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This is a copy of a review I wrote for the Hackney Citizen’s February Issue on Cornelia Baltes’ exhibition at Limoncello Gallery.

Here’s a little quote from James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man to explain just what I mean when I throw out a Joycean comparison:

‘Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo’

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Until the 9th March Limoncello Gallery on Kingsland Road will host Cornelia Baltes’ graphically playful and pastel-teasing solo show, ‘Schnick Schnack Schnuck’. Working across a panoply of media, Baltes presents painting, photographic works, installations and anthropomorphic hybrids of all three, in an exhibition where even the walls and picture frames are self-painted in a curation of the whole.

The title of the exhibition comes from the German name for the game of ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’, but this seems to be more than just a preference of nationality (Baltes is German herself); the linguistic tripping of ‘Schnick Schnack Schnuck’ is onomatopoeic of painting style and visual personality too.

The exhibition has all the taunting psychology of its namesake, both in its seeming randomness and Baltes’ skill for the inconspicuous exploitation of her audience. She knows just when we’ll be schnucking, and when we’ll be schnacking too.

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There is pleasure and play sensitive to our most infantile senses. The joke is always light, just enough to push us to a giggle. Girl with a Pearl Earring is mounted on bubble-gum pink, her tactile painterly white hair revealing the fluoro-orange of a stud. Elsewhere the humour is less wry and more silly; dangledoo’s papier mache and wool beads hang down from above the doorway just waiting for the sideways glance of our attention.

By far the cheekiest of works is Jim and Jill: two photographic portraits of landscape scenes made human in the framing. Jill brings her own sexiness into the mix; her rich pink belly softly dented by the shadow of her belly button. Even Baltes’ photographs reveal themselves to be graphically painterly.

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The gallery’s Assistant Director, Rosa Tyhurst, speaks of Baltes ‘expanding painting’. It’s certainly true that her work refuses to be contained in a single frame: Discoteaser’s necklace hangs from the awkward space between wall and ceiling to let the starry pendant rest on canvas-cleavage; the very corners of Ding Bats’ lost frame have slipped underneath itself to become awkward bird-legs; and Ghost Owl stares out at us from the black painted wall behind the work, it’s eye-sockets incised holes in the canvas. In fact there are eyes everywhere – lines, slits, marks, brushstrokes – which offer the unnerving sense that from the surfaces of 2d canvases, a whole woodland of animals might one day creep.

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Trained as Graphic Designer, Baltes’ ‘Schnick Schnack Schnuck’ reads like a children’s book cut out and reassembled in 3d: its characters and colours, the hide and seek of identifying the anthropomorphic in visual signifiers, the Joycean linguistic pleasure of naming the dangledoo, Ding Bats, and Discoteaser. This storybook is a jumping and leaping through newly invented games.

Baltes’ graphic design background is stamped clearly on the work: in style, sign and symbol, the soft colours designed for printing and the perfectionism of detail. This brings her humour to the fore in a fresh way. There seems to be no obligation in the choices she makes; the rules are all her own. Stylised and sharp, ‘Schnick Schnack Schnuck’ is an enjoyable show, making a game out of the verbal and the visual.

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‘[…] the female body’s bounty and its ardour, often denoted by the bare breast, has been seen to possess the energy a society requires for the utopian condition, lawful liberation. But it has done so only by recapitulating the ancient and damaging equivalences between male and culture, female and nature. Otherness is a source of potential and power; but it cannot occupy the centre.’ Marina Warner, Monuments and Maidens

Liberty Leading the People, 1830, by Eugene Delacroix

Liberty Leading the People, 1830, Eugene Delacroix

Yesterday I had an exciting conversation with the editor of feminist arts and culture magazine, Collage.  The upcoming issue will focus on women and revolution and I’ve decided to write a piece about the feminine and the female body in the French Revolution.

At University I wrote an essay about the writer Helen Maria Williams and her account of the French Revolution, written in epistolary form as a political commentary. My work focused on the feminisation of politics – the Marianne of the French Republic and Delacroix’s Liberty, and Williams’ portrayal of the guillotine as ‘political amphitheatre’ as she wrote up countless portraits of France’s political women at the moment of their execution.

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Ian Hamilton Finlay’s La Femmes de la Revolution

I’m looking forward to revisiting the topic to think about women’s bodies in politics and drawing on some new and diverse material. I’ve started off with a little research into contemporary politics, in particular Louise Mensch and Silvio Berlusconi’s lady politicians. I’m also wondering if I can fit Ian Hamilton Finlay’s obsession with the French Revolution in somewhere.

Another exciting project.

bruce nauman_1985_sexanddeath_double69-Cpep6BThis month I did my first piece for the FAD website and got the opportunity to send off some interview questions to the curator of the new Bruce Nauman exhibition at Hauser & Wirth, Mindfuck. The curator, Philip Larratt Smith, has a particular interest in psychoanalytic theory and his reading and curation of Nauman’s work is through a psychological lens.

There are a few snippets below but the full interview can be read on the FAD website here.

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“If it is aggressive this is merely as it should be, because this exhibition proposes nothing less than a radical revision of the understanding of Nauman’s work. I am aware that “mindfuck” could be viewed as a provocation, but I hope it is understood as thought-provoking rather than merely shocking.”

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“Nauman’s work does not at first glance fit into this category, since his work is not really the revelation of his individual subjectivity. Yet he has the rare gift to short-circuit and to provide a diagram – in the stick figures or basic phrases of his neons or his mousetrap-like installations – of human behaviour and human psychology when viewed from the highest level of abstraction. So in a sense his work provided a bird’s-eye-view of the psychology of the race.”

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Two Prominent Boulders, Joe Duggan

I’m lucky enough to be working with artist and photographer Joe Duggan on some writing to accompany his picture story book, Life is Not Enough. This week I went to interview him about his work and heard innumerable offshoots of stories along the way.

The interview was a combination of charming, often dark humour and deep philosophy: something which is reflected in his work too. There was a lot of Beckett involved in our discussions too, so I think I’ll have to find some bitter-clever quote from him to sum things up. Life is Not Enough is a beautiful, spare and poignantly comic book; I’m looking forward to writing more about it.

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Photo: Gwen Murroni

This week Jonathan Gabb’s SYSTEM opened at WW Gallery and after months of waiting (sneaking glimpses of plans and teasing maquettes) I was finally blown away by Jonathan’s work and his transformation of the space. The gallery has become something entirely new; adorned, decorated and more than that, metamorphosed by the installations.

Although the works have Sci-Fi titles like ‘deep sequence 8’ and ‘prime titanium 4’, they are playful subversions of the Baroque and Rococco of Jonathan’s influences. It’s possible to feel like you’re moving through a surreal, contemporary re-imagining of a grand stately home. It’s depth and shadow which provides the greatest feeling of awe: everybody wants to stick their head inside these incredible installations, it’s difficult to resist.

I also did an interview with Jonathan Gabb for Jotta after the announcement of the SOLO Award winner which you can read here.

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Jonathan Gabb: System

a solo exhibition of new work by
the winner of the WW SOLO Award 2012

9th January – 2nd February 2013
PV Tues 8th January 2013, 6 – 9pm

Open Weds – Fri 11 – 6pm; Sat 11 – 4pm
WW Gallery, 34/35 Hatton Garden EC1N 8DX


“With a painting, people expect paint on a canvas or pigment in liquid on a flat surface, I’m trying to do something different. I want to stretch the material value of paint in a 3D form to transform it into something else – the paint is freed from a fixed surface and can be viewed as an object.”

After a 3 month residency in the studio at the Gallery, WW is pleased to present SYSTEM, a solo show of new works by Jonathan Gabb.

Gabb’s three-dimensional paintings combine acrylics with PVA glues to make unique forms which allude to drips and sweeping paint strokes but confound traditional expectations and techniques. Created in the gallery, these new works respond to the natural light of the space as well as the architectural structures of the former jewellery workshops.

With influences as diverse as Baroque and Rococco architectural adornments, Wayne Thiebaud’s Refrigerator Pies where paint comes to resemble frosting on a cake, and Damien Hirst’s abstract yet arbitrary spot paintings, Gabb’s work reminds us of the transformative powers of pure materials. Through the manipulation of paint, these installations invite the viewer to question and engage with the colours and forms presented.

“I enjoy the optical element of the work; viewing the work becomes more of an event. The viewer can move around the work; from a side angle it might resemble a pen and ink drawing, then it merges into denser three dimensional forms at another point.”

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Jonathan Gabb’s residency with WW Gallery was a result of winning the WW SOLO Award 2012. From over 300 entries, 37 artists were longlisted for an exhibition at the gallery in August. A panel of judges including Sheila McGregor (Chief Executive, Axis, the online resource for contemporary art), Helen Sumpter (Art writer and Deputy Visual Art Editor of Time Out London ), Kate Davis (Artist & Tutor in Sculpture at the Royal College of Art) and Deb Covell (Artist & Co-founder Platform-A Gallery, Middlesbrough), shortlisted six artists, from which Gabb was selected as the winner of the £1000 prize money, three month residency and solo exhibition.

Alongside SYSTEM, the WW Shop will showcase newly commissioned works from each of the other 5 shortlisted artists: Wendy Nelson, Emma Cousin, Calum James Crowther, Dexter Dymoke and Elly Thomas.

WW SOLO Award 2012 was the first of an ongoing annual award which seeks to support emerging artists. The WW SOLO award offers a structured opportunity for artists working at all stages of their career. With a focus that stretches further than new graduates, WW believes that artists can be ‘emerging’ at any age. Details of WW SOLO Award 2013 will be announced to coincide with Jonathan’s exhibition in January.

“The show uncovered such a range of interesting work from artists all over the UK and I very much look forward to seeing what comes of the winner’s residency with WW.”Sheila MacGregor, Chief Executive, Axis and judge for the WW SOLO Award 2012

“The standard of the work was particularly high and it was a pleasure to be one of the judges for the first WW SOLO Award.” Deb Covell, Artist and Co-Founder, Platform A Gallery, and judge for the WW SOLO Award 2012

“There are many ventures like this but WW’s SOLO Award feels like it has the right structure to harness and support the energy of new creative talents.” Kate Davis, Artist & Tutor in Sculpture at the Royal College of Art and judge for the WW SOLO Award 2012

About the artist

Jonathan Gabb is an artist based in New Cross, London who has been exploring the idea of paint as object since graduating from Cass school of art at London Metropolitan University in 2008. He has participated in a number of group exhibitions at the Islington Arts Factory, the Royal College of Art and took part in a residency at the College of Art, Zagreb, culminating in a show at the Gallery Miroslav Kraljevic.

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2013 is promising a couple of exciting writing projects. I’ll be collaborating with artists Rebecca Scott and Cécile Emmanuelle Borra on an exhibition they are putting on for the One Billion Rising Art Festival during February. I’m going to be interviewing both of the artists on their work, their relationship to feminism, and creating an exhibition text.

At the end of last year I went to Cécile’s flat and studio to talk about Feminism, fashion, growing up in France, reversing the gaze and not being obsessed with penises. Here are a few of the photographs taken by Levin Haegele.

This month I wrote an article about Georgia Hayes’ exhibition at Transition, Sing Out Loud for the Hackney Citizen.

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On the 11 January Georgia Hayes’ Sing Out Loud opens at Transition Gallery, celebrating colour, paint and imagination with large-scale figurative paintings.

Whether the setting is the opera, safari or a museum, Hayes’ canvases are a window onto the magic realism of an imagination. “The paintings feel completely observed from life and completely invented by a free imagination all at once”, writes Barry Schwabsky in an essay to accompany the exhibition.

When I ask Georgia Hayes how she came to painting, she answers: “When I was a child my favourite thing was making a mark on white paper, an excitement I still feel.” That vital pleasure communicates itself to the viewer in every bright sweep of paint.

When she was younger Hayes was not allowed to go to art school but she “was always dreaming anyway”. At thirty, with a young family, Hayes found herself finally able to study at adult education classes under the teaching of Roy Oxlade.

Her simplified graphic style is often attributed to her late training, a style which, as Schwabsky points out, might “at first glance, be mistaken for aesthetic ingenuousness.”

But Hayes  is adamant that, “it is a mistake to think I am self-taught – although I started late, that teaching encouraged me to look for and value original ways to work rather than trying to acquire academic skills, which is the usual way of teaching art.”

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Georgia Hayes’ artistic influences read like the personal plotting of a route through a vast national museum: “Egyptian, Mexican folk art, Early Italian fresco, Hajj paintings, Indian miniatures and Spanish Medieval illuminations, also Manet, Matisse and the late works of Picasso and Philip Guston.”

These interests are collected and curated into the museum setting of many of her paintings; cabinets of crocodiles and boxes packed with canopic jars displayed in museums of fishing, singing and dancing.

“Museums have a slightly stagey reverential feel that appeals to me,” says Hayes, but her settings aren’t museums in any dim, dusty-cabinetted or conventional sense: her own feeling of child-like wonder brings them to new life. The exuberant colours of her figurative paintings are display cases for animals more commonly found in the zoo, her visitors are dressed up for podiums in hot pink platform shoes; nothing is as we might assume.

“When the painting needs it, I am happy to borrow other things/characters that come to my attention and put them into the museum space.  Odd things which I come across or am thinking about at the time often seem to fit happily into the museum.”

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Beyond the frivolity of the gaze there is a tipping into the sinister too. Never explained or fully revealed: much comes to rely on our own reading. In Cathy Lomax’s essay, ‘To Paint Is To Be,’ she describes the “imaginative joining-up-the-dots of seeing” involved in Hayes’ paintings, where bizarre menageries and cabinets of curiosities are disarrayed by obscure narratives.

But do we need to try to make structure and sense of her graphic nouns? Hayes invites us to relish the pure joy of looking: perhaps there is a joke, a touch of nostalgia, a memory dipped in fantasy, but all we have to do is look.

Roald Dahl once urged, “above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” Hayes’ way of looking at the world, with the glitter of vibrant oil paints, is one which draws magic and the surreal into the foreground.

Sing Out Loud will be on at Transition Gallery from 12th January until the 3rd February. For more information: http://www.transitiongallery.co.uk/