Monday, 24 April 2017

Review of Queer British Art 1861-1967 at Tate Britain

Queer British Art 1861-1967
Tate Britain, London
5 April – 1 October 2017

“For me, to use the word ‘queer’ is a liberation; it was a word that frightened me, but no longer” – Derek Jarman

In a year when nearly all of London’s – nay, Britain’s – major (and even lesser) museums and galleries are putting on LGBTQI* related exhibitions to mark the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of sex between men in 1967, Tate Britain’s Queer British Art 1861-1967 is the biggest and boldest of the lot. What could have – and was being feared by many would – become an androcentric, homoerotic romp, is a well-curated, historically informative and aesthetically compelling exploration of the multifaceted interpretations of “queerness” in the century leading up to this milestone.

The self-declared remit of the exhibition’s curators is to explore “a wide range of sexualities and gender identities” – hence the choice of the word “queer”, rather than any combination of letters and asterisks, also influenced by the fact that, with ever-changing labels, many of those that we use today would not have been used, or recognised, by the artists and audiences in their own times. The starting point of the show – 1861 – was selected because it was the year the death penalty for sodomy was abolished (although it was still punishable by imprisonment) and the decades are traversed chronologically, thematically, and through the representation of artistic groups, such as the pre-Raphaelites and – synonymous with fluid sexuality – the Bloomsbury Group.

Read the full review here

Interview with Dawn Woolley


Interview: Dawn Woolley

From Selfie to Self-Expression
Saatchi Gallery
31 March - 30 May 207

An artist and researcher whose work constitutes an enquiry into looking and being looked at, Dawn Woolley was selected from more than 14,000 entrants to the #SaatchiSelfie competition, judged by Tracey Emin, Idris Khan, Juergen Teller, Juno Calypso and Saatchi Gallery CEO, Nigel Hurst, with her photograph, The Substitute (holiday) (2008), winning first prize and being labelled by GQ magazine as “the best selfie in the world”. It is now being exhibited alongside nine other shortlisted works as part of Saatchi Gallery’s larger exhibition, From Selfie to Self-Expression.

Read the interview here

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Review of Constable and Brighton at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

Constable and Brighton
Brighton Museum & Art Gallery
8 April - 8 October 2017

When the painter and curator Peter Harrap moved to Brighton in 2010, he had just finished working on the Royal Academy of Arts’ exhibition No New Thing Under The Sun. A key work that he had been responsible for including in this exhibition was the sketchy, expressionist, and quite remarkable for an artist associated with finished arcadian scenes, Rainstorm over the Sea (c1824-28) by John Constable (1776-1837). It came as something of a surprise, then, when local history researcher and new neighbour Shân Lancaster came knocking at his door to let him in on her supposition that Constable himself has lodged at this very address – then 9 Sober’s Gardens, now 11 Sillwood Road – on a number of his stays in the popular seaside resort: between 1824-28, Constable regularly returned with family, in an attempt to aid his ailing wife’s health (she was suffering from tuberculosis).

Intrigued, Harrap joined Lancaster on a mission to prove that this had indeed been Constable’s address. After much trawling through local directories, property deeds and Constable family correspondence of the period, they came across an uncatalogued letter in the Tate Archive addressed to Mrs Constable at this very address. In 2013, Richard Constable, the great-great-grandson of the artist, unveiled a blue plaque on the house. Sadly, having died in 2015, he is no longer around to enjoy this enlightening, thoroughly researched and scholarly significant exhibition co-curated by Harrap, showcasing more than 60 sketches, drawings and paintings made by Constable during those years, many in the “painting room” he created at Sober’s Gardens – now Harrap’s own studio – at the time doubling up as a bedroom for the cook, Mrs Inskip.

Read the full review here

John Constable
Seascape Study: Boat and Stormy Sky
Oil on paper laid on board
18.50 x 15.50 cm
Given by Isabel Constable, 1888
Photograph © Royal Academy of Arts, London
Photograph: John Hammond

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Essay: Laura Moreton-Griffiths

Essay: Laura Moreton-Griffiths

Like the myth of Pandora, Laura Moreton-Griffiths’ work might be seen as a kind of theodicy, addressing the question of why there is evil in the world. Brought up with a military background – her father was in the Royal Navy and her mother briefly a Wren – discipline and hierarchy were instilled in her from a young age, alongside a notion of patriarchy, which might well have been defined as: ‘blind obedience […]; the repression of all emotions except fear; the destruction of individual willpower; and the repression of thinking whenever it departs from the authority figure’s way of thinking’.[1] A lot of her work is based on arguments she used to have with her father, looking at human kindness and goodness and how ideologies get in the way. A key photographic series, for example, is Portrait as my Father (2016), in which, in the tradition of many female greats such as Claude Cahun, Cindy Sherman and Gillian Wearing, she plays the role of the person she seeks to understand.

This method seeps through her practice, be it photographic, drawn, installation-based, or performative. Often objects created for one medium will resurface in another. In Machine For Winning (2016), inspired by the 1936 Olympics, Moreton-Griffiths takes on the roles, amongst others, of dictator, spectator and mother. This series also sees her don what she terms ‘a wearable painting’, in this instance an ironically lugubrious smile, adopted from the 1930s’ Budapest Smile Club phenomenon, in which attendees wore the smiles of such characters as the Mona Lisa and Loretta Young, fixed Hannibal Lecter-like over their heads with medical tape, in an attempt to counteract the city’s post-war suicide epidemic.


Moreton-Griffiths’ work reflects the things she is opposed to and thus necessarily deals with issues of conflict, control and politics. She makes a piece with a specific meaning, but then lets it go for her viewers to find a meaning of their own, thus treading the line between personal and societal. Performance is key to her practice and, for this, there must be costumes – and these costumes constitute works in their own right. The Inglory Suit, a Ku Klux Klan hood and duffle coat, for example, or the less Machiavellian Gas Hood, become characters, whom Moreton-Griffiths takes on outings, seeking out and ‘meeting’ other randomly related objects to be photographed with.

The idea of playing the role of evil, in particular with relation to the Klan, is one that Philip Guston explored back in the 1960s: ‘The idea of evil fascinated me [...]. I almost tried to imagine that I was living with the Klan. What would it be like to be evil? To plan, to plot.’[2] While Guston grew up in Los Angeles, the child of Ukrainian Jewish parents, only too aware of Klan persecution of Jews, Blacks and others, Moreton-Griffiths has no such personal history, simply a keen sense of what is right and wrong in this world and a desire to unpick and understand the seemingly incomprehensible. Discovering her work’s commonalities with Guston’s, however, she took some photographs of herself in performance, wearing Gas Hood and the Klan hood, and turned them into Guston-like drawings. The characters in these – with their echoes of Nosferatu and creeping 1930s’ monsters (read: right-wing ideologies) lurking in the shadows – are now set to pop up elsewhere, so watch this space!

Moreton-Griffiths also works with text – in particular, she redacts certain documents. From the first page of the Human Rights Bill, for example, she has drawn out the words: ‘the incompatability of power to safeguard freedom’. From a page further in, all that remains is: ‘terror terror terror terror terror’ – a very clear echo of the patriarchal repression of all emotions except fear.

Moreton-Griffiths’ work is not all doom and gloom, however, and it bears a strong comic undercurrent. The plain white duffle coat, used as part of Inglory Suit, also appears elsewhere as her father’s arctic coat, and this reappropriation, or alteration of identity, suggests that nothing and no one is necessarily permanently fixed; redemption is always a possibility. Although the opening of Pandora’s box allowed evil into the world, hope remains inside.

[1] As defined by the psychotherapist John Bradshaw in his book, Creating Love. Cited in bell hooks, The Will to Change. Men, Masculinity, and Love, New York: Washington Square Press, 2004, p23.
[2] Guston quoted in Philip Guston Paintings 1969-1980, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1982, p54.


Sunk in the Arctic (2016)
From the series: Portrait as my Father
Collaborative digital photographic drawing on Arches Paper
112 cm x 140 cm
© Laura Moreton-Griffiths

A (2016)
Documentation of a performance.
Print on aluminium
30 x 20 cm
© Laura Moreton-Griffiths

The Group (2016)
Indian ink on Saunders Waterford paper
56 x 76 cm
© Laura Moreton-Griffiths

For more information on Laura Moreton-Griffiths, see her website

Interview with Deanna Petherbridge

Interview: Deanna Petherbridge

Deanna Petherbridge
Whitworth Art Gallery
2 December 2016 - 4 June 2017

With a retrospective exhibition, showing pen and ink drawings from across a 45-year career, currently on show at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester, and the publication last year of a major new monograph, Deanna Petherbridge: Drawing and Dialogue, Petherbridge (b1939, Pretoria, South Africa) is certainly having a moment. Recently returned from India, and already planning ahead to her next solo exhibition in the autumn, she nevertheless made time to welcome Studio International to her home-cum-studio in Islington, north London, to discuss the value and democracy of drawing, a medium she has championed throughout her career.

Read the interview here

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Interview with Saad Qureshi at Gazelli Art House, London

Interview: Saad Qureshi

Saad Qureshi: time | memory | landscape 
Gazelli Art House, London
3 March - 16 April 2017

For his third solo show with Gazelli Art House, Saad Qureshi is stepping out from the shadows and showing two series of drawings – one made with charcoal and brick dust, the other with scorched lines on paper – which, although very physical and sculptural in their own way, move away from his usual medium of sculpture. “I think it was really brave of me to go ahead and do a solo show,” Qureshi says. “There’s no room for error, there’s nothing to hide behind.” He only recently rediscovered his love for charcoal – a medium he had set aside since the days of compulsory life drawing – and was seduced by the sound it made, as he rubbed it on plywood in his studio. “That was it: there was no looking back.”

Qureshi’s monumental landscapes – or “mindscapes”, as he prefers to call them – are hybrids of several geographical places compressed into one, often fantastical and geographically impossible. He never does any physical planning, conceiving of his imagery only in his mind’s eye, before mapping it out impulsively, using Indian ink and a towel, on top of his prepared plywood surface, coated in a paint he mixes out of brick dust. On top of this, he then “goes crazy” with the charcoal. The result is at once photographic and alien. Known, but uncanny. Qureshi explores how time and memory play tricks on the mind.

His exhibition at Gazelli Art House coincides with the launch of his first major public commission, Places For Nova, in Victoria, London, which was where he first began working with brick dust.

Qureshi shared his enthusiasm for time, memory, landscape and drawing with Studio International.

Watch this film here