Jane McAdam Freud, Gazelli Art House

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As the daughter of probably the most famous portrait painter of his generation, Jane McAdam Freud’s latest exhibition pays tribute to her beloved father, Lucian. “I am channelling my artistic heritage and focusing on familial relationships,“ admits the London-born sculptor. “It is part of a continuing theme I have been exploring about my family. It includes a very large bronze portrait of my half-sister Annabel and sculptures of my husband and children as well as work relating to my father.“

And with a strong artistic background – her mother Katherine McAdam was also an artist – and a mixture of religious influences being half Jewish and half Catholic, Jane is continually inspired by her experiences.

“Everything in this exhibition is about the internal struggle with who I am and what my family represents to me. Family memories of my childhood are defined with positive experiences to do with art. My mother kept all my sketches and books, which I still have, and my father, Lucien, gave me most attention as a child when I was drawing. I remember him watching me when I was sketching.

“I was also very close to both my paternal grandparents, Lucie and Ernst Freud,“ she adds. “They came to visit, wrote regularly and sent wonderful birthday gifts. For those formative early years they had an influence on my life and my aspirations. In fact, I’m sure that my paternal grandmother, Lucie, was much more of an influence on me than I realise. I think that I connected to my father indirectly, through Lucie, as much as directly with him.“

But her connection with art started early. “My first experience of being enchanted with the materials and tactility of sculpture was in the sandpit at nursery school,“ she recalls. “When I first put my hands through the water into the sand I felt transformed. I cannot put into words the way it made me feel, but I knew then that I wanted to do more.”

“Then when I was at primary school, I overheard the headmistress telling a visitor during an open-day about my ability in art. She showed her some drawings that I had done in an exercise book. Overhearing the awe with which this teacher spoke was incredibly bewitching and exciting. This, I think, sealed it for me about being an artist. And it instilled in me a certain confidence about my future as an artist.“

And although Jane’s mother and paternal grandparents influenced her most growing up, it was unequivocally the act of drawing her father as he lay on his deathbed that has inspired her forthcoming exhibition more than anything else.  “That’s the last time that I saw my father,“ she admits.

“It was an extremely challenging experience but also most stimulating and very motivating. It means, meant, has been, and is, everything to me. I am highly influenced by my family and my family history, but also have something to say myself and I’m compelled to express it in an attempt to make sense of my life. Making art has given me breath – it is and has been a means of conveying my perceptions.“

 

“The other highlight of my exhibition is the large-scale relief of my late father, ‘EarthStone Triptych’, which is inspired by the sketches I made of him on his deathbed. It’s a memorial to his life and legacy.“

Her close-up pencil drawings look like sensitively observed donor drawings prepared for 15th century tombs, keeping his spirit alive. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…“ from Genesis, makes this sculpted portrait a wonderful ‘memento mori’. The process of mortality is not forgotten in the fact that clay – more than any other medium – is all about the manifestation of the four natural elements of antiquity – earth, water, air and fired combined to survive and stand along.

‘Earthstone Triptych’ is a complete installation – placed by a mirror enabling one to see both sides of the sculpture simultaneously; one side depicting “Lucien awake.  His eyes wide open. The other, not“. Getting down low to view it, I’m reminded of Holbein’s anamorphic masterpiece, The Ambassadors, with the skull of mortality only visible when vying the artwork from certain angles.  There’s also a plaque with her initials, ‘JMcAF’, on it: “this part of the sculpture“, she confides, “broke off being moved to the kiln for firing“, but it works as an effective persuasive symbol for many things, including separation.

Jane recalls her father leaving when she “was a child of eight years old, not seeing him again until I was 31, arriving back in London after studying sculpture at the Rome Academy of Fine Art.“by Jens Marott

The rocky application of clay not only resembles him, but it is ‘of’ him, ahead of the Freudian psychological perspective that exists beyond philosophy; beyond science; beyond truth; beyond life after death (think of how flowers grow, even when beneath blankets of freezing snow).

Knowing how Freud ‘sculpted’ with paint, did he ask his daughter to teach him to sculpt? “My father did. Yes“, she says; she taught sculptural techniques during her time at the Royal Mint in South Wales. “And it shows in his painting techniques that he loved sculpture. That he was a fan of sculpture even though he was a painter! I’m sure he would have loved to have been a sculptor.“

©Estelle Lovatt FRSA

Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective | Tate Modern

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In Tate’s ‘Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective’ it is fascinating to see how, for most of the 20th century, American modern art was far far behind the European modernist brush of Cezanne, Picasso, Leger and Matisse until Gorky transcribed their techniques.  Painting in the manner of, rather than directly copying from, existing paintings, Gorky was manifest in bridging the gap between the 1920s Paris School of Art and 1940s New York American Abstract Expressionism (Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko).

Listening to his widow, Agnes ‘Mougouch’ Magruder, at Tate’s press view, still a great engineer of his legacy, enthusiastically claiming this exhibition is “wonderfully hung!”, I have to agree.  Spanning his short-lived 25 year career, the show exposes how, single-handedly, whilst developing his own art language of animated abstracts motivated by memories of his childhood in Western Armenia, Gorky is of great artistic breadth and lyricism.

After fleeing the massacres and arriving in America,  Gorky much employed his favoured yellow ochre, for looking at the spaces in between things as much as the objects themselves.  An exquisite draughtsman, drawing from 19th century the Classicalist Ingres, Gorky’s precision of line mixed with a range of paint handling techniques make him simply superb.

By engaging the eye and the mind with his imagery, his pulsating canvas becomes something compelling.  Mechanical and biomorphic forms are integrated into abstract compositions that establish a rhythmic division of space, thick under layers of paint showing how he reworked the canvas over many years.  With influences of Ucello, Poussin, David, Bosch, Michelangelo and Piero di Cosimo in ‘The Artist and his Mother’ to ‘Waterfall’.  In 1946 a fire in Gorky’s studio destroyed his work.  Then diagnosed with cancer, he required emergency surgery.  His marriage suffered.  And he committed suicide in 1948.   

©Estelle Lovatt FRSA

Van Doesburg & The International Avant Garde: Constructing A New World | Tate Modern

Theo van Doesburg Composition II (Still life) Museum Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Theo van Doesburg
Composition II (Still life)
Museum Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

In 1924, after van Doesburg and Mondrian argued over a diagonal line, Mondrian (believing the horizontal and the vertical line, straight up, down and flat, to be far more vital than van Doesburg’s visually idealistic diagonal line) broke with De Stijl.  Then by means of retaliation, he created his ‘double-line’ painting ‘Composition with Double Line and Yellow, 1932’.

Academically thought-provoking, Tate’s superbly installed Van Doesburg & The International Avant Garde: Constructing A New World confirms what a lot of people don’t know; van Doesburg is to Mondrian what Picasso is to Braque.

Impressively rich in art historical detail with 350 works and documents, the exhibition’s organisation is roughly chronological.  From van Doesburg’s very early, subtle, organic embryonic ‘Girl with Buttercups’, 1914, with no hard edges, to the rigorously strict geometric stained-glass design of the beautiful ‘Composition IV’, 1917, (offering two different interpretations from either seated woman to Bach’s music), to the influence of Kandinsky’s expressionism, philosophy and Cubism.  Obsessing about a mathematical approach to composition in Mondrian’s late ‘fourth dimension’ van Doesburg wanted to make an all-encompassing universal art, applying the fourth dimension to architecture too.

By way of explanation, in a house plan, van Doesburg combined his three-dimensional coloured planes with the idea of a hypercube.  The original concrete notion of it, as, van Doesburg rationalizes, as, “The new architecture is anticube; its different spaces not contained within a closed cube. The different spaces develop unconventionally, from the centre to the periphery of the cube, so that the dimensions of height, width, depth, and time receive a new plastic expression, giving the impression of floating, suspended in air, in opposition to the natural force of gravity… The new architecture takes account not only of space but also of time as an architectural value. The unity of space and time gives architectural vision a more complete aspect.”  Allowing this collaboration and partnership of art and architecture caused great conflicts and tensions as it consented to the break-up of facades of the buildings in plans schematic about movement and passage.  By representing the fourth dimension – as a conceptual reality of an abstract non-objective expression – van Doesburg gets rid of that which already exists as being considered as conservatively behind the times, for a more modern, rhythmic and dynamically spatial effect of the future.

Theo van Doesburg Composition I (Still Life) 1916 Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo

Theo van Doesburg
Composition I (Still Life) 1916
Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo

And that’s what interested van Doesburg.  The future.  From typography to furniture.  Relentlessly continuing using the fourth dimension, long after Mondrian abandoned it, as a way of naturally continuing his work; the combination of coloured planes in three dimensional compositions.  The abstract notion of the fourth-dimension of negative space – as represented by shades of grey in relation to positive space shown in primary colours – that eliminated perspective, whilst maintaining the appearance of a three dimensional space and indirectly representing the fourth dimension, in a sense, colour was the fourth dimension, influencing Constructivism and Dadaism, designers, poets, musicians and architects such as Rietveld and Oud.

Mondrian’s appreciation for mathematics led him to his unique style of representing the fourth dimension, “by both their dimensions (line) and values (colour), arithmetic compositions can express space without the use of visual perspective.”  His experiments with the fourth dimension were interpreted through Einstein’s theory of relativity.  The complexity of van Doesburg’s art embraced Einstein’s relativity theory too, in that the fourth dimension sought to make an art form that was more ideal and more perfected than previous works.  However, Einstein rejects the opinion that the  artistic language has anything in common with his discipline, stating, “In science the principle of order which creates units is achieved through logical connection while, in art it is anchored in the unconscious.”

Then by eliminating gravity, no longer was one direction defined as ‘down’ and opposed by ‘up’, nor did the words ‘left’ or ‘right’ have meaning. All directions were equal, and only their relative orientation to each other mattered.  The machine-made look of stencil and stamp employed so you couldn’t see the ‘hand’ of the artist.  Quitting complicated forms to just use squares.  Big to small, to give a rhythm of beauty, equilibrium and stativity, about ideas of time, as in ‘Arithmetic Composition’, 1929/30.  Quite exceptional.

In 1931 van Doesburg founded another group, Abstraction-Création, which attracted the troubled American painter Arshile Gorky, who later went on to shake up the New York art scene.  After World War II, American art articulated the post-war American spirit for their go-get-ahead overconfidence, that is typically the American brag and the envy of the art world, as non-figurative modern art – Abstract Expressionism – was born.

Chris Ofili | Tate Britain

Chris Ofili, Blossom, 1997 © Chris Ofili   Photo: courtesy Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin

Chris Ofili, Blossom, 1997 © Chris Ofili Photo: courtesy Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin

Tate let-down is Chris Ofili.  I’m sorry, this exhibition stinks.  As an art critic it’s my job to honestly tell you this.  Masquerading under the black African experience Ofili is still, hopelessly, lacking in skill as he tries, painfully, to express the wonderful primitive fetishism of African art.  His doctrinaire formula of decorating his canvas with elephant dung and glow-in-the-dark dots of bright fluorescent colour are now nothing more than simply naïve.  Much overworked and predictably garish.

It all started going wrong when Ofili was a student. Over-rated, over-praised, he received eulogize for the superficial four-letter expletive art he created, and it destroyed him.

Look around the walls.  A firework explosion of decorative doily patterns of paint overlaid with a collage of porno photos, glitter and a beadwork of counterfeit Zimbabwean paint blobs covering elephant dung, doing the same thing, over and over, there is no development.

Enter Michael Landy’s Art Bin.

Ofili, a Turner prize winner and trustee of the Tate, saw their purchase of ‘The Upper Room’ (for £705,000), which, no doubt references the Christian’s The Last Supper.  Either, so overpoweringly unimportant as a work of art, or by design a heretical slight, his monkeys hold chalices, prove to be the best piece of this juvenile run.  What a sham(e).

©Estelle Lovatt FRSA

‘Unveiled’ – New Art from the Middle East | Saatchi Gallery

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After 500 years of Islamic artistic tradition (calligraphy and rugs) and antediluvian codes of Shariah law, today’s artist is open to abstraction, colour, form, narrative relationships and humour.

Charles Saatchi bought art from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, for his latest exhibition, ‘Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East’. What surprises, more than the superb artworks themselves, is how these previously unseen artists delight in bullying their ally, America. As America’s epic celebrity is victorious with free-expression in art and artist’s individualism; as an alternative to Saddam’s handcuffs, never mind Ahmadinejad having no time for art, and Islam censoring art.

Many artists are in the States, safe from Middle Eastern challenging political and religious oppression. Understand, and appreciate, these gifted artists have only been allowed to show their work now, for the first time. Plus, that this exhibition is dominated by females makes it even more phenomenal. The victimised Middle Easterner, once subservient and suffering under Islamic culture, is now free to enjoy American liberalism. Having chosen to live in ‘Land of the Free’, why do they attack their saviour the United States?

Iranian-American, Sata Rahbar’s ‘Flag # 19 Memories Without Recollection’, has the US flag constructed from Persian textiles. Hanging upside-down, an insult to the Stars and Stripes and Americans themselves; and only to be used in times of dire emergency to signal distress. This ragged flag, approaching a traditional Amish-like Native American quilt, is worn-out with suicidal bullet belts.

In Shadi Ghadirian’s photographs, ‘Like Everyday Series’, women under burkhas have their faces replaced by everyday kitchen utensils. Reinventing themselves from the stereotype to the empowered, their one-dimensional monotone black chador replaced with Westernised floral-inspired prints.

Shirin Fakhim’s primitively coarse life-size ‘Tehran Prostitute’ sculptures reveal public attitudes about sex. Kitsch sex-dolls – sewn from stockings and melon-padded bras – these ladies-of-the-night are stuffed into over-stretched lace underwear exposing bulging phallic shapes.

Kader Attia’s, ‘Ghost’, 240 aluminium foil sculptures of praying Muslim women – made from vacant cocoons of silver foil – are not real as people. Devoid of the ‘self’, their bodies’ are shells, hollow of person or chi. Created from a throw-away domestic material, the shiny-rich seductive food-wrap questions religion, and fast-food consumerism à la Mickey D’s.

Some artists consider 9/11 a sculptural Happening; two Minimalistic totems razed to rubble. Diana Al-Hadid, a Syrian-American, slips back time in memorial in her inverted tower. A deposed upside-down form to the World Trade Centre terrorist attacks. Tala Madani’s cartoon ‘Tower Reflection’, painted in fashionable Gitmo-orange, is of the interior of a 9/11 aeroplane targeting the Twin Towers.

Wafa Hourani’s ‘Qalandia 2067’, is a walk-through mixed media installation, with a cacophony of Arab music. Witness the cultural, political and economic instability of war-ravaged relationships. Under the gaze of Yasser Arafat, this apocalyptic scenario for the West Bank checkpoint crossing, 100 years after the 1967 six day war, is a futuristic Palestinian ‘kibbutz’. As far as I can see, protected by Israel’s security fence, as Israeli flags and American brand logotypes (Coca-Cola), symbolise their presence, against Hamas terrorism.

Not allowed to work until she moved to America, Nadia Ayari’s ‘Right of Return’ illustrates Palestinian prisoners released from an Israeli jail, witnessed by a girl growing up to be a suicide bomber, and a white cat powered by the Devil, to end Israel’s status.

These artists should look to America’s Andrew Wyeth, Grant Wood or Grandma Moses as sources of inspiration. The artist living and painting the American Dream. Instead, Ahmed Alsoudani’s rooster stands in for America’s national emblem the Bald Eagle, insulting America’s superpower status. It seems these artists find diversity desirable, and welcome independence, liberty, freedom, democracy and liberalism, so long as it’s not American.

Without barring the anti-Americana, ‘Unveiled’ is not quite Goya’s Disasters of War or Picasso’s Guernica. But, interesting and valuable in satirising and bereaving the Islamic Middle East, it is to be congratulated, as diversity is desirable, and welcomed by Americans, the Superpower of the West.

©Estelle Lovatt FRSA

Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East
Saatchi Gallery, London SW3. Until 6th May 2009.
http://www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk

Behind the Veil

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The art exhibition ‘Veil’, at Modern Art Oxford, Oxford, England, 2004, looks at the symbolic consequences of the veil and veiling in contemporary culture, in the work of twenty international artists. Veil matches photography, film, video and sculpture, and merges historic material with fancy contemporary work.

The veil has come to be observed as a declaration of religious and cultural differences, affiliated with foreign political assumptions of the East, and developing a symbol of cultural oppression. The art exhibition Veil tempts a more perplexing interpretation of this garment, in the spin of sexuality, limits of the body, censorship as the visible symbol of women, history, religion and politics.

The veil is barely an Islamic innovation, that has been used in art from the earliest Biblical illustrations of the Old Testament, Genesis, when Jacob fell in love with Rachel, but was tricked into marrying her sister Leah instead, to paintings of the Virgin in prayer. Here the veil is overworked with symbolism: brides put on white veils, widows parade black ones. Consequently the veil symbolises death and wedded joy. From black to white. From good to bad. From artists Robert Mapplethorpe to Matisse.

The most tasteless artworks on show at Veil include large-scale photographs by the Jewish Moscow-based art collective, AES art group, from the series ‘The Witnesses of the Future’. AES art group was established in 1987 and consists of three Russian Jewish artists: Tatiana Arzamasova, Lev Evzovich and Evgeny Svyatsky, all of whom live and work in Moscow. AES create deceptive and deceiving Machiavellian cityscapes of the leading Western capitals, from New York to Paris, Rome to Sydney, Moscow to Berlin – in the year 2006, imagining how they could rise under a changed regime.

Hence AES’s photograph of the Statue of Liberty dressed in a full white burka, carrying a Koranic text where the Declaration of Independence should be, is both ridiculous and foolish. This photograph, ‘New Freedom 2006, AES The Witness of the Future’, is anti-American because it is the gravest assault on American civil liberties.

The French gave the Statue to the people of the United States over one hundred years ago in recognition of the friendship established during the American Revolution. On October 28th, 1886 President Grover Cleveland accepted the Statue on behalf of the United States and said “We will not forget that Liberty has here made her home; nor shall her chosen altar be neglected.” Over the years, the Statue of Liberty has grown to embrace freedom and democracy.

It is not unanticipated, nor casual, that post 9/11,the veil has been relied on as a potent abbreviation that takes on dress codes as symbolic of oppression. But this wrapping of the Statue of Liberty will not convert its nature, or its significance.

Moreover it is a cheap and tacky political joke by the AES. And the fact that these artists who make up the AES collective are all Jewish is even more offensive and prosaic. The AES artists should know better, especially as Jews, with Judaism teaching respect for women, and female liberation. I am not saying a woman covered up with a veil is a religious fundamentalist. Of course not. Some do not cover up. Take a look at Wafa Idrees, who, on 31 January 2002, was the first woman Palestinian suicide bomber who killed one Israeli and injured 140 others in Jerusalem. She didn’t cover up.

Wallowing in satire, AES’s digitally manipulated images are storyboards, chasing the deep-rooted phobia of today’s post-modern, postcolonial, post-Cold War alliance. Catching within their artwork an endorsement of ceremony, they have lost their taste for discernment and truth, acquiring instead a surreptitiously shrouded and veiled anti-Americanism that paradoxically hungers for anything substantially American. This is a love-to-hate oxymoron coerced by a routine taste for everything American, from America’s soda, burgers and fries, to America’s independence, America’s freedom, and moreover for America’s liberty.

When, in the 1970s, the regime of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel, the Soviet Union turned away. So perhaps it is not too surprising that the Communist Russian art group AES have come up with this insulting and upsetting fusion of political acrimony. Casually veiled anti-Americanism it is, unfortunately, very very Russian.

With the veil regarded as an Islamic institution associated with Muslims and Islam, this mock art is anything but anti-Islamicism. It is in fact insulting and abusive to Westerners, in what is nothing more than an invidious and crude attack, principally post 9/11.

Another AES photograph, ‘London 2006’ has an onion dome capping the top of Big Ben and columns on top of the Houses of Parliament like a mosque. This is futile, not realising what can restore can also destroy, and it gives false credence and testimony to the invention that Islam is totalitarian.

Other Veil far-left artists have made similar graphic mistakes that surely add up to more war. Remember, the French President Jacques Chirac denouncing Muslim headscarves on schoolgirls as offensive, and expressed concern about “something aggressive” in the wearing of Muslim veils is simply outrageous racism. Consider too, the German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der restricting the wearing of religious dress. This de-veiling of a woman is a sin, akin to rape, hardly a position the anti-war movement can support.

The surplus of artwork is solely anti-Western and has nothing to do with veils. And even less to do with Islamophobia. From Communism to terrorism, what it combines is the rationalisation of George Bush’s fear of violence post 9/11. It fuses the alliance between al-Qaida, the Taliban, the Afghanistans and Edward Said’s influence as the spirit of left post-structuralism and Orientalism.

Islamic art has dominated Western artistic traditions for over five hundred years. As Islamic art opened up the possibilities of abstraction, of colour fields, of relationships between form and content, it is a shame these artists did not use the challenge of Veil, and break free from the constraints of Western artistic practices, instead of using this opportunity to turn the veil into a cultural, religious and political phenomenon.

© Estelle Lovatt FRSA