Thursday 26 February 2015

A Real Birmingham Family by Gillian Wearing

A Real Birmingham Family, by Gillian Wearing, 2013-14, (bronze)

in Centenary Square, outside the new Library of Birmingham.

The sculpture raises questions about identity and what constitutes a family today, challenging pre-conceived ideas about what a family should be.  Wearing has bravely offered us a more inclusive idea of who and what constitutes a family. With single-parent families, gay marriage, single people being able to adopt, 30% of primary school pupils being from ethnic minorities and 1 in 10 being in interracial relationships, the face of Britain has changed. The white nuclear family, with all its sexuality, race, and class implications is something that a lot of people in Britain cannot identify with.
'A nuclear family is one reality, but it is one of many and this work celebrates the idea that what constitutes a family should not be fixed', commented the artist.

During 2011 and 2012 Birmingham residents were urged to nominate their families to be the face of Birmingham: no limits were placed on how the 21st century family might define itself and nominations included groups of friends, extended families and people living alone.  Over 350 families responded. In 2013 a diverse panel of community, cultural and religious figures chose a short-list of four.

In 2013, the Jones family, consisting of two sisters, both single parents, and their two sons was announced as the selected family. 'I really liked how Roma and Emma Jones spoke of their closeness as sisters and how they supported each other. It seemed a very strong bond, one of friendship and family, and the sculpture puts across that connectedness between them,' said Wearing.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Hepworth at the Hepworth

'I, the sculptor, am the landscape.
I am the form and I am the hollow,
the thrust and the contour'.

(Barbara Hepworth, 1961)

Barbara Hepworth at the Hepworth, Wakefield.

Central to the exhibitions in this museum is a large collection of Barbara Hepworth's sculptural prototypes, in plaster and aluminium. They show us how she worked, revealing her thought processes, enabling us to follow her emotional and intellectual journey as a sculptor.

Cool Moon, from the Aegean Suite, 1971 (lithograph)

Hepworth saw printmaking as an opportunity to work on ideas that would eventually translate into sculpture. The combination of precise line and form in works such as this one, resemble her late carvings in white marble, and the areas of organic texture have an affinity with her bronzes and their heavy patina. However, it would be too simplistic to view this as a one-way relationship: Hepworth expanded on the shapes and designs of pre-existing sculptures and combined them with the distinctive paint-like washes of lithography, to produce images that embody both the qualities of printmaking and sculpture.

Oblique Forms, 1969 (lithograph)

Two Forms with White (Greek), 1963

one more view.
The Hepworth Plasters: 
One of the galleries displays a collection of the surviving prototypes in plaster and aluminium from the artist's studio. The majority are original plasters, the first stage in the process of casting a sculpture in bronze or aluminium, rather than finished works. Hepworth did not view the prototypes as works of art in themselves and, although she occasionally exhibited them, she never sold them. The dense display, evoking her studio environment did not work for me - I found it difficult to appreciate each individual piece.

Spring, 1966 (plaster with strings)

one more view

Winged Figure, 1061-62, (aluminium with Isopon for surface texture) 
Winged Figure was commissioned by John Lewis for their headquarters in London's Oxford Street. It's nearly six metres high and this is the only working model to survive of the monumental commissions Hepworth received in later life.


Trophy (Flight), 1965 (plaster, painted light blue/light brown)


Maquette for Dual Form, 1965-66, (plaster, painted gold, brown, green and blue)


Construction (Crucifixion), 1966-67 (aluminium, part painted)

Hollow Form with Inner Form, 1960 (plaster)

Core, 1955-56/1960 (plaster, painted black, white)

The Studio:

Just before the outbreak of WWII, Hepworth left London for St Ives, Cornwall. She bought a studio in the centre of St Ives in 1949. 'Finding Trewyn Studio was a sort of magic', she wrote. 'Here was a studio, a yard and garden where I could work in open air and space'.


The displays in this gallery explore her studio environment, working practice in plaster, and the monumental commissions she received in the last fifteen years of her life.

Monday 23 February 2015

Sunday 22 February 2015

The Hepworth, Wakefield


The Hepworth, Wakefield.

David Chipperfield who designed the building, describes it as 'dipping its toes in the water'. The building 'dips into' not just the river Calder, but one of its weirs as well. The angry church of water crashing against the concrete produces a very dramatic effect.

The building consists of a cluster of 10 connected concrete blocks each containing a single gallery space.
Floor-to-ceiling windows afford views of the river as well as the Victorian warehouses from the days of Wakefield's industrial past.

This was our first visit to the Hepworth and we were very impressed. We liked the architecture; enjoyed the displays enormously; found the staff extremely friendly, helpful and knowledgeable about the works on art on display; and finally, the food in the café is delicious.


The purpose of our visit was primarily to see the Lynda Benglis exhibition. Seeing the Hepworths was a real pleasure, and we also enjoyed some of the other artists' work, a very small selection of which you can see in this post.

Henry Moore, Open Work Head No. 2, 1950 (bronze)

Henry Moore, Six Stone Figures, 1973-74 (lithograph)

Henry Moore, Reclining Figure, 1936 (Elmwood)

Henry Moore, Pit Boys at Pit head, 1942, (pencil, pen and ink,  wax coloured crayon and watercolour wash on paper)


Lynn Chadwick, Moon of Alabama, 1957 (bronze)
The title of the sculpture comes from a song by Berthold Brecht, but references Sputnik, the Soviet space satellite in its structure.

Bernard Meadows, Figure with Child, 1973, (bronze)

Bernard Meadows, Molly, Plate IV, 1966 (etching with drypoint)
This etching is from a series of 35 that Meadows made in response to Samuel Beckett's 1951 novel Molly. Rather than being illustrations in the traditional sense, Meadows described them as an attempt to capture the essence of Beckett's bleak and tragicomic attitude to human nature.

Eduardo Paolozzi, Mondrian Head, 1993 (bronze)

Paolozzi would often strike a dialogue between his own practice and art works by those he admired, one such example being the minimalist New York works of Piet Mondrian. This Mondrian Head is part of a related series informed specifically by Mondrian's 1940s Broadway Boogie-Woogie works in which the pulsing lights of the city streets are interpreted into abstract compositions. Here the concept is re-interpreted by Paolozzi and projected into an anonymous head. The outcome is at once an abstract notion, a figurative form and an acknowledgement of art history.

a side view


Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Wrestlers, 1913

The sculptor Gaudier-Brzeska experimented with etching and drypoint but this was his only linocut. Despite being a first attempt, it displays a tremendous fluidity of form due to his skills as a carver. He was one of the first artists to use lino in place of wood as a relief printing technique. The medium was subsequently taken up by his Vorticist contemporaries as it allows for strong lines and the creation of a dynamic sense of movement.

Gertrude Hermes, Fish, 1932
Hermes was a leading light in the wood engraving revival of the early 20th century. Her sculpture is perhaps less well known, but Hermes found a natural kinship between carving sculptures in wood and wood engraving. Her prints and sculpture informed one another, both formally and in terms of their subject-matter.

L.S. Lowry, The Tolbooth, Glasgow, 1947 (oil on board)


William Roberts, The Farm, 1922 (oil on canvas)

Maggi Hambling, Portrait of Charlie Abrew, 1974 (oil on canvas)
The subject in this painting, Charlie Abrew, was a lightweight boxer, but had to retire when he became blind. Hambling wrote of her experience of painting Abrew. 'He was very exciting to paint. I remember him being extremely patient, gentle, very sensitive with his hands and enjoying posing'.

John Wells, Island Counterpoint, 1956 (oil on canvas).

Friday 20 February 2015

The Oldest Embrace in the world

The remains of a couple in their twenties, in a tight embrace, have been found in the cave in Diros, Mani, in the Peloponnese in Greece. 'There is no doubt that it's an embrace', said Dr George Papathanasopoulos, the archaeologist in charge of the excavations. 'One arm is under the body while the other is above, and their legs are intertwined'. The couple are believed to have been buried together. Analysis has revealed that the bones date back to around 3,800 BC.

The cavern is known as Alepotrypa (Foxhole) and was found in the 1950s. During the 1970s archaeologists, led by Dr Giorgos Papathanasopoulos, began excavating the site. They believe that hundreds of people lived inside Alepotrypa using it as a shelter, place of worship and burial ground. Over the years hundreds of finds have been excavated which resulted in the establishment of a museum on the site. Experts believe that hundreds of people lived inside Alepotrypa before the entrance collapsed 5,000 years ago, burying everyone alive.  Diros is one of the most significant Neolithic sites in Europe.

Next to Alepotrypa is another cave, this one with water, which is full of stalagmites and stalactites.

We visited Diros 15 years ago, as guests of Dr Papathanasopoulos who is a family friend. We had guided tours of Alepotrypa, the museum, and then, in a boat, had a tour of the second cave with the stalagmites and stalactites. My sister and I donated our father's library, who was also an archaeologist, to the Diros museum, so reading about this find has a further, personal interest for me.


Alimos Online

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Lynda Benglis

Lynda Benglis


at the Hepworth, Wakefield.

Benglis is most well known for a piece of work she did 40 years ago when she posed naked and oiled, wearing just a pair of sunglasses and yielding a double-headed, oversized dildo, intending it for publication in Artforum magazine. When the magazine declined to publish the image, Benglis paid for advertising space. Outrage followed when the advert appeared and five editors resigned. In response to episode, Benglis made five bronze casts of the dildo which she titled Smile.

An explicit parody of gendered relationships, of the tradition of the 'pin-up' girl images in magazines, and a confrontation of the overt male bias in the art establishment, this was an iconic work, and a good example of the 'culture wars' that raged in America during the 70s and 80s.

The photographer Cindy Sherman has described her college-age encounter with the Artforum ad in all its audacity, as 'one of the most pivotal moments of my career'

This was not typical of her work before or since, however. Working across a range of materials, ranging from beeswax, rubber, polyurethane, bronze, cloth, paper and ceramics, Benglis creates abstract sculptures which explore the physicality of form and how it affects the viewer. Her approach to art making is process-oriented, challenging the traditions of sculpture and painting, with a unique approach to form exploring the physical dialogue between work and viewer.

Benglis emerged as part of a generation of artists forging new approaches to art in the wake of Abstract Expressioism, Minimalism and Pop Art. Her work has challenged the status quo and she has produced some of the most iconic works of art from the 20th century. Yet, like every woman throughout history she has been marginalised and her place in contemporary art history has been neglected. Her influence can be seen in the work of many younger artists working today: the plastic 'blobs' of Roxy Paine; the sexually suggestive props of Matthew Barney; the floor pieces of Polly Apfelbaum; the ambiguous shapes created by Franz West; the work of Cindy Sherman.

Fallen Paintings:

These poured latex sculptures one-upped Jackson Pollock's action paintings in the late 1960s. She poured pools of swirling pigmented latex directly on the floor, obscuring the distinction between painting and sculpture, bringing painting into architectural space. The importance of process in her work is emphasised here - material, colour and image in one single form in this choreographed process.


Baby Contraband, 1969  (poured pigmented latex)

Rumpled Painting/Caterpillar, 1968

one more view


Wing, 1970  (aluminium)

Challenging the rigidity of Minimalism during the 1970s Benglis made several  site-specific installations in which she choreographed multiple polyurethane pours that projected out of the wall in dramatic arrangements. Wing is the only metal cast made from this work nearly all of which was destroyed when the installations were dismantled. Wing epitomises the idea of the 'frozen gesture', a term Benglis often used to describe her early sculptures. Flows of polyurethane have been seemingly caught in motion, which is emphasised by the work's polished aluminium surface.

Quartered Meteor, 1969/75 (lead)

Like many of her 'pours' from the 60s and 70s this work was cast from an original polyurethane sculpture called King of Flot (1969) which was formed in the corner of a gallery space. Casting in metal allowed Benglis to preserve the forms and play with the viewer's perception of their materiality. Though solid, Quartered Meteor's oozing surface, which resembles flowing lava, suggests a permanent liquid state. Its corner placement draws attention to the architecture of the space in which it's installed.

Come, 1969-74 (cast bronze)

The Graces, 2003-05 (cast polyurethane, lead, stainless steel)

The Graces is made from polyurethane which Benglis squirts out of a pressurised can - a gesture that alludes to the act of painting. The material has the ability to both absorb and give off light and as Genglis has observed: 'I'm after that translucent quality we see in sunsets and sunrises and the moon when it's full. All my ideas come directly from nature'.

Greek influence:

Greece has been an enduring source of inspiration for Benglis. Her father was the son of Greek immigrants from Kastellorizo. As well as drawing from Greece's art and architecture, Benglis finds equal aesthetic inspiration from its culture and traditions listing the 'Caryatids on the Acropolis, the holiday cookies, the braided Easter bread, the gold and gilded elements from the Orthodox religion' as important influences.

Greek motifs appear in different forms in Benglis' work. While her 'sparkle knots' can be read in relation to bodily forms and gestures, Benglis has also likened them to floral wreaths hung on the doors of Greek houses during May Day celebrations. Her gilt 'torso' wall-based sculptures, which are often titled with Greek names such as Minos and Perseus, marry the curves of the human body with references to Greek mythology and Hellenic sculpture, motifs which are also explored in her series of 'pleats' which twist and unfurl into dramatic baroque shapes. Beglis' use of gold in these works suggests both weight and weightlessness, drawing attention to surface while using its reflective qualities to 'conceive form with variations in light'. Her use of precious metal also provokes questions about value, taste and the difference between economic and aesthetic worth.

Proto Knot, 1971 (wire mesh, cotton bunting, plaster gesso and sparkles)

Sparkle Knot IV, 1972 (aluminium screen, bunting, plaster, paint and sparkles)
Bravo, 1972 (stainless steel, copper and Babbitt metal)
Tres, 1976 (wire mesh, cotton bunting, plaster, sprayed aluminium and copper)
Gamma, 1972 (aluminium screen, cotton bunting, acrylic paint, gold enamel and sparkles on plaster)

Siata, 1987-88 (copper over stainless steel)

Her first pleated works were inspired by an exhibition of Aegean art Benglis visited in Paris in 1979.
Moving away from the 'knots' she had been making up until this point, she began to work on this more open, pleated form made from wire screen which she covered in gold leaf and later in sprayed liquid metals. She has cited the gilded icons of the Greek Orthodox tradition as inspiration for these works, alongside references to drapery, flora and fauna and decorative jewellery. The 'pleats' are closely concerned with exploring the forces of movement within sculptural form.

Scarab, 1990, (stainless steel mesh and aluminium)

looking closer

Black Orchid/Stutz Bearcat, 1985, (bronze, mesh wire, zinc, copper and chrome)


Lagniappe I (Orange/Blue), 1978

looking closer 

Beatrice, 1979 (chicken wire, plaster, gesso, oil-based sizing and gold leaf)


Minos, 1978 (chicken wire, cotton bunting, plaster, gesso, oil-based sizing and gold leaf)


Primary Structures (Paula's Props), 1975 (lead, aluminium and plaster, plastic plant, live plant and velvet)
The title of the work alludes to a landmark show entitled Primary Structures: younger Amerian and British Sculptors which was a survey of minimalist art featuring almost-exclusively male artists. Benglis' 'mock' installation can be read as a critical response to the machismo of the exhibition. It also functions as a commentary on the nature of sculpture itself, as she was interested in 'the idea of the structure, of object and pedestal'. In its theatrical pairing of classical Greek forms with objects that might be considered kitsch, the work caricatures the appropriation of Greek art as a symbol of aesthetic aspiration.
Since 1979 Genglis has travelled annually to India and often works with paper when she's there.
Untitled, 1970 (encaustic pigmented beeswax and Damar resin on Masonite)


looking closer

Hoofers I and II, 1971-72 (aluminium screen, red cotton bunting, plaster, gesso, acrylic and glitter)

Described as 'Totems',  Hoofers draw on a wide range of references, from African art to Barnett Newman's painted 'zips'. Their gaudy surfaces appear to have more affinity with craft and costume than with sculpture and they demonstrate Benglis' ongoing interest in challenging notions of value and taste.

Prey Being, 2000, (coiled aluminium and brass wire, sculpted pigmented abaca paper, pigment and gold leaf flecks)  and
Earth Cavern, 2001

looking closer

Zanzidae: Peacock Series, 1979 (wire mesh, enamel, glass and plastic)

Manu Light Vessel I and III, 2009 (wire, electric bulbs, bamboo and recycled handmade cotton Gandhi Ashram paper)
New Mexico:

Benglis travelled to New Mexico in 1993 and has since constructed a studio and dwelling there.

Although she had studied ceramics as a student in the 1960s she only returned to using clay at this time. She uses the coiling method.  



Figure 2 and 5, 2009 (bronze, black patina)

Sexual Mockeries:

Between 1972 and 1976 Benglis produced fifteen videos which were made alongside her 'sexual mockeries' series of advertisements and invitation cards in which she performed a series of character tropes, engaging with ideas relating to gender roles and sexual identity.


An Amazing Bow-Wow, 1976, video  (image taken from here )

This body of work anticipates Cindy Sherman's work by a number of years.
Female Sensibility, (1973), video

Female Sensibility is one of Benglis' most iconic videos. It depicts Benglis with fellow artist Marilyn Lenkowsky as they touch, lick and kiss each other in a tightly-focused frame. This erotically-charged scene is accompanied by a soundtrack of collaged radio broadcasts, many of which include men making patronising or dismissive references to women.

Female Sensibility creates a space in which the male presence is made redundant and marginalised sexualities are given airtime. The tightly cropped frame of video occasionally renders the subjects as abstract shapes and the continued gesture of touching casts the bodies of the protagonists as sculptural forms.

Information provided by the gallery and extensive reading and research.