Archive for the Art Category

Review: The Loneliness of Lowry

Posted in Art, News with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2010 by helenperkins

Going to an exhibition on The Loneliness of Lowry when you have just split up with your partner is probably not on your friends’ list of top recovery techniques. Still, I went, and I’m glad I did – because, despite what its curators might suggest, this collection stands as a homage to those going solo.

Laurence Stephen Lowry, most famous for painting industrial scenes from the early twentieth century, has previously been stereotyped as a fairly simplistic artist who captured cheery street scenes in Salford. He was a painter and rent collector who achieved notoriety with child-like images of matchstick people, picked out in panes of red and yellow and blue.

LS Lowry: A Procession

There was none of that here though. At this month’s Abbot Hall Art Gallery exhibition, in Kendal, the works picked out tell the tale of Lowry alone in the Lake District. The detached atmosphere of his work, depicting empty landscapes, bare seas and soundless rooms suggest he didn’t just spend a lot of time alone, he also used this special space as his own, personal subject.

LS Lowry: The Empty House

Lowry’s wildernesses are not without an artist’s love. The time and patience given to these quiet northern landscapes reveal something of a fondness for a reclusive existence. His pared down oil paintings focus on formal characteristics of light and tone, creating odd illusions in depth and scale that pull you into his empty worlds – or seem to push you back from them, leaving you feeling like you are peering inside.

The Lonely House and the Empty House show the occasional people but there is no flamboyant style of modern life painter or Renaissance story-teller in Lowry’s depictions. People are too far away to have expressions captured or physiques judged – they are merely neat flourishes of colour to populate the plain architecture of Lowry’s art, at a safe distance.

Lowry: The Derelict House

I don’t know if it is fair for critics to say Lowry was entirely lonely – or if he was entirely happy with his predicament. One of the main problems of this exhibition seems to be that it tries to define a whole person and their art career with a big fat Lonely stamp and, as an audience you’re tempted either to agree or disagree. I imagine Lowry got depressed, but I bet he also ate ice cream on a summer’s day by the beach and laughed at the donkeys and the chubby, burnt British people.

Maybe the best I can say is that I’ve seen the work inspired by his winderness years and it gave me reason to be cheerful.

The exhibition is currently on display at Abbot Hall until October 30 after which a pared down version will go on show at the Crane Kalman Gallery in London from November 18 to December 18.


Narrative art: an experiment in the world between visual and written language

Posted in Art with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2010 by helenperkins

I have a story but I don’t want to write it – I want to tell it in images. This marks the beginning of my experiments in ‘narrative art’ – art which seeks to tell a tale beyond the confines of its frame.

The first image from my narrative art sequence entitled 'The Union' - this sequence aims to represent elements of a written fiction

I suppose photo journalists are always trying to suggest the wider world through images. Pictures of starving children in Africa are supposed to portray a devastated and neglected nation, images of Peter Mandelson, too, suggest a certain type of politics. I won’t go into what his image represents – but I’m sure he conjures up a certain view of UK democracy. Certain images represent more than their total pixels.

In the case of the starving African children, though, I wonder if some images have been repeated into meaninglessness – in the way Andy Warhol’s 1960s work suggested. Their overuse, partly as a consequence of a mass culture that over uses them (particularly in advertising), has made the photograph and the ‘iconic image’ increasingly meaningless, eroding its impact with each repitition.

So my experiment will be to see the effects of creating a narrative in oils. This is time consuming, highly reliant on patience – and of course even these images can be stolen and multiplied – as any poster website selling hundreds on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers paintings proves. Still, I hope a narrative in oils will hold a different sort of power to the photo – that the time spent making it will give it a sort of stored narrative kinesis. I hope, perhaps, that it’s attachment to a narrative may change its effect.

Above is the first of my story images – there will be around 10 in total when I am finished. The paintings’ fiction has already been written – though not published through any public site – and is just under 2000 words long. The images will be in sequence and are not created in order to simplify the story but to illuminate elements undescribed in the narrative and to provide details of perspective and tone.

As I’ve said, this is an experiment – perhaps at its most basic it’s an experiment in the different artistic methods through which an artist communicates with their audience. I do wonder which stories a viewer/reader will find in these images – if it will be very similar to mine or completely different.

I’m a Fine Art painter practising in the North West of England. You can see a selection of my paintings here, along with a selection of my drawings. Please feel free to leave messages or comments here, on my website or at

Art Review: Obama’s People by Nadav Kander

Posted in Art with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2009 by helenperkins

Kander’s portraits of America’s 52 leading men and women make up a striking exhibition for anyone who needed reminding that Obama is now God. Oh, hadn’t you heard?

The photographic exhibition aims to depict the president’s movement towards a more inclusive, modern and diverse politics. As you enter Birmingham Gallery you can see the faces of the people destined to advise, support and assist in transforming America into the promised land, in photographs deliberately posed to woo the public into a glorious vision of the Obama future – a PR campaign carried out in the name of art – in a series of slick images, determined faces and Avon makeup.

The gallery walls explain: “Kander’s approach mirrors the intention behind the Obama team to bring together an eclectic body of individuals who believe that change is possible. They run across boundaries of race, gender, age and religion into a unified, intelligent, contemporary, engaging and yet formidable force which brings hope to the world.”

They might as well have written “John 3:16” at the end.

As if to prove Obama is the all-accepting, all-embracing saviour his campaigners have painted him as, each member of the president’s team seems to have been given a prop to highlight their own unique personality and strength within the team.

One wears a Stetson, another has a pencil posed behind his ear, several have novelty coloured ties or shirts. It is as if Kander is trying to find a member of Obama’s administration for every possible demographic to relate to – each with easily comprehensible personalities. Just like Barbie.

Over on the left we have Legal Barbie – with her serious suit and leather belt. On the right we see Flustered Assistant Mr Barbie – his multi coloured scarf slung across his broad shoulders, giving him the air of a hard working family man. Thirty-nine-year-old Mike Stratmanis is the president’s Intergovernmental Relations Barbie – he comes with his own sports cap, portable briefcase and expandable smile.

Obama’s associate 27-year-old Reggie Lowe had so many accessories I’m sure he could have competed with Barbie, Cindy and Ken combined. Kander has photographed him with blue-tooth headphones, sunglasses, a pager strapped to his belt, at least eight pens – you can never have too many pens – a casual jacket embroidered with his name and, oh yes, an American pin badge. That’s right – Reggie could be the number one girl’s Christmas gift this year – he is Obama’s Personal Assistant Barbie.

It takes no time at all for the viewer to realise that these are not the natural, character capturing shots advertised in the exhibition blurb – these are extremely posed pictures.

If this doesn’t convince you that art has become a little too involved with all the new American myth-making then the shrine-like alcove at the centre of the exhibit surely must. With a single, black and white photo of the great King himself, picked out in a halo of light, we are asked to swallow a new religion of America.

Can we take it with a pinch of salt?

Yes we can.

View Kander’s work here:

Obama’s People shows at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery until August 31. Admission is free.