Thursday, 25 November 2010

Vintage Watson

On Tuesday night Albert Watson gave an informative lecture at the Victoria & Albert museum to coincide with his exhibition Vintage Watson at Hamilton's Gallery (which opened last night). Watson, born in 1942, is one of the most important photographers of our time, respected for his contribution to the world of fashion, art and music: having shot over 200 covers for Vogue as well as several iconic Rolling Stones' covers. At university he studied graphic design and then went to film school at the Royal Collage of Art. As a result he sees his work as a combination of the two- graphics and cinematography.
Watson is a photographer of diverse subject matter who has captured every angle of life over a period of four decades, producing a prolific portfolio. He lives through his work quite literally and he will continue to live on through it even after his time. Finding the subject, perceiving the subject, the composition and the lighting is what personifies his work and makes it unique to him. When photographing Alfred Hitchcock in 1973 for a poultry recipe the intention was to present the goose on a plate but instead, the young photographer urged Hitchcock to grab the goose by its throat and so created an entirely different image. This was a turning point in his career after which the influx of requests to work with him have not ceased.

Alfred Hitchcock with Goose, Los Angeles, Christmas, 1973

Watson's dedication to his subject is unquestionable and personal: he waited two and a half years to under go the application process which would allow him to photograph the ancient Pharaoh Tutankhamen's artifacts. His interest in history and his attitude towards preservation are here exemplified.

He recognises the 1970s as the starting point of his career, which in retrospect he sees as a frustrated period but one which allowed him to develop his skills and enter the 80s with no technical difficulties or barriers. This gave way to his most creative and achieved period. In the 70s he remembers being frequently 'discontent' with his work and saw three phases in his analytical digestion. Initially he'd posses a youthful arrogance about his images, a few days after his shoot he'd be unsure and then some weeks later he would want to destroy the work. They lacked subtlety. This was not a fierce reaction by any means but Watson would recognise the technical flaws and the sometimes harsh lighting in his work. Neither is this to say he was not enormously successful nor to dismiss his work from the 70s. It is merely a comparison of one period to the other and his feelings towards them.

He speaks with a thick accent, Scottish yet masked with a distinct American overtone. He is very polite, well mannered and charming: a tribute to having worked with so many people and supported by his British education. There is no air about him.

Although he has shot over 600 commercials (a great deal of which were fashion related), Watson claims that he was often criticised by editors for not being fashionable; his photos were not fashionable but rather of fashion. In hindsight, he sees this as a positive feature, contributing to the classicism of his work and the longevity of his appeal.

Albert Watson prints all of his own work (Richard Avedon, for example, does not). He says of the future of photography: it lies in digital but that this does not mean that one should abandon the correct form of learning.  It doesn't make one a better photographer just because you can do more,"digital photography makes amatures better". Sometimes, when Watson feels his work looks too polished, he puts down his four by five camera and picks up a 35mm, loosens and resets himself back to his roots.  

Naomi Campbell, Palm Springs, 1989

This composition was a work in practice, as Naomi Campbell was being shaded from the sun with a cloth, held behind her, Watson noticed the beauty of her profile and shadow which blocks her face and realised that this was the image he would use.

Kate Moss, Marrakesh, Morocco, 1993, 1993

Keith Richards, New York, 1988

Gabrielle Reece and Michaela Bercu, Pasadena, California, 1989

Kate Moss, Marrakech, 1993

This image was taken in Morocco; Watson took the a series of similar photos of the model at different times of day.

Mick Jagger, Los Angeles, 1992

This image has not been digitally manipulated or retouched; Watson took a photograph of Mick Jagger (in a car with a leopard for a shoot) and then rewound the film back to the image and created a double exposure, photographing the leopard on top.

Heel Budget Suites, Las Vegas, 2000

Rather Bob Carlos Clarke, Watson recalls when he discocovered the meaning of dominatrix in America.

Mike Tyson, Catskills, New York., 1986

His father was a boxer which is why he knew to shoot Mike Tyson from behind, exemplifying the breadth of his neck as a trophy itself and a tribute to his profession.

The GOD Sign, Route 15, Las Vegas, 2001

Jellyfish Tank Series Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, 2001

Currently, there is an exhibition of Albert Watson's work Vintage Watson at Hamilton’s Gallery on 13 Carlos Place, W1., including a beautiful selection of his Polaroids from the 80s as well as a few from the 70s. Until 21st Jan.

Monday, 22 November 2010

24 Hour Plays: Theatrical Art

John Cleese

Last night saw the seventh annual 24 Hour Plays at the Old Vic theatre, hosted this year by Monty Python extraordinaire John Cleese.

The concept for this evening is that group of actors and playwrights come together on Saturday at 10pm and work for 24 hours to conceive, write, rehearse, and perform six ten-minute plays. This is all in support of ‘New Voices’ to raise a significant amount of money to fund workshops for young aspiring actors. Artistic Director Kevin Spacey announced at the interval that 95 thousand pounds had been reached by contribution of silent auction bids and tickets. Tattinger, Ivan the Terrible (vodka), and Asia de Cuba were some of the more interesting subsidisers.

The first play was the most amusing and the audience was immediately responsive- in some instances the characters were cast as themselves with tongue and cheek allusions to their public personas. In this sketch Richard Armitage played the counter part to his on stage character, an obese forty year old man living in a run down apartment who had wished on a magic Christmas tree that he looked like Richard Armitage. Married to a well-rounded woman who had wished them into a large penthouse (suggested by the size of the small Christmas tree which had once been life-size in their ‘previous’ flat), this unlikely couple dance around and frolic with a new found zest. Each actor is asked to bring an inspirational prop, hence the appearance of a premature ornamental Christmas tree. Such clever gestures exemplified the creativity of the writers, some of which were more interesting than others.

In the second act, Kelly Brook similarly was cast as herself in a performance which mimicked what the writer, Richard Curtis, had gone through the previous night: trying to find inspiration and write a play from scratch in a hotel room in the early hours of the morning. Highlights included Kelly promising the writer that she’d be very grateful if she was given some deep and meaningful lines which didn’t comprise of taking her clothes off, explaining life was hard and that as a pretty girl she only ever had the best looking men in the room chatting her up and so being given the least confidence by result of their arrogance on top of the hatred of the other girls impending. She wanted to be taken seriously. Much to the appreciation of everyone in the room she took off her top as a method of persuasion to seek her desired role and did not disappoint. Curtis, renowned for Four Weddings and a Funeral, and sitcoms Mr Bean and Blackadder, also used this opportunity to slate Sienna Miller and Dr Who star David Tennant who dropped out the cast last minute, so leaving them with a ‘rubbish’ group of actors including Asda-advertising Ralph Little who naturally exited the stage by tapping his pocket full of change.

John Cleese took the stage between each performance and used memoirs of his mother to entertain the audience, a bitter woman living in Weston super Mare who had no longer wanted to live until Cleese, true to his dark humour, suggested sending over a small man he knew who lived in Fulham who could finish her off. This recalls the sentiments of his character Basil Fawlty who would quite like to be rid of the woman in his life, Sibyl. Nor were the German jokes amiss; only to hear Cleese's voice live and see his stiff goose-like walk only metres away was something spectacular- a privilege contributing to a sense of personal completion after years of following his career.   

The 25th Hour spent at the after party at St Martin’s Lane hotel was a great finale to the weekend but waking up on Monday morning was less enjoyable. As a friend once said,

It is usually a dream when you wake up remembering seeing Kelly Brook in her underwear. Not this time.’

Kelly Brook

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Too many fairs spoil the trot?

Last week was particularly busy in the world of art- Monday was the pre-VIP opening for the Pavilion of Art and Design ('PAD') with a party at the Serpentine, and also a charity auction which I attended at Phillips de Pury to discover that Tracey Emin looks surprisingly less offensive in real life. Tuesday saw the official PAD preview which was very impressive and a clear improvement on last year.

Exhibiting this year at PAD, in its fourth year running, was an array of international galleries including Friedman Benda (New York), Van de Weghe Fine Art (New York), and Gabrielle Ammann (Koln, Germany). Some of the most remarkable works were at Hopkins Custot, a Marc Quinn sculpture of an oversized white orchid and around the corner at Friedman Benda, a unique bench by current Turbine Hall (Tate) exhibitor and artist Ai Waiwai. China Bench (2004) is crafted out of ironwood sourced from dismantled temples of the Qing Dynasty and is a long log shaped structure which is cast to the shape of China at each end (resembling a horizontal fluted column). Waiwai's work references his cultural heritage and takes a politically active stance, as further exemplified with his Sunflower Seeds (2010) installation at Tate Modern. These 100 million seeds which engulf the entrance are hand painted porcelain pods which took 2 years for a factory in China to produce, addressing associations with 'Made in China' and issues relating to export and mass production.   

Amusingly, the week before last at a dinner, I met a man who a mutual friend introduced as a carpenter. Here at the pavilion in Berkeley Square I discover the extent of his contribution to design as the director of the Carpenter's Workshop Gallery, also exhibiting and heavily involved in the Phillip's De Pury design sale some weeks prior.

Local galleries such as Hamilton's, Mayor Gallery and Simon Dickinson also took stands. Hamilton's gallery, specialising in photography, is run by Tim Jefferies- notorious for dating beautiful women including his current wife, and model, Marlin (previously engaged to Elle Macpherson, dated Elizabeth Hurley and Claudia Schiffer). His success as a gallerist of 26 years is also evident in his selection of artists- Irving Penn, Horst P. Horst, Jeanloup Sieff and Helmut Newton, and his display was very smart.

This year Christie's also decided to make a significant contribution to the London art scene during Frieze-week, alongside their contemporary sales also taking place, with the arrival of 'Multiplied' art fair taking place at their South Kensington showroom. The aim of this fair, and what sets it apart from the annual Original Print Fair at the Royal Academy, is that the works exhibited must be primary artists (haven't been sold at auction) which encouraged a fresher touch. The way around this criteria which allowed the big secondary market names like Hirst to squeeze through the door, is that if the gallery had published the work itself then it was permitted. Hence, the prices were affordable (£500-£15,000ish) but it retained a smartness and niche element (largely prints and photography: everything had to be in editions). Despite a wonderful party on the Friday, opening with bright blue strobe lights and cocktails, the foot-flow over the weekend was less than expected. This was not to say that the fair was not a success, there were indeed sporadic bursts of sales but the agora hustle was amiss.

It is a challenge to find quality amongst quantity and, with so much taking place in one week in London, it can be detrimental to attempt to 'do it all' as this results in an overload which affects ones ability to be able to perceive what is art in art.

Ai Waiwai

Marc Quinn

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Frieze forever after?

Whether Frieze has become less spectacular or I- the dedicated visitor- have become more ‘climatised’ is the question. Some five years ago experiencing Frieze was just that- an experience, a pure sensory overload with so many artists to be discovered you half wanted to run away; now the same Bridget Riley stripes are being flogged off at Timothy Taylor for far too much money (thirty thousand pounds for a very small canvas is not a bargin), and, there is a distinct lack of surprise in the air. Luxury, however, is still delivered and Hirst's spots make an appearance as expected. The big players Gagosian, White Cube, Hauser & Wirth and Lisson run the show and the red dots marking the wall indicate that already, by the 2pm Professional view, sales are high. Post-Lehman, a discretion has been introduced to the scene and champagne is not being sprayed. This year there were 3 VIP 'waves' of invitees-11am: artists and early big buyers 2pm: the auction house/art world important people-and Claudia Schiffer, and 6.30pm: the others and more sociable scene. In the latter viewing you see more people than art. 

Sadie Coles was awarded ‘Stand of the Year’ and the large space does not disappoint. Another remarkable corner is a solo show of David Shrigley’s new work. Viewed through a cage (which one can enter) is a large headless ostrich and an array of taxidermy also including a dog. This is not done a-la-PollyMorgan (deathly stuffed animals, often attatched to coffins) but the character of the cute little animal is retained as he stands upright on two feet holding a sign proclaiming ‘I'm Dead’. The humour immediately transpires and surpasses the more obvious connotations and normal artist intentions of raising awareness of cruelty to animals. Taxidermy has become a craze- check out both Polly and (not related) Claire Morgan. Taxi-dermy actually means walking/travelling skin or something similar (my Greek is pretty good). Back to the stand-on the walls, lined up in series, are some twenty of Shrigley's child-like drawings which the average person would dismiss as 'not-art'. However, contrary to popular argument art does not always need to be taken seriously and these works leviate the difficulty which is often attached to contemporary art and make people automatically dismiss it. Art should be enjoyed and encourage conversation. One can walk alongside these drawings and enjoy the self-mockery text 'I paint drawings' scribbled next to a stick giraffe. Also google Rob Pruitt, he is amazing and paints huge florescent canvases with smiley eyes (sounds bad looks good).

Other personal highlights included an experiential Ugo Rondinone (an Italian artist) tree piece, not as effective as last year's 800 year old olive tree cast in plaster, but more tranquil and possibly more reflective of the current market. In an enclosed white space sitting along the floor and in an L shape up the wall are two beautiful beams of wood accompanied by a small pile of lemons in the centre of the room. I love trees, for some unknown reason.

240 million pounds is the reported amount of value in the room. There were 10 things I liked, would certainly hang on my walls, and could not afford. Concludingly- it has become less spectacular, but I am forever dedicated.

David Shrigley

David Shrigley


                                                          Ugo Rondinone