Art bringing people together

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I’ve been to a couple of galleries recently, the British Art Show is in Leeds and my good mate Phil Dean continues to interpret the world around him through his delightful sketches.  It’s got me thinking a little bit about art and whether it brings people together.

My dad used to love to sketch and as his mobility declined liked nothing better than getting himself sat comfortably with a nice view where he’d either sketch or get the watercolours out.  When people saw him they would often drift over and have a look and my dad would invariably draw them into conversation.  I was really reminded of this when we were in Malaga recently watching the way Phil would quickly capture a scene wherever we happened to be.  He also does it in a way that does not distract from whatever else we are doing, happily chatting away enjoying some food and drink whilst at the same time sketching.  He will then often continue to work on and embellish the picture throughout the day, adding little flourishes and touches.

I’m no artist so resort like many of us to snapping a few photos on my phone but I think I have always struggled to adapt to the taking a photo of everyday things, is it intrusive ?  I feel uncomfortable with it lots of the time, there is sometimes an element of slyness,  furtiveness or voyeurism using a camera to capture an image that standing openly and drawing is the antithesis of, it’s transparent, people can come and look at what you are doing and in doing so give their approval (or otherwise of course).  What I noticed when Phil was doing this was how much people enjoyed it, someone taking the time to sketch their town, it didn’t matter what part of the town the sketch was in people wanted to have a look.

In looking it brought a smile to people and this was universal in whatever bar we happened to be in and on one occasion a waiter thrust a takeaway bag under Phil’s nose for him do draw something on.  We got chatting to numerous people, our lack of Spanish and their lack of English becoming irrelevant as the sketches of their town elicited a warmth that made us feel very welcome wherever we went, the art becoming a bridge between us.

This simple bringing of people together over someone’s drawings contrasts to the most part of my experience of galleries – they bring people in but do they bring people together ? Most galleries seem to actively discourage conversation you seem to have to look, contemplate internally and nod sagely.  I can’t imagine that this is what artists would have wanted when they were creating their art, surely they would have wanted interaction, comment, reaction and discussion not silence and sterility.  Maybe we are just scared of saying the wrong thing, of showing our ignorance in not ‘getting’ the work that we are looking at.

However even in galleries connections are sometimes made, while we were in the Centre of Contemporary art in Malaga looking at Ai WeiWei’s Zodiac Heads, Andrew got chatting to this elderly gentlemen who was staring in total wonder.  He was so awed by it he simply said I don’t want to leave this place.  A beautiful and powerful example of the transformative power of art.

Stephen Fry in a talk about art said the following:

Oscar Wilde quite rightly said, ‘All art is useless’. And that may sound as if that means it’s something not worth supporting. But if you actually think about it, the things that matter in life are useless. Love is useless. Wine is useless. Art is the love and wine of life. It is the extra, without which life is not worth living.

I love that sentiment and wholeheartedly believe it to be true, but in watching Phil sketch across the weekend it took on a different meaning, art is the extra, the addition to life and in creating it you can enhance people’s lives and bring people together, however fleetingly and put a smile on their face.

All the artwork on this page is from Phil Dean drawn on our recent Malaga trip.  Go check out his sketching site shoreditchsketcher

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Malaga (again) with the Boys Book Club

Each year our boysbookclub heads to foreign climbs for a weekend in October, we try to head to southern Europe so that we can have that last weekend of the year where hopefully the weather is warm, we can sit outside and relax before returning to Britain and hunkering down for the winter.

Four years ago we went to Malaga which proved something of a revelation as a city.  I went with very low expectations but was amazingly surprised by a compact city with a great atmosphere, good culture and history.  It was something of a revelation and I’ve been back since so I was very happy to return again with the boys again this year.  Our membership has shifted a bit over the last few years so it was never going to be exactly the same.

Of course like our book club (and ourselves) the city does not stand still and Malaga has undergone something of a regeneration over the last four years with a completely redeveloped harbour area adding to the cultural attractions.

We did what we also do, wander, generally with no particular fixed objective.  We might for example say lets have lunch somewhere near the beach or lets go to an art gallery in the afternoon but they are loose goals.  In arriving at them we drift around streets, duck into markets, stop in squares etc all the time of course sampling the great bars and eateries across the city.

When we go away we always try to come up with something creative or our own.  We set a theme of Independence this year and you can interpret it as you want.  I’ve published some of the writing that we did on this blog if you want to check it out and one member did a fantastic mini graphic booklet of us all.  The Saturday night was reserved for the monthly book review which for October was ‘Gould’s Book of Fish’ by Richard Flanagan.  The book completely split the book club but for me it was one of the most difficult books to categorise I’ve read in a long time but I found it a brilliantly original a mind warping book.

The highlight as always of our weekends away was simply the spending of time together in complete relaxation.  When do you every really get the chance to do that with friends?  Our personalities are such that there is very little friction or tension and we just bumble along together, chatting over long lunches.  It’s hard to return to ‘normal’ life after the weekend away but I for one feel completely refreshed by it and am already plotting next years trip.  Any tips on where you think would be great for us do let me know.

Malaga Graffiti

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Graffiti is I completely appreciate a controversial art form (and there will some who will not view it as art but simple vandalism) but for me there has always been a place outside of the organised art spaces for other creativity to break out.  When I was in Malaga recently as well as visiting some fantastic galleries I couldn’t help  but notice, and be blown away, by the graffiti that was all around the area I was staying in.  At first I just noticed the odd piece but then began to realise there was more and more of it.  I loved the piece at the top, an unknown artist painting on a Jackson Pollock.  Look at the pot of paint which contains his Pollock paint, I couldn’t help but smile at this.

I came across skulls, lizards, rats, random bits and pieces, some small and some huge taking up the entire side of buildings.  Lots os the shops that had shutters down in the evening had taken up the graffiti theme and had their business spray painted on the shutters.  Check out the cheeky barber.  After I’d been in the city a couple of days I was walking back to the hotel when I looked up and saw this incredible Raven like bird on the side of a building out of which flew a host of smaller birds flying across the neighbouring wall.  I was completely transfixed by this, totally amazing.  Whilst I’m sure some people will disagree with this, for me this graffiti art added a real flavour to the city and there was some amazing talent on display.

 

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El Roto – Apocalipsis

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I was incredibly fortunate on my recent visit to Malaga to come across two of the best art exhibitions I’ve ever seen at the fantastic Centre for Contemporary Art.  I’ve already written up my thoughts on KAWS – Final Days but capping that was the astonishing Apocalipsis by El Roto which was one of the most powerful, thought provoking reflective exhibitions I’ve ever seen.  El Roto is one of Spain’s most important sartirical cartoonists, born Andres Rabago in Madrid in 1947, he has undergone various name changes but creats cartoons on a daily basis over many years that look at the human condition in a world of perpetual conflict that act as a moral compass to Spain’s history and politics.

Apocalipsis was based around the sequences in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal involving a game of chess between a crusader knight and death for the knight’s life.  271 cartoons were organised in four sections, each section containing 64 pieces (the same number of squares on a chess board) with the sections linked by chess knights and then a final selection of ten cartoons called epilogue depicting the end of the battle / conflict perhaps?  Each of the sections / boards had a theme – Ecology, Economy, Science and Violence.

Each picture was very simple with a minimum of colour used but the individual and collective power of each of the sections was truly remarkable.  Across the boards the economic and political problems of Spain (and the wider world?) were played out in starkly effective terms, immigration, war, ecology, famine, corruption, capitalism, religion, consumerism, politics, human relations, multi media, health, education and unemployment all featured but El Roto appeared to be pointing a way out of a worn out corrupt system in which we live.  Even with only about 4 words of Spanish in my vocabulary I was able to interpret the art even if I could not translate all of what was being said in some of the pictures.  I would have thought that for the Spanish audience this exhibition must have been nothing short of incendiary.

It’s very difficult to capture the scale of each of the boards here but to be able to drift round them, immerse yourself in the story that El Roto was trying to tell and reflect upon it was a brilliant experience.  To think that after I’d see this I turned a corner into the KAWS exhibition and you can perhaps understand what a fantastic overall experience this was.

Perhaps the final world should be left to El Roto “What my cartoons aim to show is not so much an attitude of despair but an indication of errors committed and thus the possibility of correcting them”.

And the roads were paved with ….

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When you visit somewhere new your eyes tend to focus upwards at the architecture around you which gives you a flavour of the history, style, and beauty (or otherwise) or a place.  This is of course perfectly natural but perhaps taking the time to focus down at the ground under your feet provides another interesting sense of place as after all the buildings around you are built from the ground up so perhaps the ground can also tell a story.

I started thinking about this as I walked up the main shopping street in Malaga recently and became aware of the smoothness of the surface, looking down I noticed that the street was made up of the most beautifully polished stone flags, so smooth they were almost marble like.  For me this gave the whole street a real feeling of decadence, then at the end of the street as I walked into Constitution Square I noticed the paving changing to sumptuous burnt red that was so inviting I slipped my shoes off to feel the smoothness and warmth on my feet.  Now I’ve never done this before but they just looked so inviting to walk on and they were spotlessly clean as I found out they they are all hosed down each morning (creating a very slippy surface for a short while if you happen to be up).

The more I walked around the city the more I started to notice the different stone patterns, all carefully selected and laid out.  There seemed to be a real history to this as underneath the Picasso museum there are some small remains from the Phoenician times and you can see careful stonework making up the street which is replicated through to the Roman and Moorish remains around the city. This trend appears to have carried through to the modern day and it made my think that anywhere that takes this much care over where we place our feet has got something going for it.  Have a look around your own area next time you are walking around and see what the paving etc might tell you.

KAWS- Final Days

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On my recent visit to Malaga I went to the fantastic centre for contemporary art where I was fortunate to stumble across two of the best exhibitions I’ve ever seen one of which was the stunning KAWS – Final Days a hugely joyful but reflective exhibition.  The first thing to note was how well curated it was, the five pieces were not immediately obvious as they were within an open room in the centre of a large space so you didn’t know they were there until you turned a corner and then BAMMMMM you were hit with the impact of theses strange cartoonish figures, the largest of which was around twenty feet high (and weighing around ten tonnes).  It took your breath away and make you grin manically.

While I was in the room I watched the reaction of other people and everyone had a real physical and happy reaction as soon as they saw the pieces. As I took in the sculptures I was immediately awash with childhood images of cartoon characters and representations, Pinocchio, Mickey Mouse etc which continued the smiley theme for me but as I looked closer at the figures I noticed they were in sad, withdrawn, scared, angry poses.  None of them had eyes, instead these were replaced by crosses which also appeared on the back of their hands.  I found it really interesting to look at the figures from a distance and then up close to see this change between the playful and the anxious.  Apparently KAWS uses these poses and expressions as they reflect how he would feel if he was continually observed and knowing this it added another layer of reflection for me on the pieces.

The final element of the exhibition that took my breath away was the craftsmanship that has gone into the figures.  They are all made of wood, but not carved out of one or two pieces which would in itself be pretty amazing but each figure is made up of individual pieces, each about a foot long that have been treated and fixed together (glued?) in an almost seamless way.  I would have loved to have been able to touch them and to feel the wood as they looked incredibly tactile.  A truly memorable exhibition.

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Malaga Weekend

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I really enjoy getting away to another city for a couple of days when possible, it’s amazing how much you can pack in while still taking it easy having plenty of chill time.  After a weekend, though often tired I feel completely refreshed, it’s so good to see other places, see how people live, shop, eat, drink etc.  As I gaze out of my window at the torrential rain I can still feel the warmth in my bones from last weekends trip to Malaga which is, in my view a simply brilliant city to spend a couple of days in.  Small enough to wander around on foot easily, relaxed, warm and with plenty of options of things to have a look at and experience as you wander around which is the perfect mix for me.  In fact I enjoyed it so much I’ve got a few different blog posts to write such was the variety of the experience.

If at all possible I like to try and go somewhere in Southern Europe in May as it feels like a huge reward to be able to stroll about in shirt sleeves, the sun warming the bones, a cold beer sat outside somewhere watching the world go by which is in stark contrast to the last few months hunkering down in the cold and rain of Northern Europe.  Malaga fits the bill perfectly for this, couple of hours flight but feels like a different world and a solid 25 degrees C.

Of course many (perhaps most?) of the planeloads landing at Malaga airport go nowhere near the city as they head off to the beaches and resorts but walk out of the doors of the airport and twenty minutes later a fast train from the station across the road will have whisked you into the city centre.  Once there ditch the bags and head out to explore.

Malaga spans almost 3,000 years of history after being founded by the Phoneticians falling subsequently under the control of the Romans, Visigoths, Vandals, Moors before finally settling under Christian rule in the 1400’s.  The history is reflected in the remains of the Roman theatre right in the heart of the city, the castle of Gibralfaro, numerous churches and a huge Cathedral.  When you combine this history and architecture together with the cities three fantastic art galleries (modern, Picasso and traditional), a regenerated harbour area and a beach a mere ten minutes stroll from the centre you have all the ingredients for a good city.

The city centre is pieced together by a maze of old streets and squares with a seemingly endless supply of eateries making it perfect for just wandering around.  At night the atmosphere was really special as seemingly the whole of the city comes out for the Spanish tradition of el paseo where all ages stroll around, chat, greet friends, eat ice cream and create an atmosphere that just makes you want to smile.  Pitch yourself on an outside table with some wine and people watch to your heart’s content, it’s as far removed from the average Saturday night in any British town or city as it’s possible to imagine.  I can hugely recommend it and hopefully the pictures give an overall flavour of the city.