Monday, 14 January 2013

Study Day: Futureland Now (Laing Art Gallery) and Jim Shaw (Baltic Mill)

Tutors: Gerald Deslandes and Emma Drye

This was a study day in two parts – the first to visit Futureland Now at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle. Having attended the seminar which accompanied the exhibition, and in truth learning very little about the artwork itself (lots about the politics of the artists) I was quite looking forward to hearing some informed comment on the images themselves and I’m happy to report that’s what I got. I think this is the first time I have been exposed to a proper analysis of an image and it was quite a revelation to hear a formal discussion of the individual elements of an image in the way that Gerald set them out. I’m not going to dwell on any particular image as it was the method that interested me most – but something I found particularly helpful was the discussion of the sublime, and how elements of it had been incorporated into many of the images – something I had struggled with on my previous visit. I think I have a better idea of what it is now – perhaps even how to incorporate it into my own work – although I do think that the viewer has to bring their own sense of awe to the party. the other thing that struck me was quite how regional the works were – once you understood where the pictures were of, and a little of the history they began to make even more sense. So score one for the OCA over the rather academic approach of the seminar.

After lunch we wandered downhill and across the Tyne to part two of the day at the Baltic Mill, Gateshead. Explaining Jim Shaw is a bit of a challenge – one that Emma gamely accepted. The exhibition was over two floors – the first being largely dedicated to artwork inspired by Shaw’s self-invented religion Oism. Much of it seemed to be the product of a little two much 60s/70s psychedelia with Star Trek kitsch and comic book imagery everywhere. Inevitably the discussion wandered into whether Shaw was actually having a big joke or whether he had a serious point to make about American culture. The second floor was dedicated to a series of huge canvases which reminded me of Roger Dean artwork for a Yes album – so continuing the pyschedelic theme. All I can truly say is that they made me smile – on a wet afternoon in Newcastle that’s no bad thing, and maybe that’s all Shaw intended. To quote the Guardian’s Gerald Searle “A giant octopus floats by, head down, dangling like a testicle. There's a lot to be getting on with in Shaw's copious oeuvre, but only so much I can take in a single visit.”

But – it’s amazing what you pick up – one of the highlights of this part of the day for me was a short discussion with Emma about what makes good and bad "Abstract Expressionism” and in many ways it was this chance to meet like minded people and ask questions/share ideas that made the day. It’s the part of distance learning I find most difficult, and living so far from London means the opportunities are relatively few and far between. My thanks to Gerald and Emma, and the merry band of students for making it a genuinely worthwhile day. Perhaps I should make a belated resolution to try to identify a worthwhile visit in Cumbria.

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