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50 collages before Christmas

Abstract collage by David Smith

“From Under Your Nose”
Paper, acrylic and discarded photograph on gessoed canvas 50cm x 50cm

I’ve gone and done it again! A few years back I did a collage a day for a year – #Collage365. Then I did another every-day-for-a-year project – #Letter365. Only this time I have been a bit less demanding of myself. I think there are 63 days left till Christmas and I started the project 4 or 5 days ago. I know I am going to be away and busy for some of the time so I didn’t want to give myself any pressure. I also wanted to be able to do larger, more considered work rather than the very focussed work that the previous projects demanded. The idea came from my frustration of not being able to get the studio time I have been wanting. Necessary work on my studio roof and other calls on my time have meant I have not been able to engage in the concentrated work I need to be doing. I have sort of promised myself a “residency-at-home” for six months, following the idea of a “staycation”, where I can have an immersive experience in my studio and home landscape (mostly) and this project is how I have decided to kick it off.

Collage has started to creep into my work again – in the “Rings” series and the “Abstract Drawings for Dummies”, the first two of which are also the first two of #Collage50. When I was starting to put my studio back together after the work, I got out one of my large boxes of collage materials and just started working on things. I’ll have to find a way to get my studio organised round the things I am doing! Currently the floor and some work surfaces are covered with newly painted and marked paper I am preparing for use in collages!

The piece above, From Under Your Nose is Number 4 in the series. The photographs are discarded prints by Bridport photographer Brendon Buesnel that he gifted me as collage materials a couple of years ago. The piece below is Number 3, In The Room With No Soul. It features a photograph I took inside Bruce Bruce Nauman’s Room with My Soul Left Out, Room That Does Not Care which I saw at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin. A small piece of one of these photos has already appeared in #Collage50 and I can see it could be a theme that develops. Well, it’s a grid isn’t it!

Abstact collage by David Smith

“In The Room With No Soul”
Card and photograph on gessoed canvas 50cm x 50cm

I will set up a separate page for the project in due course and try to get half-decent pictures of them all to make into a gallery slide show.

Artwork selected for Bones Journal 7

Spread from Bones - journal of contemporary haiku

Spread from Bones – journal of contemporary haiku

I don’t think I have mentioned that I was asked to provide images of my artwork to illustrate Issue 7 of Bones – journal for contemporary haiku, published back in July. It was a great honour for me to be asked and the words and pictures complement each other superbly.

After some ridiculous, some more disapppointments, some fun verging on the ridiculous and you’ll have to wait for the sublime

In my last post I left the narrative of my trip to London at the end of last week ar the Royal Academy. What I failed to relate was my disappointment with the lack of interest and training in the staff at the RA. I have to say there is something odd about the RA to my mind.

The founding Royal Academicians in a painting by Johan Zoffany

The founding Royal Academicians in a painting by Johan Zoffany

I never feel comfortable there really, yet have never investigated why that might be. I avoided visiting for a long time. I started to get a bit of a feeling about it on this visit – and it’s not just because it is a different clientele to the Tate.

A friend once, in response to me voicing my unease, said “well they are a bit up themselves there aren’t they?” The clientele is definitely more conservative, more establishment, more old-money, more class-conscious and there is the sense of a posh club. I feel as if the RA as an establishment doesn’t really care about its visitors or it would have paid more attention to the basics of its retail/visitor-attraction offering. The terrible indictment I realised when I left was that in 11 interactions with Royal Academy staff only one was “good” (the lady in the cloakroom), one “adequate” (the person who checked my ticket) and all the rest were below the basic standard you would expect for day-to-day dealings let alone a major art gallery and visitor attraction. For example, I asked four different staff members (three at desks) where I might find the “Converse and Dazed” show “you know, the emerging artist thing” and they had no idea. Rather than taking responsibility the first three suggested asking someone else (“ask at the desk”, “ask downstairs”, “you’ll need to ask at the information desk for that”). The woman at the information desk looked at her screen and seemed not to be able to find it and treated me as if I was mad and not giving her enough information to go on! Whoever is responsible for visitor-facing staff at the RA really needs to visit Tate Modern to see how to improve; or the Whitechapel to make the visitor feel involved; or for a proper object lesson in how to do it properly they should take a look how they do it at the Turner Contemporary!

So I finally managed to get to the Converse and Dazed show (despite the poor signage, lack of information and aggressive security staff!) and had to take some time to calm myself before I was in a good place to look at the art. You enter the show through Jonathan Trayte’s “The Shopper’s Guide” and it is as good a place as any to shake off the irritation. It is fun, wry and quizzical: I can see why Grayson Perry picked it as his favourite. It didn’t hold my attention for long enough in the end and my rosette goes to Rachel Pimm’s “India Rubber” which is engrossing and subtle and, at times, quite beautiful. I can’t illustrate this as there are no relevant images on the RA website!

One of Klaus Staudt's pieces at the Mayor Gallery

One of Klaus Staudt’s pieces at the Mayor Gallery

I then went for a little wander down Cork Street where Klaus Staudt’s show at the Mayor Gallery was quite interesting, especially the very minimalist pieces. I also found some Gillian Ayres work at the Alan Cristea not really to my taste. Her work is vibrant and colourful but my reaction to her work is often black and white: love it or leave it. I feel I would do well to spend some more time looking at her work to examine just why!

Salt print image of Captain Lord Balgonie by Roger Fenton

Captain Lord Balgonie, Grenadier Guards, Roger Fenton © Wilson Centre for Photography

Next stop was Tate Britain to see the Salt and Silver exhibition. I had been prompted to visit through the Tate’s marketing, Tate Etc and the (careful) selection of images I had seen. I was especially drawn to the statements about the “materiality” of these prints; the image being absorbed in the top layers of the paper rather than a surface coating giving them a more artistic sense compared with other early photographic processes. Sadly I was disappointed not to get any of this sense of the image becoming an object. Behind glass and in the subdued light needed to preserve them I found them pretty much the same as any other early prints and even the side-by-side display of three techniques failed to make much impression on me, though I am sure if I was holding them in my hand in normal light the differences would be obvious. That aside, the exhibition did illustrate the history of 20 years of early photography but what is it doing in an Art Gallery? This should have been a free show in the Science Museum where they would have done an even better job of telling the story of the process. I looked at the images (and I do find old photographs interesting and involving) and thought “so even back then people took boring snaps of old ruins!” I have dozens of old postcards and many wartime images, bought or taken by my father, which have similar poorly-composed, tonally-challenged images of random people, churches, ruins and the like. They too are not fit subjects to be in a paid-for show in a major international art gallery. And yes, there is a historical, documentary aspect to the show – 20 years of a few countries in flux – but that’s a job for a museum not the Tate. The photographers were, with a few exceptions, not artists and were not recording the world from an art perspective or intending to make aesthetic creations; they were lawyers, politicians, scientists and generally rich folk! I quite liked the uncropped ones where the edges are black in swathes from the excess silver salts exposed in full light.  I didn’t have to pay extra as I have Tate membership but I would have been pissed off if I had to pay £12 to see it! Perhaps I am being harsh – and there were perhaps a dozen images that were a true delight – but frankly I would have been just as happy seeing them in a nicely printed book because behind glass I could not see that special “materiality” of the image as object.

Nick Wapplington image of Alexander McQueen creation

Nick Wapplington image of Alexander McQueen creation

So after a few experiences where my expectation was higher than the exhibitions delivered, one that was the opposite. I wasn’t even intending to go to the Nick Wapplington/Alexander McQueen: Working Process exhibition but I am pleased I did. By this time I was tired and had done a lot of art and wished I’d seen this earlier. If I had I would have spent a lot more time with it. It is a shame I won’t get a chance to revisit before it closes. What started out as a photobook collaboration has been transformed into a larger-than-life celebration of McQueen’s final 2009 “Horn of Plenty” collection. The photographs of every aspect of the working process of putting a major fashion show together are fascinating and involving and often movingly beautiful. These are juxtaposed with Wapplington’s huge images from landfill sites and recycling plants which act as a comment on the short life of consumer goods, fashion, art and the regeneration and constant reuse of ideas within the creative industries.

After Each Time

Collage by David Smith

After Each Time
Collage, tape & watercolour on Saunders Waterford paper 559mm × 762mm

I have been struggling to take half-decent photographs of my work. With works on paper – especially where a lot of white is showing – it is important to get the light falling evenly across the surface and the white balance right.  So now I have invested in some lighting that has gone a long way to making the situation better, I just need to improve my camera skills and make sense of Photoshop to get me nearer to perfection. This piece is one I did  couple of days ago and the colours are pretty true but it is still not quite there!

The wonder-wallers keep on posting

Harbour wall split by rust

Harbour wall split by rust

I have spoken about the group of artists who love rusting, peeling and general decomposition and share images of same on Twitter. Here is my post during the current spate.

Twitter group of decay lovers

Decaying plywood structure - photograph by David Smith

Decaying plywood structure

There are a group of us on Twitter who love the semi-abstract patterns of decaying structures and the like. My contribution was this image of the rotting interior from our old solar wax extractor.

Another one from my messy side

Wherever She Goes - collage by David Smith

Wherever She Goes
Paper, photographic elements and acrylic 215mm x 298mm

Today’s #arteachday posting was this collage that came about despite starting off with a completely different vision and this really only retains one or two elements from the original idea!

Different to the #Letter365 work today

The Blessed and the Meek - Ink drawing by David Smith

The Blessed and the Meek
Ink drawing on handmade watercolour paper 559mm x 381mm

I promised to put up some #arteachday pieces today that were different to the #Letter365 work I did today. The one above I have been playing around with for ages: I just needed the time and space to let it settle into what it needed to be. I realised that I couldn’t let it fall into any casual or habitual solutions and that although it fits in to my “field” drawings and also has echoes in my Tidelines work it actually has some deep roots into some personal atavistic issues and, I am realising, my old interest in alchemy and alchemical drawings. Anyway, I am now very happy with it after its long gestation. I just need to get some better photographs of it!

Nulla in mundo pax sincera - collage by David Smith

Nulla in mundo pax sincera
Photographic elements on Kadhi paper 300mm x213mm

The second #arteachday piece is a collage made out of my photographs and an altered image from the newspapers of Russian warplanes amaased near to the border with Ukraine. There is a slight whiff of mushroom clouds and shockwaves.

New Library of Birmingham inspirational

Shadows in the new Library of Birmingham

Shadows in the new Library of Birmingham

I’ve been out and about in Birmingham today and not had time for any art apart from my #Letter365 piece, but I went to the new Library and took some more “Personal Reflections” photos featuring the dots on the windows and this one of the shadows of the dots.

Apart from the visually arresting architecture, interesting spaces and good design the new Library was packed with people enjoying using the facilities in a respectful and cooperative way – and I stress the word “enjoying”! Mostly the people were young students working together in groups or couples as well as private study, probably more than 70% non-white ethnicity, and there were lots of smiles and as sense of comradeship and shared endeavour. It felt like a library should feel – alive. So while there may be other local issues about the way the library budget has been spent in Birmingham, the building itself seems to me to be a huge success.

I also managed to catch a nice exhibition on the work of Stefan and Franciszka Themerson, avant-guard filmakers in pre-war Poland, and another quick look round the Library of Cultures exhibition (I think it was called) which has some fantastic images and artifacts, printed materials and photographic archives. Both shows were at the Library.

A Personal Reflection on the Themerson exhibition

A Personal Reflection on the Themerson exhibition

At the Museum and Art Gallery I poped in to see the Grayson Perry tapestries. Which were entertaining and in part visually rich and interesting. I’m unsure how much the good feeling and story in the TV programmes coloured my judgement about them. Would I have liked them less or more had I come to them fresh? I was a bit rushed too so probably took them a bit for granted which I may not have done had I not seen the programmes.

A small dark collage

Small Words - collage by David Smith

Small Words
Collage – photographic elements on Khadi paper 152mm x 220mm

Today’s #arteachday piece is a little repetitive collage featuring our bees again!