Thursday, 20 March 2014

Still Life & Death - Hendrik Faure & Karl Blossfeldt

In the changeable month that is March I was thrilled to see a few sunny days amongst the grey ones. With a new show open 'Still Life & Death' - works by Hendrik Faure & Karl Blossfeldt -  it is always a good time to look ahead & reflect upon the work on display. What makes this particular show wonderful to me is the connections between the two artists & their lives that are strangely linked through much more than just the process they use/d...

Hendrik Faure explains the finer points of his prints

In this post I want to give you a brief glimpse into the show without too many spoilers! Hendrik Faure came over from Germany for the opening and to do a talk the following day. It was a real treat to hear him speak about his work & show the audience his copper plates & examples of prints & comparing the successful & unsuccessful - revealing the delicate nature of copper plate printing. 

The opening

The Private View was a lovely affair as always - but the best bit was the comments from guests whom had never seen or understood that they had seen photogravures before. Having one print on display next to it's plate really meant that you could communicate the basics of the process very quickly. 

This also added to the audiences appreciation of the gravure & it's physicality as an object - especially as Faure's work has a more rustic appearance than the neat graphic style of the Blossfeldt's.   

The first to arrive & enjoy the work

As with many artists Faure has a day job which fits beautifully into his art - as a practicing psychiatrist. His dark imagery reflects the shadows of the subconscious without revelling in it. (Interestingly, Karl Blossfeldt suffered from depression in later life.) Following in the traditions of artists many centuries before him Faure creates miniature tableaux's of life & death in the form of dead birds, cats, frogs interacting with objects such as mannequins, clocks, machine parts & skulls to name but a few…

Faure's pictures could be visually & spiritually associated with many artistic movements from the Dutch still life paintings of the 17th Century to Pictorialism & Surrealist movement. The dash of dark humour can be found if you look for it.  

©Aaron Harcourt 
Hendrik speaks

One of my favourite moments during Hendrik's talk was his reference to a racoon & mannequin in two of his works. The first it is soon after it's death so is fluffy & quite cute, however the second it is dehydrated & barely recognisable as a racoon, placed on the mannequin in both. Hendrik referred to both photographs as having the same 'actors' - which beautifully illustrated his close relationship to the creatures & objects he photographs his studio.

 ©Aaron Harcourt 
Hendrik & his wife before the talk

Interestingly, Hendrik occasionally acquires his animals through his patients if they find them on the road. Mostly they are found on the land near his house. I even had a find yesterday on my way home from work - so it is not so unusual to come across the dead in everyday life…

©Laura Noble

He spoke of the dead cat being found in between hay bales where it had gone to die in peace, a common occurrence in the countryside. 

By strange coincidence Blossfeldt was 63 years old when his first book of photographic images, "Urformen der Kunst" was published, the same age as Faure is now. Faure's daughter also attended the Institute of Royal Arts Museum in Berlin where Blossfeldt taught from the late 1800's. 

©Hendrik Faure - Example with grey scale on left

A reminder of an earlier time in his life is pictured above - taken whilst riding his horse. Due to a brain injury He can no longer ride & his horse doesn't recognise him due to this physical change as one side of his body no longer 'works'. We see the land which has been cleared to pave the way for an autobahn - damaging the landscape forever. This poignant image depicts his past & the corrosion to the future of Faure's physical self as well as the landscape.   

3 copper plates

Faure's 'vanitas' appear to be from another time pre-dating Blossfeldt by over a century yet they are contemporary prints. This harking back to the past is a fascinating subject that many photographers find enticing with the soft textures & tones which give the work a tactile quality all of its own. 

It is such an intimate experience viewing these works

When I was curating the show it soon became clear that the work needed to be hung in a uniform way as the eclectic images by Hendrik Faure were very busy with multiple areas of interest in each composition & would benefit from a straight hang. 

Mixing it up - the new hang on shelves with guests shows the scale

However, with the Blossfeldt I broke down the works to four sets of three pictures on narrow shelves that they can leisurely lean back against the wall - as if inviting you to swop them around. The joy of these works is that you can really play with the combinations, using the patterns in the plants to expand the arrangements to create another dialogue between them. The fabulous nature of these shelves really make changing your selection easy. The perfect way to rotate a collection. With prices for them starting at just £90 each (unframed) buying more than one needn't be a pipe dream, but a distinct possibility…

For more details see the gallery site or even better come & see for yourself! 

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Thoughts on Chris Steele-Perkins 'Japan Suite'

Chris Steele-Perkins at L A Noble Gallery

Curating the current exhibition was a pleasure as working with Chris is a breeze - his friendly professional nature & efficiency make for a gallerist's dream.

In the recent review in TimeOut Nina Caplan really understood the curatorial choices of the exhibition & gave us 4 stars! 

The exhibition has been extended to 1st Feb 2014.

His talk was popular we did it twice! During the course of the talk one statement stood out for me: 

'I'm very aware of formalistic methods of photography - that is - the grammar. To stretch the analogy - if you don't get the grammar right the sentence doesn't make any sense.'

What a fabulous way to describe something that is almost risqué these days, 'formalistic methods'. Music to my ears hearing a great photographer avoiding the flowery artspeak in favour of honesty, bliss…

It takes me back to good old fashioned things like colour wheels, perspective, structure. These are not things to be shunned but celebrated & used as a foundation - as a tool belt if you will - to have on hand, leaving your imagination to run free & achieve the visual heights you are aiming for. Surely you would not expect a mechanic to fix a car without first knowing how to use a wrench? This foundation shines through in all of Chris Steele-Perkins work as his skill set is in place so that he can concentrate on the image at hand without hinderance. 

These skills come through beautifully when his work is paired up or grouped together, letting themes, compositional choices & contrasts bounce off each other. When I was planning which work to include from the huge plethora of images Chris has taken in Japan I began to start this pairing up & thinking about how the emphasis could be amplified in doing so. 

As you can see I did a long list then physically narrowed it down with scaled images. I also noted if it was a landscape or portrait format, the themes which arose & from that set about giving a balanced overview of the work showing Japan & all its delightful contradictions. 

©Chris Steele-Perkins images taken to give an idea 
of the hang only - colours not true to life.

The hang rises & falls with works at differing heights to draw the eye up, down, make you stand back or lean in closer. If an audience has to work a little bit the experience is much more engaging. It is easy to to see bad curt ion but good curation takes a lot of thought. It should go unnoticed by the untrained eye & be enjoyable for the visitor. Sometimes too clever is just that & leaves the viewer cold & non the wiser for it. I aim to see people leave a show more informed than when they arrived. As a result I also benefit from their perceptive comments & ideas about the show which I can use for later exhibits.  

Architecture, landscape, old & new , people, tradition, Western influences, leisure, Fuji, people of all ages, absurdity, pop culture, spiritual, comic & serene. This was the ample pallet I had to play with. 

The same beautiful shapes appear in both rural & urban landscapes. I was thrilled by the response to this work. It shows a maturity of gaze, taken over a long period of time, un-rushed, thorough & considered. It is far too tempting to try & finish a project before you are truly complete by setting a strict timeline. Some things build up over years. With this show 16 years of visits to Japan are present. As Chris returns to Japan over the coming I'm sure it will continue to be a joy to photograph. He will keep doing many other projects, yet Japan will continue to be an inspiration. Come & see what you think.

Japan Suite by Chris Steele-Perkins is currently displayed at L A Noble Gallery till 1 Feb 2014. For more info go to this linkLink to Japan 400 here also.

Signed copies of FUJI are available at the gallery for £35 
(The book is out of print)

Also I must mention the great Miranda Gavin & her delectable blog The Roaming Eye which featured the gallery & upcoming competition & current show. This is a great plethora of info in one place & well work a peek!