West London Girl

WLG on art and love


Good art is honest, challenging, enlightening

Some say you shouldn’t buy art that you fall in love with immediately. If you do, you’ll tire of it easily. Good art is honest, challenging, enlightening. It makes you think. It makes you feel. ‘Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time,’ Catholic spiritual writer Thomas Merton said in No Man Is an Island. Or – taken completely out of context – as Kanye West said in Niggas in Paris, ‘No one knows what it means, but it’s provocative’.

Michael Hoppen’s latest photography exhibition, ? The Image as Question, certainly makes you think. ‘Part of the fascination with all photography is that the medium is firmly grounded in the documentary tradition,’ Michael Hoppen says in his introduction to the show.

‘It has been used as a record of crime scenes, zoological specimens, lunar and space exploration, phrenology, fashion and importantly, art and science. It has been used as “proof” of simple things such as family holidays and equally of atrocities taking place on the global stage. Any contemporary artist using photography has to accept the evidential language embedded in the medium.’

What I loved about this exhibition is that so many of the photographs weren’t taken for the purpose of art yet their complexity makes for a fascinating show.

Prison Staircase, Auschwitz, by Simon Norfolk

Prison Staircase, Auschwitz, by Simon Norfolk

The French thinker Roland Barthes identified what he called the punctum: the crucial, often accidental, detail of a photograph that reveals something deeper. There’s a horrifying example of this in ? The Image as Question (until 26 November): Simon Norfolk’s black-and-white photograph of a staircase captures how light reflects off the polished staircase but a closer viewing reveals a curve in each step created by the countless footsteps of those who have walked down them over the years.

Red Tree by Paul Treasure

Red Tree by Paul Treasure

In contrast, when I recently asked artist Paul Treasure about his inspirations for his upcoming solo show at Signet Contemporary Art (27 October-16 November), he self-deprecatingly said there wasn’t a hidden meaning to his artworks. ‘My works are inspired by the joy and splendour of life,’ he said simply. ‘I particularly like this time of year when we’re transitioning from summer to autumn.’ His expressive abstract and vivid contemporary interpretations of the English landscape dramatically reflect his response to the ever-changing seasons, weather and light.

I guess art is like love. It should keep you coming back for more and never, ever bore.

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