Posts Tagged ‘The Royal College of Art’

Auction | Modern & Post-War British Art

Friday, October 28th, 2011


Modern & Post-War British Art

Sotheby’s, London. Evening Sale, 15th November, 2011

Exhausted. Broke. Britain, after Hitler’s war was a barren and desolate landscape. But while the rest of Europe rapidly recovered, rebuilding both their shattered cities and economies, Britain lagged behind, its population having to endure food rationing – that had begun in 1940 – until 1954. The country’s economy never really got going again until the latter half of the 1980s. It might be surprising and seem ironic then that a group of paintings, drawings and sculpture representative of the prodigious output by British artists from the post-war years, together with others from the 21-year inter-war period – itself dogged by unemployment and poverty, and hit hard by the 1929 Wall Street Crash – are expected to reach a combined total of £7.2 – 10.8 m ($11.9 – 17.3m) in this forthcoming auction at Sotheby’s, London.

Born in 1878 – well before WWI during which he was a war artist – master-draughtsman, Augustus John’s, David at the Table portrays the somewhat idealised image of a haggard though handsome, wild-eyed young man in work clothes sat slumped at a plain table on which one senses there is no food and might not have been for some time. Generally considered to be the most famous British artist of his day, John himself was never short of money or commissions, however he cultivated a bohemian image inspired by his admiration for the lifestyle of gypsies. Perhaps the bluntness of Laurence Stephen Lowry’s painting, The Cripples (Political Argument) executed shortly after WWII comes closer to reality. Along with other Lowry’s it is also included in the sale.

Bridget Riley, born to middle-class London parents in 1931, would have been eight years old when war broke out in 1939. Raised in the relative safety of the west country, she was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College before coming up to London to study at Goldsmiths then at The Royal College of Art. Her signature, disorientating Op Art painting style matured at the beginning of the 60s with which it and she became synonymous. At a time when the younger generation, anxious to escape the dullness and squalor of the 1950s, living in the shadow of the Cold War and of the possibility of a nuclear holocaust, experimented with hallucinogenic drugs, these paintings were said to inspire audience participation. Becoming disillusioned when her style was exploited for commercial purposes, Riley abandoned it in favour of pursuing ideas concerned with colour, in so doing backing away from the limelight. She was fifty-one when she painted the strikingly linear Praise 1 at the dawn of the 80s.

The same age as Riley, Frank Auerbach, whose gaunt work, Head of Gerda Boehm, among others is also included in the sale, was born of Jewish parentage in Berlin. Sent to England in 1939 to escape Nazism, his mother and father remained behind and perished in concentration camps. Young Frank was evacuated to Shropshire but ended up attending London’s St Martin’s School of Art and going on to the RCA, where he and Bridget Riley were contemporaries.

Painter, William Roberts, started out as a poster designer and studied at the Slade; leaving the school in 1913 he travelled in France and Italy and fought in the trenches during WWI, the sheer horror of the experience, as with many other artists who went to fight, significantly changing the direction of his work. Roberts was one of the signatories to the first issue of BLAST, the short-lived literary magazine of the Vorticist movement in Britain. He developed an interest for representing and interpreting the predominantly working class elements of metropolitan London’s everyday life and events – visits to the cinema, the dancehall but treating them with dignity and humour. Roberts’ painting:s The Boxing Match, produced between 1919-25 and The Barber’s Shop, circa 1946, along with Bath Night, 1929, are all in this sale.In contrast, Barbara Hepworth’s Mincarlo: Three Curves with Strings, created in 1971, only four years before the sculptor’s death and, although small in size – only 16.5 cm high, excluding black, polished stone base – is unashamedly extravagant and luxurious in use of materials.

Hepworth, from Wakefield in Yorkshire was born in 1903 to middle class parents and died in 1975; her adulthood spans much of the scope of this sale. Aged 17, not long after the Great War ended, she went to Leeds School of Art before being accepted at the RCA, soon becoming well-connected to the up-and-coming art cognescenti including sculptors Henry Moore and John Skeaping. Marrying the latter, the couple regularly exhibited together to great acclaim but drifted apart and separated in 1931. Soon after Hepworth met Ben Nicholson whom she was later to marry and to form a long-standing creative relationship with in which together they moved into abstraction. Both artists benefited enormously from forging links to the continental avant gardists – Picasso, Mondrian, Brancusi – and from those artists who fled Europe and came to England prior to WWII – Gabo, Walter Gropius, Moholy-Nagy. When the war began Hepworth and Nicholson relocated to St Ives in Cornwall where they continued to work and succeeded in their efforts to attract international attention. In the 50s, after divorcing Nicholson, Hepworth confirmed her reputation as one of Britain’s major artists producing two sculptures for 1951’s Festival of Britain and retrospective shows in Wakefield and at London’s Whitechapel. Both the 50s and 60s were good to her; Hepworth’s international stature grew. She was awarded the CBE and later, the DBE. She had a further retrospective in 1962 at the Whitechapel, became a trustee of the Tate and had a retrospective exhibition there in 1968. Barbara Hepworth died in St Ives in 1975 – her studio and garden there are now a museum administered by the Tate – after a long battle with cancer. Celebrating her achievement and named in her honour, 2011 saw the opening of the Hepworth Wakefield gallery in her home town.

Sold earlier this year through Christies and significantly surpassing its estimated sale price of £70,000 – £100,000, ($112,980 – $161,400) selling at £145,000 ($236,612), the Mincarlo: Three Curves with Strings, sculpture is of 18 carat gold (Apparently, the best gold you can get for making precious objects, 22 carat is too soft). Deep in the current world recession, apparently far worse than that of the 30s and in post WWII Britain, and as gold prices head towards $5,000 (£3,127) an ounce, curiously in Sotheby’s Modern & Post-war British Art sale the estimated price for this piece exactly matches the earlier Christie’s estimate.

Works from top
Bridget Riley, Praise 1, circa 1981. Estimate £150,000-250,000
Augustus John OM, RA, David at the Table. Estimate £20,000-30,00
Dame Barbara Hepworth, Mincarlo: Three Curves with Strings, 1971.
Estimate £70,000-100,000
Frank Auerbach, Head of Gerda Boehm, 1971. Estimate £180,000-250,000
William Roberts RA, The Barber’s Shop, circa 1946. Estimate, £70,000-100,000


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Photography | Lee Friedlander

Friday, August 26th, 2011

Lee Friedlander: America By Car/The New Cars 1964
1st September – 1st October 2011, Timothy Taylor Gallery, London

A good few years ago, in 1978, when I was a graphic design student at the Royal College of Art, someone from the Fiorucci company, came to offer our group the chance to design the graphics for their delivery van. At the time Fiorucci were doing great clothes, especially jeans and T-shirts – later worn in the US by trendsetters Andy Warhol and Madonna. They had a very interesting branding style, based around a melange of 1950s and 1960s Americana, bright colours and animal prints – a kind of pop art sensibility – without ever having a fixed logo. Luckily for me, my concept was chosen: to paint an image of two girls driving an open-top pink Cadillac – shades of Thelma & Louise (1991) – on to either side of the van, matching the wheel positions of the real 3D vehicle and the 2D painting to achieve a trompe l’oeil effect, the van to be kitted out with white wall tyres. Similar ideas are fairly commonplace these days.

Unusually, for a photographer who is considered to be in some senses, as pop an artist as Richard Hamilton and Roy Lichtenstein, Lee Friedlander, whose main body of work he has said, takes the ’social landscape’ of America as its subject matter, produces only black and white images. Much of pop art, despite the bright colours, had a bleakness about it. It was never the celebration, which at first sight it might be perceived to be but rather, often a cynical comment on a culture that was and remains, dominated by consumer goods and services and the popular idols and icons that are seen as vital to our existence.

Friedlander, was born in 1934 and has been active in photography since 1948. After studying in Pasadena, California, he moved to New York City in 1956 and began photographing jazz musicians for record sleeves. His first one-man show was in 1963. In the 60s and 70s his work appeared regularly in magazines such as Art in America, Esquire and Sports Illustrated. His pictures captured the look and feel of contemporary American society. One of his most successful works at the end of the 1970s was his production of a series of images of urban industrial landscape along the Ohio river valley, shot in documentary form, Factory Valleys: Ohio and Pennsylvania (1982). At around the same period, Friedlander went to Japan and photographed the Japanese landscape, some of which appeared in Cherry Blossom Time in Japan (1991). His book Flowers and Trees, in contrast to his urban photography, celebrates the beauties of nature. He is also well-known for his later portrait and nude studies. In 2005, the Museum of Modern Art presented a major retrospective of Friedlander’s career, including nearly 400 photographs from the 1950s to the present. In the same year he received a Hasselblad International Award. The retrospective was presented again in 2008 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). At the same time, a more contemporary selection of his work, Lee Friedlander: America By Car, was displayed at the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco. The same series of images was on display, in its entirety at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City in late 2010. Previously unseen in the UK, it’s these compelling images, all taken from the driver’s seat of the hire car that Friedlander drove across most of America’s fifty states that are on show next month at London’s Timothy Taylor Gallery.

As with much of his work from the last decade, all of the America by Car images images are in square format. Heavy, dark and angular, the struts of the car’s structure divide up and frame portions of the view through the windows. A steering wheel butts in on the right. The wing mirror on the left isolates a detail of the scene behind the car, or contains an image of the photographer. A car, like some strange monument to the American dream is hoisted high up into the sky on a slender pole, while a fence bars the way forward. The compositional references suggest the montages of Richard Hamilton and possibly Mondrian, as well as, Picasso’s cubism, while looking at the subject matter one can’t help thinking about John Chamberlain’s crunched and mangled car sculptures. There are voyeuristic references, too, to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.

The TTG show will also exhibit The New Cars 1964, a portfolio of 33 images, originally commissioned by Harper’s Bazaar and also previously unseen in the UK. Bazaar’s intention was to showcase that year’s much-anticipated new cars but Friedlander’s gritty and uncompromisingly modern images proved too much for the magazine’s editor-in-chief and were never used.

The Fiorucci thing all happened near to the end of the RCA course and once Fiorucci had taken my design away to put into production, we sort of lost touch. Providentially, however, I ended up living in a flat not far from the Fiorucci headquarters in Clapham, South London, and one morning, parked on the main road, directly opposite the end of the street sat the delivery van. I crossed the road to take a closer look at it. It somehow didn’t look quite right – truncated in some way – then I realised that this van was much more compact than the one I’d traced out of the Herz hire company’s catalogue and applied the original design to. Whether the mistake was mine, or Fiorucci’s, I just don’t know but I couldn’t help feeling rather ashamed and was happy never to see the van again.

Image: Montana’, 2008
Gelatin-Silver Print
15 x15 ins/38 x38 cm. Sheet 20 x 16 ins/50.8 x 40.6 cm
© Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

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Don’t miss the eighth instalment, posted today, of This is for you, Pedro Silmon’s new on-line novel, serialised exclusively on The Blog.


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Design | 21st Century Boys

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Barber Osgerby
Industrial design studio

I obviously haven’t been paying attention. Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby’s eponymously-named design company has been around for quite a while but I must admit to not having heard of it until I shot some portraits – as a predominantly garden and plant photographer, a departure for me – of architects, Adam and Irenie Cossey and their children to go with those I’d already done of the interiors – another new departure – of their beautiful home in London’s Islington. Two of the Cossey kids, love the Barber Osgerby-designed Home dining table almost as much as their parents, see below.

Irenie Cossey, who trained as an architect had been involved – via the specialist retail interior design practice Universal Design Studio on aspects of the new Mulberry flagship store in London’s Bond Street – with Barber Osgerby and had several items of their furniture, including the elegant, Corian-topped dining table for Isokon Plus. I came across the duo again quite recently when I discovered that their polypropylene Tip Ton chair for Vitra, above, was a big hit at this year’s Milan Furniture Fair.

I’m writing this and have done some retrospective research as much for my own education as that of any of The Blog’s followers so, if you already know all of this stuff, just skip the next paragraph….

Looking at the list of their achievements on their simple but well-designed website, I can’t believe Barber Osgerby escaped my attention for so long. They founded their partnership as long ago as 1996 after studying architecture at the Royal College of Art, London, of which I’m also an Alumni. Isokon Plus produced their Loop chair the following year and their Flight stool in 1998. Features on them and their work began appearing in 2002 in The Observer and Telegraph magazines and in the FT. They were awarded a major arts prize in 2004 that led to a commission to design new pieces for the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Sea and more magazine appearances: Sunday Times Style, Arena, Blueprint. Maybe I missed those issues. Over the next few years, features on them appeared in a diverse number of UK and international magazines, including: GQ Style, I.D., The New York Times, Abitare, House & Garden, Vogue, but I somehow still didn’t get wind of them. These were followed by more coverage in the stylish Numéro and Wallpaper* magazines, Esquire and The World of Interiors. The list goes on…as does the list of clients they have produced collections for: Cappellini, Magis, Vitra, Venini, Swarovski, Flos and Established & Sons, among others; they have also collaborated with Sony. Examples of Barber Osgerby’s work form part of the permanent collections of the V&A Museum, London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Design Museum, London; the Art Institute of Chicago and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. What’s weird is that many times, on my way to the RIBA bookshop in London to flick through the latest magazines, I’ve walked past and admired the bespoke, futuristic reception desk that they designed in 2008.

The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful – Dieter Rams

When Marcel Breur put the curves into Bauhaus furniture, whether he admitted it or not, he wasn’t sticking entirely to the accepted wisdom handed down via Adolph Loos, who got it and adapted it from its original source the American architect, Louis Sullivan, responsible for establishing the shape of the tall steel-framed skyscraper in Chicago, that ‘form follows function’. Breur was aware that beauty, albeit a 20th Century, stripped-down version of the notion was also an essential ingredient of design. What instantly appeals to me about Barber Osgerby’s work is that, just as great designers like Dieter Rams, Achille Castiglione and Vico Magistretti followed this same modernist ‘tradition’, each interpreting it to their very personal aesthetic, similarly the design duo are doing the same in our 21st Century. Their bold use of black and white juxtaposed against primary and secondary colours probably derives – perhaps subconsciously – from the Bauhaus via Richard Rodgers hi-tech architecture. On a more extreme level, in terms of colour, parallels can be drawn between its use in their product and the way that Donald Judd’s brightly coloured box sculptures set against his own bare sheet metal works and the severity of Carl Andre’s ‘no compromise’ minimalism made the genre approachable, opening the door for Jonathan Ive’s groundbreaking, minimalism minus the chill factor, approach at Apple.

Tip Ton, pictured above, durable, stackable, requires zero maintenance and can be used in any environment. The chair is light and made from low cost recyclable plastic; inexpensive to produce it should be available at an economical price. As well as the resting position of a normal chair, it tilts forward 9 degrees on the sledge-like ‘floor skid’ bases that connect the front legs to those at the rear. This type of position adjustment was previously only available on the more expensive office chairs with mechanical systems that allow the seat to move forward. The action is designed to straighten the pelvis and spine and improve the body’s blood flow. It looks pretty good, too.

Needless to say, I’ve only just discovered that Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby are designing the Olympic Torch for the London 2012 Games. What’s more, a monograph of the studio’s work will be published by Rizzoli and launched next month in New York at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair.

You can view my images of the Cossey house interiors at Arcaid Images

What do you think of Barber Osgerby’s design work?

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Edges Rounded, Sharp Points Blunted

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Henry Moore
Tate Britain, London. 24th February – 8th August 2010

When I was a student at the RCA it was considered deeply un-cool to like Henry Moore’s work. So much so that when some of his larger pieces were temporarily installed in Hyde Park, I’m ashamed to admit, I didn’t even cross Kensington Gore to take a look at them. It wasn’t until some twenty years later, when everyone started to go on about how great his friend and contemporary Barbara Hepworth was that I began to appreciate just how important and very influential Moore was. Four Square (Walk Through), the image above, is one of Hepworth’s pieces I photographed at her St Ives garden. See more at www.pedrosilmon.com.

My having previously only seen giant-sized pieces in the flesh – Moore at Kew Gardens, 2008 – and pictures of Moore’s sculptures in books and magazines, the tiny ones – not much bigger than a Philippe Starck lemon squeezer – included in the current Tate Britain retrospective, each produced with the same care and sensitivity to materials as their larger siblings, come as a pleasant surprise. ‘Bird Basket’ 1939, one of his stringed pieces, could almost be a toy sailboat. Sadly, understandably – the smooth surfaces of his work cry out to be touched – notices in each room ask us not to – the exhibition organisers have chosen to display these diminutive works in perspex boxes. The life-size stone masks from 1928 and ’29, are placed, tantalisingly, just a little further up a wall than an average adult’s comfortable reach.

Surprising to me, too, are the drawings – reminiscent of children’s book illustration: Edward Ardizonne’s come to mind – only a couple of days ago I discovered Ardizzone was a WWII war artist, too – of people sleeping in London Underground stations during the Blitz (‘Pink and Green Sleepers’ 1941) and those of tunnelling miners (‘Miner at work on the Coalface’ 1942). But so surprising it jars is Moore’s drawing ‘Tube Shelter Perspective’, which he dated 1941. A sudden departure and, despite the doubt that has emerged over whether Moore witnessed this scene or copied it from photographs in Picture Post, an extremely compelling image, in which endless rows of ghostly, recumbent evacuees, resembling skeletal Holocaust survivors, line the walls and disappear inside a black hole. It would seem Moore had been searching for a way of giving his work the sort of edge expected of an official war artist. While his early surrealist/cubist meets Afro/Aztec 3D output could be described as benign, sometimes erotic, some of the larger pieces of the immediate post-war years, emote a similar, powerful spirit of stark pain and horror as expressed in Picasso’s 1937 ‘Guernica’ and Jacob Epstein’s far earlier, pre-WW1 sculpture, ‘Rock Drill’, 1913-14. But perhaps this wasn’t where Moore’s heart truly lay.

Referring to this exhibition – which, I crossed London and would certainly cross any road to see – a quote from The Daily Telegraph on Tate Britain’s website reads: ‘Giant of 20th Century Sculpture’. Sensitively organised and easily navigable, more-or-less chronologically arranged: the exhibits are divided between six rooms. World Cultures comes first, then Mother and Child, followed by Modernism, War Time, Post War, and finally Elmwood, a roomful of huge 1970s reclining figures carved in this cool, greyish wood. By now, edges having been rounded off and sharp points blunted; the benign element is reasserted; any sign of the early eroticism is gone. Easily missable, produced in the 1950s and tucked into a corner near the entrance to the same room, are some of Moore’s smallest sculptures: a playful series of rocking chair pieces, said to have been inspired by the birth of his only child, Mary, in 1946. For Henry Moore, ‘Gentle Giant of 20th Century Sculpture’ might perhaps be a more fitting epithet.

What did you think of Henry Moore exhibition? Please post a comment.

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