Inside Reading Prison Art and Poetry

Last week I went to what used to be Reading Prison and is now open to the public  to view the building, art and writing.
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I think it’s a really interesting experience, it’s full of history and feelings of ‘people used to walk this path that I’m on but in an entirely different way’.

The booklet you get on entrance fills you in with interesting facts and about the cells and the creative works featured. It was the first time I’ve heard Oscar Wilde was in there for two years as back in 1895, being gay (having sexual relations with same sex) was a crime.

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If your going there to find a lot of art then you will be disappointed, the art is minimal but I think that adds to the mystery of the place. I found it really interesting, like being in an episode of Prison Break. I liked reading letters on the tables in the cells as they were so raw and poetic, especially a letter Ai Wewei wrote to his son. I liked seeing portraits by Marlene Dumas and glasses with the most detailed refections by Peter Dreher.

It’s a good place to take in a different environment and get inspired; I drew in my sketchbook, some people took photos and others on their film cameras.

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Inside is a project by Art Angel, Reading Prison is open till 4 December, tickets are £9 per adult and you can find out more to book your place here

Outsider Art inspiration at the Pallant Gallery

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This week I drove the furthest away since passing, a whole 70 miles to Chichester to see some Art!

Pallant House Gallery has a collection of British Modern Art and a rolling programme of displays and exhibitions. There aren’t many galleries outside of London that hold Art that interests me, this was number one on my list to visit, number two is the Jerwood Gallery, Hastings.

I was inspired by a lot of Art on offer, it’s quite a large gallery space with a whole variety of works. I really liked the brush work, bold backgrounds and whimsical song lyrics sewing of Clair Woods and Des Hughes. As well as some works by John Piper, the colour scheme of his Foliate heads were fabulous.

The section of visionary portraits I really enjoyed, especially Nigel Kingsbury and Dora Hazhandler.

I REALLY ENJOY LOOKING AT OTHER PEOPLE’S EXPRESSIVE, IMAGINATIVE ART AND SEE MYSELF AS AN OUTSIDER ARTIST. I AM MOSTLY SELF TAUGHT AND BELIEVE ART IS ALL ABOUT THE EXPRESSION YOU PUT ONTO THE PAGE OR SURFACE – ART IS FOR EVERYONE.

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My main reason for going to the Pallant, was Outside In had teamed up with Radical Craft for an exhibition Radical Craft: Alternative ways of making.

I started off my creative journey in craft then moved onto Art and I feel as if I’ve come full circle, that I can finally use both in my creative time/art making.

I especially liked Ian Sherman’s assemblage stating ‘It’s like living with a body of work that needs to be fed’. Just like our us, we are feeding our creative spirits all the time. Also Kate Bradbury‘s Rail Road Jim was a great story telling piece and had a sweet element of wonder to it.

There were many amazing pieces, all different mediums and structures in the gallery, showing Art isn’t just done one way it can be in the form of:

Machine embroidery
Pop Art 3D sculpture
Intuitive, instinctive, systematic layering textiles
Assemblage
Mixed media
Pen
Coloured pencils

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Amazing Ai Weiwei at Royal Academy

The other week I had the joy of doing two of my favourite things – going to an Art exhibition and eating Mexican food- with my dad who also loves the same! The Art was at Royal Academy of Arts and the food was at Wahaca, Piccadilly (a great restaurant with street food and bigger food, definitely recommend).

I went to the Royal Academy to see the works of Ai Weiwei, an incredible visual artist who I have been a fan of for a long time.

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About Wei Wei

  • Ai Weiwei is a Chinese contemporary artist and activist.
  • His early life was spent living on a labour camp with his family and thousands of other free thinking intellectuals during the government led Anti-Rightest movement. The family returned to Beijing after twenty years when Chairman Mao died and from that came a brief state of relaxation.
  • In 1978 Ai entered the Beijing Film Academy and studied animation.
  • When state censorship returned in 1981, Wei Wei sought freedom of expression abroad, travelling around the US and settling in New York for 10 years.
  • On hearing news that his dad was ill, Ai returned to Beijing to create works exploring his Chinese culture, history, campaigns for free speech and human rights as well as celebrating the poetry of his father Ai Qing.
  • Ai started blogging in 2005 and wrote social commentary, openly criticised government policy as well as thoughts on art and architecture. The blog was shut down by Sina in 2009 due to it’s popularity and Weiwei’s outpoken attitude on events such as the Sichuan earthquake and Beijing Olympic games.
  • Weiwei collaborated with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron as artist consultant on the Beijing National Stadium.
  • Ten days after the 8.0 magnitude earthquake took place in Sichuan providence May 2008, Ai Weiwei led a team to survey and film post-quake conditions in several disaster zones. Weiwei launched a Citizens Investigation in response to the governments lack of transparency in revealing names of students who lost their lives in the earthquake due to poorly built structures.
  • In November 2010 Weiwei was placed under house arrest and his newly built studio (encouraged by a ‘high official’ for Ai to teach architecture) was demolished due to planning permission, he was ‘the only one singled out to have his studio destroyed’.
  • In 2011 following his arrest at Beijing airport Ai Weiwei was held for 81 days without any official charges being held.
  • Two brilliant documentaries that explain a whole lot more about Ai (which were on Netflix and still may be, that’s how I first found out about Wei Wei) are Without Fear or Favour 2010 and Never Sorry 2012.
  • Ai Wewie does now have his own artist studio in Bejing (hooray) he shares it with 26 cats!

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After four years of being banned from leaving China, the Beijing authorities returned Ai Weiwei’s passport, giving him freedom, peace and a pass to travel overseas.

Wei’s work has been widely exhibited around the world, this exhibition at Royal Academy London is Ai Wei Wei’s first major survey in the UK.

And what a treat it is too, to be surrounded by Ai Weiwei’s incredible art for a day!

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There is so much that can been taken from Weiwei’s art, meaning on so many levels and I don’t mean just from an ‘art student perspective’ I mean any person whether they are a fan of his work, like art, have a limited knowledge of art can get something from seeing it, develop an interest and be encouraged and inspired in some way. In his freedom of expression, traditional values and new movements.

“Liberty is about our rights to question everything” – Ai Wei Wei

I really admire his spirit and way of showing feelings and experiences through creative form. His passion for ‘truth to power’ shares his never deterring spirit.

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A piece I really liked were these Crabs, all 3,000 of them piled up in a corner as if plastic toys. When of course in true Weiwei style these are individually hand made from porcelain. Crabs (He Xie) mean harmony and there are other themes; they were eaten at a feast that marked the beginning and end of Ai Weiwei’s new studio that was ordered to be torn down by authorities and representmass production, the need to look closer and see what is there – a creation, harmony.

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Ai Weiwei uses marble a lot in his works, I can’t remember the or find the exact representation of why but there is meaning that involves Chinese heritage and materials as well as it being cold and brittle. Despite that, this piece made up of 770 marble hexagons and grass blades is a breath of fresh air as when I was viewing it, I got the sense of – there is so much life here!

The words ‘The grass will always grow again’ across my audio guide along with the description of the grass blades being like hands reaching up, fitted perfectly alongside my first thought.

There is another twist to this piece that it also tells a story of Wei’s trip to the park with his son in a stroller and him snatching the sd card of an onlooker taking photos of them, telling us ‘some people are only powerful because they violate’. The marble cameras nearby show his experience of being monitored all the time by Chinese officials they are ‘powerful but useless’.

This piece breeds love, life and resilience!

“In art you have to transform your feelings into something which has clear language and story clearly told. You cannot force people to think and feel the same way but you have responsibility to make sure your language is clear” – Ai Weiwei

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The picture above shows a peep hole (one of many) in a recreation of what life was like during the 81 days of Ai Weiwei’s incarceration. Through the audio guide Weiwei told of how each part of the day was broken down, two soldiers were 2 feet away at all times, incredibly through the hell it must have been, he spelt sacred, each letter standing for something.

Supper (eating)

Accusers (captors)

Cleaning (showering)

Ritual (walking)

Entropy (sleep)

Doubt (toilet)

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It’s as if through everything he kept faith that his life is sacred no matter what, it was worth something and there was purpose. It’s hard to comprehend from his arrest, as it was unclear if he would ever be free- but in his mind he may of had some peace and clarity of acceptance, perhaps knowing he would be free in physical form eventually.

I will finish with his words:

“The Art will always win, anything can happen to me, but the art will always stay”

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Art trip: Visiting the Saatchi gallery

Yesterday I visited the Saatchi gallery in London for the first time, with not much knowledge of the place other than it being mentioned in conversations on Art and I researched an artist connected to the gallery in my OCA file recently.

I had heard that it was Contemporary Art, a term I am familiar with but I thought it was closely related to Modern Art and visiting a gallery of Modern Art filled me with dread, I mean just Modern Art c’mon….

But it’s good to give things a chance and if other’s liked it, I wanted to see if I liked it too and you know what? I did, I really really did.

First things first Saatchi is free yes FREE! Thank you Mr. Saatchi.

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I will put some pictures up in the order I viewed them and my thoughts on them.

The very first thing I stared at, then came back to stare at some more, was this stain glass like shed with branches either side of it and a metal fence around the front. I know, first thought- Is this Art? But I believe so because the way they artist has put this together I think (I’d like to think), is that they’ve focused on the ordinary made interesting and colourful and reflections of the branches in the windows, as it’s peaceful and like a whole different picture in itself. I liked thinking deeply about reflections.

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I came across a style I liked as it had everything I’d want to feature in a piece- paint, collage and gems. There were two, one on the way in and another featuring the model Naomi Campbell. Since I didn’t write down every artist I liked and I can’t easily locate them on saatchi.com I will just go with the flow and credit when I can.

The things I liked about these pieces were the use of materials, space, how they included all different parts of a house/ a person in a such a small space yet it didn’t feel tightly compact it felt complete, like all areas were shown and they had to be shown.

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Also up close you could see how the gems were put on so perfectly (drawn lines) which didn’t fault the piece it just seemed more incredible that a person put all of themselves into this piece. Drawing, painting, collage, sticking, sparkles n all.

The other thing that it reminded me of, seeing gems on paintings, was that I love to add stuff on top of paintings but it’s sometimes shunned down as unnecessary and less art more craft. Yet here they are in all their glory in a gallery in London- take that gem critics! Gem and sequins in the art world faith restored.

The next four pictures in a collage are all very different though stand out and interest, surprise and amaze me in various ways.

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The old hoover sculpture with the bits and pieces that make up the hoover is interesting, it was one of my Dad’s favourites there, I liked the concept more than anything from an artists point of view. How did they come up with the idea? What was the starting point the sculpture or the pieces? What interested them about old hoovers? So many questions…

Moving onto the basket balls in the tank, a creation by Jeff Koons. This is the first time I have seen his pieces in a gallery, also my first illusion piece of the day! I stared into this tank thinking slow delayed confused thoughts- How the f…how are they still…there are no strings! Water? A special still water solution?

Ai Wei Wei’s white sofa chair, now I love Ai Wei Wei’s works, I’ve watched his documentaries and I am a fan. When I saw this chair my mind stopped to think- Oh god, he’s gone to the dark side and chosen modern art, Wei Wei you are so much better than that, this can’t be happening, this is a disaster….then I got closer and found out it wasn’t an old sofa chair but it was MARBLE. Ai Wei Wei’s done it again! Amazing an illusion and possibly a message to modern artists- take that, you may make unmade beds but are they made out of marble- I think not!

Ok the last one in this collage is a piece by Aidan Salakhova and all I can really describe it as is unknown objects made out of marble granite. Looking closely, what amazed me is how solid and perfectly made this item is, though the hands are made to look very delicate. At the time I wasn’t sure if it was themed upon religion, femininity or even something sexual.

Moving on to the body and concepts I like, meaning I wouldn’t have chosen to do this myself though I like the concept and ideas behind the bottles of red liquid that make up a body and the skeletons and collages on the wall, shown below.

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A room full of flags made of hair may not sound like anything appealing but walking through close up you can see how carefully it has been crafted and delicately put together, the Jesus on the wall is made out of coat hangers, a very ordinary material with a striking effect.

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I love self portraits and portraits in general, I love not the traditional style as such but the variety of ways they can be created. It is never ending, again it’s something else I really want to explore further.

The third picture shown, words held with hands on a red background really stood out for me. The bold text reading RESPECT held by a hand and the same the other way in another language has a felling of being united, powerful, strong and resilient.

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There was a section on advertising in society and this subject interests me as one of the pieces reads ‘The ideal gift for an ideal life’.

It goes into detail that advertising makes out- if you buy this your life will be complete. Which of course goes on all around us and is an ever appearing trap- a crap trap even!

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Last few photos (I have just realised how long this post will be!)

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The paintings on the walls in the last rooms, especially the castle really excited me as the artist included different levels or viewing points I believe. Behind the red curtain and the rubble and through a hole in the wall- you find a castle on an island.

Ai Wei Wei’s vases were here too! I could write all about these beauties but for now I will just say, they are part tradition, modern and just pure colourful paint.

The last illusion of the day was this mind blowing installation that we couldn’t guess for a while, till it all came together- it was like a sensory experience realisation all in itself so incase you haven’t visited* I won’t give it away.

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*Go and visit the Saatchi when next in London it’s worth your time and it’s free! You can view art online at saatchiart.com