Archive for Contemporary Art

Animal Misfit, Thomas Grünfeld

Posted in Art, Margate, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2013 by mysearchformagic

Back to Margate again this week, this time to an exhibition at the fabulous new Turner Contemporary Gallery. This smart, airy art space is currently home to a show entitled Curiosity, which brings together a group of diverse objects inspired by the idea of a 17th Century Wunderkammer. There’s all sorts in there; natural, scientific, artistic, eccentric, much of it distinctly magical. I was fascinated to see Dr John Dee’s crystal and scrying mirror, and enchanted by the delicate glass models of weird and wonderful sea creatures created in the 19th Century by Rudolph and Leopold Blaschka.

But my absolute favourites were two works by German artist Thomas Grünfeld, whose speciality is creating bizarre chimeras from taxidermy animals. This one, which joins the top half of a peacock with the bottom half of a penguin, features in Curiosity.

Misfit (penguin/peacock),Thomas Grunfeld, 2005 © DACS 2013

Misfit (penguin/peacock),Thomas Grunfeld, 2005 © DACS 2013

I am not sure what you would call this strange creature. A peaguin perhaps? Or a pencock? Another example in the show melds the body of a collie dog with the face of a sheep. Strange and unsettling, yet familiar and funny, these sculptures were the highlights of an intriguing exhibition. It’s an experience that will expand your knowledge, but entertain you in the process. Fascinating stuff, and not to be missed!


Witches and Wicked Bodies, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Posted in Art, Edinburgh, Fairy Tales, Legend, Photography, Superstition, Witches with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2013 by mysearchformagic

Apparently Witches and Wicked Bodies is the UK’s first large scale gallery exhibtion dedicated to the subject, surprising given the extensive interest that artists have shown over the last five centuries for images of malevolent hags and mysterious sorceresses. The pictures on display in the show cover most of this period, and works by some of the biggest names in the art history canon are included, amongst them Francisco Goya, Henry Fuseli and Albrecht Dürer. Many of the artworks are on loan from the incredible collection in London’s British Museum, some come from the Tate and a few are from Scotland’s own national collection, but all of them share a fascination with the strange power of these mythical, magical women.

The Four Witches, Albrecht Dürer, 1497

The Four Witches, Albrecht Dürer, 1497

Some of the most striking works on show are the small but powerful monochrome prints, which employ line and tone to create dramatic effects. Goya’s paintings and drawings are rather creepy at the best of times; the prints on display here are downright terrifying. Many of the works included were produced at a time when the existence of witches was beyond doubt, and some books which describe ways to identify and deal with them are also exhibited, complete with elaborate illustrations.

L'Appel de la Nuit, Paul Delvaux, 1938

L’Appel de la Nuit, Paul Delvaux, 1938

Witches were certainly not shy, and many are represented as naked and unashamed, flaunting bodies which are either youthful and tempting, or ancient and shrivelled. If, like me, you assumed that the idea of a witch flying on a broomstick was a modern, ‘Disneyfied’ concept, then think again – some of the earliest works in the exhibition show them doing just that. Others even fly around on goats, potent symbols of the devil.

Witches' Sabbath, Franz Franken, 1606

Witches’ Sabbath, Franz Franken, 1606

Witches’ Sabbaths are also well represented, the scenes of diabolical drama featuring crowds of sorceresses indulging in magical excess providing material for some shockingly violent and erotic visions.

 Three Weird Sisters from Macbeth, Henry Fuseli, 1783

Three Weird Sisters from Macbeth, Henry Fuseli, 1783

This being Edinburgh, the three witches which appear in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth get a room all to themselves, demonstrating just how compelling a symbol of mystery and intrigue they were for artists over the years, both in Scotland and around the world. The representations of them could hardly be more different; from bald, whiskered crones to fancy-dressed society beauties, these enchantresses who seemed able to predict the future and shape history in the process, have meant many things to many people.

Untitled (Encryption) from Out of the Woods, Kiki Smith, 2002

Untitled (Encryption) from Out of the Woods, Kiki Smith, 2002

Not everything here is historic, and contemporary art also gets a decent look in too. Paula Rego’s prints owe an obvious debt to those of Goya, all dark shadows and strange, otherwordly figures, while Kiki Smith turns her self portrait into an image of a creepy little witch with a huge head and tiny stunted body. Many of the more recent works are by women artists, and a number have obviously feminist intentions, finally changing the image of these witches from lonely, ugly outcasts to powerful independent women.

The Magic Circle, John William Waterhouse, 1886

The Magic Circle, John William Waterhouse, 1886

With four large rooms filled with fascinating works, plus an extensive catalogue featuring colour reproductions and academic essays, Witches and Wicked Bodies is an incredibly comprehensive survey of this magical subject. It is one which has already captivated artists and audiences for centuries. I don’t doubt it will continue to do the same for many centuries to come.

Update: The exhibition has transferred to the British Museum in London until January 2015, details can be found here.

All images courtesy of the National Galleries of Scotland

Curious, West Norwood Cemetery

Posted in Art, Cemetery, Crypt, Landscape, London, Photography with tags , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2013 by mysearchformagic

With its meandering paths, overgrown graves and delapidated but still imposing mausoleums, West Norwood Cemetery definitely has an air of magic about it. But in recent weeks the historic graveyard has been even more magical than usual, thanks to a large scale art exhibition/installation appropriately named Curious. Featuring a long list of contemporary artists, the works of art on display are site specific, interacting with the cemetery and often taking their inspiration from their unusual location.

A details from A Question of Archival Authority, Jane Wildgoose

A detail from A Question of Archival Authority, Jane Wildgoose

Jane Wildgoose’s installation A Question of Archival Authority was the first piece that I discovered on my visit last weekend. Situated inside the grand Maddick Mausoleum, Wildgoose’s use of antique mourning jewellery and flickering candles created a wonderfully gothic atmoshere, effectively evoking many questions about the practise and process of mourning and remembrance.

Jane Ward's contribution to Curious at West Norwood Cemetery

Jane Ward’s contribution to Curious at West Norwood Cemetery

Many of the works which appeared as part of Curious were paintings or collages placed within the doorwarys of the Victorian sepulchres. Some were bold and bright, others more calm and mysterious.

A work by Ian McCaughrean in the Greek Section of West Norwood Cemetery

A work by Ian McCaughrean in the Greek Section of West Norwood Cemetery

Despite my best efforts, and the help of a specially commissioned map created for the exhibition, I didn’t manage to locate all of the works on show. However, the thrill of trudging through the undergrowth, discovering incredible monuments and gravestones along the way, was all part of this unique experience.

Andrea Thoma's installation Steps/washed over in West Norwood Cemetery

Andrea Thoma’s installation Steps/washed over in West Norwood Cemetery

I fell in love with West Norwood Cemetery. Apparently a set of huge catacombs can still be found beneath the hill at the top of the graveyard, but these are rarely open to the public. I was also impressed with the range of artworks included in Curious, many of which encouraged new ways of looking at the cemetery, its monuments and its ‘residents’.

I Miss U by Lucy Spanyol

I Miss U by Lucy Spanyol

Some of the most effective artworks were those which dealt directly with concepts of death and bereavement. Lucy Spanyol’s I Miss U, which placed an eye-catching banner of artificial flowers in front of a coppice filled with ruinous grave monuments, was definitely a favourite of mine. Its use of informal ‘text speak’ and colourful floral garlands to relay a message filled with the despair of loss was moving and quite beautiful.

Unfortunately I discovered Curious on its final day, so the works of art are now long gone, existing just as photographs or in the memories of the visitors who managed to catch this wonderful, magical event.

Modern Witchcraft, ASC Gallery

Posted in Art, London, Superstition, Witches with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2013 by mysearchformagic

This week I discovered a fabulously strange exhibition at the ASC Gallery near London’s Elephant and Castle. Entitled Modern Witchcraft, the show combines historic artefacts and contemporary art in an intriguing, magical way.

Modern Witchcraft, an installation view

Modern Witchcraft, an installation view

Many of the ancient objects are on loan from the nearby Cuming Museum, which was sadly damaged in a recent fire. Items from the Edward Lovett collection of superstition in particular, such as an early 20th Century Witch Ball used for crystal gazing, as well as a 16th Century German Black Mirror perfect for calling up the spirits of the deceased, set the decidedly supernatural tone.

A German 16th Century Magician's Mirror, from the collection of the Cuming Museum

A German 16th Century Magician’s Mirror, from the collection of the Cuming Museum

The contemporary works are just as bizarre and unsettling. Most striking are Riccardo Andujar’s Heads I-IV, these tiny eyeless craniums apparently in the process of shedding their multicoloured rubbery skins. John Stark’s paintings combine Poussin-like classicism with creepy sci-fi surrealism, his world inhabited by faceless hooded figures.

Heads I-IV, RIccardo Andujar

Heads I-IV, RIccardo Andujar

My absolute favourite exhibit was located in a quiet corner of the gallery. At first glance, James Hopkins’ Ghost Bottle appears to be just an oddly shaped white mass sitting on a pedestal next to a bottle of red wine. But stare more closely into the dark depths of the bottle and you will see something amazing – the reflection of the white mass forms the shape of a perfect human skull.

Ghost Bottle, James Hopkins; Conditions, Nick Dawes

Ghost Bottle, James Hopkins; Conditions, Nick Dawes

Modern Magic runs until 18 May 2013 at ASC Gallery

Gustavo Ortiz

Posted in Art, London with tags , , , , , , on January 19, 2013 by mysearchformagic

I first discovered the work of Gustavo Ortiz on a visit to the Pure Evil gallery in East London, and I instantly fell in love with the artist’s strange, magical collages.

Argentinian Ortiz now lives and works in London, but the distinctive imagery of his native land still infuses his fascinating collages. I recently asked Gustavo a few questions about the magical influences on his work and the techniques he uses to achieve their wonderfully timeworn appearance.

Self Portrait IV by Gustavo OrtizImage copyright the artist

Self Portrait IV by Gustavo Ortiz
Image copyright the artist

MSFM: Why have you chosen to work in collage, rather than more traditional media such as painting or drawing?

GO: I always liked to work with paper, I enjoy the artisan aspect of collage and have made my practice very material orientated. I love the texture you can achieve by layering the paper, as the feel of the plain colour gives a very tactile quality.

MSFM: Many of your works appear to have an ‘aged’ finish, as if they are antiques . What is the thinking behind this?

GO: The last part of my work is a waxing process which at the same time kills the vibrancy of the colour, and rescues the texture of the paper, making it more noticeable, also giving my work a more earthy character.

Metamorphosis #17 by Gustavo OrtizImage copyright the artist

Metamorphosis #17 by Gustavo Ortiz
Image copyright the artist

MSFM: It seems that a sense of magic and myth is always present in your work – what was the inspiration for this aspect of your art?

GO: I take a lot of inspiration from the different Pre-Columbian cultures of South America, especially from Patagonia, which is the area where I come from. Out of context in time and space their religion seems magic, but the legends from which I take inspiration were their actual beliefs, their explanation of the meaning of what was happening around them. I always found these ‘explanations’ very surreal and stimulating.

MSFM: How has your South American heritage influenced the magical aspects of your work?

GO: One of the essential elements of my work is a naive feel which became part of the language that I use as an artist, which in my opinion is a vital aspect of Latin American art, from the native to the first colonial art which was made by amateur artists. So you could say that coming from South America has influenced my formal representational voice more than the magical content. I think the magical and mythical aspect of my work is more of a personal preference than something imposed by where I come from. Living in London I have been in contact with even more exotic magic and mythical influences, being a multicultural melting pot, and I have been assimilating them, without of course losing my primary voice.

Home Sweet Home by Gustavo OrtizImage copyright the artist

Home Sweet Home by Gustavo Ortiz
Image copyright the artist

It’s hard to pigeonhole Gustavo Oritz’s work. He is often shown alongside Urban Art, but I don’t think he really belongs there. His works are surreal, but very different from 20th Century Surrealism. They are quiet but powerful, pretty but also disturbingly curious and uncanny, modern yet reminiscent of a time long gone. I love them, but then as someone constantly searching for magic in the modern world, I would, wouldn’t I?!

Find out more at

You might come out of the water every time singing, Kaffe Matthews

Posted in Art, Edinburgh, Music with tags , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2012 by mysearchformagic

It’s hard to know how to describe Kaffe Matthews’ You might come out of the water every time singing. It’s not really music as most people would recognise it. It’s not art in any traditional sense. At a push you might decide to label it an installation. But whatever you want to call it, You might come out of the water every time singing is spine-tinglingly magical.

I came across it at the exhibition Galápagos, which is currently being held at Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery. All of the works in the show have been created during a series of month-long artists’ residencies on this fascinating group of islands, with each artist using the funded position to produce works of art which present various different views of the place. Given the impression that most of us have of the Galápagos as weird, wild and wonderful, I was expecting plenty of magic. In fact, many of the art works on show reveal a different side to the islands, focusing on the little-known human residents rather than the well documented flora and fauna.

Under the water off the Galápagos Islands, an image taken by Kaffe Matthews

If Kaffe Matthew’s contribution sounds more predictable, dealing as it does with the animal inhabitants of the islands, then the end result is far from it. You might come out of the water every time singing is one of those experiences that appears rather complicated on paper, with the Fruitmarket’s press release describing it as a work ‘made using Galápagos hammerhead shark routes to play digital oscillators variably mixed with processings and underwater recordings in the gallery’. The description may be complex, what you will find if you visit the exhibition is much more simple.

Kaffe Matthews, You might come out of the water every time singing

While this photograph gives you an idea of the layout of the small space which houses You might come out of the water every time singing, it doesn’t give an indication of the magical aspects of the work. On entering the room, an invigilator informed me that the best way to appreciate the work was to remove my shoes and lie down on the large platform in the centre of the room. Finding myself alone in the space, surrounded by the odd, otherworldly computer-generated sounds which were emanating from various loudspeakers, it took me a while to build up the courage to climb up onto the strange wooden structure. It was only when I did that I noticed the subtle vibrations which were pulsing through it. Lying there in this shadowy room, with the uncanny noises and gentle vibrations moving through my body, I was transported from a dark gallery on a dreary, drizzly afternoon in Edinburgh to somewhere altogether more magical – the murky azure depths of the ocean.

A Hammerhead shark in an image taken by Kaffe Matthews

I won’t pretend to understand the complicated explanations which the artist gives for how the sounds she utilises in You might come out of the water every time singing were created using the data charting the movement of the sharks around the Galápagos islands. But in the end, understanding it is not necessary to enjoying this visceral, strange and intriguing experience. You might come out of the water every time singing is something rare; a spellbinding work of art that can stimulate your mind and touch your spirit. Matthews herself describes it as ‘architectural music to feel through your body as well as your ears’. As someone constantly searching for magic, I was left slightly baffled, but more than a little impressed.

Galápagos is at the Fruitmarket Gallery until 13 January 2013.

Made By Bees, Studio Libertiny

Posted in Art, Bees, Design with tags , , , on November 6, 2012 by mysearchformagic
There’s definitely something magical about bees. Maybe it’s the way that such apparently simple creatures have developed their own sophisticated hierarchies, and seem able to communicate with each other in complex, non-verbal ways. Bees have long been the subject of myth and legend, and often appear in art and literature as symbols of organisation and industry. Quite how they do it still remains an intriguing mystery, but the products of their hard work, in particular wax and honey, have proved vital to the development of human civilisation over the millennia. I’ve been thinking for a while about how to feature bees in my search for magic. When I discovered the work of Slovakian born designer Tomas Libertiny I instantly realised that my search was over.

Made By Bees, Studio Libertiny
Photo by Raoul Kramer

These Made by Bees vases are just what their name suggests, with a vase-shaped hive constructed by Libertiny being colonised by bees, who then produce this strange, delicate honeycomb vessel. It takes approximately 40,000 bees one week to make each vase, so it perhaps not surprising that only a small number were ever made. It’s an idea so simple, yet so magical, that it’s amazing no one has ever thought of it before.

The red version of Made By Bees, Studio Libertiny
Photo by Raoul Kramer

As Studio Libertiny point out, the beeswax is produced from flowers, and the Made By Bees vase is designed to hold flowers as they reach the end of their existence, so there is a satisfying circularity to this creation. Like many magical objects, there is an element of chaos in the vase’s production, with Studio Libertiny allowing the bees to make the final decisions on the form of the vase itself, and the environment in which they live and feed also influencing the unique tone of each final piece. The results are fascinatingly beautiful; random yet organised, fragile yet temptingly tactile. I am not sure what the bees make of it all, but for me the Made By Bees vases are things of wonder that would not look out of place in an antiquarian Wunderkammer, sitting next to a wizened taxidermy ‘mermaid’ or an obsidian scrying mirror.

Another variation of Made By Bees, Studio Libertiny
Photo by Raoul Kramer

Many of Libertiny’s creations utilize wax and honeycomb, with designer and nature working together to produce something archly modern yet utterly timeless, but in my opinion these vases are his most beautiful creation. They are are ephemeral, poetic and marvelous.

And of course, undeniably magical.

Nihilistic Optimistic, Tim Noble and Sue Webster

Posted in Art, London with tags , on October 24, 2012 by mysearchformagic

Anyone who enjoys a bit of magic cannot fail to be enchanted by the shadow works of art duo Tim Noble and Sue Webster. Their latest exhibition at London’s Blain/Southern gallery, entitled Nihilistic Optimistic , features six large-scale shadow ‘sculptures’. The exhibition is their first major solo show in the capital since 2006, and the pieces included in it have been years in the making.

Noble and Webster in the studio

The works, which boast titles such as Self Imposed Misery and Nasty Pieces of Work, may at first appear to be piles of junk. Splintered planks of wood are attached precariously to one another, hung in weird forms from the frames of old step ladders along with other scraps of worthless detritus. Typical modern art, you may think. Quite literally a load of old rubbish.

But shine a powerful spotlight at the correct angle across these messy, angular forms and something entirely magical emerges, because the shadows that these intricate constructions cast form stunning shadow portraits of the artists themselves. Standing in defiant punk poses, the monumental dark figures produced are bold, intricate and awe inspiring.

Nihilistic Optimistic
Image courtesy of the artists and Blain/Southern
Photographer: Peter Mallet

I first discovered the work of Noble and Webster at the opening night of the 2008 Statuephilia exhibition at the British Museum. The private view offered a rare opportunity to visit the galleries by night, crowd free and candle-lit. The discovery in a dark corner of the Egyptian Hall of the striking Noble and Webster piece Dark Stuff, in which the impaled heads of the artists were recreated in shadows by lights shone across two apparently chaotic clumps of mummified animal corpses, is an experience that has stayed with me ever since.

   Dark Stuff, 2008  Tim Noble and Sue Webster     © The artists

Perhaps the most magical creation by the two artists is their portrait of the late English eccentric Isabella Blow, known for her distinctive style and avant-garde hats. This work, which is now held in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, recreates Blow’s unmistakeable silhouette from a mass of stuffed animals, including the sinister forms of a snake, a rat and a crow. A fittingly complex representation of an intriguingly complex woman, this shadow portrait transforms something ostensibly chaotic into a crisp portrait which perfectly captures the very essence of its subject.

Isabella Blow
By Tim Noble; Sue Webster
Isabella Blow, Tim Noble and Sue Webster
Photograph by Andy Keate, © National Portrait Gallery, London; sculpture
© Tim Noble and Sue Webster

In these shadow works, Noble and Webster utilise the power of light and darkness; the simplest idea, executed with absolute perfection. The results are pure magic.

Phantom Railings, Malet Street

Posted in Art, London with tags , on October 3, 2012 by mysearchformagic

People often marvel at the way that scent and smell can powerfully evoke long-submerged memories. The latest installation by interdisciplinary collective Public Interventions, entitled Phantom Railings, harnesses the similar properties of sound, creating a fun and rather magical experience in the process.

Malet Street Gardens
(Photo courtesy of Public Interventions)

Public Interventions are particularly interested in public spaces, how we perceive them and how we engage with them. The gardens in London’s Malet Street were once bordered by iron railings, but like most similar fences in London, they were removed during the 1940’s to supply much needed metal for the war effort. Unlike many such fences, however, this one was never replaced, and remains today only as a line of low metal stumps along the top of a stone wall.

The railing stumps of Malet Street Gardens
(Photo courtesy of Public Interventions)

Phantom Railings recreates this iron fence, but in an aural rather that visual way. A set of sensor-based acoustic devices have been installed where the railings once stood. As passers-by walk past, these devices emit the clinking-clanking sounds of a stick being pulled along a fence, the sounds reacting to the speed of the pedestrian.

The Sonar Devices of Phantom Railings
(Photo courtesy of Public Inverventions)

The result is at first surprising, particularly to those who are not aware of the installation, but also intriguing. Watching the reaction of the public is fascinating too, some stopping and staring in wonder, many taking time to read the explanatory sign on the garden’s locked gates, others quickly getting the hang of it and running up and down with glad abandon, playing the Phantom Railings like a ghostly gamelan. Even when the pavement next to them are empty, the railings emit the odd clang or clong, waiting patiently for their next unsuspecting pedestrian.

There’s something beautiful about the way this work tries to capture a sense of a lost past, taking an approach that is unique and challenging. The idea that inanimate objects can survive as ghosts is an appealing, if slightly chilling one. It’s rare to see an installation capture the imagination of so many, young and old, with Phantom Railing’s sense of fun proving hard to resist. For me, its sheer musicality is enough to make it an experience which raises a smile. Its only there until the 14th October, so get over to Malet Street soon if you want to form your own opinion on this thoughtful, absorbing and ultimately rather extraordinary installation.

Check out some videos of Phantom Railings in action here;

Alex Chinneck, Telling the Truth Through False Teeth

Posted in Art, London with tags on September 18, 2012 by mysearchformagic

Take a look at this derelict factory, located in a quiet side street just off Hackney’s Mare Street.

A disused factory on the corner of Mare Street and Tudor Road, Hackney, London E9 7SN

Just another run down building, right? There are certainly plenty of those in this part of the East End, the kind of buildings that are just waiting to be bulldozed to make way for yet another bland block of concrete flats.

But then look again. In fact, this building has been transformed by local artist Alex Chinneck into an installation which he has titled Telling the Truth Through False Teeth. Until recently, this empty factory was being used as a covert cannabis farm. As a result, Chinneck spent weeks clearing it out, removing soil, grow bags and water tanks to prepare it for a transformation. The next step was to remove the 312 panes of glass in the building’s facade and replace them with new ones, each artfully broken in exactly the same way. The result is subtle and curious; the cracked panes catch the light, their austere, grid-like frames softened by a new, delicate rhythm that turns something apparently mundane into something weird and wonderful.

A window detail of Telling the Truth Through False Teeth

Chinneck states that the inspiration for the work emerged from his fascination with the charm of decaying buildings. He also suggests that there is a political aspect to this installation, the decomposition of such buildings mirroring the decline of British industry, but I like this work for its pure beauty. There is no signage outside the factory, so for people who stumble across it there is no sort of explanation, just a very odd looking building. Like Roger Hiorn’s Seizure, this installation is part of a structure which is about to be demolished, although in this case the work will be destroyed along with it.  For me that just adds to the magic of this urban art with a twist.

Telling the Truth Through False Teeth is ephemeral and mysterious, here today and gone tomorrow, or more accurately gone on the 30th November 2012. Catch it while you can.

Looking out of Telling the Truth Through False Teeth

Alex Chinneck’s Telling the Truth Through False Teeth has been created in association with Sumarria Lunn Gallery