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

singing together

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.”

GeorgiaHayes_Birdcatcher

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.”

dancing cajun

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/

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This is a copy of an article I originally wrote for the Hackney Citizen on the film-inspired exhibition, Still.

As the cold weather creeps upon us the Hackney Picturehouse and the Transition Gallery will be collaborating with the perfect antidote to the autumn gloom. Still, an exhibition inspired by ‘the moving magic of film’ and the ‘new reality’ which emerges when we halt this movement, will be taking place across the two venues from the 7 to the 30 September.

Mix art and film and you have the perfect visual comfort food. The relationship between these two mediums is entirely one of indulgence; a film director playing with the luxuries of light and the full spectrum of sensory effects comes closer to producing a work of art than a slick Hollywood blockbuster, and, as we find in Still, artists using film as inspiration find themselves falling prey to a consumptive obsessiveness, a hyperbolic fanaticism.

Nicola Woodham’s video ‘Neon Alone’ is perhaps the best example of the blurring of genre-boundaries between popular film and art. Woodham has taken a single frame from Richard Curtis’ Love Actually and transformed it into a purely aesthetic cypher with its languorous movement through cinematic light, silhouette, shadow and luminescent spotting.  This repeated frame is entirely estranged from its Rom-Com context; it’s lost that warm, all-pervasive Richard Curtis glow.

Although the exhibition does look critically at the relationship between art and film, it is also not afraid of pastiche or parody. Paul Kindersley’s larger than life disembodied heads are a queasily comic tribute to the sticky gore of horror.

In Cathy Lomax’s ‘Film Diary’, in which she paints a single freeze-framed scene from every film she watches, there is no sense of discrimination. Despite being intellectually and theoretically engaged with film in her studies, Lomax is just as likely to be caught borrowing from Twilight as she might from an obscure masterpiece such as Vincente Minnelli’s The Pirate.

The exhibition celebrates our cultural immersion in a cinematic reality; stories, dreams, the living out of fantasies which might begin to feel more real than everyday life. Jackie Chettur’s meticulously constructed sets in hotel rooms come to resemble ‘the backdrop to a film we think we may have seen.’

There is a strange sense of de ja vu which strikes the viewer. Scenes and faces borrowed from films seem familiar but often lie somewhere beyond the reach of recognition.

The exhibition is accompanied by a special issue of Transition’s Garageland magazine dedicated to film. Each of the artist’s included in Still have contributed to the issue; Paul Kindersley revels in horror’s lust for blood and ‘schlock tactics’, Alli Sharma wallows in her infatuation with the Kitchen Sink aesthetic of social realism, and Jackie Chettur reveals the secrets behind her hyper-realist film sets.

Garageland 14 is, at heart, a collection of adoring love letters to film. Images framed on glossy white paper are like screens in which we might catch movement or a narrative, its content page reads like rolling credits, interviews run like scripts, a thumbnail strip resembles a storyboard. This issue of the magazine is edited and produced with all the visible traces of film fanaticism.

Still is totally joyful and honest about its passion for film and it’s this which makes it the perfect visual comfort. It’s the exhibition equivalent of the cinema on a rainy afternoon or a large bucket of salted popcorn.