Tag Archives: Visual Arts

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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Evelyn Williams: Revelations of Inner Experience

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Perhaps because of events in my personal life, I find myself drawn to the Welsh artist Evelyn Williams (1929-2012). She pioneered a singular art of visionary and poetic power, albeit one that did not fit neatly into any art-historical box. She was largely neglected in her lifetime by the Art Establishment, although her paintings were admired by other artists and writers, including Angela Carter and Fay Weldon.

In the 1950s, when Evelyn Williams began her career, the art-world was a preserve of men and of male representations of women, many of them erotic. Female figures abound her art, with pale, oval faces, simply dressed or naked, their hair like the twisted skeins of embroidery silks. Even where naked (not nude), though, the figures suggest vulnerability rather than eroticism. Her subject, the most universal one of all, is human experience and human relationships – en masse, in groups, couples, or alone. This focus on human relationships isn’t domestic or cosy; indeed, the atmosphere in her paintings seems to oscillate between calm and disquiet. 

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Williams’ art is centred round deeply felt narratives, which reveal the hidden, interior world of their subjects. The narrative can be suggested by something like the cup of a hand to a face, or by something more substantial – a woman sleeping in a woodland clearing, an almost fairy-tale image. The pictures are often stark, with strong contrasts of light and darkness. Themes of loneliness and alienation recur. 

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Williams wrote that her paintings attempt to make visible an inner anguish and experience: “My work comes from my life…it will always be introspective. This is me and all I know about. I would like to show how people feel about each other, and describe how they deal with their own personal predicament, but this is groping in the dark.” She also said: “Is there a disease that manifests a person taking upon themselves the suffering of the world? What is its name? I believe I have the disease. In my case it is at the very centre of my work”.

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(c) National Museum of Wales / Amgueddfa Cymru; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

As well as paintings, she produced sculpture. In fact, in 1961 she won the John Moore prize for sculpture despite having entered the competition for painting – her masked heads, built out of layers oil paint, resembled clay reliefs.

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Williams’ work combines the vision of a poet and the empathy of someone listening with her heart. The pictures are revelations of inner experience – Keats ‘unheard melodies’ perhaps. Despite the disquiet, the artworks offer consolation and understanding.

 

 

 

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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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A Found Alley Gallery: Involuntary Abstraction

‘Art’s whatever you choose to frame’ (Fleur Adcock)

In a local alleyway, we find a series of three abstract artworks on the side of an abandoned, boarded-up building. Each appears to be by a different (local?) artist and in a distinct style of abstraction.

Found Alley Gallery

Found Alley Gallery

From left to right in the photo above (see also individual photos below), the first artwork, Involuntary Abstraction by Nicholson Haddock, is rather raw and gestural in its forms, with graffiti layered over parts; the second, Parallel Textures by Anne Dinsky, is more textural and subtle in execution, with muted grey and sandy colours and vertical white parallel lines; the third, The Vertigo of Vision by Joan Biro, is a dense work with a fuzzy, anarchic composition that moves the eye around dizzyingly – this artwork is mainly black and white, but has spots of blue and half-erased words in red.

On the bottom corner of the third artwork (see photo below) appears the Fleur Adcock quote: ‘Art’s whatever you choose to frame’. Does this mean these artworks have been ‘framed’ by adding titles/names, so the public can see them not as abandoned, boarded-up windows but as involuntary or ‘found’ art? A Duchampian or conceptual intervention in a public space?

Involuntary Abstraction Nicholson Haddock, 2015

Involuntary Abstraction
Nicholson Haddock, 2015

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Parallel Textures Anne Dinsky, 2015

Parallel Textures
Anne Dinsky, 2015

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The Vertigo of Vision Joe Biro, 2015

The Vertigo of Vision
Joe Biro, 2015

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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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Strangely Quiet or Quietly Strange: Wim Wenders’ Photography

Backyard, Moscow, 2007

Backyard, Moscow, 2007

There is a fascination in contemporary photography with overlooked objects and places – these are framed anew though the photographic lens and their imaginative or metaphoric possibilities explored. Wim Wenders (b.1945), better known as the Director of films like Paris, Texas (1984) and Wings of Desire (1987), works in this vein, taking photographs of places that have been abandoned or are in a state of deterioration: run-down movie theatres in Arizona, boarded-up cafes in New Mexico, decaying backyards in Moscow. His work carries a sense of fragility and dislocation, the original purpose of the places or things often having been lost.

Ferris Wheel, 2008, Armenia

Ferris Wheel, 2008, Armenia

Ferris wheel (2008) is typical of the desolate isolation in Wenders’ photographs. The artist came across the abandoned Ferris Wheel in the middle of an empty field in Armenia. About how he discovers such places, the artist has said, “Everyone turns right, because that’s where it’s interesting. I turn left, where there is nothing. And sure enough, I soon find myself in front of my sort of place…[one] that is strangely quiet or quietly strange.”

Black Square, 2002

Black Square, 2002

In Black Square (2002, New Mexico), the hues of blue and red contrast with, even highlight more saliently, the decaying wall and tatty old advert, which poignantly includes the words Why Not Now. This photograph shows a deft painterly skill with colour and composition, as does Street Corner in Butte (2003, Montana), with its sharp vertical and horizontal lines and stark contrasts that render the shadows almost black. With the bleak isolation and uncanny feel here, this could be a scene from an Edward Hopper (1924-67) painting; and Wenders’ nod to Hopper is clear in films like The End of Violence (1997), in which one scene recreates the painting Nighthawks (1946).

Street Corner in Butte, 2003

Street Corner in Butte, 2003

Wenders’ photographic sensibility is akin to that in his films, and is similarly a meditation on memory, loss, time, nostalgia and emptiness, although he observes that photographs allow him to focus on something other than people: “I have sharpened my sense of place for things that are out of place”. And yet Wenders’ photographs still ‘speak’ – of “all those (people) who once were there, who lived there, who passed through, and who messed something up”.

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Stark, Dark Poetree on the Wintery Road

Open road Poetree

Open road Poetree

“I don’t think I will ever see/ A poem as lovely as a tree,” said Joyce Kilmer, way back in 1913. This quote steers through my head as, on the open winter road, arboreal forms rise up, dark and stark against the burnished* sky, trees like black ideograms, like speaking silhouettes of strength and solitude.

*Okay, so I admit I jiggled with the sky colour in Photoshop. This was the original…

Open Road Poetree

Open Road Poetree

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