Tag Archives: contemporary art

Blown Away: the Sculpture of Penny Hardy

Metal is often seen as cold, hard and inert, but one artist has found a way to adapt the material so it appears loose, alive and free. British artist Penny Hardy makes life-sized human sculptures from discarded metal, each one exploring an emotion or experience. These are installed in open-air settings, in fields or gardens or overlooking water.

Hardy originally trained as a scientific illustrator, which taught her to examine the intricacies of natural forms and observational draftsmanship. Throughout her consequent working life alongside architects and designers, she developed a deep interest in three-dimensional forms. These skills informed her later work as a sculptor—and here she is self-taught over the last fifteen years. 

You Blew Me Away


She was drawn to creating human forms out of discarded objects and seems particularly attuned to a sense of movement and energy within material form, capturing these in all her pieces, transforming inert materials into sculptures with a tangible energy. ‘The sense of movement and dynamics within sculpture provides it with its own life and vitality,’ Hardy states.

In the Blown Away series, she chose to use old metal machinery parts because these were made to be resilient and strong, yet were thrown away at the slightest hint of failure. Hardy felt that these imperfect pieces should be recycled to show some of the effects machinery has had on our lives and the environment. She says, ‘By using discarded, man-made metal items—which have been so skillfully made and used to create their own mechanical energy—I hope to extend their life in another form, re-use that energy for a different purpose, and exchange their function to create a new entity.’ You Blew Me Away (159cm x 75cm x 55cm) and Erosion (159cm x 45cm x 45cm) are examples.

Angels in Harlem

Hardy’s dance figures are wonderful affirmations of life and movement. Inspired by the dynamic forms of contemporary dancers, they use a flexible material like aluminium to re-create a visual sense of movement. Angels in Harlem (300cm x 200cm x 750cm), for instance, is a sculpture on stilts designed to gently sway in any breeze, creating a sense of constant movement.

Hardy has exhibited throughout the UK since her first public exhibition of dance sculptures in 2006, including at Doddington Hall, Hill House Dartington and Royal West of England Academy. More about the artist can be found on her website here

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Artwork from Lockdown

During lockdown, I started taking photos of ordinary objects around the flat and using multiples of them – sometimes three, sometimes more – to create artworks. Some photos were of utensils like spoons or forks, others were close ups of glass vases or even soap bottles, chosen for their colour. From the latter I created kind of abstract triptych works. #photography #art

Glass close up
Broken Purple Glass
Spoon
Spoon and Fork
Glasses
Close up of Glass Vase

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The Flowers and Chocolate of Decay: Anya Gallaccio’s art

In the period since ww2, art that involves nature or natural processes has taken diverse forms, from the huge spiral artworks of Robert Smithson created on the shore of the great Salt Lakes, to the walks of Richard Long through the English landscape, to Andy Goldsworthy’s ephemeral leaf or ice sculptures in outdoor settings. Within such art, there has always been the question: is the immediate experience of the natural world translatable into a gallery? As artists still want their work to be seen and thought about, for better or worse the gallery is the best place – whether in the form of exquisite photographs (eg of Goldsworthy’s sculptures), photographs taken with indifference to art or framing (eg of Smithson’s Spiral Jetty), or data about a walk offering ‘evidence’ of the artwork (eg Long).

Anya Gallaccio (born 1963, UK) has an intriguing way of including natural processes within gallery-based artwork. She creates site-specific installations, often using organic matter such as flowers, fruit, ice, wax and chocolate. An artist who came of age at the same time as the more famous Damien Hirst, Gallaccio challenges the traditional idea that artworks should be a monument within a museum or a gallery; she makes art which changes over time, rotting, melting, being oxydised. It is art about ‘process’ as much as ‘object’, like an unruly experiment, the end result of which cannot be predicted; and as such it is hard to document with a simple photograph – being principled, she refuses to take photos of her own art to sell. She also emphasises the personal experience of the viewer: her work lives on not as photographs that she exhibits but as memories in those who experienced it as well as in the idea of the artwork itself. The emphasis on personal experience puts one in mind of Anthony Gormley’s perceptive comment that art is about ‘reasserting our first hand experience in present time’.

preserve 'beauty' 1991-2003 by Anya Gallaccio born 1963

preserve ‘beauty’ 1991-2003

preserve 'beauty' 1991-2003 by Anya Gallaccio born 1963

Preserve Beauty 1991-2003

preserve 'beauty' 1991-2003 by Anya Gallaccio born 1963

Preserve Beauty 1991-2003

Some of Gallaccio’s artworks have been repeated at different sites. In ‘Preserve Beauty’ (1991-2003), between 1600 and 2000 red gardenias are arranged in four adjacent rectangular compositions underneath large panes of clear glass, with the flower heads facing out towards the viewer. Over time, the gardenias wither and die; as well as changes to the appearance of the work, there are changes to the smell in the gallery, and some flowers even fall out to rot on the floor. ‘Preserve Beauty’ has echoes of Dutch vanitas paintings of the 16th/17th century, which contained collections of objects symbolic of life’s transience and death’s inevitability – a meditation on decay, change, mortality.
The red gardenias, a mix of gerbera and daisies, are grown for commercial consumption and thus are a type of readymade according to Gallaccio – an everyday, often scentless and mass-produced object. These flowers are chosen as they blur the gap between ‘the natural’ and objects of a commodity culture. She explores this overlap between natural objects and those of disposable commodity culture, specifically in relation to the wastage and decay that is usually hidden from consumers. She has stated that, ‘we experience so much of the world at a mediated and sanitised distance, so I try to make art that is not complicit with this structure’.

anya gallaccio roses 1

Red on Green 2012

In ‘Red on Green’ (2012) Gallaccio plucked the heads of 10,000 red roses and arranged them into large rectangle on a gallery floor. At first the installation might seem like a grand romantic gesture. However, Gallaccio’s interest is piqued in what the installation becomes over time. In a way, ‘Red on Green’ becomes a kind of natural performance as the field of red shifts to brown. The symbol of the rose is used as a starting point for meditating on the natural processes of death and decay.

anya-gallaccio-assaults-the-senses-with-edible-dark-chocolate-room-designboom-05

Stroke 1994

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For her installation ‘Stroke’ (2014-15), she constructed a room made of dark chocolate, inviting visitors to lick the walls if they so dared. The room was partly intended to be a feminine space in an art-world defined mostly by men: the artist sees her unusual material as one normally associated with the female domain and she thus brings the domestic out of the shadows, into the public arena. Painted in thick, gentle layers of chocolate, the room was dark and cavernous, a space to be entered into and experienced. The piece relied upon the viewer drawing meanings from the artwork, though it was as much about fantasy and anticipation as the actual (disappointing) experience of sitting in a chocolate room. As the artist explained, the real chocolate room was distinct from what one might have expected. As time wore on, the sweet odour turned sour; the chocolate, painted onto the walls, oxidised; insects moved into the space. More an encounter with decay and discomfort than with sensual pleasure.

Other works include Glaschu (1999), in which a pattern outline from a paisley carpet, drawn from flowers and foliage, pierces a thinly poured layer of cement floor in an elegant neo-classical interior, so that living verdure creeps from the meandering cracks. The theme of nature reclaiming its territory from human ruins is poignant.

More about Gallaccio can be found here https://www.blumandpoe.com/artists/anya-gallaccio

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Slate Whirlpools – the Environmental Art of Chris Drury

Chris Drury (1948-) is a British artist who creates site-specific land art and installation art using natural materials which are locally sourced. He also produces videos, sculpture, mixed media works, prints, and paintings. His work explores the connection between realms – nature and culture, microcosm and macrocosm, the inner and the outer, the fluid and the static. He likes to work collaboratively – with scientists, technicians, native peoples, anthropologists, geologists  – and his work reflects on the nature of place and of humans within that.

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Winnemucca Whirlwind, 2008

Drury came of age at a time of land art giants such as Robert Smithson (1938-73). Like Smithson, his art addresses our relationship to the natural world, meditating on ecological, historical, and cultural themes. Winnemucca Whirlwind (2008), a work 300 feet across and based on a native American basket design, was raked by hand (over 18 hours) into the dry lakebed of Lake Winnemucca, Nevada. Although placed on Government land, it was only visible from a high point on the Paiute Indian Reservation. The work eventually disappeared into the dusty desert air, leaving nothing behind. ‘The drawing metaphorically reclaimed the land for the Paiute Nation since all of the land was once their hunting grounds. In the 1800’s Winnemucca was a shallow lake, rich in fish and wildfowl, but in the early 1900’s the government diverted part of the Truckee river, which flows into Pyramid and Winnemucca lakes, for irrigation of farming lands. This ecologically insane idea resulted in Pyramid Lake dropping 80 feet and Winnemucca drying out. The devastation this caused to vital Paiute fisheries is still felt today and the Paiute Nation continue to fight for their water and fishery rights through the courts’ (http://chrisdrury.co.uk/winnemucca-whirlwind/#)

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Winnemucca Whirlwind, 2008

Carbon Sink (2011), placed on the grounds of the University of Wyoming, hit a raw nerve with the local coal industry and state legislators – Wyoming is home to the US’s largest coal mine and the state benefits from the taxes on this industry. Carbon Sink is a tangible, concrete metaphor of the destruction of forests by pine beetles due to climate change. The piece, 14m in diameter, is made from beetle-killed pine logs and coal. Both these materials, once living trees, died during times of climate warming.  At present, the burning of fossils fuels is giving rise to ‘warmer winters in the Rockies, as a result the pine beetle survive the winters and the forests in the Rockies are dying from New Mexico to British Columbia – a catastrophic event…Children born now will never know what a wild Mountain Forest looks like, and there will be fires and erosion in the mountains which will effect all living things’ (http://chrisdrury.co.uk/carbon-sink/)

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Carbon Sink, 2010

As well as large outdoor works with environmental and cultural resonance, Drury creates impressive sculptures and installations for galleries, again from natural materials. Mushroom Cloud (2010, 2.3m x5m) was made from 6000 dried fungi slices set in acrylic and suspended by nylon wire from a steel shell at The Malaga Costa Barn, Sella Arts, Sella Valley, Italy. A beautiful, haunting work that looms above the viewer and draws associations between natural and human realms – the mushroom and the atomic bomb.

mushroom cloud

Mushroom Cloud, 2010

Heart of Stone (2004, 500x830x30 cm), exhibited in the Stephen Lacey Galley, London, uses thousands of fragments of slate laid within a wood frame. The whirlpool form of Heart of Stone is taken from blood flow patterns in the heart, and is similar to a public artwork Drury created at the Russell Hall Hospital, Dudley, UK.

heart of stone

Heart of Stone

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Night Vision

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Night Blur by Whimsylph

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Night Shapes by Whimsylph

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Moons on trees and glowing nocturnal bananas by Whimsylph

“When the darkness takes you
With her hand across your face
Don’t give in too quickly
Find the thing she’s erased

Find the line, find the shape
Through the grain
Find the outline, things will
Tell you their name….

I would shelter you
Keep you in light
But I can only teach you
Night vision”

Suzanne Vega

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Taste the Rain: Anna Gillespie’s Sculpture

Taste the Rain, 2007 Bark, mixed media

Taste the Rain, 2007
Bark, mixed media

The British artist Anna Gillespie (1964) makes figurative sculpture based on the human form. The focus of her work is on emotion, simplicity of form and our relationship to and experience of nature. Antony Gormley is a significant influence as is Francis Bacon, whose paintings helped her clarify how emotional injury can be conveyed through figuration. Gillespie’s figures often reflect the fragility and vulnerability of human beings and being human.

Although she works in media like stone, bronze and even duct-tape, an emphasis has been on sculptures made from ephemeral natural materials. Taste the Rain (2007) is a beautiful example. “This is part of an ongoing series of work using material that has fallen from trees: acorns, beechnut casings, leaves, bark, sycamore keys….For this piece, I found the bark in a wood near my home in the south west of England, from a fallen tree.”

“All these works try to express a moment of connection to nature and this particular piece is about trying to draw the viewer into recalling what it feels like to stand out in the rain and engage their senses.”

“Trees have a skin and so do we. Trees stand up tall and so do we. Trees stand in the rain. This piece asks us to reconnect with this experience which we all share, narrowing the gap between the trees experience and our human experience of nature.”

The Gift Acorn cups, mixed media

The Gift
Acorn cups, mixed media

She also places an emphasis on honouring the unconscious processes involved in making artworks. “One of the crucial things about letting the unconscious have its say is that, being a sculptor of the human body, breathing ‘life’ into inert materials is at the heart of my work. I take inert materials, whether it be clay, masking tape, acorns or plaster, and I make something that for a moment people might believe is sentient, has feelings. Whilst actually what is happening is that our own feelings can be projected into an object, just for a minute the reality is different and a magic transformation happens. The object, the figure, contains life.”

Invisible Breeze, 2010 Acorn cups, mixed media

Invisible Breeze, 2010
Acorn cups, mixed media

More information and images can be found on her website http://www.annagillespie.co.uk

Autumn, 2007 Inkjet print

Autumn, 2007
Inkjet print

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‘We Wanted to Be the Sky’: Tim Etchell’s public neon signs.

From the Thames Festival, London, 2010

From the Thames Festival, London, 2010

The British artist Tim Etchells (b.1962) creates huge neon signs with brief phrases, which are placed in public spaces. The phrases are short and simple yet unfinished and somehow mysterious, inviting the viewer into a fragmented story.

The phrases may make sense on first impression but “there is something in their apparent simplicity that carries an undertow,” he says. They may unsettle or confuse, prompt reflection or self-reflection. Something remains incomplete within them: “the viewer becomes implicated in a situation that is never fully revealed.”

The neon signs, almost like giant text messages, are ‘encountered’ in everyday settings, in the streets, on public buildings, on rooftops, at public events. Many have been made for a specific place or event, such as ‘We Wanted to Be the Sky’, for the Thames Festival, London (2010), and ‘The Things You Can’t Forget’, for the Wintergarden Pavilion in Weston-super-Mare (2010). To give an idea of scale, the former is 15 metres long, 1 metre tall and made from stainless steel and programmable LEDs.

From The Wintergarden Pavilion, Weston-super-Mare

From The Wintergarden Pavilion, Weston-super-Mare

The works are concerned with opening mental space for the viewer, with the emphasis on the person being addressed rather than on the speaking subject implied by the work itself. Maybe they are a formal rendering of the fragments of words we glimpse or overhear daily but don’t really pay attention to, on the train, on the radio, in newspapers, in the street.

etchells 3

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