Gallery run 22nd November

The Saatchi Gallery has been closed for the last two weeks and today’s run offers an eagerly awaited opportunity to check out the group show there. Makiko Kudo, who was previously on the books of Wilkinson Gallery before its recent closure, is showing paintings in one of the rooms. Her subject matter includes figures and trees and a multitude of interactions between them. The figures actually appear to have been gathered up by the arboreal companions and then raised to a viewpoint where they can look down upon the world as though from a lookout post or treehouse replete with those memories of childhood. Also of note in the group show is Dale Lewis. His paintings of street kids and workmen in visibility tops are striking. The figures are all engaged in energetic mannerisms around tables or standing in groups and their movement is conveyed effortlessly, with the figures’ flailing limbs sometimes occupying several positions at once.

Meanwhile, though not quite literally, my own flailing limbs have taken me to South Audley Street where Massimo De Carlo gallery is showing Yan Pei Ming. This artist has depicted the famous scene first rendered by the painter David, in which Napoleon has taken his crown from the then Pope and is lowering it onto his head, his first act as emperor. For an event of such historical importance the painting has to be good and the artist doesn’t disappoint. He has rendered the image not just once, but five times over in a series of tinted, coloured monochrome paintings. Two of these striking images are actually placed beneath the gallery’s own elegant chandelier, and whether by accident or design, the painted crowns seem to sparkle and refract in a way that is prompted by the illuminated glass immediately above them.

At Southard Reid, the gallery assistant is on the phone. But she helpfully gestures to the press releases presented in a neat pile at the foot of a small staircase. The artist R M Fischer is from New York and undergoing something of a renaissance, we are told. He has made a particularly impressive work using plumbing fixtures, such as taps and pipes, to create a sort of bas relief against a background that is itself reminiscent of a section of bathroom wall. On this surface, almost like a graffiti artist, he has rendered fat lines with marker pens and possibly oil sticks, to create the rough forms of cartoon faces. These in turn have commandeered an occasional washer or random mark to act as make-shift eye or expressive feature.

From here it is eastwards. Having slightly overdone the Thames and Regent’s Canal routes in the past, today will use the busy streets, populated by cars and people, to play host to the remainder of the run. Hollybush Gardens is accessed by a staircase that connects the main road to a small network of streets below and it is in this hidden enclave that Claudette Johnson is on display. She has made beautifully economic paintings of figures that dominate the space in which they are portrayed and her sitters, who are all from ethnic backgrounds, appear empowered to leave the confines of the picture plane at any time of their choosing. Finally, at Stuart Shave Modern Art, Karla Black has produced delicate artworks of abstract marks on glass, paper and polythene. Light is the companion to these swirling compositions. It plays across their various surfaces and many of the artworks, despite their simple materials, resonate and glow like the insides of giant shells. Responsible in part for this is toothpaste which the artist has requisitioned from her toiletry bag, along with nail varnish, and then added to her artworks. Through these cameo appearances of objects that populate the artist’s own daily routines, she has not only created interesting visual effects, but also instilled herself in the artworks as an additional presence.

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AES+F at Saatchi Gallery with photoshopped minarets in traditional settings but the minarets are actually rockets.

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Makiko Kudo at Saatchi Gallery.

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Dale Lewis at Saatchi Gallery.

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Yan Pei Ming of Massimo De Carlo with reworking of a famous image in which Napoleon was crowned emperor.

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Bruce McLean with a public sculpture just off Regent Steet called Handbag Heads.

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R M Fischer at Southard Reid with a sculpture incorporating plumbing parts and some drawing.

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Claudette Johnson at Hollybush Gardens with dominating portraits.

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Karla Black at Stuart Shave Modern Art with delicately coloured materials using a range of pigments and extenders including toothpaste and nail varnish alongside traditional watercolour pigments.

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Nick Flatt and Paul Punk showing in a drawing show at Beers London.

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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.