Category Archives: Exhibitions Visited

Anselm Kiefer: The Secret Life of Plants Collection Lambert, Avignon

This is the fourth time I’ve seen Kiefer’s work exhibited and each time I get a sense that this is what art is all about. Looking at his work is like looking through to something else. Not another world, but another layer of thinking. There is a sense of Kiefer grappling with things, asking questions, finding connections. These are works I could sit and look at for days. Every piece seems so very right. Settled, upright, heavy, complete. And the questioning stirs emotions, but we’re not quite sure how to feel. There is undeniable beauty but there is also a heaviness, a foreboding. The textures and materials are physical, the materials he uses are earthy, they will cut and stain our hands. I imagine hands working these paintings, putting them together. There’s no sense of a paintbrush here.


Kiefer, A. (2001). Les Reines de France. [Paint and pencil on photograph] Avignon: Lambert Collection.

(Impossible to take photograph without reflection – Image not available online)

The first painting to catch my eye was not the largest, but just to its right. Two images, placed together in a frame, both with elements from other works I’ve seen. A photograph of a dress (made from lead?) that also features in his work The Argonauts and the other that reminds me of Bohemia Lies by the Sea. In this room delicate and shining, almost as if lit from within.

The work is part of a series called Les Reines de France (The Queens of France – though strangely the French hasn’t been corrected?) The dress is laid out, as if ready for its next owner. The dress from the myth of Jason and The Argonauts was laced with poison by Medea (and of course lead – that Kiefer uses – can be toxic). I wonder if this dress symbolises all that is handed down from queen to queen. Is it also laced? A toxic inheritance. Below are flowers (poppies?) faded, torn, trampled, looking like the sole survivors in a wet and muddy field.

Kiefer has added paint and pencil to a photograph (of his own work). The paper has the appearance of heavy fabric, it’s hard to tell what is paint, what is print. It seems just as textured as all his works. Layers of matter and layers of meaning. Kiefer seems to use a quite limited palette of colour. Grey, white, sand, a fleshy pink and occasional touches of blue. Colours that evoke churned up soil, mines, industry, plaster, fabric and flesh give a sense of decay and destruction.







Jessica Warboys, Tate St Ives



Sea Painting, Dunwich, 2015, Jessica Warboys via

Warboys made these paintings in separate locations and they relate not only to those locations but (in the way they hang) to the spaces they have been exhibited in. The canvases are soaked by the sea, mineral pigments are applied by a combination of the sea’s own movement and the dragging and folding of the canvas by the artist.

*The above painting is titled Sea Painting, Dunwich (Suffolk) both on the Tate official postcard and website for this exhibition, however the paintings on display at Tate St Ives were painted at Zennor, near St Ives. Photographs were not allowed at Tate St Ives and I can’t find any online.


Jessica Warboys, production still via

The idea of this group of paintings and the process by which they were made excites me more than the works themselves. I do get a sense of the rocks of the far west of Cornwall: the rocks, lichen and gorse, but not the sea itself, though the sea of course has made the rocks, lichen and gorse what they are, and put them in their place. But perhaps I shouldn’t be looking for the crashing waves on these canvases. Maybe I should see them as a recording of what the sea has done to the land, printed on to blank canvas.  Some seem to work much better than others. Some of the St Ives panels felt quite tame to me, quite empty, while some I’ve seen online are more full.

Interestingly, Jessica Warboys herself says that she is “… not concerned with how the tableau looks or appears as I make a sea painting, but with the result or record of the process.” (Warboys, (2017)). In the British Art Show 8’s own video she explains that in the making she is “trying not to compose”  and though she describes the result as an “immediate and undirected print of the place” admits that as she does more of these works she gets more of a feel of how the pigment will settle on the canvas. 

I love the scale of these pieces, and the material they’ve been painted on. I would like to have been able to touch and smell them for the sea but they were for looking only. Despite the space they manage to take up in the curved entrance of Tate St Ives I couldn’t help but find them a little pale and empty. The boldness of the Tate building itself and the proximity of the sea is a tough act to stand next to. Probably better to work with it than to try and compete, as I felt these canvases were trying to do by nature of their very size.


Warboys, (2017). [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Sep. 2017].

YouTube. (2017). Jessica Warboys Sea Paintings (2015-16) at BAS8. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Sep. 2017].

Tate. (2017). Jessica Warboys – Exhibition at Tate St Ives | Tate. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Sep. 2017].

Tacita Dean, Henry Moore and Kurt Jackson prints (Falmouth Art Gallery stores)

Staff here are very willing to take visitors downstairs to look at small works in storage. A spare hour in Falmouth found me in my very own private view of Tacita Dean, Henry Moore and Kurt Jackson, accompanied by a knowledgeable staff member.

As I’ve moved through this course, discovering artists and artworks, I see a pattern in what interests me most: the artist’s response to place. Writing up my notes here I realise that once again I have been drawn to the artist’s response to place. This has fed in to my own drawing – the light and dark of the space we are in (or which side of the ‘screen’ we inhabit) – and whether we interpret that as safe or threatening.

Henry Moore



Moore, Henry OM CH (1898-1986): Stonehenge XI, signed, lithograph, 56/60, 45.1 x 28.9 cms. via Falmouth Art Gallery

Light glows from behind these massive boulders. Moore has gently moved from the palest grey to bright white just around the boulder, giving these stones their own aura. Where the boulders meet, confident dark lines allow a flash of light to seep through. It is these two techniques that have created this image. Without them it would still be a wonderful composition of shapes but the magic would not be there. In focusing on the immaterial (the light) the rocks have come alive.  From my immediate notes: “so convincing…3-D, popping out…I could put my hands around them”. 

Tacita Dean

Seeing my interest in this print, museum staff showed me three works by Tacita Dean, that I don’t think I would ever have come across otherwise.

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A sequence of stones: Riesenbett II (floating), Großteingrab (floating) and Hünengrab II (floating) by Tacita Dean via Falmouth Art Gallery 

These works seem small given their subject matter, but that instantly creates questions, and has us thinking about what we are looking at, its relationship to space, place, to us.

These are drawings, the medium is described as: Blackboard paint, fibre-based print mounted on paper and the dimensions: 1) 22 x 44 cm; 2) 23.4 x 44.8 cm; 3) 23.6 x 45 cm

What is immediately striking seeing these in person is the 3-D effect. These stones seem to pop out, they float in the empty blackness. They almost move, vibrate. This effect seems to have been created by a dense black line around the stone, but also by a gloss treatment on the drawing, against the mat black.

I saw them lined up horizontally. They sit at different levels within the frame which only adds to the sense that they are moving, floating. While one is more central, two appear to be heading off – stage right.

These drawings feel full of love and awe. The painstaking process of drawing the rocks reminds me of the way Vija Celmins works. In the video (TateShots: Vija Celmins – ARTIST ROOMS) Celmins describes a sense of being present in the image as she works and of a putting something back that a photograph takes away.

Tacita Dean studied art in Falmouth, and these drawings are inspired by the quoits and ancient granite stones found in Cornwall. The connection between artist and place feels strong in these drawings, though the stones don’t lose their sense of ‘otherness’ either.

Kurt Jackson


Jackson, Kurt : The Tar Plant, Carnsew Quarry, signed and dated 1998, etching, 37.5 x 51 cms via Falmouth Art Gallery

Kurt Jackson spent a winter at this granite quarry in Cornwall and produced a series of work which really needs to be seen in person to appreciate the layers of texture: soft smudges, spatters of light and deep dark depths.  There’s a sense of how the quarry cuts through the earth, reshaping the land. Workers are anonymous and have become part of the earth; walking blocks of granite themselves.


YouTube. (2017). TateShots: Vija Celmins – ARTIST ROOMS. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Aug. 2017].

L’annonciade, musée de Saint-Tropez

The trick of living in the south of France is to go in to hiding during high season, while the roads are clogged and the markets jammed. A quick trip to Saint Tropez before the tourists arrive had me popping in to L’Annonciade, a museum that while in a prominent harbour position, gets overlooked as some of the world’s most ostentatious boats scream out for attention.

I haven’t been to this museum for years so was intrigued to realise when I got back home that I bought the very same two postcards I’d bought years ago:


Photo of postcard: Nu au bas noir, 1905, Pierre Girieud

I’m not sure what is going on with the face in this painting. It seems a very odd shadow. But other than that I think it’s pretty staggering. There is such solidity to the body. I’m intrigued by the bold contour line, which I’ve seen recently in Alice Neel’s paintings and Egon Schiele, while the sturdiness of flesh reminds me of Lucian Freud.


Photo of postcard: Claudine vue de dos, 1906, Raoul Dufy

This appeals to me primarily because of the greens and blues in the upper right corner and the way that Dufy has tackled painting the hand – he’s just left it out! And yet this absolutely works – the left side of the body and left arm are in full light, there is such a bright spot at the hand that we don’t even make it out. This really gives me the feeling that he painted this to show us not what but how he saw.

(That said, I am a bit disappointed in the lower half of the body, I find the shadow under the left buttock and the left leg a bit unconvincing).


Sous la lampe, 1892, Edouard Vuillard

Couldn’t stop looking at this painting! I am fascinated by the matte black shapes of the two women’ jackets, their hair, the chairs, window and lampshade. What confidence. As I break down the composition into its parts it seems extraordinary that it hangs together as it does: blurry sofa in foreground, crazy red and black wall paper, two women with their backs to us, sitting by a window, night-time.

I got as close as I could to this painting without freaking out the museum guards, to see if there was any tonality in those black shapes. Not one bit, they are perfect solid black shapes. And yet we can feel the curve of the backs of these women, their tight corseting, padded shoulders.

There is barely any suggestion of tone or form anywhere. Alongside the black shapes is a flat brown shape of a skirt, just a couple of lines to suggest folds. A pale blue lamp base lit from above, maybe the hint of shadow at its base.

The pose of the women appeals to me. They have made themselves comfortable, they are unwatched, unposed. The woman on the right seems to have her hand up on her shoulder, she’s leaning in to the chair. The other is leaning in to the table, as her chest slumps forwards her forearms bear her weight and her shoulders rise.

Alice Neel: Painter of Modern Life, Fondation Vincent Van Gogh, Arles


Hartley and Ginny, 1970, Alice Neel

I can’t quite remember where I first saw this Alice Neel painting but it stayed with me, taking up space in my mental art gallery.

My next exposure to her work was a documentary that recently became available via BBC i-player, and this was followed (as if delivered by fairy godmother) by a major retrospective of her work here,  in the south of France, a place that while it inspired so much, feels very much an artistic backwater today.

Sometimes the planets line up for us just so.

Amusingly the retrospective is held in the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh, a gallery that doesn’t actually hold any paintings by Van Gogh, but is dedicated to contemporary art and somehow found a rationale to use his name. To be fair the gallery’s strategy is to have one or two Van Gogh paintings on show alongside the headline act but headline will always be Van Gogh and the result will always be a great many confused tourists.

This exhibition is huge. It starts with her best and most well known work, and ends with her earliest, and often the most disturbing.


Mother and Child (Nancy and Olivia), 1967, Alice Neel

What comes into question when looking at the portraits (for almost all are portraits) is the relationship of Neel to the sitter, because there is clearly something going back and forth, this isn’t a one-way thing. Neel was a forceful character, and I wonder if this is it. The sitter feels the force of her, they are pinned to their place, watching her, waiting for her to finish.

Certain elements stand out: shoes, hands, eyes, noses, lips. Surrounded by all these paintings with large eyes, and curvy lips for a moment I wondered if she had a standard set of eyes, a standard nose. But every face is so uniquely its own. She has captured something behind the eyes, something in the corner of a mouth.

These are the notes I took standing in front of the works: blue lines as outlines. Feeling of unfinished and yet very finished, as if she has said “this is enough, why take it any further?” Many of the paintings are ‘unfinished’. Perhaps the background is bare canvas, or a hand has been left unpainted, a pattern on a dress roughly finished. But it doesn’t seem to matter one bit. It tells enough, it tells all we need to know. Any more would be like that extra blob of cream on top of  the ice cream, that we never asked for.

She has a tendency to paint an area of blue behind her sitters’ heads, rather like a halo, a frame, an aura. Her models don’t pose. They’ve just sat down – just for a second – and she’s captured them. They may as well have sat for a photograph, a quick snap.


Victoria and the Cat, 1980, Alice Neel

My notes: knock-kneed, awkward gasping of cat. Huge bushy tail! Defiance, determination of girl trying to hald on to cat. Awkwardly trying to fix face, trying to still the squirm of both cat and her own body and face. 

I’m fascinated by the way that Neel doesn’t feel the need to draw an accurate hand or arm. She’s clearly capable – it’s obvious in some of her other works – and yet here she just doesn’t bother, it’s not important. And it doesn’t matter, if anything it adds to the whole awkwardness of the moment.


Andy Warhol, 1970, Alice Neel

My notes: knee unfinished, hands half done. Face is so absolutely him. Again clearly outlined in blue. Looks as if he is rising up and towards us. Like he is dead and has come back Somehow quite angelic. Sickly green through hair and skin. Eyes closed. Suffering, indignant, proud.


I didn’t really know about the attempt made on Warhol’s life but it seems he did almost die from the shooting. Everything about this painting is extraordinary. Warhol’s expression is of pain, just trying to deal with it for this moment, waiting for it to pass. Hands together for comfort, he is pale, weak, brutalised. He perches on the bench, barely there. He could float away at any moment.


The Family, 1970, Alice Neel

“I had always loved Alice’s work, because it was a mixture of the sublime and the grotesque. The sublime and the grotesque to me were part of her esthetic, were part of what she was conveying to the world—that people are beautiful and grotesque, that people are poignant and tragic, that they had big interior lives. She gave them big interior lives. She saw the lives in them that even they did not recognize. What emerged was a kind of desperate beauty.” John Gruen (central figure in painting)

I watched the documentary on Neel (made by her son Andrew Neel) and a documentary on Hockney one after the other. What is striking about both artists is how absolutely single-minded they are. Nothing could keep them from painting. Their need to paint is akin to their need to breathe. Striking also that they each seem to have a question to answer. In Hockney’s case it is how we see, in Neel’s case it is to truly see someone.

At one point in the film Neel talks about the moment when she stops painting, when her sitter has left, and she feels empty. While she is painting it is as if she has entered her sitter. This is such an extraordinary thing to say and yet it also makes so much sense. And it’s similar to how writers describe the process of getting inside their character’s head.  It reminds me of the sketches of Giacometti I saw in our local gallery – how he seems to be drilling under the skin, feeling his way around the contours of the skull, searching for the soul.

“I do not know if the truth I have told will benefit the world in any way. I managed to do it at great cost to myself and perhaps to others…at least I tried to reflect innocently the twentieth century and my feelings and perceptions as a girl and as a woman. Not that I felt they were all that different than mens'” Alice Neel

ARTnews on the portrait of the Gruen family

Fondation Vincent Van Gogh

Alice Neel Film

Adrian Searle in The Guardian, 2010

Musee des Beaux-Arts, Lyon: Nicolas de Staël

Starved of art that excites and inspires me I dragged my family 3 hours north to Lyon, to the Musée des Beaux-Arts and the Musée Art Contemporain.

A handful of paintings stood out for me, but this had most impact.


La Cathédral, 1955, Nicolas de Staël

This artist always catches my eye and I confess the reasons are partly romantic. He lived for some time in a village I know very well, in a peculiar isolated house hanging off a rocky outcrop. He had a short and tragic life, blighted by lost love. Plus, he wore high-waisted trousers and was quite dashing.

La Cathédral stood out in a room of brightly coloured works. The building almost glows, like lit mother-of-pearl against a dense night sky, devoid of stars.

I wrote this when I stood in front of it: sense of a glowing body at night. Contains something living, moving breathing. Vibrates. In way light does. Almost shimmering. Pockets – rooms-people? in the end it is light. Black line at bottom – rooted? crypt? pathway? calling? Light & dark  Blackness is comforting, enclosing, not menacing, rather enveloping.

There’s a strong sense of de Stael dealing with something here. I wrote this sentence and then flipped to Wiki to check the year he died. I already know it was suicide. Turns out it was 1955, the year of this painting.

My habit is to take in a painting before I research it. I’m glad I did that here, and I’ll continue to do that. I think we are at risk of seeing what we’ve read in a book into the painting, without stirring our own feelings up first. Everything I took from this painting makes a lot of sense now. Here is a place of shimmering light, in an enveloping darkness, and it beckons. There are people in this place, perhaps he feels them waiting for him.


At first glance, or from afar, the painting looks as though it’s been done in black and white, or maybe some added creams. Getting up close there is a whole palette of muted colours: green, lilac, beiges, pinks, deep reds and blues. I think it is these that gives the impression of shimmering light, a light refracted.

This from the museum’s guide:

La Cathédrale est une des œuvres ultimes de l’artiste. Son imposante silhouette se détache sur l’obscurité d’un fond bleu-nuit. La fluidité nouvelle de la pâte et l’allègement de la matière picturale caractérisent son traitement. Le ciel sombre semble avoir été peint d’un seul geste, alors que la masse claire est composée de rectangles et de carrés exécutés en camaïeu de gris et de blancs, séparés par quelques touches de rouge, d’or ou de bleu qui semblent illuminer le bâtiment de l’intérieur. Le plus grand des rectangles reprend en réduction la masse de l’édifice.

Comme de nombreuses peintures de cette époque, le tableau est peint dans une gamme limitée de couleurs, dans une harmonie de gris, noirs, bleus foncés et blancs. Ce chromatisme a pu faire songer à une influence de Vélasquez et de Manet, artistes dont de Staël étudia l’œuvre au cours d’un voyage en Espagne à l’automne 1954.

Selon le témoignage d’un proche de l’artiste, Pierre Lecuire, le tableau aurait été peint à Paris, probablement avant 1955. Il appartiendrait dans sa thématique même aux nombreuses vues de Paris réalisées au cours de l’été 1954. Françoise de Staël quant à elle n’exclut pas qu’après avoir fait un dessin de Notre-Dame de Paris pendant cette période, l’artiste “ait repensé le sujet à Antibes, au-delà des monuments connus, érigeant sa propre Cathédrale imaginaire”.

The last paragraph does question where and when the painting was completed. There are two opposing views – one that it was completed in Paris, before 1955, and using sketches he had made of Notre-Dame, and the other that it was completed in Antibes, from his imagination.



View of Notre-Dame, 1914, Henri Matisse

Several weeks after seeing this painting I came across this Matisse painting in a book and found it striking how both have abstracted Notre-Dame, capturing it as a place of light enclosed by a block of darker colour.


Hockney on BBC4


Two rather long quotes I took from the documentary Hockney, BBC Four (first shown March 2015) on i-player. Mainly biographical, with plenty of Hockney’s own footage. We see how from very early on he became interested in how we see and as continued to grapple with this throughout his career.

Hockney talks a great deal about the photograph in his recent book A Bigger Message so it was interesting to see that he was tackling the same subject in this footage way back in the 1970s:

“I’d become very very aware of this frozen moment that was very unreal to me. the photographs didn’t really have life in the way a drawing or painting did. And I realised it couldn’t because of what it is. Compared to Rembrandt looking at himself for hours and hours……a photograph is the other way round – it’s the fraction of a second, frozen. For the moment that you look at it for even four seconds, you’re looking at it for far more than the camera did and it dawned on me that this is visible and the more you become aware of it the more this is a terrible weakness, drawing and painting don’t have this”

I think the following was Philip Steadman:

“We see so many photographic images and film images and they are so mainstream. We’re so used to thinking of those as the way of representing the world but he knows you can do things with painting that one cannot do with photographic technologies, one can express visions of the world, ways of seeing, that invite you to look at things that you would only just glance at if it was a photograph or even if you were seeing it in reality. He’s introducing something much more personal, much more moving and he’s trying many tactics to show that painting can do this”

I want to keep this really front of mind, it’s so crucial. There is no point drawing just to represent or depict something. It should be saying something about the subject, or about us, or if not saying it, asking the questions.