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Monday 30th June 2014Artist Spotlight: Catherine Yass

Catherine Yass has made some headlines recently thanks to a proposed (and quashed) performance art piece involving an apartment tower, a piano, and gravity, but she's been an accomplished artist for quite some time before these latest stories began to hit newsstands and the internet. Having received an MA from Goldsmiths College after initially studying at the Slade School of Art in London, she has had a fairly distinguished career, with an impressive list of gallery shows located all over the globe. In 2002, she was shortlisted for the Turner Prize, a prestigious award named after J. M. W. Turner, which has become one of the most noted art awards in Britain, and is organized and awarded by the Tate Britain.

She is most noted for her work in film and photography, although apparently she seems to have presciently determined our advice from our previous post about the value of experimenting with other media, as was shown in the latest piece she wanted to perform, as we mentioned in the beginning of this post. The original plan was to take a grand piano to the top of the 27 story Balfron Tower and drop it off the roof, with the stated intent of being 'part of a community workshop looking at how sound travels' - an interesting take on the often problematic issues of noise pollution in urban areas, but perhaps a bit overdramatic. The Balfron, which is currently empty due to intricacies of reconstruction and urban improvements, is a Sixties era building that stands like a mute testament to poorly planned urban housing. Needless to say, the residents of the Tower and of the area at large were not particularly thrilled with the project, and went so far as to start a petition in order to have the piece removed from the workshop.

The piece was "intended as a swan song to the lost socialist ideals of modernist housing that Ernö Goldfinger, amongst others, brought to Tower Hamlets," according to the Alison Jacques Gallery, which represents Yass. They went on, "The residents of Balfron Tower have recently been decanted to make way for privatisation. I have total sympathy with their distress, and accordingly told them we would not go ahead without their consent.
"I had hoped that Piano Falling and the related community events and workshops we organised would address these issues and offer some real regeneration to an area which has been ignored until it is seen as valuable real estate."

While it could have been interesting, if you decide to explore new media in your own work, we don't recommend annoying an entire neighbourhood!

Posted on June 30th 2014 on 06:56pm

Friday 27th June 2014Going Beyond Your Medium

The search for fresh inspiration never ends. It's an inevitable and undeniably enjoyable part of living your life as an artist that the entire world can speak to you and inspire you to create. But as we all know, that doesn't make it true 100% of the time. We all have our little slow-downs, so we've explored various ways to fight the creative doldrums over the past few months, and many of these tactics can lift you back up out of a slump. What we're going to look at today, though, is more about how you think about yourself as an artist.

For many of us, we have specialized or gravitated towards a specific discipline, be it photography, sculpture, music, performance art, painting or whatever. But many - perhaps I should even say most - of us have become inadvertently locked into our chosen discipline, and that can sometimes make it extremely difficult to break free from creative slumps. We establish modes and patterns of thinking within our respective disciplines, and sometimes we can't see our own ways out as a result. But what happens when you put down the paintbrush and pick up a camera? Ditch the dance shoes for a collage construction? Wonderful and exciting things, if you go into it with the right attitude.

The key is to stop thinking of yourself as a painter, or a photographer, or whatever your discipline may be. Even if you'd only like to switch out your watercolours for acrylics or oils, even small changes in your habits can have huge impacts on the way you interact with your own work. Don't expect to produce masterpieces right away in a brand-new medium (although don't be too surprised if you do - art is full of happy accidents!), but try to understand the creative process from other perspectives and with other approaches.

Similar to the way that learning a new language or teaching yourself a musical instrument can keep your brain sharp and on its toes, the act of switching media can really break you out of an artistic slump and get your creative neurons firing at full capacity again. Who knows, you might even discover a passion for a style that you'd otherwise never have experimented with! Try to pick something that's always interested you but you've never experimented with before - this is your excuse (or kick in the behind!) to get out there creatively and let your passion through!

Posted on June 27th 2014 on 06:35pm

Wednesday 25th June 2014Art and Your Brain

Recently during my regularly-scheduled browse through the deep dark wonders of the world of internet-based news, I ran across an article that was entitled 'Our Brains Are Made for Enjoying Art'. Supposedly, something in the way our brains had evolved made us wired to appreciate art, and this had somehow been proven in a recent meta-study (for those of you unaware, a meta-study is a study that looks at the results of other studies - a study of studies, in other words). Intrigued, I clicked through, and discovered that what had actually happened was the laziest kind of art journalism.
Art and science fascinate the public, and rightly so - they are the pinnacles of the capacities of the human mind. The problem, of course, comes from the fact that those same people are so desensitised by the media that every headline has to be attention-grabbing in order to succeed, regardless of whether or not it actually deserves to. As a result, we wind up with journalism about art and science that is often written by people who don't understand either of these things, but rather focused on getting headlines.

It doesn't really take a genius to figure out that something fishy is going on with this story, however. Art is inherently an abstraction, after all - not capital-a Abstract, but rather inherently a representation of something else. Even the most perfectly accurate photo is, as Magritte taught us with his famous pipe, simply a representation of the thing photographed. Even as we have evolved to appreciate various elements of the world around us, and the concepts and symbolic ideas that can truly be said to be innately human creations, it should be no surprise that we react similarly to the representations of those things.

In other words, saying that our brains evolved to appreciate art is similarly inane to saying that we evolved to appreciate the world around us. Of course we did. The problem is one of causality, and that's something that lazy journalism often gets wrong, frustratingly more and more frequently in the age of viral memetics and rapid information sharing. The difference, of course, is that the world was here long before we were, whereas art is a creation of ours. We can't possibly have evolved to adapt to one of our own creations, as we haven't been making art long enough. Perhaps in a hundred thousand years…

Posted on June 25th 2014 on 05:38pm

Friday 20th June 2014Automatic Art Projects

Summer can be a great time for creative inspiration. Breaking out of your winter studio habits can have a huge impact on your mind and body, and we all know how useful change can be for getting us into new situations and experiences that spark new creative drives. We've even written a special post about summer inspiration recently! But sometimes, summer alone isn't enough to get the creative juices flowing. Creative blocks can happen to the best of us at almost any time, which is no fun, but a definite reality of living life as a creative individual.

Some of us remember the heady days of art school, when there was a constant source of projects and parameters to work in (and some of you will be thinking with relief that you're not going back to class until the autumn!). There is a kind of creative relief in having at least some of the parameters of a project provided for you. It seems almost paradoxical, but developing creative ways to operate within a framework can sometimes make it easier to generate ideas that simply staring at a blank canvas (which we've all done at one point or another).

Enter the wonderful world of Twitter bots. A Twitter bot is a piece of software that automatically generates tweets (posts on Twitter) from a set of input words, and as you might expect, it's not always 100% grammatically correct, but it almost never fails to be interesting. That's the premise behind @artassignbot, the digital brainchild of Jeff Thompson, an artist and programmer who grew tired of constantly recycled themes being used in art school assignments. So he gathered up a massive collection of assignments, and used software to recombine them in bizarre and sometimes appealing ways, and stuck a due date on the end. These due dates range in time from under a minute for quick flash projects to several days or more, giving you some time to think about what you're doing.

A new assignment is tweeted every hour, and there have been over 30,000 so far, so you're sure to find something that will spark a creative urge in you, even if it's just so you can say that you've collaborated with a piece of online software.

The best part of all, of course, is that you don't have to put up with the interminable critiques from classmates!

Posted on June 20th 2014 on 04:01pm

Wednesday 18th June 2014Artist Spotlight: Myeongbeom Kim

In this edition of the Artist Spotlight, we're going to take a look at Myeongbeom Kim, a sculptor trained on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. Originally studying in Seoul, South Korea, and earning a Bachelor of Fine Art in Environmental Sculpture, he began to study and sculpt for his Master's Degree at the famous Art Institute of Chicago. Since then, he has been dividing his living and working time between Seoul and Chicago, and it seems like this duality may have created an interest in intersections of culture, as the theme of unexpected intersection seems to run throughout the majority of his work. The results are nothing short of zen surrealism, if such a thing can be said to exist at all (although this question itself might be said to be zen surrealism). .

Each piece has a stunning simplicity, but captures a haunting, surreal beauty and makes you do a double take. The intersection of man-made objects and the natural world is a frequent source of subject matter, but one of this writer's personal favourites is the one-legged chair being held up by a giant cluster of helium balloons.

Speaking to, Kim had this to say about his work: "I try to examine how my surroundings are perceived and remembered. To do this, I listen to a whisper from the objects within my surroundings. I attempt to have an intimate, private dialogue with the world, trying to concretely present the way things approach me, by using other mediums.

"To ask what an objects means to me is like asking what being I am. I have consistently experienced my surrounding objects from the perspective of life, growth, and decline, which lends vitality to my work."

Considering the importance of life, growth, and decline, it will be interesting to see how the young tree to which a wooden chair was affixed will grow around the sculpture. While I have a few reservations about using actual living plants in artistic works, I'm still curious to see how it will turn out both visually and conceptually. It's no wonder that Kim has been featured in galleries around the world, as well as received numerous awards and plaudits for his work.

To see his portfolio of work, visit his website here (although it appears to be a bit buggy, which is disappointing - guess he should have used Gallereo!)

Posted on June 18th 2014 on 03:45pm

Friday 13th June 2014Auction House Competition

The art world is famous for price tags as lofty as the masterpieces they represent. Staggering prices are commanded every time a famous work changes hands, and even the members of the public who aren't the target market are fascinated by the eye-popping sums. In the past, however, this type of big ticket sale has always been the province of the auction house; the Sotheby's, the Christie's, and occasionally a private sale brokered by a top-tier gallery. However, at the latest art fair in Basel (which we discussed previously in our post about the best cities for art lovers), an incredible challenge to the supremacy of the auction house has appeared.

New York is unquestionably the American centre for art auctions (and arguably the world centre as well, though doubtless many in London would disagree), and during May of this year, $2.2 billion USD worth of art sales took place during the course of two weeks. Unquestionably an impressive figure, but the Art Basel fair that just finished up recently featured 285 galleries and dealers selling a whopping $4 billion USD worth of art. In fact, on the very first day of the fair alone, over $55 million dollars worth of sales had been made - by only 11 galleries.

A piece by Jeff Koons, the subject of one of our recent artist spotlights, was sold for $5 million, but the true sales crown belonged to a famous piece by famed Pop Art paragon Andy Warhol, a pink-tinted self-portrait of the artist wearing his infamously iconic fright wig which sold for a whopping $32 million USD, which equals the record price ever achieved at an auction house for a Warhol self-portrait.

So what does this really mean for the auction house world paradigm? In the long run, probably not a great deal. Art sales are a very unique type of commerce, and the auction house is unlikely to be completely replaced by the art fair, but it will definitely have to step aside to make room. There is little doubt that the snobbery traditionally associated with the auction house will push some away, but at the same time, it provides a different experience to the mad rush of the art fair. Even though digital downloads essentially killed the record store, a comparable situation isn't likely to occur in the art world. Art fairs and auction houses may be selling the same calibre of piece, but the experiences they offer are sufficiently different - and the demand for artwork so voracious - that they will likely co-exist for a long time to come yet.

Posted on June 13th 2014 on 05:05pm

Wednesday 11th June 2014Summer Art Inspiration

If there's one thing I've learned over the course of my artistic career, it's that art doesn't happen in a vacuum. That's not to say that art can't happen in space - Commander Hadfield's rendition of David Bowie's Space Oddity on the International Space Station leaps to mind - but rather that the kind of ideas and inspiration that drive your creativity and artistic thinking don't happen in a vacuum. In order to function at your full creative potential, you need a great deal of new input, whether it's new ideas that you've gotten from casual conversations with friends or a new exhibit that inspired you to test out some new techniques or anything in between. Exposure to the world is what makes us want to create.

The winter months are perfect for studio time (although they can be just as creatively inspiring in and of themselves, with the right mindset), as the cold weather tends to keep us all indoors. Summer, however, tends to have the opposite effect in the artistically inclined, and both beautiful bright sunshine and powerful dark thunderstorms can be powerful inspirations. The most important thing about summer, though, is that it gets us back out into the world, coming into contact with life and society in a way that tends not to happen as much in the winter. When the entire world seems wrapped in scarves and gloves, freezing and covered in slush, it seems to evoke a sense of internalization and introspection. Summer, of course, is a time for showing skin to the sky and the suddenly the world is open and extroverted and curious again.

If you find yourself with a creative block sometime in the next few months (sorry to any readers who are in the southern hemisphere, about to enter the dead of winter), take the time to go outside and do something you wouldn't normally do. Summer basically begs you to enjoy it, so get out of the studio and go expand your horizons in the world. You might be amazed at the kind of creative boosts a simple stroll can have, whether for simply relaxing you and allowing you to refocus on the project at hand or because you see or do something new and inspiring to you.

Go out there - live life, and the art will follow. Sorry digital artists, this means you too! Pry yourself away from the screen and get some sunshine!

Posted on June 11th 2014 on 03:05pm

Friday 06th June 2014Crowdfunding Galleries

Unless you've been living on the Moon for the last few years, you've probably run across the term 'crowdfunding'. If you haven't heard of it before, the concept is actually extremely simple, albeit incredibly powerful. It uses a 'pay-what-you-can' model distributed over a large number of potential customers to acquire funding for projects. There are often various tiers of contributors, so that those who contribute more to a project get more out of it than those who make the minimum contribution.

For example, say you want to make a documentary, but need money for development costs and have no film studio contacts or capital. Posting your plan on a crowdfunding site, you would entice people to contribute to your documentary project. People who contribute $5 get a mention in the film credits, people who contribute $20 get a copy of the film and a credit mention, people who contribute $40 get an additional 'Making Of' documentary, the film itself, and a credit mention, etc. Once your goal is reached, the money is released and you can begin to work on your film.

The most popular crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are enabling entirely new revenue models across the creative sphere, from video game development to documentary filmmaking to industrial engineering. But at long last, the crowdfunding model has reached into the gallery world - at least, in the United Kingdom.

A new project entitled Art Happens has been launched by the charity Art Fund, in an attempt to bring the incredible power of crowdfunding to the UK art world. Five galleries so far have launched projects using the Art Happens platform: St. Fagan's National History Museum in Cardiff, the Bowes Museum in County Durham, Compton Verney in Warwickshire, the Museum of the Gorge in Shropshire, and the Jerwood Gallery in East Sussex. At the moment, the most popular project is only 12% funded, with 18 contributors and 74 days left to reach the fundraising goal. This, quite naturally, begs the question of whether or not the initial selections are interesting enough for those who follow the tech-centric crowdfunding payment model, or whether the project simply has yet to go viral, which everyone appreciates is an incredibly difficult thing to predict.

With luck, the Art Happens project will trigger other galleries and artists to begin to explore new methods of financing their projects - after all, nobody really wants to be too much of a starving artist!

Posted on June 06th 2014 on 02:59pm

Wednesday 04th June 2014The Hidden Works

Photo Credit: APIf you're a painter, you might have been here before: you're working on a canvas, nearly finished executing your vision, and suddenly you get frustrated and decide to scrap the project. Or maybe you've suddenly come up with a brilliant painting but you're all out of prepped canvases, and you need to start work immediately to preserve the clarity of your idea. Whatever the reason, the only way to get yourself a new working space is to paint over something you've already done. It's probably happened to you at least once in your artistic career, and if not, then you should consider yourself lucky! But what happens when you turn out to be one of the most famous painters of the previous century? Gallery and museums will bring out the forensic toolkit!

This is exactly what happened recently with one of the first well-known pieces by Pablo Picasso, the patron saint of Cubism, one of the most famous artists from the 20th century. One of his first pieces to be considered a masterpiece, the 1901 painting 'The Blue Room' signalled the beginning of his famous (to Picasso fans, at least) 'Blue Period', a 3 year stretch marked by a certain melancholia. Art experts had long been puzzled by some inconsistencies in the brush strokes found in the painting, strokes that didn't match what the surface painting appeared to show. As far back as 1954, one expert had noticed these discrepancies, but it wasn't until the mid 1990s that the art world got around to bringing in some sophisticated technology - the X-ray.

Not typically used on paintings, x-rays of 'The Blue Room' showed that there was indeed something painted beneath the surface, although x-rays weren't sufficient to provide a clear image of what, if anything, the underlying elements were. Thanks to recent advances in forensic technologies, however, experts have finally been able to get a glimpse of the painting Picasso didn't want to keep. An infrared camera has shown that the painting beneath The Blue Room is in fact a portrait of a man in a bow tie that appears nearly completed. No mention of his reasons for abandoning the portrait have been found, but one can only wonder what other famous artists may have chosen to discard before they realized that they were to become the pivotal artists of their age. It almost makes one start to conjure up visions of The Da Vinci Code, with secret messages hidden beneath renaissance masterworks!

Posted on June 04th 2014 on 02:57pm
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