FREAKS: Exhibition Film


Freaks and misfits hold a vague and mysterious place inside human consciousness and outside of human comprehension. They can take many forms; a freak of nature, a freak accident or a freak appearance. For centuries freak shows and circuses have fascinated and perplexed the imagination of countless audiences. They show us something which is so close to home but living in a reality so far from what we call normality. These misfits serve as a reminder that our reality is only as concrete as we decide to make it. This exhibition serves to explore the notion of the Freaks and to wholeheartedly engulf its self and viewer into the mysteries of things not quite of this world.

This exhibition displays 35 artist’s from around Europe and their visions of what happens when we peer behind the curtain and see the glitches in the makeup of our reality.

FREAKS

SHOREDITCH TOWN HALL, LONDON
9 – 16 December 2010

Reviewed by: Gillian McIver »

at  Artists Newsletter: INTERFACE

Invitation to a Freak Show

Thursday night, December 9th. Images flash across the screen: fires outside the parliament building; National Gallery occupied; royals threatened; rioters and police on horseback. I’m heading out to Shoreditch, going to see an exhibition billed – intriguingly – as “The Freaks.”

 

I reach my destination, a massive bit of Victorian Baroque stuffed next to the railway line where Old St meets Kingsland Road. Down the stone stairs, through an arch and a narrow doorway, and I’m in the vast underground space of the Shoreditch Town Hall.

 

The Freaks Exhibition” is the brainchild of Tom Graham-Adriani, the young artist and curator, whose previous projects include the fascinating “Tales from the Electric Forest” show in spring 2009 at the St Pancras Crypt. It was one of the best shows in London in 2009. Tom has brought back many of the same artists, and added more, for “The Freaks.”

 

The venue’s corridors and small rooms offer a magical combination of both a fully sustained experience of freakishness, and constant frissons of surprise and wonder. One never becomes bored or blasé with each discovery, each manifestation; here the deep places of the unconscious are rendered – in paint, or paper, or other more mysterious materials.

 

The show is particularly interesting because of the way that Adriani has chosen artists working in distinctly figurative styles and often traditional media. It’s rare to see a show which brings so many painters and drawers together, to explore a single theme in so many startlingly diverse ways. This is not a conceptual show: every piece has been thought through and then made – into objects loaded with meaning and resonance.

 

With 35 artists and over 300 artworks on show, it’s impossible to justly discuss even a fair sample, but I will say that The Freaks makes the best use of this gloomy basement space I’ve seen since the exhibitions programme started. Everything is displayed to its advantage and in symbiotic relation within the show as a whole. There is much very strong work in the show, and the strength is reflected in all the principal strands of media represented.

 

My personal favourites include Jane Hoodless‘s eerie “historical” artefacts; Martha Todd‘s haunting hollow-eyed carapace-like figures, and Zoe Suenson-Taylor‘s truly disturbing room installation, Eighty-Eight Ears in a Room.

 

I was seriously unsettled by Adam Wardle‘s Vision in the Bay: I am sure I have been there in a dream….

 

Glenn Ibbitson‘s “Claw” works – large drawings and paintings of male figures afflicted with lobster-like appendages – are poignant and moving, rather than funny; while on the other hand, Nazir Tanbouli‘s huge painting, The Union of Confused Identities, manages to be both humorous and menacing.

 

The great legacy of English 18th and 19th century illustration (the tradition of Blake and Beardsley, and which so inspired Goya) is a thread that runs right through this show, though every piece has a thoroughly contemporary sensibility. And what these artists are illustrating is their own psychic delving, their own self exploration. And by making these available to the audience, we are incited to participate in exploring our own dark unconscious dreams.

 

The exhibition theme is “freaks” yet this is anything but a freakshow. What is fascinating is the tender sympathy with which the artists treat the notion of “freak.” Here freakishness is not only explored, but nurtured and celebrated as an essential part of the human condition. As Adriani says, “our reality is only as concrete as we decide to make it.”

 

We need this art. As I leave the exhibition,  the talk on the street is all about the riots downtown. I realise how important The Freaks exhibition is. “Cool” and irony are dead, offering us nothing anymore. Same with “sensation.” In Jungian terms, we are getting restless behind the mask of the persona, and we’re feeling the claws of the shadow, and the other archetypes, scratching at the door and we’re feeling compelled to open it. We have reached a point where we want to understand who we are, and how we – collectively and individually – have got to the situation we are in. We desire to explore the unknown psychological spaces that lurk within us, and to know ourselves.

 

Wandering the labyrinth of the Shoreditch Town Hall basement really does feel like wandering the length and breadth of the psyche, encountering all the shadowy beings that lurk there.

 

The Freaks is on until December 16th and the show includes a gallery shop.

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December 10th – 17th
Weekdays: 10a.m. – 7p.m.
Saturday & Sunday 11a.m. – 6p.m.
Admission free

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Collage: new variations

collage and origami on panel

Plunge: collage and origami on panel

PAPER COLLAGE :

I Initially adopted collage to sidestep a period of artists block; using high quality, full colour, glossy magazine print as source material. Used primarily as a mosaic technique, the paper selected was chosen only for its colour and tone. The paper-punch collages represent extreme examples. This tight control over the medium relaxed once aspects of the actual printed imagery were absorbed into the compositions. Increasingly, the success of a work hinges on one fragment of torn paper, which provides that special intersection of textural or colour juxtaposition, not evident when originally embedded in the printed page. It cannot be manufactured; it is discovered, and usually only by accident. Its incorporation represents the point at which the composition assumes a life of its own and deviates positively from the original plan. Surfaces are constantly adjusted through a series of overlayerings, and areas of particular detail are more painstakingly constructed with smaller paper fragments. A unique characteristic of this form of collage is the variation in focus which one is able to achieve by combining the printed image edges with the physical tears of the paper fragment itself, producing ambiguities of form and space.

Across the Studio Floor;  collage

Across the Studio Floor; collage

relief collage

Interior with Stripes: relief collage

relief collage

Sequencer: relief collage

January 2008

Kim Frohsin: a case for review

kimfrohsinvenez

It was while researching collage references online that I discovered the work of Kim Frohsin, a painter based in San Francisco. Her pieces stood out from the general montage of mediocrity. They each looked as if they had been considered and thought through to a satisfying conclusion. I sought out more references to her art and was delighted to find that she was a figure painter of considerable talent. However, as I read about her, a theme emerged which seemed at variance to the images I was uncovering. The art of Richard Diebenkorn was a persistent reference point, with which Frohsin’s paintings were being unfavourably compared.
Stephen Jay Gould in one of his reflections on natural history reproduced in his collection of essays; “Bully for Brontosaurus”, examines the case of the “Creeping Fox Terrier”. The breed was [mistakenly, as it turned out,] used in an early paleontological tract as a size comparison for an extinct lineage of small horse. This comparison became standard in natural history textbooks, passing from generation to generation, because subsequent writers simply accepted this statement as fact and failed to question its veracity through first hand observation. I feel the same thing is happening with the connection between Frohsin and Diebenkorn; critics are re-treading the writings of their peers and not looking afresh at the work they are reviewing. Why? Because it’s so much easier for them to write this way; word-smithing without the encumbrance of examining the art for themselves.
The connection between Frohsin and Diebenkorn is straightforward. She moved to California in 1979. By living in San Francisco at this time, she was exposed to the art of the Bay Area Figurative Group; Diebenkorn, Park, Oliveira, and Bischoff. Frohsin’s work was influenced, much as a student is influenced by any tutor in any academic activity. In the early 1990’s, Frohsin’s work began to be exhibited alongside Diebenkorn’s work and other Bay Area painters.

LOOK AT THE ARTWORK

Richard Diebenkorn’s abstract paintings are marvellous; his figure painting less so. His move to figuration in the late 1950’s was overvalued at the time simply because there just wasn’t enough good representational art to balance the proliferation of abstract art in its myriad forms. Any art with a figure as its focus was bound to be welcomed as relief by a niche audience who secretly craved the recognisable; some narrative in painting, no matter how tenuous.

LOOK AT THE ARTWORK

diebenkorndrawpting1
In fact, the paintings are pretty weak. Unsupported by concentrated, direct observation, they lack that small yet significant bit of detailed painting which might have anchored the drifting approximations and created the visual tension such paintings require. The major signifiers of human expression with which the audience can engage are largely absent: hands have no more expressive form than unoccupied gloves in a frost, and faces are not those of a living, breathing model, but of curious modernist hybrids pre-packaged by Matisse and Picasso. In his hands, pigment is forced, rather than co-opted, to perform the task of depicting convincing, plastic form. It proves an unwilling slave.

girl_with_flowered_background_by_richard_diebenkornx2

Diebenkorn’s real talent, abstract organisation, shines through in “Figure on a Porch” 1959. Here the figure is formalised, absorbed into a composition which is organised on a grid, intersected by diagonals. The spaces between are infilled with variegated areas of sumptuous paint, applied with great dexterity. It is built on the same strong formal principles as the impressive Ocean Park series.

corcoran_0308_22

The figure gradually becomes a vestigial organ in Dibenkorn’s painting; in Frohsin’s, it is the beating heart of her practice.
Why does such an invidious comparison continue to be made between these two artists? Frohsin’s last obviously Bay-influenced paintings date from the 1990’s. It is how these stylistic foundations have been built upon, de-constructed and modified with time and the accumulation of independent experience, which matters. Frohsin shook off any direct influence years ago. It could take her only so far; a more concentrated relationship with the model was required to propel her towards where she wanted to go. Observational skills needed practice; her drawing skills had to be extended; pushed beyond what she already had at her disposal. What Frohsin is producing now, Diebenkorn couldn’t approach, because what are now her core skills in draughtsmanship, far exceed anything he ever had in his repertoire.
LOOK AT THE ARTWORK

kimfrohsintherosekf2aw7

It is at once rigorous and disciplined, yet playful and carried along with an obvious passion for colour. Her vision is translated through confident line and bravura paint application. A desire to grasp illusionistic form is held in tension by an acknowledgement of basic two-dimensional organisation. Refined tertiary hues carefully balance brash areas of super-saturated colour.
I began this ramble by recalling Kim Frohsin’s paintings. I conclude with a note to art critics. It is your duty to analyse work with rigour and clarity; unclouded by the prejudices and accepted opinions of your predecessors. If you are unable to do this, the apparatus is now freely available for a public interested in visual art to bypass your views altogether, and to enter into direct dialogue with the artists themselves through their websites and associated blogs. These provide an opportunity to engage with the practicioner, [perhaps even to arrange a studio visit] before that artist’s ideas are warped or skewed by even the most well meaning and erudite of interlocutors.
LOOK AT THE ARTWORK…..

Glenn Ibbitson February 2009
http://glennfineart.com

Kim Frohsin
http://www.kimfrohsin.com
Stephen Jay Gould

Bully for Brontosaurus: further reflections in natural history 1990