It’s not all about the money – except that of course it is, and nothing is a better reminder of that than this weekend in October, Frieze Hell. A market, with top-of-the-range artefacts, and excited articles in the broadsheet press. An extravaganza, in every sense of the word (maybe there is only one). Obscene prices for something that might have cost at the most a couple of hundred dollars to throw up. But even, it’s also worth saying, obscene prices for great art. It isn’t Gerhard Richter’s fault he’s a multi-millionaire.
‘Rembrandt, Hals, Vermeer and Hobbema all died in poverty’ ought to be tattooed on every artist’s head, at least those heads big enough for room to leave that legible. But then maybe there was something weird about the art market in seventeenth-century Holland.
At studio1.1 our aim is to provide a sympathetic space for artists to develop, free from the dictates of the relationship they’d be bound to have with a commercial gallery. While we acknowledge the benefits that business relationship could bring (primarily, it has to be said, the chance at least of financial ones), we believe strongly there is a place for a different model, based on an open-ended development of the work itself, as well as of the artist. Since our beginning as an artists’ co-operative in 2003 to our present situation as an artist-led not-for-profit gallery, through trial and error we have developed a structure of our own, supporting ourselves through fundraising rather than depending on the whims of backers, collectors or the cash-strapped state, discovering and supporting artists who, for whatever reason, might have had all too few opportunities for presenting their work to the public.
Already well-known as the doorman at ‘Duckie’ nightclub and having worked extensively with David Hoyle (ex ‘the Divine David’) and Lea Anderson of the Cholmondeleys and the Featherstonehaughs, Jay Cloth’s artwork presents itself as erotic, glamorous and tawdry all at once, Jay Cloth constructs collages that mix and mis-use images from on the one hand the glossiest and on the other the tackiest of printed sources. Top-drawer and top-shelf combine to form monstrous morphed figures, upending the Adman’s dream into a consumerist nightmare. One day all this will be You. The artist as Jester and Judge, the Avenging Angel of Vogue magazine.
His double-bluff identity on the door of ‘Duckie’ is itself a collage of disrupted signifiers, a wild mix from the novelty shop and the charity shop – a ‘Happy Families’ not just hung, but well and truly drawn and quartered. Creating this role he isn’t inventing an alter ego or a disguise, but rather an alternative view of identity, a self in perpetual transit. And absolutely at one with his public persona the work he creates presents a distorting (and deeply moral) mirror to the eager viewer. Like the barker of a Dickensian freakshow, Jay Cloth’s work introduces the audience to a self it might have wished had stayed hidden in the attic.
‘Tom Boy’ collage, framed, 2015,
‘Peepimg Tom’, collage, framed, 2015,
Cope’s work as a painter liberates itself from all easy categorisation by presenting himself and us with problems not to solve but to question. Again and again. The image-maker doubling as iconoclast, perhaps: not in a spirit of dilettante eclecticism, but with a sardonic joy and(at one and the same time) delighted cynicism at the limitless (im)possibilities of painting.Of course he can paint photo-realistically. Of course he can adapt tropes, seize on motifs, deconstruct the canvas, make a mess. But there’s more, there’s always more: with energy, imagination and sly wit each painting thwarts its own outcome (what, Cope might ask, is the point of painting when the result is a foregone conclusion?) Within each canvas there are points at which, the result already apparent he (clearly) takes off at once down some non-signposted path. In a significant change of direction over the last year or so, a new paring-down of tone and of reference points, a cleaning-up of the smears and the gestures, has wrong-footed us again. Nonchalant to the point of cheekiness, his paintings about paintings make us believe, quite wrongly, we know what’s going on.
'studio prop (with propped up)' oil on polyester, 45 x 70 cms, 2015, £1,100
'studio prop (black and white paint tins)' oil on canvas, 45 x 70 cms, 2014/5, £1,100
'studio prop (clouds)' oil on canvas and linen, 45 x 70 cms, 2014/5, £1,100
'studio prop (tent)' oil on canvas, 45 x 70 cms, 2015, £1,100
Hovering (and the word conveys the delicacy of the experiment) between the realms of art/design/and pure invention, Will Cruickshank's work often proposes two simultaneous modes of interrogation. If it's art, does it matter if it also functions? If it functions, can it be art too? When is a chair not a chair? (and true to the lyricism of Cruickshank's work, the question could come back immediately in song... 'even when there's no-one sitting there?'). Cruickshank gracefully morphs household or farmyard furniture, re-siting it in a domestic - or gallery - space. After the double-take when we see two old rocking chairs turned into a seat for three, we're prompted to wonder: who is the extra seat for? The space between waits for an unknown third. Practical, witty, and decorative. A solitary activity is turned into a communal one. Communion in fact is the key to these subtle works. As is one further question: how does its cleverness end up by moving us?
'Triple Rocker', rocking chairs, wood, fabric, 2013, £2,400
Untitled (Wood Turnings), wood various dimensions, 2015, £900 to £1,100 each
'Stained Glass Test' (first version), 200 x 75 x 20 cms, 2014, £2,200
For a long time James' work in film and installation has been concerned with the here that’s not-here, the space we’re unaware of precisely because it’s the space we occupy. In current work through the use of mirrors, doctored by a process that’s both physical (laboriously scraping away parts of the silvered surface) and chemical (the final use of bleach), and by setting the mirrors at right angles to each other so that in a quasi-palindromic effect they simultaneously echo and invert meaning, the space they show us becomes at the same time opened up into infinity, and closed down where the plain de-silvered glass shows us nothing more than the wall it’s pair is hung upon. Just as in pre-digital cinema the Shufftan process allowed the camera to seemingly obliterate itself (importantly, without our noticing) by allowing a character to look directly into a mirror with no sign of the recording camera, James’ mirrors hide every bit as much as they show in an act of abnegation where materiality balances illusion.
'Madam, I'm Adam' scraped mirrors, 2 x 75 x 150 cms, 2014 £3,000
Born into the closest thing yet to a social-democratic paradise, the utopia that is (sorry, was) late twentieth-century Sweden, Robin Seir carries the dream forward with a sharp eye and an intelligence every bit as sharp. Without slackening an attention to detail, his paintings offer a broad commentary on a world that, sadly, was too good to be true. 'Utopia', after all, means 'nowhere'. And Erewhon was a satirised nightmare. The modernism Seir alludes to was a clean, clear affair of standardisation and planning, rendered here into a geometry that becomes ever so slightly bewildering, as patterns we set out to follow turn back on us and defeat the plan. The fractal, in pieces. Fractured. Our present, the future created in the past by sci-fi, inevitably looks quaint as imagined then, as hoped for, as worked towards, (all active states difficult to countenance now in the post-modern po-faced stasis we inhabit). As we look back to ideas of the future which are preserved in museums, in archives, heaven forbid in formaldehyde or, most particularly, in 'ironic' quotation marks, we notice a significant omission. Post religion, post everything the pervasive feeling is of an apocalypse that never happened, a Rapture that we were not summoned to… a doom that is still distant (because we have stopped being aware of moving towards it). Recuperating that imaginative look forward into a world that must have seemed as alarming as it was exciting, Seir restores to us some sense of balance. A vision of today, a world in standby mode.
'Copper relief' I (large), 2015, £1500
'Copper relief' II (small) 2015, £950
'Copper relief' III (small) 2015, £950
Untitled (Black) 2015, £1,500