Focal Point Gallery: Southend-on-Sea

Anticipating a busy September, I made the wise decision to extend my August bank holiday by taking an extra days’ annual leave yesterday. The proverbial cherry on the top was waking up to glorious sunshine, jumping on a train at Fenchurch Street, and forty-five minutes later arriving on the Essex coast at Leigh-on-Sea. With sun blazing, a still and glistening sea, cobbled streets through the old town with traditional cockles, whelks and eels being sold, I floated my way down the promenade to Southend and its Focal Point Gallery. The contemporary gallery currently has two main exhibitions on display; ‘#75’ and ‘CANWEYE{ }’ by Frances Scott. In an increasingly digital age ‘#75’ refreshingly champions the gallery’s own printed material produced between 2009 – 2016 showcasing posters and tea-towels along one wall alongside three display cabinets brimming with printed artefacts. The gallery also aims to continue producing one unique printed accompaniment to each exhibition, as they have with Dan Fox’s four page essay printed in nine different colours which visitors can take away with them. A corridor decorated with brightly coloured neon posters offering a tongue-in-cheek take on Arts Council demographics (including categories like ‘Bedroom DJ’s’ and ‘Time-Poor Dreamers’) leads you to the next gallery space. As you open the door to a darkened room with wooden scaffolding, a single picture draws you to the far end of the room… and this ink drawing by Derek Jarman entitled ‘Plague Street’ is the impetus for Frances Scott’s video installation. The film is played in a slightly uncomfortable setting and jumps between scenes filmed in Canvey Island (Essex) and Venice (Italy) – its constant shifting of location, use of both analogue and digital techniques as well as archival material make it deliberately difficult to settle as a visitor, whilst still managing to be an enjoyable and interesting experience. I’d certainly advise a visit before the Summer season finishes on 2nd October!

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A snapshot of ‘#75’ showcasing the gallery’s printed matter
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Some of the posters on display within the ‘#75’ exhibition
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A percentage breakdown of Southend’s audiences which have been used to decorate the walls in neon green, pink, yellow and orange posters!

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The Summer Exhibition: Royal Academy

Lamentably June’s weather may not be yielding any indication of summer, however The Royal Academy’s annual ‘Summer Exhibition’ which opened on 13th June has denoted the beginning of the season in the art world. Now in its 248th year, the exhibition is something of a London institution and is certainly worth a visit. As you turn off Piccadilly and enter the gallery’s courtyard, you are greeted by Ron Arad’s monumental sculpture ‘Spyre’, an 18 metre tall moving cone with a camera at its apex constantly filming the surrounding area from different angles which is then projected onto Burlington House. This impact is echoed in the stairwell featuring photographic images by Jane and Louise Wilson, and again in the opening gallery (The Central Hall) which includes a huge yellow neon sign ‘Forever’ by Tim Noble and Sue Webster, a hand painted photograph on canvas of Marie Antoinette by Pierre et Gilles, and a stone Petrified Petrol Pump by Allora and Calzadilla amongst others. This years’ show is co-ordinated by Richard Wilson RA, and with a staggering 1,240 works on display it is as vast, densely hung, varied and subjective as ever. The open submission nature of the show ensures that all mediums are represented from watercolour, to etching, engraving, printing, sculpture, installation, photography and digital, from both established artists and emerging talent. The standout piece for me is Katlug Ataman’s digital installation ‘The Portrait of Sakip Sabanci’ created from 10,000 LCD panels which hang above head height, each containing a portrait photograph of someone the Turkish philanthropist knew prior to his death fifteen years ago. Anything controversial is collated in Gallery IX including Michael Stokes explicit clay sculptures, Rachel Maclean’s digital orgy prints, and The Kipper Kids provocative photographic images. I liked the fact that Wilson does not seem to want to provoke or generate conversation by being deliberately shocking, instead he consciously explores the theme of artistic duos in this years’ show. So if London’s skies are going to remain grey I’d suggest heading to the RA for a burst of colour, lightness and humour to fake summer at their aptly titled exhibition!

Tim Noble and Sue Webster
Tim Noble & Sue Webster’s ‘Forever’ neon sign in The Central Hall
Katlug Ataman
Katlung Ataman’s digital installation created from 10,000 LCD panels
Balloon man - Yinke Shonibare
Yinke Shonibare’s ‘Balloon Man’ hovering above other pieces in Gallery VII

For more information visit their website