Category Archives: Art

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 Engage in a farcical, tea brewing, non-art-making scenario until said granted  right is withdrawn.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.
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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

The Unfulfilled Promise: An extraordinary student work

“Poor is the student that does not surpass his master.”

Leonardo da Vinci


 

The cycle continues. The UVI artists, some of whom have inhabited my studio for six years have moved on, once again. In their place I find my slightly deranged (at least en masse, and in the nicest possible way of course) class of 2016. I believe I mentioned them once before, and have little doubt that I will in future.

IMG_7587

Above, is the 2015 class with whom much fun was had, and from which some quite extraordinary work emanated. They look deceptively cheerful and refreshed, following the extraordinary toil of the A2 Coursework. And they look considerably smarter than usual, are not doing hair, nor are they hatching small creatures prematurely, all of which was known to have happened. Unfortunately the corner is cut off of the picture. I think it is symbolic of Raphael, who did not make the picture, or the exhibition of their final work. Sorry dude. Pity, he was the only male student of the year group.

List of Possible Reasons that Few Male Students Take Art:

  1. It’s for “whooses”;
  2. It’s for the academically challenged (which is not the same as);
  3. He’s a real high flyer – destined for the sciences;
  4. It’ll get you nowhere in life (unless you want to teach which is really the same thing;
  5. Neither of [his] parents (or grandparents) can draw a stick man.

Studio One

I wanted to write a post about this extraordinary work, the final outcome of ex-student Amike du Plessis. I have been putting it off until the Cambridge results were released, but also because of other factors: It is a work of such magnitude, that I can say it is without question, the most ambitious work ever produced by a secondary school student that I have ever encountered. Comprising more than 3000 nails and a life-size paper cast of a figure, it arrests the spectator with such extraordinary force that on encounter, one is literally left quite stunned. I will be as bold to say that it is a work of that holds its own within, indeed, is an important contribution to, the contemporary Zimbabwean art scene, and I hope one day to see it exhibited in a wider context.

In this regard, it deserves a thorough and careful reading, which I will write at a later stage. I have been a spectator to the process of creation, and advisor to the student, and think that some space would be beneficial before writing that analysis. I wondered how I would present it in a blog post until I found the opportunity in the February edition of Harare News in which the following Zimbabwean statistics are recorded:

  1. 2 in 3 women experience some sort of violence in their lifetime
  2. Over 40% of cases are not reported to anyone. Survivors rarely seek help.
  3. Mashonaland and Masvingo are the provinces that have the highest prevalence of child marriage – well above 40%
  4. 43% of adolescents aged 13-17 had their first sexual experience forced.
  5. 47% of adolescents aged 13-17 years [old] experience sexual violence and rape multiple times.
  6. 1 in 3 women aged 18-24 in Zimbabwe has experienced sexual violence before the age of 18.

(Mudzonga, T. 2016. “Gender-Based Violence: the hidden scourge”; Harare News. Issue 29, February 2016.).

Amike du Plessis, 2015. “The Unfulfilled Promise” . Nails and Paper, height 218cm. (Photograph by David Brazier).

It is observed that the students of a privileged private school have little to do with the environment presented above. I would argue, that in the face of these egregious statistics, how could they not? Further to that, GBV is only one of many possible starting points of the work. Viewers find meaning, it is not embedded in the work, as is so often observed. Perhaps we should find or consider the structures of a patriarchal society and the insidious behaviours that permeate almost every aspect of our society, the domestic arena; the public arena? Have these structure not conditioned our own histories? Do they not permeate the multitude of cultures, of ideologies and religions that grip so tightly onto our present existence, whether of privileged realms or other? As Mudzonga writes: “We live in a society that endorses and perpetuates an extraordinarily fixed hierarchy that cuts through all social conventions.”

 

 

Amike du Plessis, 2015. "The Unfulfilled Promise" (Detail). Nails and Paper, height 218cm.

Amike du Plessis, 2015. “The Unfulfilled Promise” (Detail). Nails and Paper, height 218cm.

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Amike du Plessis, 2015. “The Unfulfilled Promise” (Detail). Nails and Paper, height 218cm.

Amike du Plessis, 2015. "The Unfulfilled Promise" (Detail). Nails and Paper, height 218cm.

Amike du Plessis, 2015. “The Unfulfilled Promise” (Detail). Nails and Paper, height 218cm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I believe unequivocally that the arts are not some redundant field reserved for the incompetent, whimsical, non-academic, non-achieving members of society. They are the realms of some of the deepest thinkers and most courageous of people and provide a means of reflecting, recording, challenging and opening dialogue about the very nature, the make-up and intrinsic qualities of our existence.

In this regard, as a husband and parent of two daughters, in the face of statistics that give my children a 57% chance of not experiencing sexual violence in their teenage years, what the hell would I be doing if I do not allow or even encourage my students, whether or not privileged, privately educated, or empowered by some other means, to engage with these themes? I would most certainly consider that a failure of some magnitude.

“It is a tricky, dangerous, insidious practice, which is why it is so prevalent, and so hard to talk about. But it is a conversation we must have” (Mudzonga, T. 2016. “Gender-Based Violence: the hidden scourge”; Harare News. Issue 29, February 2016.)

OBSERVATIONS

1.Mudzonga does not provide sources for the statistics in the article. However, with only the slightest bit of scratching, the figures that are widely publicised make for some horrific reading:

At Least one Women is raped every 90 minutes in Zimbabwe (http://bulawayo24.com/index-id-news-sc-national-byo-50485.html) .

Msasa Project records 300 cases of violence against women mthly.(https://www.newsday.co.zw/2015/04/24/rise-in-rape-cases-cause-for-concern/)

15 Women are raped every day in Zimbabwe – Zimstat – (http://www.thestandard.co.zw/2012/08/15/15-women-are-raped-everyday-in-zimbabwe/)

There are numerous reports of this nature which cross our paths only too often.

3. The photographs of the work have been taken by the exceptional artist and photographer David Brazier, to whom I am exceptionally grateful.

2. The process of marking Art is a difficult one, especially as (correctly so) current art theory has dismissed the formal analysis of works, and with that, any independent standards (a topic that demands considerably more discussion). It is worth noting however, that all Cambridge coursework is marked by the respective teaching centres and moderated by Cambridge. Whilst the motivation for this is primarily for practical reasons, it also provides the various submissions to be read in the context in which they were created. In my view, this is very significant, especially as one of the four Advanced level marking criteria is “Knowledge and Critical Understanding”, which provides space for analysis of the work in it’s own cultural context. Our submissions are typically marked by three teachers, and our marking and reports analysed and moderated by the examination body.

3. In what seems a different era, I had a dog called Jezebel, whom I trained, or attempted to do so. I met a man who became my friend, Gordon, an extraordinary dog handler and trainer, who I am confident in saying has notched up more obedience champions than anyone else in this country (as well as numerous records in other disciplines of dog competition). He once told me that the highest achievement he could imagine would be for one of his students to surpass his achievements. At the time, under the influence of youth and I suppose my own delusional, mis-placed sense of self-importance, I was quite shocked. 20 years later, I am happy to agree with him, and also to note da Vinci observations above.

Greg Shaw, 6 February 2016.

 

 

 

 

Roar Meet

“Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again. And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children.”

-Pablo Picasso

Photos beside my desk: Top centre is Picasso with his son, pictured in the beautiful photograph by Robert Capa, and of course my family, Hannah Eden and Shaunagh, in the others

Photos beside my desk: Top centre is Picasso with his son, pictured in the beautiful photograph by Robert Capa, and of course my family, Hannah Eden and Shaunagh, in the others.


We finished our final art exams for the term on Sunday. Form Three exams, an enjoyable period, where innovation and creativity is awarded as highly as technical skill. I am happy to say that for the most part, the ‘Threes came to the party! Our Art exams are quite well structured, with an emphasis on coursework and preparation, and only a part based on actual “controlled testing”. For the most part, I am an examination hater (h8r): The Art of the Short Memory Test: of Information that will Never Need To Be Recalled On The Spot Again. Unless I suppose one is a first-responder, or in some other crisis situation, or watching The Chase, etc. …. Of course there are the aspects of applying knowledge, and testing understanding of concepts; I get that. But still.

List of things I personally dislike about writing examinations:

  1. Studying.
  2. Writing examinations.

Let me not be mis-understood in regard to learning; I love that! And I love research and understanding, projects and creating, and most of all growth, which is I think what this post is about.

Picasso is famously quoted as saying “all children are artists, the difficulty is to remain an artist as one grows up.” I know this is true; my eldest daughter painted this this when she was very young:

Hannah, Acrylic painting , 30x30cm.

Hannah, Acrylic painting , 30x30cm.

She still makes beautiful art, but now with a little more self-consciousness, embodying Picasso’s words above. The youngest daughter does not suffer from that affliction yet. Hopefully never, though that is wishful thinking. There is too much process in the way; we are too enmeshed in the system, not to mention peer/teacher/parent expectation, nor I suppose the expectations of the self. But she is not there yet, and in recent months we have seen some extraordinary creations. Approximately 14 A4 sheets were glued together into a long scroll, which was illustrated and coloured from end to end. It included statements and conditions, being a petition against eating pigs which we were all invited to sign.

She loves pigs, this is a drawing of a rainbow pig. It can fly:

Eden, Rainbow Pig.

Eden, Rainbow Pig. A4

But it was the drawing below that motivated this post. This is a drawing of a crocodile in search of uncooked protein. It could also be a crocodile that is very vocal, in search of protein, or a crocodile that is in search of company. It was with delight that I stumbled on the work on Sunday evening, and also with the vaguest tinge of dismay, with the realisation that after more that 25 years of art-making, I will ever be able to make a drawing like this without it being utterly contrived:

Eden, Roar Meet. A4, pencil on paper

Eden, Roar Meet. A4, pencil on paper

I suppose in honesty, that it is the ROAR MEET which is the highlight of the drawing, and that most likely there are many readers decrying the employment of some quite suspect English (H8RS!!). Thankfully, 1: Dealing with that aspect lies in the more than competent hands of my wife, teacher extraordinaire (it is “her ticket”), and that 2. The Art aspect seems to be well in control.

Those who are not too busy hating on the English may sense the extraordinary contour line of the reptile, at its most exquisite on the arch of the back, sway of the tail and along the bottom jaw; Perhaps some sense the quite spectacular relationship between positive and negative shapes formed between the land and animal, most profound in the relationship between speech bubble and jaws! Most students of art would understand that once a corner has been cut off from the composition, like the bottom left above, there is no way back – except that somehow, by virtue of the open ended triangle beneath the tail, a delicate balance is achieved.

Perhaps the more perceptive will notice how at the juncture of the lines that describe the land, a really strong suggestion of spacial recession is created. I cannot believe though, that anyone would look long enough to notice that the very same juncture seems to be reflected in the chance meeting of the base of the “A”, and the top of the “T”.  And I am almost certain, that only a select few (perhaps those schooled by the venerable Martin Van Der Spuy) would observe the employment of the concept of Theme and Variation, observable in only the most exemplary of draughts-people: Where the arrow of the speech bubble establishes the visual theme, the line of teeth takes the form, repeats it in the first variation. The line of spikes along the spine form the third variation and  the scales on the body a fourth…. If they noticed that, they may too have understood that the structure of the feet is directly inverted, varied and repeated in the structure of the grass, and that in both forms, they relate to the initial theme).

Why else would this drawing hold together so beautifully?

But I am not suggesting that Eden is some sort of child prodigy, or that she is in any way more accomplished of better than any one else’s child (she is, so is Hannah, but I am not saying that). The point is that like all of our children, she makes beautiful pictures, over and over again. And she tells stories and voices her ideas. And it is our remit (since we  have the absolute privilege, not only to provide education for our children, but also to teach them), not to bugger that up.

There is hope.

As I have written, the Upper VIs have departed (leaving a hole), submitted their sketchbooks, portfolios and research components and we await their results eagerly. But the result is only a part of the story – the rest is the growth and learning that has taken place during their time in studio. This goes beyond the visual arts, I hope that they leave having learnt a whole load more than that, as I have, from them. Nevertheless, if this growth can be measured within their work, maybe that is something.

One of them. Kayla, found her Form One sketchbook, and brought it in to show me. Here is the first homework drawing that she made for me, six years ago.There are many good qualities about the drawing, and during the course of that first term, her drawing improved considerably.

Kayla, cup. 20 x 25cm, pencil.

Kayla, cup. 20 x 25cm, pencil.

Here are some of her more recent works, in various media:

Kayla, Shells, mixed media. Approx A3

Kayla, Shells, mixed media. Approx A3

Kayla, Seeds and Beans, Mixed media, A2.

Kayla, Seeds and Beans, Mixed media, A2.

Kayla, Chongolongo [sic]. Mixed media, A2.

Kayla, Chongolongo [sic]. Mixed media, A2.

Her work is very beautiful, and to see this small strand of this section of the journey laid out as such provides me with some optimism; that in the future, there will be places where people might not say:

“it’s Raw meat…”, but instead,

“how unique, how marvellous”.

OBSERVATIONS

  1. A total of 41 hours of exams have been written this term, although there was an 8 hour overlap. Typically, four of us invigilate simultaneously, making it a quite substantial input into the process.
  2. Martin Van der Spuy remains one of the most highly regarded teachers of art that has passed through this country. His influence is seen throughout many of the most highly regarded painters of the past two decades.
  3. Hannah still draws beautiful works.
  4. Eden remains obsessed with pigs.

Greg Shaw,10 November, 2015.

Razor wire, a gash and some burnt wood (Part 1)

“My songs have nothing to do with war. They are all about the sad insecurities of a balding rock star”

– Chris Martin (The Guardian 17 March 2003)


I picked a piece off of a painting and painted the hole red. It looked like a small wound in flesh. The surface had been afflicted. It was a small wound, it could be construed to have been caused by a sharp stick. There were also scratches, quite deep I suppose. There was a slight translucency in the layers of oil, which spoke to me of a sort of bruising. Once, when I was using my sisters stilts, I slipped. There was a rusty screw sticking out of the handle, and it stuck me hard in the shin. It made a hole right into the bone, quite deep. I never talked about it because of the fear of going to hospital.

Minimal damage.

Contained.

My painting spoke nothing of the carnage that was created and endured at that time. Perhaps that was not the objective. Perhaps that was simply too big to consider. But as a hole in a dam, a picked scab, the injury beneath a toyed with, nuisance piece of loose skin grew and grew: Visually, physically, contextually. I engaged with that initial hole, that small puncture wound. It was the beginning of an obsession with surface and texture, with representation and literalism that would endure till the present.

This is Part 1 of a post about that preoccupation. I write it as my work “Elegy” hangs on the Art/Artefact II exhibition at Gallery Delta, a work a long way from the painting described above. I don’t think I can really speak about it without writing of one element of it’s history, which is what I shall endeavour to do here. I will post the second part next week. (The painting with the hole (Scratching the Facade) formed part of the 2005 exhibition “Embers of Dreams”.

Scratching the facade, 2005. Oil on canvas. 120 x 80 cm

Scratching the facade, 2005. Oil on canvas. 120 x 80 cm

The Elusive Dream, 2005. Oil on Canvas. 120 x 164.

The Elusive Dream, 2005. Oil on Canvas. 120 x 164.

Between then and the present lie a collection of stories of corrupted foundations, damaged structures, isolation, wounds and destruction. Stories of despair, defence, of light, of patience. Of burning, embers and ash. Not ash. Ash has less value – it is a symbol of something departed – it is hard to work with, grey, lacking contrast, lacking substance. Stories that end with charcoal. Charcoal is different. It has another quality; It’s dense, black. It has substance. It possesses the power to be rekindled. Charcoal is potential.

As the wounds grew, so did the necessity to represent them. The acrylic/plaster base became insufficient for the task. Scratches and punctures were no longer the nature of the environment. In search of a sense of greater depth, I took to ripping and layering pieces of canvas, still incorporating the earlier base. There was a transformation taking place; what began as a representation of a wound, gave way to an actual rip and tear. The surfaces which had until now seemed to form a bridge between the abstract and the figurative became literal embodiments of the ideas about which I was thinking. I didn’t ever name the parts, though the surfaces seemed to reflect different aspects. In one a type of skin, in another, panels or rusted metal, in a third burnt panels, broken, insufficient to cover or piece together the carnage. I worked on numerous pieces at a time, as over the layers of canvas, were numerous layers of oils – glaze upon glaze. I think that they had a richness and depth, from memory they were strong, resonant images. Amidst them were moments of light, of dreaming an hope.

The works below are of that era. They were part of the 2007 solo exhibition “The Valley of the Shadow”.

Wound, 2007. Oil on Canvas, 120 x 90 cm.

Wound, 2007. Oil on Canvas, 120 x 90 cm.

Staunching the Wound II, 2007. Oil on Canvas, 40 x 48cm

Staunching the Wound II, 2007. Oil on Canvas, 40 x 48cm

The culmination of these ripped and layered works ended with: “Enough Said”. What a load of crap. An total misnomer. As if there could have ever been enough said.

List of paintings that I can think of that (when standing alone) are truly able to describe horrific moments:

1. Guernica.

Not that I would rename it, it was a good title. I think for me it was enough said. It marked the end of a two and a half year obsession with those stories, and those processes. It was painted for the 2008 HIFA exhibition, “determine: Nation”, at the National Gallery. At almost two metres in height, it was somewhat overbearing, the colours were strong, the composition had some tension. It remains for me a really significant painting, one I am proud of.

Enough Said, 2007. Oil on Canvas. 140 x 180 cm

Enough Said, 2007. Oil on Canvas. 140 x 180 cm

OBSERVATIONS

  1. The product DM6, was an acrylic base which dried into a transparent flexible and extremely tough surface. It had the added property of being extremely sticky. It was developed by Peter Eyllis of Pigmento, as far as I understand, with a certain amount of artistic input from his sister-in-law, the renowned artist Helen Lieros. It is a product no longer readily available.
  2. I now use the PVA “book-binding” glue from A.T. Carter. It is as good a water-based glue as any I have used in my career.
  3. Operation Murambatsvina/Drive Out Filth, also known as Operation Restore Order, was a wide-spread government clear-up (decimation) of informal settlements across the country in July 2005. According to Wikipedia, the United Nations estimated at least 700 000 people were directly affected, and over 2m indirectly affected through the campaign.

Studio One

Still from

Still from “Contamination”, Isobel Fox

We are entering the really frantic period (more frantic that usual) of our academic year. The coursework deadlines are looming for the IGCSE students, and the Upper VI. Despite the high pressure, it is also one of the very exciting periods, as the student work peaks and the Final Outcomes are turned in. I spent last Saturday morning with some of the Form Fours. Isobel Fox presented her installation, a work entitled “Contamination”. It is a complex and intriguing work that will hopefully be included in the Hellenic exhibition next term. I have included a link to a tiny detail here: https://vimeo.com/139447880

Greg Shaw, 21 August 2015.