Tag Archives: subject futures week

A plant out of place: Michael Landy’s weed drawings

As part of subject futures week we were treated to a lively talk by Michael Landy, Artist in Residence for two years at the National Gallery, where he created Saints Alive, 2013: a kinetic sculpture of martyred saints. Scrapheap Services was another lengthy project he worked on during the mid nineties which was spawned as a response to Thatcherism and the “greed is good” consumerist society that she advocated. He is also known for his work Breakdown, 2001, commissioned by the organisation Artangel, where he famously disposed of all his possessions, after making a detailed inventory, in the former C&A shop on Oxford Street. He even destroyed his birth certificate.

It is seemingly incongruous that Michael Landy, who is an artist predominantly known for his conceptual work, produces very detailed and meticulous drawings as part of his creative process including complex cartoonish schemas and intimate portraits of friends and family. However, he did explain how drawing was at the root of his early interest in art. It was also his way of bringing himself back to financial health following Breakdown.

Often trodden underfoot, uprooted, sprayed with poison and unloved, weeds are the underdog of the plant world. Landy’s etchings of weeds, which are part of a series called Nourishment, 2002, almost bring to mind the botanical prints of Albrecht Dürer thus elevating the humble weed to a new higher level of interest and status. Intricate and delicately rendered, the etchings are life-sized and positioned centrally on the white page with their roots, tendrils and seed-pods hanging down, almost as if they are portraits themselves. These characterful, eccentrically named “street flowers” such as Shepherd’s Purse, Creeping Buttercup, Thale Cress etc., grow in the cracks of the pavement, in wasteland and in amongst the rubbish. They don’t need much looking after to thrive. They serve to illustrate how everything exists only for a finite amount of time. The drawings are also viewed, by Landy, as a continuation of his work with street furniture such as shopping trolleys and baker’s trays, and his interest in the everyday.

Creeping Buttercup 2002 by Michael Landy born 1963

Creeping Buttercup, 2002 by Michael Landy


A WORKSHOP NEARLY MISSED (The Image That Almost Got Away)

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With Futures week on 27/01/2014 – 31/01/2014, the Avenue Campus was absolutely buzzing with a complete spectrum of artists, lecturers and activity workshops all of which would help with ideas or thoughts for a promising future of when students become post graduates. It was by chance that I paid attention to the colour posters on the wall in the rear entrance to the Maidwell building, which read ‘Graphics & Illustration, Stephen Fowler, Printmaking Workshop’. I decided to be brave and attend the workshop without listing my name and without being on the graphics and illustration course, as the magic word to me was ‘printmaking’. That Friday on 31 January at 10am, for myself as a non graphic student in today’s terms I gate crashed the printmaking workshop given by Stephan Fowler, and lucky for me because there were some non attendees my name was added to the list among the names of the students that were in attendance.

The scene was set, Stephen Fowler appeared as a gentle professor in charge of a nostalgic looking record player and a range of vinyl records in their original sleeves displaying all manner of graphic artwork, together with his well stocked toolkit of other versatile implements such as erasers, pipe lagging, and potatoes – the list was endless, this also included much of his own work in the form of small printed books and fold out sheets. Finally the vinyl records were unleashed on the record player for approximately a minute to the students who had to envisage in their minds thoughts/feelings that the music inspired them to produce a record sleeve to compliment the music.

The first album that was played I found was more inspirational to me, and so armed with the water based inks supplied by Stephen Fowler, I maintained my pathway of the fine art route and continued to use the traditional style of working onto a metal plate to print the image by use of the printing press, whilst other students used non printing press methods. As a result of taking a chance by going along to the workshop, not only did I have a fun day with other enthusiastic fellow printmakers but I created for me an image totally outside the box to my style of printing, which was an opportunity nearly missed.

Ps I went away with the potatoes for tea.


Subject Future’s Week – Marcus Harvey

On Wednesday 29th January English YBA painter, commissioner, educator and writer, Marcus Harvey, gave a talk at the University of Northampton. His talk discussed his life and journey through the art world. Harvey opens up by giving information of the art market, “your gallerists would like you to have regular, trajectory work. You need to know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. If you are a painter they expect coherence and rhythm.”

During the early 80s Harvey attended Goldsmiths in London, this was the beginning of his series of abstract bed paintings, and the beginning of his painterly practice. He claims he, “never got away from the interaction with the canvas becoming the object first.” Harvey likes to interact in a formative way with the object and what the canvas is stimulated by. It seems that he very much likes to explore the limitations of credible licence with paint. Whilst at Goldsmiths he was deeply influenced by the clarity of Michael Craig Martin’s work, bringing in the overlapping of line drawings with paint. With time he lost the element of drawing altogether and focused on the tension of the surface.

Harvey’s work tends to be autobiographical and tries to bring political concepts of the time into his works. “Maybe I got too carried away with the narrative of the paintings.” He explains that the much contested ‘Myra Hindley’ piece made up of the children’s handprints, was a way of him representing photographical truth and fact. The handprints were a very dark way of getting across information, emotionally, visually and politically. Harvey also made a more sculptural painting of Myra Hindley but “didn’t want to be seen as someone making the most of his first piece.” Harvey states, “I didn’t know the reaction it would get, the disruption it would create, and I didn’t do it for the publicity. I just thought of it as a space for a portrait-maker to present people of currence at the time. I thought to give a thoughtful response, I didn’t know how much of an uproar it would cause.”

Harvey’s work strongly relies on the dialogue between the artist, the painting and the photograph. “I can’t say I find photography in its own form an art form for me. As a painter I set myself rules. Paintings allow the interaction with the object or the subject through photography.” The developing narrative of the emotion of paint gives it a context, this fascination with painting is stuck or suspended into a two dimensional object. He has explored with sculpture, especially when depicting landscape scenes. However Harvey believes that, “painting does not have a counterpart in the digital medium. For me, nothing has replaced painting and nothing will.”

Personally I found Harvey’s talk the most intriguing during Subject Future’s Week because he is depicted as such a controversial artist and it was useful to hear from himself of his intentions as a painter, especially for the Myra Hindley piece. I found his naivety of the public’s reaction for this painting quite surprising, yet it was very beneficial to hear from the artist himself his reasoning for creating such an unapologetic form of artwork. Having been at this talk, I can really see Harvey’s passion of painting and how much he values it as a means of communication. The most interesting concept I took from this talk was how he places painting at the top of almost a hierarchy of representation and how he sees photography as merely a tool to help the final outcome of an art work, which is his view is the irreplaceable outcome of painting.

Marcus Harvey: The Side You Don’t Know

Marcus Harvey ImageThe University of Northampton recently played host to a number of high profile visiting speakers as part of ‘Subject Futures Week 2014’. The School of the Arts used this week to give students a chance to hear from important contemporary artists, as well as the school putting on a number of workshops for students to learn new skills that could influence their various projects.

One of these artists was Marcus Harvey, famed for his role within the YBA movement and the controversial painting of Myra Hindley. These two claims about Harvey’s career seem to be the two key factors used to describe his work but hearing him talk about his work, his career and his life as an artist the YBA fame and headline grabbing Hindley painting seem to be almost irrelevant.

Marcus Harvey, like many of the Subject Futures Week speakers, started his talk with his very early work. In this work Harvey began to treat ‘paintings’ as objects, and so was able to deal with the more formal aspects of the object-like nature of a painting primarily its three-dimensional qualities. This in turn freed Harvey to attach objects to the canvas surface, and allowed him to explore the notion of two and a half dimensions within the realm of painting. This work moved forward and Harvey began to include a theatrical element within the work, opening up the possibility that the act of painting could be considered performance in its own right. The process of painting is then translated by Harvey into the realm of sculpture in his most recent works whereby he carves humorous portraits of famous people often using techniques of material manipulation learnt from years of painting.

This body of work seems to have a great deal more relevance to contemporary art than his involvement with the YBA’s or his controversial painting. This body of work seems to, on a greater or lesser extent, explore the limitations of painting; his paintings can be seen as paintings and sculptures as well as performances, and his sculptures can be seen as both sculptures and paintings. With Harvey’s work you can never fully define the discipline that a piece has been made within which I find much more interesting, and much more important to contemporary art, than his fame or his controversy.

Printing without a press – Subject Futures week

Stephen Fowler held a fascinating one day print workshop during Subjects Futures week. This workshop was aimed at the Design and Illustration students, however a couple of Fine Art students were able to gate crash and Stephen’s attitude was ‘the more the merrier’. Stephen is obviously an avid collector of 1950s – 1960s vinyl LPs, more for the beautiful and varied designs on the covers than the playability of the records. About 50 Vinyls were spread out on one table in the print room, whilst the printing inks and materials were spread out on another.  Students gathered around to hear the principles of design and the instructions for the day – the task was to design an LP cover using 3 printing methods. Music and imagination were very much a part of this workshop – Stephen played about a minute of music from 5 or 6 records whilst students wrote down the feelings or impressions evoked by each; this would form the basis of the work.

Stephen used a range of interestingly shaped rubber stamps, erasers, foam sheeting, pre-formed print stamps, plastic and cling film and also the  neoprene foam tubing plumbers use for lagging pipes, to his create his designs. The printing inks used are water based.

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I wasn’t so interested in designing an LP cover, more exploring the use of simple printing  techniques to advance my own ideas and  work. On the right is a print using cling film with pale ink to give a background layer on brown paper. The figures are cut from a 10 inch x 10 inch foam sheet and then inked up and pressed onto the first print whilst still wet. The idea is simple but effective and I was happy with the atmosphere created in the end product. Below, this print was achieved with more layers; firstly using a neoprene foam tube into which I had cut a design withprint workshop without press 21.2.14 006 a very sharp scalpel. This was inked-up and then, using a decorators implement, rolled across the paper. The same foam figures where used again in a slightly different format. Finally, at the bottom, I used half a potato – yes, and inked-up potato  – for the vegetation. It is amazing what you can do in terms of making prints without a press and this is what I will take away from this workshop. Every time I peel potatoes I will be thinking about the exciting images I could be making. print workshop without press 21.2.14 007

The idea of layering, and concealing and building up the image worked well with my practice and ideas, and use of colour. This simple method of printing lends itself to spontaneity and work at home.