Category Archives: Art

The 13 questions: Dr Charlie Oughton

Charlie Oughton changed my opinion on so much that it’s difficult to know where to start. Teaching  media and culture-related subjects at both Regents and University of the Arts London, he combines the presenting styles of musical theatre and stand-up comedy with the informed discourse of a doctor of arts. It makes for a hell of a show.  He also writes for Real Crime, SciFi Now and Starburst (among many others), has contributed to several edited collections, and provided film commentary materials for entertainment distributors around the UK. He can often be found at international film and arts festivals.

What inspires you?
Weird things. I like things that help me see things in a different way or encourage creation. For example, in Poundland I’ll see cheap and cheerful lights that can be stripped down for use in a prop for one of my stage shows. (The most recent set ended up becoming part of a light-up dildo…all for educational purposes, you understand).

What informs you?
I spend a lot of time trying to balance the ambition of my ideas (enormous set pieces of audience involvement with handmade props for everyone, complex poetry, projections and probably an alien or two) with what is appropriate and feasible. If I am using a clapping exercise to help students understand a film-editing process, I need to check their reactions to make sure the point’s understood rather than it just being a basic involvement mechanism.

Intellectually, I get a lot of my basic topic ideas from Facebook. I prefer it to academia as it has a far wider reach and there’s increasingly crossover anyway.

Where is your favourite place?
Easily accessible? The churchyard we live next to. It’s a gorgeous building and is incredibly peaceful with the added spice that it’s frequented by lots of different people.

Alternatively, the darkened side streets of just about any city. I love the different snapshots of life you see as well as a bit of danger.

Finally, Brussels’ central square. The buildings are incredible, it’s incredibly diverse and at night everyone just sits on the floor in the square and has a good-natured drink together.

Where do you go to learn?
My flat. I tend to learn most when I can take whatever I’ve picked up and experiment with it on my own at home with the internet at hand and a bit of room to bounce around in to let off excess energy. My front room has all my books, props and a fair bit of random stuff that I can just play with.

When do you watch?
Generally at night. I tend to watch just before bed as when your eyes get droopy it can get a bit more immersive. It’s also when I’m most likely to be alone and can watch what I want…

When do you dream?
All the time. Years ago I was part of an experimental group that used dream diaries where you had to train yourself to remember and write everything down so that you could learn from it. I have very good recall and can still lucid dream if I want to.

Who is your biggest critic?
Primarily my other half. I am very populist, he is very highbrow. If I can impress him, there’s a chance my work (whether written or performed) will cover both bases. That said, I have started going back over my finished work to see what editors have tweaked and learn from it (as I tend to cover very controversial areas and sail very, very near the edge) and if I see a rhyme that could have worked better if I’d altered a word, I kick myself. It has really helped me to develop my style as I know they’re not just letting me write anything but are more than willing for me to experiment. I’ve been able to get away with paragraphs on murder written in rhyming couplets to replicate gun fire before now.

Charlie Q picWhen do you write?
I tried to get in to a normal pattern of writing between the working hours of 9 to 5. In reality I will stare at the screen and sod about on my mobile until about one in the morning when all the sudden my brain will come alive and the idea will flow. It recently took me 4 days to do a basic article I just wasn’t feeling, then about half an hour to do a really complex bit somewhere else that just came. To me, writing is less about conveying information (that’s what Wiki is for) than giving that info in a way that the scenario is truthfully dramatised in a way that gets the reader to question what they know. I use everything from technical rhetoric and poetic devices to sight gags hidden for those who read the article that little bit more carefully.  When you get a little bit tired your imagination works and it’s amazing the peculiar connections it will pick up on.

What are the best ways to make people engage?
The amygdala. The best way to engage people is to appeal to their fear or their desire. In one of my historical performance pieces on censorship I dress as a Victorian sex pest and it makes a point through its visual perversity and the fact people get off on that despite themselves.

Why must we talk about controversial subjects?
Because we live in a globalised world where we are going to come across other people who have different opinions to us. We have to live together and this gives us the opportunity to refine all of our viewpoints.

Why are people still challenged by sexuality in the arts?
Because sexual drive is so powerful. Being attracted to people can fundamentally change our behaviour, make us do daft things and completely alter power dynamics. It challenges the status quo because sometimes it goes against what was traditionally thought to be ‘the way things were done’, and science is increasingly showing that things that were previously considered as fads may have scientific backing (such as identities beyond gender norms) which may lead to a re-evaluation of a whole lot more. The arts is, after all, a sphere that is traditionally very heteronormative.

What is the greatest thing fandom can do for art?
Fandom encourages people to think about media and their relationship to what it represents. In doing so, they can begin to decide what kind of world they want to live in and what values they want to see within it. They can create their own. From there, you can begin to change the world.

What exciting project are you working on next?
I often write for the magazine Real Crime which allows me to challenge readers to think about culture while being deliciously sleazy and hopefully entertaining  in the process. In terms of film, I am a co-organiser of film festivals including the Dark Mills Film Festival, am appearing at the Nine Worlds Geekfest and will be covering FrightFest again in August. I also have a few film projects I’ve acted in coming out, though I’m hesitant to say what they are until they’re on the shelves, so to speak.  That’s aside from teaching my regular courses in media, culture and film at a couple of different universities and a few bits of academic publishing.

a-serbian-film

An Artist’s Address: The Fear

A fellow actor once told me that whether Hollywood would make or break you came down to two things: fear and love. He explained this to me as we sat in his car on a swelteringly hot day, bang in the middle of moving house (artists are renowned for all sorts of movements).

The fact that this person had lied about his relationship situation, his reasons for relocating from LA to the UK, and virtually all of his film experience to date – that came to light later. But, in the strange and amusing experiences we have with one another in this sharing we call life, all of us bring blessings and curses, and from him, this was one of many gifts.

You will hear artists talking about many different things: their art (of course), money, the business, the recession, friends, art, fun, festivals, beer, family, meeting kindred spirits at dawn and seeing the sunrise of a new day together – millions of things really, but rarely do they mention their fear. Hardly ever do we sit and openly discuss how hard it is to stick with a profession over which you have no control, besides making sure you always show up to castings prepared, are always grateful, and always, always choose the job over everything else.

The truth is that as an actress, when I try out for a job, I’ll only ever hear back IF I’m successful. After one particular casting for a very well-known brand, I was asked to wait for callbacks with another actress (now a friend) in a nearby café. Not wanting to appear demanding, we waited patiently to be called, until finally, at 5pm we broke and phoned the office, only to be told that the casting directors had left for the day!

In an environment where only the best or most well-known are called upon, nearly every single day is like living inside a pressure cooker. Eventually, we all succumb to some sort of fear, and this escapes each of us differently. I have decided to refrain from describing how anyone else’s fear manifests. For me, it comes in my dreams, through endless nights when I send my closest friends messages, during long phone conversations, and once every few months, when I go out on the tear.

If you have Irish heritage, you’ll know going on the tear (or the lash) means getting inebriated; we do it when life overwhelms us, as a kind of catharsis. We feel everything very deeply, sometimes too much so, and when that happens, we go out for the craic!

The latest was a tequila-drenched evening with a too-sober friend in Los Angeles (yes, I’m back for take two). I misread her annoyance at my drunkenness as a sign that she didn’t want me to live with her anymore. It was the release of a deep-seated worry, which I’d had for some time; what if I lose my way and fall off the edge of opportunity and possibility and into the side streets of despair? What if nobody catches me? This was my fear, exacerbated by the loss of many things that had previously given me security.

You know what happened afterwards though? We got closer as friends, and I was able to recognise and understand my fears and weaknesses better, and love myself more as I came to accept them. All of this time I was trying to avoid this particular fear, but now I can use it to take charge and head full storm towards the horizon ahead. Come with me! Let’s all let go of “the fear”, realise we are only here for a short time, and just ride the waves, instead of ducking and hiding each time one breaks, totally missing the wonderful view from above.

If there’s one thing I am leaving behind me with each wonderful experience as an artist, it is the fear. I don’t even care about it anymore. Give me trust and love, truth and freedom! Bring me joy and happiness! Bring me movies with characters I am excited to portray; let me act on tv series; bring me roles in commercials that are fun, that introduce me to great people at the top of their game.

Let me experience nothing but the gratitude and wonder of being able to live my life, hanging out only with those I adore, love and enjoy, and let my dreams coming true mark the relinquishing of the troubles, frustrations, and fears from my past!

Out with the old, in with the new, or to give one of my all-time favorite quotes:

“For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning, and is refreshed.” (Khalil Gibran)

leaf-642115_1280

Scarcity-Waste @SomersetHouse

‘How in a world that is so desperately short of resources can we ensure that there is enough land, food and water for everyone and for future generations?

The Syngenta Photography Award aims to inspire photographers from around the world to engage with the tension between scarcity and waste. Somerset House presented the incredible results, exploring some of the environmental and ethical issues that face our society: recycling, landfill, food waste, drought, population growth, and pollution. From over 2,000 submissions, the works of 42 photographers from 21 countries have been selected for exhibition across 10 rooms.

Exploring Global Challenge
Exploring global challenge

In the professional category, Mustafah Abdulaziz (USA) took first prize for his series of pictures about water, a natural resource in crisis. His next project will look at misuse of water in California, examining how it is determining our future: “What I began in West Africa by looking at the problems of water, sanitation and poor infrastructure will continue in my homeland as I examine how a place renowned for success and excess, beauty and potential, may be humbled by the challenge of scarcity and waste.

Dirty drinking water scratched from riverbed by M. Abdulaziz
Dirty drinking water scratched from riverbed by M. Abdulaziz

His Dirty drinking water scratched from riverbed is the final picture of the exhibition. The simple image evokes the extreme hardship suffered by the women and young girls in the Konso region of Ethiopia, who must queue for hours to scratch water from a dry riverbed.

In the open competition category, Stefano De Luigi (Italy) took 3rd prize for his series on drought in Kenya, which severely affects both people and animals. Stefano wrote of his work: “The series about Kenyan drought has affected me more than any other story I’ve done”. Opining a sense of shared responsibility in the use of the planet’s resources, he presents a series of touching images, including a giraffe that perished because of the drought.

Drought in Kenya

Each room presents a powerful response to the award’s criteria, approaching the issues with curiosity and reflection. Affecting environmental facts are dotted around the exhibition; for example, did you know the UK produces enough waste to fill the Albert Hall every two hours?

IMG_0104

The Syngenta Award, now in its second edition, aims to underline the stark fact that the world’s demand for natural resources has doubled in the last fifty years, and that to continue producing waste and consuming resources at this rate could provoke an environmental catastrophe in the near future.

Plastic waste in the ocean
Plastic waste in the ocean

The message from these surprising, often thought-provoking pictures is clear: something needs to change.

Post Pop: East meets West @Saatchi_Gallery

Unexpected, stimulating and original: The latest Saatchi Gallery’s exhibition encloses more than 250 pop-influenced works made in the past 40 years. 110 artists from five different countries – UK, USA, China, Taiwan, and Russia – propose a huge variety of works that stress different ideologies from the same influence.

Post Pop: East meets West brings not only artists but also three curators to create and play with imagery. Constructing an interesting way to look at the pop art movement, the curators organised the show into six themes, rather than dividing the works by country, to highlight how the East and West are different but also similar in some aspects.

It begins with the theme Habitat. Starting with ordinary mass-produced artifacts, you suddenly stumble into the chaos created by the Russian artists Iliya & Emilia Kabakov. Incident in the Corridor near the Kitchen (1989), composed by two paintings and fluttering pots and pans, reproduces a typical pop domestic space that leads us into another mad work by the duo: Unfinished Installation (1995). Reproducing an ordinary and real scene of unfinished building constructions, the artists want to underline how everyone is more interested in looking at things under construction rather than finished, in particular if we know the plan for the finished product.

Leaving the domestic habitat, the gallery next illustrates how advertising and consumerism influenced the post-war period. The typical American consumerist messages contrast with more politically engaged works by Russian and Chinese artists. Formed under Communist regimes, they surprisingly emphasize how their societies have been transformed by propaganda and marketing. These pop-inspired works are as colourful and powerful as is the line of blasphemy in the Ideology and Religion rooms.

A sense of confusion overcame me when I saw the installation by Sergey Shutov, Abacus (2001), where life-size women, knocking on the ground and covered in dark fabric, seem to move contemplating an unspecified religion. I proceeded ahead and my attention was captured by one of the most powerful works of the exhibition: Two Profiles (1989) by Leonid Sokov. It exemplifies perfectly the theme of contrast found throughout the gallery. The representation of a serious bronze Stalin’s profile next to a black and white photograph of a laughing Marilyn Monroe is the emblem of the exhibition, even if it lacks a significant characteristic of pop art: colour.

IMG_9245
Two Profiles (1989)

From there, the exhibition progresses through the Sex and the Body rooms. Taking into account that the majority of pop-artists have been young men, it is remarkable that sex and female bodies were a major topic of controversy in the pop art world in the 1960s. Unsurprisingly, the curators leaned towards graphic images to tell the story of sex in the last half-century.

Walking to the top floor, you finally arrive at the heart of the exhibit. After a series of pictures, sculptures and works inspired by Andy Warhol, the section ends with Rostislav Lebedev’s A Dream Comes True (2008). As Sokov’s previously mentioned work, it is truly a painting where East meets West. The top half is a typical American pop painting style reminiscent of Roy Lichtenstein‘s comic books, while the bottom depicts three bathers near the seaside in an unmistakably Russian style.

A Dream Comes True, 2014
A Dream Comes True (2008)

My journey through the exhibit ends in Mass Media, where the phenomenon of celebrity culture is portrayed. The variety of techniques found in these last works appears ambitious but effective. For instance, at the entrance you encounter a life-size female tennis player made entirely of wax by Oleg Kulik – a symbol of how mass media shows a version of reality.

Tennisplayer, 2002
Tennisplayer (2002)

Everything in the show is in contrast. The ability to create such proficient comparisons in style and ideologies in pop culture language is incredibly rare and the merit goes to curators. Even though I can’t say I liked everything, it is interesting to explore how a movement that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s in Western countries has influenced the other side of the world in provocative and powerful ways over the years.

 

Post Pop: East meets West, Saatchi Gallery, King’s Road, London SW3 4RY. Phone: 02078113070.

Free admission. Open through 3 March.

(Pictures by Caterina Mirra)

Odyssey @VaultFesitval

Whether you know Homer’s poem The Odyssey or not (and I don’t), it seems implausible that in the space of seventy minutes the story of the Odyssey could be acted out by one person with any effect.  But it was.

Despite what I would describe as the most annoying sound effects, I think something akin to “beats”, the use of sounds (a different sound for each character, mainly the gods) I must begrudgingly admit were used with great effect. So despite my annoyance, the truth is that the sounds were pivotal in making the play work. Note, however, that others were amused by the sounds and enjoyed the use of the varying swooshing and other variety of sounds used to introduce each character. One can only ask if this was the way of old when oral story telling was the norm.

But enough about sound effects. The use of phrases such as “brilliant”, “magnificent”, and “genius” are so readily used in describing artistic works, sometimes being a disservice rather than a compliment. Odyssey is co-devised and co-written by Theatre Ad Infinitum’s artistic co-directors Nir Paldi and George Mann with  Paldi directing and Mann performing.  Mann as narrator assists his audience through his actions of the many different roles that he plays. With no props (unless you consider his neutral costume a prop) Mann is able to take a complex plot line and strip it back to its bare bones and make it an entertaining and enjoyable performance. Not knowing anything about The Odyssey, I left feeling I knew the essentials of this piece of Homer’s work. And, I certainly now have a desire to one day read The Odyssey. However, as I’m not convinced that there was much left out, perhaps reading this piece of work is not entirely necessary.

The play requires a great deal of energy, animation, physical stamina and humour to be a success and Mann is successful in this regard. His performance is dynamic and has both breadth and depth. The characters are brought to life, and visualising them all being on stage is not difficult to do. At no time does the stage seem empty as Mann is able to place the presence of each character on stage thereby making them colourful, interesting and engaging. They have staying power as he moves from character to character. Mann’s ability to do this can only be marvelled at.

Mann’s highly energetic performance in Odyssey is sincere, humble and worthy of praise.  So, I suppose, when people use words like: “brilliant”, “magnificent” and “genius” or some other like phrase they do so because our language has no other words to describe brilliance. Although I’m happy to use less descriptive language, Odyssey is an outstanding play that has several wonderful moments that dazzle, at least it dazzled me and I’m willing to start my journey to find words that describe artistic brilliance. In the meantime, yes, it is a “must see”.

Odyssey runs until 1 March at the Vault Festival.

 

REVIEW: Late Turner – Painting Set Free @Tate

DISCLAIMER:

First of all let me say: I am not an art historian. I have never majored in art. In fact, I’ve never even studied art. I am, however, someone who would like to be thought of as ‘an art lover’ – as the saying goes “I may not know much about art, but I know what I like”. So, with that preface out of the way, if getting out and seeing art is one of your New Year’s resolutions and are not sure where to begin, or even if it isn’t, but think you might quite fancy seeing some art anyway, then hopefully this short review might be helpful.

The Late Turner exhibition is entirely given over to works produced by Joseph Mallord William Turner between 1835 and 1851 – the year of his death. Covering 6 rooms, the exhibition sets out his ‘late style’ works quasi-chronologically, save for Room 1 which serves to set the scene for the exhibition. The works range from unfinished graphite and watercolour sketches, to supersized oil paintings such as A Disaster at Sea (1835)

A Disaster at Sea

Here then is a taste of what to expect in each room.

Room 1 (Turner After 60) aims to set up the period of Turner’s life during which the artist, who would later gain the sobriquet “painter of light”, stood accused of being prone to extravagance and exaggeration. Amongst the quartets of watercolour studies (done to test new paints and papers), unfinished graphite sketches and retouched early oil paintings, we also presented with some of Turner’s sketchbooks and daily accoutrements such as his spectacles, paint palettes and knives, there is even his death mask. All of which is presumably meant to give us some feeling for Turner the man, as we wander through the varied works of Turner the artist.

Going to the BallRoom 2 (On The Wing) shows just a small fraction of pieces emanating from his many travels abroad in Europe. Many are ‘plein air’ studies, some of which would later find themselves used as details in Turner’s larger works. Others are almost like holiday snaps or postcards of local tourist views, such as his gouache and watercolour works of Leyen Burg at Gondorf (1839), or The Porta della Carta (1840) – image left. Whilst other completed works, like his oil paintings of Venice, show off his luminous style in all its glory, such as in Going to the Ball (San Martino).

Room 3 (Past and Present) shows the wide range of Turner’s subject matter, from Greek mythology in The Parting of Hero and Leander (1837)

The Parting of Hero and Leander

 

to the very modern impact at the time of the industrial revolution. Where men of the Enlightenment began to think of themselves as demigods, harnessing nature through science, an obviously apparent theme in one of Turner’s most loved works, Rain, Steam and Speed (1844)

Rain, Steam and Speed

 

 

Another stand out painting in this section is Snow Storm (1842) which is often cited as having been conceived by Turner from an experience he had of being lashed to the mast of a ship during a storm – something he literally asked for.

Room 4 (Squaring the Circle) displays some of Turner’s most innovative works, not only through his use of colour, but also in the way he presented the paintings with hexagonal or circular frames within a larger outer square one (hence the title of the room). Two works in particular are worthy of attention, not only because of their artistic merit, but also for the fact that we might have been deprived of them, threatened as they were with destruction by criminals who stole them during an infamous art heist from a Frankfurt gallery in 1994.

Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) along with its companion piece Shade and Darkness, both first exhibited in 1843 are swirling vortices of colour and shade, one clockwise the other anticlockwise – or so it seems to me.

It also didn’t go unnoticed that the room itself was square and that one had to circle around within it to view the paintings on display – just a thought.

Room 5 (That Real Sea Feeling) the centrepiece of which is the enormous A Disaster at Sea (1835), is full of breaking waves, storm clouds, whaling scenes, and even sea monsters. The whaling pictures like Hurrah! for the Whaler Erebus! Another Fish!

Hurrah! for the Whaler Erebus! Another Fish!

were blatant attempts to sell his works to wealthy patrons who had interests in the industry. Whilst others continued his fascination with nature, such as in the ‘lost’ Bamborough Castle (c.1837), which had remained unseen by the public for over 120 years, housed as it was in the Vanderbilt family’s private collection, until it resurfaced at auction in 2007.

Room 6 (Last Works) is where some of Turner’s most exquisite watercolours reside in the form of his Swiss sets, which were only offered for sale to certain, select patrons. One mesmerising work with its opalescent beauty has to be The Blue Rigi, Sunrise (1842)

The Blue Rigi, Sunrise (1842)

It would be a mistake to go into the exhibition expecting to see in every work a masterpiece, that is not where its strength lies, but rather, it is in the dozens of quick sketches and dashed off watercolours which allow us a glimpse into the creative process of genius at work, clipping his thoughts down on to paper ready to be recalled for later use. This to me was the real worth of the exhibition qua exhibition, the insight in to the artist’s mind and the sublime works which were realised from it.

The EY Exhibition: Late Turner – Painting Set Free, at Tate Britain until 25th Jan 2015

Student Ticket Price (with I.D.) – £13.10

www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain

Image sources: Tate