Art Club Puplinge

I had the good fortune to be invited to Art Club Puplinge by Victoria James (who lives in Puplinge!) For me, a lapsed painter, it was both fun and inspiring. I will go again.

I didn’t know what to expect. Before leaving home, I threw into a shopping bag some coloured inks, a box of neocolor crayons and, for reasons unknown, a map of the London Underground. Would we be given free rein to do what we want or did Victoria have a cunning plan for us? As it turned out, Victoria had a cunning plan that involved us doing what we want. Brilliant!

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Our session started with the group doing brief “blind” portraits of ourselves or each other without looking at the paper. I squirmed inwardly. This was not in my comfort zone. Little did I know that it was part of Victoria’s cunning plan.

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One of my new friends managed this alarming likeness of me in just twenty seconds!

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Here’s my best attempt at revenge holding two crayons together!

One hour and twenty such quick drawings later, I found that I was not back in my comfort zone but in a comfort zone that was new to me. I was enjoying it. I was squirm-free. Interesting! This of course is also part of the plan and sets up the second half of the session. We then selected one of the sketches as the basis for something more ambitious on a larger scale.

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I am not sure at what stage or why a scaled-up version of my little blue-pink-dash-double-crayon portrait surperimposed on the map of the London Underground invoked a feeling of fear. I admitted this to Victoria. “Go with it!” she said. And so I did! It may not be beautiful and it may not be “art” (whatever that may be!) But if you had told me thirty minutes beforehand that I was behind the creation of this frightening bazingo image, I wouldn’t have believed you.

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Victoria’s objective of the wonderfully informal two-hour sessions at her Art Club is that her guests find and recognise that creative part of themselves the existence of which they are unaware.  She tells me that everyone has a bit of creative software loaded on their mental hard drive although, for some, it may be tucked away in a password-protected programme. She can usually help a guest to find it whatever their age.

Victoria trained in London at the Chelsea College of Art with a focus on sculpture. She wins me over by agreeing that the creative forces of humanity might flourish more widely if the word “art” was not used to denote something exclusive. In this vein, she looks slightly ill-at-ease when describing her former career in the world of “contemporary art.” She won considerable recognition for her video-installations which, at the time, were “what one did” if one was in the progressive London art scene. By her own admission they were “out there.” Then, eight years ago, she quite simply stopped. It had ceased to be creative. She took to sports massage, a domain in which she has also been successful. Only in the last months has she found herself drawing again. Her own creative hard drive was re-booted. The result, happily, is Art Club Puplinge. Join it! You’ll have a ball! You’ll also leave each session feeling rather liberated and with an insight into the programming that supports your own creative abilities.

Alyaa Kamel’s people

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I see Alyaa Kamel’s drawings and paintings on Facebook. The on-line human images are, paradoxically, intensely personal. There are new ones every day. Sometimes, they take the form of a reflective and mesmerising little girl; sometimes, they are contorted, shrouded or bound homonculi. Who are Alyaa Kamel’s people? Where do they come from? The more I see, the more questions I have.

On entering her studio in Geneva’s old town, I am surrounded by canvases bearing a variety of striking human figures and faces. Books on every subject imaginable are stacked around the walls. Alyaa smiles, offers me tea and then puts a bulging folder of exquisite sketches in front of me.

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Ink and watercolour on paper, 2012

Alyaa Kamel’s work is much more than slick representation of the human form. Her people emanate vulnerability. They display an agitated vitality. They are all taken up with the same struggle. They are aligned in a cohesive force. When I ask about their provenance, Alyaa’s answers contain words like “humanity,” “searching,” “hope” and “freedom.” After some time, I realise that her people communicate her general anxiety for us all: for homo sapiens. And I learn that Alyaa’s people came over the wide horizon of her imagination only two years ago.

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Ink and watercolour on paper, 2012

In the 1990s, Alyaa studied in London and Geneva. Her subjects included psychology, fashion design and fine arts. She had jobs in public relations and interior decorating. She returned to her native Egypt for a few months in 1998 and, without any great intention to do so, took up painting. Back in Geneva and lacking studio space, she worked on abstract pictures the size of playing cards. She has sold them all and to my disappointment, she never thought to take photographs. She continued to work in the domain of the abstract but on large canvases. What she exhibits she sells.

A return visit to Egypt in 2011 to show her work coincided with the beginning of the “Arab Spring.” Something about the people’s struggle against oppression re-aligned the beacons that guide her creative journey. Alyaa Kamel’s people were born. She emphasises they are not Egyptian nor even Arab. They are not women, men or children. They are simply people. The first time they were seen in Geneva was at the Tafkaj gallery in 2012: it resulted in another sell-out.

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“Dans la brume métallique, le jour glisse” 100cm x 40 cm Acrylic and mixed medium 2012

Alyaa’s people are homogeneous but at the same time, they appear as individulas. To acieve this effect is no mean feat. The fluid lines with which Alyaa depicts her people show a profound sense of anatomy. The effect recalls her interest in fashion design. The faces are, you would easily believe, the faces of real crowded people. They are hungry, anxious but nevertheless united.

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Ink and water colour on paper, 2012

Alyaa shows me her what I consider her most powerful work. A crowd of bare-headed men is enveloped by one Arabic word red-written hundreds of times – “Allah.” The faces have a haunting skull-like air. Is this a warning to us all that religion offers no better – nor a less bloody – alternative to repressive government? Alyaa insists her work does not carry a political message. It is, rather, an expression of both hope and concern triggered by the events that moved her in Cairo two years ago.

After an hour or so, I have not really deciphered the “Why?” of Alyaa Kamel’s people. I am not sure Alyaa herself has clear answers. For me, her people and their narrative combine to remind us that human destiny is largely out of our hands and increasingly uncertain. And if I’ve got this wrong, my admiration for Alyaa’s work remains unchanged.

Egyptian sun and a hill of mice: welcome to the world of Tom Bogaert

His studio is just a little bit whacky. Coloured lights flash and twirl. A tinny little voice set in squeaky-tinkly electronic music calls out “We are coming to Earth!” Tanning lamps shine from one wall. Folded car windscreen heat shields are stuck to another wall. I am offered a cup of tea and, from a large sugary box, a delicious little black liquorice mouse. My first impression – that does not last – is that the guy is….. well….. special!

Tom Bogaert, it turns out, is a charismatic, widely-travelled human rights lawyer. He is impassioned by his creative projects that tend toward the intensely political. Some are statements that whisper insistently. Some scream. His work has been exhibited to no little press acclaim in New York, Beirut, Berlin, Gaza, Port au Prince, Jerusalem, Vienna, Dubai and Amman. He is now based in Geneva where he plans and prepares for future events. Meeting him is fun.

Next year, Tom takes his project “Sun Ra in Egypt” to Cairo. The piece below was inspired by Dan Flavin’s “monument” for V. Tatlin (1969.)

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Tom Bogaert with his ““monument” 1 for Sun Ra,” 2013. 27 tanning lamps taken from 5 face tanners with mechanical timers. 300 x 200 x 30 cm.

The Sun Ra in Egypt project focuses on a series of concerts performed in Egypt in 1971 by Sun Ra (real name: Herman Poole Blount), the legendary jazz pioneer and bandleader. Sun Ra was also a cosmic philosopher; he believed he came from Saturn. His mystic solar fascination – or obsession – began when, at the age of eight, he heard about the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb.

“The Broken Light Year” makes reference to astronmical distances, heat from the sun and the colours of Good King Tut’s sarcophagus. It tilts at Walter De Maria’s ‘The Broken Kilometer’ (1979).

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The Broken Light Year, by Tom Bogaert, 2013. 15 folded aluminum car windscreen heat shields in red, gold and blue.

The parts of the Sun Ra in Egypt project that Tom shows me are just that: parts of a project. Although they stand for themselves, they serve also as research for what will culminate in an event in Cairo that will be part installation, part performance.

Maybe this project is far from his political statements of recent years. Well… just try this, his most widely acclaimed work! “Colline au mille souris” (Hill of a thousand mice) is Tom’s angle on the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Using a huge pile of black, mouse-shaped sweets, he pulls together references to lush sub-Saharan hills, the infamous murder-inciting Radio Mille Collines, the sweet stench of thousands of rotting bodies and the Malthusian theory explaining that the awful event was the preordained result of the impersonal forces of poverty and over-population.

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“Colline au mille souris III” by Tom Bogaert, 2008, Liquorice mice (lots of!) Image: Real Art Ways, Hartford, CT.

The 20 year commemoration of the end of the Rwandan genocide will include a collective exhibition “Au Cœur des Ténèbres” (Heart of Darkness) at L’Espace Cheminée Nord opening on 4 July, 2014. It will include a new, bigger version of Colline au mille souris.

Tom is welcoming and completely at ease when talking about his creations. There is nothing “too far out there” or pretentious. It all makes sense (that is, if you are someone who wants to find sense in “contemporary art.”)

The “What does it mean for me?” element of any post on Talking Beautiful Stuff is not so easy to answer. After an enjoyable hour in Tom’s company, I feel considerable admiration for the ambition and scope of his projects. They intrigue. They provoke. Together they represent an unusual creative force resonating with history however whacky or tragic that history mighty be. I am happy to have a brief glimpse of Tom’s world.

Marilyn, JFK and MLK by Michael Kalish

On entering Galerie I.D, I was not immediately bowled over by Michael Kalish’s iconic portraits. That came a few minutes later. Instead, snippets of childhood conversations with my mother repeated in my head. 1962: “Who is she?” I asked. “A very beautiful lady – an actress!” 1963: “Who is he?” I asked. “The President of the United States. A very powerful man” came the reply. “Why are you upset?” I persisted. Mother shook her head. “I don’t know!” 1968: Who is he?” I asked. “A very important black man.”

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These tragic American events carried such a gravity that news of them crossed the Atlantic in minutes and reached my very English parents via our grainy black and white television. Nobody could have known how the importance of these deaths would evolve over decades in lockstep with their symbolism.

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Michael Kalish is based in Los Angeles. He is young, accomplished and ascendant. He is unafraid to strut a big creative stage. The backdrop to that stage is bittersweet and loud Americana meets Pop meets Big Auto. His preferred medium – with which he has made his name – is cut-out car registration plates. The resulting iconic works are tinny-made-solid-by-rivet, tactile and, frankly, fun. They are, nevertheless, evocative of a world-changing era that resonates today. Kalish’s major creations include a twelve-meter high portrait-monument to Muhammad Ali made of 1,300 boxing bags and five miles of steel cable. His work is unsponsored.

This current exhibition at Galerie I.D is wonderful and strangely moving. It speaks to the cultural boom, global dominance and underlying nervousness of the United States of the 1960s. I am privileged to post here on Talking Beautiful Stuff images from the first ever showing of Kalish’s most recent sculpture-portrait. Scroll down! Be bowled over!

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Michael Kalish is a name you will hear more of. If you are in Geneva, seize the opportunity to see his work. It’ll soon be gone.

All works shown here are by Michael Kalish, 2013. Photographs published with kind permission of Galerie I.D.

Martin La Roche’s astonishing cityscapes

I meet up with Martin La Roche again. His ready smile reveals his continued enthusiasm for and commitment to his minutely detailed satellite-view cityscapes. Since our last meeting he has gone international. I find him setting up a new exhibition – opening Thursday 10th October – at the discrete and welcoming Espace Gaia in Geneva’s old town.

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Martin La Roche with “Manhattan,” 2013

I remain mystified as to how he produces these drawings. He uses maps and web-based aerial images for reference but his ability to imagine the views that he then draws is astonishing.  Take a closer look! In “Manhattan” he gets away with depicting the Guggenheim Museum upside down!

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Detail of “Manhattan”

One of his favourite travel destinations is Venice. He has drawn the city in his unique style and in doing so evoked a yingy-yangy thingy at the same time. Very cool!

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“Venice” by Martin La Roche, 2013

Martin’s works have an instant appeal especially if you know the city in question. It is easy to imagine a La Roche on one’s own wall. These are not limited-edition prints. They are reasonably priced. My advice would be “Buy while you can!”

Espace Gaia is at 14 rue Calvin, Geneva (old town).