As I’m lucky enough to live on Brook Green in West London and I’ve been interested in the artistic history of the area, I was very pleased to discover that an exhibition focussing on Brook Green Artists 1890-1940 would be on show at the local Hammersmith Library.
the exhibition organiser, local resident Gilia Slocock explained her motivation behind the exhibition –
The idea that Brook Green was home to a number of artists and designers at different times, many of whom must have known each other, is a really fascinating one, and one I’ve long been meaning to research further myself. There are other parts of London (such as Holland Park, or Camden) which are better known as artists’ enclaves, but this area was home to a thriving artistic community too.
When I spoke to Gilia at the exhibition, she said that she decided to see her idea through when she was walking around on Cork Street and saw that there was a Cyril Power print in the window of the Redfern Gallery and so she was inspired by seeing that there is interest in Brook Green artists
The exhibition displays prints of work by artists Cyril Power, Sybil Andrews, Leon Underwood and work by Silver Studio. Silver Studio was located at number 84 Brook Green, just a few doors down from where I live and there is a blue plaque up on the wall of the building stating: THE SILVER STUDIO Established here in 1880 ARTHUR SILVER 1853-1896 REX SILVER 1879-1965 HARRY SILVER 1881-1971 Designers lived here.
Silver Studio was an important textile design studio in the UK from 1880 until the middle of the twentieth century. Founded by Arthur Silver, the studio designed some of the most famous fabric, wallpaper, carpet and metalwork designs for companies such as Liberty’s, Turnbull and Stockdale, Sanderson and Warner and Sons Ltd. Below you can see a selection of the Hero design which was designed by Arthur Silver in 1895. It was then sold to Liberty’s of Regent Street who still use it today! These four colourways are for furnishings fabric.
In 1901 Silver’s son Reginald (Rex) Silver took over the studio and ran it until 1963. At its most productive, the studio created more than 800 designs per year. The studio was renowned for its distinctive Art Nouveau style, although over the years they produced a wide variety of different designs and styles, including many of the famous “Liberty”-styles. The Silver Studio collection is now housed at Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (MODA) Middlesex University.
My favourite images from the exhibition are those from the 1930s that depict movement, ranging from tube trains and escalators to dancers and skaters. I was reminded of the portrayals of dynamism by Italian Futurists in the early 1900s such as Umberto Boccioni and Carlo Carrà which I love and enjoy encountering at the Estorick Collection in North London.
I really enjoyed seeing more Silver Studio designs and felt that the artistic feel of the Brook Green neighbourhood came to life in this exhibition.
There are a couple of days left to see the exhibition at Hammersmith Library which I highly recommend
- Friday, July 5 – 11am to 4.30pm
- Saturday, July 6 – 11am to 4.30pm
The private view for Four Decades an exhibition of prints by Sir Peter Blake, selected by the artist took place recently at Chelsea Futurespace, Grosvenor Waterside. Part of my role working at CHELSEA space, also involves me working at Chelsea Futurespace, where I recently co-curated the exhibition SURFACE which you can read about here.
Sir Peter Blake is renowned for his influence on Pop Art and culture and is frequently referred to as the ‘Godfather of British Pop Art’. One of his most famous works must be his design for the iconic cover of The Beatles’ ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. I borrowed one of the two copies of the record my parents own, to take a picture of the well known image.
Blake’s work takes its influence from the realms of pop culture, literature, music and contemporary art. The suites of prints in the Four Decades exhibition include his series of Appropriated Alphabets, Alice in Wonderland, The Butterfly Man (Homage to Damien Hirst) and Homage to Schwitters. Other highlights include prints from the Found Art series, screenprints from collage and portraits of musicians. The show covers the diversity and dexterity of Blake’s practice as an artist working in print across the last four decades.
Sir Peter Blake was extremely generous and during the private view as guests queued up to meet great Godfather of British Pop Art, Blake found time for a few words with everyone and signed all the publications from the exhibition that were offered, using his famous signature.
I love the CCA Art Bus – a mobile work of art designed by Sir Peter Blake which is also a mobile art gallery. I saw the art bus at the Diamond Jubilee celebrations at Battersea Park- 3rd June last year in 2012. Sir Peter Blake’s work is always approachable and eye catching, of the moment and British. Here’s hoping we see many more of his prints in the decades to come!
On the evening of 11th December 2012 I attended the University of the Arts, London Benefactors’ Reception which was held at the Platform Theatre Bar on the new purpose built campus site of Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. The reception was hosted by the Vice-Chancellor of the University, Nigel Carrington and the evening was an opportunity to thank, meet and chat with benefactors who fund scholarships, facilities and career opportunities for recipients across the University. I was there because I am the recipient of an award thanks to the generosity of the Chelsea Arts Club Trust and I am this year’s Chelsea Arts Club Trust Fellow. You can read more about my CHELSEA space award and what that involves me doing in a previous post I wrote here and my role was also written about by Donald Smith, Director of Exhibitions at CHELSEA space in the latest CHELSEA space blog post here.
Artist Grayson Perry was at the event in his capacity as a Governor of University of the Arts, London and he gave a speech during the evening which highlighted the importance of the opportunities that the benefactors present had provided in assisting artists to focus on their practice through University by giving awards and that this then contributes to the creative life of the UK. Grayson Perry particularly used his speech to draw attention to the fact that these awards are especially important in supporting artists and those in the creative arts at a time when there are less grants, fees for studying have been increased and arts subjects are being marginalised by the new Ebacc qualifications system.
I very much enjoyed meeting Grayson Perry who was friendly, down to earth and chatty. I spoke to him with MA Fine Art student award recipients from Chelsea College of Art & Design who I knew because of my work on Chelsea Salon Series as Curatorial Associate. We talked about the importance of art schools and Universities for supporting, encouraging and creating the future artists and makers of our cultural society as well as the pros and cons of the internet!
I also thought that Grayson Perry’s outfit, hair and make up were brilliant – he looked great! I saw first hand how as an artist, 2003 Turner Prize winner, Grayson Perry is commenting on contemporary society while using historical techniques and themes in his work through ceramics, most recently tapestry or through his clothes and looks he creates. I recommend watching the television series In the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry which you can see here as its a great insight into the artist’s way of thinking and understanding how he is inspired by what he sees around him to create artwork, in this case a tapestry.
On the subject of cross dressing which Grayson Perry is famous for, I wrote in my most recent blog post here about a contemporary of his – artist Brian Chalkley who has also been a part of the cross dressing scene of artists and knows Perry well. Here’s a great image of them together and you can read more about artist Brian Chalkley discussing art, cross dressing, Grayson Perry and more in my interview with him which is written up here.
Interview with artist Brian Chalkley. On painting, fashion, clothes, cross dressing, clubs, art college, teaching, diamond shoes, galleries, Düsseldorf and more…Posted: November 9, 2012
Brian Chalkley is Course Director of MA Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art and Design. He graduated from the BA Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art and Design in 1973 and MA Fine Art in 1975 from Slade School of Fine Art .
Brian’s practice is an ongoing discussion with gender, sexuality and identity. His work is based around two characters Brian and Dawn, Dawn being a transvestite personality. The practice manifests itself through painting, performance and video work. The construction of narrative and story telling are central to the work. Brian’s work has been written about in Judith Halberstams’ ‘In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives’ (NYU Press).
Recent shows include ‘Nothing is Forever’ at South London Gallery, ‘Dandyism and Contempt’ at Camden Space, ‘Der Meschen Klee’ at the Kunst im Tunnel, Dusseldorf, Germany and a solo show at the Horst Schuler Gallery also in Dusseldorf.
Kate Eleanor Ross (author of curatorial curiosities) Interviewed artist Brian Chalkley on 8th November 2012 at the Regency Cafe, Pimlico, London
within the context of his first solo exhibition in over ten years, Female Trouble at Ancient and Modern
KR – How did your solo show at Ancient and Modern gallery come about?
BC – Pure chance. I went to an opening of Marco Chiandetti who is an ex student of Chelsea College of Art & Design and he said he had this show at Ancient and Modern which I had never been to. I think this must have been about 5 or 6 months ago and I just got talking to Bruce Haines who is the owner of the gallery and I always remember this, because he said what do you do? I said I run the MA Fine Art course at Chelsea, but I said I don’t just do that, I make paintings. Then we talked a bit more and I said I’ve just had a sellout show in Düsseldorf last year. Well in fact what he then said was, can I see some work, which surprised me on a first meeting with a gallerist and I said no, you can’t see any work, because I’ve sold it all! So I sent him a catalogue and we had a bit of dialogue on the phone and then we met up and he said I really like the work and then he said this is only the second time I’ve done this in my life…I’ll offer you a show. This was even though he hadn’t seen the work.
KR – so you built up a good rapport with Bruce and maybe he was encouraged by how your Düsseldorf show had sold out?!
BC – that might have had some bearing on the matter, yes! Bruce then booked the show for September but at a later point he changed the date and said let’s do it during Frieze week which was good.
KR – in your show Female Trouble can you tell me about who are these girls?
BC Well I’ve always been interested in fashion and also being a cross dresser, that kind of gives me a relationship with these girls I thought and I just started looking through magazines really like Dazed and Confused and fashion magazines, images from 1940s film posters, ’50s film posters, looked at the way they were making images. But initially I guess I have to feel some contact with the image of the girl and the image of the girl seemed to have a kind of sense of anxiety or not exactly trouble, but anxiety
KR – yes, it’s quite apparent that there’s a certain atmosphere around them…
BC – yes, they are in some state of flux if you like. I think that through the act of painting… this might not be the right word, but a metamorphosis goes on. I begin to identify with the person, maybe through the act of painting.
KR – you get to know the characters
BC – yes, there are certain things that happen through the act of painting… like I might start with a hair or something, or I might start with an eye or a lip
KR – and so it evolves
BC – yeah and I think that then gives the work certain levels of completion. For instance, noses don’t get put in somehow… there might just be a blob of paint or something! So there is this sense of anxiety and kind of trouble. People were saying yesterday* that they felt with the images that the figures could be in the ‘60s or ‘70s rather than now. The other thing that came up was that the portraits of the head seemed more mature than what their body was or what they were wearing. There seemed to be a kind of distinction there.
KR – what do you like particularly about the medium of watercolour, because you haven’t really worked in that before?
BC – nothing, I’ve never used it before… there’s nothing I particularly like about watercolour, it just seemed like the appropriate medium. I’d never used it before.
KR – so did you enjoy that experimentation then?
BC – yeah, yes I did and I think it also fits, going back to those old movie posters, there are always thin washes of paint on those, they aren’t heavily impasto like an oil painting, so there’s a kind of graphic representation which I think poses a lot of problems – the graphic representation, because it’s against all of my education.
KR – how do you mean?
BC – I couldn’t have made those paintings… I mean, it’s taken me a long time to accept that way of working, because I was like an abstract painter or using thick paint, finding the image through the act of painting. Whereas these are not about finding the image through the act of painting, they’re about finding an image and then painting it, it’s not through the process of painting it. So moving out of a more romantic view of painting, for my generation I’d say
KR – do you think that’s to do with the experiences you’ve gathered through your career… you naturally change styles
BC – yes and the subject matter and the kind of history of cross dressing and clubs and stuff, forced me to reevaluate the painting process. It was very very difficult when I first started them, because I would paint the image in the evening, wake up in the morning and go my God, what is this! It looked like aesthetically all wrong, but it felt there was something going on.
KR – so you accepted that it was a new phase of your work…
BC – yup, I did. I think the other very important factor is that I found patterns of working that I’m actually sticking to. I don’t move outside of the pattern of working now. For instance, when I first made the portrait, I made the figure and the body, but I didn’t have any background and I’ve said this a lot of times now, I got about 12 or 13 pictures into the group and I kept thinking there was something wrong and I realised, I haven’t got a background! So, how do you paint a background – I don’t know… so I started looking at the figure and thinking who is she, where is she and what context is she in. That helped a lot because then I could research different backgrounds. I mean she could be a housewife in Connecticut or she could be a croupier in Las Vegas… very different roles that these women were doing. In fact the women are very singular, they’re about survival.
KR – they’re alone and lone figures aren’t they
BC- they are, yes. They don’t have much support and they’re having to work for their living.
KR – like Working Girls, another series you’ve made
BC – yes, well in fact – working girls and Female Trouble the same.
KR – so you’re interested in the role of the female, their place in the world and how they deal with everything
BC – yes and what they have to do to survive
KR – so as you were saying, this was quite a move away from other work you’ve done but it’s obviously linked to your other work… would you say that this is linked to your past performance work and so on?
BC – very much so. but not intentionally at the beginning. But the more you make, the more there seems to be a relationship.
KR – do those performances and that way of working belong to another part of your life?
BC – yes, they’re really important
KR – so there’s you in your studio painting and then there’s you out there as Dawn for example… can you talk a bit about Dawn and how she came about?
BC – Yes, I first went out as Dawn in 1997, 1996 maybe, yeah ’96 and I never set out to… people used to ask me at the time, I used to go to openings and it was very very scary, very dangerous. Just turning up at an opening, dressed as a woman… anyway, I know that one or two artists said is this an art idea? I got really annoyed about that because, how can you make… well, it said a lot about their work. So no it wasn’t an art thing and the first break came when I met Paul Noble in The Approach pub one opening and I talked about the cross dressing and he said oh that’s interesting he said, I’m just putting a show together at City Racing and he said send me some images tomorrow morning. I sent him some images and he put me in a show with Hilary Lloyd and Jemima Stehli and what I did is, I had a very small room at City Racing but I invited various artists like Grayson Perry, he did a piece and some people who weren’t artists as well. Dawn Mellor did something, it was a nice show really.
KR – so you became part of that zeitgeist and you were forwarding that whole movement
BC – yes well, an artist said at the time – Darrell Viner, who’s died now, he used to teach at Chelsea and I told him about my cross dressing and that I was trying to make some work with it and he said you either do it now or you wait another five years. I don’t know what he meant! But I think the fact that he said do it now, was good, it helped me. I can’t tell you what a sort of roller-coaster life it was, I mean teaching at Chelsea, going home to get dressed, going out clubbing til 2 in the morning, 3 in the morning, coming back and teaching, clubbing…
KR – two lives in one!
BC – totally and I was obsessed. Totally obsessed.
KR – so you became more and more involved the more you explored that side of yourself
BC – absolutely and then I made all these drawings. I’d come back in the middle of the night and I’d be drawing the people I’d met in clubs. I had a show in 2001 at platform gallery and made that publication Dawn in Wonderland which was great and I then started making video as well. There’s lots of that work which is quite confrontational.
KR – that was the best medium to really express what you were doing at that time
BC – yes and I found I was really into dialogue. I can remember dialogue. It’s funny actually because the first person who helped me with that was Donald* We would meet at the lecture theatre, early in the morning and he would record what I was saying. So I would just relay the previous night, the stories.
KR – so that’s about the underground culture of London…
BC – yes and you see in those days there weren’t many of those clubs, now there are still not that many, but more and it was very moving emotionally because I was joining a community and I thought that was amazing, I loved that. But I have to say I was in a pretty desperate state. I didn’t have a choice really, it was either that or something worse, it was a really difficult time but I was still making paintings as well, these abstract paintings with blobs on them. You know they were very end game paintings. Paint the surface, paint the surface, and then just a big blob of paint in the middle of it and that was it, it was like there was a finality about everything. Quite a depressing time.
KR – so there’s a contrast that is reflected in the work that now it’s quite a controlled line with watercolour, very fine and enclosed.
BC – yes and this has brought so many facets of my painting over the years together and one of the things I was saying yesterday was that the big revelation as well was tracing and tracing paper, because when I was 16 I left school and got a job in an architect’s office through a friend. I mean I didn’t have any qualifications or anything but I managed to get a job as a tracer and one lunchtime I traced all the girls in the Pirelli Calendar and took them home and hid them under my bed! Students yesterday brought up a very interesting thing and put it much better than I could when they said that maybe that was the first point of identification of that kind… but now you see, when I’m making the figure, it was another big thing, because I thought if I paint the background and it’s wrong, I’ve messed it up, so I just covered the whole thing in tracing paper and made lots of different backgrounds
KR – so then you could try them out? In a way that’s just like what we do with clothes, the figure and the outfit
BC – yup, that’s a very good point. But this process also allowed me to have a whole set of drawings and with the drawings the head might be traced from an image I found in a magazine, or now I might get into designing the clothes. I do that, it’s really nice and when you’re designing clothes and making patterns, it brings out the things I learned from abstract painting, about abstract language and you can play about with being an abstract painter within that frame
KR – so you were being influenced by the history of abstract painting as well?
BC – yes, well I mean Jonathan Lasker I looked at a lot, the patterns that happened in his work and then reproduced them on the clothing. So it’s another strand of relationships maybe. With these paintings, Stephen Wilson said he’d like to see the videos with the paintings because they do give a harder core side to things I suppose the videos, the dialogues and they’re pretty heavy going really.
KR – that’s maybe for another show though
BC – yes, I think so, definitely.
KR – so moving on, would you say that your teaching at Chelsea College of Art & Design over the years has influenced your work?
BC – totally, yes, totally. I think one of the essential things is dealing with young people and they’ve got ideas and they’ve got energy and that dialogue, that engagement through teaching is so really, I mean I love it, I just absolutely love it and I just feel so honoured to be in that situation that I’m getting paid to do something I really love. But I feel more invigorated by that than I ever did now. I’ve set up all these seminars, we were doing seminars two days this week and one of them went from 10am til 7 o’clock at night, we just kept going.
KR – do you like that dialogue and exchange of ideas?
BC – yeah, totally and helping students to find a language. That’s really difficult, for some students it can happen very quickly and for others like myself it takes a long time.
KR – so you feel that you’ve arrived now at a good point
BC – yes, I’ve found a space. I think I’ve found a world that, actually has come out not from entirely making art but has come out of other desires. When I went cross dressing, I never thought about art, it wasn’t made as an art thing as I said earlier, it was just a compulsion
KR – you seem to be quite popular in Düsseldorf, can you talk a bit about how that happened?
BC – I don’t know if I’m popular there… but I get on with them there, yes.
KR- but you found a gallery who showed your work there
BC – yes, Galerie Horst Schuler is great, they’re really supportive. But I didn’t turn up there at the gallery with the work they thought I would… when they first saw my work I was in a group show at Kunst im Tunnel which was curated by Cornelius Quabeck who is an ex student from Chelsea and I showed one video, Dancing on the Car video, I was dancing to The Supremes “Stoned Love” and then I also showed two collages that I’d made and I’m still interested in those, where I took fashion models’ photographs and then collaged them slightly so it might change their clothing or something like that. I always remember the way I got to talk to that gallery because I was at that opening and there was a man who was looking very elegant, he was probably seventy and he had these diamond shoes on. I went up to him and wanted to talk to him about his diamond shoes! I was very nervous but I thought sod it, I’m in Germany, I can do anything, I’m not going to be back again… and he couldn’t speak English very well but he pointed to another man (Horst) who speaks very good English. We got talking and he said lets meet for coffee the next morning and it started from there. It was again a bit like with Bruce, it was very instant. The other thing was, Horst said he’d like to do a show in 2012 when it would be like a year on and Neal Tait went back to the gallery, he was still in Germany (I’d gone back to London) and he went to see Horst as well and he said well, why so long? Then Horst immediately phoned me and said let’s do it this year. So it was done in a very short period of time, 4 or 5 months, very similar to with Bruce. So both shows have some kind of commonality with them. I got on with the people very well and then it happened very quickly. I had to really work fast to get the shows done.
KR – so it’s always been about having to balance for you between being a tutor and a practicing artist
BC – yes and you have to keep making art to be able to teach I think. I didn’t want to end up as a 60 year old, 65 year old boring abstract painter you know, like that generation. I’ve never been happy with that. I found a language, I had to find a language, wherever that took me.
KR – so what’s next for you on the horizon, will you continue in that same style of painting?
BC – yes I want to develop them more. I was kind of thinking they could be quite big paintings as well. Someone did relate them to Alex Katz a bit… I know I can see a connection there possibly but I think they’re more weird than his. Clothing is so important and fashion. I went to see this show at the Barbican, it was the Surrealist show recently and they had these little sort of puppets and I was thinking about maybe constructing clothing of making it and one of the ideas I had about this show (Female Trouble) was although it was far too quick to do much, was to have fashion models wearing the same clothes that were in the paintings and to do a fashion show…
The influences on my work are much more varied that I thought – there’s fashion and film and so on and desire. For example, I was on the tube and I saw this woman, she had a pink jacket on and it was so beautiful and the desire was so strong to touch it and I’d got this painting at home but I hadn’t got anything for what she was wearing and once I saw that jacket, there was such an emotional pull, so I went home and painted that pink jacket. But I wasn’t just painting it, I was painting that sense of desire for it. Sometimes in a painting you make you put things in that you just have to put in. But there are other things in the painting where its so full of desire and wanting in it…the whole sexuality in it that certain things become much more important than others. They have different weight, different meanings attached to them.
* yesterday – 7th November 2012 Brian Chalkley took a group of his MA Fine Art (Chelsea College of Art & Design) students to see his Female Trouble exhibition at Ancient and Modern.
**Donald Smith (Director of Exhibitions at CHELSEA space)
Kate Eleanor Ross would like to thank Brian Chalkley for his enthusiasm, support and sense of fun during a few enjoyable years working together on MA Fine Art and other postgraduate courses at Chelsea College of Art and Design 2009 – 2012. It was a pleasure to interview him.
Thanks also to Bruce Haines, owner of Ancient and Modern gallery for his interest and images he provided.