Modern & Contemporary Art

specialises in framed modern and contemporary art by 20th century artists

Edge 88: Britain’s first biennale of experimental art in Clerkenwell

Edge 88 was Britain’s first biennale presenting artists working in experimental media, both performance and installation work, which has neither the availability nor historical context of sculpture or painting. The event was housed in churches and in the relatively young galleries which have sprung up in the East End of London over the past few years.

I wonder if such locations were the most diplomatic, considering the hostility already experienced by experimental art. What were the cultural intentions of the organisers in terms of the community as an audience as opposed to an art-educated elite? Much of the work was made specifically for the event and intended locations.

Helen Chadwick‘s piece Blood Hyphen, an installation, was made for the Chapel of the Clerkenwell Medical Mission. I found this piece far too reliant upon the ambiguity of the name of the church; the red tape, on the floor, guided you up the steps onto the altar where poking your head through the suspended ceiling, into the otherwise hidden space, you saw a singe red laser beam shooting diagonally across the space. Intruding upon the privacy of people worshipping there, one was put in a position of questioning moral Christian values; or was it a question of nostalgia, or a political statement about contemporary life? Was it just an aesthetic line? I was annoyed by its play on sociological phenonema of spiritual communication. I felt it was built for an art audience who could intellectualise upon its inner meaning and significance in terms of visual language, rather than the community of the church in which it was housed. To me it was a mystifying cliche which relied on the existence of recreating mythology, via the conceptual metaphor.


The performance by Ulrike Rosenbach, In the House of Women, set in the cloister garden of the Grand Priory Church Order of St John again had the connotation of ‘Christianity’ but differently experienced. The three trees in the garden were wound with red wool creating a triangular shape; the performance began after a bowl of incense had been lit, she had switched on the ‘flickering red light’ in the cloister and hung up her coat. The tape played repetitive music, similar to Eno’s ‘Music for airports’, she was in a red dress and began slowly to enter the garden from the cloister. She moved in methodical circles around the shape, tentatively touching the wool but always with caution so as not to get caught in it in any way. In the background was a statue of Christ; it seemed insignificant to the piece but could be read as a convenient connotation. The piece lasted for 30 minutes, rich in terms of metaphor if the construction was meant to be more than just dance. The concepts of the piece were again ambiguous and multiple.

Rosenbach also had an installation piece in the basement of the Air Gallery, Or-phelia, a video construction of three monitors, face upward beneath a rectangular box of trapped water. Yet another shrine, another reiteration of the need to create safe sanctuary, which to me seems to have become an easy trap, that has taken on a condition of emotional communication in order to provoke passion and danger to an audience by means of mystification. It is a question for any artist to confront, as it has the elements of manipulation of metaphor, but seems to lack the confidence of direct confrontation which characterises the unreadability, in which the ambivalence seems to be the fashion, rather than a step forward in language to create a capacity for widespread appeal; because of this I feel, that in many ways, this keeps the work in some kind of suspended aura.

The Business of Frightened Desires (or the Making of a Pornographer) by Vera Frenkel, also at the Air Gallery, was a piece which I did feel had taken on an issue, and rather than being vague set itself up to communicate in an informative manner, but at the same time questioning–is it fact, or is it fiction? She had arranged the space in three sections, first an introductory corridor of text and imagery, then video and seating followed by a more intimate section with personal objects and text. It was literal and concise, it did not depend on location or on its audience having prior knowledge.


In the same way Rose Garrard’s installation Out of Line, at the Slaughterhouse Gallery, had a point to make. Entering the damp space down the stairs there was a video sequence of an ambulance arriving at an accident and the subsequent events thereafter. The room to the left was used to process the clothing into plaster cast objects; these were then transferred to the walls of the larger room on the right. The large table, occupying the whole space, was laid with two long rows of cream-coloured telephones, some with the receiver off the hook repeating their recorded conversations. The personal intimacy of holding the receiver to one’s ear and listening to a complete stranger’s plea relating to a particular time of despair, gave an insight of oneself both internally and externally. I felt that Garrard’s investigation was more a personal statement and not an inflection from society of how one should feel and react in such a situation.

Beside of the modern installation, there is also one oil paintings supplier selling hand-painted canvas art at wholesale prices. They showed a wide range of oil painting of reproductions including popular Van Gogh and Monet’s artworks.

Claude Monet003

As I myself work in the media of performance and installation I feel it is important that clear statements are made by artists using this direct medium. A common predicament for women artists is that we are all too often trying to place ourselves in society, historically and morally, rather than investigating what we are as people. It is easy to be influenced by fashion and society’s expectations: this is why the use of the sanctuary building, for me, becomes so much of a hiding place wrapped by connotations of sexual identity, which itself has become so taboo.

The Festival was well balanced in its selection of male/female artists but the choice was unfortunately predictable; no risks were taken to include less established artists. I hope that in the next biennale, Edge 90 will make room on this unique platform to include them.

Published by Delores Jackson, on July 27th, 2015 at 7:35 am. Filled under: EventsNo Comments


Women Making Sculpture was a one-day conference organised in conjunction with the exhibition Women Sculptors which ran jointly in three venues: The Maidstone Library Gallery, The Maidstone Museum and Mote Park. The show was organised by Nicholette Golf and co-selected from The WASL membership by WASL and Veronica Tonge, Keeper of Fine Art at Maidstone Museum.

The emphasis of the Conference focussed on the women who make sculpture rather than the theme of women making sculpture as an issue. Thus it began with the seven women exhibiting in the show: Lorna Green, Mouse Katz, Renate Meyer, Val Murray, Annalisa Smith, Anne Tappedden and myself, talking for twenty minutes about our work. In this way each was able to place work in the exhibition within a wider context and issues relevant to women making sculpture were able to emerge naturally. After lunch we met in small groups to concentrate on questions which arose in the morning and concluded with a large group discussion.

While there was no formal theoretical basis to our individual talks, coherence was achieved through the way in which the artists’ work interrelated. Common concerns with media, processes, sources for ideas and attitudes toward the handling of materials and subject matter linked the work. There was a striking diversity in all of the work, although shared ponits of reference became clearly evident: soft materials; domestic references; autobiography; symbolism; construction through stacking, suspending and linking many small components; combining painting and sculpture; using unexpected and supposedly inappropriate materials; spending a long period working through one theme and, most strikingly, the impermanence of all the work. The willingness to break rules, experiment and take risks also came through strongly.

Frieze Art Fair 2009.  Photo by Linda Nylind.  15/10/2009

Perhaps because everyone attending the conference worked as a practitioner, the day acquired a momentum through the sheer force of interest generated by listening, seeing and talking. Questions ultimately centred round how we work, how we survive financially, where we work, how we exhibit and how we can improve accessibility to our work. Veronica Tenge suggested using video to explain how and why work was produced as a way of introducing the work to a public well accustomed to receiving information through television but possibly intimidated by the thought of talking with the artist.

The question of economic survival for women in sculpture is particularly apt. Materials, space for working and storage are costly and finding assistance with large and heavy work can be difficult. Ways can be found to circumvent many of these problems by using cheap or lightweight materials, collapsable structures, small components or working on site. Women have in fact helped give sculpture a new face through their inventiveness in seeking ways of resolving some of these aspects of creation and handling. However feedback from the Conference suggests that we still need encouragement and reassurance when working against accepted practices. Additionally, more women seem to be moving towards using traditional materials and methods.

While it was not the specific aim of this Conference to attempt an analysis of women’s sculpture, I left feeling that such a re-assessment is necessary. Val Murray provided the most succinct observations of the day when she suggested that work by women in sculpture is characterised by a resistance to being tied down; the source of the work comes out of a personal or direct experience; the attitude to materials and processes used ‘anything goes’ and the openness to place or context.


Fifteen years ago these characteristics could have been perceived as typical of a Feminist art practice, yet today probably not. But if not, where does sculpture lie within a Feminist perspective of contemporary art?

Have we reached a point where certain materials and processes might remain entrenched in the women’s category rather than a Feminist or even mainstream one? In order to avoid slipping backwards we need to re-consider the question of a female language in sculpture which goes beyond the materials and subject matter, encompassing other aspects such as structure, time, space, context. Is there, for instance, structuring which could be described as non-hierarchal and hence possibly female or even feminist? For example, in Overlay Lucy Lippard analyses earthworks in terms of gender, equating the intervention or imposition of the male artist’s mark on the land with the “double need to become part of a nurturing nature and to master a threatening nature …” She suggests it is “the attitude toward the land, the artist’s sensitivity to the place that determines the effect of the imagery.”

There are many questions we could ask about the ways women work in sculpture. Sculpture needs to be returned to the Feminist agenda for critical analysis and evaluation which is in step with the developments in Feminist debate, cultural theory and the ever widening definitions of contemporary sculpture generally.


Published by Delores Jackson, on July 27th, 2015 at 6:48 am. Filled under: SculptureNo Comments

Older masters and talented beginners; Collector’s File

GRAHAM PATON and David Messum are art dealers at complementary ends of the gallery spectrum in London.

Paton has studio-style premises tucked into the pedestrian precinct of Langley Court, Covent Garden. His skill at spotting young talent has given many an artist the first step up the ladder.

Messum, in plush surroundings off Hanover Square with the air of a comfortable Mayfair house, is in the big league. Some of the paintings he sells run seriously into six figures.

In these testing times, however, both realise that a dealer has to try that much harder to keep the bank manager at bay. Gimmicks aside, an exhibition must have a theme that distinguishes it from competing shows and the works must be “affordable”.

Transatlantic interest is the strength of Messum’s current offering, now being aired at the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair (open until Saturday) before running at his gallery through July. The exhibition, New World Sympathies: The American Connection, offers some impressionistic outdoor scenes of John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), the American best known for his brilliant portraits.

A Spanish Woman

With felicitous timing for Messum, a Sargent watercolour made headlines only five days before the fair opened. At Christie’s in London an anonymous American paid a world record price, Pounds 286,000, nearly twice the estimate, for The Green Parasol, showing two women relaxing on a grassy bank in the alps. In the 1920s it was bought from Sargent’s studio for Pounds 50 by Thomas Blackwell, art patron and chairman of the Crosse & Blackwell food company.

The art market is a peculiarly reactive one, where one swallow can be the making of a mini-summer. That record price made a director of Messum’s firm, Mike Roosen, say with some glee: “At Pounds 165,000 a Sargent watercolour of boats at Venice in our exhibition begins to look a very attractive proposition.” A Sargent oil painting of fishing boats at Whitby can cost Pounds 485,000.

The heart of the show, however, is a rare series of works by Wilfrid de Glehn, a Briton who died in 1951, formerly assistant to Sargent and later close friend, who shares the limelight with his American wife, Jane, also an accomplished painter. Wilfrid’s oils are Pounds 22,500-Pounds 165,000; his watercolours Pounds 2,500 (bargain-hunters start hereabouts) up to Pounds 10,000. Jane’s oils cost Pounds 18,500-Pounds 48,500.

Wilfrid de Glehn

The de Glehns, in whom Messum has developed a near-monopoly, were members of a band of ever-experimenting Anglo-American impressionists who flourished in Chelsea in the early part of the century.

It is also to Chelsea that the Paton Gallery looks for its summer show (until July 11): it launches four outstanding graduates of the Chelsea School of Art, all in their twenties. This is fertile territory for buyers on modest budgets. Paton, who has irrepressible faith in the new generation, says: “A quarter of the young people who have made the grade in this country in the past decade have passed through this gallery.”

Allowing for a dash of Patonic hyperbole in his claim, he does have a high success rate and he has struck a promising seam with his latest discoveries, Jason Brooks, Louise Birtles, Alyson Helyer and Robert Carswell.

Many artists faithfully reproduce oil paintings for sale online, such as famous artworks like Mona Lisa, The kiss, Girl with pearl earring, starry night, vase with fifteen sunflowers, and enigmatically bombards them with surreal painted shapes bright-blue lacunae, sponges and currant scones.

Mona Lisa

Life took a nasty surreal twist for him last week when, working late at a college extension to meet another exhibition deadline, he confronted intruders. In the fracas he received injuries to both feet that put him in hospital and forced him to miss the opening of his show.

Birtles builds up her canvases as boxes projecting from the wall, creating a theatrical effect for stylised figures, flowers and more abstract designs. Helyer and Carswell experiment in the abstract, but their works retain a human dimension and never cease to reflect a sense of humour.

Young Chelsea is having fun with art, as it always did. That, coupled with prices ranging from about Pounds 400, is good news for collectors.

Published by Delores Jackson, on December 4th, 2014 at 7:14 am. Filled under: Collector's FileNo Comments

A gallery without walls: Yorkshire Sculpture Park

BRITAIN’S FIRST open air sculpture park, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP), has established strong international recognition during its 11-year existence. Started in 1977, it has pioneered a curatorial approach to outdoor sculpture exhibitions, developed residencies, sculpture demonstrations, public sculpture workshops and an active education and outreach programme.

The YSP is an independent charitable trust set in the grounds of Bretton Hall College where it occupies approximately 100 acres of the estate, parts of which are designed in the manner of Capability Brown. National and international concerns are reflected through the collection (the results of gifts or loans) and the annual programme of temporary exhibitions. These also present openings for younger as well as established artists whilst the residencies present an opportunity to develop skills in the public arena and allow the public to gain insight into the artists’ working processes.

This demystification of sculpture has had tremendous benefits for the artists, the public and ourselves as it involves everyone in the creative decision-making activity, helping to ensure that the sculpture is appreciated as the product of hard work, technical ability and imagination.


From the beginning the public have been encouraged to touch and feel the sculpture as we believe that the tactile experience is intrinsic to the enjoyment and understanding of the work. The sculpture workshops developed as a natural extension of this desire to involve the public with the pleasure of creative activity. For the past five years over Bank Holidays throughout Spring and Summer the YSP has invited the public to have a go themselves. Their popularity has been astonishing–entire families, the young and the old, discover how remarkably satisfying it can be to engage the mind and body upon the task of creating three-dimensional forms. Though everybody has fun it is also an important learning episode: people begin to think about what is seen and felt; aesthetic considerations begin to emerge and this type of introduction helps in their understanding of other works on display and encourages many to return time and time again.

The programme itself reflects a wide variety of materials, techniques and approaches which can be absorbed by a visitor on whatever level they wish via catalogues, tours, workshops or education packs. Thoughtful siting is essential to emphasise the inherent structure, colour and texture of the pieces and relate them to their particular surroundings so that attention is focused not only on the sculpture but on the landscape as well. We aim to establish a dialogue between the work, the landscape, other pieces and the sky these elements are carefully ‘choreographed’ to produce an optimum viewing position.

Another important ingredient when planning a display is the discovery of sculpture in the landscape. It may be found in the undergrowth or in the root system of a tree–wherever least expected strategies which we incorporate to keep our audience on its visual toes so that nothing is taken for granted. This idea has also been used by artists working in the Park who have literally camouflaged their sculpture to surprise the unsuspecting.


Our commitment to access is also being extended by the design of a trail for particular use by blind, partially sighted and disabled visitors. This project, integrating art and nature, will be a totally sensory environment providing stimulation through colour, form, texture, perfume and the sound of water and wind, presenting an ever-changing dynamic but sheltered and secure area for the disabled as well as the able bodied.

As a gallery without walls we are open throughout the year so that visitors can witness how different sculpture will look as the landscape changes. One needs space and time to appreciate sculpture properly and the elements demand a commitment quite distinct from that of dropping in on a conventional gallery. Indeed many visitors are attracted to the YSP who would not otherwise frequent galleries and, whatever the weather, there will be visitors!

Siting sculpture out of doors always carries a risk but it can be calculated and problems associated with vandalism may be minimised if artists and administrators share the responsibility for creating a receptive climate. This means taking the context for siting as seriously as the sculpture–understanding how the space is used, the motives for introducing sculpture and considering the long as well as short-term implications of that.

We have demonstrated that it is possible to attract strong support and change attitudes which has given others the confidence to develop initiatives elsewhere. However, there is no room for complacency as success is due to hard work and persistence together with a strong educational philosophy which underpins all our work.

Last year over 200,000 visitors from all parts of Britain and abroad spent many pleasurable hours at the YSP. Currently we are working towards a building development which will provide indoor facilities to further enhance our public service. The future is full of great potential because not only have we demonstrated that sculpture can be a popular cultural resource but that it is of benefit to the community both socially and economically.

Published by Delores Jackson, on December 4th, 2014 at 6:50 am. Filled under: Sculpture Tags: No Comments

The position of women in 20th-century British sculpture

IT WAS IN the summer of 1985 when I was building a large sculpture at the Portland Clifftop Sculpture Park that I was struck by the equal numbers of men and women sculptors participating. Furthermore the women were, on the whole, using the heavy plant such as cement mixers and dumper trucks for the making of their projects, which were mainly large scale and very ambitious.

This raised interesting questions about the numbers of women working as sculptors. On my return from this residency, I attempted to look into the work of women sculptors but found a dearth of information on them although there was a growing volume of information on painters. I therefore decided to embark on this research as an M. Phil. with the University of Leeds.

Deciding I needed direct access to women sculptors, I sent out questionnaires carefully designed to elicit information on how their development towards sculpture evolved from the earliest years, detailing their art education, materials used and the sources for their sculpture, where they work and how they exhibit. Questions were also asked on their attitudes towards the feminist movement, their views on equitability for women sculptors, fitting in partners and children, as well as inviting comments on various procedures in sculpture and their views not only on the future for women in sculpture but also on the state of sculpture in general.

The questions were designed to elicit answers that go to the heart of women in their relationship to sculpture. I realised that I had to create my own archive, as there was nowhere that information of this kind could be found, because the kind of questions I asked were not just factual but probed into areas which had never been documented.

I had an enthusiastic response from all the organisations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that I contacted for lists of women sculptors. Mostly they responded with general lists and all showed interest in any Index that might result from the research. I was overwhelmed with the amazing response to the questionnaire and to date have received around 250 replies together with numerous phone calls and letters of support and encouragement for the project. I

was delighted with the enthusiasm and humbled by the honesty with which the women answered the questions in depth; many added extra pages of information when the spaces were too small for all that they had to say. Several wondered how I had found them as they had thought that they were invisible. Their ages ranged from birthdates in the early 1900s to the 1960s which gives a very clear overview of women working as sculptors today. I am also in the process of interviewing several sculptors each of whom fulfil different criteria, for a more detailed discussion on various topics.

All this information is now being collated and will result in not only a survey of women sculptors living, working and surviving in Britain today, but also should produce an Index of women sculptors which will be available eventually for reference. Should anyone reading this who has not received a questionnaire or who has received one but not returned it completed, contact me at Mount Pleasant Farm, 105 Moss Lane, Bramhall, Cheshire SK7 1EG, as this is a continuing project and is by no means complete.

Although the information is at present still being digested, the striking impression is that there is a tremendous amount of confidence among women regarding not only their future as sculptors but also the future for women in the sculpture world. No longer are they hidden as they used to be but are determined that they and their work will be seen.

The majority of the sculptors have had formal training within the art school system. Some found it helpful and constructive, others found it unhelpful and very destructive. Mostly courses were seen to be a combination but it became obvious that, for an alarming number of women, many bitter memories were aroused due, not only to a lack of understanding of their work by the invariably male lecturers and the issues raised by it, but also to the lack of women lecturers employed both part-time and full-time as role models. Sexual harassment was another issue raised. There were, of course, those who found the courses of great benefit and had no complaints, but it is an interesting point that whatever their reactions were to the varied courses, the majority felt that they were necessary for the development of their work because of the opportunities the course gave in time, materials, the chance to learn necessary skills, contact with fellow students and the invigorating effect of visiting lecturers, particularly when they were women.


It is clear that the attitudes of women today are much more positive not only about themselves and their work but also about their place in the art world. This is evident in the choice of materials for their sculpture, much of which is unorthodox and non-traditional, such as cloth, paper, leather, polythene, even soil and photography, as well as the more commonly accepted ones of clay, wax, wood, stone, steel and bronze, as are their methods of making the work. As well as utilising the more conventional methods of carving/modelling/casting, women now have the confidence to make work in whatever media or about whatever subject they choose, and using whichever method of making is appropriate because it is suitable for that particular sculpture rather than adhering to traditional sculptural concerns. Should they choose to stay with conventional methods it is because they have decided to and want to, not because they feel they have to. It is this freedom that makes the future for women in sculpture look so positive. No longer are they hidebound by a conservative outlook because of their past insecurity and hidden art history; they are now able to enjoy a freedom hitherto unknown which enables them to explore their own world of sculpture and create their own traditions.

However the future is not all rosy and many feel that there will be still a great deal of struggle to succeed. Opinion is clearly divided about the way forward. There are those who wholly support and feel that the future lies in women’s shows; on the other hand there are those who feel that separatism is to be avoided and strongly criticise the whole concept of women’s shows; there is obviously room for both views, and women now have the choice of participating in either women’s shows or mixed shows and have the freedom and confidence to exhibit in both.

A large majority of women sculptors agree that equitability is improving; there is a small minority who disagree, a few feel unsure about the issue and there are those who feel that there is no gender difference apparent. However there are reservations, and frequently women are still thought to be included in major shows as tokens. ‘Starlit Waters’, British Sculpture 1968-1988, the opening sculpture exhibition at the Tate of the North, in Liverpool, illustrates the point in question; out of 18 sculptors only two, Alison Wilding and Shirazeh Houshiary, are women.

The women’s movement must have contributed to this changed climate, even if it was only recognised subconsciously. Many admit that the women’s movement has personally affected them, their life and their work; others acknowledge its impact; very few feel it hasn’t affected them at all. Several older sculptors wished that it had happened much earlier so that they too could have reaped the benefits sooner.


Attitudes of art administrators, gallery owners and keepers, critics and art historians came in for much criticism. Many were praised for being helpful and supportive, equally others were criticised for unhelpfulness and for being patronising. Alarmingly some were accused of being careerists and of exploiting artists to further their own careers; inevitably there were those who were cited as being too commercially minded and reluctant to show certain kinds of work which may not find favour in the selling market, and finally there was evidence of straight chauvinism. But on the whole most artists had had some good experiences with them though it was felt that critics and art historians tended to support the star system rather than risking support for an unknown. Some women complained bitterly that their work was literally written out of art history or ignored by critics. This is a serious accusation which I found to be true (hence this research) and I, as a practising sculptor, am attempting to redress the balance by producing information about and a history of contemporary women sculptors.

Fitting partners and children in with working as a sculptor bring its own problems, many typical of any working woman. However it became apparent that the problems of women sculptors were in many ways different to those of other working women. Sculpture and/or art is not just a job or a profession but a lifestyle which can become wholly consuming not only in time and energy but also in the emotion and passion which goes into the making of it. The dedication needed to be a sculptor can create problems within the family whereby resentment can arise at the amount of time, energy and commitment required. Happily, many partners were and are found to be supportive, financially, emotionally and physically; some were supportive to an extent. Sadly, others were non-supportive and frequently the relationship was dissolved because their partner could not accept the demands of sculpture as a career, and a choice was made. A surprising number of women wait until the children are old enough to be left or at school before embarking on a career in sculpture–numerous mature students responded. It is obvious that unless a woman has a support system for looking after children, furthering one’s career was definitely impeded. Even Barbara Hepworth’s triplets were cared for until they were three at a nearby nurses’ training college, which gave her the time to work, and after that she employed a nanny. (1) Although children were never regretted, in spite of working time becoming extremely precious, partners frequently were. Unexpectedly, a considerable number had decided not to have children as they felt that they would be unable to continue working, confirming the total commitment they had made to sculpture. On a more positive note, partners and children frequently provided the inspiration or source material for work, even modelling at times.

This is a provisional report on a massive archive collected over the last 18 months and can only indicate questions raised within it. The survey is not a critical one; it is a sociological and economic survey to discover how women live and work as sculptors in the United Kingdom, how they survive, how they feel about their work and how they manage their lives. It is targeted at the unknown sculptor as well as the famous: their problems are similar, as are their hopes, dreams and criticisms. As one sculptor said so succinctly: ‘The future of women in sculpture is the future of sculpture itself’.

Published by Delores Jackson, on November 3rd, 2014 at 3:49 am. Filled under: SculptureNo Comments

Living perspective: Tess Jarray and inner city design

“Uniformity which is changed by the presence of a single stress … parallels that meet in the infinite and that turn back upon itself as presence; and then the square in all its stability, the straight line untouched by relativity, and the curve, each point of which forms a straight line–all these things that do not seem to have any bearing on our daily needs are nevertheless of the greatest significance.”

Max Bill

“The Mathematical Approach in Contemporary Art” 1955

Tess Jaray’s painting has been praised for “consistency” , for pursuing “a single line of development”, for “never radically depart[ing] from its governing principles”. Jaray’s recent work defies any such notions of endogenous safety for she has taken on possibly the U.K.’s largest civic design project ever mounted in collaboration with a fine artist; the design of Birmingham’s 3 million [pounds sterling] Centenary Square. At first glance such a choice of artist might seem obvious.  Jaray’s reputation emerged ith her minimal canvases of the 60’s, work that seems to share common roots with similar movements in architecture and design.  The oversized wall art supplier Art by wicks is also interested in bringing Tess Jaray’s paintings to their large art collection, said Dan, the manager and founder of the company.However these similarities are superficial for Jaray’s 35 years ‘at the drawing board’ as it were, have produced an individual approach to urban design.

To arrive at the three-dimensional by way of the two-dimensional is the business of most architects but for Jaray, who has continually strived to contain the latter in the former, it is a radical brief indeed. Her flat canvasses hold the images in a complex space; never simply illusionary, they wait to be read and re-read, and only gradually do the different spatial relationships become apparent. Though an important aspect of Jaray’s work demands a thorough knowledge of patterning techniques it has been the manipulation of space that has been the focus of her paintings in the 80’s. Her recent commissions, demanding as they do a transition to actual space, could perhaps see her preparing “impossible objects” ready to perplex and dazzle the city dwellers, her viewing public. However Jaray’s commitment to straightforward utility and purity of form leavese no place for such speculations. For her this work is not a loss of ambiguity, of mood, of resonance, but her “way of going figurative”. It is a daring move to make a fresh commitment to the real world and to venture into unknown territory.

Jaray began working in the public arena on a large scale by designing the “potent lozenges” on the floor of London’s Victoria station in 1985. She had worked on designs for decorative brick work for some years and this research forms the basis of her civic projects. After working on three other large scale brick floors she was commissioned in 1988 to design not just the floor of Centenary Square but the pavements, tree and grass areas, lighting, railings, seating–in fact the square itself. The project should become a reality sometime in 1990. Jaray’s most recent commission is to put forward ideas for the walkways and areas around Wakefield Cathedral, a project she is very keen to work on given that a constant inspiration over the years has been ecclesiastical architecture.


Jaray’s enthusiasm for her new work drives her past any suspected shortfalls. Her freshness to the design business is obviously an asset; as an innocent she can be more demanding. She says:

“I think there is something to be said for someone coming in from outside and doing things that people have always thought can’t be done…. you find out it can be done but maybe it cost a little more and the approach must be different.”

An artist’s need for a ‘total vision’ will mean a more inventive use of materials and perhaps a better visualization of the project than has been seen on the draughtsman’s board until now. Despite an inability to get excited by the finer points of drainage, Jaray has not found herself seriously hampered by her lack of technological knowledge though for parts of the project she has worked with the sculptor Tom Lomax whose engineering skills have proved useful. Each member of the municipal design team has their own area of expertise and it is collaboration and mutual respect that make a project like this succeed. Her involvement with industry is similarly optimistic. Early this year she was taken on by an enlightened brick manufacturer Steetley’s of Stoke on Trent after they had seen her extensive work in brick design. She has since produced a huge paved floor outside their paving plant and the collaboration is to continue. Subversion from the inside is the aim of course. In the long term she hopes to persuade the brick industry to produce new products; a wider colour range of ‘paver’ and different size bricks which would enable her to carry out many, as yet unrealised, brick patterns. It seems a tall order but as Jaray points out;

“Things do change, design changes, needs change.”

Change has indeed brought about the very fact of Jaray’s involvement with Centenary Square. Europe’s Percentage for the Arts Scheme, where all public building projects aim to spend a certain percentage on artists’ involvement, has been taken on by The Arts

Council in time for 1992 and put into action by Vivienne Lowell at The Public Art Commission Agency in Birmingham.

Jaray’s floors echo and reverberate a chosen shape, rippling their lines to the margins. They create a unifying structure; a subliminal calming influence for those that live with them daily. Perhaps a more problematic area is providing the verticals, interruptions to the vistas. Jaray agrees;

“I think the verticals probably have the greater power in relation to the total space, although they cannot be separated.”

Her approach is therefore to continue the lines found in the surroundings. Her plans for curved seats in Wakefield had to be abandoned when she concluded that their were no curved lines in the cathedral’s architecture strong enough to repeat. Her chosen motif is now a cross that appears in different formats throughout the seats and flooring. It is a subtle design, not instantly recognisable as a religious symbol, but capable of containing longer contemplation, bringing as it does a host of references that support Jaray’s aim to somehow demarcate the area;


“When you are walking around the precincts you [should) get a sense of identity of the place. It’s like designating these streets; this cathedral space is special.”

But these designs must work on many scales simultaneously; it is vital that the experience of the environment is, to use Jaray’s word, “satisfying”. The seat one is sitting on is as important as the view across the square. To ensure this Jaray puts her faith in the significance of the detail;

“the space between each brick and the way it is filled with sand should be exactly right. The profile of a stone wall–that’s what adds up to the satisfaction.”

So while her railings or lights are essentially simple, their patterns will be repeated, perhaps with a change of positive for negative, perhaps with just an echo of a former shape. Her detail is never added as decoration but is integral part of the whole concept, functioning rather like an organic pattern that unfolds to the infinite. In this way Jaray comes to terms with an unease she has always felt with visual art, the idea of instant effect, the painting that is consumed in a minute’s glance. Not only will the work literally last, it is designed to endure a thousand gazes, from all angles and at different times. Jaray realises, as gestalt theorists seem to have proved, that not only does the mind look for a whole image from the parts presented before it but also;

“Once coerced into viewing the object longer than it would spontaneously, the mind exerts its curiosity and its power of discovering and inventing new patterns”

Both the active and the passive eye have satisfaction here. Jaray’s approach to an environment is ambiguous. She has spent many years absorbing different surroundings on her travels, particularly in Australia and Italy, and has developed a reverence for one’s sense of place. The flip side of this is also apparent, her impulse to eliminate the unnecessary and to start from a blank canvas (plan). However she is aware that, to some extent, her main responsibility is to bring out qualities already present in the place, curtailing her own hobby horses and predilections;

“The space itself should tell the artist or designer how it wants to be.”

She does not feel the need to have her name in stone on the floor and one cannot trace an authorial stamp of possession. Yet the work is individual, personal even. She will not impose her will be by forging a bond with her surroundings the more personal elements of her work will become appropriate.

Jaray never appears to look backward. Her exhibition at the Serpentine last year seemed to herald the suspension of painting. This move at the height of her career shows a determination not to go ‘stale’, which she sees as a possibility for any artist at such a juncture. Although Jaray denies any ability at maths, she is a natural mathematician in the same way as M.C. Escher; an intuitive logical sense prevails. She sets about each problem as a puzzle, weighing factors, assessing difficulties, to find a solution. One cannot help but be impressed at the rightness of her answers.

Published by Delores Jackson, on October 15th, 2014 at 12:17 pm. Filled under: artistsNo Comments

Christine Merton’s sculpture

COMING FROM a German, Jewish childhood has both informed and characterised many aspects of Christine Merton’s sculpture. Marrying an Englishman and coming to live in England has certainly sealed some of these aspects along with a deep sense of ‘knowing her place’ as an alien. She has carefully learnt to tolerate racism and alienation and to use the emotion created by these things to fuel her own sense of being in her work.

Over the years her work has become more empowered with a sense of the self. Her pieces of sculpture always have a very self-contained feel about them; although some are quite small she is also capable of overpowering the spectator with large installation pieces which seem to emanate from a spirited source. Her work carries the sort of quality you experience when alone with an object of great history, but a history which is not written. A history which presents you with not just enigmatic feelings but with a real sense of presence. Keep has all these qualities (see front cover).

Many of her sculptural works have obvious links with Peruvian pots and vessels. There is a physical quality about her sculpture which is visually sensuous. The mark making on the surface, the combination of natural materials, the conscious use of ochres and the earthy glow from mixing different clays together in one piece, all enhance the actual quality of the finished work. All her work says something about her actual size, how much clay she can mold in one hand, how much she can carry, what she can fix together and how large a sculpture will grow. All these things are important aspects and this is why her finished pieces often involve several objects placed together, site-specific, yet very mobile and adaptable.

Within her areas of work she has progressively explored ways in which to adapt and open up possibilities within educational work with a range of children. What could be precious dissolves into the pleasure of making. She has developed projects around her work showing how to use all the basic methods of working with clay, slabs, coils and finger bowls. Christine

Merton has been involved in many projects and residencies with children from 8-10 years old. She has tried to adapt her work yet allow the children’s involvement to specifically enrich the sculpture.

A recent example of this educational work occurred at the Manchester Museum during a one-person show centred around the Metaphorical Vessel. It was an idea which attempted to blend together different cultures and traditions by using tree roots which resembled a popular fossilised tree root in the museum collection. She tried to bring together all these elements by constructing a large open vessel shape from the branches and canvas bound together with clay. As the first artist in residence at the museum she created a site-specific piece, a centre for some sort of ceremony which bound together the museum’s collection, objects from different cultures, natural history pieces and the settings made by over 200 children. These settings formed the outside edge of the bound branches, almost like place settings for a large feast, yet the objects were each child’s individual contribution. Christine Merton’s vessel could be read on many different levels but it seemed like a visual way of symbolising the way in which we all have specific links to our place of origin and that this often gives us a feeling, a sense of belonging. Currently she has been working on a new exhibition called ‘Clayworks’. Again as part of this exhibition she will be working on another project with the pupils and staff of St Peters RC High School in Orrell. This project will be called ‘House’ and will be the joint creation of the artist and the participating children. It will encourage ‘a journey through their imagination’.

The importance of this artist’s work cannot be overestimated. Her own finished pieces of sculpture remain enigmatic. They give a glimpse of sacredness, a sense of the spirit contained. In addition, her links with pupils from local schools are both innovative and important. It enables children to have direct contact with the artist and practically participate in the making of the finished piece. This work with children encourages understanding and tolerance to emerge and can truly inspire the child to continue to make ‘art’, to see exhibitions and where possible, to become involved. It can also be an enriching experience for the artist.

Christine Merton is on the fringe of the ‘art world circuit’. She should be better known and better shown.

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Published by Delores Jackson, on October 15th, 2014 at 11:24 am. Filled under: SculptureNo Comments

Across the Water

This is a book surprisingly without precedent. Not only for its subject matter, documenting the large-scale immigration of Irish women (and, since the heyday of the railway-builders of the Industrial Revolution, there have been substantially more women than men) but also for its format. This combines all that is best in telling testimonies, with background information and strong photographic images of the women interviewed.

In Ireland it is a truism to complain that the country’s greatest export is its people, and that there are more Irish in Liverpool than in Dublin. By investigating this phenomenon from the grassroots of women’s own experience (and the authors are all themselves more or less voluntary exiles, like their subjects) rather than with the neo-colonial tools of British social analysis, far more than simply personal experiences are revealed.

Right from the chronological beginning, with Catherine Ridgeway’s accont of the 1917 Easter Uprising, there are the historical accounts the history books fail to relate. A witness to a ‘minor’ incident in which troops had given permission to a man to walk down the street and attend to his horses, keeping his hands raised, she recalls: ‘A shot rang out and he was shot in the leg. I never saw anything like it. He went spinning round and round and then collapsed … Then Miss Walsh, who used to run this little grocer’s shop, came out and she got some of the men back and they found a shutter and lifted him onto it. Some put out a white flag …’

If the political and economic factors were reasons that forced many Irish women to leave, it was not only reasons of geography that made England an obvious choice. At times of manpower crisis, particularly during the last war and its “aftermath, Irish women were viewed as a cheap pool of labour that could be drawn on to service our national economy. The jobs heavily advertised in the Irish press were those regarded as dirty by those in positions of economic superiority, in the public sector; those for which Irish women, with their experience of large families, were regarded as ideal for in the caring services; and those regarded as old-fashioned by a more career-minded female population, in domestic employment.

It goes without saying that they were all, virtually without exception, exploitative in working-hours and poorly remunerated. Yet if the English government regarded this particular labour pool as expendable, they were sadly wrong. Irish women are here to stay, even unto their succeeding generations. One of the most heartening aspects of this book is how they have survived not only hardship and vicissitude but have created their own new culture which is a blend of their inheritance and their adaptation. A young punk of the 1970s, second-generation Irish, speaks: ‘For them (my parents), there was no separation between being Irish and being Catholic. But to me, being Irish meant much more than going to church and knowing Irish people, so there was that difference…. I don’t think I ever felt I had to be Catholic to be Irish’.

It is in illuminating the cultural developments and interdependencies that Joanne O’Brien’s photographs come into their own. Although, having seen the print quality of her recent touring exhibition ‘Hearts and Minds–Anam agus Intinn’, Virago has (again) served a photographer badly in terms of reproduction, the photographs are a strong and integrated part of the book. Interestingly enough, it was the sitters’ choice ‘to be portrayed quite formally rather than in a workday or domestic setting’. These photographs work best in small-format reproduction: such a format lacks the half-tones to do justice to more panoramic images. Views of cultural and work activities alternate with portraits that also include women’s employment–everything from a close-up of a pair of hands wearing a Celtic ring and peeling a potato, to a seamstress making Irish dancing costumes based on designs from the Book of Kells.

The authors’ introduction modestly affirms: ‘The experiences of women in the book speak for themselves’. Words are, along with music and dance, the communicative currency of the Irish community at home and abroad. Yet without the midwifery skills of Mary Lennon, Marie McAdam and Joanne O’Brien, we would have known that much less about a few million women living in our midst whose independent existence we largely ignore.

Joanne O’Brien describes the background to this book on p. 9.

Published by Delores Jackson, on October 15th, 2014 at 11:17 am. Filled under: Books Tags: , No Comments

Houria Niati

INCIDENTS OF chaos, mystery and flux fascinate Houria Niati and many of her images seek to capture the dynamism of such times. In the large pastel drawing Page 152, Chapter III, 1985-86, a title suggesting a narrative sequence, a schematic box-like figure shoots a red gun, the path of the bullet mapped out by red dashes seeking the female figure sprawled below. The action is echoed by insistent force lines in many bright colours, emanating from the protagonists, bouncing to the limits of the paper. In Earthquake, 1988, anonymous bodies are buried and fractured in a devastated land.

Other works describe scenes of confrontation. In the painting Even the Fishes are talking about It, 1984, a pair of bristling, spikey dogs are transfixed in an eyeball to eyeball meeting. Blaring colours emphasise the cacophony. Flat, carnival oranges, violets, acid greens are applied in short rectangular marks which create a frenetic, staccato effect. Faces are scratched into the wet paint making subtle, ghostly, half-seen images contrasting with the starkly painted dogs. A strange long-necked bird looks on, silenced behind black bars. The animals are simplified, codified as Niati consciously seeks a child-like sparseness of visual language.


All the works testify to speed, enjoyment and fluency in their making. People, animals and insects are sucked into the rushing tide of marks which form irresistible rivers of movement. Sunny, joyous colours predominate in the early works, darker and more sensuous blues and purples in the most recent pastels, as if day has turned to night. The rough, crude texture of the early pastels turns into a smooth velvety richness, the colours harmonious and inky. The pastel drawing Vent des Passions, 1984, is filled with a whirlpool-like form in which large-eyed birds rush, sucked headlong round and around. The many eyes at the centre of this storm create a stable focus.

In some of the new pastels Niati’s imagery appears less fresh, less inventive with the appearance of the shorthand, hourglass, faceless female nude that is such a pervasive symbol in our society. Beaute, calme et volupte, 1988, and La nuit des passagers clandestins, 1988, are overflowing with this easy, linear sign. Niati works in a rapid, spontaneous fashion letting images flow unchecked. While I appreciate, as a positive force, the desire to work in an intuitive, uninhibited way during the drawing process, it has, in this instance, resulted in the use of a stereotypically shaped and pictorially unchallenging sign for the female body. Despite this criticism I found these pastels rich and evocative, suggestive of dark, mysterious places, some spacious and watery, others confined and shadowy. L’Attente–peut-etre pour Demain, 1988, is a still, quiet scene showing a pregnant woman, kept company by small birds, seated beside a window through which a crescent moon is visible. The Last Day, 1988, is a menacing scenario of scowling men leering towards a naked woman, her rounded form trapped by angular dogs baring their razor-sharp teeth. Another disquieting scene is Beaute, calme et volupte, 1988, where the privacy of naked women is violated by faces peering in at the window.

Niati says she wants the interpretation of her works to be unfixed, changing according to the viewer. The images do not demand a specific reading but suggest general moods and sensations, the images accumulating in layers, at some points scratched back into, as if memory is being searched and buried images made visible. The fluidity of the meaning of these images invites the viewer to dream their own dreams.



Published by Delores Jackson, on September 20th, 2014 at 7:07 am. Filled under: artists Tags: , , , No Comments

Victorian Women Artists

PAMELA NUNN has produced a substantial and well-researched contribution to the growing body of feminist knowledge about the achievements of 19th-century women. The book centres on the early Victorian period 1840-1880; the end of the century is dealt with only briefly at the end of the book. As well as spelling out key issues and ideas of the period about women as artists, the book contains some valuable new research into the Society of Female Artists and the Old and the New Watercolour Societies, and some useful statistics about the numbers of women exhibitors.

Five case studies of individual women artists form the focus of the book. The women selected are designed to represent women’s diverse aspirations to be an artist within the male-dominated Victorian culture and society. As Nunn herself writes (p.130): ‘Joanna Boyce wanted to be a radical woman artist, Rosa Brett wanted to be a Pre-Raphaelite, Henrietta Ward wanted to be an accepted woman artist, Emma Brownlow wanted to make a living, Lady Waterford just wanted to make art’.

Nunn sketches a context for such positions, primarily in terms of the Victorian notions of ‘femininity’ expected of the middle-class women. Their aspirations to be an artist–on whatever terms–is conceived as a transgression of these social norms, rather than a negotiation, during a period when the very notions under discussion were being consolidated, as bourgeois society matured. The reclamation of these women’s lives, both the professional and the amateur, the ‘notable’, average and the forgotten, is the main purpose of the book. The argument is conceived in terms of women overcoming the obstacles they faced from their families; in obtaining education and exhibiting space; and, in being able to support themselves and make art. Thus, Nunn spells out both the negative and positive implications of the artistic family in which many women artists were given both support and encouragement yet at the same time, through the constant comparison with their male relatives, were rendered as ‘lesser lights’ to them by critics and historians.

She points out how the struggles in education, particularly study of the nude, became the basis for feminist agitation for skill and training for women artists and for better exhibition spaces.

Only one of the women discussed, Rosa Brett, remained single, and the thesis is put forward, though it is unsubstantiated, that single women had long and continuous careers, rather than intermittent or faltering ones, like married women, because of the social expectations for wives and mothers (even when married to a male artist). That social norms were transgressed because women artists tried to, expected to, or did earn money from their work, is frequently raised, particularly in relation to the way financial gain was perceived as the rough and ready test of distinction between the amateur and the professional. Nunn notes that the ‘make do and mend’ attitude of the Victorians to middle-class women only earning a living when faced with necessity (as widows or spinsters) doomed women artists to amateurism.

However, and this is what generalises the argument, this is not discussed either in relation to the growing obsession of the Victorians with the numbers of single middle-class women, or the campaigns for the Married Women’s Property Acts in the 1870s and 1880s, whereby women fought to regain control of their own property and income lost to their husbands on marriage.

Throughout the book, the increasingly organised and campaigning women’s movement remains in the background, and such examples as the women artists in the Langham Place group, or the work of women for other women remains, for the most part, undiscussed. Women artists remain within male-defined terms, as a ‘relative creature’. And, in the extracts from their letters, diaries, and journals, where their voice does break through, it is discussed only as an individual experience within a more general term like the domestic, or childhood experience.

This concentration on individual women, coupled with the enclosure of the book in the more traditional terms of art history/biography serves to isolate each example from the others. What is rendered absent, though suggested in many other works on 19th-century women, is the relationship of women to each other as mothers to daughters; or women as teachers of other women; or within a network of female friends.

More explicit, however, in accounting for the neglect of women artists are the developing notions of difference and originality for the male romantic Bohemian artist in such writers as George Moore and Frith who sought serious discussion ‘away from the ladies’ and espoused only ‘friendliness’ to women artists’ activities. Although the notions of separate spheres, the ‘feminine stereotype’ and concepts of femininity are all discussed they remain implicit within the book because its base is a pioneering thesis. Perhaps this also explains the total absence of contemporary feminist research (i.e. that which was published after 1980). However, together with her other work ‘Canvassing’ (Camden Press), these two books offer us much interesting, accessible, and valuable material about Victorian women artists, making visible to a wider audience their lives and work.


Published by Delores Jackson, on September 20th, 2014 at 7:03 am. Filled under: BooksNo Comments