Thursday, 30 April 2009

Joe Tilson: Political Prints

While some Pop artists have ploughed the same furrow since the late 1950s, others have restlessly dug up new ground in pursuit of more personal visions. Joe Tilson is one such artist.
     Initially lauded as founding figure of Pop, he grew tired of its relentless consumerism. At one point, he drew up a list of things you shouldn't do in print making and ticked them off, one by one. By the mid-1970s he was spending more and more time in Italy, turning his hand to reliefs inspired by Greek and Roman mythology. 
     The Printed Works 1963-2009 shows how throughout all these artistic upheavals, he has cultivated a formidable reputation as a subversive printmaker, one who has remained engaged and fascinated by the modern world, no matter which part of it he was living in. 
     Chiming with the protesting spirit of the 1960s, revolutionary politics looms large in his earlier work. Is This Che Guevara? (pictured right) features the much-reproduced face of the Cuban leader while Jan Palach commemorates the student who set himself on fire in protest at the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. Above all, it is his ability to take these events and turn them into striking, accessible and thoughtful images that makes this exhibition well worth a visit.
     Joe Tilson: The Printed Works 1963-2009 is at Alan Cristea, London, until May 30.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Richard Hamilton: Spring Can Be A Festive Season

Richard Hamilton, I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas, 1971
Courtesy of the artist and Sims Reed Gallery

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Into The Sunset: The Definitive Article

Garry Winogrand, New Mexico, 1957

While I was on holiday in New York last week I saw the MoMA's new photography show, Into The Sunset: Photography's Image of the American West. The exhibition has been criticised for being downbeat, delusional or distorted, but that all smacks of a point missed.
     The title is clever in that it never professes to show the real American West, simply what subsequent generations have made of it through the artificial eye of their viewfinder. The scope is broad, covering the last 150 years, though it really comes alive around the 1940s and '50s. Not only do we see the West evolving before our eyes during this period, but also we can witness the rapid development of photography as a unique artistic authority. While the art world busied itself with the luminous ambiguities of Abstract Expressionism and the commercial frivolities of Pop, photography offered a very definitive take on the real world.   
     Like the new sheriff in town determined to clean up the joint, you may not have agreed with the views of these photographers perhaps, but there was no escaping the clarity and intensity of their delivery. Into the Sunset features the best of the period, with classic images from Garry Winogrand, Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander, alongside more experimental images like William A. Garnett's 1950 series of housing developments shot from the air. It tends towards the male perspective but this isn't a humourless or boorish show. End on the glum persistence of Elliott Erwitt's slot machine playing grandma and you'll be grinning until the cow(boy)s come home.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Georgia O'Keeffe: Skyscraping

I'm going to stay in New York for the Easter holidays and while I was looking at a guide book I was reminded of Georgia O'Keeffe's stylish 1920s cityscapes. She was perhaps best known for her flower paintings or her erotic relationship with the photographer Alfred Stieglitz that played out across two decades worth of their collective art, but this series of sorts captured the skyscraping promise of a city on the rise.