Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Typologies

Writing about my pill packet and drain cover sketches the other week made me start thinking about other artists who’ve recorded extended series of related objects in their own ways. These ‘typologies’ are unified studies of a particular subset of things, often with their own artist-imposed rules.

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Traditionally, typological surveys have sat outside the ordinary sphere of fine art – in worlds of reportage, information gathering and pure science. The analytical stare of the botanical or anatomical illustrator was never intended to move the soul, only to convey information for comparison and analysis. Yet the fire of scrutiny can often be moving in and of itself, and there is a potency in plain truth. Forgetting the definitions of what is and isn’t ‘art’, ravishing beauty is easy to see in the work of Ferdinand Bauer.


In 1802 Bauer, a leading botanical illustrator, accompanied Matthew Flinders on his pioneering circumnavigation of Australia – tasked with recording species of fauna not seen before in Europe. His survey of several hundred types, published as Illustrationes Florae Novae Hollandiae, is a landmark volume in illustration.


In a similar period Pierre-Joseph Redoute made an exhaustive study of flora and fauna which seems, like Bauer’s work, to straddle parallel worlds – fine art and science, aesthetics and probing analysis.

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Typological illustration and gallery art stayed separate until fairly recently, when Postmodernism saw the boundaries blur, often wilfully. 





Andy Warhol screenprinted a ‘typology’ of Campbells soup tins – all different, all essentially the same. The series is not about self-expression, that subjective veil through which one privileged, artistic being sees and interprets the world. It’s about mass production of the prints themselves, and of the consumer objects they depict. This is our brave new world.



In a different way, it can be argued that the Minimalist sculptor Carl Andre produces typologies. His floor pieces gather different permutations of basic materials, which don’t represent any concept other than the beauty of the things themselves. His life’s work thus forms a kind of extended catalogue of metals and stones. Viewed together they allow us to appreciate and compare the simple visual characteristics of things we might otherwise go a whole lifetime not really seeing; zinc and aluminium, magnesium and steel. Rather than drawing or photographing these things, though, he lays them out on the gallery floor for us to experience.


‘Typologies’ is a lifelong photo project by married couple Hilla and Bernd Becher.
The Bechers photographed industrial structures – cooling towers, blast furnaces and the like – before exhibiting them together in mouthwateringly pure grids which emphasized both their similarities and their small, beautiful idiosyncracies. Their tenacity in finding, travelling to and gaining access to these sites is incredibly impressive. Each gridded artwork is a typological survey, built up in many cases across decades – requiring huge patience to find and photograph the sites in identical light and weather conditions, so they have that elusive feeling of all being snapped on the same day.


More recently. artist Taizo Yamamoto has used a typological survey to hint at the human meaning (and suffering) behind objects, with a series of drawings of the shopping carts in which homeless people keep their belongings. Within the dazzling pencil detail and seductive interplay of light on fabric and plastic lie the never told stories of the owners of the carts, and how they came to be there.


Artist Gregory Blackstock records categories of things, crunching the world down into subsets of his own creation. Rather than attempt one long extended typology, his life’s work consists of putting everything out there on brief, one page lists. Seen as a compendium in book form they make an impressive, eye-watering sight – especially when you learn that, as an autistic savant, he can draw them entirely from memory.


YBA Michael Landy, meanwhile, made his comeback after ‘Break Down’ (the piece where he had all his possessions crushed) with a typological series of traditional etchings that harkened back to the bygone days of botanical illustration. The twist? These weren’t flowers at all, they were weeds – precisely the sorts of pesky, tenacious fauna we try so hard to rid from our gardens, our drains and our pavement cracks. Almost the definition of something never looked at, never loved. Unlike Redoute’s blooms, these weeds have already been pulled up – they’re dead, and the process of their decay is well underway.

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To conclude, then; a typological survey of something which never even existed... Artist Stephanie Metz (website here) has created a ‘Teddy Bear Natural History’ from found bears, appropriating display conventions to imagine how their skulls would look  preserved in a museum setting. Appropriately enough, the underlying structures of the bears are engineered from felted wool –maintaining their toy-like softness and tactile nature. Yet these skulls, with their sharp teeth, also hint at the true animal nature suppressed within our idealized representation of bears as cute beloved toys – and by extension, perhaps, the folly in all our attempts to sanitize and subjugate the natural world.

Monday, 25 June 2012

New AgencyRush Site / PJF Exclusive Print

My agent, AgencyRush, have launched their brand new website! They’ve been pouring tender loving care into its design and layout over the preceding months, and were delighted to finally unveil the site on Friday night at a special ‘Glug’ event in Brighton – featuring a riotously hilarious talk by illustrator Al Murphy. The site contains the portfolios of their twenty four represented artists (click here for PJF) – plus a new online shop containing exclusive AgencyRush giclee prints on 310gsm Hahnemuhle Fine Art paper - one by each artist.



Allow me, if I may, to introduce my own contribution to the AR shop – ‘Quid Pro Quo’, a fanboy homage to my favourite film, ‘Silence of the Lambs’.


I had a lot of fun making this one, a complex baroque scrolled composition within which are nested key elements of the original movie. A must for any fan, surely – get yours here.


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Forever in Negative

My artwork features on the second single release by Artmagic, which received its first play on BBC 6Music yesterday.   
'Forever in Negative' is available to buy from this Monday (June 25th) as a strictly limited edition vinyl seven inch picture disc (packaged with download codes for digital versions of the tracks). Pre-order from the Artmagic online shop here. 

Artmagic is a collaboration between Suede guitarist Richard Oakes and prolific pop producer/ songwriter Sean McGhee. Their debut album 'Become the One you Love' (with plenty more PJF artwork) is coming very soon...

Monday, 18 June 2012

Oprah, Fiddy and Me



One of my portraits for the Time 100 special edition (which I illustrated last year) featured briefly last night on Oprah Winfrey's show 'Oprah's Next Chapter'. I think this is both weird and cool, so I just thought I'd share it with you...
Even more oddly the portrait in question (of philanthropist Ray Chambers) featured in a special interview with rapper 50 Cent. Your guess is as good as mine...

Friday, 8 June 2012

British Sporting Summer

I was recently commissioned by Jermyn Street tailor and shirt manufacturer Charles Tyrwhitt to produce an illustrated map for their website. It aims to highlight the fact that, in a year where the eyes of the world are trained more or less exclusively on the London Olympics, there are a host of other sporting events to choose from - not least the more quintessentially barmy British pursuits of bog-snorkelling and cheese rolling. 
Click here to view the full size map on the Charles Tyrwhitt website - including interactive rollovers to suggest what clothes are best to wear to the events... 


Thursday, 7 June 2012

Lost Impressionists

I’m fascinated by forgotten figures from moments in culture or pop culture. When the Sex Pistols headlined the watershed punk festival at the 100 Club in London in September 1976, they shared the stage with soon-to-be influential bands like The Clash, The Damned, Buzzcocks and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Yet who remembers the Stinky Toys? They also played that night.

I started thinking about an artistic equivalent of this a few years back, when I happened to read an article on Impressionism which casually stated that thirty artists participated in the momentuous first group show on the Boulevard des Capucines. Thirty artists? I thought this was a printing error and rushed to check. No mistake, there were thirty participants.
OK, I thought, so how many of these Impressionists could I name?
Obviously there are the really famous figures – Monet, Renoir, Degas and Cezanne. Then painters like Pissarro, Sisley and Morisot. I could name a couple of slightly lesser known painters associated with the movement – Boudin and Bazille. I was already aware, however, that Bazille had died before the 1874 show.
Other famous painters associated with Impressionism or Post-Impressionism (Gauguin, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec and Seurat) came much later, I knew - and Manet had declined to participate.
So that’s it. Eight artists in total, leaving twenty two shady forgotten Impressionists who were there at a decisive moment in the birth of Modernism but whose reputations floundered and whose work has seemingly been lost to posterity.

Despite finding little information about these lost painters in much of the literature on Impressionism, it was encouraging to see them get a mention in Waldemar Janusczak’s survey of Impressionism for BBC2 last year. I’ve also since discovered some of these artists were the subject of a Phaidon book in the 80s, now unfortunately long out of print (Kathleen Adler’s ‘Unknown Impressionists’).
In contrast to the towering reputations of their immediate contemporaries, the names of these artists echo like mere ghosts in a chamber of obsolescence… Leopold Robert, Gustave Colin, Alfred Meyer, Edouard Brandon, Louis Debras…

Here are the few crumbs of information I can glean about a select few...



 Felix Bracquemond was a highly prolific printmaker, who achieved artistic recognition in his lifetime – receiving the Legion of Honour in 1889. His wife Marie (mentioned admiringly in the Janusczak series) was herself an artist who contributed to later Impressionist shows.


Particularly fresh and Impressionistic in style are the works of Armand Guillaumin, a key member of the early group, close friend of Cezanne – and later a friend of Vincent van Gogh. 


Ludovic Napoleon Lepic was a close friend of Degas, whose likeness can be spotted in several famous Degas paintings. He went on to win approval from the artistic establishment against which the Impressionists railed – being a medal winner at the 1877 Salon, and officially engaged as a state marine painter.


Meanwhile Zacharie Astruc is perhaps best remembered as the subject of a portrait by his friend Manet (above) – and as an art critic who was an early defender of his fellow Impressionists in print.


 One of the most intriguing people on the list of participants is sculptor Auguste-Louis-Marie Ottin. In his 60s at the time, he was surely the oldest exhibitor in a ground-breaking exhibition that has often, in hindsight, been characterized as a collective of relatively young artists attempting to gain freedom from the rigours of the Paris Salon. Ottin, in contrast to this stereotypical image, was positively soaked in the establishment tradition, having won the Prix de Rome in 1836 and completed many official commissions – amongst them a full length sculpture of Napoleon III. His inclusion in the show is difficult to believe – one can only assume that by this stage of his career Ottin had become disillusioned by the Salon. Perhaps significantly, too, his son Leon-Auguste also participated.

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It may seem strange that so many artists have been forgotten by history in the story of Impressionism, where others have gone on to become artists with such huge international reputations… Yet let’s face it, at the time of the first Impressionist exhibition there was no Impressionism. The word was famously coined, with derogatory intent, by Louis Leroy in a scathing review of the show for Le Charivari magazine. The artists themselves only began applying the ‘Impressionist’ label from their third exhibition onwards. Unlike many other contemporary art movements, Impressionism had no clear manifesto. It was just a collective of people looking for a place to exhibit outside the stranglehold of the Paris Salon. Indeed, the only real criteria for entry was that the artists didn’t participate in the Salon that year.

Impressionism is now, of course, characterized as a stylistic movement – with specific qualities which many painters shared. (Landscapes or scenes of modern life, often painted outdoors, using rapidly applied paint which sought to evoke the changing qualities of light.) There was never a written manifesto of these aims, however, and even the most enduringly celebrated Impressionists weren’t necessarily defined by these rules (Degas, for example, never embraced plein air painting). That was the point – there were no rules, it was a society of independent painters. Some went on to grab the headlines and forge common stylistic ground with others, making it convenient for future generations of critics to lump them together in a ‘movement’ – whereas artists like Ottin and Lepic may not have suited the convenient ‘artistic outsiders/rebels’ script which posterity has later placed on the group.
In the case of many participants, we can’t know how their work stacked up qualitatively against the likes of Monet and Renoir – but it is interesting to wonder...