Exhibition – Benedict Drew: KAPUT at Liverpool Walker Art Gallery

Kaput is an art installation by Benedict Drew that occupies two rooms in the Walker Art Gallery.  The information before you enter the first room  warns you of darkness and explains the installation is on the themes of space tourism, day dreams, learning and the power of music.

As you first enter you are greeted by a mock wall of day-glo posters with very psychedelic colours reminiscent of the 80s.  In the main section of the first room are numerous elements, you can’t miss the giant day-glo Richard Branson portrait at the end of the room overlooking the rest of the installation.  Also on the left hand side is a black and white pyramid sculpture which is interesting on its own but when thought about in context of the rest of the room is even more so.  In the centre of the room, again in day-glo colours, is what looks like a sculpture of a human corpse, wired up with day-glo wires.  In the four corners of the room, wired up to the Branson portrait’s eyes are four speakers with a metal like foil sculpture on each.  Also present in the dark room are two TV screens and music is playing to add to the eery, anxious atmosphere.

These are the words that I wrote in my notebook whilst experiencing the installation: eery, weird, dystopian, darkness, control, power, out of body experience, scary, anxious, frightening, torture, influence, death, disturbing, pain, hair raising.

This wasn’t actually the exhibit that I went to see, I went originally to the Walker to look at what still life paintings they had on display to do some research for my next assignment but this exhibition is the one caused the biggest reaction in me during my visit.  I was intrigued as the exhibit door was blackened out and the notice on it warned about the darkness.  The exhibit was labelled as looking at ‘space tourism’ and so that also attracted me as Physics is my other passion.  To be honest, the only part of the space tourism I got from the experience was the link to Branson but I don’t think that idea shone through that strongly.

One thing that the exhibit did remind me of is the Netflix TV series ‘Black Mirror’.  Black Mirror looks at the way we use technology and often has quite dystopian themes.  Whilst I was in the installation room and talking to one of the gallery staff afterwards, I very much got the dystopian message of Drew’s piece.  The overriding image I have is one of big businesses (represented by Branson) taking control of our lives through technology and how technology itself is becoming apart of us.  The four foil sculptures to me seemed like the four chambers of a beating heart that was wired up to Branson, when you stood close to them, they did seem to beat like a heartbeat.  The body in the middle was our sense of individuality being dead and we are just robots in the corporate technology machine, again controlled by rich individuals.  The pyramid structure was interesting as pyramids are a symbol of entering the after-life and ancient religious practices and it here seemed to suggest we have left one life and are entering another world where technology is even more powerful than it is now.




Research Point – Positive and Negative Space

As I have previously written about here negative spaces are the gaps between objects in a still life and they can often provide the interest and drama to a final piece.  One artist mentioned in the Course book is Gary Hume who incorporates negative space dramatically in his work.

Gary Hume is best known for his stylized depictions of everyday objects using high-gloss industrial paint, he works in a simplified, reductive aesthetic, “The edge is the only thing that matters,” he explained of his paintings. “I used to think of the areas of color as tectonic plates meeting, so in the paintings it’s like there are these molten plates that would hit each other and dry. I wanted one of those plates to be higher than the other, and I wanted the hit to be more abrupt.”  It is clear from looking at Hume’s paintings how important this edge of colour and the spaces between the blocks of colour are, as the ‘objects’ are so simplified, the spaces between them seen to have even more emphasis and are seen as equals to the positive spaces.

Other artists use negative space as part of the drawing.  One example I really like is on the cover of a copy of ‘Peter and the Wolf‘ and is an illustration by Phoebe Morris.  It is using negative and positive spaces in a very different way to Hume and the negative space is almost a different positive depending on how you look at the piece, it reminds me of the visual illusions where you see either a rabbit or old woman depending on how you look and the two images constantly flick into view giving the piece some dynamics.

A book my tutor recommended to me in my assignment feedback was ‘Vitamin D – New Perspectives in Drawing’.  I have managed to pick up a copy and I decided to look through, focusing on how artists featured use positive and negative space.  Early on in the book are drawings by Ryoko Aoki and one caught my attention for its dramatic use of negative space ‘Sewing Factory’.  Aoki deliberately leaves the faces and body parts of the women blank and the outlines are created just by the positive shapes around them, this leads the women at work to have an anonymous, soulless quality devoid of any individuality which can be the feeling when working in a mundane factory type job.  The use of the positive and negative space really helps to capture the emotion of the people at work, feeling like they are no more than a part of the factory.

Flicking through, another that strikes me is Memed Erdener, he uses very simple materials and working in monochrome in his works ‘Europe, Europe Hear Our Voice’ (2004) he uses positive and negative spaces to create a silhouette type effect, again keeping the people involved anonymous, like they could be anyone in Turkey.  The black and white provides huge contrast, like they are two sides fighting against each other.

Frances Richardson’s ‘Paradise Lost‘ also caught my attention.  In this piece she uses the negative space to create the illusion that parts of the drawing have been erased. As the rest of the drawing looks like a sketch of a religious icon or stained glass window the erased look makes it look like religion has been wiped out or lost.  A very powerful use of negative space.

Looking through ‘Vitamin D’ has been an inspirational activity, there are so many artists and drawings that I will keep coming back to.  It has also made me want to experiment more in my own work, there is such variety within the book and so many techniques and approaches to try.  Looking specifically at negative space has also been helpful as I don’t think I have considered the powerful nature of them before and have always concentrated on the positive objects instead.  Food for thought indeed!





Burton, J. and Herman, J. (2011). Vitamin D. 1st ed. London [etc.]: Phaidon.


Book Review: A Concise History of Modern Painting – Chapter One by Herbert Read

Yet another book I picked up from my local library.  On a first glance this book looks very inviting, it looks like a good mix of text and full colour photographs of artworks.  The preface sets out the author’s position on the book, Read talks about significant omissions and sets the caveat that of course there is some personal prejudice about the artists he has chosen to include.  I think that’s an important point to keep in mind when reading any art book.  The book will never tell the whole story of art.

Chapter One covers the origins of modern art.   In the first paragraph is a very interesting point: in art, a school once established normally deteriorates as it goes on, it starts off as a burst of perfection sometimes too quick for a historian to capture and the equilibrium is permanently unstable.  This to me is why Art is so exciting, it is unpredictable and we don’t know what the next big trend will be, where it’ll come from or how long it will last.  I think in the modern age where information can be spread around the world so quickly and people from their own homes can share their artwork globally this is ever true.  There are little pockets of activity dotted worldwide and I don’t think we are confined to the big exhibitions anymore as our source of movements.

A few paragraphs later is the author’s definition of art ‘as a means of conceiving the world visually’.  The artist is simply the man who has the ability and the desire to transform his visual perception into a material form, this requires first perception and secondly expression.  A very important point made is that ‘we see what we learn to see’, we see what we want to see sometimes.  This is true in drawings I have done and then looke dback at, I have drawn what I thought was there instead of a true observation, something I am working through with the help of the ‘Required Reading – Experimental Drawing by Robert Kaupelis.

The author makes the claim that what is called the modern movement began with a painter who was determined to see the world objectively – Cezanne.  Cezanne wanted to an object without any intervention of the mind or untidy emotions. Cezanne followed the Impressionists who had seen the world subjectively and he wanted to get rid of the shimmering and ambiguous nature to get to the true reality that wasn’t changed by the senses.  Cezanne also thought the human perception was confused and he saw it as an artist’s role to bring some sense to this confusion.  The result from his attempts to eliminate the act of perception was what he himself called an ‘abstraction’.  Read goes on to claim that there was no considerable artist of the twentieth century that was not influenced by Cezanne, such was the importance of his break from impressionism.

At this same time in history were a couple of other significant influences, from Great Britain was the Arts and Crafts movement as styled by the likes of William Morris and Charles Rennie Macintosh, and from Japan came the likes of ‘curios’ and woodcut print.  For example in the background of Manet’s portrait of Zola (1868) is a Japanese print and there were many other examples.  Van Gogh took the Japanese influence further and began to copy Japanese woodcut prints in oil paint, even using Oriental reed pens for his ink drawings.  Gauguin was another to adopt features of Oriental art.

Georges Seurat was another to chase after the objective nature of objects and he read scientific papers on optics and colours in order to break down colours into their constituent hues and adding them to the canvas in tiny brush strokes or dots.  This is another technique I want to try when we start looking at colour later in the course.  His research into colour was followed by a scientific look at aesthetic harmony.


Read H, 1998.  A Concise History of Modern Painting .Thames and Hudosn Ltd London


Still Life Research for Part 2

Unknowingly I have already conducted some research for Part 2’s theme of still life.  Here is my write-up about a recent TV documentary that covered the history of Still Life.

Instead of repeating what I have written there, I am going to for this research point concentrate on contemporary still life as I feel that is an area I didn’t really look into last time.

Firstly I researched in a very modern way, I went to instagram and searched for the hashtag #stillife I did this as being on instagram myself it seems to be a common place for new, contemporary, currently unrecognised people to post their artwork.


What I noticed straight away was a lot of photographs, still life seems to be a very common photography theme (there were over 1 million search returns).  I also noticed as I scrolled through there were a lot of fruit, flowers, vessels and food, similar to the themes of the 16th and 17th century Dutch greats but obviously more modern versions of these.  When I searched for the more specific #stilllifepainting:


Again, there are a lot of flowers, fruit, vegetables and vessels.

Artnews wrote a piece on contemporary still life in 2014 and features numerous artists, one of which is Mat Collishaw’s ‘Last Meal on Death Row, Texas’.  Although a photographic piece not drawing, I find the concept eeringly fascinating.  Collishaw has set out the items in arrangements like the 16th century still life paintings, with objects overhanging the edge of the table and food items scattered over the plates and table, even the background being very dark is similar to works of the Dutch still life painters.  It is only when you know the reason that particular group of foods are together that you also realise another connection with the 16th century vanitas paintings and the morbid image of death.

In the article is a quote from Paul Martineau saying ‘The issues of death and time and consumption are key to the genre’.  I hope to move away from the issue of death with my own still life and build on my previous assignment piece to have recovery from mental illness as a theme, so the total opposite of death.  It is therefore interesting for me to see images and pieces of art associated with death to help me build a contrast in my own work.

Another artists mentioned in the article is Saara Ekstrom, again another photographer but their work is equally fascinating to me.  Ekstrom photographs images again associated with death and decay.  One of my favourite pieces by her is Clouded Yellow Bud which is a time-lapse of mould forming on a cup of tea.

It is not just photography where the still life genre is flourishing in the contemporary world, painters too seem to be still embracing it too.  Jorge Diezma is one who paints on oversized canvases in a photorealistic style with similar themes of decadence and death as the traditional still life paintings.  Emma Bennet takes the themes and ideas of traditional still life but paints cropped sections of them in a series to show the ideas in a new and interesting way.  Viewing her work has given me some ideas of things to experiment with, I wonder what cropped sections of my drawings would look like.  Rebecca Scott has a series of Still Lie paintings calles ‘Perfect Life’ she paints in a way that the series could belong to an instagram feed or appear as photos on social media.  This theme of people portraying perfection on social media is fascinating to me as it is something I have thought of in detail before, I will definitely be coming back to this theme in the future.  Tom Brown is an artist I stumbled upon through following various links, he paints still ife but with a lot of energy and movement in the marks.  I like the effect he has produced and again it is one I wish to experiment with myself in the future.

Unfortunatley the Oxford Art OCA login isn’t working at the moment, but I’m mentioning it here to remind myself to go back there when it is!















Assignment One feedback

I recently submitted Assignment one and have received my feedback (assignment-one-feedback).

On the whole I am very pleased as there are a lot of positives in there.  I guess starting something new and submitting my first piece of work had some anxiety in there as I was actually quite nervous to open the document.  Anyway, the nerves were for nothing as there is some detailed comments that are very helpful for moving forwards.  For my own benefit I have split the comments into sections so I can use them moving forwards:


  • I am gaining confidence with my own voice both visually and contextually.
  • I am engaged with the course.
  • I am working well in terms of evaluation and reflections.
  • The submission was solid and personally challenged throughout.
  • Some elements of risk
  • Interesting outcomes in emotive marks
  • Evaluated and critically analysed well
  • Good range of studies on texture
  • Captured 3D qualities well
  • First page of sketchbook was an excellent start
  • Texture encapsulated very well
  • Reflections in learning log support studies well
  • Able to zoom in and look at what I have in front of me
  • Good annotations in sketchbook
  • Basic shape drawing is good
  • Experimented with a few different media
  • Critique own work well in learning log
  • Show an understanding of positive and negative space
  • Connect to objects on a personal level
  • Final piece shows interest in textural qualities
  • Colour pallette works well when referencing calm
  • Good attempt at first large drawing
  • Good understanding of dark and light tones
  • 60 second drawing captures the mood of still life well
  • good sound reflection around the work of Odilon Redon from a general and personal perspective
  • very confident larger scale drawing that fills the page
  • used the putty rubber well
  • managed to make an interesting and complex composition for final piece
  • written very carefully around choice of objects as well as the placement of hidden items. This is very interesting and something that perhaps you could hold on to when moving further into more personal work.
  • final drawing does manage to lead the eye around the final drawing with ease
  • some lovely moments in there such as the light hitting the glass jar containing your paint brushes
  • crab is an unexpected yet charming addition as it is not easy to read whether it is real or man made
  • written a good solid reflective account of Part 1
  • research is explorative and informed
  • Your log is being used well and you are clearly recording and documenting your learning through this tool
  • learning log is organised and easy to follow.

Action points:

  • Take more risks
  • Make more use of my sketchbook for development
  • More sustained preliminary work before assignment piece
  • Develop ideas at length before doing large pieces
  • Look at exhibitions that challenge me
  • Really look closely at techniques and media in exhibitions.
  • Check video upload
  • Look closely at artwork in the flesh
  • Further evaluation of frottage exercise
  • Consider looking at abstract nature of frottage page as a whole
  • Do small studies on objects before incorporating them into big piece
  • Show development from initial idea
  • Further practice in drawing ellipses
  • Keep up writing lengthy reflections
  • Work on more emphasis of midtones
  • Take care on details – only draw what is interesting
  • Consider varying compositions by drawing small thumbnail sketches
  • Varying the weight of line, working with broken lines to widen experimentation.
  • take the time to measure the depth of ellipses
  • Work on dark backgrounds to show objects that are black an white
  • make decisions visually through drawing taking the time to draw several small scale versions in your sketchbook before deciding on the final and most interesting composition for you
  • further study of mid tones would allow you the opportunity to really decide where the light hits and where it recedes as aspects of light areas held within this still life are a little confused at times
  • Squint and decipher or take a photograph to help you understand where the light falls. Don’t work from the photograph
  • label the pages of your sketchbook against the exercises
  • written a good solid reflective account of Part 1
  • collect things of interest, postcards or images from exhibitions and so on in sketchbook too
  • Extend your learning links beyond Wikipedia –  use required reading books
  • See at least one exhibition that takes you out of your comfort zone within your next assignment
  • evidence in a little more detail the wider reading
  •  cite as many exhibition visits to your work in detail.
  • Purchase a copy of Vitamin D2 to help you with your understanding of more contemporary artists.

Artists to Look at:

  • Richard Long
  • Robert Smithson
  • Andy Goldsworthy
  • Jeanne Claude
  • Christo
  • Ai Weiwei
  • Van Gogh – landscape drawings and marks
  • Rembrandt, Matisse, Renoir, Charles Avery and Reny Lalique for variations in mark making


Negative Spaces – SAA ‘Paint’ magazine

I recently joined ‘The Society for all Artists’ (SAA) and as part of the membership I receive a copy of Paint magazine.  In the recent magazine is a tutorial by Trevor Waugh on using negative space in still life.  This interested me as I have been looking at still life in my research and for the assignment work I have been doing.

In the article are some useful pieces of advice that I will try in my own work:

  • Take you time setting up your still life and consider the negative spaces as well as the objects.  In assignment one I did take my time setting up the objects and I tried various arrangements but I can’t say I took that much notice of the negative spaces at the early stage.  In my next arrangement I will focus more on these.
  • The shapes you leave out are usually the ones that speak.  Waugh is writing about watercolour in particular but I think this also applies to many media.  When I look back with fresh eyes at my assignment piece I do see the negative spaces and they do help connect the objects but many of them in mine are in deep shadow.
  • The shadows connect all the objects.
  • Negative spaces help throw objects forwards
  • Your work is personal to you – make every mark with care and remember sometimes less is more.


Waugh T, Shadow Play.  Paint Nov 2016 page 12-13

Required Reading – Experimental Drawing by Robert Kaupelis

This book starts with a very interesting question about Willem deKooning.  It shows a charcoal drawing by him, done early in his life, and is very different from the abstract style he is more well-known for and asks the question ‘Was it necessary for deKooning to be able to produce this type of drawing before working in the expressive, violent mode of his later style?’.  I find this interesting because it is something I have asked myself, not necessarily about deKooning but about a lot of modern artists and to some extent myself.

The introductory passage ‘a few words’ also makes points of interest to me.  Kaupelis makes the point that really there is no beginning / intermediate / advanced expressive activity.  What all artists want to do is improve and get better and often the only thing that does differentiate a beginner to an advanced student is experience and trying f new techniques.  When I was at school I was guided away from art as a subject and told to concentrate on science and maths subjects so I feel like I have missed out on a lot of experience and I really come into this course with probably a lot less formal experience that others.  However, I also dont’ believe in this inherent property of talent and I do think anyone can learn to express their creativity with a lot of practice and dedication.

It is with this dedication to practice that I love Kaupelis’ sketchbook oath:

I solemnly swear that from this day forward I shall never again be caught without a sketchbook during my waking hours, and also that I shall use it faithfully everyday.

Daily sketching is something I am now in the habit of.  I don’t think many of them are very good and if you flicked through the book you would see how random my thoughts are as I tend to skip around from idea to idea, using places like pinterest for inspiration.  I am currently working in two books, a larger A3 book that is specifically for Drawing 1 exercises and a smaller A5 book that is my random every day thoughts.

The concluding paragraph of the introductory chapter I think is the most important.  It says to work hard, experiment, try anything and everything and that we often learn less from our successes than we do our failures (and that there aren’t really any true failures).

Chapter two covers some basics of drawing.  It has a number of techniques to try as you read the book.  The first of which is ‘blind contouring’, this really made me observe what I was drawing and made me concentrate on drawing what was actually there instead of what I thought was there.  There is a long list of ideas to try on page 21, which I will try to work through in my personal sketch book.  A similarly long list of ideas for gesture drawing is on page 30 which again I will try.


Kaupelis, R.  Experimental Drawing (1980).  Watson Guptill, New York