Shaun Smyth, painter and Lee Harrison, photographer, have been documenting the Fiddlers Ferry Power Station. The concept is to show the complex machinery, building and the people of the power plant, provided the power that drove a 20th century industrial Britain.
The coal powered plant now in its last days of existence is on a scheduled close down by the end of March as the demolishers move in on the 31st. Fiddlers Ferry is one of the last five remaining coal fired power generation stations in the UK. It covers a huge amount of ground, and over the years it has seen an ironic nature spin off for the wildlife and water fowl, which have taken advantage of the ‘use’ of water the plant used for as a cooling agent and steam generator. Fiddlers famous Cooling towers can be seen across the North West of England with spectacular shows of steam rising to the heavens. One of the many images caught on camera, on video and in painted images by Smyth and Harrison.
The End Game is the demolition – which will be a visual spectacular, especially when the enormous towers come down. Yet there will be a touch of sadness about the whole closure. Despite the 21st century awareness that coal fired power generation needs to be stopped, for the good of the delicate balance of the environment as it is today, this power plant has been an iconic emblem of the North’s contribution to the wealth of the British Nation. It stand for a progressive, can do will do attitude, when it comes to independence and non-reliance on outside providers of essential energy requirements for a nation.
Shaun, Lee and Denis Taylor at Fiddlers Ferry in front of the first completed painting
Smyth and Harrison and to a great extent with the inspiration, ideas and support of the [silent] third member of the project (Denis Taylor artist and editor of Tubes) will present a two part set of exhibitions. One of the first will be at the fabulous Pilkington Glass Museum in St Helens (November 2020), with further venues that will be offered the current completed works (paintings, photographs and video) for the show: “Fiddlers Ferry as it Stands” and a follow up show: “Fiddlers-Ferry as it Falls.” both shows acting as historic records – a complete record which one imagines will be permanently housed in an industrial dedicated Museum for future generations to view as an historic visual education.
We are delighted to provide direct links to the first four back issues of painters TUBES magazines – Click the link of each one to read free on line. They are now presented on Tubes new and fantastic Virtual Reality Platform. You can view the magazine on all devices and all operating systems, OSX , Android, Linux or Windows. Bookmark our website to come back whenever you like and from wherever you are.
TUBES issue #1 Tubes issue #1 featured an interview with Ian Norris in his studio in winter of 2015. Ian Norris a highly respected and renown Northern English artist. Tubes art magazine issue #1 Interview- in the studio with Ian Norris.Featured painter has an in depth discussion about his new paintings and the reasoning behind them. Plus- Review of the Exhibition The Northern School a reappraisal and the accompanying Book at Gateway Gallery, Hale, Cheshire. Exciting New move for the Contemporary Six Gallery in Central Manchester Art Education ”what about the kids” What age should Art be taught? Spike’ on Tretchikoff our resident culture critic tells the full story of this most amazing artist who has been ‘put-down’ by the art establishment in the UK but remains the best selling artist in the 20th century.Click here. link: http://online.mobissue.com/badm/fwvl/
TUBES issue #2 In this issue: “in the studio with John Smout,” A painter hidden from view Plus Dave Coulter and the exhibition of the man behind the most famous street in the world. Coronation Street of Granada Television Fame. Also “in the the studio with Chris Cyprus” A new private Gallery sweeps into Cheshire. Cheshire Art Gallery. Spike- the resident critic explains why “Weltgeist” may be important to a painter. Plus an amazing essay written by the late author and professor of Art at Lancaster University, Nigel Whiteley. The essay -Affirmative art in a Disafirmative Climate was written for the Heart 2 Art Exhibition mounted in Stockholm in 2002- Curated and designed by Denis Taylor Artist, Writer and Editor of painters TUBES magazine. Link: http://online.mobissue.com/badm/yovv/
TUBES issue #3 Brilliant issue including a great interview with legendary gallery owner Dave Gunning. The Galley owner who re-discovered the great English painter William. Ralph Turner. The full story is told in this issue and the Sunday Telegraph magazine article is also reproduced. Plus- Harry Rutherford. His legacy moving again? Saul Hay, a new gallery opens in the City of Manchester (UK) is it another commercial gallery? Paintings by Steve Capper exhibiting at Gateway Gallery Hale. Plus Hugh Winterbottom new work. Link: http://online.mobissue.com/badm/wucv/
TUBES issue #4 Abstract from alpha to omega. Academic brilliant article by Denis Taylor. Twentieth Century movements.Cubism to Futurism to Dada. Artists discussed: Braque, Matisse, Delauney, Mondrian,Derain, Gris, Metzinger, Balla, Malevich, Kandinsky, Duchamp. Late twentieth century movements, American Abstract Expressionism to Figurative Expressionism. Artists discussed. Mark Tobey, Mark Rothko, William De Kooning, Clifford Still, Nicholas de Stael, Arshille Gorky, Barnet Newman, Yves Klein, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg. 21st Century artists include: John Walker, Kayla Mohammadi, Denis Taylor, Lisa Kreuziger plus several more artists. Link: http://online.mobissue.com/badm/ytgv/
I strayed across an interesting old video on You Tube….
It was was on those that you find popping up on a feed after you have watched something similar, which is annoying. But, it got me thinking about the relationship between Artistic freedom and Modern Religious Art. This particular You Tube discussion, come lecture, come educational piece, was presented by a line up of tenured academics and young post graduate teachers.
The panel argued how Contemporary Art institutions reacted negatively to work that was based in some sort of religious subject.The discussion started after an initial lecture by one of the Academics, David Thyrell. So began two hours of surprising statements, amusing quotes, some fairly logical reasoning, heart felt speeches and many contradictions from an art academic viewpoint.
Thyrell reckoned that… “Only Art that is critical of (western) religion of faith is acceptable as Contemporary Art. And all other art that could be read as religious, is translated to one of a post minimalistic view.” (And)…”that all references to faith and religion is edited out at source”. (And)…”the contemporary Art world does not seek any debate on this form of art because they see it as non-progressive, as propagandistic and not supportive of an advancing culture or indeed, enlightening mankind for the new centuries ahead of us.”Thyrell spoke with passion and summed up his lecture by stating…”it seems, that religious work that is non-specific, for example, non-stated religious, ambiguous or totally abstracted with very loose associations, are acceptable as Contemporary Art. Providing the images are not from a Judeo Christian slant. However, the tribal, the Asiatic or the cultism subjects are OK.“
Judaeo-Christian made up the bulk of the audience (note: it was held at a Roman Catholic University) I guessed they must have been appalled by the status-quo of the implied bigotry against religious art levelled against the- ‘Artists of Faith’ – as they call themselves. For me personally, there is no need to be religious specific to appreciate (or create) Art that is good, even if that Art owns its very existence to institutions of any religion persuasion who sponsored it, or indeed created by an artist that holds a particular belief system or faith.
detail of Pontormo’s ‘deposition’ (1525‒28) at the church of Santa Felicita, Florence
Good Art is what floats my boat, I don’t care who or why or for whom it was created for. As for the rest of the Art that floods the web and the mass media art reviews, much of that Art that personally I find sort of shallow, egoistically based, trendy or with intellectual invested admiration intentions, I simply pass quickly by, metaphorically speaking, without so much as a cursory thought. For me to be anguished by an Art as the above, only goes to validate it as important to human cultural advancement, which I think it is not.
Most artists, (those I do know personally), when looking at a work of art that could be deemed as ‘Religious’, tend to ignore the possible original intended propaganda or dogma of it, but rather they concentrate on the pure magic of the Art work in front of them. For example some the work of by Pontormo and El Grego, to mention only two (religious) painters of the far distant past, whose work I greatly admire and gain much from. After a while I began to feel that the lecture, come debate, was myopic, but Thyrell’s argument did instigate an examination of my own thoughts on the subject of Modern Art & Freedom of Creation and Modern Religious beliefs in our, so called, multi-sectarian developed Western societies.
If a contemporary artist can go beyond an intellectual subject matter and demonstrate a visual power conducted via an innermost and deeply held belief, then surely that is still a vital and sustainable contemporary Art, is it not? No matter what religion the creator of that art subscribes too, or not as the case maybe. After all, isn’t atheism a brand of religion by another name?
Rothko Chapel Texas USA (rothkochapel.com)
If we look closer to our own time, rather than the centuries when the Church and Monarchies of Rome and Spain dominated major art commissions, say from the early and middle centuries, we can find a new sort of religious art. Malevich, Kandinsky, Mondrian and the like studied theosophy and talked of a ‘spiritual’ art. Pollock, used the practises of the the Indian Sand Painters, which involved connection with ancestors souls or spirits. Rothko and the gang of colour field painters also spoke of mediative involvement and introspection. Are all those artworks a form of religion? If you have ever visited the Rothko ‘Chapel’ in Texas, you’ll know what I am talking about. And what of Chagall. Are his paintings nothing more than illustrated nostalgia based on childhood memories of stories taken from the Old Testament? Or let’s take Vincent Van Gough, was not his paintings a projection of the love of nature reinterpreted through his own deep seated belief in a universal God? How about Agnes Martin or Sam Francis, each with a Buddhist inclination for transcendentalism or meditation. Is that not religious Art ?
Sam Francis painting in his studio
In the early 20th century the word nihilistic art was being brandished about to describe the work of the Futurist (Italy), whose dogma was Machines and War to cleanse society and shock it out of it’s perceived malaise [of the time]. The Dada movement used the same framework with banal poetry, non-sensical drama and outlandish visual presentations [to hide away from and in reaction to the horrors of World War One]. Again, the essence here is that the Dada movement believed in something – however abstract that was – rather than nothing. And this obtuse oddity of their belief carried on manifesting itself decades later as the impatience of post-modernist [young] artists and the ambitious driven post-post modernists, and the current belief that ‘selling art, means that it must be good ‘Art’ – And made by a succesful artist (rounds of applause by living painters, can be heard here on instagram and facebook) which where I guess we find ourselves in today’s visual art world.
Though, just maybe the web is changing the ground rules. I don’t know about you, but when I view art on the web, I find more and more of it has a growing and obvious ‘belief-structure’ of some kind behind it. And much of it is good Art, mostly created by ‘unknowns’. Sure, there is still that twee stuff and the obvious bash it out to sell it for financial gain ‘ hamburger art’, not forgetting the overly academic art whitterings of art professors and so called art intellectuals who try to convince the audiences in the cities of the world, that this piece of stuff or that offerings of purely conceptual ideas, is great progressive Art (and not just simply a novel or good idea). After all it does put a high monetary value sticker on it, provided it is accompanied by the obligatory academic recommendations, especially if the Art has the blessings of Art Directors of state run institutions.
So, do Artists have total freedom to create what Art they want? Maybe not entirely, if you agree with David Thyrell in the You Tube video I mentioned earlier. Is Religious Art (in all it’s manifestations) making a comeback? The Zeitgeist signs suggests it may well be, but not in the ‘normal’ sense of the word. In this world of the politics of infusing the inhabitants with psychological terror, global climate change fear, mega disaster predictions, the accelerating greed for money and power, irresponsible political leaders and not forgetting the inhumanity to humanity we witness daily, a world that we live in today (and perhaps always have). Maybe it’s not such a bad ambition for visual artists to ascend to a higher level and start to transmit messages of hope. And if you’ll pardon the religious, (come 1960’s hippy reference and of course the Artist known as John Lennon) visual art messages of Love and Peace, for all who reside on this tiny insignificant planet tucked away in the corner the limitless time and space of the universe.
As David Byrne once wrote,
“Heaven is a place, where Nothing ever happens.”
So, now I have to gather my courage and meander slowly to my studio, where another blank space awaits. I wonder what will appear? I guess I just have to have faith that something of real artistic value will show itself, maybe even holding the restorative creative power of the universe itself ?
One never knows, that’s one reason to be an Artist, isn’t it?
small part of the many Universes – photograph from NASA
I strolled through the car park sucking on my empty pipe and coming to terms with an altered perception of my existence. A figure approached me. “Hey mate have you got any skins.” He asked me. I took a step back as I cautiously looked him over. He was a youngish man with a wild haircut and friendly eyes. “No.” I said a little startled by him having spotting me in the shadows. “You see mate, we’re doing our first set of new tunes tonight. It will be an all night rehearsal thing for a gig this weekend. The drummer remembered to bring the weed but forgot to bring the skins, the dick head.” He said with a grin. “Oh I see, what is it you want from me again?” I was still unsure what he was talking about. “You know mate, papers…’skins’ to make a spliff.” I stared open eyed back at him. “It’s just for a smoke mate whilst we are playing.” He said. Still a little confused, as I didn’t know what he was referring to in the first place, I replied.
“You can borrow my pipe, if you want.”
Then I pushed my arm and hand forward, holding the pipe up with some reverence. “Nice one man.” The young man said. “You can come up to the rehearsal room if you want and have a poke, that’s if you like to try the weed.” I thought about the word ‘Poke’. I presumed he meant a smoke of his ‘wacky baccy’. I agreed to the offer of the poke and followed him through the yard to the old buildings urine smelling elevator, which we had to take as the rehearsal rooms, which was on the third floor of the old cotton mill building. It’s odd, I thought, why these young people never take the stairs? He looked to the corners of the lift.“Bands today man, what are they like?
They piss everywhere, they think they’re all fucking Oasis or something.” The boy showed disgust at his fellow musicians lack of respect and I was more empathic about their bladder control. We arrived on the third floor and was greeted by the mural I had painted many years ago of the Beatles. I looked at the mural casually, but made no comment about it. The paint was slowly fading away, but somehow that gave it more authenticity. “Sort of ironic reminder of Pop music.” Said the young musician and he pointed to the mural. “Why ironic?” I asked him.
“You know, it’s fading away, like all pop bands fade away, when their fans fade away. or grow old and die…”
…and so the story begins.
…The old rehearsal studios were very old, but loved by the local musicians, because they are cheap to rent space in. The building carried a renown musical history going back several decades. I first came here as a young ambitious artist, wanting to be around the new music that was exploding onto the scene at that time. They called the place ‘Green Door,’ due to the large metal doors of the entrance that were painted green for as long as anyone can remember – I knew why they were that colour of course, because it was the one that painted them, when I first created the wall mural of the Beatles on either side of the doors. The young man and I walked through the Green Door and there seated on two old leather sofas was the rest of the band. He introduced to each of them in turn. “Ok, this is Monny our Singer and this is Spider our lead genius guitar and this is Woody our mad drummer and I’m Smiffy the quite one on base. And this guys is the provider of the pipe, sorry man but didn’t catch your name?” The he said. I shook each of their hands and introduced myself as Spike, my own nickname back in the day. “And I’m the bands public relations expert.” A young blonde girl came out from one of the side recording rooms, she held out her hand. She resembled an updated version of Marilyn Monroe with heavy red lipstick, matching finger nails and the possessor of an curvy figure. She shook my hand gently, but firmly. “Pleased to meet you, my name is Anthea.” She said, “But the band call me Andy.”
Are you an artist? She asked me. “Of sorts.” I replied. Before Anthea could develop the conversation Smithy had loaded the pipe, fired it up and handed it to me. Blue smoke already filled the air accompanied by the sweet aroma of marijuana. I decided to be polite and not refuse to partake and sucked on the pipe before blowing out a cloud of smoke. It caught my throat and I coughed. “Good Mary Jane.” I said. The band looked at me confused. “You know, – MJ.” I said. They laughed at the dated references to the drug, as each of them took turns to suck and blow in between refilling the pipe with the weed. “Did you say you’re an Artist?” The singer said. “I was a painter, many moons ago.” I answered. “You didn’t you do that old mural at the entrance did you?” The lead guitarist asked. “Guilty as charged”. I said smiling. “And I was actually paid for doing it.” I replied. “That’s sick man” ‘Woody’ said and after a silent pause in the group conversation.
“I thought it was Ok when I did it, but it may look sick now I guess.” I replied. Smiffy explained that ‘sick’ was good and not ‘sick’ as in meaning bad. “Nice one, I always wondered who painted it, now I’ve met him.” Said Spider laughing.
“My company is called Sync-In” The blonde bombshell interjected. “That’s with a ‘Y’ and a ‘C’. She clarified her companies name by handing me her business card. I looked at it impassively. ‘Sync-In’…keeping you in touch with todays sounds. The card said. “That’s Cool” I replied to her card, trying to appear as ‘cool’ as any old man could be, given the present company who’s average age I guessed to be no more than twenty one years old. “Are you a well known artist?” She asked. I stuttered a little before answering her. “Yes, but only to myself.” I said and the band laughed. The pipe finally arrived at me again and I took one huge drag and then passed it on to the blonde bombshell. “Oh, thanks, don’t mind if I do.” She said politely. “Hey mate” Smiffy shouted. “Wanna hear a tune or two in a bit?” “Sure.” I answered enthusiastically. After all I had nowhere else to go, also the blonde bombshell intrigued me. We walked into one of the smaller rehearsal rooms and the band began to warm up their respective instruments.
Andy Sandy sat next to me. “They are really good” She said. “I’m organising a video for the BBC New Sounds show. “We decided to record a live gig.” She purred. After numerous twangs of electric wire strings and drum rolls, the band launched themselves into their first new song. ‘Smiffy’ created a base line that led the lead guitarist into a hook line whilst ‘Woody’ became one with his set and clicked his sticks together to ascertain the beat, his bobby hat being the only thing in view behind the large drum set. The band spun-off from each other as the rhythm and lyrics began to slowly gel together into a melodic beginning. It went well until Andy decided she wanted the band to rehearse how they would appear on stage, (for the video). She began positioning them, explaining from which best direction they would be videoed. The band went along with her for a while. Then Woody got up from his drums and went back to the sofa, quickly followed by Smiffy leaving only the lead guitarist and Monny.
I excused myself and joined Smiffy on the sofa. He sat smoking my pipe and looking glum. “She does my head man.” I looked at him with sympathy. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, she’s good at what she does, but I don’t see why she has to be at rehearsals every fucking week. I mean she maybe shagging Monny, but for fucks sake…we gotta get some real rehearsing time in..seriously man…we a’int anywhere near tight enough yet for this BBC gig.”
He took a suck on my pipe and then handed it to me. “You know she is probably wasting her time anyway.” I said to Smiffy. “What d’you mean?” He sensed I was on his side. “Well, of all the best bands I’ve ever seen in here, and thats like hundreds and hundreds in my time.” I stopped for a puff on my pipe. “How old are you man.” Smiffy said. “As old as pop music my boy”. I said with a wry smile. “Now as I was saying, of them all, the very best didn’t so much play music as feel it.” “Well yea, we all do feel the sounds man, what’s that gotta do with Andy and her fucking about with our rehearsing time?” “Perhaps you should mention to Monny that if the video is to be of any substance, musically speaking, then Andy should video you exactly how you feel when you are performing the tunes. No rehearsals are needed for that. You should be creating the togetherness at rehearsals and only performing the sounds at the gig. If anyone has to be in rehearsals at all, they should be like me, invisible. That way it will be a great video and not a cheesy one, like so many of these video artists seem to be these days.” “If he’ll listen, I think he goes deaf when he sees her big knockers, he can’t concentrate on the words of the tune.” He was right, as in so many cases, personal or physical relationships and creating music cannot be mixed and if they are, generally it’s for the worse, at least that’s according to my observations of the years. #” The mad thing is Andy’s got a brilliant voice – I want her to be in the band – and be a sort of co-singer – that would have solved everything- but I was out-voted. I persuaded, with a promise of support for many of Smithy’s viewpoints, and persuaded him and Woody to go back into the rehearsal room and try again to play at least one song from top to bottom without Monny’s girlfriend’s involvement.
Andy was still positioning Spider and Monny for camera angles as we walked in. When the band set up again she sat down next to me. “So, Andy, tell me, are you planning to be on stage with the boys at the gig?” She looked at me as if I had insulted her. “Of course not, this is about the Band and not me.” I sucked on the pipe, which was, by now empty. “Oh, I see, I thought you would be.” I said. “Why? She asked turning towards me. “It would be natural for you to do it wouldn’t it? or have you employed a camera person for the job? “Not exactly, the BBC said they would have to use their own camera people.” “I see, so you have no real input with them do you” “None at all.” She said. “Yet I hear you have a good voice? – Couldn’t you persuade Monny to be a back up for him.” I asked. ” Well you know what bands are like…they are very funny about letting in new members.” She with a frown on her forehead. “I see so now, you are trying to get the band to put themselves in a position on stage as if you would be filming them, so you are involved, is that it?” “Well, I hadn’t thought of it like that but I suppose so.” I looked at the pipe and looked at Andy. “Could you do me a favour.” I asked. “Depends on what it is.” She said with a cheeky smile on her face. “Can you find something to put into this.” I held up the pipe. “I believe you will some ‘weed’ in Woody’s jacket on the sofa. Andy obliged and being a bright girl, I think she was thinking about our conversation, and seriously thinking about making music for herself.
The band began their first tune of the night. And repeated the introduction as they had before. This time Monny was concentrated. “Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain” ‘Monny’ sang and faded out the last of words as ‘Spider’ caressed his electric tool and produced an addictive repetition of notes. Smiffy played a pulsating captivating hook base line throughout. Monny looked up from the staring at the floor and began to sing with emotional power. “A million thoughts are spinning round my head, a sinking feeling like I’m in a dream.” He continued. “Remembering all the things I could have said…to you.” He turned to face the drummer and turned back grabbing the microphone in one movement while simultaneously upping the volume of his voice. “When you’re gone there’ll be no second chance, you made your bed now lie in it.” The rest of the bands volume increased three fold and Monny roared. “Rain on me and wash away my tears, shine on me and brighten up my years.” Spider played a haunting solo on lead as Woody rammed the drums with powerful expression. The instruments then fell silent except for the faint base rhythm played by Smiffy. Monny looked down at the floor and shook his head from side to side as if he was crying. He looked up at the ceiling and quietly sang with a sad delivery. “We all come to a bridge of life.” Monny then looked to his side and then looked directly at me. “Has it ever occurred no-one crosses it?” The guitar kicked in much louder and the drummer became a blur of flashing sticks. “Rain on me” ‘Monny’ cried out and then repeated the same lyric as he expanded the line. “I’m taking one day at a time, one day at a time” He followed it swiftly with an emotional tone. “Rain on me and wash away my tears”. He pleaded “Shine on me and brighten up my years.” He asked with passion. He repeated the line “Brighten up my years.” Building up to a crescendo. As the band slowly played in unison to the fore with an immense addictive sound. It was, I thought, the best song I had ever heard for many a year behind the Green Door.
I found myself standing up accompanied by Andy, who had come back into the room smoking and hot. At the end of the song I collapsed exhausted into the chair. “I have to leave.” I said. “Wanna a poke before you go?” ‘Monny’ asked me. I looked at the pipe and looked at Andy. “No thanks Monny, but you can keep the pipe, because that was what I call a great tune.”
till next time…
I walked to the Green Doors, as I opened them I turned my head to the band. “What do you call yourselves?” ‘Monny’ rose to his feet and proudly said “Teaser.” “That’s with a very big ‘Z’ in the middle” Andy added. “ I looked at Andy – “Let the band do the video exactly as they have, it will be a smash hit. I said and walked out of the room making my way towards the urine perfumed elevator, but detoured towards stairs, preferring the smell of mould and dirt to that of urine. “Rain on me and wash away my tears, Shine on me and brighten up my years.” A tear fell as I sang the tune as I slowly walked down the stairs and through the yard and back into my non-existence, that is until the next time I cross the bridge of space and time to once again go behind the Green Door.
Those are questions asked by the artist in the illustrated poem – PALIA HORA – which is Greek for Old Capital City (or town). Palia Hora of Aegina island once was the home of the entire island. It was in the centre of the island and afforded (and still affords) magnificent views over the entire Saronic Gulf – which was it’s downfall, as the inhabitants turned to piracy – and the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire ordered his General (Barrabus) to destroy the town and kill all its people – as a matter of a lesson to all – The Greek people built the town over a thousand years – and each important family had their own Chapel to worship God (Greek Orthodox) . Barrabus – (who mother was Greek) however left 32 chapels standing in remembrance of his brother (who died at the early age of 32) and out of respect for his mother. Today the Chapels have been restored (respectfully) by the Greek Church and visitors can now see murals in the chapels from the 12th to the 15th century by master Greek painters whose names have faded with time.
Summer special edition Back Issues (on line only) available soon.
extract from the essay:
…When you think of the word ‘Revolution’ another word automatically springs to mind to precede it. American is one, French and Russian perhaps are others. These Revolutions involved violence, out right war and sudden social changes. Few people automatically think to put the word ‘Industrial’ in front of that emotive word. Maybe because the ‘Industrial Revolution’ was more of a ‘slow burn’ and happened over time, a slow change to society rather than a dramatic instant thrust of evident and far reaching dramatic changes of the social fabric like the well known revolutions.
Yet the industrial revolution was by far the most important and influential revolution that has ever happened to civilisation since someone in the middle east discovered that a seed bearing plant could be turned into food (bread). That particular amazing ‘discovery’ enabled ‘spare-time’ for humanity to develop other skills and helped to propel a human society beyond the limitations of living as the nomadic hunter gatherers that humans had been living for millenniums up to that point.
For our story, about how the industrial revolution affected Art and Artists, let’s start by making some educated assumptions as to why the Industrial Revolution came about. Without labouring on the individual details too much, you could say it was the need to increase productivity for goods to trade with for a growing population. Initially, the energy needed for these goods was provided by manual labour, mules or horses to haul the wood that gave-up it’s stored energy, directly or through the making of charcoal that provided the power to make other things, like smelting metals or firing pottery. Manufacturers also used ‘water driven’ machinery to increase productivity in food production (i.e. bread). And then the most important source of energy of all was unearthed (literally) as the best energy source of all, Coal. This was, by far, the most important of all the energy sources, because it was cheap, plentiful, efficient and England, in particular, had plenty of it. The fact that ‘Coal Power’ greatly expanded the production of goods is unquestionable and it was to change the face of Western Civilisation as much as ‘ Crude Oil’ did in the latter part of the 20th century. continued…
It was a very cold Easter Saturday that both myself and Marianne (sub-editor of Tubes) visited the Copenhagen Art Space for an annual exhibition. The venue is situated in the developing Nordhavbn (North Harbour) part of the Danish Capital City. The venue known as ‘Docken’ is a space which is expansive and well appointed. Art Space 2018 is an Art and Culture event that is approaching ten years old. The show runs over three days which may bring to mind Art Fairs in the UK, however this exhibition has the feeling of a Salon, rather than an Art Fair.
The warm laid back welcoming that you get when entering the show made up for the bitter cold wind outside and allowed you to really enjoy what’s on offer. It was a breath of fresh air to witness the space given to each artist who exhibited, of which their were Sixty, all showing high quality, original, authentic work that was diverse enough for everyone’s particular taste. I began thinking that the space and the way it was presented could be a guiding light for the UK and Artists to organize themselves to mount this sort of exhibition in similar spaces in the UK of which there are plenty available.
For me it was an opportunity to catch up with an old artist friend, Preben Saxild, an artist I had exhibited with in Stockholm at the Heart 2 Art exhibition in 2002. And one who’s work I have been following since before 1998. Preben has developed as an artist from being a very talented abstract expressionist, through to creating his unique landscape phase, and now a new line of work which is montage based, but with his own unique ‘take’ on life, one tinged with ‘irony’ political comment and sheer luxurious image making.
‘Spike’ – resident critic of painters Tubes magazine takes a stab at the vanity galleries and the ‘pay to enter’ commercial competitions and art fairs.
“Vanity and pay for exhibition spaces or Galleries, are they worth it?”
So, what is an alternative to the favoured High Street galleries for the artists who cannot break the cycle of rejection, (however reluctant that may be, from a Galleries viewpoint). The so called ‘Vanity’ galleries have been around for decades and over the last two decades they have sprouted up everywhere, in one form or another. It is rarely they that are bothered or (overly) concerned about the quality of the artists work, the ones who wish to pay them for their space.
This type of gallery is in the business of renting ‘the space only,’ usually in a well located high street shop, for a profit. They use a branded banner on the outside and send out invitations of ‘applications,’usually from commercially acquired mass emailing lists of artists, ones that are gleaned from, you guessed it, Social Media platforms. Some advertise directly on mass media or other social media with attractive wording that will entice the Artist to go one step further and start a conversation with their ‘curator’ (read Salesman). It’s only when you actually read the ‘deal’ that you discover that it will cost a ‘shit-load’ of your own money, that you begin to temper the ego and dreams of exhibiting in a gallery with that of your own financial reality.
Those who are brave and drown out the ‘money’ objection, one being screamed at them for all corners, convince themselves that they will ‘break even’ financially – if only given the chance to show their work, but usually they have either, miscalculated the cost, or are unaware of what it takes to ensure a reasonably successful ‘selling’ exhibition. Or they simply cannot get past the artistic‘blue-sky’ thinking syndrome. Not so long a go I did a cost analysis of exhibiting in a ‘pay-for-space’gallery. This was based on an out of City centre location, (in the UK) with reasonably accurate costs for space, marketing, transportation and so on. The final figure came out at a cost for a 5 to 6 day solo exhibition of around £3500 ($4,800). Major City centre space was nearer double that price, when I looked further into it. That’s a lot of painting to sell, based on the market average price for a half decent sized canvas for an unknown painter, at the lower (attractive) ‘stip-end’ market price level of around £350 each (circa $500), So is it worth it? Just for friends and family to rub ones ego and confirm you are a good artist?
How about selling on the web and creating a virtual reality exhibitions on your own website?
Sure, but I would suggest for that to be really successful, (i.e. selling on a regular basis for a consistent period of time) the artist will need a very good e-commerce enabled website (i.e. one that is not cheap to acquire and maintain) – And spend a great deal of time making strategic posts on social media – Or hire someone to do that specific task, and with a regular advertising budget. In this case I would suggest an annual budget for Marketing and PR of in excess £3000 per annum, for doing it all yourself, or £5000 to £8,000 annually, to hand this ‘job’ over to a professional full time SEO and art marketeer to do it for you. Who will no doubt, not give you any guarantee of a return for your money.
How about entering Art Competitions to gain recognition?
Why not, if you can live with the rejection element, nine out of ten times of entering the ones that, according to their pre-publicity, ‘give You the chance of lifetime’ to be internationally famous. Let’s be honest here, it’s a bit of lottery. The important thing to remember is, who does the judging – Usually there is an academic, a curator, another well known person who knows (not a lot) about art and the winner from the previous years competition. So the winning entries are somewhat vacuous in their preferences because of their own bias to one form of art or another. There again, if you actually ‘Win’ or come second or third, what does it bring you? – Well if it’s a National Competition’ then about 15 minutes of fame and a commission from the sponsors of the Competition, and loads of Facebook likes and messages of congratulations (ego gratification again). Plus, maybe 3 minutes on a You Tube video interview or a feature in your local newspaper.The rest of the smaller comp’s are really a bit like Vanity Galleries, except they don’t make as much money out of the ‘customer’. It can cost around £30 to enter three paintings to an ‘average’ competition – And if you are short listed you have to physically take your paintings to a central point – for ‘further judging’ and then schlep them back again (when rejected), which can cost you up to ‘whatever’-depending how far away you live form the nominated place of ‘drop-off’. The on-line ‘competitions, to my mind, are simply a money gathering exercise, full stop. And, again only in my opinion, are really not worth bothering with – unless they are free to enter of course.
Read ‘Spike’ in painters TUBES magazines back issues on line and now on TAG (Tubes artists Gallery) link: painterstubes.gallery
Photograph below: Contemporary Artist, Denis Taylor in front of the installation at Crossley Gallery, Dean Clough, Halifax, UK
Denis Taylor with his work at Crossley Gallery, Dean Clough. Left: ‘Acid Trip’ (1985) Middle: ‘Life Began in Water’ (2018) Right: Cellular Abstraction (2014)
The exhibition “defining the elemental is an exhibition of painting in the UK. The ten artists participating are showing authentic work that covers contemporary landscape, portraits and new abstract painting. The extensive venue is the Crossley Gallery which is within the extremely large Dean Clough business and culture complex in Halifax, West Yorkshire.
The exhibition began in October and ran through to 12th January 2019. Many of the artists were renown throughout the North of England and beyond for their progressive, dynamic, semi-realist and abstract new work, such as, Denis Taylor, Ian Norris and Jeanette Barnes along with major project painters such as Shaun Smyth and original impasto styled (inspired by Kossoff/Auerbach) portraiture work created by Richard Fitton and Barry De Moore.
reviews appeared in issue #10 of painters Tubes magazine.
extract from the review in the magazine….
This is a show that has ten painters and writer who has created poems for the works on exhibition at the Crossley Gallery venue inside the expansive Dean Clough complex.
In the introduction David Traves points out the inspiation of British 20th century painters such as David Bomberg, Leon Kossof and Frank Auerbach, that some of the participating artists may have been inspired by, although that is referring to paint application, more than it is to the subjects.
The selected the group of artists was mostly chosen by Shaun Smyth.
The original concept and title for the exhibition. “Defining the Elemental” was his original idea and it conjures up a whole range of meanings behind it. Essentially the artwork to be shown is primarly based in nature subject matter, although one or two of the artists have expanded that to include the human figure and pure abstraction, work that perhaps have broader and more expansive meaning, as far as the human race is concerned. i.e. “initium aquam”(Latin: Life began in Water) by Denis Taylor and “Rebuilding ground zero” by Jeanette Barnes. Richard Fitton, another fine painter, shows some new work, one in particular that is removed away from the impasto paintings he is known for, to a more delicate surface finish and his growing concern for the drawing content in his creative output (e.g: “Amy” mixed media- on loan from a private collector). Ian Norris exhibits his highly developed semi-abstract work with his accomplished and fabulous handling of paint, work that is always backed up by dedicated charcoal sketch works.
painters TUBES favourite art critic and muse, known to all unsundry as Spike, returns to the latest issue with a pragmatic look at the back side of Art – business and selling. What follows is a extract from the full article that you can read free on the latest issue of painters Tubes magazine…
Showing paintings on line, is now the main stream for the dissemination of an artists work. Even though real life exhibitions are still relevant for many artists, an on line presence is essential (if only for street cred). That “painting is a dead art” conversation has faded away as fast as padded shoulders did in the middle 1980’s. There has been a major change in attitude to painting in the last few years. In part, this may be entirely due to the need for the high street galleries to survive the financial crisis, the one that started in earnest in 2009 and is still having an effect now, not to mention adding to the problem with (thinking here about) Donald Trump and the European Union on the brink of collapse helped along by French Riots, and No Deal Brexit.
Today, more than ever, high street galleries need to sell ‘more-stuff’ and earn extra profit to pay those stupidly high ‘business rates’ in the major Cities – And lets be honest, paintings sell much quicker than sculpture or worse those ‘cool’ avant-garde installations of nonsense that rely on high brow art academics to authenticate the cultural importance of something that most people wouldn’t actually install in their homes (even if they don’t say so publicly). And usually there is a heavy price tag for that sort of contemporary bull-shit art. Consequently the contemporary ‘arty farty’ marketplace is tiny compared to the ‘popular paintings’ art market. Even though there are only so many landscapes that anyone can put in their homes. That market will also run dry soon unless some risk taking by galleries start, pretty damn quick.
The sheer size of the (art) market (because of the www) has outgrown all that ‘arty farty stuff’ by leaps and bounds – certainly as far as turnover is concerned. So the www has become the place to set up your stall. Major funded on-line art galleries and some not so well funded independent artists all have a go at selling direct to art collectors and art lovers. Even Tubes magazine are having a go (although they already know there is no money to be made so why bother trying – the space it is giving to artists is in keeping with the magazine policy – Art before Money at all cost).
The one man art galleries start-ups fail quickly- some have a sort of ‘in the third year we will make money fiscal plan’ and obtain a bank loans. Most, in reality, loose much more money than they bargained for and are wrapped up prematurely by their investors (or more commonly the Bank) the ones that backed the idea (with solid security that could be recouped) in the first place.
Today it’s not a case of chasing huge profits for many galleries, on the contrary, it’s survival we are talking about here. Many on-line outfits are simply losing too much money, year in and year out. “..there is no money in Art..” a very wise man once said back in 1989.
He may have been right but for the wrong reason, as far as I am concerned. Should Art really be treated as a commodity? And be sold as such? – Stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap is not an effective strategy, not for original art, so when times get tough, (in Art) the tough bottle it.