“Living Colour” is an apt title for the Lee Krasner exhibition currently on display at The Barbican Art Gallery – as colour certainly has a live element to it throughout this retrospective as Krasner has periods where she uses simple charcoal in the 1930’s, experiments with colour in the post-war era, returns to muted shades during a period of chronic insomnia in the late 1950’s and embraces bold colour again in 1960’s and ‘70’s. Often overlooked as Jackson Pollack’s wife, Krasner was a pioneering abstract artist in her own right and I really felt I got a sense of the honest New-Yorker via the chronological journey of this show. Whilst some of the early mosaic works and self-portraits didn’t excite me, her charcoal life drawings begin to highlight her interest in abstraction and you can see the influences of other artists like Matisse and Picasso in these works. In the 1950’s this was developing further as she began incorporating newspaper, photographic paper and even some of Pollack’s test drawings into her colourful painted collage works – as well as increasing the scale and size of the canvas she was using. Following the sudden death of Pollack and a period of insomnia, Krasner created a body of works using a muted shade of umber (Night Journeys) as she painted through the night and refused to work with colour under artificial light. As perhaps sleep returned and her depression faded, colour resurfaced in a big way with vibrant pinks, oranges, blues and greens. A particular favourite was ‘Mister Blue’ created in sweeping blue motions, which made me smile even more when I learnt that Krasner was only 5 feet tall and would have struggled with some of these larger canvases! The final works incorporate more rigid shapes and sharper lines, where she revisits something she did earlier in her career cutting up previous bodies of work and including them in new pieces – again highlighting the “living” nature of her artworks.
Newport Street Gallery is fast becoming a favourite – light and airy, with high ceilings in all six of its gallery spaces spread across two floors, and consistently displays works by artists who produce bright, colourful, and fun or provocative pieces. Their current offering entitled ‘Ornamental Hysteria’ showcasing Barbados-born Ashley Bickerton’s works, follows the same brief and features pieces which intelligently combine painting, photography, collage and sculpture in an array of vivid colours. Bickerton is playful throughout; poking fun at the rampant materialism of 1980’s New York in his ‘Logo’ and ‘Non-Word’ pieces in the opening gallery, to portraits like ‘Smiling Woman’ where photographs are distorted in Photoshop before being reprinted on canvas and painted over, and whimsical takes on artistic traditions including an installation of life-rafts rather than traditional seascape paintings. Bickerton appears to extend the same tongue-in-cheek attitude towards himself, evident in a self-portrait where he is depicted as a grinning five-bodied serpent, and again in his regular use of the graphic motif ‘Susie’ which acts as his signature but is more akin to a trademark (again allowing him to comment on ideas around identity in a consumer driven society). The standout work for me is ‘Red Scooter’ where oil, acrylic and digital imagery of a family crammed onto a moped combine, in a bespoke frame harking back to his Caribbean roots featuring coconut, mother-of-pearl and antique coins. Bickerton evidently finds sticking to one medium far too limiting and in his own words it is “only in their combination that I find comfort”. This exhibition is certainly packed full of arresting colours, artworks which challenge the visitor, and at times are even quite frightening, however the overriding element of fun which pervades the entire show left me feeling exactly that – comforted!
Having seen copious pictures of Anthea Hamilton’s “butt” sculpture and other increasingly iconic images from this year’s Turner Prize across various arts press, social media and mainstream news, this week I cycled down Embankment to Tate Britain were the annual prize is exhibited. This years’ four finalists reflect the diversity, humour and talent within the British contemporary art world. Opening with Helen Marten’s installations where everyday objects are gathered together in a collage-like fashion, putting familiar objects in unfamiliar contexts and creating a manufactured archaeological site where visitors are encouraged to try and make sense of what is in front of them. Around the next corner you are greeted by Anthea Hamilton’s large-scale bum crack, formally titled ‘Project for a Door (After Gaetano Pesce)’ and I only wish it came to fruition as an entrance for a New York apartment block, alongside her ‘Brick Suit’ set against a backdrop of faux brick wallpaper. The next gallery space hosts Josephine Pryde’s photographic series coupled with a model of a Class 66 diesel locomotive and train-track complete with tags by various graffiti artists from the cities her exhibition has been display at in the past. Her ‘Hands Fur Mich’ photographs are akin to advertising images, focussing on females’ hands holding mobile phones, tablets, ipads and other technology that society is becoming increasingly reliant on. The final gallery is dedicated to Michael Dean’s sculptural works and his compelling ‘United Kingdom poverty line for two adults and two children’ installation comprising £20,436 in pennies across the gallery floor (the amount the UK government state as the minimum a family need to survive for a year). During installation Dean removed one penny enabling visitors to tangibly visualise what is below the poverty line, creating a powerful close to this years’ exhibition. I left feeling torn between two artists and eager to hear who is announced as 2016’s winner on 5th December.