Look at this! Sarah Lucas, Gareth Brookes

Last week two very different art forms evoked similar responses in me: cringe, fascination, laughter, discomfort as well as leaving lasting impressions.
Sarah Lucas and Gareth Brookes  address our obsession with the physical stuff of sex with all its lack of grace and leakage.

8d1afbb1f662ded5_sarah-lucas-1As we awkwardly navigated our way around Sarah Lucas’s SITUATION Absolute Beach Man Rubble at the Whitechapel Gallery it was as if she was accompanying us, her self portrait photographs lending the exhibition an autobiographical aspect.

Gareth Brookes has produced a graphic novel, The Black Project, (Myriad Editions, 2013)  The imagery throughout is from embroidered pieces and lino cut prints. It is an unsettling story, presented as fiction that also suggests being informed by autobiography.

In Lucas’s work there is a sense of the immediate – the throwaway laddish gestures and the jokes. We recognize these and as we walk around the show, we are perhaps reminded of the relentlessness of the innuendos and signs that surround us in our world, as in this exhibition.

Brookes’ work is the story of an adolescent boy, Richard, grappling with his burgeoning sexual urges, through the disturbingly painstaking making of dolls – sex dolls. He experiments to create vaginas for each doll that he can put his penis into as he lies on top of her, so it will feel as he imagines it ought to. It is this last facet that makes the book so brilliantly excrutiating. He takes pairs of his mother’s tights and fills them with old socks to form the doll’s legs. He does not consider the objects as dolls but as his girlfriends. He talks to them each night. They are objects though. Lucas also has pieces made from stuffed tights. Near the entrance is a polyurethane resin toilet bowl on a plinth with a stuffed tights sculpture alongside. The human ness of the reference to piles of excrement or intestines is obvious but it is also a nod to Marcel Duchamp and Louise Bourgeois. Sited at the entrance to the space, it contextualizes the exhibition.


Lucas has created sex dolls too. Objects. I might be shy but I’m still a pig (2000) is two hams connected with a pair of knickers and positioned with all their oozing traces on a mattress.  We read it as a human woman and as a piece of meat. We humans really are animals aren’t we. We secrete, we issue discharge, it’s what we do, never more than during sex. And it’s all so unbearable and funny. The ham legs could easily have appeared in Brookes’ Richard’s experiments if he’d had access to ham, instead he is limited to the stuff he finds in his grandad’s shed, bits of rubber tubing, some false teeth, a lady’s wig!

Both Lucas and Brookes make use of the obvious and the throwaway. Lucas turns everyday objects into phallic symbols and Brookes reminds us that many of us will have made our own dolls or guys, it’s not as odd as it may appear. No more than the strange rituals around bonfire night. My favourite part of his book is…*skip this bit if you haven’t read the book* when Richard’s father discovers his latest “girlfriend” doll under his bed and Richard explains it as an entry for the school guy competition. His doll wins and Richard, devastated, feigns delight at watching her burn at the stake.

Included in Lucas’s exhibition are cement-based pieces, castes of the stuffed tights  from cement and also from bronze. The quick and obvious gestures become more fixed, produced with a slower deliberation and process. Cement benches are formed from square panels. Within each panel, marks of the natural setting of the cement are visible, in this context they become stains. We may react to sex with quick throwaway comments and jokes, yet there are ingrained attitudes to sex at work within our cultural institutions, rigid and hard, like cement.

Throughout The Black Project one cannot help but be distracted by the amount of time Brookes has put into stitching and printing to create the artwork for this book. It is a book of process, slow and ongoing…like the process of growing up.

As I walked around the Lucas show, I heard some art students discuss with world weary cynicism how really Lucas has overdone all this sort of thing now. I didn’t butt in, but I didn’t agree as I looked at an enormous photo collage, of what looked like a pizza base covering one wall. Superimposed on top were little balls made from photos of end-of-penises. This is the earliest work in the show, 1989…ages ago…but how often are penises of any kind seen in public art galleries? yet so many art exhibitions have breasts or vaginas lurking about somewhere.

Both unmissable!

Sarah Lucas
SITUATION Absolute Beach Man Rubble
2 October-15 December 2013
Whitechapel Gallery

Gareth Brookes
The Black Project
Myriad Editions, 2013
Buy it now!

Look at this! Sequential app: Top picks for September

imagesSEQUENTIAL is a FREE to download app for ipads only, especially developed by Panel Nine who publish graphic novels and comics in digital form. So basically, it’s a shop where you can buy graphic novels and comics formatted for your ipad…the free bit is entering the shop and being allowed to look at some pages of the books. I was very pleased with how Billy, Me & You works on the ipad AND pleased… with only a couple of days to go, to discover that it is in the ‘Top picks for September’ on Sequential’s front page or ‘shop front’ – thank you for that Sequential. It’s definitely worth downloading…if you have an ipad…here is the direct link to the itunes App store And you can also get there by linking from Sequential’s twitter account @SEQUENTIAL_app

UnknownAnd don’t forget, if you haven’t read Billy, Me & You yet, you probably should! The old fashioned book form is available from amazon…here’s the link

Our Designer Chapel

Our home was featured in The Saturday Times Magazine on 19 Jan 2013
The feature was written by Vinny Lee and the amazing photographs were taken by James Balston.  His website is worth a visit if you like photography of interiors and you can see some of the other stunning shots he got of the chapel that day. John and I enjoyed chatting to them over lunch on the day they spent up here styling and photographing. Notice our dog Holly who insisted on being included in the piece! I have listed the Chapel on air bnb for anyone who fancies booking it for a relaxing break in the countryside. It’s a great venue for a family or group of friends. Sleeps 7 comfortably. Here’s the link

And here is the feature…times_1_lowtimes_2_lowtimes_3_low

On 4 Feb 2013 John and I were invited to be interviewed on the Melvyn Prior Show on BBC Radio Lincs. You can listen to it here

Highlights of AUTUMN 2012

Sophie Kamlish the Paralympic star
The major event this year for the all families and friends linked in any way to Sophie Kamlish, including ours, was her amazing performance in the Paralympics London 2012. She is my niece, the daughter of my sister Roz. Sophie was in the 100m and 200m running and got through to the finals in both. She is a below the knee amputee on one leg and runs with a blade. She is the youngest member in the GB team. We really loved it that she wore this massive flower in her final race.

Award winning graphic novelist
My graphic memoir, Billy, Me & You received Highly Commended in the Popular Medicine category of the British Medical Association’s 2012 Medical Book Awards. Here I am at the ceremony.
Mostyn Conference: Giant Step 2
The Centre of the Periphery & The Periphery of the Centre
21 – 23 September 2012
John and I were invited to participate in Giant Step 2 hosted by Mostyn in Llandudno, Wales.
Robert Stephen was the guest blogger for the conference, here’s his post about our presentation  Read it here. I really like the photo he took of us, this is it…

Compass by Beacon Art Project
Beacon presented an exhibition of four new commissions at three heritage sites in rural Lincolnshire:Woolsthorpe Manor; Grimsthorpe Castle and Ayscoughfee Hall. The four invited international artists drew on the particularities of Lincolnshire to create new artworks. It was a treat to work so closely with such interesting artists and a new and exciting departure for Beacon to work with durational performance artists.

Liverpool Biennial The Unexpected Guest
Curated by Sally Tallant, this Biennial showed the work of 242 artists in 27 locations. Here’s John on the way to join the queue to see the orchestra of 100 electric guitars playing in the Anglican cathedral, for the premiere of Rhys Chatham’s  A Crimson Grail as part of the launch event of the Biennial. Our end of the queue didn’t make it in and it was one of those spectacles that everyone who was there said was amazing. Annoying, but a good queue!

Dan Graham’s 2-Way Mirror Cylinder Bisected By Perforated Steel
This was in the courtyard in front of The Bluecoat playing with our perception of space and enabling us to watch others at the same time as watching ourselves, reflecting how we operate within society.
Mona Hatoum, Present Tense, 1996 soap and glass beads
This was shown at the Cunard Building. Hatoum’s interest is in territory and displacement. She refers to these themes on a large geographical  and domestic bodily scale. Hence the use of the map outlined with beads on blocks of soap suggests the instability and changing nature of political territory, both for country and women. What a beautiful and seductive piece of work.
mona hatoum detail
Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2012 at the old postal sorting office
Anita Delaney Untitled (Ready for a Fight) 2011, Installation, HD video

I found this video fascinating. The figure is a woman in underwear, yet the androgynous presentation removes any sexual suggestiveness thus challenging our assumptions. The figure is fighting yet gives a sense of vulnerability at the same time. The cloth over her head both disguises her (gender) and puts her at a disadvantage in the fight in so doing.
new contemp
Manchester Art Gallery The First Cut
This is an exhibition that you could take anyone to and they would like it. It shows the work of 31 artists who work with paper, cut, sculpted and manipulated. It created a distinct wow factor when you walked into the gallery space. The intention was to challenge our assumptions about craft. It was a well curated and exhibited exhibition. For me, after the initial impression had worn off, there was little that I found challenging or thought provoking in the exhibition. My favourite was the work by Peter Callesen, who creates his pieces from A4 pieces of paper.
peter callesen
Cornerhouse David Shrigley: How Are You Feeling? 
This was an enormous model of one of Shrigley’s drawn figures, so the proportions were not anatomically correct. I’d much rather do a life drawing of this than some poor freezing cold, usually woman. The room was set up as a life drawing studio and the viewer was invited to make a life drawing of the model. On a timer, the model pissed into the bucket. There were so many people drawing. We  do love a draw and a join in don’t we?  Brilliant, funny and clever.

One year on…and the page that didn’t make it….

It has been a year since Billy, Me & You was published and what a year! but more of that later…

My preoccupation lately has been with “the Jimmy Savile page” that didn’t get from Liquorice Magazine to the final book. Here it is

I was wanting to explain in the narrative how something can sound wrong, like “a funny book about death” but actually work. This page was based on a conversation with Marcia Mihotich about how when she first heard about Jimmy Savile on arrival to the UK from New Zealand, she just thought he sounded like a paedophile, but of course, she was assured, he was a well loved national treasure….eh hem!

Why didn’t it get through to the final book?Liquorice Magazine was where chapters of the book were first published. With a small subscription base, it offered me first readers. I asked one of them, Sarah Lightman, if there was any part she didn’t “get”. She referenced these pages. I realised that, because she is younger than me, Jimmy Savile probably didn’t resonate as such a massive cultural icon for her as for me. I needed references that all my readers got if I was going to use them.

Anyway, so what? After publication, when Channel 4 News made a short film about me and the book, we were waiting for it to go out at the weekend. It was due to go out one evening and was postponed at about 3pm by the death of Jimmy Savile. SO if I had included the page everyone would have “got” it, because there were so many tributes. BUT when he was announced more recently as a paedophile it would have completely messed up my analogy. In which case just as well it got left out. AND we must always listen to Marcia because she was right all along!

And now I must add some posts on highlights from the year…