Gallery run 15th December

Trinity Buoy Wharf lies in the crook of land between The Thames and the River Lee. Because of the two converging rivers, this area feels fairly isolated from nearby Canary Wharf and the Millenium Dome across the water to the south. It accommodates an artist community, as evidenced by the strange and beautiful sculptures that are scattered around, but it also enjoys a strong connection to the surrounding waters. A lightship is moored at one end of an open yard whilst opposite stands an assembly of crisscrossing shipping crates, populated by creative types who can observe their environment through circular porthole windows. After a bacon roll in Fatboy Diner the time has come to make an arching detour round the loops of the River Lee and across the top right of London’s map into Hackney.

The Approach gallery has drawings and paintings by Bill Lynch, who as we understand from the press release led a free-living existence, taking on decorating jobs to make ends meet, all the while exploring the intricacies of fluid mark-making, prevalent in the tradition of Japanese landscape drawing and calligraphy. A tree appears in one of the artist’s paintings and it is opening up its foliage with the energy of small coiled springs, a state of affairs depicted with tight, circular brush marks amongst the living network of dark twigs and branches.

At Maureen Paley, a neighbouring gallery in this East London cluster, Andrew Grassie has made paintings that rival even Vermeer in their precision and use of colour. They are barely bigger than postcards yet carry a wealth of detail. The white beams of an open roof space recede towards a vanishing point, whilst objects associated with a functioning studio, since this is the chosen subject matter of the series of seven paintings, appear as if by magic with minute flecks of coloured paint, all the while being contained within a flawless, photographic-like surface. A few doors away in Herald Street Gallery, a dinner plate sits on a plinth. Oliver Payne seems more interested in the various distractions that might divert us away from art rather than the many objects catalogued in the previous show that are intended to make us think of art-making itself. Indeed, it is a testament to the left-field nature of the present show that none of its objects conform to the canon outlined in the previous show, neither the plate of cold chicken and pasta sitting on the plinth nor the array of eight I-pads that, despite all their powerful processing capacity, have been requisitioned purely for the purpose of displaying a single image, something of course, which could have been done with a piece of back-lit cellophane, were the artist not interested in turning his critical eye on digital technology itself.

Finally, back south of the river, Gilbert and George have been having a giggle thinking up how the F-word can be inserted into short pithy slogans. As the eye scans across the alternate red and black fonts of F-word wallpaper a kind of rhythm emerges. The two artists switch between being the randy agents of various described acts outlined in block capitals on the one hand, to being puppeteers of the English language on the other. Familiar slogans become wilfully distorted as the artists introduce the necessary four letter insert. A game is being played, for which we know the rules, and which all the while is being powered by the free-flowing imaginations of G and G, revealing in the process a sort of inner portrait of the two artists.

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Ilya and Emilia Kabakov at Tate Modern with layered images.

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Trinity Buoy Wharf.

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Bill Lynch of The Approach Gallery with paintings on wood that appear to be inspired by the Japanese tradition of prints and calligraphy.

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Jack Lavender of Approach Gallery with assembled rocks and taxi cards.

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David Noonan of Stuart Shave Modern Art. The artist was there talking to friends about his work and it was great being able to eavesdrop!

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Andrew Grassie of Maureen Paley with photorealistic paintings.

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Oliver Payne of Herald Street with a new display format of wall-mounted iPads carrying a single image.

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Florian Meisenberg of Kate MacGarry.

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Gilbert and George at White Cube with rude words wall paper.

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Opening RA Summer Show 5th June

Royal Academy Summer Show 2017 Varnishing Day

Varnishing day was traditionally an occasion when exhibiting artists could make last minute changes to their artworks before the show formally opened to the public. Now in the 21st century there is absolutely no touching of the artworks and instead it is a celebratory occasion. We can look around the crowded hall and see colleagues that we have encountered along artistic careers, perhaps often entirely different from the steep gradients to success that characterise the more illustrious exhibitors. I meet up with a friend from our studios in Peckham as she accompanies an older chap who she says seems to know almost everyone. He is one of the Academicians and greets me with a handshake before sharing some of the back story of the hanging. Of course it is fascinating and also a thrill to imagine my own piece woven into this narrative.

First impressions of each of the exhibition rooms is familiarity, thanks to some of the works on display. I see Yinka Shonibare’s beautiful sculpture with recognisable use of a globe for a head. And later I see the artist himself. With a sense of gratitude for being picked, I thank him for a tutorial he once gave me at Goldsmiths 20 years ago and he graciously acknowledges this. In another room are artworks by international megastars from the art world curated by Fiona Rae. George Condo’s and Anselm Keifer’s stand out. By these works is a lifting platform, though soon to be put away, highlighting the sense of fluidity of the hang and, indeed, a few pictures are still going up elsewhere.

I spend the next hour seeking out artworks to photograph with a phone camera and there is a sense of excitement each time I encounter a new piece familiar from previous trips to the commercial galleries featured in this blog. I see Tomoaki Suzuki’s beautifully hewn wood figures, shown previously around the floor of Corvi Mora gallery and elsewhere artworks by Gilbert and George and Conrad Shawcross are instantly recognisable. The accompanying artworks by the anonymous public are enhanced by these staples, though in turn they offer something precious and individual in exchange.

It is this reciprocal relationship that adds charm to the show, since any visitor knows that every anonymous artwork, including my own, is not only a physical product of an artist’s enduring spirit but also, perhaps, a rare moment for that artist to find a public audience as they follow their individual and unpredictable journey.

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Julian Sharples, me, at Summer Exhibition 2017 Royal Academy of Arts Varnishing Day. Psychic Space.

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Sean Scully of Timothy Taylor at Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 2017 Varnishing Day.

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Fiona Rae of Timothy Taylor at Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 2017 in the room she created.

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Anselm Keifer of White Cube at Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 2017 Varnishing Day.

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George Condo at Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 2017.

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Gilbert and George of White Cube at Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 2017 Varnishing Day.

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Rose Wiley at Summer Exhibition 2017 Royal Academy of Arts Varnishing Day.

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Mark Wallinger of Hauser and Wirth at Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition 2017 Varnishing Day.

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Ana Mendieta of Alison Jacques Gallery used gunpowder in her small landscape artwork. From a trip earlier in the week, but stunning and wanted to post it.