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reach as high as you can

i still love marc johns' blog. here's a gem from it.


justin mortimer

I really like the Haunch of Venison's Eastcastle Gallery.
Each time I've been in there, there's a really great show on, and I can just enjoy the work. I've also always felt the staff to be friendly and open (not always a given in Central London galleries).

The show on there at the moment by Justin Mortimer is quite a beautiful show. Mortimer is a painter and, although I have a dysfunctional relationship with painting, this work (and other work of his I've seen recently) reminds me why the love exists in that love-hate relationship.

I also feel like Mortimer is addressing a new aesthetic in painting that I haven't really noticed until now. That aesthetic is something that was actually brought in by photography - something that I call the Vice Mag/Richardson aesthetic. It's one that, within the context of photography and media arts, I loathe. I cannot stand it and friends know not to mention Terry Richardson in my company if they don't have 10 minutes to listen to me rant violently.

However, the translation of that harsh, party-party-fuck-me-i'm young-and-sinister look - its framing, lighting and composition - translates really well into painting. Especially in the hands of Mortimer. 

The slightly-detached position that painting affords a dark subject, using contemporary settings, naked youth, stark lighting allows these symbols and meaning of the work to filter through. The wasted youth aspect of the characters in Mortimers paintings are not People I Might Know as they are in Vice mag photo shoots (which is part of my problem with them). In these paintings, they become figures doing actions that i need to pay attention to. They aren't as directly accessible anymore, so provoke me as a viewer to pay attention.

And yet these scenarios are those that are very much occurring right now. The inbuilt-camera-flash type of lighting contrast (different to actual chiaroscuro), the RGB monitor skin-tones, the urban backgrounds and 'no pics it didn't happen' style of framing are all those I've seen online for the last 5 years. 

This is not the 20th Century I'm looking at, here.

What I also like about these works is that they're not trying to portray a life I might aspire to, but are not sanctimonious or baroque in codemnation. They're gritty - possibly depraved - without taking themselves too seriously, and light without being glib (criticisms I have of other media using similar treatment). They're symbolic, but not so overloaded that they're confusing; realistic without being self-centered or mind-numbingly autobiographical.

And the great thing is that they don't look as good in the book. They're made to be paintings. They're intended to be experienced as a discreet object, not just an image or a shorthand version of them.

I have issues with paintings that become photographs far too easily - they lose the essence of why using goopy, messy, expensive materials matter. Mortimers works, although drawing from photomedia, are not photos. They're not even potential photos. They're solid pieces of shimmering oil that have depth and movement and firmness all at once.

I'm going to go back several times for this one.

image credit: Haunch of Venison's website


'No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.'

Robert Frost is often quoted with that little gem.

I have a terrible habit of comparing myself to others. It's a nasty little tic that I would actually like to be rid of. Especially as I don't compare myself to those with whom i'm comparable. I compare myself to people who make vastly different work to me, or whose position I am apt to only see in favourable light. I have very little perspective when it comes to that.

I realised this a few days ago when I was heading off into a boring old inferiority zone and my (very smart and perceptive friend) suggested that the person I was lauding was actually fairly facile. That their work was pleasing to the eye, but had little substance.

She went on to suggest that it's like that for those who have an easy life - they want for little money, have confidence, don't really struggle, can produce accomplished and smooth works. But they also don't and can't create the depth, or the texture of those who have to bump into life, for those who have to wrestle with understanding.

That was slightly comforting.

According to this great article, Frost is also interested in the flipside of the process [of writing] too - not just just the agony, but the sheer joy and amazingness of it. That he has "a hell of a time" doing it too. Whilst it's important to embrace the gnarly depths, so too the peaks. So too the joy and fun and ease, actually, of living a life that is centred around conveying ideas and pretty pictures.


london. huzzah!

this has been a weird year. thanks for trying to keep up, if you have. you may well have lost interest in the half-arse, confused musings of an artist who seems to be floating all over the place. you'd be forgiven, becuase i have.

however, this is the beginning of the good stuff again. i'm in london again, but for the long haul. i've got a nice chunky visa, the will to live and a stack of great art to see, do and hopefully help other people make.

i'll be going to a gallery a day again, so hopefully there's loads more writing about art on here. i'm also likely to get ranting again, which is going to be fun for you all. i have some posts up my sleeve.

i haven't had coffee yet today and i'm behind schedule, so this is just a little heads up for things to come.

thanks for sticking around, there are drinks and snacks on the table at the back.


hungry city and the existential crisis

last week, on my way to the usual cafe sit-down time, i went to the hungry city exhibition at kunstraum kreuzberg/bethanien, a group show, focusing on agriculture in contemporary times.

it was a really worthwhile show. my criticism is that there wasn't a clear room sheet (which is why i have no names attached to the works i'm talking about and some of the actual displays were a little half-arsed and 'typical' execution.

mostly, it was an excellent group show with some great video about custom-tractor culture in eastern europe, fruit maps (that reminded me of nicola twilley's work) and a super-disgusting videos about pigs (which i had to walk out of immediately).

the biggest problem with seeing the show was, rather than get me all excited about art and/or changing the world's perspective about the role of capitalism on agriculture and the environment, i nosedived straight into an existential crisis.

art does the same old thing, over and over again - maps, videos, photos, words about issues that the world has.
and the issues are the same old issues over and over again - environment, capitalism, colonialism, disease, poverty, etc.

and nothing changes.

art does not change anything.

and i am an artist. i want to change things. this is a problem.

i actually spent the day very depressed.

i half-heartedly considered whether i really could be the human rights lawyer i keep threatening the world to be. or the al jazeera/economist journalist. i spewed my angst onto facebook and felt partly relieved, partly justified.

and then somehow it passed.

i've seen some beautiful work since then and have been getting distracted by films and theatre, etc. but not much. it's still a little below the surface.

but, back to the main exhibiiton. if you're in berlin over the next few days and are not an artist, you should go and see the show. it's meaty: full of interesting perspectives on the world.
and if you can't get there, subscribe to nicola twilley's blog. it will give you some of the flavour.


the cafe

i feel like i'm some kind of 19th century flaneur, writing this down, but it has to be done.

i'm writing about The Cafe.

i've been frequenting passenger espresso regularly again. they're coffee is great, it's affordable and i'm now a regular. it doesn't even matter that it's a 30 minute round trip bike ride. exercise AND caffeine = win win.

and every day that i'm there, i read a little from their magazines and hear something great their playing on the stereo. every day.

in the last week or so, i've discovered the chances with wolves blog (i know, i'm so far behind) and their excellent radio program (the one with Talib Kweli as a guest got me through an all-night application-writing session); the soundcloud mixes of maart roux and a cell of one, plus charles mingus' chazz! album (well, rediscovered). i've taken the time to chase up the links, downloaded tracks from those mixes or  tagged them on whyd.

i've followed the trails of music and incorporated new sounds into my life. it has been expansive.
just like i did when i was a teenager and i went to school and my friends shared music with me - they made me mixtapes and i read zines and ordered distro catalogues and ordered new stuff. it's exciting and i feel invigorated by continuing to expand my taste.

and the same thing with the magazines - i've read great articles in magazines that i don't have a chance to own, or would never have found otherwise: it's nice that, frieze, 032C, der greif and datacide. i discovered cabinet magazine in a similar way in london.

now, i know that for those of you who are hipsters, trying to stay on top of the Next New Thing, or my fellow Music Snob brethren from back in the day, this will be quite passe. But I don't really live that kind of all-consuming life anymore. I spend a lot of time separate from a TV or traditional radio programs. I livie quite a nomadic lifestyle and am often more consumed with my own art production, or keeping abreast of current affairs or reading fiction.

I have loads of friends, but they're all spread out over the world and I don't really have a posse close by who will say - hey, check this shit out, or lend me their latest issue of Frankie. Even the facebook like/share thing is not really so music/literature focused, but political (which i like, actually - replacing the newspaper).

so, this means that i don't get to hear as much new music as i used to. i can't afford to buy it all the time, or lug records'n'shit around for the old good stuff.

and i don't have loads of space or money to buy new magazines, or space to lug new shit around. the good stuff isn't all available on zinio or ebooks or newstand, and i don't want to read all my stuff electronically. i'm a luddite at heart.

and new music, new magazines are important for keeping me stimulated with new ideas. sentimentality and familiarity are great (biggie smalls on a daily basis is a wonderful thing), but i also want to keep my mind expanded with discovery.

and i think i'm not alone here. although loads of the middle classes in australia and england are planted in front of TVs and radios, i think most peeps my age and younger than me (although not so young that they're technically 'yoof'), have a similar deal: not necessarily in situations that facilitate the discovery of new ideas in an accidental fashion. and i could be wrong.

regardless, i feel like the cafe is a really important site for this.

it's the place where you can slowly ingest. even if you're intravenously consuming your coffee like i do, you still get to slowly ingest the literature, or the music. you get to discover, without the committment of it having to be good, or even the time committment of having to do the discovery. you avail yourself of it.

and it's still communal enough that you can chat and share with the baristas and other regulars about your taste-discoveries, which i think is an important aspect to really opening up your taste. that reinforcement thing in a meaningful way (ie: more than just a like or a single play).

the cafe is an important 'incubator' (to use a more stringent term) for culture, in the way that the library can be for books, that the agora/soap box/newscast was for politics.

i know it sounds oh-so fin de siecle modernity, but perhaps it is a similar state: the cafe then was the site where you could discuss politics. you could interact with The City, you could observe change and acquire taste - usually fashion/clothing/food, but still - taste. and in real time.

obviously the internet is a melting pot of taste, that you can find ANYTHING there. but sometimes it's too much and it's slightly abstracted and two-dimensional. it doesn't fulfill all my desires for chance.

whereas i think the cafe is making a resurgence as a site to fulfill that purpose, augment the amazness of the internet and deal with our ghastly caffeine (as opposed to absynthe) addicitons.



(Or Neon in Germany).


It's not a wild insight of mine to notice the resurgence of neon/fluorescent colours at the moment. I think you'd have to be colour blind or wearing blinkers to not pick up on the bright fashion, the nails, the accessories, Doc Marten shoes, web-graphics and printed posters all in bright bright colours.

It's that 80s recycled thing again and on one hand it makes me crave the odd socks i used to wear: one neon yellow, the other neon pink, carefully rolled down to my white espadrils with short jersey shorts. On the other hand it has me pondering exactly what the significance of this resurgence might be.

If it was just an 80s redux in fashion thing, I probably wouldn't take too much notice. But the point that sent my analytical mind into a bit of a spin has been the use of neon/fluorescent colours in Art. Capital A.

There was a show in Melbourne recently that featured 5 or 6 artists who use fluorescence in their work (that didn't include  some of the others i know like Dell Stewart and Anita Cummins, for example).

So i thought maybe it was just an Australian thing, until a few weeks ago, i walk into  the Christian Nagel Galerie in Berlin, a fancy pants commercial establishment. The large abstract expressionist paintings by Stefan Müller all had significant elements of fluorescent in them. And not in a graphic 'kapow!' pop kind of way either. But in a subtle, abstract, touchy feely kind of way.

Of course, it could be just an artist riding on an aesthetic trend for commercial gain, but I kind of doubt it. Especially not at the kind of price point these paintings sell at.

I might suggest that financial crisis might be linked, if the fluoro bombs from the 80s weren't before the 1987 wall street crash.

It could be a reaction to neo-conservatism: 'hey! look! there's other, useless and fun stuff in the world, not just boring elitism and econonomic rationalism', but the US is currently floating a supposedly progressive system, as is Australia and France (although admittedly only just), Germany is, well, technically not progressive, but comparitively is.

I can't find anything formally written about the theoretical significance of fluoresence in art and a few google searches link to either art galleries that are under blacklight, or connect to the link between fluorescent spores in bacteria (careful when you include the word 'culture' in your keywords, kids).

The first wave of fluoro fashion was probably also a boast at new technological advancement: pigment developments -  ink and dye techniques that could be used in plastics and fabric so they almost glowed. But this recent wave isn't about boasting or flexing innovative muscle - they've been available for 20 years or so.

In biology, fluorescence (or bioluminescence) is used to attract mate or prey, and perhaps this is an explanation, as a result of tightening belts (prey) or declining populations in rich western countries (mate). Now i really think i'm reading too much into it.

**If anyone reading this has anything properly insightful to add, or a reference I obviously should have read, 

image: mark grubb at hermit concrete in london