Art as pretext – three Paris painting shows

Friday, July 24, 2015

I catch the 5:25 am train from the south of France and at a pacy 300 kilometres per hour make it to Paris before 9am. The aim: to see three painting exhibitions. it’s something I do from time to time. Saves having to sort out a hotel room, and besides you can fit a lot into a single day. 

On the agenda is Pierre Bonnard at the Musée d’Orsay followed by Markus Lüpertz and Henry Darger at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.

No, I’m not going to write formal exhibition reviews – the idea leaves me feeling exhausted and plenty of critics have already done the job – but I will share some of my photos along with a few thoughts and impressions.

Bonnard is Bonnard and it seems almost everyone loves him. I adore his peek-a-boo visual games and forget how sneaky he is. The surprise here is seeing his so-called ‘decorative’ works – mostly mural sized paintings made to measure for clients’ walls. Sure, some have cutesy painted borders and ‘pretty’ themes, but most are simply XL paintings and calling them decorative is an unneccessary pejorative. They were commissions. 

Below is one of the XL works and some exhibition views.

 

Markus Lüpertz is the show that troubles me the most and the one I can’t stop thinking about. I hardly knew who he was before the exhibition, but he’s a contemporary of Kiefer, Polke, Richter… Born in Czeckoslovakia in 1941, emigrated to Germany in 1948, and has lived there ever since. He is supposedly known for his excessive personality, and flamboyant taste in vintage cars, sharp suits and walking sticks (he had a car accident and uses a stick topped with a Damien Hirst-style silver skull).

I have a huge respect for Lüpertz’s ambition and confident works, but there’s a level of annoyance that keeps surfacing in me. I can’t get a grip on his paintings (maybe a good thing), feel that he’s somehow hiding behind philosophies and concepts, and that there’s more to him and he’s holding back. Anything I read about his work online is just art-speak. Sure, he was the rector of the Düsseldorf art school for many years, until 2009, so maybe this accounts for the opacity of much of his discourse. 

So these are his supposed ideas and influences: Courbet, Goya, Poussin, Nietsche, German history, Maillol, mythology, Classical sculpture and the ‘Mycenean Smile’ (a Greek sculpture with a slight smile). For me there is something extra that is festering beneath the surface and I am trying to figure out what it is… Maybe the problem is with me, not him.

 

 

And here’s a short video that gives you a sense of the person…

The ‘outsider’ artist Henry Darger (1892-1973) is a mythological figure in himself. For years I have admired reproductions of his drawn and painted images so had built up great expectations about seeing them in the flesh. 

Unfortunately there is little extra that offers itself up when seeing the real thing – apart from the larger than expected panoramic scale and a poignant clumsiness of touch. In fact I begin to feel uncomfortably voyeuristic looking at the actual works. Darger seems like such a sad and troubled individual. Everything he produced was in the secrecy of his little apartment and only discovered after his death. He created his private universe in book and picture form which perhaps we are now ‘exploiting’, although I am still happy to have known about his journey. It’s a tough call.

I felt so uncomfortable that I forgot to take any photos of the exhibition.

However if you have the time and would like to know more, here is a feature film/documentary on the life of Darger.

 

 

 

 

Here’s the article + the state of painting in France.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Aerfeldt_ article -ADL_pg1

Yes, here it is. All five pages. During the past week I posted images of the article onto my facebook and instagram pages. There were messages from frustrated French readers because the text was illegible, so now the article can be read below via the PDF link. Even if French is not your forte I am sure you will still enjoy the images.

Click here to see the full article as a PDF.

I was considering attempting to translate it into English, but it’s such a lengthy piece and includes French literary references, so I have decided that is is beyond me. I am a painter not a translator, so please accept my apologies.

The journalist who interviewed me told me that the piece she wrote is quite a bit longer piece than her normal articles, I guess because there was so much information that I provided. Maybe I just talked a lot. My years of practice writing artist statements paid off and it seemed to roll off the tongue once I got going, even in French.

The title of the article – Le Grand Manège de la Femme de Ménage – is a play on words: manège (a merry-go-round/treadmill/little trick) and ménage (domestic tasks). It roughly means the merry-go-round/treadmill/trick of the cleaning lady. However femme de ménage (literally woman of cleaning) has a more dignified and respectful tone than the English translation. I’m not sure why, but it does.

The article by Anne Devailly (who also writes for well known newspapers such as Le Monde) discusses the very personal connection between myself and my subject matter – an anxious childhood, house proud Estonian mother, and growing up in a migrant family keen to fit into a new culture.  Cleaning, make-up and self adornment are not just about achieving bright and shiny surfaces. They are a source of self-interrogation and disquiet. Are the women in my paintings cleaning or polluting? The deliberate use of symbolism is mentioned, and my relationship with historical painting, mythology, and fashion images, as well as empowering my characters through the force of scale.

I discuss my processes, my year at Chelsea College in London, and the subsequent move to Montpellier. The author correctly observes that my paintings are at the opposite end of the spectrum from the institutionally sanctioned forms of contemporary art in France today.

IMG_3696

I see my place as an artist in France as being rather displaced. I don’t fit, which is what Anne Devailly was moved by (happily in a positive way) when she visited my studio. As she said, my work is unlike anything else here. The art school/institutional scene in France is still very conceptually based, ‘new media’ focused, and the carefully crafted object is not ‘a la mode‘. Tonal realism is almost unheard of in contemporary art circles.

Painting in France seems to have largely lost its pedals. Yes, there are plenty of French painters, but fewer good ones. Many of those that haven’t abandoned ship (turning to new media) are trying too hard to be contemporary in a self conscious way, imitating other successful painters mostly from abroad. It’s not convincing or authentic.

The most powerful force in French painting today (figurative or non-figurative) is the street art movement. It is UBER hip, hugely popular and also sanctioned and financed by local authorities. Sure, most of it is not hugely original but there are bright exceptions, and at least it’s mostly uplifting and/or thought provoking. Numerous galleries specialising in urban art have popped up recently in Montpellier and savvy ‘graffitti’ artists are now applying their designs onto stretched canvases with a young audience ready to lap it up.

But this is a whole new topic that I will discuss in a future post.

PS Remember my upcoming new website ? Well it has turned into a super-marathon, and has been driving me crazy – I never aspired to be an expert in WordPress, ecommerce, making videos, and so on. I am attempting to learn too many new skills at once. No, I’m not even doing the coding myself and  have professional developers employed, but it is still a massive task just providing the required content. I expect it to take at least another month but no rash promises. You will see it when it arrives.

 

Cleaning-Lady Covergirl

Monday, June 22, 2015

 

Cleaning lady painting Aerfeldt

Well, I am finally a COVER-GIRRRRRL!  My cleaning lady painting, that is. Green sponge, spray cleaner, fuchsia gloves… Sounds right.

Not much else I can say about it… Except that it’s in French and I was actually interviewed in French (eeeeeeek – my first French feature interview) and the journalist managed to turn it into a lengthy article and we even seemed to understand each other. Maybe I feel freer expressing my dark deepest thoughts in French because I think no one I know will be reading it, at least not the English speakers. Not quite true of course, but nice try. 

The thing is that I have decided to be more up front about the ideas behind my artworks, and this interview in French was my first stop along the new route. I’m naturally quite secretive and, if you go by those (terrible) personality tests, I am an introvert, but a passionate one; meaning I oscillate between being up front and out there, and then go and hide away when I’ve had enough. Is it just me, or are there others out there that are also hugely curious, and love doing these ‘scientific’ tests? I only take them if they are free, and sometimes even hunt online to get a code/voucher to use so I don’t have to pay. Because admitting you bought one of these things is embarrassing.

The magazine comes out in the first week of July and is a available from the Art Dans l’Air online store. Unless you are in the south of France. There will be around five pages in total.

Maybe I will post a mini summary translated into English…. Not sure yet.

 

How long does it take to make a painting?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Aerfeldt_Thoughts_Run_Wild_150x210cm_WEB

“Thoughts run wild (like white horses)’ 150 x 210 cm, oil on Belgian linen, 2011-2015

How long does it take to make an artwork? People are understandably curious… It especially seems to apply to painting, and even more so to figurative painting.

I guess there’s a certain manual labour aspect involved that we are all intrigued by. Any work, not just art work, that looks like it involves a lot of labour and painstaking effort grabs our attention. We love to think that someone was totally crazy to devote so many hours to making something that we consider to be particularly useless, or way beyond our own desire to achieve.

We all have our own mental categories of what is or isn’t a waste of time. For me, waste-of-time activities would be things like making model ships or airplanes, or matchstick sky scrapers… However it only takes a slight twist of imagination to put myself into other people’s shoes. If I needed an intricate prop to use in one of my paintings, even if it were a large galleon made of matchsticks, the end purpose would be enough to spur me into action, no matter how much I hated ships, the idea of ships, making ships or working with matchsticks.

(As you may be able to tell, I hate boats and boating – blame this on traumatic childhood ‘holidays’ spent on my father’s sailing boat. It was a matter of constantly choosing between  two evils. For example, try choosing between vomiting over the side rails and getting covered with cold saltwater waves versus feeling equally sick from the nauseating diesel fumes down below; or between getting devoured by swarms of mosquitoes on a hot summer night at port versus melting inside a thick sleeping bag…. Anyway enough of this aside.)

I am sure you have read reports explaining the therapeutic and relaxing benefits of repetitive activities like knitting. Don’t you sometimes crave doing something that’s purely repetitious, just for the sheer pleasure of escaping into it? For me it induces a meditative, circular state of mind. In theory at least.

However, for the record, let me say that painting does not induce a meditative state as often as you would expect. Not for me anyway. It’s mostly hard work and high concentration. Even when you’re ‘in the flow’ it’s pretty intense. It’s a bit like being a child or hobby golfer compared with deciding to go ‘pro’. As a ‘pro’ the stakes are higher and you become results-oriented. Once you start trying hard, it’s a downhill slide. So the idea is to mentally combine the two – like playing for your country in the Ryder Cup whilst pretending you’re just a hack weekend golfer doing a round with some mates. Not easy.

I recently read about an experiment where students were given the task of making a clay pot. They were put into two groups. The first group was asked to make as many pots as they could within the allotted time. Their aim was quantity. The second group was asked to come up with just one pot within the same amount of time, but their aim was quality, to achieve just one fabulous pot. At the end of the exercise the results were compared. The students who were focused on making quantity also ended up with the best quality piece. Simply by making so many examples they had learned from their mistakes and, without trying, had fine tuned their work over the given time. The second group seeking perfection got held up in discussions and mind exercises and their pot wasn’t great. Which reminds me of an old Estonian proverb which says ‘To learn to do the work, do the work’. If you have perfectionist tendencies, like me, it’s a lesson we keep resisting.

Aerfeldt_ThoughtsRunWIld_detail_2015

So, how long does it take to make a painting? The reason I started off with this question is because the painting above has taken me four years to complete. It wasn’t four years of working on it every day, but four years of thinking about it a lot of the time and doing plenty of subliminal mental problem solving. The work started off with high hopes, but after a few months I ran out of solutions and was ready to give up. It seemed there were too many issues that I couldn’t resolve. I ripped it off the stretcher and was about to throw it into the bin, but my logical mind stopped me from going quite this far, so it was rolled up and thrown on top of a tall cupboard, out of sight but not quite out of mind.

After a year or so I decided to start a new version of this painting, put a brand new white canvas on the old stretcher and re-drew the image. I was then ready to throw out the first version but decided that there was nothing to lose so I would staple it to the wall for one final attack. To my amazement the multiple issues were resolved fairly quickly and the painting was completed. It took a few sessions, but I couldn’t believe it. I left it on the wall for a few more months afterwards just in case some new faults suddenly appeared, but I couldn’t see any more to do. It’s obvious now, but only once the personal investment and performance anxiety had disappeared did it suddenly come together.

So how long does it take to make a painting? The answer is, the harder you try, the longer it takes.

It’s easy to do a post-event analysis, but how to stop yourself ‘trying’ so hard is another question. Trying (which translates into judging) seems to be the enemy of achievement. I have no decent solution to offer, unlike the innumerable online life and business coaches offering their services, who each claim to have found the various solutions. I can only talk about the problems. And a slightly growing self awareness.

PS To answer the ‘how long’ question properly – in theory one of my paintings takes around a month to make, but then each work gets put into hibernation so that it can be looked at again later with fresh eyes and adjustments made. So I guess the answer is a month minimum. But it could easily be two or more.

Open for inspection – Casa Salvador Dalí

Friday, May 8, 2015

Casa Dali Cadaques 1 Port Lligat

Are you one of those people who can’t resist looking at real estate ads? As an expat in France my heart skips a beat when I receive idyllic looking property offers in my email inbox – an old stone house by a river in the peaceful French countryside…  Even if I’m not interested in buying I love comparing, drooling, dreaming, imagining. We are voyeurs. The legendary Salvador Dalí’s beach side property is a house visit I am hugely looking forward to. No it’s not for sale, but it would be a real estate seller’s lucky day if it were. You can tell a lot about someone from their home, and Dalí is no ordinary person.

I have been meaning to visit the Dalí house for years and it’s pathetic (that’s the only word that fits) that it’s taken me so long to get here, seeing we so often travel along the freeway that runs from southern France to Barcelona, passing the turn off each time. Once you cross the Spanish border you’re pretty much there – it’s around twenty kilometres sideways. In theory anyway. We discover that it’s actually a slow, windy road to get there as this is where the Pyrenees mountains dive into the ocean. Cadaqués is actually quite isolated, by terrain more than by distance.

Port Lligat, where the Casa Dalí is located, is like a suburb at the outer edge of Cadaqués . Both are fishing villages although Cadaqués is the bigger and more gentrified of the two. The guide book calls Cadaqués Spain’s version of St Tropez, the jewel in the crown of the Costa Brava, and I guess that’s right. It’s white and gorgeous. Reading between the lines, this means it’s a place to avoid in the European summer, unless you want to join what seems like the entire population of Europe, all bumper to bumper, on the narrow coastal roads.

Cadaques Spain Costa Brava

Now, this is not a travel report as you can simply go to TripAdvisor and read the reviews, but in summary, if you have the chance to do it, you won’t be sorry. Just don’t turn up at the house without a ticket or you probably won’t get in. You need to book online well in advance. You enter in a group of eight, one group every ten minutes, so it’s actually quite crowded inside. There’s a ‘guide’ with you (making sure you don’t nick anything, and all handbags have to be checked in), but there’s no actual commentary, which is a bit steep seeing you pay eleven euros and only get to spend around three to five minutes in each room/area. It was like being a carriage in a train, getting shunted from station to station, pushed from either end. But still worth it. And then there’s the grounds at the end where you can wander for as long as you like.

A lot of successful creative people have suffered through weird childhoods, which served as rocket-fuel for their output. Maybe I am wrong but it seems that a dysfunctional childhood coupled with a sensitive nature is almost a pre-requisite for being a great artist. Dalí ticks this box, no problem: for a start he had a brother (also called Salvador Dalí) who died nine months before Dalí (number two) was born; he was told by his parents at the age of five when visiting his dead brother’s grave that he was his brother’s reincarnation… No wonder he started going off on mind adventures.

It’s curious that Salvador Dalí, the internationally famous artist, chose to work from home in a small studio in an isolated fishing village near where he was born. His studio was the size of an average bedroom in an average home. There were no assistants, unless you count Gala, his wife-muse. This may be the way most artists start off, but Dali could have easily afforded an enormous studio in a maison de maitre in Paris or penthouse in New York. Yes, he spent a lot of time self-promoting in NYC, but always returned home to Spain.

Can you imagine Jeff Koons choosing to work from his bedroom in Pennsylvania or Damien Hirst from his family living room in Leeds? Of course things were different in the days prior to Easyjet, Virgin Air and so on, however Franco’s Spain was not exactly a nurturing environment for artists and plenty of Dalí’s compatriots chose to leave.

After seeing Dalí’s studio it makes sense  – his  childhood haunts and the local landscape were an integral part of his dreams and the source of his inspiration. You can see it in his pictures.

As for the visit – here is what struck me the most:

  • Dali is a neat freak. No mess anywhere. Personal objects are arranged in surreal little groups to form ‘installations’.
Dali House Port Lligat view room
  • His studio (with amazing ocean views) is impeccably organised, with rulers and geometric templates hanging on the wall.
 
  •  He bragged that he was the first person in Spain to see the sunrise each morning (if you don’t count Mallorca etc), and set up a mirror so he could see it from his bed.
  • The weird rock shapes and barren landscapes in his paintings actually exist near his house.
  • To get to his front door means navigating a steep and quite slippery rocky slope. I have no idea how he did it at in his advancing years. Maybe there is a back entrance…?
  • The multi-level labyrinthine home started off as a tiny fisherman’s hut which he bought when his father kicked him out of the house for taking up with a married woman ten years older than he was (Gala). Dalí gradually bought more huts and land over the years and extended….
  • There is only one bedroom in the entire home, so it seems that overnight guests were not welcome. However there is a paying telephone booth by the pool, which looks like it’s for visitors to use to call out. I hear that Dalí was quite thrifty, even miserly, and was known for deliberately walking off with  other clients’ umbrellas or canes when leaving restaurants in New York.
  • He is Catalan, not Spanish, and this supposedly makes a big difference, although the Catalans (and the Surrealists) hated him for sucking up to Franco.
  • He loves stuffed animals – real and toy ones (or maybe the toys were put there by Gala). The three pet swans that he owned ended up stuffed and on display in the house. It goes without saying that kitsch never posed a problem for Salvador.
  • He modeled his moustache on his hero Velasquez and the paintings he made of the Spanish king.
  • Dalí always sat to paint and had a pulley system to move his works up and down to the right level.
  • He used Blockz brand oil paints.
  • The outdoor pool area looks like it is inspired by the Alhambra palace, with fountains incorporating old Tio Pepe sherry bottles, a white Michelin man, and delicious kitsch galore.
Dali House Pool tio pepe
  • I actually felt perfectly at home in Dalí’s house and was ready to move in. Who wouldn’t – a premium beach side property? This being said, today Port Lligat is not as gorgeous or developed as central Cadaqués and overlooks some unsightly power cables.

There’s plenty written on the life and times of Dalí, so I am not going to repeat it, however here is a great BBC documentary that sums it up nicely.

 

 

Do you hate being photographed?

Friday, March 27, 2015

 

Yesterday was photo torture day. I had a bunch of PR shots taken for my upcoming new website. 

I am a photo-phobe. I hate the experience of the unfeeling machine lens inspecting every facet of my imperfect shell. My face ends up in horrible contortions, but in the end there are a few useable images where I am not squinting, moving, frozen, glaring, grimacing… Whew. That’s ticked off my list for another year or two I hope.

As for the website, it is around a month away – I hope. Why are new websites such a marathon? I have a professional designer working on it but it’s still an epic task finding and organising the photos and getting the various texts together, not to mention agonising over the words of my ‘About’ page, which has been written and trashed so many times. 

Why is an ‘About’ page so stressful? Of course it’s exposing yourself to the world, and trying to be honest, which means vulnerable. Plenty of people chicken out by using a CV for their ‘About’ page, or a formal bio written in the third person, but I have conscioisly chosen tonwrite on the first person. As an artist I believe there is an unwritten contact to be a bit of an open book – it’s there in the work in any case – BUT without subjecting readers to the too-much-information overload, la-la-la I don’t want to hear this, cringe. So it’s walking a dangerous line between a cliff on one side and boring blandness on the other. I guess I’d rather fall over the cliff than descend into invisible nothingness. 

 

Did Maria ever meet Louise? Lassnig and Bourgeois on the body-beautiful (not)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Maria Lassnig ‘Double self – portrait’


Louise Bourgeois

 

Maria Lassnig, meet Louise Bourgeois, Louise meet Maria.

I am fascinated to know whether these two women actually did meet during the 1970’s whilst they were living and working in New York. They both equally scare and intrigue me, and I’m not sure how I would survive sitting next to either at a dinner party. Too much honesty, too much information, no apparent fear of what anyone thinks. (I am ashamed to say that I often curb my tongue for fear of how others may react and reserve these thoughts for my artworks.) Perhaps they benefited from the boldness of advancing age. Or maybe it was just that Maria and Louise had the guts to put it all out there, age or no age. 

The reason I mention this is that I have just seen an exhibition of Lassnig’s paintings at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona (a very unexpected place for her to show up, but I am hugely thankful). I can’t help mentally comparing her with the, until recently, better known Bourgeois – both are tough cookies; fiercely independent women who expose their innermost thoughts and feelings in the most confronting of ways, taking no prisoners. 

They were virtually contemporaries and lived and worked to ripe old ages. Bourgeois (1911-2010) was born in France but moved permanently to New York in the 1940’s. Lassnig (1919-2014) was Austrian and spent from 1968-1980 in New York before returning to her homeland. Anyway, enough art history. I only mention it because it places them as starting their careers in a pre-feminist era and having hit middle age by the time full stream feminism arrived in New York.  Female artists in following decades can thank them for paving the way – Tracey Emin and Jenny Saville come to mind immediately. And what about Marina Abramovich or even Marlene Dumas? 

Neither Bourgeois nor Lassnig had any qualms about representing images of female private body parts. In Maria’s case they were obvious self portraits; with Louise they were presumably so, at least metaphorically.

Lassnig ‘You or Me’


Bourgeois ‘Temper Tantrum’


Lassnig ‘Speech Grid’


Bourgeois

Back to Lassnig, because this is the exhibition that I have just seen. She is best known for her brutally honest ‘body awareness’ self portraits. They depict how her body feels, rather than how it looks, and this is the same feeling I get from Bourgeois even though I haven’t heard it explained this way. In Lassnig’s images limbs or sections may be missing if they don’t feature in her awareness at the time. The portraits often show her as either a machine or animal. Woman meets alpine cow. Half woman, half sci-fi character.

Having gorged myself on Lassnig reproductions in recent years I was in suspense as to how they would compare in real life. In my experience it goes either one way or the other – some artists’ works look far better in reality whilst others hold no surprises from the reproductions. There’s no middle ground. 

Unfortunately, apart from the scale, seeing the Lassnig originals is not hugely more satisfying than viewing the works online. The image is the image and there’s not a lot extra to see in terms of paint surface. She herself has said that she uses a lot of turps/mineral spirits and wipes bits off and repaints on top. This, combined with the fact that there is white mixed with most of her colours, gives her paint a dry chalky quality. It’s perfectly appropriate, and she is known for her unique pastel-like palette. Marlene Dumas’ works have a similar look, and I do like her paintings, but it’s the same deal – great in reproduction but not hugely better in reality apart from the fact that you are seeing them at actual size.

Yes, the Lassnigs are great works, but I didn’t see anyone poring over the surface or spending large amounts of time with individual pieces. They’re just not that kind of paintings. It’s about her vision, drawing and composition as well as the fresh fluidity of the mark-making. And if the reproductions here look a little washy and slightly blurry, that’s the way they are in reality. 

I must mention Lassnig’s videos, which is what she was doing whilst she was in New York. In one she sings a multi verse ditty she has composed about her life story, has raided her fancy dress cupboard and made drawn animations. Unfortunately I can’t embed it here as permission has not been granted but here is the Youtube link to her Kantate video.

If you get the chance go and see her. I don’t think you will be disappointed, but you if you’ve already seen the images online you won’t be quite as thrilled as you expected either.

PS here is a link to the Artsy web page devoted to the wonderful Bourgeois.

 

Lassnig ‘Science Fiction self portrait’

 

 

 

 

The black hole that eats up artworks

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Googling yourself is not something I am actually recommending, but it is interesting. Personally, it is exciting to see where my work ends up. Above is a UK article I found which was published in The Telegraph and shows a painting I made several years ago. I remember being told that the woman who bought it had red hair which matched the painting, or the painting matched her hair. Whichever. But I didn’t get any other details. So it is a pleasure to see her here in person with the painting.

It’s lovely having galleries do the job of selling your artworks but sometimes it seems that the work ends up down a deep, dark rabbit hole and you never see or hear of it again. Galleries are often very secretive about where works end up. Understandably they are afraid that if artists get hold of their collectors’ names and contact details they will bypass the system and go directly to the client in the future, thus cutting out the middle man (the gallery) and avoiding paying them their commission. I, for one, have no intention of biting the hand that feeds me. It is in no one’s long term interest to act unethically in business and if an artist decides to work with a gallery they know the deal.

There’s something to be said for more communication and contact between makers and collectors. I would certainly like to hear from my collectors, and perhaps some collectors would also like to hear from me. Probably some have zero interest in this scenario, but others would like to have a communication channel, where they don’t have to feel nerdy or like a stalker or whatever. In any case, I am up for it.

 

Should female artists in France stay in the kitchen?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

I am so worked up about this, and it is such an old and boring topic but I have to say something. AU SECOURS!!!! (HELP!) The Guerrilla Girls are urgently needed here in Montpellier!

OK, so we all know that gender inequality is alive and well in the art world, and it keeps getting a mention on and off in the media as a whole, but here in regional France it seems to have reached a whole new level.

I went to a (male) friend’s exhibition opening last night held in a government run art space. And a good show it was too, but this is not the issue. As part of the opening speech the local mayor (the equivalent of a state premier in Australia) was promoting future exhibitions in the gallery. He was proud to explain the new decision to use this space to focus on contemporary local/regional artists and did some promotion for the next five shows. There is not one woman artist on the schedule.

At drinks afterwards I got to meet and chat with one of the local government arts representatives. I was brave enough to raise the topic of the lack of female artists. He raised his eyebrows in complete surprise and in shock agreed, that yes, I was right and that it had never occurred to him!!! This blindness seems to be a local disease.

There are five major government run art spaces in central Montpellier (the big main museum, a space for photographic shows, another for contemporary art, a big centre for ‘cutting edge’ digital or conceptual art, and the already mentioned space for regional artists). Currently not one has a solo show by a female artist. And in the forseeable future there is only one woman artist planned for all of the Montpellier spaces put together. She happens to be a big international name – Joana Vasconcelos.

The same applies for the museum in nearby Sète where the extensive permanent collection showed only two artworks by women on the day I visited. I was there to see a temporary exhibition focusing on four contemporary painters – some French, some not. But all were boys. When I mentioned it to the woman working at the front desk, she too was taken aback as though it had never occurred to her either. She said it was just by chance that the artists were all male, and that they had shown some work by women in the past. Can you imagine the reverse scenario taking place where all four painters being shown just happened, by chance, to be women and that the person at the desk explained that they often did show male artists as well?

Each time there is a glaring gender imbalance in government run spaces here I make it a point to comment. I have a good female friend who is a bold feminist and lectures in law at the university. Even she feels that the art situation is pretty hopeless and nothing is about to change soon. The whole French administration system in general seems to be very rigid and no matter how much a few brave people try to change it they ultimately fail. Most don’t bother trying and resignation is the most common attitude. Or trying to work around it illegally instead of tackling it head on – but this won’t work with public galleries whereas it does with things like building approvals. Or lack of.

Not that the private galleries are any better. I  have never made an effort to show in my home town as the French scene is so Paris-centric, but have now decided that I really must connect better with the local art scene. I was considering approaching the two quality commercial galleries here but am now having second thoughts. My prime candidate, the biggest of the local spaces, does not represent a single female artist. I am shocked. The second gallery is actually run by a woman so I am more hopeful when I check her website. She has twenty four artists on her books and, voila, only three are women.

What hope is there? I guess I should still go ahead but this is no longer on my priority list. Or maybe it should be?

PS The image at the top is a progress shot from my studio today. 

Behind the scenes – studio action

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Aerfeldt palette oils

There’s always action in the studio so this post is to show what you would see if you could get a foot through the door. (I am super private when at work and LOCK myself inside so that NO ONE gets to disturb me.)

There are three parts to my studio – the actual painting area, a clean office area, and a storage room for my collection of painting props, packing materials, spare stretchers and works that have been temporarily put aside. It all sounds bigger than it is but it is really quite small – too small for the large works I am making as I can’t stand back far enough – so I have been on the lookout for a new studio for a while. I won’t get started on that topic apart from saying that I have looked and looked and not found anything yet, but I haven’t given up.

Aerfeldt cloud sprayer oil painting progress

Aerfeldt work in progress detail cloud sprayer

Aerfeldt face detail cloud sprayer oil painting

I have been working on and off on this painting (above) for months and this week gave it a radical makeover. For a start the background colour was too strong and secondly the whole thing was too tentative and tight. It looked a bit like colouring in, which is a look that I hate in my own work. It is always a risk but if it isn’t working there’s no point just looking at it hopefully and pretending that all is well. The risk paid off and it is better. 

This situation happens with me so often that I wish I could just be more daring from the start, but there’s a learning process that takes place whilst painting the first layers and finding the shapes, tones and colours. This learning enables the final layer to have more freedom as muscle memory and intuition come into play. As an ex tennis player (purely amateur) I see a lot of parallels with playing a match. Often the first set or two are slightly tentative and the more brilliant and daring moves come towards the end. 

In this painting I was trying to get across the feeling of actually spraying the surface of the painting with the bottle of ‘chemical’ cleaner so had to take risks and get messy and destroy the beautiful clouds that were there before to better convey the idea.

I’ve also been playing with my glue gun making various props, something I do on and off. It’s a way to get ideas into a more solid and visual form. Then the props sit in my office area for a while and I think about them.

Aerfeldt Spiked cups props

Aerfeldt painting props with spikes

And finally, this week, I brushed past one of my doll props and she fell flat on her face and this is the result. Is it serendipity or just too creepy? I am thinking about making a painting of her but am still unsure. I posted this image on my facebook page and people were encouraging me to paint it, but I am trying to think of a way to make it a bit more comic and less gory…

Aerfeldt broken doll

So that’s this week. 

 

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