Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Multiple media

I've been exploring an eclectic range of artistic pursuits over the past month or so. I finally got a copy of Basil Bunting's Collected Poems, including "Briggflatts", which I have been meaning to read for a while now. Based on the only other poem of his I had read, "The Spoils", I expected to find it 'important' but hard going. Instead I found myself totally bowled over by it. A beautiful music coupled to an iron grip on experience and reference. What made it even more exciting was finding this site, where Bunting reads the poem in its entirety. A vanished style of reading, to be sure, but what a fantastic voice - dig the relentlessness of his final consonants!

Modern Art Oxford is currently hosing an exhibition of paintings by Callum Innes, who was previously completely unknown to me. Originally a figurative painter, he has for many years now worked on large abstract canvasses, in various series. All tend to feature some removal of paint (usually by turpentine) after its application, which means critics tend to write about absence, loss and so on in in relation to his work. Of course, removal of paint is really just as much part of the process of producing a painting as the application of paint. What really struck me about the work was its dedication and focus, the depth with which he explores his various series, and the emotional power that results because of (rather than in spite of) the processual rigour. Particularly striking were two untitled paintings (a similar work can be seen here) where oil paint has been applied on top of shellac. The paint retains a three dimensional, tactile quality, while the compositions as a whole are suggestive of much without reducing themselves to any single explanation. Innes' exploration of colour is also a thorough as that of any other contemporary painter I know (which admittedly is not very many!). The exhibition is on until the 15th of April. I have already been three times (once to hear the artist himself speak), and plan to make a few more trips before it closes. It is a real treat to have the chance to visit a gallery regularly to explore a single artist's work - sometimes it is great to look only at one or two paintings on a visit, which one doesn't really feel able to do if one has travelled a distance (and paid quite a bit!) to visit an exhibition.

Finally, last weekend I almost had a perfect experience of Phil Niblock's work, finally. (I have seen and heard his work live twice before, and while both times were excellent, the first time it was in a quasi-concert situation that did not produce the right kind of 'endless' feeling, while the second time one of the DVD players was malfunctioning, which was distracting and irritating.) This time the work was presented in a basement gallery off Regent Street in London, next to a rather fancy restaurant. The room was largely white, with many white sofas and twelve projections, three to each wall. (For those unfamiliar with Niblock's work, this will give you some idea, though obviously the live effect is much more overwhelming.) For an hour it was perfect - the films unfailingly beautiful and fascinating, and the music (from Touch Works, for hurdy-gurdy and voice) at a perfect volume - not deafening, but immersive and loud enough to produce all the fascinating effects in the overtones that Niblock is known for. But then a waiter came in and, I suppose concerned that diners would be disturbed, turned the music down about half way! I toyed with asking him to turn it up, but suspected that this might be refused. At one point there was no-one in the gallery - I was just about to surreptitiously turn it up myself, when a waitress came in and nearly caught me. Foiled, I only stayed another quarter of an hour or so, but still, the first hour was a wonderful experience.

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