I wanted to run away from the horror and pain that they were embodying. It made me think about how in animation we so often fall back on movement cliches (sadness is curled up in a ball, happiness arms wide), so seeing something totally new: grief forcing people into near impossible backbends like in Moeder – it hits you so much more forcefully and effectively than if they had curled forward. I want to start thinking about this more when I am animating.

Philip Glass’ Satyagraha at the English National Opera

As part of the ENO project that the second years did in the autumn term, we got free tickets to go and see the dress rehearsal of Philip Glass’ Satyagraha. It started at 9.30 am and so it was a bit of a jolt out of my normal routine to sit down for three hours of opera on a weekday morning, (to be honest, opera is outside of my routine at pretty much anytime.) I learnt as the show started that modern opera is not the dramatic arias and solos that the genre brings to mind but rather the music is a constant that washes over you blending from one piece into another without any seeming break. This really pulls you into the show’s world, in this case a world of corrugated iron and newspaper puppets where everyone moved very slowly and you were never entirely sure what was going on. The opera seemed to be a procession of ‘Great Men’ including Tolstoy, Ghandi and Martin Luther King who seemed to fade in and out of each other’s stories with no clear reason. That said the set, puppets and staging were beautiful and the slow exaggerated poses again made me think about new ways to build on my characters’ body language in my animation.

Coco

Finally, and hands down the best thing I saw in January was Coco, Pixar’s new animated feature film about a little boy in Mexico who goes to the land of the dead in search of his great great grandfather’s blessing to become a musician.

The story is beautifully constructed so that even though it sometimes gets devilishly complicated it never leaves you behind. The colours are just so so beautiful, the land of the dead is entirely neon, which makes me ridiculously happy:

And of course, in classic Pixar fashion, Coco pulls at your heart strings, with it’s themes of death and grief, family and friendship – and I was loudly sobbing by the end. Finally I love the face of the great great grandma:

 

Basquiat: Boom for Real

Last week, at 9am on Wednesday, I went on the postgraduate salon outing to the Basquiat: Boom for Real exhibition at the Barbican. We were lucky enough to have the assistant curator of the show giving us a tour and it was well worth the early start time!

I had not seen Basquiat’s work up close before and was immediately drawn in by the bright colours and bold lines. Basquiat work is covered in a kind of code – a mixture of letters and symbols that allow it to be read on many levels at once. It was a privilege to have someone talk us through these layers as we went through.

There is a sense of found pieces and places in Basquiat’s work that draws you in – he drew on buildings, old mattresses, hoardings – and it was interesting to see these pieces of the city brought into the art gallery space. Below, his poem inscribed in a New York doorway when he was only 17, mocks the gentrifying yuppies who are taking over the city:

As well as the mixture of mediums, Basquiat  super imposes the content of his work. For example, in  Jawbone of an Ass (below) the triptych presents us with three very different scenes: on the left we have Basquiat’s version of Rodin’s thinker, and Basquiat’s crown symbol that reoccurs throughout this work – perhaps representing an idea of patriarchal white philosophy. Then in the middle we have a list of historical figures and events from Alexander the Great to the Emancipation, Cleopatra to Jesus Christ – in a kind of condensed colonial history. Finally on the right we have monstrous cartoon characters that biff each other on the nose and speak in onomatopoeia. What is Basquiat saying by putting together these words and images? His he mocking the western canon, and yet simultaneously placing himself within it? He is comparing the so called “great men of history”, to children’s cartoon characters? Is seeking explanation in such a piece equivalent to attempting to find order in the history that it emerged from? I’m still thinking about all these…

I was also interested to see several references in his work to animation – apparently he was a big fan of saturday morning cartoons and would often watch them while he painted. Many of his works includes copies of images from television, music and books – as the exhibition program notes: “Delighting in the clash between supposedly ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, he assembled an arsenal of words, images and symbols that connected his favourite subject matter, wehther ancient myth, cartoons or beat poetry.” In the painting below we see references to the road runner and daffy duck:

My favourite paintings though were those in his encyclopedia collection, intricately drawn diagrams and labels that sometimes related to each other and somtimes are intriguingly criptic. I’m still decoding my two favourite paintings from the exhibition below:

 

 

Black Power, Rachel Whiteread and #ShowUabody at the Tates

Last week, I did a Tate binge, as I was briefly in possession of a Tate card and wanted to make the most of it.

First I went to the Tate Modern to see the Black power exhibition. It started with videos of speeches of various icons of the civil rights movement including Malcolm X, Angela Davis and James Baldwin. Their strong voices followed me around the exhibition which both celebrates blackness and exposes many oppressive systems of white supremacy through four decades of black american art.

My favourite painting was by Frank Bowling, a Guyana born, British artist who painted this  HUGE neon canvas:

You can just about the glimpse the mass of continents, although only the americas are clearly outlined, in the bottom you glimpse human figures in the darker areas reaching up towards the pink and orange. The painting makes reference to the middle passage, when inhabitants of west africa were captured and forcefully transported across the Atlantic to be slaves in North America and the Carribean.

Bowling refers to his work as “poured paintings” and experiments with surface texture by pouring layers of paint on top of each other blurring the original image in the mass of colour.

The next day I went to see the Rachel Whiteread exhibit at the Tate Britain. I did my GCSE final project on Rachel Whiteread in 2004 just after she won the Turner Prize – the first woman to do so. I thought she was the best thing ever at the time, but had not returned to see her more recent work so I was excited to do so. The retrospective however made me feel like it was much of the same. I loved cast bookshelves with the vanished book, and the upside down stair case, but couldn’t get as excited as in my teens.

Finally I went to see Linda Stupart’s brilliant collaborative piece #showUabody also at the Tate Modern. The piece is designed with and for trans and gender non conforming children. Stupart as asked children to look at pieces in the gallery and think about how gender plays into them. This is one of my favourite responses:

The text reads:

Me: why do you think he is wrestling the snake 
Boy: because he is transgender and people are making him wrestle a snake to prove he’s a man 
Me: then what happens
Boy: the man wrestles the snake but it’s still not good enough for the horrible men who are challenging him, so then he’s like whatever and throws down the snake and leaves, at which point the mean cis guys realise they’re stuck in the room with a snake. Meanwhile the wrestler has gone to the bar for a milkshake. The end.