Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Horizons - paintings showing in Kalendar

This show is now over.

Paintings in Kalendar now on show until early January 2017.

Kalendar is a cafe at the bottom of Parliament Hill (Hampstead Heath), in Highgate, North London. It's a great cafe, good coffee, good food, with a plethora of artists, art critics, and actors visiting regularly, as you would expect from that very arty part of North London.

The paintings I am showing, all of which are for sale, are from my Horizons series, which you can see on my website:

Kalendar's address: 15 Swain's Lane, London N6 6QX

Below are the paintings currently on display. They may change over the time of the show so keep checking to see what's new.

I hope you get to see and enjoy the show!

The Moors £900
30" x 42"

Sunset V SOLD

The Last Sunset SOLD

Sunset II £700
24" x 22"

Storm on the Water £800
29" x 34"

Sky Lights £400
12" x 16"

Welsh Hillside £700
22" x 36"

Sunset IV SOLD

Cornwall SOLD

On the Other Side £600
18" x 24"

Sinking Sun SOLD

Sunset III £250
11" x 8"

Wet Road £250
11" x 11"

Monday, 2 May 2016

Maria Eichhorn at the Chisenhale Gallery vs Silvia Ikkesett in Cork Street

A friend recently pointed me to an exhibition by Maria Eichhorn which put me in mind of an event I wrote about back in 2011 masterminded by Silvia Ikkesett. Maria Eichhorn's show, called 5 weeks, 25 days, 175 hours and which is currently on at the time of writing, features the Chisenhale Gallery being closed - an exhibition you can't enter. There are many conceptual questions around this which require some understanding of current conceptual thought vis-à-vis art and its purpose etc. etc., questions which I have little time for in all honesty. Silvia Ikkesett's Never Seen exhibition however, was an event which most people could understand right off the bat. I wrote it up as part of my research into the collection of art recipes Arnold Tuppley collected before his his death, and is an edifying account as to how an artist can be pushed to such limits that perception becomes more important than reality.

Never Seen

Silvia Ikkesett

Silvia Ikkesett, started her career as a portrait painter. She revelled in great detail, producing works on canvas whose heightened realism was the result of her tendency toward the extreme, and her insistence on concentrating with almost microscopic detail on the features of her clients. As a young woman she toured the great cities of art in Europe, painting her way through actors and politicians, whose vanity insisted on her presenting them with a level of detail they often later came to regret.

Success followed her wherever she went despite the small controversies that her candour elicited, including, on one occasion, a brief attempt at suing her for defamation by a client. But it was quickly dropped due to the incontrovertible evidence that the portrait she had painted, which was the subject of the lawsuit, was an unquestionably and extremely accurate representation of their likeness. None of this gave her any pause for thought however, as she continued her travels, eventually settling in London.

Her favourite subjects were actors. She enjoyed the notion of their character being assumed by everybody who had seen their work, but who in fact were usually very different. Some were shy, almost embarrassed at the idea that anyone knew who they were, having been more or less forced into the position of having their portrait painted as some kind of spurious reward for their talent by one organisation or another. But some were rather more ego-centric, and she did not get on with all of them: about one famous film actor she commented, “the banality of the characters he plays are only outweighed by the tedium of his personality.”

But her success was starting to bore her, as were the innumerable commissions for portraits. She started reducing the areas she concentrated on within the face, homing in on particular characteristics and features which she reserved for her special attention. The rest of the painting she started to block in with a more abstract style, which gave the sitter the appearance of coming through some kind of multicoloured fog into the foreground, but in the end she simply left those areas blank. Eventually she stopped painting portraits altogether.

After giving up the role that had made her name, she briefly concentrated her talents on very traditional still lives, using fruit and crockery as the main subjects, and then moved on to using found objects, or things that just happened to be around. These included a series of crunched up cigarette packets in ashtrays, discarded fast-food containers, often with the food still in them half eaten, and tiny wild flowers which she would harvest from between paving stones, or under trees on the street.  She would put them on the table in her studio without any real application of composition, creating beautifully executed but rather uninspiring works. Then she stopped painting completely.

For two years nothing was heard from her. No paintings, no exhibitions, no art of any kind, until she came back with a brand new idea which didn't involve painting pictures of anything at all. In interview, she said she had grown tired of painting, tired of being regarded as a great talent that could do almost no wrong, and lamented the fact that whenever she had an exhibition, thousands would flock to see the show, because it was Sylvia Ikkesett, the renowned artist and burner of actors. She continued, “they don’t care about what I do, they come for my name, for me”; she became disillusioned. As far as she was concerned the public doted on her every brush stroke because of her proximity to the rich and famous, and the fame that it conferred on her. She found the whole experience superficial and pointless, and so decided to give the public and the art-world what they really wanted: Sylvia Ikkesett, not art.

Her new show featured absolutely nothing at all. She claimed that it was an inevitable conclusion to her way of working, which was either to paint everything she saw in extreme detail, or to paint nothing with equal detail, still regarding herself as a painter although she produced no paintings. She described these shows as artworks that reproduced, in detail, all the people that came to them, since, as they were there explicitly for her show, they were in fact her creations. And as reproductions of people that went to art exhibitions, they were as detailed as it was possible to get.

Her first show in this series was called Unseen-Black. She rented out a gallery space in the west end of London, painted the walls, the furniture, the ceiling, everything apart from the glass in the windows, black. The private view was full of those that had eagerly awaited her return, but they hadn't read the invite properly, which told them to bring their own wine, as none, and nothing would be provided. Soon, someone had bought from a local pub as many bottles of cabernet sauvignon as they had, and the evening went extremely well. She didn't turn up herself, but it was nevertheless a great success with only a few naysayers amongst the arterarty that congregated on that Thursday evening.

Five more exhibitions followed, with different colour themes in each: pink, orange, blue, yellow, and dark grey, each entitled Unseen- and then the colour, though the colour stated only related to the colour on show in the first exhibition. Thereafter, the colour on show and the name for the show seemed to become abstract notions which were not in any way related to each other, as lost in their meaning as she was distrustful of the power she had gained through her art.

They were held over a little more than a year, one every two months or so, and gained quite a large following, becoming known for their party atmosphere where arty types would meet and discuss, mingle and network, all the while increasing Ikkesett’s renown. But again, she became tired of the format, and another period of silence ensued.

A year after the last Unseen there was more excitement when a new show by Silvia Ikkesett was advertised in the art press, all the listings magazines, on websites, and in national papers. The date and time for the exhibition was given, but no details as to where the show was to take place, other than it would be somewhere in London. The show was called Never Seen, and even had one editorial written about it before it took place which speculated on the direction Ikkesett was now taking. A week before the show, a new advert appeared listing a number of websites where, two hours before the private view and opening of the exhibition was to take place, details of the venue would be given.

Excitement grew with this prospect, the imagination of those who couldn't wait to go running riot with rumour and counter rumour as to where and what the show would be. Finally, later than advertised, only seventy-two minutes before its starting time of 5:30pm, the address of the venue was uploaded to the websites, causing one of them to crash with the huge surge in requests for data from their servers.

As expected, it was to be in the west end of London, in the heart of the old and moneyed contemporary art scene, Cork Street. But the number on the address was 39. There was, and is, no 39 Cork Street. By this time, excitement was at fever pitch, and hundreds of people descended on Cork Street looking for number 39. Outrage was restricted to a few tired individuals who had travelled hundreds of miles for the new show, but on the whole, the notion of an exhibition that didn't exist was greeted with pleasure, and the local pubs saw a massive jump in their takings as they filled with the art seekers who had nowhere else to go.

One can only imagine Ikkesett’s disappointment at not being able to put a foot wrong. The show was hailed a success, a revolution in art thinking and examination of the very concept of the famous artist, but Ikkesett herself was nowhere to be seen. Two more shows followed, one in New York, and one in Newcastle, for reasons Ikkesett kept to herself – as far as anyone knew, she had no connections with Newcastle, and had never even been there. But maybe that was the point.

That was the last show she ever put on. She hasn't been heard of since, even by her friends and family; she simply disappeared, vanishing as if her existence was as empty as the exhibitions she had masterminded. But there are those with a passion for the Unseen and Never Seen works that still keep an eye out for a new Ikkesett event, possibly advertised in a local paper, or on an obscure website, waiting for a time when she will come back once again.

I am ashamed to say that I had not heard of Sylvia Ikkesett until the first Never Seen exhibition took place. I went down to Cork Street along with all the others, and the atmosphere was fantastic, like a carnival or street party. I went with two friends, frequenting all the pubs in the area, talking to strangers all of whom seemed to be there for the show. It was quite a remarkable feat of advertising and marketing. But we must remember that had she not been Sylvia Ikkesett, no one would have turned up. And that was perhaps the point of these shows.

Her interest in the extreme led to her success, and necessitated her development. She was clearly unhappy with the recognition she had gained and thought it a vacuous entity that she tried to extinguish by pointing out to all that gravitated towards her and her shows that fame is nothing. But far from lancing the boil, her Unseen shows simply accentuated her notoriety, making her even better known that she had been before.

Similarly, and perhaps with her foreknowledge, the Never Seen shows did exactly the same thing. But where does one go after that? The person to ask is nowhere to be seen, and cannot be found. Perhaps, one day, she will turn up again. But until then, it is worth remembering that her shows were indeed a microscopically accurate rendition of the types of people that caused her to flee the success she had made of herself.

We were all, on that night in Cork Street, her belongings, her artworks, which she displayed in the pubs and on the streets of the wealthy art dealers. It is a testament to her understanding of her situation that it was such a success, whether or not she wanted it to be. And in that case, we can see her as the great artist she always promised to be from her earliest days of painting portraits.

More stories from the Notebooks of Arnold Tuppley are available on

Friday, 15 January 2016

Frank Auerbach at Tate Britain

It's fair to say that I've been waiting for this show for over 20 years. If you want to cut to the chase however, go to this show. It's a great show of one of the greatest painters we have ever had. But if you want to know the reasons for the special place he holds in my heart, I'll briefly tell you why.

Head of J.Y.M II 1984-5
When I was fourteen I was taken to the then Tate Gallery (no Tate modern or Tate Britain, only the one Tate Gallery at that time in the building now known as Tate Britain). I had done a few drawings that showed I had some facility with a pencil, and my parents, naturally, thought taking me to a gallery might further spur my interest. There I saw a painting by Piet Mondrian, one of his compositions with red and blue. I was rather incredulous at the idea of that as a "painting" since to me it seemed nothing more than colouring in. So, I went home, took my brothers oil painting set (which he had only used once), and set about doing my own Mondrian. My version was perhaps not quite as sophisticated as Mondrian's, but my view hasn't really changed in all these years, the title to his work being as factual as the work itself was not what I would call painting - it was, and still is, nothing more than a study in composition, only one of the elements that go to create a good painting. But I better not digress too far down that path since this blog is about Frank Auerbach.

That was in the summer. I carried on painting my own versions of other painters I liked from the Tate's collection, most especially Salvador Dali, until one week in November my father showed me a review in the newspaper of a show Auerbach had on at Marlborough Fine Art on Albermarle Street in the heart of the moneyed contemporary art scene around Cork Street in Piccadilly. He showed me the review partly because it was interesting painting, and partly because one of my parents friends, Philip Kossoff, was the brother of the painter Leon Kossoff (still alive and working as I write), who is an old friend of Frank Auerbach, having both gone to the same art college together many decades before.

Serendipity would have it that later that same week I was going to one of the Royal Institution's Christmas science lectures with my school. As I walked up the road towards the Royal Institution with my friends, I passed a number of small commercial galleries, having a good look through the windows as my nascent interest in painting demanded, and there, on the same street as the Royal Institution, unknown to me at the time, was Marlborough Fine Art, and the very exhibition whose review my father had shown me. It was a revelation.

Here were paintings the like of which I had never seen before, and which, more than any other paintings before or since, spoke to me as a friend. Their thick paint and expressive nature was everything I was, inside; that was how I wanted to paint - no, not wanted to, had to paint. They were quite simply me in every way other than their actual authorship.

I went home, and that weekend started painting my own Auerbachs, as I had done with Dali and Mondrian and countless others. I even painted a portrait of him from the photograph in the newspaper that accompanied the review, took a photo of it and sent it to him, care of Marlborough Fine Art, and was extremely gratified to receive a reply from the man himself, and not just a thankyou note, but a proper letter (no email of course at that time), and there followed a brief correspondence between us about painting which I treasure.

So now you can see why a retrospective of this painter, this true painter, was something I had been waiting for ever since.

Leon Kossoff 1950's
Now to get to the exhibition itself which spans some 60 years, from the 1950's to the 2010's, but to say I love everything he has ever done would not be true - he is not perfect, but he is a true painter.

The paintings from the 1950's I always found a bit overdone. Their extremely heavy use of paint I always thought a bit of a, well, gimmick is too strong a word, but the 3 inch thick impasto laid down over months or years always made me wonder if he shouldn't just start again and try to get it right. But I think this very weakness, as I saw it, spoke to me since it was clearly his love of the medium that spurred him to keep going, keep going, and still keep going until he produced something that worked. They are dark, brooding, and a little stagnant I feel. But he was on his way somewhere, somewhere good. A typical example is the portrait of Leon Kossoff, a painting I still don't like much. Sometimes, you just have to know when to stop.

As he goes into the 1960's, the late 1960's in particular, his true ability, and artistry, starts to come out. For a long time I concentrated my own efforts on painting people, portraits. Here Frank Auerbach creates paintings exactly as I always intended to. They are concentrated examinations of a person, of their face, their character, their being. The heavy layered paint is still there, but with some brighter colours and a little more understanding of the medium itself, they have become objects that live in a way that "pictures" of people never do. Go to the National Gallery's portrait award show and you will see many many pictures of people, painted with pure artifice, nothing more than pretence of a painting, an illustration of a person's appearance fooling you into believing their is character when in fact all you get is an act. Not so with Frank Auerbach. His portraits are more extant than most people let alone paintings of them. The existence of the person behind the painting is so evident you could have a conversation with them, as long as you don't require it to be two-way. The paint itself, still heavy, becomes a little lighter in application, while at the same time becoming more expressive as he sheds some of the over-burdensome neediness of previous works.

David Landau 1990
In the 1970's he really hits his stride. Both portraits, figures, and landscapes start to use the pure joy of the brush stroke. The brush stroke is the most underrated and yet most obvious tool of the painter. He now has this supreme tool at his disposal, and through the 1980's, 90's, and on, the paint, thick or thin, has become his accomplice do express his perception of the world. The true power of this idea cannot be underestimated since the subjects themselves are not what is important. What you get is pure human experience expressed through paint - that is what makes a work of art. There is no artifice, there is no pretence, there is no sense of imagery trumping art. The true remit of art, to communicate the nature of existence from one human being to another without that human being being there to persuade you of the fact, is there in front of you eyes. You can be left in no doubt that the painter, and the subject, whether a person or a place, did exist and that you are there with them, back in time to when the object itself was created.

Needles to say not every painting is a masterpiece, but when he makes one that works, there is really nothing better in the realm of painting. If you are a painter because the medium speaks to you more than any other, you have to see this show.

Park Village East 2006
There are few painters that I admire or respect as much as Frank Auerbach. Lucian Freud, while alive, was often touted as Britain's greatest living painter. I never agreed with that. I went to his retrospective in the same gallery sometime around 2001, 7 rooms of his paintings, and by the 3rd room I was getting bored. It was the same thing over and over again. Sure, some of the paintings were brilliant, but in every one what you got was Lucian Freud, not the object of his attentions. I recently read somewhere that Auerbach, also a friend of Freud's and of Francis Bacon too, didn't consider himself to have the talent of either of them. But I disagree. Francis Bacon I also admire - he used paint, he used the brush stroke to express himself to bring true power to a painting, I don't see the same in Freud. But then, the media will have their way and attach labels to people especially when imagery, art's poorer more flatulent cousin, heaves itself into view. Bacon created better images than Auerbach, but Auerbach's paintings trump them all. He is a true artist, a true painter, the greatest brush-smith of our time.