Tate Liverpool’s Richard Hawkins: Hijikata Twist

Richard Hawkins’s Hijikata Twist is a foray into an interesting area of collage and images. The juxtaposition of images throughout the gallery space is an effective and provoking way at looking at the processes of the artist. Interesting not only of Hawkin’s work but also the processes behind the artist’s Hijikata and Bacon. The works on display centre around the form of the body. Often distorted, rarely beautiful, it’s a brilliant and very modern take on portraits of the body. I had a strong sense of an organic and original exhibition. One where the various works of art were ably hung side by side, across from one another, natural and without contradiction. The most important aspect for me was how Hijakata, a Japanese artist who without having access to the original works collected copies from magazines, had his collages hung next to original works of the artists he used. A coming together of East and West. Works by Francis Bacon were a thrill as we could see his portrait of the three forms, contrasting with photographs of sculptures of distorted human shapes. 

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The grit and grain placed in the collages next to the photographs, added an earthy grounded quality. Throughout the exhibition was relevant information explaining the origins of the works. There was a good outline of both Hijakata’s and Hawkin’s works and how they were relevant to each other. I thought however that there could have been a little more information on the relevance of Francis Bacon and Willem de Kooning. This was outlined to me most adequately during a talk from one of the Tate’s staff. Unfortunately this would only occur once a day, unfortunate to those that would miss it. Otherwise a really interesting, somewhat short, exhibition that is highly recommended.

Open Eye’s Letizia Battaglia: Breaking the Code of Silence

A genuinely riveting exhibition has come to Liverpool at the Open Eye gallery. Breaking the Code of Silence exhibits works from the Sicilian photographer and human rights campaigner Letizia Battaglia. A fearless documentation of the struggle with the Mafia across Sicily in the last 40 years or so. The lamentation of the photographer greet the visitor upon entrance. Her vicious struggles displayed on a screen for all to see. Her body and voice creating atmosphere where distanced music would struggle. The pictures aligned in systematic order around the first room give a taster as to what to come. In further rooms the details of the pictures are gone in to. For the first room we are brought into the far and distant world of those struggling with corruption on all levels of Southern Italian politics. The black and white photography captures the drama, the curators have ably considered this in their decision as to where to place each photograph. High drama caught on film the level of contrast affected which photographs were placed next to which.

Upstairs the visitor is lead into a smaller, more hostile room. The photographs here are heavy with violence. The distress is thick on the air. Painful Italian voices can be heard echoing throughout as the ambience becomes thick with the suffering experienced by the women documented on wall and in sound. As if the room were a conclusion to the rest of the gallery it is clear that here catharsis has been reached. The blood glistens deep black on the photographs, bodies of men and women lay strewn across white washed walls. It is an intense experience, not easily forgotten. 

Tate Liverpool’s Keywords

The new exhibition at the Tate Liverpool is Keywords. Inspired by the seminal 1976 Raymond Williams book on the vocabulary of culture and society. I was familiar with the work by Raymond Williams before visiting the exhibition, so I went in with a certain amount of peculiar anticipation. I was filled with ideas of how they might have approached the topic. Filling his brilliant word portraits with inspired works of art. I was however left deflated. The works within the gallery were predominantly from the 1980’s with decided political motifs. Coincidently all the works exhibited within the gallery were works owned by the Tate. Somewhat rendering the excessive charge of £8 entry a little unnecessary. Perhaps to compensate for what would likely be a low turn out for a “high brow” exhibition. Some of the works were interesting and varied, such as Helen Chadwick’s 1986 Carcass, a glass tower filled with composting vegetable matter.

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On entrance into the exhibition one was met by a protruding wall. An aggressive confrontation with an admittedly pretty confusing exhibition. While the inspiration of the exhibit was made clear by numerous pamphlets and the strewn copies of William’s book around the exhibit, the relevance and connections between the works left the viewer easily at a loss. To the left of the entrance there was a small area of computers with short films which I found admittedly interesting, but at each 60 minutes long, one might have to spend more time in the exhibition than I would advice. Works by David Hockney could be seen, interesting pieces, but again a little out of place. The exhibition engenders a degree of concentration rendered near impossible by the onslaught of noise from various sources throughout. An annoyance at best. An exhibition which had the potential to be of real interest left lacking by too little explanation and slapdash, ill-considered curatorship.

Walker’s David Hockney: Early Reflections

On entering the exhibition, David Hockney: Early reflections, you are struck by the journey Hockney has made. With the backdrop of the Homotopia festival opening across galleries and museums in Liverpool, there is an air of electricity. Topics often swept under the rug are brought to the fore in a radically mainstream way. In the Walker, a traditionally fairly conservative gallery, we see real progress. What better backdrop to reflect on Hockney’s work that’s exhibited. The topic unsurprisingly focus’ on the artist’s developing sexuality. The themes are broad however and while Sex does appear a lot in the art works, there is also a touching emotional searching that can be felt by Hockney’s works. His painting “Two Boys Cling to Cliff All Night” is perhaps the centre piece of the exhibition. A stark declaration in a less accepting time. A bold exhibition uncompromising in it’s longevity and scope, featuring 40 of the artists works, over around 6 months. Hockney’s unabashed propaganda still provokes today however, a sign that things have not come on quite as much as one might hope.

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The works of art are displayed in an order of styles. Small sketches arrayed on one side of the room Large poster style paintings on the other. A pleasing layout allowing the viewer to browse at leisure. Indeed I have made a number of trips back since due to the ease and accessibility of the exhibition. The entrance to the exhibition housed a small media room which gave a backdrop to Hockney. This created an introduction for those less familiar with the artist. Thought had gone into the inclusivity of the exhibition. Space and time gone into making the exhibition unpretentious and as relevant to the Homotopia festival as possible. 

Tate Liverpool’s Art Turning Left

Dancing into a world of myriad contours Tate Liverpool’s Art Turning Left exhibition attempts to document how art has been affected by left wing thoughts and ideas. An ambitious task. On first glance I assumed that upon entering the exhibition I would be berated by a heavily political array of class struggle and working class turmoil, interspersed by Socialist Realism. Instead what I encountered was pleasantly surprising. A carefully considered documentation of how art has been affected by the political turmoil, centring around European politics from the French Revolution to the dawn of the U.S.S.R. It was clear that process here was more important than the finished product. A Concept confronted throughout the exhibition was the questions on authorship, how important the artist’s biography is when considering art. Also considered is the emergence of art as a tool for social change. A reflection of the times in which the artist found himself, but also an attempt to manipulate current events. 

By far the most exciting aspect of the exhibition and a prime example of this attempt in history, is David’s Death of Marat. A breathtaking work which was kept till the end of the exhibition so as not to detract from the other works of art on display. A turning point in left wing, political art it what a real victoire for the exhibition. What is fascinating about the hanging of this painting within the exhibition is the curatorial decision to hang the painting without pomp or display.

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Hung up on the wall with a thin string preventing any would be finger jabbing, the painting appears to be hung with the same display as any other art exhibited. A very socialist principal, the practice of a preacher.

Noticeably many of the works of art exhibited are given as anonymous. Others are by well known artist such as William Morris. His wallpaper a nod to anti-industrial sentiments. These are arguments and debates which are even hotter than ever with the vast sums being acquired for paintings of renowned artists. I entered the exhibition with a fear of being berated, instead I feel enlightened as if a warm and friendly dialectic had been perpetuated.

I’ve actually won a competition ha. Two free tickets to a John Waters lecture.

I’ve actually won a competition ha. Two free tickets to a John Waters lecture.

I went to see this being performed at the Playhouse Theatre in Liverpool. “How far should one accept the rules of society in which one lives? To put it another way: at what point does conformity become corruption? Only by answering such questions does the conscience truly define itself." - K. Tynan

I went to see this being performed at the Playhouse Theatre in Liverpool.How far should one accept the rules of society in which one lives? To put it another way: at what point does conformity become corruption? Only by answering such questions does the conscience truly define itself." - K. Tynan

Tate Liverpool’s Chagall: Modern Master

Rustic in visage, earthy and grounded in the loves and turmoil of the Russian peasant. Chagall is a chronicler of the journeys experienced of his countrymen. Often given alongside more esteemed contemporaries Picasso and Matisse, he documented what they did not. Throughout Tate Liverpool new exhibition Chagall: Modern Master, this generalised consensus is battled against. Indeed the title of the exhibition appears to declare this crusade. Chagall’s earlier works are often given precedence over his latter. Indeed to many his later works are considered near irrelevant. This can be seen in the curatorial decision to exhibit only his earlier works. Indeed the exhibition considers the remaining 65 years of Chagall’s life in just six works. So perhaps the title of the exhibition might be more apt as Chagall’s early years spent as Modern Master. The exhibition itself is pleasant enough, his works are talented and display a wide variety of techniques and school Chagall adopted throughout his life. This is made clear by on the wall snippets of his life. 

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The decision to include a purple wall backdrop to much of the exhibition I felt somewhat detracted from the works. There vivid colours rendered impotent by curatorial irreverence. If anything the exhibition is an interesting documentation of history. It is rare to see works of such vibrancy coming out of Eastern Europe in this period. The realism of works included such as The Birth, with it’s blood stained curtains, reverberates with a searing rustic realism worthy of Frida Kahlo. An enjoyable exhibition, but somewhat lacking in radical nuance.

Walker’s Alive: In The Face of Death

The Walker recently staged a exhibition of photographer Rankin’s works called ‘Alive: In The Face of Death.’ Bringing the visitor face to face with images of men and women facing death and decay. Body decay. Weakening of the human condition. An uncomfortable topic. One which Rankin insightfully picks up on as being prevalent in our every day lives. We are surrounded by images of the macabre. Indeed fashion is awash with images of the death mask; from Alexander McQueen, to the high street. What Rankin does in this exhibition is brings the human story to the images. By ensuring the biography of the afflicted is provided he allows us an insight into the torment and agonies of those approaching and surviving death. The photograph of Louise Page is harrowing. Her eyes awash with the grief of mortality. Yet Rankin has still captured her resilience in the face of the onset of impending decline. She is shown fists clenched, resilient at the last.

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At the entrance to the exhibit there is a small space devoted to media surrounding the exhibit. Interviews with holocaust survivors and people struggling with disease. A backdrop of realism, there is no diamond incrusted death mask within this exhibit. Rankin and the curators have ensured that no aspect of those pictured has been commercialised or parcelled up for a cosy bit of viewing. The exhibit remains true to it’s subjects and is a credit to the gallery and artist.