Alan Brooks – The Life Room

The life room used to be at the heart of every art school until the last decade of the 20th century. It was the staple of every adult education art programme and foundation coarse until they too almost became extinct. Both Alan Brooks and myself where perhaps the last generation of artists in the UK to have this as a compulsory part of our art educations. We saw them as outdated modes of practice in our youth and rallied to the cry in favour of their phasing out, yet it is with a fond nostalgia that I think back to my time drawing or painting from the life model in my late teens and early twenties. Far from being an erotic experience it was a practice to be endured and dropped as soon as one got into the art school of their choice, but the discipline that hours of staring at flesh beyond its prime was learning to look. Struggling to make it relevant or contemporary, young artists would try and claim something new from the repetitive dulness of this tradition.

Being flung back into such restrictive repetition has been the downside of the last eighteen months and many artists found that enforced lockdown strangled their creative flow. Alan Brooks found himself in such a predicament, unable to continue the paintings that he had been working on. When he gets to these junctions in his career he often goes back to the basics of pencil and paper and turns to his personal archive of photographs for inspiration. Brooks collects images of art schools, some of which he attended. Married to an off-hand comment from a friend, that life drawing might break his creative block, that, whilst an appalling concept for Brooks, did sow the seed for a series of drawings of life rooms taken from the photographs in his archive. Rather than study the model Brooks would spend the next few months studying the artists and students captured in these rooms from the past.

Alan Brooks makes micro-intricate drawings and paintings from photographs, rendering every grain or pixel by hand in a laborious process that takes many months to complete. What arrives are facsimiles that have passed directly through the artist, turning the mechanical process back into a way of seeing something afresh. It is in this process that Brooks discovers the image and makes it his own. These works are always part of a conceptual series and never one-off, gymnastic flourishes of his skill. It is the process of spending time with an image and studying every blemish and scratch, the whole only being revealed on completion, that Brooks seeks. For the viewer there is the initial suspension of belief, that these are actually drawings and then the image unfolds tempting us to spend the time looking, that Brooks himself has sacrificed. Once the mind starts to question what it is looking at, interpretations start to arise beyond the source material.





Amikam Toren – Floor

I had been talking with Amikam Toren about making the second exhibition in my gallery project for some months before the Covid crisis. We were going to make a show of seminal works, one from each decade of his career. I have long been an avid admirer of his work and have made a number of exhibitions and international presentations with him at MOT. As his studio is close to my home I continued to pay him regular visits to update myself with the new work. Of all the artists that I have worked with he is, in my view, one of the most important, yet under-valued and as such I have made a special effort to stay in touch with the work, knowing that even into his 70’s his language continues to develop and invent. Toren is an artist’s artist and he is greatly revered by those that have followed his practice over the years, yet although he is in major collections such as Tate he is yet to have the ground-breaking retrospective that his career deserves. I have always been rewarded by visits to his studio, where I have found amazing advances in painting that demand closer attention such as removed thread paintings from the 1970’s. I’m am always intrigued by the new work, but have mainly been concerned with making the historic originality of his back catalogue visible to audiences. The start of this new collaboration was delayed by events and by the nature of my project being slow exhibition making. In that time Amikam started a radical new body of work. As soon as he sent me the images I knew that I would have to reconsider the focus of my presentation. This work had to be shown, it was as exciting and fresh as any of the wonders that I had discovered from Toren’s early output. 

Two months before lockdown Toren came to a realisation that his studio, his place of work for a number of decades held the key to an exciting series of new works. Toren has become recognised for his conceptual stripping of the painting process, whereby the materials of painting literally become their own medium, from the original tautological paintings he made in 1979 when he made a painting of a tea pot by grinding the broken remnants of a teapot to make the paint he used to render its form. This major breakthrough informed the rest of his career with many increasingly subtle variations creating a unique body of work. Whilst sweeping his floor in preparation for the day he was drawn to the pile of dust and a new pigment was born of that material collected by time from his studio floor. He made this dust into a paint and on canvas that had also been subjected to the imprint of his feet upon the studio floor he started to make paintings of the floor plans of his studio. Within these plans he allowed his subconscious to occupy the space denoted on the canvas. What Toren creates are perhaps the most subtle and beautiful portraits of an artist’s space that I have seen for some time. Coming at a time when the planet has been in lockdown hiding from a pandemic, makes these paintings even more poignant, though it must be stressed that these paintings were started in the months before many of us had even contemplated being confined to our own personal spaces.

Amikam Toren’s new works are simply called ‘Floor’. They are a concise expression of grounding in space. This is something that artists have had to contemplate for centuries, yet the conceptual project that Toren has been exploring for nearly five decades elevates this question to a higher status. This is great art and it is very rare to discover an artist as genuine as Toren. I will be considering these works for some time as they occupy my own living space and I will try and share my thoughts as they unravel through and around this incredible work. 

Amikam Toren (b. 1945, Jerusalem, Israel) has work in the permanent collections of Tate, London; British Arts Council, London; and Vehbi Koç Foundation, Istanbul. His work has been featured in solo exhibitions at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (2013, 1990); Ramat-Gan Museum of Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv (2000); Chisenhale Gallery, London (1991); Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol (1991); Rotterdam Kunststichtung, Rotterdam (1989); ICA, London (1979); and Serpentine Gallery London (1976) as well as galleries in Basel, Berlin, Paris, Cologne and Tel Aviv. Recent group exhibitions include “Unorthodox” at the Jewish Museum, New York (2015); Imago Mundi at Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice (2015); Hite Foundation, Seoul (2013); Whitechapel Gallery, London (2012); Venice Biennale, Venice (2012); and the 4th Guangzhou Triennial, Guangdong Museum of Art (2012). Toren lives and works in London.

Katrina Palmer – End Matter

The hard part is starting. I’ve committed to creating another gallery project, but this time a more personal and intimate affair. I will be committing myself and my family to living with art for the duration of this project and I aim to respond to it in some way. I will certainly be interacting with it on a daily basis as I have installed the work throughout the house.

So where to start? Some would say at the beginning, but I was drawn to Katrina Palmer’s magnum opus, End Matter as it starts at the end, which is kind of where I am beginning. Katrina’s work aimed to create a text entirely made up of end matter beginning with an outro rather than an intro, with the body filled with epilogues, appendices and postscripts. I don’t intend to write about art in the boring and stilted way that we are used to in the gallery press release, I commissioned enough of that nonsense for my own gallery. What I want to get back to is that core of writing that I made myself when I was the only one writing press releases at MOT. Being an artist I wasn’t interested in art historical or critical text, I just free-formed and created narratives around what I experienced, at their best they were something and anyone who came to those early exhibitions in the 2000’s might remember them. I missed that interaction with the work and so this project aims to be purely idiosyncratic in its approach.

The idea is to just keep adding text, which I guess is like a blog, sometimes it may have nothing to do with the work, but through my immersion in the work it will somehow be infused with it. I wake up to it and I write in front of it, I pass it on the way to take a shit. I cook and eat with it sitting behind me. Dark and slightly depressing black and white photographs of quarries and portland stone populate the fringes of my vision on a daily basis. An inventory of remnants of an installation is etched upon my living room wall and occasionally Katrina’s voice imparts it’s fragile tones telling of loss adjusters and a grave digger who is condemned to push his barrow full of stone around the island of Portland. Throughout, the writer in her self imposed exile haunts me across time and space and I become implicit in her tales of the quarryman’s daughters. I lose all sense of realities as fiction and history meld together in this incredible work. This is her large glass and I can’t help parallel thinking, Her loss adjusters become the bachelors and the daughters her bride.

I will come clean, I intended to write daily, but this project has already started, I have been living with it for 3 months already. This is a slow gallery and I am a slow writer or at least slow to start and I wanted to start before the structure of the gallery and website was built. I have been writing in a journal, returning to the analogue and I had intended to transcribe from that, but as I write this I have changed my mind. I have to get this to a web designer today or this site will never go live and I will be forever procrastinating about how to launch this new project. Today is the deadline and so you get today, with maybe a slight delay. In some way this seems in tune with Katrina’s work. It infects you rather than confronts you, there is no escaping it, you can’t just get it in a few minutes it demands your time and is better for it.

Well I think that will do for now, you can find out more on the Art Angel website here if you want to listen to the sound elements of the work and get the official art-speak version. If you are interested in discovering my journey through the work tune in here every so often…