In Search of John Ruskin, 28th July

This week’s gallery run was in Oxford and in search of John Ruskin. He was an inspirational writer and art critic of the 19th century and championed the then radical Pre-Raphaelites. For Ruskin, a visit to see great art would require considerable build-up, perhaps involving travel to a foreign land and then a long walk and even picnic, all recorded as part of the experience. In honour of this method of art criticism, which reached its apotheosis in The Stones of Venice, I would be checking out some stones that Ruskin himself had quite literally laid down, as philanthropist, in Oxford with help from several of his students including Oscar Wilde.

The day began with a jog to Paddington, before a train then whisked me to this city of spires in which I had spent four years as a student. Although not entirely an island, at least not physically, the city is bounded by rivers running off both the Cotswolds to the West and the Chilterns to the East. One hundred and fifty years ago this was causing a considerable drainage problem and it was one that Ruskin had set about fixing in one small area by building a stone road. This would allow carriage traffic running through a nearby village to gain access both to its immediate neighbour and also perhaps more importantly to Oxford stood nearby. The geography to reach this site is fairly straightforward, essentially crossing several tributaries of the Thames out to the West from Oxford’s main railway station. One encounters these leaving the city along the Botley road. But such was the impact of these waterways on the landscape in Ruskin’s day, that one needed to navigate them over a series of small wooden bridges before embarking a ferry to cross a further tributary at North Hinksey.

It is this village that one eventually reaches via a footbridge outside Oxford. A nearby building called Ferry Cottage matches up to the historical account of the North Hinksey ferry crossing. Then an old thatched cottage appears next to the village road with its green plaque declaring the historical importance of the site. This was indeed Ruskin’s workplace one busy summer a hundred and fifty years ago and those iconic stones now preserved for perpetuity, at least to the imagination, reside under an immaculately laid asphalt surface. Then looking back at the city of Oxford one sees the spires that Ruskin would have looked at in his daily treks across the meadows to the city where he taught.

My own return would involve spiralling around these meadows towards the east and then making further progress across college grounds. That was the plan. Initially it worked well but as the rivers started to complete their own circuit round Oxford before emptying into the Thames, they began to cordon off regions unpredictably and I also found myself starting to sense the boundaries of private property. A public footpath lay just out of reach on the other side of a small river whilst a conveniently placed walkway across it turned out to be locked with barbed wire suggesting that this was a place that members of the public were not meant to go. Wading across the river was no more fruitful as its soft muddy bed started to give way after the first few steps. This was to be the end of the run for today as I headed, instead to college buildings and evicted myself past a porter’s lodge and onto the busy streets of the city centre.

This week’s 9 pictures are from this run round Oxford’s meadows and also include a visit to Modern Art Oxford.

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Daniel Buren at Modern Art Oxford in Kaleidoscope Mystics and Rationalists. Colour interventions in the gallery space.

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Dan Graham at Modern Art Oxford in Kaleidoscope Mystics and Rationalists. Text that appears before Dan Graham’s filmed performance of two people. The performers each discuss the other’s behaviour, one, past and the other, possible future.

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Dorothy Cross of Frith Street Gallery at Modern Art Oxford in Kaleidoscope Mystics and Rationalists. Tree fungus on a door carries the idea of damp and humidity associated with this artist but in a different direction.

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Sol le Witt at Modern Art Oxford in Kaleidoscope Mystics and Rationalists.

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Karla Black at Modern Art Oxford in Kaleidoscope Mystics and Rationalists with a translucent fabric piece.

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Amy Sillman of Thomas Dane Gallery at Modern Art Oxford in Kaleidoscope Mystics and Rationalists. Sequences of printed images are on show, which she has made for what she calls “possible paintings”.

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In search of John Ruskin? Cross this bridge into North Hinksey to find the road he first built.

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Cottage bearing a green plaque dedicated to John Ruskin and situated on the road he first built with a team of students including Oscar Wilde.

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Found this oddly positioned telescope next to St. Catherine’s College Oxford cricket pitch.

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The Regent’s Canal, 21st July

The Regent’s Canal is the main route for this week’s gallery run. It offers a passage across the north of London hugging the upper curve of Regent’s Park before continuing east and then heading down to the Thames near Canary Wharf. A canal is more than just thoroughfare though, it may in some respects be considered a friend. Apart from providing great company with its spectacle of barges and locks, its own objectives of seeking out warehouses, docks and old gasworks, seem to match up to those of any intrepid gallery visitor whose primary targets lie in those very buildings that the canal was originally built to serve. Occasionally one sees a bridge overhead, though with little evidence of the main road running over its hump, and rather like a departure through a tube station, the steps up to the bridge offer access to a terrestrial world that has lain out of sight during the journey itself.

Whilst leaving the canal is easy enough, trying to arrive at it through a pleasant route can cause some difficulties. From South London, access is best gained through the green corridor of St Jame’s Park, Green Park and Hyde Park. But for perfectionists, there is no avoiding the dusty streets off Edgware Road that puncture any illusion of a green and blue thoroughfare. There is some small compromise though as an extension of the canal offers itself to those coming up from Hyde Park. Here they can enter a region called the Paddington Basin. To the first time user, this assembly of watery and grassy sections comes as a surprise as the pieces start seeking connections to each other, tessellating themselves to form a new psychic map of the city. On this map sit the galleries themselves. Lisson Gallery is reached from one of the earlier bridges, whilst further east, lies the Gagosian gallery, before Wharf Road then provides access to a further hub. Here a tributary of the canal has extended down the backs of some warehouses to Victoria Miro Gallery and Parasol space. The road runs down the front, initially enforcing a separation from the day’s travelling companion but quickly providing a reunion. This comes about because the two galleries themselves have teamed up to create a landscaped region at their rear which incorporates the canal tributary itself into a surprising sculpture patio with watery backdrop.

To reach Stuart Shave Modern Art, the canal must be left behind completely as one crosses the busy road running down from Islington. Though only five minutes away, the waterway seems to be no more than a distant memory since cars and trucks now dominate the urban space. This introduces a separate class of galleries, those that are surrounded by roads, but lie only a stone’s throw away from the core loop comprising the three parks and the canal. To this class, in fact, can be added all the Mayfair galleries lying just across Piccadilly from Green Park and the green and blue thread of which it is part. Stuart Shave’s gallery is set to the side of an attractive square with attendant church that plays host to the London Philharmonic Orchestra most lunchtimes. Enjoying not just the kudos of this location and companion building, the gallery has also gained a new-found reputation through its own merit, being the current holder of the Best Exhibitor prize from this year’s Frieze show.

Inside, Phillip Lai has displayed works made from plastic and rubber objects. A blue washing up bowl is screwed vertically to the wall and at the bottom is some dried rice whose simple crescent shape looks like a smile drawn by the deft hand of a cartoonist animating it into a face, at least to those open to such a possibility. Then on another wall the artist has displayed a large green 8×4 wooden board. The only suggestion of its origins are some light bulbs that punctuate its surface with white plastic bulb holders screwed to the board, some sitting on the surface and others appearing to protrude from underneath. The time line of this assembly is unclear and it is also unclear if it is some fabulous found object from a fair ground or has been made deliberately. The few drips of green paint that run across the holders indicate that the bulbs were an early addition to the piece predating the paint but offer no further solution to this question. With these thoughts in mind, I rejoin the canal as it moves onwards to Limehouse, and share some last moments of revery as it silently approaches the Thames.

On display too, are images below from this year’s Goldsmiths MFA fine art degree show.

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Spitfire Works on Penfold Street close to the Regents Canal. This Art Deco classic was home to a manufacturer of tyres for WW2 aircraft including the eponymous Spitfire. Palmer Tyre Company.

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Gallery Runner entered into the spirit of this Stuart Cumberland piece at The Approach Gallery. Excellent show.

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Looking out from Ben Pimlott Building of Goldsmiths College designed by Alsop and Partners. Will Alsop had previously produced a set of squiggle drawings inspired by the same location of New Cross.

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Used the Regents Canal to access all the galleries today, first Lisson Gallery, then Stuart Shave Modern Art and finally The Approach Gallery before exiting at Limehouse Basin and heading back to Peckham.

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Dan Graham’s pavilion at Lisson Gallery with some classic video pieces including CCTV of a fox locked in the national gallery (London) at night.

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Great landscape piece by Roel van Putten at Goldsmiths MFA Fine Art.

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This piece at Goldsmiths MFA Fine Art by Gui Ponde really is very good. Some strange detached head juxtaposed with government identification papers as if that might make the taxonomic process any easier!

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Gallery Runner spotted this mini gallery in the goldsmiths MA Fine Art degree show. As a past student I am familiar with the conversion of the swimming pool into art studios whilst the old poolside changing rooms are now used for storage. It appears one of these has become a shrine to BANK of MOT International. Artists of this collective included Simon Bedwell, John Russell and Milly Thompson. Here can be seen altered (improved) gallery press releases dating back to their seminal late 90’s period.

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Phillip Lai at Stuart Shave Modern Art using his customary rubber materials and juxtaposed bright colours.