Visual Arts Feature, Winter 2020
The left hemisphere of my brain is like a loose-leaf sketchbook full of doodles and half-formed thoughts. I find words slippery, provisional and often treacherous. Strung together, they can easily be manipulated into ‘fake news’. Though words may pour onto the screen, core ideas are hard to capture. I have to hack through undergrowth, navigating hidden crevasses while struggling to maintain a sense of what is honest and authentic.
Brushes and paint are my weapons of choice. Visual images, lodged in the brain’s right hemisphere, have a reassuring clarity and permanence, particularly when given physical form on canvas. I can spend months wrestling with a painting; it may not ever work in the way I’d hoped. But some paintings make it through to independence, bearing authentic witness to particular moments in time.
When viewers of my work say, as they occasionally do, “Your paintings don’t look like anyone else’s”, I take it as the greatest possible compliment.
This is one of my first attempts using words to discuss my work. I returned to full-time painting in 2004, after a career teaching Art History, latterly at the University of East London. What fascinates me about artworks from the past (from yesterday backwards) is the physical evidence they provide of other minds at work.
I’m going to take a few of my paintings as case-studies. My work isn’t primarily or overtly political. But I’ve found it impossible to cut my practice loose from the succession of menacing situations tainting the 21st century, so I’ll attempt to uncover the contexts of these images.
‘Fence’, 2007 (oil on heritage paper, 27” x 40”). Private Collection
‘On Edge’, 2016 (oil on canvas, 24” x 36”). Private collection
I work without a plan. One painting leads to another, though I usually have some sense of what each metaphorically represents. The idea for ‘On Edge’ emerged when I jumped in fury on a cardboard box, outraged by the result of the Brexit referendum. The black object on the right was a piece of PVC, sellotaped at the back. At one level, the painting was intended to stand for what I saw as the unjustifiable attack on pan-European ideals of sharing and co-operation, and the lies that were spread during the campaign. The angular brown and black shapes confront and argue with each other, so the image can also be read as a more general response to the ways of the world. At the same time, I was thinking about formal issues. I wanted a composition that contained quite a lot of empty space (I often spend more time working on backgrounds than on the objects represented).
And the title ‘On Edge’ refers not only to a state of mind, but also to the fact that the represented shapes of the cardboard and PVC are firmly attached to the borders of the canvas.
‘Flight’, 2018 (oil on canvas, 24” x 32”)
In this painting, ‘Flight’, my starting-point was my partner David’s torn pyjama top. In placing it, I was thinking about the flight of birds (as seen, for example, in some late paintings by Braque) as well as the suffering of human refugees, at that time prominent in the news. The background in this painting shows a slight gradation from lighter (on the left) to darker, an attempt at spatial ambiguity. The actual pyjama top was lying on the floor while I painted it, but the picture was intended to be viewed hanging vertically on a wall; the flying bird references the sky. I was hoping to open up the possibility of more than one spatial reading.
‘Abandoned’ was triggered by an old sweater and a piece of twisted metal my sister found. Like ‘On Edge’ it reflects, but doesn’t exactly illustrate, a state of mind. My brother-in-law Donald Curtis wrote the following poem after seeing it, and I think it sums up what the painting is about:
apparel dumped upon a beach
before the long swim to oblivion?
Like; a mantle, cast aside
to be taken up by another
belt ready to be buckled on?
Like; o.k., we have taken leave
of our collective senses
not a scarecrow of ourselves remaining
to garb in cobalt [?] blue
Like, Biddy, you leave us lonely
each with a conundrum.
We know not what to do.
‘Abandoned’, 2017 (oil on canvas, 24” x 32”)
‘Nameless Fears’, 2017 (oil on canvas, 28” x 39”)
‘Nameless Fears’, begun in late 2016, uses paper packaging and a soldier’s belt from a charity shop. At that time I was obsessed with what I saw as the lies disseminated by the Brexit campaigners and the folly of those who believed them. I was aware that my fears for Britain’s political future constituted the main subject of the painting. Subsequently I’ve been wondering if it unintentionally illustrates the workings of my own mind. The crumpled paper can be seen as a metaphor for the furrows and grooves in the brain’s physical structure, while its apparent unravelling may come out of the deep anxiety about mental decay experienced by many in my generation.
‘Confrontation’, 2019 (oil on canvas, 23.5” x 31.5” approx.)
This fairly recent painting references both ‘On Edge’ (in its bipartite composition) and ‘Nameless Fears’ (in its use of crumpled paper). The paper packaging was retrieved from a dustbin and faces a red painting-smock stiffened by paint brushes wiped on it over many years. During its evolution, the image gradually came to signify the bullying tactics becoming increasingly widespread in public life, and the spectacle of Donald Trump throwing his weight around during the months I was working on it.
I wrote earlier I sometimes find words ‘slippery’, and I’ve had particular difficulties finding a title for this painting. It started as ‘Face to Face’, then became ‘Debate’, then ‘Challenge’. Its current title is ‘Confrontation’, but I’m wondering whether to re-name it ‘Fake News’ or ‘War Path’. With visual metaphors, there’s a fine line between stating the obvious and failing to communicate. Titles are supposed to help, so it’s important to get them right.
Incidentally, the photos of ‘On Edge’ and ‘Accident’ (below) show the wooden fillets that I almost always attach to the edges to emphasise both the physical limits of the canvas and the compositional design. Nailed directly to the stretchers, these fillets don’t overlap the canvas, allowing the whole picture surface to be seen.
‘Accident’, was started in 2018. Like ‘Confrontation’, it was painted over quite a long period. Breaking a teapot is is probably something we’ve all done. But as the painting evolved, it came to stand for the potentially disastrous results of simple human error. As a ‘war baby’ (conceived during the Battle of Britain and christened --by unbelieving parents--on the day Germany invaded Russia), I reached adulthood at the height of the Cold War. This era was saturated with the widespread realisation that civilisation and most of the natural world could be obliterated if either an American or Russian finger landed on the nuclear button. My life experiences make it hard to close my eyes to the possibility of catastrophe now.
‘Accident’, 2019 (oil on canvas, 12” x 12”).
Fortunately, not all my paintings turn out to be pessimistic. I see ‘Housemaid’s Knee’ as cheerful in mood, despite it stemming from a realisation that my knees have seen better days. A relative had undergone a successful knee replacement, which suggested the inclusion of the mysterious wrought iron implement, found in a Somerset ditch. The crumpled blue fabric is a pair of denim jeans which, as a messy worker, I wear for painting. Does the broom ‘stand in’ for a paintbrush? I’m not sure.
Housemaid’s Knee, 2014 (oil on canvas, 36” x 28”)
‘Rust’ is also fairly buoyant in feeling. I really like old, rusty stuff. Objects that are decayed, discarded and of little or no monetary value have formed the mainstay of my work since 2004. I’m delighted that, belatedly, we’re now being urged to re-use and recycle. I like to think an underlying idea in my work is a rejection of consumerism.
‘Rust’, 2015 (oil on canvas, 27” x 36”)
And I had fun with ‘Anatomy’ even though it’s about mortality!
Looking back over my fifteen years of practice, I realise I’m wedded to a sense that by pursuing truthfulness and authenticity in my art, I can somehow make a minuscule contribution to a now much-needed bulwark against contemporary threats, which include international capitalism, neo-Liberalism, religious oppression, ‘fake news’ and environmental degradation. We can all only do what we can do. If any of my paintings survive into the future, perhaps they will at least offer viewers a glimpse of one artist’s particular experience of being alive at a particular time.
Please visit my website - biddypeppin.crevado.com – for more info and other examples of my work.
Anatomy, 2016 (oil on canvas, 30” x 24”)
‘Fence’, dating from more than 12 years ago, shows a broken and twisted metal barrier and pieces of bent wire. It was painted at a time of extreme anger at Britain’s continuing involvement in the Iraq war. The fence serves as a metaphor for a particular idea: destruction caused by bombing. However, I did not deliberately set out to make a painting with a political message. Political content seeps uninvited into my work, reflecting contemporary issues about which I feel strongly.
Paintings carry layers of meaning. ‘Fence’ references a simple fact – the idea that underlies most of my paintings - that everything in the world starts new and then dies, wears out or is destroyed. In this painting a further layer (only recently recognised) is that as well as recording the interesting shapes of randomly-discovered metal objects, the image draws on childhood memories of the terrifying anti-tank defences that ran the length of Chesil Beach during WW2. Navigating these in c.1944 provided my earliest experience of the seaside. This anxiety-enhancing wartime recollection probably lies behind the genesis of this painting.
A R C H I V E : Previous "Performing & Visual Arts" Features
Visual Arts Feature, Summer 2019
I was a self-involved photographer with a background in business management before attending Royal College of Arts. I was raised with art in my life. My grandfather was a painter and an art history teacher, one of the first teachers after the Republic of Turkey was founded. I completed a month long filmmaking program at New York Film Academy after my bachelors degree. Due to my country's political circumstances, I was also reared with a sense of activism. This led me to discover more about women and their place in society, especially in the chaotic circumstances of the Middle East.
Milk and the Middle East is a portrayal of how the politics of religion oppresses women in many Muslim cultures. A society grows up on women's' milk. Yet it demands women cover up. This kind of society prevents natural feminine pleasure, inhibiting the development of a full identity for millions of women. I believe that when a human condition is suppressed or prohibited, it comes back in absurd and mostly harmful practices.
As a living, evolving being, I am fond of fluidity. It's a sense of a continuous flow of the consciousness we live in, despite being limited by particular space and time. I find the discipline of photography in line with this essence of being. Authentic visual simulation enables the viewer to travel to someone else’s consciousness, to an unaware part of their own consciousness, to past or future or all at the same moment. A photograph can simultaneously capture past and present. The photos I take, especially the staged ones, reflect my own desires, fears, experiences, opinions. They also reflect my disturbance about causes larger than my own being, especially societal conflicts and political systems.
My goal is to create an umbrella of creative work which people feel safe to gaze upon and then connect to their suppressed sexual senses. I strive to construct a community conscious of its sexuality, therefore in control over it and in peace.
Tiwalade Ibironba Olulode
Performing Arts Feature, Summer 2019
My name is Tiwalade Ibirogba Olulode.
I'm an emerging artist from Northampton. I trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. From there I moved to Lagos, Nigeria, where my writing sparked interest. One of my plays has been produced by respected theatres around London including Lyric Hammersmith, Barons Court Theatre and The Space Theatre.
I'm currently with the National Youth Theatre Rep Company. I will perform in three shows from October 2019 through January 2020: Great Expectations, Frankenstein and A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Southwark Playhouse and The Criterion in the West End. It's been deeply rewarding to build a relationship with a company of actors. I'm so excited to channel the incredible energy we've developed in workshops into our rehearsals for the shows.
I've always dreamt of a future as a respected artist-- acting, writing and directing. Acting is my first love, and I can't see that fading. I always enjoyed creative writing, but it wasn't until I graduated from drama school that I started my first play Rush. When it was selected for a couple of runs, I decided to put on the director's hat as I had a clear vision of how I wanted my writing to be presented. For now, I'm going to focus primarily on acting. But in the future, I can't see anything stopping me from being successful in all mediums. The future is bright!
The Colored Museum, George C. Wolfe
My friend recommended this play to me whilst I was at drama school. I hadn't read anything like it before. It made me laugh to the point of tears. I also felt the tension build in my stomach, emotions on two extreme ends. I knew I had to do a monologue from this riveting play. The Colored Museum is a dark comedy that looks into the African American story, spins it on its head and leaves you with a satire that at times can be hard to swallow.
The Girl with the Brightest Smile, Tiwalade Ibirogba Olulode
I wrote this poem shortly after I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. It was therapeutic to write about how I was feeling. I didn't feel ashamed of my inner thoughts. The smile is about the mask we put on for the world. A mask is needed in social settings, but it can be dangerous when you don't get the opportunity to be free. Growing up, my smile was repeatedly praised, something that became part of my core personality. I asked myself: when I don't have that, who am I? The smile is something that had become automatic, even when I was feeling terrible inside. This poem is an exploration of those feelings.
Visual Arts Feature, Spring 2019
Why am I so curious about women? I think it's because, as a woman, I want to find out why.
Why do we so often react according to stereotype; why do we let ourselves fade into insecurity; who are we here for? Is it for ourselves or for those around us?
"Desolation" from Voices in the Shadows
My work explores the many facets of being female. Using a camera, digital manipulation, digital animation, light, sound and the spoken word, I create photographs, videos, installations and performance art. At the heart of my work is a curiosity about females.
My work includes:
‘Red Lips’, an installation of eight mannequins. The 'ladies' speak with pride about their red lips. Normally silent, I have given them a voice.
Labeled for Life
‘Labeled for Life’ is an installation wherein a seated mannequin, dressed in an antique rusted gown, celebrates her own decadent decay. It's a challenge to the invisibility of the older woman.
‘Time Passing’ is a series of digital prints celebrating the strength of women in their sixties, seventies and eighties.
Voices in the Shadows
‘Voices in the Shadows’ was part of a cross disciplinary collective of four artists working collaboratively.
We produced a provocative body of work focused on how fear, despair, and loss of trust impacts our sense of reality and mental wellbeing.
The videos produced for the performance art focus on women’s vulnerability, lack of confidence and fear of isolation.
No. I have not exhausted my quest, it will continue to be a fundamental element in my future work.
Shoreline, a video by Chris Avis
Voices in the Shadows
"Blast" from Voices in the Shadows
1980/1990 Designer maker in porcelain glass and mixed media
1994 BA. Fine Art. First Class Hons
1996 MA. Art in Architecture
1996-2009 Senior Manager
2013 Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship six weeks researching the attitudes of the arts communities in the cities of Berlin, Copenhagen and Amsterdam towards older artists.
2014 Devised and directed a Barbican and Guildhall Open Lab.
Revelation: Artists of the third Age
2009 -2019 Exhibitions/ video screenings/ installations in London/ UK / parts of Europe
Visual Arts Feature, Winter 2019
Joan McLane is a painter living and working in Chicago, Illinois
Impending, mixed medium, 20" x 20"
In Joan's words...
About 18 years ago, I retired from training teachers of young children and after a long absence returned to painting . When asked what I do in retirement, I respond: “I paint.” But I don’t call myself a “painter”. This term implies a professional status I haven’t attained. On the other hand, I resist the term “hobby” because it sounds unserious—and I am serious about my painting.
It's difficult for me to categorize my work. My paintings are abstract. However, they often contain forms which suggest animated figures. I paint in oil, and several years ago I began to incorporate bits of fabric—linen, silk, cheesecloth. I now use mostly cheesecloth because its loose weave makes it an ideal medium to create interesting, fluid forms. These forms emerge in the process of manipulating fabric and paint—a process that is both exploratory and playful.
Dancing on the Edge, mixed medium, 30" x 30"
I examine aspects of movement and emotion, particularly with figures moving in and on the edges of space. Figures are in flight or on the verge of flight, some leaping freely into or through space, others on the brink of taking off. Many figures hover precariously on the edge of of a vast open space that is both inviting and terrifying, full of possibility and risk. Figures are caught at particular, unsettled moments which suggest possible relationships and narratives.The relationship between the figures and the spaces they inhabit is open to multiple interpretations: tension, excitement, fear, anxiety, exuberance, exhilaration, freedom and play.
Surprise, mixed medium, 24" x 24"
Exhilaration, mixed media, 30" x 30"
Elation, mixed medium, 24” x 24"
Visual Arts Feature, Autumn 2018
My recent paintings are my individual interpretation of what might be called 'contemporary culture' or 'iconic twentieth century design'. The fashionable scenes I paint are peopled, but focus on the non-communication or separation of each figure from the other. My aim is to infer an emotional absence. The iconic frozen-in-time scenes depict a human presence, but the characters in these minimal spaces are speechless and isolated. The work explores the relationship between the figures and the space around them and invokes the silences within the relationship.
I am both an artist and a curator with experience curating at ArtKapsule, APT Gallery, Cambridge University, Tripp Gallery and Stour Space. I have exhibited (and my work is in art collections) internationally, from Cork Street in London to Tasmania, Australia. I was selected for the final round of judging at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2017. Shows include John Moores Painting Prize, British School at Rome, NatWest Art Prize, Kettles Yard, Art Basel, University of Cambridge, Hirschl Contemporary Art, Mark Jason Gallery and Tripp Gallery.
See more of my work at www.alexandrab.org.uk.
'CHARLES AND RAY EAMES AT HOME'
Oil on Canvas 2015 120cmx110cm
The painting 'Charles and Ray Eames at Home' is based on a famous photograph of the couple in the house they designed and built at 203 North Chautauqua Boulevard in the Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles. I painted them alongside their unique and eclectic collection of objects and designed pieces. This work reflects my fascination with design and the way light falls on interior artefacts. I sought also to express the designers' emotional relationship.
IN THE DEMONSTRATION ROOM 1939'
Oil on Canvas 2016 26cmx100cm
I was drawn to this photograph taken in 1939 of Poul Henningsen in the demonstration room he designed for the Danish lighting company Louis Poulsen. Henningsen's startlingly modern electric lights orbit above the figures like planets and provide a glare of cool brightness.
'DONALD JUDD'S BEDROOM'
Oil on Canvas 2017 63.5cmx 79cm
The artist Donald Judd's bedroom in central New York is now open to the public as part of a museum on Spring Street. I love to paint empty interiors. Judd's minimalist bedroom and his iconic neon light pieces produce an array of coloured reflection on the polished wooden floor.
MORE ON ALEXANDRA BARAITSER
Awards and Prizes:
Grants for the Arts, Arts Council England (2005)
Commissions East, Awards for Artists for mentoring with Rachel Thomas (2001)
Shortlisted for MOMART Fellowship (1999)
NatWest Art Prize (1998)
The Abbey Scholarship in Painting, The British School at Rome (1997)
The John Moores 19 (1996)
The Ray-Finnis Trust Art Funding (1995)
The Florence Trust Studio Award (1995-6)
Collections: Design Centre, Tasmania, J Sainsbury PLC, BP Amoco, Cambridge University (Clare Hall Art Collection).
Essay by Eva Bensasson for the catalogue The Future Past March 2007 at Mark Jason Gallery: "Alexandra Baraitser's paintings pay homage to some of the greatest designs of the twentieth century. Visions of the future pertain to history, firmly rooted in the time-specific aspirations of the societies and cultures that create them. Yet the utopian dream that characterised twentieth century Modernism has left a vision so compelling that the revolutionary designs of the fifty years ago still inform the popular imagination today. Baraitser's paintings highlight the contradictions of the current condition of modern furniture, still denoting 'the new' while simultaneously acting as 'design classics'; embodying socialist thought while serving as symbols of social status. The relationship of painting to these subjects is itself highly relevant in Baraitser's work. Using paint she labours to represent the patina and tone of objects which were designed in order to be mass produced. Through her dedication to each painting she emphasises the fetishistic qualities that these objects have aquired. Baraitser's paintings are based on photographs, this imbues them with a quality at once slighlty distant and , through the human touch, particularly individual."
Visual Arts Feature, Summer 2018
Even in the Rain I was Happy choreographed by Catherine Lafleur, 2014
I’m based in London N4 , and have a lifetime love of photography. I’ve been taking photos for over 40 years. In 2010, I went back to college to study photography and to learn more about digital imaging. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to photograph this Montreal dance festival in 2012, and have gone back every year since. I love dance and I love photography, so for me it’s the ideal combination.
I had an exhibition in 2014 at Lauderdale House. It was a large body of work called “Without the Past the Future is Formless”. I used old photos of my friends, added up- to- date pictures and interviewed each person about their life then and now.
Photo documentaries, travel and dance photography continue as my focus.
A piece by choreographer Alix Dufresne, 2015
Dirt by Catherine Lafleur, 2017
Festival Quartiers Danses
Festival Quartiers Danses is a contemporary dance festival which has taken place in Montreal for the last 15 years. The festival aims to be accessible to all audiences, especially those who would not normally attend dance shows. The performances are in a variety of venues across the city, both indoors and outdoors. Works often feature both older and disabled dancers. The festival predominantly showcases local artists, but each year has included works from both national and international companies.
Tentacle Tribe performing Threesixnine, 2017
Under my Skin by choreographer and dancer Morgane Le Tien, 2015
Athena Stevens & Lily McLeish
Performing Arts Feature, Winter 2019
Lily McLeish (left), Athena Stevens (right)
Athena Stevens wrote and stars in Schism,a play about two people finding each other, exploring what they cannot be for one another, powerful as is their twenty year relationship. Lily McLeish directed the production.
These clips, from the May 2018 north London Park Theatre performance, give a flavour of the connection between Katherine, played by Stevens, and her lover Harrison, played by Jonathan McGuinness. The interviews between director and writer/actor provide an insight into their creative process as individuals and as a team.
See an excerpt from Schism and two video excerpts from an interview with Lily McLeish and Athena Stevens below.
Lily McLeish and Athena Stevens in conversation about Schism
Prav MJ, PMJ Productions
Performing Arts Feature, Summer 2018
Prav MJ, PMJ Productions,
VIDEO EXCERPTS FROM FACELESS,
written by Selina Fillinger, produced & directed by Prav MJ.
Claire Fathi as Paige Round in Faceless, produced and directed by Prav MJ
Fiona Gent as Susie Glenn in Faceless, produced and directed by Prav MJ