Sunday, October 2, 2016

Floors, photos, realism and Fred Bell.

These last few weeks have seen the large doors placed and the clay balls, breathable membrane and lime-slab laid in the living room ready to set the blue stone tiles into sand and lime. Slowly surfaces that were stripped, cleaned and patched and consolidated are getting their final layer of plaster or tiles before being painted or polished. Speed is not the thing here but falling in with the optimal natural pace and condition for each job and responding to the opportunities that arise at each moment in the course of planning the evolution of the phases of completion - the journey is after all the destination in this renovation.

Learning Dutch is the same. Six hours a week of formal evening classes and lots of informal practice and  'de woorden beginnen samen te hangen als losse kralen aan een draad'  This website below 'Dutch word of the day' gives some context behind words.

The sound of horse chestnuts hitting the kitchen roof and bouncing into the courtyard startles me into awareness of the present moment with regularity. One imagines the tree has a sense of humour and is both intelligent and watchful. The house and its contents are animate in every sense and one becomes alert to various states of mind, visual and material qualities of things in moments of solitude with a kind of heightened alertness.

The visit to  Musee d’ Ixelles for PHOTO-REALISM. 50 Years of Hyper-realistic Painting with students started me thinking just what the differences are between past and present exerience and understanding of this term.  The students spent the morning looking at the mostly American oil paintings in relation to 6 examples they were given of ‘realist’ oil painting from the last 600 years from Jan van Eyck to Michael Borremans with the aim of exploring to what extent the term ‘realist’ could be applied to the works in the exhibition compared to these other works from different social, historical and cultural contexts.

      The 60s 70s, when the earliest photo-realist painting were made, is the period of post-war popular consumer-culture and the counter cultural movements that questioned the ‘American Dream’. Were these paintings celebrations of iconic Americana like the diner, art deco architecture, classic bikes and cars with their fetishistic shiny reflective surfaces or was there a deeper and more ironic social critique at work in the obsessive and meticulous attention to detail in the bland and the banal surface reality of everyday life in a materialist world, without any spiritual dimension?  Were these painting in essence full with a kind of emptiness ?

The oil painting technique might be the same in Giovanni Battista Moroni's 'Portrait of a twenty nine year old man' from 1567 and Micheal Borromans 'Lakei' from 2010 but the sensibility of the painter towards the subject, the sharp psychological insight and the almost seductive confrontation of eye contact between the viewer and the viewed, the ability coordinate hand and eye to draw and paint in natural light from direct observation and the sharp quality of line are quite different in the Moroni to the fluid photographic surface and surreal subversion of the subject's averted gaze in the Borromans.

The photography of Horst Einfinger in the exhibition ' A Matter or Light' at the Galerie Pinsart in the  Genthof which I saw on autolose Zondag a few weeks ago revealed that the dialogue between photography and painting flows both ways. Horst's minimalist abstractions of architectural space create a kind of poetry of light and shadows that was also a homage to painters like Rothko. 

Illumination.  Horst Einfinger (Exit Magazine) 

'Things my mum and Morandi left behind'  Frederick Bell, 'Recollection' 2014 Ruimte Morguen, Antwerp
Frederick Bell

Looking at Looking

(An exhibition sequel to, ‘Some Corner of a Foreign Field….’ ) 

The Greene Gallery, St John’s International School, Waterloo.
Opening/Vernissage 18hr-20hr October 7th 2016
Exhibition closes 26th October
        This exhibition revisits an earlier one that Frederick Bell made specifically for the gallery at St. John's in 1995 entitled  'Some Corner of Foreign Field', a fragment quoted from Rupert Brooke's famous poem, 'The Soldier' which in 1914, during the First World War, evoked a patriotic sense of English identity.

St. John's and its gallery with it proximity to the earlier Battle of Waterloo fought in 1815 formed a significant site-specific context for Fred's exhibition which explored the way tourists to what is otherwise an unremarkable field in Belgium today were (as they indeed still are) conditioned by, carried with them and projected onto this place, consciously or unconsciously, significant images of the conflict and icons of national identity, culled from romantic or heroic paintings of the Battle featuring Napoleon and Wellington seen in historical collections like The Louvre.

The central concern of Fred's work, then and now, has been, as the title of this current exhibition suggests, to explore the nature of looking itself and to understand how personal, social, historical and cultural contexts both condition and 'frame' the way we choose, consciously or otherwise, to see the world and construct meanings around it and to examine and question these conventional and conditional realities by engaging the viewer in a visual dialogue with the work, its creative processes and the nature of perception itself.

Steve Scott, a PHD student at the Royal College of Art once asked Fred, "would you consider that any of the pieces of work you have done are ever finished" In discussions with Fred about his art it is clear that he sees his work as engaging both himself as the artist and the viewer in an ongoing process of making and remaking and of looking and introspection in which the individual pieces of work and the whole exhibition and its context are balanced and share equal value and importance for finding and connecting meanings.  Fred has said, " everything I do includes the history of itself and myself". This remake or sequel to the first exhibition can be better understood by considering that in the intervening years Fred's work has, in his own words, 'changed, becoming more open and flexible'.

Oscar Wilde once famously said in the context of his book ' A Picture of Dorian Grey,

'It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors"

It is a great pleasure and privilege to be able to invite Fred, who as been a personal friend for as many years, to make this exhibition and to collaborate with him and our current students once again in the context of the school, this gallery and our visiting artists programme and to invite our International, Belgian and local community to engage with us in exploring the nature of looking itself through the unique and special opportunity this exhibition offers us like a mirror in which to explore our own reflected minds in the inner and outer contexts that condition the perceptual realities we construct.

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