Hong Kong Basel Art Fair opening on Wednesday 22nd May was an event heralding a lot of great art. We felt so happy to have seen so much work that was worthy of a museum, even though a lot of the art is no longer contemporary. The fair seemed to create a historical context for art today.
One of the first exhibitions we saw, and this is contemporary, was Kara Walker’s black cutout silhouettes spread out over the walls. She is known to explore race, gender, sexuality, violence and identity in her work and this series is no different. You have a sense of the comical when you first see it before it reveals its dark underbelly, unemotionally rendered.
A lovely exhibition at Delhi Art Gallery. The colours drew us in, rich and earthy, the masters of India, most of them dead. Ganesh Pyne, his skeletal figure under a pyre in the moonlight, a feeling of alienation and mystery. Anjolie Ela Menon, her female figure in a brown world almost European medieval and mythical. Tyeb Mehta, a colorist, could be a cross influence of Matisse and Picasso. Jogen Chowdhury, his pen and ink and pastel drawing, intricately incised and veined, his reclining woman, tensely twisted on her coverlet.
Motherwell would have to be one our favourite artists. It is interesting that as an artist he was very influenced by his early studies of philosophy leaving him with the idea that abstraction was the process of pairing away all that was not essential and revealing only the necessary. Abstraction became his spiritual direction in his art and also in his own words, ”to end up with a canvas that is no less beautiful than the empty canvas to begin with.” ‘The Bridge’ and ‘Brush Elegy’ in the Bernard Jacobson Gallery booth, were two beautiful works, essential and with the artist’s complete integrity – he never succumbed to fame and potboiling. He was one of the lucky ones of the abstract expressionists who didn’t die young and in despair, and actually received the acclaim he deserved.
Atlas Gallery exhibited photography. Two iconic photos of elephants by Nick Brandt totally mesmerised us, making us believe heart and soul that we were right there before them. ‘Elephant Drinking, Amboseli’ was like a Lucien Freud portrait, only incredibly beautiful, all its deeply gouged weathered hide rising from the earth like an ancient tree. There is a feeling of the personality in the animal, and you have the feeling you are seeing something you will never tire from, it is the true expression of life. Research on Nick Brandt shows his love and idealism for the wilds of Africa. He goes out with a simple Pentax camera and gets really close to the animals so that he has their true story, not one taken from a long distance away through a zoom. This is probably why you ‘feel’ so close to the animal before you. Absolutely beautiful. He writes about some of the methods he uses in his book ‘On This Earth’: “I’m not interested in creating work that is simply documentary or filled with action and drama, which has been the norm in the photography of animals in the wild. What I am interested in is showing the animals simply in the state of Being. In the state of Being before they are no longer are. Before, in the wild at least, they cease to exist. This world is under terrible threat, all of it caused by us. To me, every creature, human or nonhuman, has an equal right to live, and this feeling, this belief that every animal and I are equal, affects me every time I frame an animal in my camera. The photos are my elegy to these beautiful creatures, to this wrenchingly beautiful world that is steadily, tragically vanishing before our eyes.”
Italian neo-expressionist, Mimmo Palladino, has several of his great works in the booth for Galleria d’Arte Maggiore. Lovely evocative works, rich in colour and texture, of figures imbued with symbology, religious and spiritual.
Lots and lots of ‘art’ leaves you exhausted but great art truly energizes you. I have to say that when we were walking out of the fair I felt ebullient with the works that stayed with me. I am truly grateful that there are artists ‘out there’ being true and real to their inner story – they are life givers and life reminders, and this is what great cultures are built on.
This is Art week in Hong Kong. It is huge and it is really wonderful. There is so much good art out there and I am happy to say, the La Rondine exhibition stands up to all of it, albeit a small show, in the confines of Gallery ZZHK in Wa Lane.
Monday night rocked off with a great exhibition of paintings and sculptures by Shi Jindian in Hollywood Rd at Angela Li Contemporary Gallery. Shi Jindian is a lovely shy artist whose work probably reflects well his introverted nature. With exquisite attention to detail he twists stainless steel wire around bicycles and a motor bike, before extracting them and leaving their outer wire shape. Hanging on the wall is the remnants of an old door that he wired up and then burnt, the remains of charcoal trapped in the outer wire frame. While I appreciated the work and craftsmanship of his sculptures, I was probably more taken with his paintings that were similar to his wire work through painstakingly etched biro into paint revealing beautiful abstract forms. The works were subtle and haunting.
Tuesday night held the openings of the big galleries, the Gagosian, White Cube, Ben Brown, Hanart, and Pearl Lam. We loved the Basquiat exhibition at Gagosian. How lucky are we to see it. There were huge crowds making their way up to the seventh floor exhibition in Pedder Building, but there was no alcohol so people didn’t stay to hang in their groups talking with their backs to the artwork and therefore obscuring the vision. A clever move, because truly this was worth seeing. Basquiat is such an explorative artist. The passion and volatility of his work, scratched and scribbled and stuck and slapped on any debris or available matter, made the work excitingly free, connected to the moment, unconcerned with outcome and anyone’s opinion. Sad he died, a bit of a Jimmy Hendrix, lost in the alienation of drugs and fame, yet so much more to give – or does everything become a rehash – how many artists can re-invent themselves, once they’ve ‘made it’.
Ben Brown had two artists showing. Sculptural landscapes by Swiss artist, Vital, and portraits by Frank Auerbach. It was a good show. The sculptural landscapes are marble images found in China. We often see these little marble images in the antique markets, as this is a recognized Chinese art form, the appreciation of a found piece of marble or stone that reflects the landscape. They are like beautiful little pen and ink washes and Vital mounted his finds on the wall in strong plaster sculpted reliefs. The Frank Auerbach portraits are great. They are rich in texture and honesty, and he is an artist who deserves to be recognized for his unrelenting dedication to his art and love for the human condition. The paint is tough and dirty and the portraits are essential rather than revealing.
We also went to Hanart on the 4th Level of Pedder Building and saw the installation paintings by Qiu Zhijie. They were a lovely exploration of Chinese landscape manifested in a contemporary context along with maps, historical and geographical.
I am afraid we didn’t get off much on Pearl Lam’s exhibition of ‘The Reality of Paint’ by Zhu Jinshi. Big slabs of thick textural colour paint on canvas. It felt contrived and without love for itself. hmmm. But it is a beautiful space and we have seen some great shows here.
In the meantime, we are sitting in our exhibition and we meet a spaniard who collects African art and Chinese ceramics. A quietly passionate man, after an hour perusing our work, proclaimed our exhibition as the best he had seen in HK. He said with sincerity that we were all ‘real’ artists not concerned with gimickry and slickness, but all of us were truly expressing our truths and he felt deeply moved by the show. He thanked us for giving so much. Lovely!! I wonder sometimes why any artist who chooses such a hard road in life would compromise their work to be ‘untrue’, to be fashionable, to care what anyone thinks, when what the world truly values is the artist’s freedom to create – and they pay a lot for it as seen in the Basel Art Fair in HK this year….
I am sitting in the corner looking over a beautiful exhibition of art work by the La Rondine artists in ZZHK Gallery in Hong Kong. We have secured this lovely space over an incredibly busy period in the art month of Hong Kong. Art Basel is next week and so are a number of subsidiary art fairs, all vying for attention, to say nothing of the many galleries, all with their openings every night of the week and even mornings of next week.
Our openings, (we had two, one was a special collector’s evening and the other was an open celebration), were in the lull before the storm. How lucky are we to have had such great attendance. Sandra Walters, art consultant and art dealer, hosted the collectors evening on Monday night. We were sponsored by Absolut vodka so Marc Danays, a master mixologist and partner to one of our artists, Sarah Danays, created the beautiful La Rondine cocktail, using vodka, lychee liqueur, curacao, guava juice, lemon juice and basil – yummo, it was much appreciated on a very warm evening.
As my eye roves the gallery space, I pick up on a powerful photograph by Jacob Cartwright, of a blue naked woman bowed under the chains of industry. Jacob’s technique is really interesting, using photography without computer manipulation, he takes photographs of environments, in this case, HK, and projects them onto his model, then photographs her under special lighting and the projection. The effect is an abstraction of form that creates his emotional connection to life without the seeming objectivity of photography. Jacob lives on the side of a sunny hill in Tuscany, overlooking the plains of Lucca. He tends an olive grove and imports its oil, one of the finest in the world, to America. He was born and bred in the arts and was a gifted child in music. Today he is a composer and photographer. His photography is a visual reflection of his lyrical soul. The story of his four photographs represent the earth mother. The mother reflecting life upon herself, as in ‘Flower’, where she rises like an innocent child from a garden, herself the garden. ‘Chained in Blue’ is industry, ‘Construct’ is the city, ‘Tape’ is man’s creativity. Much of Jacob’s work is about life reflecting on its essence. He loves the reflection.
Interspersed throughout the room are the small photographic portraits of people, many now gone from life, from the village of Montefegatesi. Candido Martinelli is an Italian New Yorker. He lives now, back in his beloved Tuscany, high in the mountains in a picturesque village that was witness to ancient battles between the Ligurians and Romans, and earlier still to the passage of Hannibal and his elephants… The stories in these tiny village top mountains abound and the early days of Candido, were the war years. He was shot through the leg as a young child by German SS hunting down the partisans in his village, Montefegatesi. The people he grew up with in these years are the people in these photographs, scarred and beaten and toughened, like the wild unpredictable mountains they inhabit. Candido’s photographic love is portraiture. He loves the stories of human beings and with great tenderness he expresses this in these works.
Kevan Halson is a meticulous man. Everything he does is with particular attention to detail and knowledge. He lives in an ancient villa in a little village, Granaiola, in the Tuscan Appenine mountains, overlooking Bagni di Lucca, with stupendous views of valleys and rivers and multitudinous layers of mountains on mountains. Despite the grandness of his vistas, he focuses on the intricate details of life and it is perhaps this insight that has inspired his ‘Atrophy’ series. In this area of great natural and manmade beauty, there is a sense of atrophy as the life cycle of the area depletes itself. The young people have left for the cities and the old people have died, leaving behind their old homes that slowly decay as the weather gets in and the floors rot away and the voracious forests eat away the walls. Kevan captures the decay of life with beauty and acceptance. It is simply the phase before new life.
Sarah Danays, mystical and beautiful, her photograph of her created sculpture and installation, is set in a box that makes the image feel like it is floating in the night. A lot of her work comes from specially found objects and antiquities that she amalgamates with her gentle carvings of limbs in alabaster. Her story of ‘The diviner’ has significance as it was created for a beloved friend and fellow artist who died. The sacred Taoist mid-nineteenth century Chinese divination rod was joined into a carved alabaster hand. “I chose to use it, with its dragon head and Yin and Yang symbol, as protection for Mei’s spirit.” The guest photographer for this sculpture is Sinisha Nisevic – a famous fashion photographer. He was personally invited by Donatella Versace to be her Director of Photography in Milan, and has worked for everyone from Prada to Gucci, to Dior…
On a low table beneath ‘Flower’ by Jacob Cartwright, are two abstract organic forms in marble and alabaster, sculptures, by Sollai Cartwright. ‘Snow’ and ‘Twirl’. People have loved them, coming regularly to touch and fondle them, also his ‘Black Bird’ sold to his best collector. Sollai is a young and impassioned carver who lives spasmodically in Tuscany, renting studios in Pietrasanta and sometimes working on the hillside of his friend, Kevan Halson’s land. Currently he is carving black marble imported from Italy on the land of one of his collector’s in Byron Bay, northern New South Wales. “I am an artist because I believe it is the purest form of evolution and, gifted with an eye for beauty, I feel it is my responsibility and my greatest joy to bring new visions of beauty to the universe…..I carve stone because I am a man of the earth. Marble resonates with my soul and I feel that while I carve, I am giving new life to the soul within the stone….” Lovely! We have a beautiful new artist on the earth giving art back to its people.
I have known Michael’s work for many years and always I am challenged with the language of his work and always I am delighted, though my understanding can sometimes take years in formation. Michael Cartwright’s creativity is spontaneous and draws inspiration from his free interpretation of life, he is free without compromise, and it is this freedom that is ultimately human though sometimes forgotten in the rules we place around ourselves. From freedom comes the Bird form. Michael loves the story and his work can be ‘read’ and it is perhaps the bird in his work, for there are many, that reflects the state his spirit is in. Some birds he has created have lain down, ‘Reclining bird’, and seem to have come from a period when he had to rest and wait. He likes contrast with his work, so you will often find the tough and the tender within the same work. Sometimes it is expressed through texture, soft and smooth and rough and lumpy. Sometimes it is through organized, beautifully finished forms and their adhoc arrangement, irreverent of proportion. This exhibition with his work has several beautiful bird forms, ‘Reclining Bird’, Portrait of a Bird’ and ‘Nest’. He also has a large night painting of ‘Whale’ and the ‘Net’, a little gold leaf on bronze sculpture from his fishing series and the woodcut print of the ‘Fish Trap’. Definitely a nature boy!
Finally there is me! I have loved putting together this series of work from the last 20 years of my ‘Woman’ series. The ‘Woman’ series slips in and out of my creative life as I seem to go through life’s different lessons and gifts. I associate the ‘Woman’ with life’s abundance and power, its cycles, its source of creativity. I have a couple of pieces that have just been cast that I am so happy to have in the show. ‘Dance’ and ‘Woman Form’. I love seeing them in bronze, they are finished! They have been in my studio for a couple of years now, adding to the influences of my latest work. I also had two of the three sculptures I created at the CIS Artist Residency this year in the show. They are in plaster, painted to resemble bronze and they will be cast when we get back to Italy. I love the strength of one and the joy in the other. What a great period of creativity and endeavour this has been. In the meantime, Italy is calling. It is late Spring and I can only imagine the untainted blue skies and swooping swallows in all that delicious new bright green…..And a whole season of new exhibitions on at our La Rondine Gallery in Bagni di Lucca…..