Newcastle & Turps!


ok i love so many things about my job. i love writing i love typing i love thinking and being nosy and following my instinct and interest, indulging my curiosity and almost all whims and fancies, i love going to interesting places and meeting interesting people. MOST OF ALL i love having a CHAT! especially with artists, and especially about their work. i love hearing what people are thinking about, what they’re trying to do, what they reckon about it all. love it!!! there are so many interesting people and everyone’s doing interesting things, n i love that i have somewhere to record all this interest

yesterday i was down south of the river, at turps art skl for a lil chit chat psuedo-lecture (rly i was j having a natter). n after that i did some tutorial studio visits with some of the students who were still around before everything cleared out for their end of year leavers show. lovely for me bc i have a painting bias, n turps is full of good painters.

and then at the beginning of the month, i was up in Newcastle for their degree show crits – they’ve got a lil pot of money for the students to organise getting people in to run a day of crits around their degree show. it’s a good idea, a nice way to tie a bow on the whole experience. sometimes that degree show spectacle can land with a thud (mine felt like it thudded, at least), an exit rather than a new beginning, weird transition. a nice crit like this felt like a celebration lap, proper good vibes bc even if there were questions and critical prodding, it underlined that degree show isn’t an end point – you have things to do after, work to make, ideas to shuffle through.

i’ll start w turps bc it’s closer in my camera roll, even tho it’s not chronological lmao

jordan mckenzie

jordan first started describing his work by using the word knackered, which i found really interesting because it’s not a word i hear very often when i’m out and about in the world, but my mum uses it a lot – all the time, actually, it’s her resting state. it’s interesting because it’s different to tired – it feels more well worn, like post-exertional or used up, like whatever remains after the first press. an essential pulp-y thing. he said he was interested in the provisional space of the street, the visual language that makes up The Street: road signs, flypostering, scuffs and chewing gum and wrappers and STUFF. this is a kind of provisional visual culture, because it’s there to grab attention, sell u something, cut through noise or blend in and help out, it’s there in service of another thing (us on our way somewhere else). what an interesting place to start thinking about painting from!!! jordan was using holographic surfaces, dog hair, sand and this weird foamy hard substance that looked like blutac – like, he was using it as a kind of blutac, to stick bandages across a canvas and press tin can circles into a studded constellation. he spoke about how he was interested in naffness, and less and less interested in using a brush, more and more interested in cutting and sticking, using tools and implements rather than fine tuned things. i just think his work was so fun, there was something really joyful and rambunctious (is that how u spell that??) about the enjoyment of naffness, the enjoyment of cutting and sticking – these physical, messy things, these decorative but unprecious forms of culture. painters painting but also people living: loud and human and full.

celia mora

celia said she started painting her partner in lockdown, he was right there and they were all squished together in a shared room in shared housing. close by and comforting, as her subject, he put her at ease. she’d give him instructions on how to pose, she found that she could ask for more, ask for what she wanted because of the relationship and the trust that already existed in the background. the dynamic interested her though, the vulnerability and the power flip – rather than male painter / female muse, it was the other way round and now she had the paintbrush and the agency, she was holding the power that comes with being able to make the image and he was her subject and — actually, in some of the poses and paintings, he was becoming object. or periphery. or background! celia started introducing props into the paintings – beautiful glass decanters, bottles, vases. it was so interesting, before she told me these paintings were of her partner, i asked her about why she’d painted these glass vessels with more attention and precision and clarity than the male figure. the objects were front and centre, stand ins or proxies for another body, maybe her body. in one painting, she had placed a vase with all these different shimmering scales refracting the light, she’d put that between her and her subject and painted through the vase. it was a lens or a filter, a thing being used to obscure or see.

her newest painting for the leavers show – she was trying out something new and more ambitious. introducing narrative, a mythological or historical subplot. she said she grew up in madrid, going to see all these grand old paintings in the prado, velazquez and – all men. when celia mentioned velazquez though, i saw that bit in las meninas, that portal of light at the very centre of the painting, the open door where the painter is visible and reflected back at us in a mirror behind the subject. i thought it was so interesting that she’s been painting objects as proxies for other bodies, maybe her body, in a composition between her, her, and another subject! that was so satisfying, so cheeky and serious.

mark woolton

i spent literally 90% of my conversation with mark sneaking a glance back at this one big painting, i was AWESTRUCK. it was mesmerising, luminous – the colour doesn’t really come across in the photos bc of my bad phone camera, but the purple was matte and forward and glowing nearly, it had this inner light that i found so satisfying and actually i was kind of unable to look away, unable to peel my eyes off it because the colour was like a kind of sugar rush, fully addictive.

mark told me he’s been mixing his pigments in this new way that feels like cooking, the way he does it means that the paint can kinda be washed off – which i feel like i don’t want to believe – that such a luminous and definite set of colours could be Not Permanent, i find that quite destabilising. but the colours look so different when they’re wet, the painting dries and it’s almost like a surprise. he gets very present and pays a lot of attention to what he’s doing when he paints. he is focusing on the movement and the marks, he is trying to wrestle with the idea of an image that is an image of nothing, no figure no object, not an image in that sense but maybe the image only comes forth once he’s done with it. the image works through him and arrives to him slowly or as a surprise. i don’t know which version of that it is, because i found mark’s paintings so satisfactory and full of like this inner content, this inner silence. they were harmonious and complete, in a way i haven’t encountered much. i was glad to see them, happy to sneak continual looks.

dido hallett

my last tutorial yesterday was with dido hallett, and we spoke about bad painting (my favourite kind of painting) – i LOVE bad painting because i love bad taste, lowbrow, crap and crud and the crass. images with good taste are so slick and finished and polished, a kind of standardised thing that conforms into line. bad painting is good because it’s got this embarrassment – gab talks about embarrassment all the time and much better than i do. dido said she was quite interested in the awkward and the ugly, stuff that’s muscular and vibrating. it was a really interesting conversation because dido had favourites amongst the paintings she was showing me, and i don’t think my favourites overlapped with hers (!) but, at this point in the afternoon i was like fully on Chat Mode rather than Proper Critic Mode. i liked this painting below because it had a children’s picturebook sweetness alongside a fairytale grotesqueness. some parts were so charming and then other parts of it were repulsive and the balance, the push and pull between those 2 things felt so satisfying to me.

dido also showed me this painting of, i think a car, or a shape that started as a car and then descended down into something else that came out of a car. i think i spent a long time looking at how fuzzy and furry she made the paint look – so soft but not the kind of softness that begs to be touched. the car was a round lezenge shape and the canvas edges were uncornered because the paint was ballooning out like foam, like a spongey thing that was expanding in the square of the canvas, leaving raw corners.

and then dido also showed me these paintings – these kid’s picturebook drawings, you can’t see from this far out but the one on the right has colouring pencil scribbles all up in the white space. then they’d been covred in these jagged scrapes of thick PVA glue that had dried all cloudy. i thought they were such satisfying surfaces, images, textures, things, objects, artefacts – to look at. so rewarding because the plastickyness felt like one edge, the naivety another, the white space another, the peachy flush and another in the dark lines and the warped vision, the fisheye lens or the scribbly – there were so many edges for me to push my hands and eyes against. i’d have walked off with them if i could’ve !!!!!!!!

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thank u to all 4 of these artists for taking the time out their afternoons to chat to me, and for being generous, sharing their thoughts and their work. thank u!!!

Newcastle!! » » »

yeah, went up to newcastle for a day of crits – i think every year they get a bit of money from a university fund and they organise getting people in. celebration lap but also degree show as beginning, rather than an end point. it’s great because idk what’s in the water up north but newcastle produces so many great great fully formed finished artists, with fabrication skills i could only dream of in 2016, with sound rigorous understandings of what they’re interested in and how they want to go about talking about their work. it’s really cool to see and i actually get loads out of the crits – i went up last year and it was LOVELY!!! to be back this year, i hope they get me up NEXT year too, bc yeah! seeing each year feels like a nice continuity for me, i get to indulge the same nosiness and also slip right into vaguely knowing what context they’re working in, bc i was there last year. nice nice nice.

miranda mullen

miranda had these very amazing, powerful looming beautiful wall mounted sculptures. this decorative fork, this yellow velvet curtain hung with a ruched clasp. i don’t know how you’d even go about making this, and can only be in awe of it. but it’s scratching that same itch of beautiful handheld objects. i keep getting tiktoks on my feed about Girls Who Cluster, and the whole thing about collecting lots of precious knick knacks from lovely shops. being a person who is fascinated by trinkets, but doesn’t seem to own any valuable or actually beautiful trinkets, these sculptures scratched a kind of personal satisfaction. they appealed to my personal taste as well as my critical taste. the fork threw such beautiful gothic shadows under the spotlights. like an image of its own. craftsmanship !!! that’s what feels amazing, more than artistry – we are living in an age without craftsmen, so to see craftsmanship feels like witnessing rare and endangered magic. i’d have liked to see these sculptures in a clean white enormous room on their own to see if that space made me feel more powerfully about them, or even in a museum with red fabric panelled walls. they are like dream objects, looming large and imposing, the fork’s spiked tines all pointing out at u, pleasure and threat.

jess petley & melanie colbey

jess & melanie had their work spread out and spread over each other in a shared room, and they had their crit together, so – in my mind it’s hard to talk about one without the other bc i experienced them together and all tangled up. but as someone who has a Beloved Collaborator, i appreciated it!

both were dealing with a sense of childhood in image and object, childhood and maybe actually girlhood specifically as a state, an experience, an aesthetic culture of its own (an aesthetic culture that can be alienating, bizarre, freakish as well as lovely and romanticised and pink). jess had these very perfect, sweet but sharp drawings studded all across almost every wall. they were pink and colourful in the way of like, those secret diaries of notebook girls. i was a notebook girl with secret diaries (ofc i was). like the visual language of groovy chic and pencilcases, glitter pens, fluff trim and those bubble keyrings where confetti would shift through snowglobe liquid when you squeezed it. that is all FASCINATING visual and aesthetic stimulus, and jess handled it sooo lightly and deftly, chewed it all up and spat it all out onto a plate i was inspecting. great!!!!!! melanie’s work had this earthier feel, these clean wire frame shapes, matrix version of nursery objects (crib, swing, rocking horse). bare and bone-y, with this flat rectangle of clay smeared and spread out with the finger marks left pressed in so you could see the artist’s gestures – wild and grubby and not entirely sure if it was fast or violent or slow and balletic but imagining the lines tracked all the same. in person the work felt like strange alien objects, or alienating rather than comforting. that flip where an artist makes you feel a feeling that’s the inverse of the feeling you associate with an object – it’s sharp, immediate and apparent. spatial too.

stef bolton

i didn’t get a picture of stef’s work bc it was right at the end of the day, one of the last crits, and now i can’t find an instagram account or google trail anywhere – my researching skills have failed me. so – stef, if you’re reading this, i’m very sorry but do send an image if you’d like me to add one to this as an edit !!!

we spoke about anatomical textbooks, the body and the iamge of the body in science and in art. it was really interesting actually because – beyond that famous basquiat legend about how he was given a copy of gray’s anatomy as a child, i don’t hear many artists talk about anatomy post-conceptual-turn. which is strange because so much art is about addressing the body – almost all of it. and yet the anatomical understanding of the body is kind of not touched by this address. but stef’s work was a series of lifesize drawings on silk, staggered through space with a poem spaced out along the wall at each stage, each gap in the silk hanging was full of words. they were tight drawings that descended into a kind of milky gesture, lyrical, beautiful and raw but tense. i can close my eyes and still see them, even almost a month later. i wonder if that’s why artists don’t really wind up thinking about that anatomical mode of address? because it is so affecting, it leaves you with like a kind of scar tissue, a reminder tha we HAVE an inside – even if we are aware of the enormous pumping heart inside us, it makes us squeamish to think too long and hard about it. that is fundamentally what i was left with, an image burned into the back of my eyelids and a squeamish feeling that i am actually glad for. because what other art does that? that’s so rare. good.

anna mud

i did these crits just the exact week i was writing that text about real estate – or more accurately Unreal Estate so, encountering anna’s work was like mwah mwah mwah here’s something to stitch my ideas together with. here’s the thread, the undercurrent, i was so viscerally thrilled. i’ll paste in what i wrote about the work in that text bc i said it better there than i could recreate now, in this sticky heat.

Anna Mud’s Moral Fibre is installed in a sunlit room, upstairs in Newcastle University’s Fine Art Degree Show. Long sheets of translucent white organza are tacked up along the wall. The fabric is so thin and sheer that you can see the texture of the room’s magnolia walls and the dust on the plug sockets. Across the organza, there are blossoming soft black patches. Anna Mud has positioned two wooden benches at the other end of the room. From this viewpoint it looks like black mould. Up close, you can see the patches are made of short, hazy fibres tangled into the organza— velvet fibres. They’re straight and splattered across the fabric like confetti. But from that bench along the far wall, you are a spectator beholding a terrible blooming pattern of black mould and you are listening to a soundtrack of someone coughing the same canned cough in a ryhthmic repeating loop from a speaker that is right next to you. There’s a wall text that slices the work open; rising rents and cost of living crisis means people can’t afford to heat their homes. With the UK’s cold damp climate this means black mould. With the UK’s rental crisis, this means landlords shirking their responsibility to prevent and remove the mould, this means tenants have to live in rooms full of black mould. Historically and traditionally, velvet was made from silk. It was a precious fabric, subject to English sumptuary laws that regulated clothing in relation to your social status. Velvet was exclusively worn by kings and nobility.

For a moment I am not standing up against the window with a panoramic view of the marshland, I am in the sunlit room with Anna Mud’s work. There’s a window open and a breeze is blowing in, it ruffles the bottom of the fabric. The organza and velvet flutters up on the breeze, away from the wall and disappearing into an elegant flying fold. Then it returns. Yes, fantasy is a richer and more beautiful world because it is endless and limitless and when reality returns you can lay the fantasy world across it and just see right through. The fantasy is translucent white organza, flickering across the wall.

hebe wallington

i also didn’t get a picture of hebe’s work – which i am also very sorry about, and please do send in pics if u want them up here in an edit.

but hebe’s work was this enormous joyous drawing, paper tacked up across the entry to the hatton gallery and this lat supper scene of people sat at a table enjoying lovely things. nice wine, fancy dips, eggs with double yolks. the lines were perfectly imperfect, full of character. this kinda belly laugh of a drawing, so much soul – it’s so hard to describe but i think even with a photo here, you’d just have to trust me. there is nothing better than sitting at a table outside in the early evening with a bunch of people, just picking at little picky bits, munching and chatting – isn’t that gorgeous? isn’t that the entire reason we’re alive? to be at a table in the fresh air, to chat and laugh and pass little plates around to make sure everyone’s tried this thingy because it’s really nice actually? i want that for everyone. i want that like it is an aspirational image, the only image i care about because it is a restful and plentiful image. truly truly lovely.

lee drew

lee spoke about this work in such a particular way, it really struck me and interested me. like the spirit of these figures worked through the artist and lee was actually just a facilitator or the hands on the assembly line, with these sprites controlling the artists hands and the assembly process. the figures were fellows and they had a kind of autonomy away from the artist as an authorial authority (yes! so good, i like talking about authority and i LOVE talking about a refusal of it). the fellows were made of pretty to-hand materials, tin cans and sticks that had been whittled beautiful, but they weren’t necessarily about the transformation. it was more about their spirit because they were mischievous saboteurs. there in the pictures u can see them fucking with the audio playback, causing interference. as a mischeivous lad myself, as the proud owner of a rascal heart, i couldn’t help myself. i loved them. little aluminium stars and shreds of metal and all. they were climbing the wall, and i wondered if they ever made it out into the world, what they’d make of road signs and post boxes. the nooks and crannies of trees down residential roads. the council flowerboxes and pavement cracks. they’ve got places to be!!! i love them! here they are!

ali cook

i felt like i could’ve spent hours with ali’s work just chatting through what each bit was because – you know when an artist just has hold on sooo much, you just want to spend the time rifling through it all, checking out every corner and aspect to make sure yu’ve not left anything, work that is full and bursting, spluttering ideas out like it’s dead casual. ali actually began by saying that the work on the wall – his paintings, sure, but he was interested in other stuff too, stuff beyond just Thing On Wall. he had writing and poetry and it was spoken aloud too – sounded like a real earl sweatshirt flow, rapidly brilliant and tripping over that brilliance with NEW brilliance. the words were accompanied by drawings, and they looked like retro futuristic visions, like something from a 90s anime, something vaguely body horror but also actually about alienated existence under late capitalism and life with the internet (not just after it, WITHIN it) life in cities in the west in the heart of an empire that was dying and what the end of all of that could possibly ever look like. omg they were amazing – and thrown about out of a folder, on slips of paper, in biro in pencil, on the backs of post its and torn pages. his paintings were still fucking amazing, even if he was past them, progressing on to newer brilliant ideas. they were layered and heavy with meaning, this metaphor or allegory. working through words and names as standins for visual puns. dytopian vision but done by a guy with a sense of humour so – at least if we’re staring into the barrel of the void, we’re chuckling before the bullet hits the back of our head and we tumble face first into beyond. it’s mad, i’m often a fan but this was next level. i was excited and in awe. one of those crits where i feel like aw yeah. i love my job.

annabel peters

annabel’s work was so interesting because it was clandestine! a secret but, the kind of secret where someone’s like actually DYING to tell you something but you’ve got to get it out of them. you’ve got to earn it, you’ve got to deserve it because – i mean, secrets like that are always worth it. the anticipation alone is, that’s the entire point of a secret. it’s unassuming, all in the context or the surround sound. through the entire degree show there was this real theme or running thread of childhood nostalgia. the things from our past and a smaller younger state that we look back on with newer bigger older eyes and a new criticality and think of it as subject object and material. annabel had this huge – idek what they’re called but they have them in doctor’s and dentist’s waiting rooms for kids to occupy themselves with. i don’t remember much of my childhood (good) but i remember these. the words were burned red into the wood and the beads and physical spacing obscured that moment of delivery. interruption, maybe? but that was the clandestine-ness. it was interrupted obscured and tucked out of sight – at least out of immediate sight. behind it you can see prints where the words are squished up together with no spaces, making the syntax into a kind of image or a kind of block, a mass. difficult to read or access, but then again – who am i? a lowly viewer. how entitled! i love it when artists handle the viewer with a kind of cynical lack of trust. i think maybe it’s fine to ask your viewers for their complicity, their undivided attnetion. you should filter things out if you want to. my favourite obscuring action was (again!! sorry) unpictured, but on white card, annabel had embossed words. from some angles, the pages were just blank pages. at a glance, there was nothign there. just when you moved your head and payed attention. so subtle, so slight. it made me understand the work as not actually secretive for fun or for the sake of it – but because the work had hold of a kind of shyness !!!! i love it. i am actually still working out everything i think about that right now, isn’t that good!!!!

seren hamer

seren had a film in several acts – a work of autofiction, pulling things into a script from her personal childhood and family archive. iamges would flash up in handwriting, from a child’s diary, from a child’s perspective. writing that together as an adult making it all into a story but – that naivety was still there as a current under the surface, more than subject matter, it was part of the fabric of the work and it was sweet and sad and beautiful and difficult – i wanted to stay and watch it all through on my own in a dark room – i still do! i hope i see seren’s work again, somewhere and somehow because i want to give it my undivided attention, rather than talk over it in a crit. it was this tender thing, and muscular too. i loved what i saw.

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ok that’s all for the art!

i do want to mention that while I was up in Newcastle earlier in June, it was kind of an odd time to be in or around a university. there are obvs campus occupations and encampments in universities all across the uk – the weekend before i popped up for the crits, university of newcastle’s management and security had been pretty heavy handed with their own students who were protesting on the main green in the middle of the university. management then used that moment as justification for closing the fine art building to the public over the weekend – when so many art students had family and friends coming up to newcastle to see their work and support them after 4 years of hard work. it’s a kind of weird one, because the university was so heavyhanded in the way they dealt with their own students and then messed up a basic service for more of their own students. loads of students i spoke to in newcastle thought it was a really blatant attempt to drive a wedge between the protesting students at the encampment and the rest of the student body – an attempt that doesn’t seem to have worked – idk. it’s just sad and shit really – for the kids that were treated really quite violently by their own university, and for the fine art students who then had the university stepping in for no reason, interrupting quite a big moment for them. really, wouldn’t it be easier for the university to just… meaningfully engage with the protestors demands? not just for newcastle, for almost all the universities. but here’s a link to the newcastle palestine society if you want more info.