Musings and Manifestos

I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

The works Manifesto (I and II) were created in June and July of 2018 for the FNB Joburg Art Fair, where they were exhibited with Village Unhu. They were re-shown at Gallery Delta in the exhibition State of Mind (November 2019). At the end of what has been one of the most difficult years of our post-independent history (there are a few to choose from…), I thought it was appropriate to write a post about these two pieces and think about the interim time between their origin and the present. I spend a lot of time discussing and analysing the work of other artists with my pupils, and a lot of time writing statements about my own work, and although the processes are similar, the language and phrasing is different. Looking from inside is not the same as from the outside; it is different finding meaning from that viewpoint. I imagined discussing the work with my pupils, and thinking of it as another artist’s. I thought they would surely be able to find some meaning. After all, they have been well taught.

I would remind them of course, that meaning is not contained within an artwork like some coded message – that indeed, the spectator brings meaning to the work, it is a collision of their own thoughts, their own ideas, their own context, and the artwork.

I would begin by discussing the title, Manifesto. They would respond, noting that the word typically refers to a document expressing ideals and aims. The form of these works, I would observe, unstretched canvas and scroll-like, echoes this idea, something that can be rolled, transported and is documental in nature. I would ask my pupils to note the date that they were created and place them in the context of that time, understanding that is essential to thinking about any piece of work. I would ask them to suggest how they might find a manifesto at that point in time, to what might it refer, and in which case, how might these works be read? They are clever, my pupils, and would surely posit numerous ideas and starting points which could be discussed – many, I think would correspond with my own observations.

“Manifesto I”, 2018. Oil, Paper, Soil and Wire on Canvas. 140 x 100cm. (Photograph, David Brazier).

There is both a warmth and a darkness about the works, someone would note, and they are both characterised by a regular grid like structure. Another may add that within Manifesto I, the horizontal structure is created with barbed wire, mostly painted red. I may add to that, pointing out that Shaw employs and refers often to wire and fences. We would pause there for a while and discuss the attributes of those elements – boundaries, divisions, markings. Many are simple, practical structures that mark agreed boundaries. Others may suggest containment, violence and entrapment – we would discuss the nature of wire and the symbolic references that it might contain.  We might ask why these layers of fence, of barbed wire fence, form the structure of this work.

I always find it rewarding that when you stop them – the pupils – at a work in a gallery, and begin a discussion, they get deeply involved and begin to look and think carefully, and many are not only highly intelligent, but insightful too. But it takes the actual stopping of them to make them look. Like all of us, they are flooded with imagery every moment of their lives, and seldom stop to think about these images and others that may hold considerably more than they think. One would definitely notice the fact that the wire is painted red. Not necessarily significant, but I would judge their mood – if they were focused, I would suggest that it is possible that the work could be read in conjunction with Red Fence (2017). They wouldn’t necessarily know that work, but with technology it could be brought to the lesson instantly. What is unusual about Red Fence, I would point outis the manner in which it is dated; day, month, year – in contrast to every other Shaw work which is dated simply by year. They would latch on to that date – many of them have photographs (previously unimagined images which proliferate their timelines). “It is a mark”, they might conclude, “a mark of an ending – and a beginning”. Connecting these aspects, it’s possible that they may conclude that the red wire of the work Manifesto I could be significant, in that it refers to a specific point, or past ideologies, or histories of successes or failures and the derailing of ideologies.

They would observe that the structures of Manifesto I are less uniformed than the other work – the vertical lines of soil allow for more movement along these axis, and how there seemed to be seepage of paint under and inside the soil ridges. I would hope to extend their thinking about this and would ask them to talk about the way in which the work had been created, look at the materials, – think how it was created and about the significance of these. One might describe the surface as being created partially with elements of tissue – stretched extremely tightly, skin-like – very visibly fragile. In comparison to the second work, this has more life, there is a rawness and in parts where the skin-like surface has been ripped, there are visual references to a rawness, red, almost blood-like interior – quite obvious I might interject, but possibly so –  in parts they might add, there has been an ebb, wounds unhealed, scars unformed – histories of violence. These would be good observations, connecting the visual and visceral elements of the work to the framework they may have originally suggested. I would compliment them – I hope they would feel my investment in reading the work. I find they get really “in to it” when they realise that they are not simply making stuff up, but are finding meanings and value in this world of visual art.

“Manifesto II”, 2018. Oil, Paper, Soil and Wire on Canvas. 140 x 100cm. (Photograph, David Brazier).

We would move on perhaps – time is always short. The second work, Manifesto II has a more defined grid-like structure, rough squarish shapes bounded by mud. “Shaw has often referred to his use of mud – in many instances it goes beyond visual and symbolic references and becomes simply what it is; a part of the land” – they would have picked this out of our earlier discussion about materials and meaning – they would have had a chance to glance through some of the links when we brought the other work into the lesson. It might be possible to read this piece as a type of calendar, each square referring to a metaphorical event, or time? That would be an interesting interpretation, I would think – I might add that in this regard, the work becomes a record over a period of time – not necessarily the land, but perhaps the structures imposed upon it? – blackened, burnt, fragmented, decayed – remnants of the past contained in a work outlining the future. I might ask them to verbalise a sense of the work – “The light is old, reddened, tired, containing the ashes and embers of something that once was. The surface has less of the life of the first work, it has been rendered brittle, dried, flaking. As it peels, it reveals layer and layer of the same. As much as it is an empty vision of the future, it is the record of a broken past. It is not a work that breathes life, it is a work that records a history of decay and death, and a work that predicts more of the same”, they may suggest.

There is never enough time at the galleries, or in the lessons. If a discussion began like that, it would be a good starting point. It is obvious that that there is not a single possible interpretation, but that their ideas are sound, and that they can be investigated much deeper – there is so much more to this reading. And I would go on; I would re-emphasise that an artwork is not a dead thing, it lives and evolves with us and our time. It is not enough to see it as a static thing. What now of our time? What of the period between these works origin and the present? What water has flowed under the bridge? How should we mark those that have died? How are we to understand the silence, and where have our jesters gone? Where is the music? What should we make of the literal and metaphorical darkness that descends on our land, hour after hour, day after day? How now, do we see this manifesto?

“But Sir,…”, one might say: “We noticed there was both a darkness and a warmth, what should we make of that?” “And look at the soil – the literal element, the land worked into the piece – some of it is stained and burnt, some of it bloody but though small, there are parts untainted, unstained, that are rich, vibrant and contain life. There are remnants unbroken, there are seeds. Though it is an ocean of despair, there is hope.”

There is always hope.

Greg Shaw,

31 December 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Vagrants and Horses: Musings about the Departed

I’d rather have a goddam horse.  A horse is at least human, for God’s sake.  ~J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

The Vagrants on a drawing (Coffee and Rusks) trip to Domboshava one January, long ago..

I needed to note the story of the horse. And the Vagrants.

It behoves me to commit it to pixels before the various elements of data are lost in the inevitable journey toward entropy, as some have done already.

The Vagrants were a wonderful group of young women and man who deserved a mention. They were kind, caring (except for not making Leah tea), generous and funny – all admirable qualities, it must be said, and they will always remain as such in my mind. This then, is a post remembering them and their idiosyncrasies, and a chance to elucidate the tail of the horse:

Here:

Tail of a Horse

Ultimately, it’s a shot into the wilderness of their existence to see how their future predictions are panning out according to their own schedule, created some time back, which I have furnished them with below for their convenience.

Possible Futures

It is the case that in all classes, certain trends and fashions come and go, and Vagrants were no exception. Not in order, and for varying periods of time, we had:

The Astronomical, Astrological and Lunar (Loony) Obsession (quite persistent):

Food (very persistent):

Flapjack-not-art making

Travel (as opportunities presented):

Batman and Hats (extremely persistent):

Health (occasional):

And Horses (all-consuming):

The idea of the (a particular, or any) horse arose and persisted. And persisted. And persisted some more. Retrospectively, I believe it started with Leah’s IG coursework, based on said beast (specifically), and my continual imploring her to bring the animal to school, to “draw from first-hand s(h)ources”. It became an endless trope, unpacked often, whenever, wherever. Images pounded our phones, littered the studio (still do) and were etched into almost every lesson. Equestrian activity, apparently, is ubiquitous. Once consciousness has been raised in this regard, it is possible to note said interest in galleries, adverts, music videos, public art, private art, memes and media. Literally everywhere.

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It seemed inevitable that we would one day incorporate the animal into the class, and we held on to that possibility indefinitely. Until this day:

List of Things Not to Say to a Horse-Lover and Owner:

  1. “I bought online, a keyring with a tiny live horse in it”.

Mentally, having reminded myself once again to think before unpacking bad-taste jokes, I moved on (in fact, I did what damage control I could, found some pertinent texts from The Prophet which I sent through to minimise the harm; forsooth, it was a terrible thing and I was feeling v. bad about it – the keyring and my joke). The horse-owner, Leah was herself lucky to remain in the group – we tried to delete her (not out of shame – that was later), I wrote her a poem, in time described as a “paucity attempt”. Christiaan did leave, I wrote him a poem too, which was received with greater enthusiasm.

Life moved on: Lisa and Natalie went to Bulawayo, pulled their tongues. Sophie created the first never-to-dry ink painting. Elsabe, Isobel and Betta went to Kariba, mixed it up with Lundun. Betta did better, went to London, found a horse. Leah covered her friend in flour. Ashleigh jumped in on the horse story with the Lundun crew (in collared shirt). Chloe tied up her boyfriend for an exam for a few days. Andrea went to Mauritius and took a picture of a snake:

Which leads me to the horse. There are some phrases which ring alarm bells; evoke a premonition of dark times ahead. “Sir, you’d better come see this…” is one, and it was with significant trepidation at the end of a very stressful year that I heard those words. There is, it seems, an inexhaustible list of possibilities one would rather not encounter on a school morning. What follows is a pictorial account of one of the most surprising and finest moments in any school, one on which my initials found themselves a real horses arse:

 

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I told you that they were a caring bunch. Indeed when I was discharged from the oncology ward forever, they were wonderfully happy on my behalf, tapped into their previous astrological obsession to create a groovy card that remains treasured in my collection.

 

We furnished Esther with a heart

Esther pretends to be the Tin Man

And then they departed, leaving me with  a magnificent chair, another wonderful card and a photograph of them (Long ago, it must be…).

Although they have now moved on, and artistic endeavour only touches a few of them, it is well worth showing you some of their exceptional work – the Final Outcomes of their A2 Coursework.

I trust, wherever they are, irrespective of whether they have checked off any of their possible futures, they’re galloping around, “neighing and shit”.

Observations

  1. When descending a hill such as Domboshava on a narrow trail and are yourself ahead of the pack, the act turning around and running back up the hill whilst screaming can create a general state of panic.

Studio One

Sunday will bring to a close about thirty-five hours of exams and give way to about an equal number of marking (for each of us) over the next two weeks. Challenging drawing topics for the Ones were met with some positive responses. The Threes were well prepared for their first long exam, but the verdict is still out for the Fours. The Whey and Barbarians Unleashed enjoyed Fifteen hour exams. Stress, tiredness and an absence of music characterised the occasion. Good work was evident.

Greg Shaw

4th July 2019

 

 

“There’s Room for You”, Or An Extraordinary Student Work (III)

“The absurd, with its rupture of rationality-of conventional ways of seeing the world-is in fact an accurate and a productive way of understanding the world.”

William Kentridge

There’s Room for You is the A2 Coursework submission of Isabella Ross, a pupil I have admired from across my studio for six years – I have never taught her, she has tracked a course through our department under the tutelage of my esteemed colleagues). One of her great strengths as an art pupil was the ability to make powerful, expressive marks in a variety of media. Because these were never pulled from the air, but generally referents to objects and physical anchors of her experience in her world, they have carried significant power into which she has invested her concepts and elements of her humanity with sincere conviction. This post is not really an analysis of her coursework, rather an overview of her extraordinary work, for it deserves to be acknowledged.

The following text is the starting point to her submission:

“There’s Room For You – Enlist Today” developed and encapsulates the main them and direction of my coursework. It was a poster produced by the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee with the aim of recruiting men to the British Military during World War One. This is an unusually decorative poster, most produced before were text based, and of limited colour… . I found the slogan disturbing, especially considering the massive loss of life in those years. I became interested in continuing this idea, questioning it in both a historic and current context. As I began to think about this, the fact that there really was in the end only room for men in the ground, I was shocked to realise how indifferent I had become to the [announcement?] of death tolls from disaster and human conflict, that those that had died were people with lives and feeling. The constant bombardment of these “numbers” seems have made the modern audience immune to its distasteful and catastrophic nature. A distance has been created that I wished to cross back over and reconnect, the break back through the anonymity of mass loss of life.” (IR, Coursework Supporting Work Page 4).

Page 4 – Detail of Supporting Work

As expressed previously, the interaction with our pupils crosses studio boundaries. Crits, assessments and exam marking are done with three teachers for a number of reasons. This process allows us good knowledge of all of the pupils in the department, especially at the senior level. I followed Isabella’s decision (under the guidance of Mary-Ann) to confine her outstandingly expressive, tactile qualities within traditional media to the sterility of the digital arena with, I must confess, a modicum of apprehension.

However, within her preparation work, she describes how she came to conceive of her Final Outcome as a “moving painting”. Whilst technically, this could be any video work or animated piece, it transpired that within her specific conception, she was able to retain her expressive strengths, indeed, the work is just as her conception; a moving painting / drawing which retains the vitality of her mark and various media. In fact, it is this characteristic which gives it its unusual and individual strength.

The images immediately below are details from her sketchbook, they reveal the depth of her research and careful analysis of ideas, as well as the hand of a pupil highly proficient and confident in visual exploration (each image can be expanded from the slide show for closer viewing).

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The manner in which she combines various themes, and ideas into a coherent work is commendable. The vast array of references, from arcade games to Kentridge and Lieros are absorbing and require a few readings of the work to digest. Her work touches on archetypical themes, such as sacrifice and humanity at the mercy of forces beyond its control. Authority figures take on both religious and quasi-religious forms which combine to suggest elements of control beyond the  protagonist, and by inference, the spectator. Her use of masks find elements of both individuality and universality, which she suggests “display concerns of anonymity and human collective, becoming the dissolution of people from the meaning of life”.

The depth of her research is clear within the supporting work presented immediately below. These are A1 sheets of work onto which the wide variety of imagery and research have been presented (each image can be expanded for closer analysis).

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The work is presented as an arcade game in which the player becomes just another number as he  journeys through the trauma and violence of a world beyond his control. He is fully at the mercy of numerous forces with little, indeed zero independent agency within his life, or the period encapsulated in this work. Isabella presents a wealth of thought provoking imagery, carefully combined into a highly unusual work, and a submission that I am proud to have associated with the department!

Studio One

The Ones continue with their trees, now investigating them within digital media – age appropriate catastrophes apply. The Threes progress with exam prep, extensive giggling and a failure for most to submit their work characterised the week. Pretty pleased with the Fours IGCSE prep this week – I think it behoves me to name them. Cake Wars subsided in The Whey this week – there was a temporary, non-forceful incarceration which resolved somewhat amicably. Barbarians Unleashed seem to have been a little sensitive – I don’t really think it’s me – must be the proximity of Exams on the horizon.

Greg Shaw,

9th June 2019

 

Homelessness, (dis)Connection and Loss. Or, An Extraordinary Student Work (II)

In places like universities, where everyone talks too rationally, it is necessary for a kind of enchanter to appear. 

Joseph Beuys

IWe

I had the pleasure of working with Luc at IGCSE Level (I wrote about his work previously). He is creative, sensitive and of gentle wit, overwhelmingly evident in the work below, and, as I have become accustomed to, a creator of tragicomic forms which reveal deep and penetrating  reflections, overlaid with a darkish tint. I lost him to Studio Three for his Advanced Level work through the actions of The Great Timetable Machine, where he worked with my colleague Mary-Ann. Our “crits”, exam and assessment marking are shared, and our Upper VI pupils are required to present their work to us half way through the year. When we met at that mid-point, his presentation which took the form of  hundreds of thoughts, sketches, digital explorations, drawings and paintings was startling. Out of that seeming chaos, a tremendous digital work emerged. It may also valid to say that because of that seeming chaos, and the overwhelming outpouring of creativity, this work has emerged.

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IWe (even the title is exceptional), a 240 second work plays out over three sections. It is, I suggest, a journey with isolation, homelessness, alienation, disconnection and loss at its core (happy thoughts indeed). The following are my own thoughts about the work, not necessarily those presented by Luc.

The work opens with a genesis, in which an embryonic form of both natural and unnatural nature, a pronounced spine along its length, pulsates in a deep space. In binary, object and void hang together whilst the spectator awaits the establishment of context, achieved through the assault of kaleidoscopic imagery in a harsh rendering of a possible world. Elements of humanoid matter collide with disturbed natural imagery and techno graphics in sync with random noises, gradually speeding up until the seeming chaos takes on a regular, patterned musical form. It is not comfortable, indeed, it heightens to an almost intolerable form until the viewer is abruptly relieved of their distress.

I found this section of the work harder to respond to, yet I admire its value. I find the visual elements disparate, unaesthetic – harsh, even and random. There seems to be little narrative and I find little in which to attach meaning, apart from the fact, of course, that meaning resides in each of the statements I just made. Which is clearly the point.

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The second section of the work is the core in which the primary meaning resides, and it is achieved through a subtle and mesmerising manner. Two beings similar in nature inhabit a vast, cosmically inspired space. Their textures are fleshy, palpable, tactile. Though they are faceless, their attitude is one of a tender, mutual apprehension. The drawing is so crafted that they seem to respond to each other in harmony and even desire. Lit by a strong central source, deep shadows accentuate sinewy necks which support their “heads” but which fails to cast shadows and adds to the tension within the sequence. The absence of cast shadows is curious, rendering the figures somewhat isolated from the backdrop, contained in the mutual dance. 

It is clear from the work that considerable thought has gone in to the nature of these beings. Luc’s description of the concept is extensive: “I tried to give [the sequence] a distinct look that felt both familiar and alien. I wanted to mimc the appearance of the systems in the body; something that feels alive although it serves a function…” Within the preparatory work, a clear effort is visible to render the figures human-like yet abstract. It is this deliberate search for “familiar yet alien” that makes the objects relatable, their substance, movement and demeanour seems our own make-up.

This is a story about, desire, the need for connection and ultimately, the understanding that this is not achievable. Through the zooming-in sequence, the spectator is drawn ever closer to the macro level of the beings as they reach out for contact with each other. They become aware that not only are these beings fleshy organic, relatable, but more significantly, that no-matter how close they become, no-matter the detail, depth and texture of the very tissue of these beings, a membrane remains. There is contact, but there will be no ultimate connection, no understanding. They are seemingly determined to remains separate, isolated in a desperate state of disconnection.

And there is one final blow; ultimately, there is a break-down at cellular level – it seems that this meeting point is indeed a possibility – there can be union. But is is abruptly shattered and in a sharp, short withdrawing, each figure is reduced to its relative isolation. Possibility is rendered as tragedy.

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The final  final section brings little relief; the work resolves in a manner that not only underlines the alienation of the individual, but also reveals significant trauma. It is then, not a work that leaves one full of overwhelming joy, rather one that posits a notion of human existence as one of lonely, deep suffering – an idea suggested for millennia. Through the colour and nature of the image, there is a reference to the genesis scene and the potential that was suggested at that point. Separation is quickly reintroduced through the reintroduction of the techno style imagery, this time with figurative elements. The hands that scratch at the now humanoid form have no means of interaction with the figure. The world is removed, alien separated both visually and metaphorically.

We are taken within the figure where recognisable forms, a spine, a blood cell seem to collide with interference from the outside, but somehow to not reconcile with the separation portrayed thus far. The soundtrack, carefully planned offers some relief and there is a tranquility about the ending, despite the traumatic journey that has taken place. Amidst this relative calm, I have thought hard about the expression on the now disembodied figure’s face. Resignation, peace, tolerance are all readable in this moment. 

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I find this work somewhat extraordinary. There are multiple influences and referents ranging from a wide variety of sources, which is perhaps what adds to the richness. It is at once retro and contemporary, and a credit to its maker.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it comes with a

SEIZURE WARNING

Studio One

Form Ones are working through Allied Arts topics, much time has been spent outside drawing trees with pencil, and next week we will be exploring iPad drawing. The Threes press on with exam prep but their week has been alarmingly bereft of homework. The Fours build their IG Coursework, music has been amicably shared between the table factions. Cake remains a contentious issue within The Whey, with things reaching a frightening peak this afternoon. I believe that the volumes of work required are beginning to sink in to Barbarians Unleashed, hopefully spurring them on to great things. 

Greg Shaw,

30th May 2019

 

 

 

 

Variations

“A true creator knows that you follow the thing to where it’s going, not to where you think it ought to go.”

— Adam Savagevia Tim Ferris Podcast
Photograph of Jessica’s Final Outcome to the Coursework, “Hive of Activity”

As our annual exhibition draws to a close, I have taken a moment to acknowledge the many pupils of our department and applaud the effort they have made at every level and their many achievements of varying magnitude. I also shout out to my colleagues, Lisa and Mary-Ann who travel this road with me, share the rewards, frustration and exhaustion but ultimately, the inspiration of this endeavour! The pride we have in our department is considerable.

The exhibition is mounted in the three studios, with Forms 1 & 2 (13  & 14 yrs) in the first, Form 2 & 3 (15&16yrs) in the second, and the Upper and Lower 6 (17 & 18yrs) in the third. Our spaces are beautiful, light and interesting, but are hard to describe through photographs. Hopefully, the following slides give some idea of each of the rooms.

Studio Three, below: Forms 1 & 2

Studio Two, below: Forms 3 & 4


Studio Three, below: Forms Lower and Upper VI

Below: Moments, all ages.

We were delighted that two of our pupils were the recipients of Cambridge Outstanding Learner Awards, with Michaela being awarded “Best AS pupil in Zimbabwe”, and Isla being awarded “Top in the World”, for her Advanced Level submission. These require their own posts, which hopefully will happen in time (they are queued – there are a number of previous winners who deserve acknowledgement!).

Michaela’s AS submission below: (top left, Coursework Final Outcome; top right and bottom, Controlled Test Final Outcome and Supporting Work detail)

Video of Isla’s Final Outcome Installation and details of supporting work with Personal Study below:

It is a privilege to work with our pupils and to see, once again, their accomplishments on display. 

Studio One

A good crop of Form Threes begin their explorations into coursework, whilst the Form Fours edge closer to their IGCSE submissions. The Whey eat cake, plan bake offs, crush each other to hear their “real” laughter and contemplate their AS Coursework. Barbarians Unleashed remain somewhat savage as the pressure of A Level begins to mount.

Observations

  1. The department currently has 352 pupils. Every effort was made to include at least one piece of every pupil on the exhibition.
  2. It is estimated that over 11,000 pieces of work (some small, some artist studies, others large paintings, sculptures and installations) were made in the past twelve months. Each of these has had some engagement with one of the three teachers, which is staggering.

Greg Shaw,

16 May, 2019. Harare.

Residue

“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep rolling under the stars.”

Jack Kerouac, On the Road: Original Scroll

I have a piece of bread nailed to the studio wall. Dry, broken. About one quarter of a slice remains. It’s from the year 2013, and whilst in my mind I can locate its provenance, and know it was part of a joke, my recollection of the specifics are now vague. I point to it frequently, but guard it’s fragility in the knowledge that it holds a valuable place, as residue of the unfolding history of the studio and the many that have now passed through. 

This very brief post is a shout out to the many amazing characters that have inhabited Studio One, whether their own residue be part of the wall or whether they simply gazed past it, or indeed were unaware of its existence, I trust that wherever they are, they are enjoying life to the full, and that there exists in them also, the residue of this space.

Greg Shaw, 10th April, 2019

P.S. Esther says “hi”.

That’s the Sound…(Part 1:Ft. Arteepeepee)

“Do a good art, even if it’s a bad art.”

Savannah Hertzberg

“Luc Dood”, L. Brazier, 2016

Historical List of Redundant Form Four Actions (2016)

  1. Wear down art teacher with persistent pleas for the Right to Drink Tea in the studio.
  2. Rename the class “Arteepeepee”.
  3. Sing the music of Queen incessantly, with absolute disregard for the subtle nuances of the great Freddie Mercury.
  4. Engage in a farcical, tea brewing, non-art-making scenario until said granted  right is withdrawn.
  5. Make a good Art

"Luc Dude", E. Robertson, 2016.
“Luc Dude”, E. Robertson, 2016.

A few weeks ago, we had the pleasure of attending the Cambridge Outstanding Learners Awards, in which I am very proud to say that the Hellenic art Department claimed the “Best in Zimbabwe” at IGCSE, AS and A2 Level, as well as receiving two High Achievement Awards for the May/June exam session last year. I thought I would post a few of the extraordinary works here, the two AS High Achievement submissions and the IGCSE Best in Zimbabwe.

Mana was one of the members of GShiz, and Melanie emanated from the Studio of “Mrs Mac”. They wrote during the May/June session (something we used to do..) and were part of a group of exceptional submissions. Indeed, since I am blowing our horn (that’s the sound…), I might point out that the lowest grade obtained for the group of 20 was a B, which is quite extraordinary. The AS comprises a coursework submission and an examination (15 hours over three days, which despite being a beast – ask Sarah – is always a creatively intense and rewarding experience). Both Mana and Melanie (Malanie/Melana) had characteristics in common: a high degree of creativity and an exceptional level of skill and a great sense of aesthetic. Here is a taste of some of the work of Malanie/Melana:

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Luc Brazier was awarded Best IGCSE Art and Design Student in Zimbabwe, an excellent result following a couple years of smouldering activity and some pretty startling renditions of Queen, not to mention being the driving force behind the Arteepeepee debacle. His submission was the first animation to be entered as a Final Outcome by the Academy (most likely by any Zimbabwean School?) to date.

Luc combined a wealth of technical knowledge and superb artistic and aesthetic judgement as he produced a work of startling weight and impact. It is not uncommon for our students to address “heavy” themes, many do as their lives collide with the raw and brutal facets of life. It is much less common that these works come over as uncontrived. For many, despite the impact of these, they are less artistically mature and some work becomes cliched, relying on predictable imagery or symbols and “shock” tactics. Luc’s in contrast, is a dark, hard hitting and edgy work. for those of us who know him, it came as no surprise that there are  heavy doses of sardonic comedy (not humour) entangled amidst the tragic narrative.

At each level it is demanded of the candidates that they support and investigate their ideas and demonstrate how these have been developed throughout the submission. I think in some regards we were privileged to be given access to Luc’s thoughts, since so much was highly personal, and which, in sketchbook form, clearly demonstrated the progression and decision making of the work.

Here is a taste of the exploration.

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Here is the final outcome:

Luc was also the first candidate from the Academy to answer an examination with pure photography. He tackled this with a similar degree of creativity and courage, and employing a level of investigation and expertise well beyond what would normally be expected from a student at this level. As before, his preparation was personal and deeply investigative. Here is some of the preparation and the Final Outcome:

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It should go without saying that there was a wealth of extraordinary work that emanated from Arteepeepee and I would do well to feature some more of it at some point. But for now, let me say as always, what a privilege it is to work with the many pupils who invest themselves as wholeheartedly in their work as they do; beyond the extraordinary amount of effort, it is above all, highly courageous.

Studio One

It seems hard to believe that we are almost the end of the art exams for Trinity term. The AS mock finished today, the remnants of Arteepeepee reconfigured as Pigs and Chickens had a taste of the 15 hour beast; they were weary, but for the most part, successful. Vagrants continued their journey through the A2 coursework,  App up the Vicious wrote their IG mock, the Form 3s (a cracking bunch) are done, so are the 2s and the Form 1s write on Tuesday. A total of 39 hours of exams.

Observations

  1. Aluminium melts at 800 degC. We know this from the IG students smelting it (through questionable means) for casting.
  2. Said molten aluminium explodes if poured into a damp mold.
  3. Percussive sounds of welders, grinding metal and the roar of the (modified) blow torch is heavy, after the 9th hour.

Still an Icon

“I am black, I think black, I paint black”.

Luis Meques, 1997.

Meques, L. ‘Street Kids’, 1997. MM on Paper, 116cm x 156cm.

I cannot think of Luis Meques, without thinking of these profound words, spoken by a painter who was a leader of his generation and icon to Zimbabwean painting for a period of two decades. Derek Huggins, friend and curator to the artist, writes of the statement that “[The words spoke] of a new generation, a new consciousness, a growing awareness a new spirit and pride and purpose of being”. They seem to me to be an expression of identity so strongly felt, so clearly acknowledged that there is no surprise he saw the world with the clarity that he did.

A collection of works from his estate were recently exhibited at Gallery Delta and it was a pleasure to see the work once again after some years (and after a period of feeling somewhat saturated of it) and to remember his extraordinary proficiency as a painter. I was invited to make a comment for the catalogue and it was a pleasure to contemplate and think about the work. The following is the catalogue text:

These paintings embody a polemic explored with extraordinary depth; two sides of visual language which confronts and challenges the viewer:

On one hand, Meques states so much with so little. Marks, gestures, lines and forms are rendered with a simplicity that belie the artistry and learning beneath. We understand that the subjects of these works are not generic representations or symbols, but are derived from and describe individual people and ideas in all their subtlety and individuality. These expressions are constructed over a complex matrix that relies on his extraordinary draughtsmanship, the result of hundreds of hours of study and observation which combine with a natural propensity for the discipline. They are built on top of structures which reveal an in-depth knowledge of the mechanics of composition, of rhythm, balance, and the ever present dialogue between the two dimensional surface and the illusions of painting. And they are made with an urgency and intensity that arrests and reminds the viewer, that this was not only the unique visual language of Luis Meque, this was also his manner of being.

On the other hand we are faced with works in which so much is left unsaid. Meques strips the subjects to their core. There is little concession to modeling, texture or any other device which would seem frivolous. Facial details are often obscured or obliterated. Extremities, sometimes limbs are redundant, and subsequently removed. There is no surplus, no excess, nothing beyond what contributes to the immediate subject at that exact moment in time. At some point the spectator becomes aware that there is far more left unsaid than the details of the subject. There is a world that exists beyond this frame, which conditions, marks and impacts on these subjects. We are aware of it through its absence. We know it through these distilled images and the intensity and conviction of the painter’s hand and voice.

The combination of these parts form a complex gestalt, one in which the subject, the context and the penetrating nature of the painter come together in a single, powerful work. Meque’s ability to achieve this so comprehensively and so often established him as a beacon to Zimbabwean painters, a position I believe he will occupy for a long time to come.

Meques, L. ‘Street Kids II’, 1997. MM on Paper, 116cm x 166cm.

Meques, L. 1995. ‘Untitiled’, Mixed media on Paper. 125cm x 116cm.

In an era in which so much of painting is informed by photographs, bound by the single eye and lacking the vitality brought through the experience of intense observation of the subjects,  these works were extremely refreshing, I look forward to contemplating them again one day.

 

Studio One

We closed our annual exhibition at the end of the Paschal term, which deserves a comment at some time, and are now firmly into Trinity term. IGCSE Coursework is well underway, as are both the AS and A2 components. Here are some fine works by Andrea to end with:

Greg Shaw,

18th May, 2017. Harare

Beauty, Burial and Betrayal: two years with gshiz

“How ridiculous and how strange to be surprised at anything which happens in life.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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Class of 2016

My classes have always been quiet and focussed, I can’t stand noise or mess and I don’t believe it to be possible to work at one’s best amidst chaos. It is odd, then, that the past two years with this particular L6/U6 class have been the antithesis of that ideal scenario. They have now gone, and the studio is once again silent, clean, serene. It is familiar to me and calming.

Somehow I miss the chaos, and its makers.

This short post is a tribute to those who referred to themselves as: ‘Lower VI Art’; ‘Menagerie of Students’; ‘G-Shawzey and the Clan’ and ultimately ‘gshiz’ (I am strangely honoured to have my name bastardised like that). They were responsible for the disruption mentioned above, an enormous amount of hilarity, stress and more importantly achieving exceptional AS grades and leaving behind some terrific art. They were very serious about the subject, visited museums around the world in an a effort to appreciate the wealth of history and the arts. You can see that here:

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What’s app message from a museum far, far away; ’cause this is thriller! thriller night…

The AS year passed (not without event), we made a few gallery visits, went to the CBD to gather images for a large interactive work, where Michaela was propositioned, we didn’t make Mali, Morocco or Domboshava. My bad; oh well. Revai left us, Mellisa joined, but otherwise the class was quite stable (physically, at least). Excellent observations were made, suggestions and modifications to the persisting issue of appropriate hairstyles and a possible modification to the headgear. I have investigated some of the options in context below:

On the occasion of the AS exam, in May/June this year, an two important figures  were introduced to the class: George (the prawn), and Craycray (the crayfish – go figure…). George was involved in various nefarious activities of a period of months which was often quite startling. The topic fish and crayfish is a wonderful one, other than the fact that we are a landlocked country. Our river fish simply do not have the same visual impact (in general) as many of their salt-water counterparts. We managed to get some crayfish, firstly from the plates of diners at Fishmonger (once they had finished eating…), and secondly from some back-door trader (literally, from the boot of a somewhat bashed up car). There is a certain abhorrence in working from dead animals, which is quite saddening and also carries a moral implication in a country where food is short. Especially when it is clear that they can never be eaten after being subjected to hours of scrutiny, in and out a freezer week after week. Despite these implications, Craycray was a most magnificent specimens who found his way into the class. This is me introducing him:

But he was a nasty bugger; made Sarah cry. We buried him when we were done. I suppose it was a mark of respect. Being a Greek school, we should have performed some of the traditions. We could have easily performed Prothesis, found something to cover his eyes sung a lament; tore out our hair (solve the hat problem).

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Lament and hair-tearing of old

There was a form of Ekphora (a transference of the body to the place of entombment)  but not quite in order…

 

The Perideipnon, or banqueting was also absent. Crazy, there was a continual supply of snacks, Rebecca nearly killed us with chocolate with the #bestbrowniesintheworld. We dug him up, not out of a space shortage, but mostly curiosity. I must admit that there was a kind of Lord of the Flies hysteria, possibly exacerbated by it being the last day of gshiz‘ schooling career. We did not carry him to an ossuary because of the stench. Dug him right back into the ground where he currently rests in piece{s) and shall investigate after the rains, I think.

One other notable theme that ran through the class was the idea of a flash mob. Single Ladies seemed to be the song that attracted the most support.  They found inspiration everywhere, art related even. It was supposed to have been a group thing that would take place in assembly. It is clear that most are expecting to wear a ring on their right hands, except Oliver. He doesn’t seem to want to identify as one of the Singletons. That must be why he wanted to betray us, sticking it right in our Insta-feeds.

Amidst the intense pressure (only those who have taken this subject will know of that pressure) of the final days before submitting A2 coursework, the flash mob did eventually take place near the end of term. Having enlisted no less than the Headmistress for support, I was presented with a moment that will surely be embedded in my memory for a very long time!

The A2 coursework are a maximum of 20 A1 pages, which amounts to hundreds of hours work. It is a pity not to show many of the gems included within the work. Nevertheless, here is a taste of their accomplishments for the year:

It remains for me to say, alrighty bye bye.

Greg Shaw

2 November 2016

 

 

 

Of Imagery, Made Things and Connections

“From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality.”

  • Ernest Hemingway

“Any fact becomes important when it’s connected to another.”

  • Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum

The Broken Stool, 2016. Digital Drawing, 3094x4036px; printed on matte wallpaper.
The Broken Stool, 2016. Digital Drawing, 3094x4036px; printed on matte wallpaper.

I cannot claim that I have made anything with the qualities of truth or immortality as expressed by Hemingway above, despite my most (earnest) attempts. But I have made new things (insofar as “original” is a possibility, a whole other argument) that derive from the sources he describes so comprehensively, indeed, quite profoundly. I hope that at least in some my work, there is enough “life” to be of interest to the spectator.

Recent works have been accumulated bringing together different threads investigated over the last year, considering identity and the meeting and influences of culture and other agents within our context. I have been pleased to tie in some of the three dimensional work of the last period and hope that in doing so, new thoughts about the works may emerge. From a slightly simplistic perspective, there is a meeting between the abstract forms (to some eyes) of the sculptural works and the figurative drawing and prints. I have intended a meeting of ideas, and that the artefacts incorporated contribute to extended meanings, not simply the pilfering of cultural heritage as has been the case in many instances.

Fourteen works make up my contribution to the exhibition “Link” currently showing at Gallery Delta, along side Arthur Azvedo, Helen Lieros, Wallen Mapondera and Thakor Patel. Five artists with completely different styles, backgrounds and artistic heritages, each with some commonality and three of whom have impacted my own career of the years. I have written often about Helen’s role in my career as a painter, and the impact she had on me as a 16 year old and beyond. As always, it is a privilege to be able to exhibit with her for what must be at least the 40th time.

Wallen Mapondera is the youngest of us, one of a handful of Zimbabwean artists for whom I have the utmost respect. In May 2014, I wrote a foreword for the exhibition catalogue of “Social Zoometry” a one person exhibition. It included the following: “Mapondera engages the viewer with sensitive, exacting marks that express penetrating observations of the various subjects, which are… rendered without exception, with a deep sense of pathos.…[He]” challenges the spectator to confront their humanity… [and allows the viewer] to identify with the subjects of these works as his/her kind. From this perspective, we answer questions [which reveal] power structures, hierarchies, abuse of power, but also kinship and companionship.” The works of “Link” build on these attributes, as well introducing challenging new thoughts and ideas of intrigue.

The first piece of art that I ever purchased was a tiny Arthur Azvedo etching of a baboon from the Annual Zimbabwe Heritage exhibition at the National Gallery sometime in the early ‘90s. It hangs in my dining room to this day. To my knowledge, Arthur was one of the founders of welded art in Zimbabwe, and over recent decades, few have reached his level of artistry in the medium. His knowledge of his subjects is penetrating, always based on the deepest observations of movement and form and translated into both his welded work, and the drawings and prints for which he is renowned.

Arthur Azvedo, 1991. "Baboon", Etching and Ink on Paper. 5 x 7cm
Arthur Azvedo, 1991. “Baboon”, Etching and Ink on Paper. 5 x 7cm

I had the privilege (I feel this to have been a one-sided thing) of being a student of Thakor Patel at the Polytechnic between ’89 and 91’, and later to work with him at that institution. For some reason, perhaps because he taught a few of my first-year modules, many memories of our association at that time feature the ridiculously immature 16 year old I was, trying to make sense of the out-of-reach level of competition of many of my peers, materials which I had no clue how to control, models I couldn’t draw and history beyond my level of thinking and comprehension. And the moratorium on whistling which Thakor imposed.

List of Things I Aspired to, aged 16

  1. Climbing rocks well.

Thakor’s 3 metre wide modernist paintings of the late ‘80s, on which he worked in a studio at the Poly’ made a huge impression on me at that time. They were one of the first portals into a world of art that up to that point I had known nothing about. Indeed, I did not know anything about any world of art. Knowledge of the discipline at home was confined to a few “how to draw” books, which despite my present slight disregard, actually had something to do wth me heading in the direction of the visual arts. My family home was decorated in the popular mode of the time; there were various things  of visual interest, such as the highly textured abstract work my father had made, generally referred to as “thing”; though it fit well into the ‘70s, it would also have found commonality amid my works of the early 2000s, whatever may be construed from that. A beautiful, turned wooden pot stays in my mind, a wonderful percolator (a similar type of which I found on a jumble sale years later) and a wooden stool my father made which I use today in the studio.

School art had consisted of pencil-drawn calabashes and seed pods, etc. and batiks. My only visit to any art gallery up to that point was a visit to the Annual Schools Exhibition at the National Gallery, where largely, more of the same was visible, and for which my friend an I had made a pair of fencing figures. These we found broken and flattened somewhere on the mezzanine floor – the only thing  that I remember (other than the ramp with the rubber which makes the special underfoot noise) about that expedition.

The scale, vibrancy and abstraction of Thakor’s work was extraordinary to me, as were the blended, controlled oil colours. Over the next two years, the only time any of us neared that effect was with the aid of the revered air-brush, a tool that thankfully seems as manacled to the ‘80s as Wham. (Sadly, the gradient effect seems to have been embraced by the makers of Power Point and Keynote, and still frequently pains my eyes). Thakor spoke of artworks having “air”. It seems a vague, unformed piece of advice and something difficult to pin down. He would page through books, tapping his fingers upon a particular work here and there illuminating his thoughts.

Until now, though this particular quality seems difficult to define, the advice remains with me and I am always aware of works which possess the particular trait, and those which don’t. It speaks of an aspect that is not related to empty pictorial space, nor illusionistic depth. It is a quality that seems contained in the making of marks and application of media, the ability for a work to ‘breathe’. David Hockney says that artists should protect the ‘mystery’ of painting (ibid.) and I tend to agree, but that is not my intention in this regard. Perhaps I shall just say that this advice is ‘vague’ but makes sense to me, and leave it at that.

This exhibition then, is about connections. Connections within my own work, the lines of thought that have preoccupied me for months, even years. Connections between artists who share a common context, and have met at this point, this juncture. And for me, connections of a personal nature, of students, artists, teachers and friends. I find it aptly called “Link”.

Pipe Dreams I and II, 2016. Charcoal, Soil, Metal and Found Objects. Height 115 and 110 cm
Pipe Dreams I and II, 2016. Charcoal, Soil, Metal and Found Objects. Height 115 and 110 cm

Studio One

We are in the middle of our examinations, and heading towards the late afternoon of the IGCSE, AS and A2 coursework. Though pressure should be building amongst the students, it seems as though it is not. I fear the moments when the realisation of that begins to penetrate their teenage brains and I suffer the ramifications of their current actions!

Here is a wonderful work by Mana which is at least an excellent start…

Michelle with red cloth, 2016. Acrylic on Paper.
Michelle with red cloth, 2016. Acrylic on Paper.

Greg Shaw, 30 June 2016