McAlpine Miller: The New Collection


It is so exciting to see McAlpine Miller’s latest artwork.

At first sight I wondered what it was, exactly, that McAlpine Miller’s newest artworks remind me of. Then it hit me. It’s the high-tech look. In them I see something of both the very modern and the nostalgic, in sync.

It is the merger of today’s science of technology with the prowess of ‘live’ cartoon action that is at the heart of his new body of artwork. And it is the clarity of these forms of his, both human and animated, that invite me ‘in’ to his frame, to be a participant. As if a play on the stage, his actors are framed in the scene through architectural elements that challenge today’s 3D space but, realising the art history of centuries past, it is as if you’re looking at a Roman Fresco that’s up to date with 3D Projection Mapping, but also stereographic 4D.

The similarities between his traditionally-painted canvases and today’s Social Media micro-electronics are what integrate his pictures. It’s as if waves of electrical quantum photons (light) take the place of both the traditional Old Master’s Classical or the Modernist’s Impressionistic prism, on level pegging. By taking the cartoons of yesterday and brightening them up with the cartoon colours of today, his sense of hue is as sophisticated as a Renaissance painter’s in softening natural looking skin tints that appear to be blended with today’s CGI pixelated palette. From traditional looking Antique White to Saddle Brown he pulls his visionary-art right bang-up-to-date through colours that are so …. of the ‘now’; of today.

Walk up any High Street, look in the fashion-chain store’s windows and you’ll see all the models dressed in the same lively, exotic, lush Pantone colours that McAlpine Miller squeezes from emerald green to chilli powder pepper red, canary yellow, tangerine tango, hot pink and peach puff. He uses colours that look as though they’re on a video display but they’re not, they’re on his canvas. Here is an artist who really understands what tomorrow’s Social Media is all about. His treatment of pictorial space is brilliant through the combination of multiple spaces and pictorial surfaces ‘released’ (painted) on ‘multiple platforms’ (picture planes) with an apparent Pixar style of animation about them. In eye-catching overlapping of graphics therein lays the McAlpine Miller Modernity.

All the things that David Hockney can do with an iPad in terms of colour, collaged composition and cut-and-paste layering, McAlpine Miller takes full circle by doing New School in an Old School style all, incredibly, with his oil paints! McAlpine Miller is taking Hockney a step further, by taking it a step backwards. Being far more complex, with traditional oil paints. His paintings have a 3D look about them. Seemingly composed through the employment of graphical cropped images edited under a CGI mouse-move, but it is all done with his sable paintbrush not the magic wand of Photoshop. With this, he paints pictures that connect with you, today. McAlpine Miller is one of the best artists of our time, painting about our time, in the best way I’ve seen. This is how he is changing the course of Art History – much in the same way that Da Vinci, Monet and Picasso did. The art of tomorrow starts here ….

Constantly looking around him at our everyday, McAlpine Miller has a set of references that are totally different to other painters. It’s as if, he says, that, “these realities combine to challenge us and perhaps create a greatly unstable world. By uncovering our real issues we discover ourselves. Undressed to the world, yet layered to the world. The illusion continues…”

It appears like he has tagged all this in Pixar animation, transforming, for example, the imagery of Stan Lee, founder of Marvel Comics, and Hanna-Barbera of the 50s and 60s, with Steve Jobs and George Lucas’s Pixar Animation Studios of today. As in, ’Taking the Trash Out’, where Hanna Barbera is alive in Hoagy’s Alley wearing this new summer season’s high wedge sandal. It is not just about taking the trash (rubbish) out, it is about the unwanted material – the waste – as the leftovers of our forgotten civilization, about to be recycled for posterity into today’s computer jargon of the ‘trash’ of the PC world. As he points out, by, “Taking the idea of the central figure and revealing an alternative opinion of that character, [this show hopes] to reveal the ongoing nature of the transparent life. Beauty is only ever skin-deep and our ability to hide behind the facade has become something of a 21st century art form.”

Something else, for (some of) the boys, highly topical and relevant to today, you cannot close your eyes to the psychological interpretation of reference to unconscious homosexual fantasy when Batman can now legally marry Robin. With Catwoman taking the part of the witness, ready to whip you in to shape, in, ‘Woman of the Night’. DC Comics’ Batman – aka Bruce Wayne the billionaire playboy, industrialist and philanthropist that all Americans aspire to become. Whilst for the girls, in, ‘Here to Save the Day’, Superman – the fictional Superhero inspires the a-typical personification of the American, apple-pie-loving girl-next-door Gibson Girl, to show what she is prepared to do for her country, not the other way around. McApline Miller explains, “Highly celebrated and widely identified, beauty hides the ugliness of our reality. War, hatred, anger and religion make up our every day.”

Where, even as goodness Captain America slaps the enemy in the face, you’ll see that it is an extremely sexy, McAlpine Miller high-heeled heroine, in, ‘Salute to the Captain’, from a time when comics cost a slim dime, and models today are just as thin. And in, ‘A Typical Feminine Trait’, he fuses the Terrytoons animation studio with the multiplex Uncle Sam (metaphor for the United States recruiting of soldiers for the Wars), fighting wars, fighting the great ideals of justice, and even, fighting the fusion of today’s fashionable franchise branding where the references to catwalk anorexia and financial waste (and gain), connect.

McAlpine Miller achieves all this through his all-action comic book colour palette painted with his idiosyncratic, painterly, Old Master skill. Together with the industrial precision of a commercial graphic illustrator, over, the prominence of what I’d say is surely his own, Social Media edit look. All blended with Chiaroscurism’s use of shade and light. Unique to McAlpine Miller, there are two kinds of light in his paintings. The light of day, where he makes everything known and available. And the internal, spiritual, light which is when he paints all that which we can only just about imagine in our dreams. I’d be happy to live in a McAlpine Miller picture.

To help you, he splits his multi-focus Cubist compositions in to single-viewpoints of flat, fixed, fragmented planes that sculpt his storyboard characters over overlapping perspectives. Exposing them as collaged Pop Art mass culture, that looks physically disturbed by an Expressionistic revelation of images, through to an Abstract subsistence of layer-upon-layer of veiled-on oil paint revealing, informing and identifying a connection that is pure lifestyle. This is all perfectly clear as McAlpine Miller’s wholesome flesh-and-blood bikini-babes retreat to an ever-eternal return that connects the past to the present, and even the future.

There is also something of the conservative, I’d say spiritual, in his compositions too. From the triptych, ‘Three Times a Lady’, surfaces the early Christian art formatting popular for church altar paintings from the Middle Ages. McAlpine Miller’s canvas is rich in a visual legacy enabling him to project his content-aware prominence, found only in today’s world of celebrity-worship icon advertising. Amidst all of this he uses highly distinctive, iconic, 1950s Americana which he blends with Romanticism. From the portrayal of the beautiful Movie Star from the Golden-olden-good-old-days-gone-by, off-of-the-Silver-Screen, to today’s multicoloured computer-animated, backlit fluorescent light of the iPad, it’s all pure cinema.

He is both painter and public entertainer that, if Jessica Rabbit were alive today, I’m sure that McAlpine Miller would be the artist whom she’d want to be framed by.

©Estelle Lovatt FRSA

Can spending millions on art ever be a good investment?



Consider the idea of spending $142m (£89m, 106m euros) on a work of art and then being told you have bagged a bargain.

A number of art critics have said that the price paid for Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969), by Francis Bacon, is money well spent.

While the anonymous new owner decides how to insure and where to hang the triptych, stretched householders may wonder how a purchase like this could ever be a good deal.

And should they decide to invest in art themselves – at a less spectacular level – then there are warnings that the value of such items can go down as well as up.

Crisis? What crisis?

The Bacon masterpiece became the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction when it went under the hammer after six minutes of frantic bidding.

Calculations by The Economist suggest that Van Gogh’s 1890 work Portrait du Docteur Gachet actually cost more at auction if inflation is taken into account. The $82.5m paid for that painting in 1990 is the equivalent of $148.6m at today’s prices, the magazine says.

Some people say it is vulgar to talk about art and money at the same time. Estelle Lovatt , Art critic

Meanwhile, in 2011, the Qatari royal family paid more than $250m for a Cezanne in a private sale, The Economist adds.

All the same, $142m is an eye-watering amount of money, even though there are three paintings in the set, and especially as we are only slowly emerging from a global financial crisis.

Pink Star
The Pink Star was sold for $83m at auction in Geneva

A total of £782m was spent during the Christie’s auction of post-war and contemporary art that night.

On the same day as the Bacon sale, a diamond known as the Pink Star sold for $83m (£52m, 62m euros) at auction in Geneva – the highest auction price for a gemstone.

“At the moment people wonder how come art is securing such funds,” says art critic Estelle Lovatt.

“When you consider interest rates at the banks at the moment, your money works much better and the result looks much prettier on the wall or on a plinth.

“It has been an incredible year [for art sales], especially given the financial situation.

“Some people say it is vulgar to talk about art and money at the same time – cash is the C-word in the art world. But it is a great investment.”

Or is it?

Top v bottom

Just a few hours after record-breaking sums were being bid in New York and Geneva, a watercolour work called Portrait of a Lady was sold for £238 at an auction in Edinburgh.

Another watercolour entitled Flower Arrangement went under the hammer for £275, and the top sale of the day was a mahogany bookcase that fetched £18,750.

Auctions such as this are taking place across the country most days of the week, buoyed in part by the popularity of daytime TV auction shows such as Antiques Roadshow and internet auction sites.

The Scream by Edvard Munch
The Scream by Edvard Munch could have been yours for £74m

Yet, it is a two-pace market, according to Richard Madley, a fellow of the National Association of Valuers and Auctioneers (NAVA).

“It is akin to the London housing market compared to the rest of the UK, where prices go up and up in the capital,” he says.

“A work by Bacon is like an eight-bedroom house in Belgravia, while the chest of drawers is the two-bedroom cottage in the North East which remains affordable,” he says.

While the global super-rich keep spending record-breaking amounts at the top end of the market, prices of domestic, lower-value antiques have tumbled, he says.

For example, last year, $119.9m (£74m) was paid for Edvard Munch’s The Scream, whereas in the last 10 years the typical price of a traditional dinner service or a Victorian wardrobe has halved.

The reason is that masterpieces will usually retain their appeal, while lower level furniture and art are at the mercy of fashion.

“Antiques are not cool. Young people in their 30s and 40s do not want what their parents hung on the wall; they do not want a big Victorian extending dining table; they want glass and chrome,” Mr Madley says.

Chinese lesson

Anyone considering taking the risk of investing could look for a lesson in the market for works from China and Japan, according to auctioneer Mr Madley.

Bidding for Japanese porcelain hit its height in the 1990s but prices have fallen since.

Yet, as disposable income rises in China, the new middle class and wealthy are buying back the heritage that left the country in decades past. Chinese ceramics, bronzes, jade and metalwork are proving particularly popular.

In one case, Mr Madley says, a Chinese pottery bowl that had a reserve price of £200 sold for £37,000. A lot such as this is known as a sleeper, which is awoken by frantic bidding.

Anyone thinking of buying at auction for the first time should ask for help before the bidding starts, Mr Madley suggests, and they do not need to worry that scratching their nose could be mistaken as a bid and cost them thousands of pounds.

“Auctioneers look for serious bidding signals, and bidders now are often given a piece of paper with their number on when they register,” he says.

Auction tips:

  • Visit an auction to watch before taking part
  • Look at the guide prices in the catalogue
  • Go to a preview to see what is being sold
  • Do not forget the extra cost of the buyer’s premium – the auctioneer’s fee
  • Have a look around on preview days, talk to the auctioneer, and pick up a catalogue
  • Look at the guide price. The minimum amount that the seller will accept is confidential, but cannot exceed the lower estimate
  • Watch an auction first, before taking part
  • Remember the extra charge, known as a buyer’s premium. It can vary from 5% to 25% of the bid price. Ask about the cost beforehand

The most important advice when buying art, according to Mr Madley, was a tip he was given as a young man by one of his bosses.

“Buy art with your eyes and not your ears. It must give you pleasure to look at it, don’t buy it because someone tells you it will be worth more in a few years’ time,” he says.

Still, ask anyone who was at the auction of the Bacon triptych last week, and they will say that as the bidding hit stratospheric levels, they could believe neither their eyes nor their ears.

Discerning Eye Exhibition | The Mall Galleries

Being a Discerning Eye 2013 selector was a privilege.  An honour.  Nerve-wracking too!

My individually invited artists are those whose work I liked – much before I even began to understand just how extremely good their art really was.  Then I chose my open submission artists.

Deborah Azzopardi
Isabel H Langtry
Ash Naghouni
Jonty Hurwitz
McAlpine Miller
Jane McAdam Freud
Kelvin Okafor
Paul Regan
Paul Coldwell
Charlotte Hodes

I treated curating my art exhibition like a garden.  Except my garden is more like a park – a theme-park, with a variety of art so diverse, that excellent artists of all ages, and technical abilities, working in all mediums, and styles, come together.  All my artists are making artworks that I like looking at.  They cheer me up.  And they exhilarate me.

My plot reaps of a visual harvest with different tastes and styles ensuring surprises.  I love what they do.

There is the mutual ‘getting-to-know-each other’ period that occurs when you first spot the artwork you’ll fall in love with.  It’s a bit like a first date; the bioengineering of it all is ever-so-personal.  Though do remember, that even though glazed in love, a picture of a beautiful girl that is badly painted is not as pictorially stunning as a picture of an ugly girl that is beautifully painted.  All in all, I’ve artworks so alive, I’m sure they breathe.

Like your favourite soft armchair, or carbohydrates for the eyes, this is how best to experience art.  Enjoy…

Photography by Cristina Schek.

Global flight-path maps: Five interpretations


Michael Markieta’s images depicting flight paths across the planet attracted huge interest from our readers. What do the maps reveal? We asked five experts to give their interpretation.

The art critic

Estelle Lovatt,

Wow, it’s beautiful. It is not only dealing with two-dimensionality, it’s trying to create three dimensions, or four dimensions – giving you a notion that you are travelling across the surface of this image.

It’s almost like contemporary fractalisation – based on fractals, those beautiful divisions of science and nature. A number of artists have exploited them. Max Ernst based a lot of his surreal landscapes on fractalisation.

I would definitely exhibit these images. They give a great sense of movement and space. I think if Mark Rothko were alive today, he would be extremely inspired by this. Rothko’s half-grey and half-black paintings are sometimes thought of as purely abstract, but he was painting them at the time of the Moon landings.

One of the things artists have to do today is to keep up with contemporary visual imagery. They have to embrace modern technology, and an artwork does not just have to be oil on linen in a gilt, beautiful fixed frame. It has to be “of the time” – these are of the time and beautiful abstract shapes, very sensitively done.

The environmentalist

Bill Hemmings, aviation and shipping programme manager at

When you see the three brightest patches – Europe, North America, and East Asia – you are seeing the three main focuses of aviation emissions. I am surprised that the Transatlantic flights do not show up as brighter because emissions are intense there as well.

The images re-affirm what we already know. Between 1974 and 2009, cumulatively, Europe was responsible for 38% of aviation traffic, Asia/Pacific was responsible for 29%, and North America for 20%.

In climate change talks, there is a lot of discussion about historical responsibility – the countries where the industrial revolution took place centuries ago bear the greatest responsibility. But in aviation it’s different. Long-haul flights, the source of most emissions, began in the 1970s, and we see that Asia is not that far behind. Not just China, but Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Korea, and Australasia all carry a heavy responsibility.

You can see the three main areas of the world producing aviation emissions. They should take the lead in reducing them.

The aviation consultant

Europe’s hubs are bunched together – and send many flights to the Canary Islands

Europe looks so bright because it has so many short-haul flights. It’s also one of the busiest global markets and there are several hubs in relatively close proximity in Europe: Paris, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and London.

You can very clearly make out American hubs like Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Denver – there’s a saying in the US that whether you go to heaven or hell, you have to go via Atlanta.

The map doesn’t quite reflect that the actual routes change from day to day, depending on variables like wind direction, air traffic control charges and fuel costs.

But you can see where things are changing. Asia is really dense with flight paths. In China you have a rising middle class travelling for business and leisure.

What we’re going to see in a few years is more connections between Asia and Africa, and South America and Africa, along with more “south-south” trade.

The data visualisation expert

Damien McCloud, geographic information systems, Arup

Visualisations like this are great. This is very clean and very simple and it gives an instant narrative. But my concern is that there’s a tendency to over-interpret these kinds of pictures. This is a snapshot.

You can see the density of the flights, but it doesn’t show you how many people are travelling on them. You could do that by colouring them differently.

Speaking as someone who got caught up in Hurricane Sandy last year, it would be good if you could overlay the map and show which flights are vulnerable to environmental risks.

The first thing you see is that there are three global hubs – the US, Europe and South-east Asia. If you were to overlay the major cities of the world it would show you most of them.

If you were coming from another planet and you were looking at this, you might think there weren’t many people living in Africa or Latin America.

The philosopher

Mark Vernon

It looks like a strange life-form, like seeing translucent plankton in the sea, lighting up in certain parts… and you wonder what’s going on in the darker parts, what kind of life, or activity, is concealed.

We are not seeing the life of individual human beings, but the life of the species as a whole, as if the species was one organism, pulsating like a jellyfish. Maybe it represents our collective existence?

Because of the darkness, it’s like a side of ourselves that no individual can control or understand. It feels like a dream – the collective unconscious perhaps.

In the images where the lights are denser, there is something a bit entangled and manic. It’s not completely peaceful. It’s beautiful, but when you start to look, it’s mad – a mad spider’s web, slightly psychotic.

Via: BBC

‘Family Matters’ – In Conversation With Jane McAdam Freud

Jane McAdam’s solo exhibition ‘Family Matters’, hosted by Gazelli Art House.
Jane McAdam Freud, the daughter of Lucian Freud and the great-granddaughter of groundbreaking psychologist Sigmund Freud, is an internationally acclaimed sculptor and multi disciplinary artist with a career extending over twenty years. Most often recognised for her sculpture, her work features in the permanent collections of museums and galleries around the world including the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and The Brooklyn Museum, New York.

Noa Lidor: Doubting Thomas


I believe that nothing happens totally by chance. And that to be a great art critic you have to believe in God – in order to understand that to be an artist is a God-given gift.

I feel it necessary to preface this essay by introducing myself as a Jewish art critic, who adores Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’; its Apostles and their symbolic roles. That, in itself, is quite a feat for a ‘nice Jewish girl’. The part I find most irresistible is the spilt salt cellar near Judas Iscariot, who, abruptly taken aback, reacts to the sudden revelation of his plan to betray Jesus by tipping over the salt shaker which symbolises … ah, wait, back to all of that later..

For now, I want to tell you how I first became enticed by the artwork of Noa Lidor. In January 2011, I was reviewing an exhibition entitled, ‘Drawn from Life’, at the Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, Cumbria for BBC Radio 2’s flagship arts programme, ‘The Arts Show with Claudia Winkleman’.  I picked on Noa Lidor’s piece, mentioning how much I enjoyed it, for its symbolism, which I find quite irresistible.  I said that what I liked about Lidor’s artwork was her ability to use salt in a way that shaped channels of communication between localities and epochs as diverse and distinctive, unique and individual, as human characters that have narrated accounts that probe the ‘self’, as seen throughout art history. 

Being an art history lecturer, for me, to see how much they all overlap is particularly exciting.  It was through Lidor’s employment of salt – as a metaphor for tears, decay and aging, whilst simultaneously being a preservative over all that is life-quenching, and life-sustaining, that makes salt a most necessary natural element of the world.

Almost a year later, in December 2011, I visit her in her studio in north London, prior to the exhibition.  As much as she is plain-spoken, proud and intelligent, she is humble, gentle and down-to-earth. Her portfolio is sober and bold, united by an undercurrent of compassion for the human condition.  Not just a collection of ‘singles’, but an ‘album’.

I do like it when an ‘artwork’ comes together.  Be it the artist’s, or mine.  Let me explain.  I recently held a Leonardo da Vinci illustrated slide lecture and drawing from the model studio session at the Hampstead School of Art, London, following the National Gallery’s sell-out ‘Leonardo da Vinci:  Painter at the Court of Milan’ exhibition.  I focused on his symbolism, bringing the most Christian of art to some of the most orthodox and observant Jewish women in north London.  Ironically giving them the most religious of cathartic experiences. And so it happens that I find myself fascinated by Lidor’s work also because, as a Jew, I find the Judeo-Christian connections in her art so appealing.

In Chaim Potok’s book, ‘My Name is Asher Lev’, about a Hasidic Jewish boy living in New York City, the story follows Asher’s maturity as both an artist and a Jew, as he studies the paintings he becomes interested in – Crucifixions; as he explores the conflicting traditions of all that is traditional in art, versus religion.  For Asher, art is his religion, just as to me, it appears to be Noa Lidor’s. Besides which, I’ve always maintained that the artist’s studio is their temple. And I always feel that the Art Museum is a sort of temple for me, and when I visit it I feel like a pilgrim.

One further thing I want to tell you about is of my own sanctimonious practice before starting to write an art review.  I often imagine that I am describing the art to a blind person.


Lidor’s art is about the free-verse separation that unites poetry with prayer, using Duchampian ‘ready-mades’ that coalesce that which is public, with the personal, so that a ‘blind date’ takes on new meaning, offering much promise.

The installation ‘Field (Andromeda)’ is made of various brass bells deep-rooted, sunk into a double size bed mattress, in a way that exposes their inner, normally concealed, space. The bells, eighteen of them in four different sizes, are positioned to map out the star constellation of Andromeda – named after the princess who, in the legend from Greek mythology, was chained to a rock as a sacrificed to a sea monster. Perseus, the hero who slew the sea monster, saving the beautiful Andromeda from death at the last moment, later becomes her husband. Ah, I love a happy Hollywood ending.

 This is a very feminine piece, the bed’s symbolism of sleep and subconscious, as flatly laid-down and bare as Tracey Emin’s, ‘My Bed’, is a reflection of the self.  ‘This dark ceiling without a star’ (the title of the solo exhibition in which this piece was first shown) is the closing line of the poem ‘Child’ by Sylvia Plath.  Gazing somewhere in-between heaven and earth Plath shows how, distressed in spirit, she feels she is living a life without light [“this dark ceiling without a star”], ubiquitously stuck between the immense celestial and the small-time small-town, small woman that is herself (or in this case Lidor), quixotically domesticated.

The size of the bell-circles corresponds to the level of brightness of each of the stars. This, in turn, also perhaps looks like a rash developing over skin, or wounds in the surface.

Although silent, the significant positions and sizes of each bell may well be interpreted as tuneful notes on a musical staff that could form a muffled musical composition, gently silenced by the squeeze of padded mattress foam. Bells playing a ‘light’ (through the sense of meaning both ‘not dark’ and ‘not heavy’), albeit silent music, and ring loudly with the immensity of all that we love in big, grave sculpture.

‘Tank’ is a massive mural organized out of Pointillist dots, which, once joined by your eye Dot-to-Dot fashion, form the profile of a military tank. On near inspection you realise the tinny picture is created out of hundreds of thimbles implanted deep into a wall of plaster. Renaissance fresco-like, ‘Tank’, life-sized at 9 metres long, engages the wall as something that both separates and unites.

Think of the Western Wall (also known as Wailing Wall) – a remnant of the broken down temple in Jerusalem, where Jews come to pray, Or the Israeli West Bank security barrier, standing between the Israelis and the Palestinians, just as the walls of Babylon were fortification and the walls of Jericho fell after Joshua’s Israelite army marched around the city blowing trumpets. And Pink Floyd’s album, ‘The Wall’, which features the wall as part of ‘the problem’, realising an urge for destruction.
This exercise of ‘pointing’ – the thimble can be read as a surrogate for the fingertip – towards the reality outside the exhibition space, allows Lidor to ask the bigger questions we want answered about art. Making art. Making reality. Her pointing out that which might be on the other side of the wall – which we cannot see.

The use of thimbles in today’s BlackBerry and iPad technological age is somewhat out of date, maybe an anachronism yes, but they’re also romantic. Starry-eyed and prosaic; the stuff of fairytales bound up with moral myths of sacred narrative explaining how the world – and humankind – came into being; an abstraction wistful of times gone by, of the lost innocence of the child – suffer the little children to come unto me. It is of the simple, being above suspicion, as with the Chapman Brothers’ ‘Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic, De-Sublimated Libidinal Model’, where life – being both magnificent and transcendental, is numbed by God as something impossible.  In this way, Lidor is chief architect of the abstract assembly and parable, working with vessels and negatives. An intuitive artist, whose sagacity of knowing what it means to ‘feel right’ seems as if it originates from a compass she has within her bones, pointing in the right direction beyond ambiguity and beyond belief.

The thimbles, inserted bullet-like into the gallery wall, punctuated mark-making, become like a Leonardo da Vinci Cartoon – a full-size preparatory study. And of course, we know that da Vinci also, conceptually, invented the tank.

Lidor’s wall installation cleverly crosses the periphery of drawing into sculpture, somewhere in between the two and three dimensions. Drawing, as a 2D act, is unmistakably palpable, whilst the 3D upshot becomes mysteriously hard to pin down – so subtly intangible has Lidor made it, reduced in indication, as calculated and absorbed within the wall.  Whereas most artworks sit proud, out, on the wall, out to you, the gallery-goer, Lidor’s does the opposite; which is what I’ve come to expect of her now.  All an oxymoron.  This requisite tempts, invites, you to come closer within finger-reach of the work, enabling you to put your finger into it, to connect to it upfront and personal.  Feel the substance that Lidor’s image is ‘of’, like bullet holes, they punctuate space – like a full stop in the sentence of time – as Lidor’s work speaks of concerns of communication and all that is desire – both tactile and sexual.

The ability to touch and peer closely at this work heightens the obsessive, almost violent dimensions, of the process of means by which Lidor shoots hundreds of thimbles into the wall in this image, the manner of a tank: the metallic material-ness of which echoes the cold hard nose-metal circles of the thimbles, transforming the male fantasy of salvation into a female image bound to the wall surface, with nowhere to run.  No exit holes.  Simply a complex, yet subtle, sculptural disruption of space that maintains a still, pared down, feel of a highly sophisticated Renaissance drawn line in western art.

It is the union that Lidor draws between the two – the tank and the thimble – that establishes for me a rationality of discord and apprehension amid contrary parallels of control, proving that yes, opposites do indeed attract.  It’s the internal and exterior; big and little; masculine and feminine. Tank – a phallic, man-made erection symbolising man’s challenge to triumph over the force of machinery and tools (I cannot help but think of Epstein’s ‘Rock Drill’ being given a new life).  Whilst it is in the round, feminine, thimble that connubial intimacy is symbolised.  The private woman standing aside the public man, each with their ‘to protect-and-provide’ mind-set.

So whilst it is that ‘Tank’ talks about protection and security while denoting areas of danger and battle, it is the humble thimble’s purpose to protect and safeguard the small details that may be missed amid the coliseum of it all – the lady’s finger busy – ‘a stitch in time, saving nine’.  Being a Jewish mother (and Lidor is a Jewish mother too), for me Lidor’s images connect to the Jewish concept of ‘Eshet Chayil’ (Woman of Valour), who is full of life. Virtuous, able, maybe even a little lonely, within her domestic environment, as, self-absorbed and introvert, she tends to her ‘woman’s work’, consumed with a filling quixotic, reflective, worth of ‘home’.

The piece metaphorically invites you to poke a finger into the wall, to assert its solidity and question it at the same time. As in John


20:24-29: “Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”  Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Lidor made a small graphite drawing in her sketchbook after Caravaggio’s ‘Doubting Thomas’ (not shown in this exhibition).  Caravaggio’s piece has been an influence upon Lidor in the way that Caravaggio depicts the scene with the finger in the wound; the way he chose to interpret the text of the scriptures – in which, by the way, it is never explicitly said that Thomas put his finger into Christ’s wound – only that he said he will not believe unless he does, and later that Jesus invites him to do it – all this, being relevant interplay for Lidor as a stepping stone from Bible to painting, making touching as equal as seeing.  Right down to the fact that we, the viewers, ‘see’ and ‘believe’ this scene as it comes through the painting. The power of it so strong, it brings both assurance of security and shock of horror.

Lidor’s new series of watercolours entitled ‘Doubting Thomas’, in shades of red, pink and brown, features imprints taken from a knitted round doily. She dips the doily into watery paint and rubs her hand over it to print it – blood-like – onto the paper. The result looks like an x-ray or like the imprint of hot metal on skin. Alongside these there are imprints of the artist’s forefinger. In the context of the title, the flower-like images of the doilies seem to represent wounds, pointed at or penetrated into by the finger.

Some flowers in Christianity symbolise wounds and suffering – such are the passion flower, named after the suffering of Christ and representing his five wounds, the poppy which stands for the blood of Christ and the red rose which symbolises martyrdom. The doily imprints in the ‘Doubting Thomas’ series also bring to mind ‘Rose windows’ – the symmetrical stained glass windows with a stylised flower-like shape – found in medieval churches.

Lidor is interested in the way that a natural element – the flower, is turned into a stylised pattern and becomes a decorative object – in this case the doily – by means of repetitive meticulous knitting labour (one might say futile, like masturbation). When she takes an imprint (a simple, quick action) from this object, it reappears on the paper as a general and abstract image of a flower again – as if the image of the flower is reclaimed, freed from the constraints of the decorative object.

After she started making them, some of these watercolours had also begun to remind her of images of sperm swimming towards an egg. I think of Munch’s ‘Madonna’.

In some of these drawings, the meanings expand, as a few of the ‘holes’ or rather the shapes created by the loops of the doily remain white and become like starts, pointed at by the finger. In a drawing that incorporates Van-Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ Lidor traced all of the wavy brush strokes, leaving blank the stars and the tree – the tree like a finger or a phallus pointing towards the stars. In another drawing, the doily is halved, creating a metaphor of a hand-held fan which reminds me of Goya’s ‘Black Series’, his tapestry cartoons and his paintings of Spanish women waving fans.  Although a highly feminine art, fans were also used as weapons.  In Goya’s court of Spain, the fan was used in a more-or-less hush-hush unsaid cryptogram of communiqué.

In ‘And indeed there will be time’ (the title an excerpt from TS Elliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’), Lidor stacks about two hundred hand knitted cotton doilies under a small wooden side table. A hole in the tabletop, cut out in the shape and size of the doily, reveals the top doily in the stack, which is level with the tabletop, as if it lies upon it.

A knitted doily on a side table is very middle-class, bourgeoisie. It speaks of the woman at home. In this installation it seems as if, like in a Magritte painting, the doily has suddenly bitten through the tabletop like acid and has multiplied – like a mutated cell, like cancer. Penetrating the surface of the table right down to the floor; even through the floor to the centre of the earth, like a meteorite piercing the clay soil of life’s cycle, taking root in its sobriety and offering stability in its ground(ing). The radial symmetry of the doilies appears to fall through the table towards the ground with as much energy as Michelangelo’s God breathing the spark of life through the Earth’s atmosphere into Adam (Sistine ceiling), when Adam’s finger and God’s finger are about to … touch. Like Leonardo’s knot pattern engraving, or an Indian Dream Catcher, so beautiful, the doilies are suggestive in shape of a snowflake too – white in colour (spiritual and pure) that changes into something ‘clear’ once melted, almost as if it is traded for water – as it becomes see-through and unseen, like a ghost.
Lidor’s works make me think of a matriarch coming to repair and fix, as in Vermeer’s ‘The Lacemaker’, and the way Louise Bourgeois sews up her past. At the same time, she is questioning the flat surface, searching for depth and meaning. It is in this same way that you’ll look at Caravaggio’s ‘Doubting Thomas’, you too assuming the Doubting Thomas refusal to believe in something without direct, physical or personal evidence of it. You, the sceptic, invited by Lidor to ‘believe’.  It is in this approach that Lidor uses her basic household items. Establishing their ordinariness and familiarity. Yours for the discovery.

Lidor explores space that is disrupted through sculpture, which is inspired by the realities of (her) life. For the installation titled ‘I have heard the mermaids singing’, several lines from TS Elliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ were transcribed into Braille, blown up and recreated with small hills of table salt. The text becomes unreadable to the seeing eye as it is to the unseeing touch. Standing up by the force of gravity alone, à la Anish Kapoor, the salt mounds are arranged like mini sculptures on top of a family-sized wooden dining table, that seats the perfect family, of four, in order to take on a cultural dimension – like Joseph Beuys’, ‘How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare’.

Lidor has created a few series of drawings onto pages from a Braille book. In the series ‘Getting on with Gardening’ (2004-5), she imprinted parts of her fingers and palms onto the pages, creating floral images. The Doily series (2011) is done with black marker pen. Her current series includes images such as a tank, a bell tower and a lighthouse, all created in a (literally) Pointillist manner by repeatedly imprinting the tip of her finger onto the Braille page.

Back to the use of salt that I started talking about at the beginning of this essay.  Salt, as a symbol for enlightenment from the Old Testament to the New.

To ‘betray the salt’ is to betray the Master.  Judas Iscariot knocks over the salt to symbolise the final days of Jesus, as told in the Gospel of John (13:21), when Jesus announces that one of his Twelve Apostles would betray him, rubbing salt in the wound in the absence of both instruction and obstruction.

The salting of the condemned indicates the severity of punishment too.  St. Mark (9:50) reads, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”  The salt here, referring to the goodwill that ‘seasons’ relationships, friendships and the compassionate intelligent considerations between people.

It’s of preservation; brine water – a necessity of life.  A mineral used since ancient times in many cultures as a seasoning, preservative, disinfectant, ceremonial offering, unit of exchange.  Metaphorically it signifies permanence, loyalty, durability, fidelity, usefulness, value and purification.

I’m interested in how Lidor uses Braille to expose the limitations of her media and to explore the anomalies of life and human experiences, in a way that suggests a failure to contain these experiences. One of the means by which Lidor gives this expression is through the (im)possibility of actual finger contact by you; the drawings are behind glass, and any attempt to touch the mounds of salt would mean catastrophic failure since they’d inevitably disintegrate and disrupt the work’s ability to bear any sort of symbolic meaning.
Salt is also all that’s left as the residual remains after a dead body has decayed and the tears of the mourners have evaporated. In Genesis (19:26) an angel led Lot out of Sodom before destroying the city, and turned his wife into a pillar of salt for looking back whilst fleeing.  The punishment for nostalgia is ossification.  As a history that interacts with the present, let Lidor’s artworks serve as a warning to you, to be on your guard; to be in the world, but not of the world.
Like a diamond, salt is, in itself, indestructible.  From the most expensive material to the cheapest, when salt looses its taste it can be interpreted as being in a world filled with sin and deceit where one becomes contaminated and thus unsuccessful at being an effective ‘disciple’.  This – being the spiritual essence of life as in the New Testament, in the Sermon on the Mount passage, referencing salt, as in Matthew’s account (5:13) that refers to his disciples as “the salt of the earth.”  And as Leviticus (2:13) reads, “And every offering of your grain offering you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your grain offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt.”

Exploring the space between reality and our memory, Lidor’s work appears misleading; being minimal and sparse, but actually, it is the opposite.  So ‘heavy’, that only a tank, or a woman, could cope with the emotional load.

The fact that you cannot touch it forces you to use other senses. Like Doubting Thomas pointing a finger into the wounds of Christ, while trying to point out the reality behind everything. It is our inability to touch or hear Lidor’s artwork that brings about the true believers in all of us, just as it is Thomas’s inability to touch the risen Christ’s chest cavity that gives rise to his need to substitute ‘touch’ with ‘faith’. Lidor’s art is accessible through its inaccessibility.

©Estelle Lovatt FRSA