Sunday, 22 February 2009

CEPT - Galaxy Rays Show

The Long Arm Gallery
Bridewell St, Bristol,
20 Feb - 13 March 2009

all photos: Howaboutno and NoLionsInEngland

It seems like moments ago that Cept and Mike Ballard got up with a joint show in a Dalston, London workshed yet here we are 4 months later and half a world away in former police station in Bristol for Cept’s new solo show.

You’re nicked! – photo NoLionsInEngland

As in the London show, CEPT hangs gorgeous canvasses on the walls and indulges himself and us with a variety of mixed media installations. A vertical stack of TV screens inside a cage-door lift greets visitors timidly crossing the ex-cop shop threshold, flickering black and white film loops backed with crackling American voices issue barked ultimatums and set a jagged and staccato tone for the show.

photo: Howaboutno

Those familiar with previous Christmas group shows at the Bridewell St police station will need to know that the cells downstairs are not in use, though the rooms that are open retain a strong institutional spartanism. The main gallery room is shared between a collection of canvasses and a swirling wall painting. The wall painting echoes the style of the Dalston illusion room but is a minor fanfare for the half height cubby hole entrance to the installation room beyond.

photo: Howaboutno
Neither the sharp lines of the wall painting nor the strong colours of the canvasses in the main space can explain the dissonant industrial hum that fills the space, it permeates through from the direction of the next room but the half height door ensures that there is no preview of what lies inside, so the process of entering the room maximises the impact.

"Laplace Transforms" - photo: Howaboutno

Dalston’s illusion room was an empty and irregular shaped chamber twisted and distorted by Cept’s perspective juggling wall, ceiling and floor painting. This time, the space is filled by “Laplace Transforms” a bizarre sonic sculpture. Inside a glass fronted pyramid is a record player playing a piece of 7 inch vinyl literally to death – the needle has been replaced by a scalpel blade and a microphone picks up the scrapping of the record’s grooves, the signal passes through a voice changer and the amplified drone feeds back through the mic. In a cheeky nod to the artists’ graff origins the scene is illuminated by a spraycan lamp. It might assist interpretation to understand that Laplace transforms are mathematical operators that make differential equations even easier, used in among other things sound wave mechanics. Perhaps not.

"Laplace Transforms" detail – photo: Howaboutno

The pyramid shape of the sculpture references the All-Seeing Eye. Galaxy Rays from the painting above the record player erupt out of the all-seeing eye, cross the floor of the room in all directions, and talk across the room to a painted Transformer Sun King, the clever link being Ra as all seeing eye linked to a Sun King, Sun-Ra being one of the artist’s fav jazz musicians.

Sun King + Laplace Transforms– photo NoLionsInEngland

Whilst the eye takes in all the details and the mind spins, the ears start to pick up all kinds of slowly meandering harmonics in the audio. The gloom, the strong lines across the room and the textured relief in the floor all combine to knock senses off balance and make eyeballs pulsate, these effects are essential to the full immersive experience though you should bail before the diggery-doo aural illusion kicks in.

The main gallery contains a modest seven canvasses. The paintings are tense and dramatic and, with one notable exception, finishes are clean and glossy. The All Seeing Eye and Galaxy Ray motifs appear significant in several canvasses.

“Omega Supreme”, photo: Howaboutno

The Cept Super Villain’s spiral of despair continues, his face appears bleak and bitter, until he disappears in a series of body ripping explosions.

"The Cult Of The Explosion", photo: Howaboutno
The exception mentioned is this gorgeously grimy Super Villain portrait.

“Kyoto Crush” – photo NoLionsInEngland
A hunt through the adjacent admin office reveals a small number of painted album covers and a stack of prints and the installation room has a number of exercises in geometric patterns, and errrrr drips.

A flick through the pile of prints reveals a remarkable degree of individual variation thanks to the swirls of colour and bits of text added by the artist before the screenprint was applied, they look so varied as to be almost a numbered series of uniques.

“The Cult Of The Explosion” print. – photo NoLionsInEngland

A personal favourite among the paintings in the Surface Noise room is Transit Minds, the pyramid picks up on the show’s theme of the Galaxy Rays source whilst drips which defy logic to run both up and down make the red strip resemble a fat, pulsing noise readout on an oscilloscope display.

“Transit Minds” – photo NoLionsInEngland

We are getting accustomed to Cept’s shows having a coherence as a whole and an un-deniable beauty too, successfully differentiating him from most of the paint-drip-hang-sell urban artists. The bulk of the work connected with the show has been done after a short breather following the October show, Cept is un-doubtedly surfing a burst of creative power at the moment, let’s look forward to that energy being channelled back to the streets sometime soon.

Howaboutno’s photos are an institution. He should be in one. See more of his Cept Galaxy Ray photos here.

NoLionsInEngland's point and click pics from the show are here.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Bortusk Leer/Five Four (joint show): Cheer Up You Rotters

Brick Lane Gallery, London
5 – 16 Feb 2009

photos: NoLionsInEngland except donnierobot and Prescription Art where stated

Some Street artists wouldn’t be seen dead at their gallery openings. Some artists grudgingly turn up, mix with their mum and their crew and mumble “cheers my dears, been doin’ it for years”. Some front up with a natural effervescence that just explodes in everything they touch. And they would be jealous of Bortusk Leer’s off-the-scale panache.

Bortusk Leer’s fluorescent naïve-cartoonish monsters are now a familiar part of the urban decor through-out London’s East End but the street paste-ups are no preparation for the explosion of colour and nursery wackiness that characterises his second joint show, this time with mots-deux specialist Five-Four.

Just to recap, Bortusk Leer started under the Thinkfly pseudonym pasting colourful pigeons on newspaper, morphed into Bortusk with those un-mistakable childish monsters, surprised us with his Supine/Chapman-esque (Jake and Dino, not Mark) defaced vintage prints at his spring 2008 Viola Gallery (dec’d) joint show with Eefos (later to morph into Shuby) then branched his characters out into zany TV quality reality-cartoon montage video shorts and most recently provided regressive urban art affecionadoes with a darts-at-balloons lottery at London’s 2008 Urban Art Awards.

Brick Lane Gallery has been given a nursery make-over to host a primary colour fantasy crèche appropriate to the work of Bortusk Leer.

Photographs from the opening night are worth hunting out, showing Bortusk Leer as his larger then life self providing the kind of entertainment west London parents pay a small fortune to provide birthday parties for their kindergarden kiddies.

photo: Donnierobot

The presence of a wendy house – hang on, isn’t that soooooooooo December 2008? – provides a dayglo habitat for several nightmarish stuffed puppets and assorted characters.

Bortusk Leer/Tony Tagliamenti

Large canvasses provide a cluttered montage of childhood memorabilia with tightly packed toy plastic toys, imitation pistols and even a number of the defaced pictures complete with frames as seen at the Viola show. Incorporating textured letters, splatters and drips of paint, fragments of tagged wallpaper, sprayed monsters and toy detritus, a Bortusk Leer canvass has everything and the kitchen sink thrown in, though an hour rooting around under a nursery bed might deliver a similar effect.

Bortusk Leer: Cheer Up

The wild collision of colours and textures deliver a kaleidoscopic vision of a world seen through acid-fried juvenile eyes.

Bortusk Leer: Toy Story (detail)

A shelf of small sculptures resemble an identity parade line-up from a Frankenstein nightmare, showing a scary disregard for conventions of limb functionality, symmetry or compatibility.

Bortusk Leer: The Usual Suspects

The highlight of the show is what can only be described as a Bortusk Leer performance. Aided and abetted by the Muck Cake Sellers distributing grotesquely coloured Styrofoam muffins to the crowds, Leer gleefully beams across the room like the sun has come to a wintery Brick Lane. Infectious happiness and enthusiasm is irresistible, well certainly after a few opening night refreshments it is.

photo: Prescription Art

In case you wonder what a Muck Cake is, check the hair bobbles here.

photo: Prescription Art

Five Four makes an equally colourful contribution to the show, his oil painted mots-deux on paper collage, squeezed straight out of the tube and left for months to dry on the canvas result in a tubular multi-coloured micro-pollackesque text form. Previously these canvasses used to be left around the streets of London, it was always Five Four’s intention that they should be relocated a happy home.

Five Four

Words pairs are random but the pairings, apart from two exceptions they are pairs, manage to be paradoxical or just plain bizarre. The art though is really in the sumptuous bleeding of colours betwixt the layers of oil. The psychedilia in the colours complements the insane fruitiness of Bortusk.

Five Four

Experiments with lightboxes to enhance the lushness of the colours aren’t entirely successful, areas of white colour look as if a deeper colour has flaked off whilst darker areas don’t allow sufficient illumination to bring out the richness of the colours.

Five Four

You can’t make brilliant art out of shit ideas but strong concepts can build
noteworthy art with even the most rudimentary execution, critics of the child-like stylism in Leer’s work should go to this show to sample the elevating effect the work possesses.

More really great pictures can be seen on the photostreams of Prescription Art and donnierobot.
For more pictures of the art and artifacts, check Bortusk Leer and Five Four

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Brad Downey – “An Honest Thief”

Presented by Stolen Space
Old Truman Brewery, London
29 Jan – 8 Feb 2009

Ever been jealous of someone’s lateral vision, been envious of the gift of conceiving and executing simple, subverted variations to the street scenery around us? If you’re an ordinary guy and have come across Brad Downey’s street art – then the answer is probably yes and yes again.

However, have you ever been let down by your heroes or disappointed by the mediocre achievement of a show hyped up by your own expectation that the street work is somehow going to transpose to a white box gallery space? If you go to Brad Downey’s first solo UK show in Stolen Space, London, then again you may find yourself ticking yes several times.

Brad Downey fine reputation is due mainly to his powerful and bizarre street installations. Downey takes the power of the streets, quadruples the source and hurls it back at the authorities who provide the arena within which he works. There isn’t a road marking, street sign or rotating object (!) which is safe when Downey’s in the mood for an audacious installation.

To stage this show, Stolen Space has moved about 20 yards down the Truman Old Brewery to a venue about, and don’t get too precious about the multiple, say 4 times the size of their own permanent gallery space. Downey has installed two prominent features, both at heart are disappointingly familiar. Along two sides of the room are four screens showing looped clips of Downey’s trademark street installations.

The clip of the rotating advertisement hoarding which winds streams of coloured tape off spools on nearby improvised spindles illustrates the his ability to create something simple yet so unexpected as to be initially baffling to the observer, forcing the passer-by to deal with multiple confusions such as was this part of the designed purpose, if not why has someone done this, can you walk past it safely, what will happen at the end and so on. A replay of the tube station turnstile installation would have been even more impressive. The three other looped films (Scaffolding love heart, jumper coinciding with building flashing lights and paving stone domino tumbling) were all played at Downey’s talk as part of Tate Modern’s 2008 Urban Art programme.

The second major installation was the street sign sputnik cluster, an idea executed and shown previously. In this case, it was actually awkward to view that piece in a way that might do it justice as every sightline seem to be compromised by either pillars or an un-sypathetic background.

Downey’s street sign work strongly echoes the efforts of UK artist Michael Pinsky, or is it the other way round – I’m not sure but I bet Pinsky gets a damn sight more public funding than Downey.

The limited number of gallery works were sparsely scattered around the periphery of the room. In one corner, juxtaposed against a small screen showing of a DVD of “actual police violence” were two sets of editioned deformed “night sticks”. A pair of seal like canoodling objects ask allegorical questions of love and romance in a world of state approved brutality whilst the single stick hanging flaccidly over the edge of its plinth drew a parallel with the big car-small dick use of macho objects as symbols of virility and power.

Night Dick On Limp/Night Dick In Love (behind)

Obviously the pieces look very well made but the most thought was why should the word truncheon be so sensitive that in the US it needs to go in disguise as “night stick”.

A vinyl copy of the Rolling Stones double Album Beggars Banquet, the one with the graffiti’d loo on the cover, had “Downey Was Not Here” added over the picture in white paint. The artist has deliberately not integrated the added graffiti into the picture which actually is stating the bleeding obvious as the album was released long before he was born, but the idea plays with Downey’s own “Brad Downey Was Here” tagging campaign, which on the street captures the essence of graffiti at every level.

A 20cm circular tapestry weave feature graffiti style motifs, with the square composition curiously off-centre and partially obscured by the tapestry frame. Evidently tapestry embroidery is becoming this year’s painting on perspex which last year was that year’s found metal (see also: DScreet).

V Fresh

Other items include a trio of animal images superimposed on another animal’s skin a continuation of a familiar series and a child crossing sign in which the figures are escaping from the frame.

Animals That Crossed
And that really is about it, other than a set of framed signed photos of selected street installations from the Downey cv, photos of which can be readily found on the internet.

The flaw with the show is that Downey’s work is best done on the streets and best appreciated on the streets, that’s what street subversion is about. The show is a reasonable Downey primer for Vyner St and Cork St types, if any retain any curiosity about urban art. Maybe the sense that an artist has passed off a show which has required almost no stretching of his undoubted talent and shameless exploitation, indeed repetition of previous pieces will dissipate over time.

PS: no link to a flickr set of other pictures from the show, that’s yer lot. I’ve never photographed a Downey on the street other than his tag, so let me recomend that you would be far off better visiting his site to see a comprehensive history of some stunning street installations.