Rotting bread. White worms. Chukka boots. A preview of the extraordinary new show at Studio Voltaire by Aaron Angell

Aaron Angell is an artist who works in ceramics as well as other stuff. He’s young, born in 87, from Kent. His new show opening this evening at Studio Voltaire is titled Grotwork. He’s not a ceramicist, in that he has no interest in creating vessels – cups, bowls, vases etc. His production methods and knowledge and manipulation of glazes is intense. But he believes in using ceramics and glazes as a medium to make work beyond the constraints and assumptions of craft and design.


Aaron runs the amazing not-for-profit Troy Town Pottery at Open School East, where artists get two week residencies to experiment with ceramics in their practice – the only rule being that the work has to be non-vessel based. Kiln space in London is dwindling. Troy Town allows Aaron and the artists in residence to experiment and push ceramics on.

And then for his own practice he also makes work from other things.

I went down to Studio Voltaire on Monday afternoon while Aaron was still installing his show. I was four hours off the Eurostar after the Paris men’s shows, and very happy to talk about something, anything that wasn’t fashion.

Rotting bread!

On a specially made plant stands, Aaron has arranged some hygrothermographs, those things you see in old museums to measure the air conditions.

Aaron has put within them damp slices of bread to see what happens to them.


The bread in this one has only been there for two weeks, kept in dark conditions.



Love mould.

Aaargh my amazing technical abilities are so amazing that um my machine didn’t record when Aaron was talking about the bread.


Obsessed with his rotting bread.

You’ll just have to think about it for yourself.


We join Aaron as he’s talking about the install… We were both knackered so sometimes the conversation might not make sense, but these are the words that were said, why try and tidy?

AARON ANGELL: I’m just tired.

ME: How long have you been here?

AA: Installing? Since last Monday? A week, without the weekend. It always takes longer than you think. Everything’s always a decision.

ME: Tell me stuff.

AA: Ask me stuff.

ME: When you were asked to do the show, did you know what you wanted to do?

AA: it was quite a while ago. I had an early plan involving a central greenhouse structure, which has now become these plant stand things instead. I guess that’s something that’s been there from the start. The awnings were a later thing [the ceramics are arranged on wooden shelves that are covered with awnings], and I feel like as soon as I made that decision I had to plow on with it to get all the embroideries done and work out the images [here’s one of the embroideries].


So it feels like that idea’s always been there, but it hasn’t, that was kind of a late thing. I think it was thinking of ways to use the height, because there’s a lot more height in this space than decent wall. You’ve got these columns and down beams all over the place. It’s difficult to do something that’s not just banging portrait mode paintings in between those spaces if you want to use those walls like that. Saying that there are four paintings in the show [here’s one, up high – excuse the amazing quality of the image – that’s the windows of Studio Voltaire reflected in it]


It’s quite funny, it’s a bit Imagist. Like the Chicago Imagists, they’re quite flat, quite spray painty, quite graphic design kind of surfaces, but then the images are somehow slightly vaguer. There are a lot of ceramics. I think there’s twenty but there’ll be less when we open the show. I know a couple I’m taking out already.

ME: How do you make that decision?

AA: It’s which ones I like more. Sometimes there’ll be a ceramic that’s not great but it works better in conjunction with another one, there’s one or two ceramics that are too close to existing paintings, and I didn’t want that doubling. Rejecting ceramics doesn’t happen very often, because most that are rejected are those that are cracked or unexpected, even though I pretend to know what I’m doing.

ME: They reject themselves.

AA: It’s the ones that are really falling apart, or that the glaze didn’t just go wrong, I used the wrong glaze, or something like that. Or just ones that don’t work with the show. If it’s made specifically for an exhibition and it doesn’t go in, it’s just held back.

ME: Did you make the ceramics specifically for here?

AA: Yeah. All the works are new. The ceramics I made over the last three months, I don’t think any were made before that. There’s a couple that were finished three months ago, I probably started working on them a little bit before that. I picked some up on Friday out the kilm, which are the last ones. I ran over with my firing schedule. I was still making some cork sculpture last night, which are new, I hadn’t done those before.


ME: It’s interesting that your mind is on what the work is made of than what the work is.

AA: But I think that ceramics are such a specific material that when you’re working with it primarily, and then you move away from it, you actually feel the other works are defined in relation to it… [AAARGH THIS IS WHERE THE MACHINE CUT OUT… SORRY… I realised it had turned off when we stopped for a gossip a couple of minutes later. Once we’d done, I turned it back on.]

ME: What are the shoes?

AA: They’re based on those dog chews shaped like shoes.


They’re rawhide. I’ve got quite a collection of them theres a few slight variations, some have differnet colour laces. They’re weirdly ambidexteous, almost like baby booties, shoes that are designed for people who can’t actually walk or don’t need to walk. And they’re edible. I think there’s lots going on with them. There’s this whole thing of the nonhuman mind of a dog in that it doesn’t recognise it as a shoe, maybe people think this will distract him from eating my slippers, but that’s not what’s really going on, and it doesn’t need to be a shoe but it is, it’s a joke. It’s like the dog chews that are squeezy newspapers, it’s a joke for humans, disguised as a joke for dogs. Also the way that they’re kind of the chukka shape, near enough, the whole story with the chukka shoe and the desert boot, it’s the origin of the “he drew it on a napkin and brought it home” kind of a myth, but it’s actually true with that one. They were being made, I don’t know if you know the history of that shoe, you being in fashion…

ME: I know fuck all.

AA: So they were made in like Cairo by bazaar cobblers imitating English brogues, but from a distance and from rawhide. They didn’t have the tech to make it shiny or the polishes and stuff. It was this weird half-glimpsed object that became the generic shoe shape which it is, but there’s something nice in that focus, a Cairo bazaar cobbler seeing a brogue shoe or the bottom of a boot and translating it, and getting it just right. It has no excess information whatsoever, it’s three parts. It’s the same as the shoe chews. Its three parts.

ME: what are they made of?

AA: Steel. Then they’re coated, they’ve got iron paste on them to give them a nice finish. It’s what you use to do old fire places. I have this blacksmith in Arbroath and I send him really bad drawings and and he sends me back really beautiful drawings of how he’s going to do it. You can see the hammer marks and everything. They’re really ridiculously macho sculpture by my ridiculously macho, actually he’s not ridiculously macho. The works are very very heavy. [We start to look at the sculptures on the shelf above]

ME: Are these made brick by brick?

AA: Yeah they’re made brick by brick.


ME: Is that a nightmare?

AA: My assistant makes the bricks. I made all the bricks for this one. And actually I had to make most fo the bricks for that one because it collapsed down to that point. I ws there and had to rebuild it up. It’s brick by brick. You can’t really fake that texture otherwise. You can sort of do it but then it would be too uniform. They have a lot of internal structure too. That’s the secret. This one didn’t do and that’s why it collapsed. I just picked it up like that and it [he claps his hands] it wasn’t even dry, it couldn’t hold it.

[We move over to some other works].

This is super lo-fi, these only came out at the end of last week, but I’m really fond of it.


It’s like barely cooked glazes where you just have some of the colour coming through, but the glass formers haven’t started to work yet. This has only been to about 1000c, which is really low for ceramics. You get to work a lot more matte with it. This is a two part, this [he picks up the bell part – notice it’s shinier] has been to 1300c, it has to be two parts becaue there’s no way they could exist in the same firing.

There’s lots of ways of making things matte, but the most reliable way is not really firing it very well. I don’t know if you see how glazes look when you paint them on, they might be powdery and there might be a hint of some colour in there, but usually it has no relation to the finish.

This is part of the same deal except this was taken quite high.


I got this gold working so it’s gone to 1280c, 1250c but still keeping some matte here. Again these are made to look like glazes when you paint them on, but fixed like that.

ME: how do you do the paintings, what are they?

AA: They’re reverse painted glass. All the paint’s on the back. I work slightly blind with them. It’s hard to turn them over and check halfway through, especially the big ones where its quite heavy. It takes two people to flip them. It’s basically masking tape and a toothbrush. Cutting board and some knives and the cheapest acrylic paints because they’re the only ones that splatter right.

ME: Oh so toothbrush as in flicking the brush.

AA: Yeah yeah yeah. Just flicked like that. They’re kind of like printed, digital looking, but they’re actually quite messy and provisional and cheap, they take me a day each, almost like a set. Like for a reason almost. I make sure they take a day each. I don’t like coming back to them. I don’t like editing them.  Generally you can’t work back into them at all. Not only working with the reverse of the composition, working with the reverse of the colour throw meanings they almost end up being in false colour. The last colour I see when I’m working on the back will always end up being the least important colour from the front if you see what I mean, that’s the colour that’ll be coming through the least. It’s trying to reconcile something that’s flat and that goes on the walls with the way that ceramics works which is amenable to chance. You can put intention into it and you can vaguely get what you want, but you can’t be disappointed, because you’ve set up a situation where yo ucan’t be disappointed, it’s always going to.

ME: Again, you’re talking about process rather than the work.

AA: I was reading the Lair Of the White Worm, which is a really bad book by Bram Stoker.


But I always liked the Ken Russell film from the 80s, it’s got Hugh Grant in it, playing a policeman. It’s really camp, it’s really good [here’s the trailer]

[Oh, you want to see the whole film with Greek subtitles, right?]

AA: Bram Stoker’s a really boring writer, but the book’s really bad, he started writing it, and then returned to it after 10 years. It was his last book. When he came back to it, which is about halfway through the narrative, it’s like he’d forgotten who all the characters were. But it was just at this point where they discovered there was this giant worm living in the well. Even though it’s really bad and almost unreadable, it does this really interesting structural thing where the figure of the worm seems to genuinely negatively affect the prose and the outcome of the book at a structural level.


[Aaron has to get on, and I start to take pictures, but I’m still recording, and Aaron continues to talk]

I’ve only just got a studio that’s not my ceramics studio, so I’m quite enjoying having a work space where I’m not bound by certain materials. Weirdly the materials are more expensive than ceramics. Ceramic is one of those materials where it has virtually no value except that that the person puts on it. Like it’s free, almost. With this I had to buy sheet brass and cork, which is either a noble or not noble material, it’s not noble when its reduced to conglomerate cork board but when its bark it’s quite expensive.


AA: I want to carry on with Troy Town for ages. If we move somewhere bigger I’d like to have both, but maybe just for me. The problem is that everything gets covered in dust in about three minutes. A ceramic studio is only good as a ceramic studio. Its super specific, even down to the type of work space. It’s a shared studio as well, it’s a group situation, it’s not private.

This is the first solo show I’ve done in quite a while. And the way I’ve done ceramics has changed a lot in the last year. I’ve become kind of self-sufficient. It makes it both easier and harder to make ceramics. I used to work in batches because I’d do some for a set amount of time, book studio time, they’d have to be out of the kiln, but now I can just work on them. Apart from this show, which was mental I was working on 100 at once, half of them didn’t make it, which sounds sadder than it is.

ME: Because they don’t survive the kiln.

AA: The way I work, I had to make about a third more. But now being able to work on one thing at once is a totally strange thing. Because I was making so many at once, pieces could swap between each other while the clay was so wet. Now I don’t have places for these other pieces to go. I’ve started to getting over that, I’ll roll up a base, I make a lot of miniatures now, unique glazed testers, almost like wasters that people did in the olden days. I have a miniature, it’s to test all the glazes to check I can get them as right as each other next to each other in the same firing, and to see also what happens when one runs into another. But that’s been quite enjoyable. And they make really good gifts, like for someone who helped me move my sofa. That’s a real example. I gave one to Richard Healy.

Aaaah, lovely Richard Healy!

The place where we shall end.

Grotwork is super complex, super layered, super involved, super rewarding.

It opens tonight at Studio Voltaire, then runs til 30 August.

Go go go go go.


Rob Tufnell has works from Troy Town Pottery artists in his current amazing show Potteries Thinkbelt – on for a couple more weeks – go see go see.

Paranoia, disco, hell, vomit – Donald Urquhart on his amazing new show ‘1978’ at Maureen Paley – a preview

I’m obsessed with the work of Donald Urquhart. He has such a particular way with line, with comment, with yearning and affection and spite.

Donald has a new show opening this week at Maureen Paley in London. I popped down the end of last week as he was finishing the installation.

Here’s his words, and new work…

DH: It’s called 1978 but it’s not all about 1978. That’s just an element of it. It’s about the past, as most of my work is. It’s about time. But I can’t call a show ‘The Past’ or ‘Time’. I called it 1978. All I listen to is disco from 1978. Other things get on my nerves.


[Due to my extraordinary journalistic powers, I forgot to take a photo of the black crepe paper chains hanging in the gallery, but you can see them in the reflection behind me].

DH: Black crepe paper chains are great for a funeral, a birthday, a wedding, I think everyone should have a box of black crepe paper chains. If you feel depressed. If you kill your dog because it’s been naughty, you put your black crepe paper chains up.

I like the idea that the black crepe paper chains get worse as time goes on. They get dusty and droopy and stained. They’re not durable. When I was making them, I was staying at my friend Jane’s house in Islington, because I couldn’t make them in Scotland and bring them down, it would be ridiculous. I had them in a great big bag, and it was a day and a half’s work, and she’s got this little poodle, and the poodle decided what a lovely comfy pillow that looked like. So it laid on the bag and crushed them all flat. I had to remake all those chains. The foil ones are alright. You can uncrush them. My friend used a pound coin and a cigarette packet. And went over them all to get the metal ones back.

CP: So you only listen to music from ’78?

DH: 78 with some from ’76 and ’77. And I do allow maybe 10 or 20 tracks from ’79. When you think about people who brought out records in 79 they probably recorded them in 78. And it really is pre-1980, because that’s when they started using computerised drumming. I think ’79 is the cut-off for getting live drums in a studio and recording the beat. I think you can hear the difference. Even things, when you listen to Blondie’s Heart of Glass, none of that’s from a computer, that’s somebody drumming. And now everybody is all about boom boom boom, on a loop and repeat, and I can’t stand things to repeat. And also they invented some kind of a woofer for a speaker that made all the bass much bigger. When you listen to ’78 music, it really sounds a lot fuller and rounder.

One of my favourite record is Over and Over by Sylvester

I love that, yeah.

That speeds up, slows down

Yeah, that does go everywhere. My favourite is the Beautiful Bend. A record from 1978. The album.

Which is That’s the Trouble.

That’s the feeling. That’s the Meaning!

Oh That’s The Trouble is Grace!

That’s a Grace Jones one.

[It’s on my mind because one of Donald’s works in the show is of Grace]


Because you had the night Beautiful Bend [it was a party Donald ran with Sheila Tequila and DJ Harvey].


Which I wish I’d gone to.

I don’t know. You might have regrets [Click here to see Donald’s extraordinary series of posters for the Beautiful Bend].

How long did it last for?

Well it was so sporadic. I think first time it was about a year and a half, then we were doing it in all different places, Freedom café as well as Central Station in King’s Cross. We did it weekly for a while and then we fell out. So that was the end of that.

What year was that?
I think it started in 93-95. And then it was end of 99 to about 2001. Somehow.

So how did you come up with the show?

I don’t know. All this stuff, I wanted to do quite a lot of collage. And I started off with a Beano comic from about 1982 or 3.


I cut it up and made this Tower of Babel and it’s got Diana in it, so that’s really got its own period and got its own story.


And then I thought right I’m going to make another one but it’s all going to be from history. When I did this, I thought this is like that scene in Close Encounters where Richard Dreyfuss is making a mountain out of mashed potato really obsessively.

And I thought what if I did do actual pictures of the Devil’s Tower from Close Encounters, but did it with the whole history of language and printing. This is from when I used to be a journalist for QX magazine. It’s things I wrote in about 2000, maybe 1999. I thought well I’ll just pick some choice phrases.


What was the ‘Land of Cockaigne’ [look close, you can see it bottom left of the tower]?

There is a picture called the Land of Cockaigne. There was a thing on in Brighton called Carnivalesque, and it had all these old woodcuts and etchings, like the Land of Cockaigne, where everybody lies around doing nothing.

How do you work? Do you work circularly, or one thing then one thing?

I can really only do one thing at a time. I’m not good at jugglng things. Things get left. Things get started. And then they don’t get finished for months. I’m full of half-finished drawings, and things that I’d like to get round to doing but can’t really see the point of. It’s a bit of a miracle when I do get artwork done.

I love this one. Paranoia was so much more a thing then.

I think paranoia was a way of life in 78.

IMG_8347 (1)

In 79 there was the anti-disco movement. Do you know about that? Disco sucks. Then punk is dead in 79. Disco’s dead. What else can be dead?


When you work like this do you write it before or is it instinctive on the work?

Yeah it’s loads of scribbling on envelopes when I’m drunk. There’s lots of notes, then I’ll go through all these bits of paper and put things together from that.

Who are these two boys?

I think they’re just actors from a film. They’re nobody in particular.


Where are the eyes from?

When I moved back to Scotland, where I live it’s really freaky because there’s thousands of starlings in the sky making these big shapes all the time. I thought this is like another planet. Even in the winter, the ones that don’t fly to Africa or wherever they go, some stay behind and make all these shapes. It’s just this constant display that never ever stops. I thought I’d draw them as that. There’s a lot more eye drawings than this. I started to get a bit obsessive.


Do you actually draw the pattern of the starlings?

Well I’m trying to get the pattern that they make, like this is, you can see this to be one of the clusters because then they break up into little bits, then they all come back together, and then they all go.


I’m obsessed with eyes.

Well I’m not [he laughs]. Yeah I think I am a bit too.

Do you find your work is different in different places?

Well I think my work looks different all the time. I’m still doing the same thing in Dumfries as I was in Paris. I’m getting involved in theatrical work in Dumfries. I did the scenery for a production of Snow White, which was really fun, and it’s all really young kids. They had to do a play about sectarianism. They’re really dark these kids. I said to them what’s the play about, they said we need a graveyard, and we’ve got to be children sat around in our pyjamas because we’ve been burned in a fire. And on the stage we need to have a prison with a prisoner in his cell writing his confession before he commits suicide. And I was like OK. And they were like it’s got to tour around four different venues so it’s all got to fit in the back of a minibus. And I was like, fine. So I made them a graveyard, real flowers, and I got twenty pounds of dry ice delivered to each venue so it was all dry ice, then the black crepe paper chains on once side for the prison and it all folded up, and that was such a fun thing to do. I don’t know if I’d ever get the chance to do anything like that in London.

And it was kids acting in a graveyard?

It was kids they were like 7 to 12 year old kids with pyjamas and burnt faces. I’m going to do more with that theatre company. I love working with dry ice. You don’t get much more fun than that.

And the lightning?

It was kind of a thing in the 70s to have lightning bolts as décor.

IMG_8360There was a gay disco called Bolts and I think it was at a place called Lasers on Green Lanes. Then there was Bang, and there was the David Bowie stripe on the Aladdin Sane cover, but it’s not as elongated as the disco lightning bolt that really is a lot narrower and more spikey.

What was Bolts on Green Lanes?

It was only on Saturday nights. It was a regular disco all the other nights. It was just mental. I’d be about 21 when I went there. Leigh Bowery used to go with Trojan, and really not wearing normal gay disco wear. It was all these queens who wore everything perfectly ironed, that kind of queen, and clones. You don’t really see clones like you used to see them. Real clones that had to have Levi’s rather than Wranglers, and all this stuff going on in their heads. I used to get spectacularly drunk and then go there and get even more spectacularly drunk. I remember always being sick on the dancefloor there. Puke and fag ends.

Actually sick on the dancefloor or tried to go to the edge?

On the dancefloor. Keep going. Keep dancing. Bleuugh. I often wonder if these places are still there or venues or

Luxury flats

Yeah luxury flats. It’s all gone.

Who’s this?

Quite often I just want to make up a feeling. She’s not actually anybody, its just the pose and the expression to express “How big is hell”, because sometimes it looks very big.


That was part of some illustrations I did for Stephen Jones. I did four drawings. It was called Turbulence, Torpor and Turbans. This was from Turbulence.


What were the turbans?

Edith Sitwell and Edith Beale.

It’s all so good.

I’m pleased with it. I think my shows are all the same but they’re not. Some of them are really miserable. Some of them are really sarcastic. I like the balance of this show.

Hey so go go go. The private view is this eve if you fancy a beer, then the show is on until 12 July, click here etcetc.

Agnes Martin at Tate Modern is an extraordinary show about the purpose of work. A preview

Tate Modern is previewing it’s new Agnes Martin show, the first full retrospective ever dedicated to the artist.

It’s immediate achievement is to reveal the human behind the grid, wash and line.

The usual experience of Martin is of work where her hand can barely be seen, the line and colour so faint. The effect is of distance, as if Martin did not want you to know her, or her output.

At Tate Modern, her work is substantiated, heightened and personalised by highlighting variation, and showing the breadth of her career.

It shows that her intention wasn’t mystery or evasion, but specific communication of her feelings, and understanding of the world.

An early work, from around 1954, titled Mid-Winter.

Untitled, from 1958.

The room of sculptures made from found objects is a revelation.

This is Burning Tree from 1961.

She was living in a sailmakers loft in lower Manhattan at the time. 

The Laws, made from boat spikes, from 1958.


Islands No4, from 1961.


Friendship, made with gold leaf, in 1963, as her grid evolved.

It’s at this point that the curators Francis Morris, Tiffany Bell and Lena Fritsch note in the wall text that Martin suffered from schizophrenia.

It is done with reason, to explain these grids as an expression of the processes of the mind.

Morning, from 1965.


And then Martin disappeared.

She sold all her possessions, went on a road trip, and gave up art for five years.

She reemerged in New Mexico, where the work took on rigour but also exploration – of colour, form, or absence of both.

An untitled work from the 70s.


The Islands II from 1979, one of a series of twelve, all presented together.

One of the most powerful rooms is of her later work, where more message is revealed.

Homage To Life, from 2003.


Untitled, from 2002.

Untitled, from 2004, the year of her death.
She was 91.


The show is deeply inspirational, about the purpose of work. 

Not for market, or public display, but the purpose of work to help explain and understand the self.

Go go go go see.

It opens tomorrow, 3 June, until 11 October at Tate Modern

Guess how many election posters you see on a morning’s walk in Tower Hamlets? Clue: not that many

At the end of my garden is a border.


I live on the very edge of Tower Hamlets.
Those flats over the road are in Hackney.

Ours is a troubled borough. 

We had five years of George Galloway as our MP from 2005-2010, and our mayor has recently been kicked out for corruption.

Since 2010, our MP has been Rushanara Ali.

She is a Labour politician, and won with a majority of over 11,000.

The other day I was at a friend’s flat, and was shocked to see a poster for Ali in their window.

Shocked because I’d not seen one this whole campaign.

Not for Ali, nor for any of her rivals.

I have no idea who any of her rivals are.

It is the silent election.

Yesterday morning, I walked through the borough to see if I could spot any more.

And there on the Hackney Road, not far from my flat, was a poster in a window for Ali.



Maybe there are posters everywhere and I’ve just not been looking.

Let’s keep walking.

None on Elwin Street, the long side of Jesus Green round the back of Columbia Road.


None in the block behind The Birdcage at the end of Wellington Row.


What about the new build at the top of Brick Lane – what I guess are called “luxury flats”.



Behind it is the 25 storey Avant-Garde tower.
That is its actual name.

It’s website says that it has now sold its penthouse on the 23rd and 24th floors, “in the heart of trendy urban hotspot Shoreditch”.

Are its new owners displaying their political colours?



Maybe the tower is over the border into the neighbouring ward of Shoreditch.


There’s no posters for anyone.

I headed down to Whitechapel.

None in the development out the back of Starbucks, though I guess these windows weren’t really designed for political posters.

At the mosque, I turned left.

None in this block.

None on Old Montague Street.

That’s the Walkie Talkie down the end of the road.

None in the Chicksand Estate.


None in Spring Walk on Hanbury Street.


That note in the window on the bottom right just says “27”.

How about the little cottages of Woodseer Street?



Let’s dove back a bit to Fournier Street.

Where Gilbert & George have lived for years.

There’s a tour group outside their house.


No posters though.

Down the other end, a man tries to remove some graffiti from his shutters.



What’s that?

Down Willies Street, someone has something in their window.


It’s a poster protesting against a local development.


Local issues, not local politics.

A whole morning’s walk, and only one poster.

The story stays the same.

None behind the blossom of St Matthews Row – I checked.

None in Yates House.

Nor the new build opposite that appears to have no name.

None on Canrobert Street.


I guess the reality is the parties have stopped using the mail as a method of electioneering.

Most of the post goes straight in the recycling.

And so there’s less opportunity to put posters in the window, even if you wanted.

But it doesn’t seem to be replaced by anything.

I’m entirely unaware of the election online.

Maybe there’s some old regulation that restricts online advertising.

I’ve only seen one billboard poster this whole election – for the Conservatives, at the junction of Old Street and Great Eastern Street.

And so the election becomes silent.

When our system should all be about local politics.

But who am I to talk. 

Here’s my window.



“An essay in walls, pictures and books”: Christopher Williams at Whitechapel is fierce and energising. Some pix

The Whitechapel Gallery in London today was previewing The Production Line of Happiness, a retrospective of the work of Christopher Williams.

The show is fierce and energising, and unlike most retrospectives, is totally alive.

The show has already appeared at the Art Institute in Chicago and MoMA in New York, but arrives here in a fresh form that responds to the space and the history of the building.

His art is academic and involved, often with a story or meaning that remains hidden.

But it is also generous.

Williams works with photography, but isn’t a photographer. To look at the images isolated misses out all else that is going on.

Before you enter, it’s already a shock.

Did someone forget to clear up from the last show?

Here’s how it looks inside.

Parts of walls as the display.

Like a gallery disrupted.

Something so immediately imperfect in a gallery space is already energising.

I can take a photo of a work close-up…

But it makes more sense in a wider context.

At these press previews, there’s usually a curators tour, which most of the time I avoid.

Not this morning.

Williams himself was present, his involvement in the show that active.

This is no hagiography.

And so I switched on my recorder.

I’m going to print excerpts, because as Williams said later in the tour, “I’m very good at talking for thirty seconds or for like eight hours”.

We start in the foyer of the Whitechapel, usually a space separate from whatever show is inside the main galleries.

But as curator Mark Godfrey pointed out, for the seminal Whitechapel show This Is Tomorrow from 1956, the space was used to house Richard Hamilton’s Fun House.

[an image of the Fun House from last year’s Tate Modern show]

Williams will later talk about his view of art as a dialogue, both within itself and with an audience.

Hamilton is important to him, especially within the gallery that this show is housed.

And too is the show that was on before him.

CHRISTOPHER WILLIAMS: I think also the exhibition starts further back in time in a way, if you think of art as a dialogue with other art. This exhibition starts with the Adventures Of The Black Square and that suggests it starts maybe with the beginning of modernism and then on to the Hamilton work on exhibition design [as seen in the Tate show last year, Hamilton’s early work was much involved in the workings of an exhibition itself].

Exhibition design is very important to me, as a way of framing my photographic activity. I think of this as an essay in photographs, walls, printed matter and different kinds of dialogue. Out here we confront the signage of exhibition design…


CW: …but it also leads directly into the catalogue of the show. It generated two books [those two books on my kitchen table]


CW: At MoMA they were red. In Chicago they were yellow, so each exhibition has its own identity. But also coming to this space I looked at it and I thought maybe we could guide the viewers through the show with colour rather than language. So you’ll see as you move through the show the green panels reemerge. 

One other thing. I think this space is the handshake for the show [the corner of the bookstore, with one of the books displayed in the vitrine]


CW: This is where the viewer is greeted. And there’s a little bit of a struggle between artist and institutional handshakes, and I think it’s really generous of the Whitechapel to allow me to share the greeting out here with the viewer. I think it suggests the artist was present in the house and that’s really important. Because in contemporary art in an instituitional context, the artist gets marginalised in relationship to other voices. I think this is an artist-centred institution and they were very generous with.. is that OK?

Williams was asking the curator, Mark Godfrey. We moved inside, to stand by a work that references Daniel Buren, images of whose Seven Ballets in Manhattan had been included in Adventures Of The White Square. 

The work by Williams.


That label is a remnant from the previous show.

Williams said that often the titles of his works are a page long, so wall labels are pretty much out of the picture.

He talked about how this work referred to a ceiling piece by Buren, and “utilising the institutional framing devices as their subject matter.”

CW: “This for me pushes two things together that are really crucial for understanding my work in my opinion, which is the photographic way of seeing, a very clear objective way of seeing, not soft focus, not coloured filters, not expressionistic, but really examining an object as closely as possible and creating the conditions for you to view it as closely as possible, and its also a reference to instituational critic and conceptual art and those things. So in this are those two things. 

He went on to explain the use of walls.

CW: We’re talking about an essay in walls, pictures and books. The walls have all been borrowed from German museums, from a couple of museums in the Rhineland. It’s a mobile wall system, it’s called the Wolfsburg wall system, and it’s a light, fast system for building walls. 


CW: At one point we were going to build all cinder block walls based on Richard Hamilton installation, it was cheap in the 50s but now it’s a very expensive way to build walls so we were looking for an affordable alternative, so we brought in these German walls which have a whole other history, so you’ll see a map here, the fragments of a map, that’s from the last exhibition these walls were used in, it was an exhibition about Paul Klee in Egypt. 


CW: So you can see the scars of the last exhibition, the Adventures Of The Black Square, right here in this room. 


CW: You can think of the whole room as a historical wrapper that my show is dropped into. It’s multiple histories, not just the Whitechapel, but also exhibitions from the Rhineland from where I live and work. These walls were also used in an exhibition that I did with a Viennese artist who’s been working in Los Angeles for a decade named Mattias Poledna. They’re also fragments from an earlier collaborative work between me and another artist. The reason the relationships between Buren and his assistant [Williams had talked about Buren’s assistant in the 70s Christopher D’Arcangelo] and I and Mattias Poledna are important is that I don’t think art as a solitary activity is interesting. I think of it as a dialogue between the artist and the public. I work pretty closely with a group of artists, we have a very intense sustained dialogue and these walls are evidence of that.

We move over to stand near an image of a chicken.

It’s in the background here. 


CW: What I try to do with my work, part of the area of photographic interest is to try to rethink ideas coming out of pop art, especially European pop art, especially Richard Hamilton, Richter, Polke, the German artists involved in similar issues. I’m trying to rethink it through a different type of clarity, a photographic discourse that emphasises clarity. So you probably all have Newsstand on your iPad [it’s the app where you buy digital versions of papers and magazines]. I’m relatively new to computers and I found Newsstand and I love it, because I can shop for magazines. When I’m in Los Angeles I go to a newsstand every morning. But the newsstand on the iPad allows me to shop, and I was always looking at the way photographs are used. 

I found a type of magazine that I’d never read before: poultry magazines. They’re really fantastic from a photographic standpoint, and also their specificity. I love really refined, specific forms of vernacular behaviour, It’s not unlike contemporary art in a way. The people who are involved with show chickens are involved with a super specific discourse and a kind of language that’s particular to them, the way that hot rod people are. If you go to the newsstand you’ll find poultry magazines you’ll find Playboy magazines, you’ll find car magazines. You can find the index of my work very clearly in everyday culture. I found a cover of a poultry magazine that I liked quite a bit, and what I decided to do was create the conditions for production to make something as close to that image as possible, but have a difference. A motto in the studio when we’re working is “remake, remodel”, a song by Roxy Music which makes reference to Richard Hamilton.

CW: What we did was we took the chicken as a model and remade it, but with almost no difference. It’s a different chicken, it has a different surface pattern, but the background and the treatment are nearly identical, it just has more production value, it’s a large format negative, it’s just a different type of photography. The chicken is also striking what is the most important pose at the show, so it’s pose is quite important, and the reason that I want to stay close to the model is that I’m interested in what makes a difference. I’m interested in the space of redundancy. Making something so close to the original could be seen as redundant, and I see that space of redundancy as being a field for freedom, or an architecture of enjoyment.

[here’s the chicken itself in the catalogue]

Is this getting too involved?

We went upstairs to an image of floral tribute to two artists, one the aforementioned Christopher D’Arcangelo, and how Williams realised he could use his own art as a way of archiving and noting art history.

We then went to an image of a dishwasher.

Again, my own image of the image is terrible.

Better from afar.

It’s about the three main makers of film, and the colours that represent them.

CW: This number four of four photographs I’ve made dealing with the dishwasher as a site to make a photograph. The first three were named Fuji Colour, Agfa Colour, Kodak Colour [each apparently photographed using each particular film]. I used set designers, art directors that movies use to find dishes that could be colour-cued to the corporate logos of the major companies of film. One thing that I didn’t foresee, as the wave of digital got closer, the analogue products got cheaper and less precise. What I didn’t foresee was the Agfa colours, which are orange and dark blue, could not be photographed correctly by Agfa film. 

In the photogtaphs that came before it, having these neutral colours stainless steel and glass without reflecting the orange into them, without one of the tones dominating, was extremely difficult. The orange would go red, the overall colour would bleed. What we did was set up a copy camera, a room sized camera, and the transparencies are this big [he means the size of the image itself], and we worked with several matrix, and shot with filters, so that we could mix the colours properly, and have the corporate colours represented prolerly without having the warmth bleed into the neutral or cool tones. So it’s the most technical you’re ever going to hear me get up here, but it was really like a correction in a book. It’s called Erratum, and it’s really like a correction to the three photographs that came before it. 
[Using my iPhone, you can see the work best from the book]

CW: You should think of the exhibition as a collage. I’m actually posing within the language of a straight photographer. These traditional mats and frames are actually something I took on earlier. It causes confusion because I’m not really a photographer, and I view this as an installation that utilises the language of conservative straight photography. Having said that…

Here Williams moved onto another work, but maybe let’s not get too deep into explanation [although if anyone wants a transcript, I can send it over]

I found the show beautiful and disruptive in itself.

The wall here is from Museum Abteiberg.

The images taken on a Japanese makeover shoot.

Williams said he contacted the magazine and asked if he could shoot during their work.

He didn’t want to know what they were shooting, only the exact camera, film etc they were going to use.

He then set up his camera to the left of the photographers, and shot inbetween times.

Creating a separate purpose from the same source.

His as work.

Theirs as an image to flick past in a magazine.

I love the work on remnants or other walls.

The image on the left emulates air-brushed perfection, but the moles on her back remain, the dirt on her feet.

Another of what he calls collages.

Paint peeling on a wall.

The green stripe.

Wall left over from a blacked out video room.



The whole thing is so invigorating.

It opens tomorrow, is on until mid-June.

So many ideas about work, the interrelation of work, the way different disciplines can be treated and affect others, and also the importance of personal involvement.


OK actually bye.

George Henry Longly; Eat Abstractly; Jimmy Merris – Glasgow is fierce right now. Some pix

There’s so much amazing stuff on show in Glasgow at the moment, and three shows in particular.

George Henry Longly has just opened his first show at Koppe Astner, a newly formed gallery partnership of Kendall Koppe and Emma Astner.

The show’s called Volume Excess.

This is Doryphorus.



That hand.


This is He.


Inside are 45 sparkling water bottles.

This is She.


Volume Excess itself.

A video of a casting on slabs of marble, filmed in Istanbul.


Inside is various detritus.

Is that the hand of Max Allen, or James Davison?


Those marble slabs were then used to create new works for the wall.

Willis ‘polygon.


Justify my selfie.


Iiiii I who have nothing.

Those are the lips of Wilma Flintstone and Betty Rubble.


Miss Universe.




The show’s on at Koppe Astner till like some point or other, click here etcetc.

Upstairs from Koppe Astner is Mary Mary, run by Hannah Robinson.

Her group photography show Eat Abstractly is so so good.

Screen Selection 3 by Daniel Gordon.


Also by Daniel Gordon is White Vase.



Eat Abstractly by Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili, the work that gave the show its name.


Paisley and Wheat Baby Blue by Annette Kelm.


Lookalike IV by Hayley Tompkins.


Loved these by Hayley Tompkins so much.

Lookalike V.


So so so good!

The show’s on till 30th May or something, click here etc.

Confession: when I was in Glasgow the other weekend, I didn’t make it to Jimmy Merris’s show.


It looks so good.

The show’s called Life eh, tut.

These two works are Untitled (text piece) and Untitled (Self-portrait on a horse).



This is Untitled (Self-portrait with a King Horn).



OMG I Die (Self-portrait on a Chez Long).


A shed housing Jimmy Merris sings the blues.


Those blues.


Uuuugh gutted I didn’t make it.

It’s at the SWG3 Gallery till like some time or other, click here etc.

Hey maybe I’ll try and make it to the Glasgow School of Art graduate show.

Wild dreams.

End of this Glasgow-is-so-fierce update!


Art, artists, parties, friends: Herald St, the pivotal London gallery, is celebrating its 10th anniversary. A conversation

The London gallery Herald St. has played a crucial role in the city’s art scene since it opened in 2005.

It is a gallery of warmth and constancy.

Founders Nicky Verber and Ash L’ange are lovely men, who I sat down with on Monday evening in the viewing room at the back of the gallery.

Around us were crates containing works that will appear in their anniversary show X, curated by the amazing Sarah McCrory and opening Friday evening in London.

We talked for an hour or so about how they started, how they run, their artists, and the role of a gallery itself.

The entire conversation is transcribed and printed below.

I learned much indeed.

By the way, we were sat on rare mirrored sofas and chairs by Robert and Trix Haussmann, who they have shown in their space.

I start from a point of total ignorance…

ME: Tell me everything because I know nothing.

ASH L’ANGE: Everything? From when till when?


AL: About what?


NV: Well we met at school. That kind of far back?


NV: Well we met at school when we were 13.

AL: We’ve vaguely been friends ever since. On and off. Gallery-wise, we set up Miller’s Terrace in a space that me, Simon Owens and Nima Nourizadeh had got to produce music videos and we had decided to do an art gallery in there and had approached Nicky to run it.

NV: But that was also quite a long drawn out… Because I was an artist. I was really reluctant to get into galleries at first. Kind of. That was kind of the way. And then it went very much the other way.

AL: And you were also working for Gregorio Magnani, at Magnani Gallery, which was in Whitechapel.

NV: Well it was on Warren Street and it moved to Whitechapel, Commercial Street. He had a great gallery, but he closed it in 2003. Then I went to work for Sadie [Coles], but by that time we were already doing our projects. I only ended up being there [at Sadie Coles] for a year before we decided to do this.

So Miller’s what in where what?

AL: Miller’s Terrace. It was on Miller’s Terrace.

NV: You know Mangal [a super famous Turkish restaurant in Dalston]?


NV: That side street, that’s Miller’s Terrace.

AL: And we started the space at the very beginning of 2004.

So you weren’t doing it for that long before you started Herald Street?

AL: About nine months. But it was good. During that time we had a massive party during Frieze.

NV: We did a lot of parties.

Frieze had started then?

NV: Frieze started in 2003. It was the second year of Frieze. And we did Oliver Payne and Nick Relph. It was their first ever solo show in London. And Gang Gang Dance played in the basement of the pub next door. It was pretty funny.

[An installation shot from that show at Miller’s Terrace – How To Recover From Hyper Mode]

Installation view 02

AL: It was amazing seeing people turning up in chauffeur driven cars.

NV: To Dalston.

AL: It wasn’t like it was so long ago, but Dalston back then was… Our first ever opening at Millers Terrace, as I was walking up to get something for the opening, and I remember there was a huge fight out in the street between two drug gangs, one Turkish and one other street gang. The Turkish gang had knifes and it was all going off.

NV: And chains.

AL: And metal sticks. Those bendy metal sticks you use for bending pipes. It was about two hours before the opening happened. Ohmygod they’ve got to clear up, because all the police cars and helicopters, I was a little nervous people would be put off but

NV: It was fine. We were selling art works for five pounds so it all went very well. Alalia Chetwynd was the first show. And she’d made these masks. And we were selling things for five pounds. Or twenty five pounds I think she did the limited edition ones.

AL: Alalia Chetwynd AKA Spartacus Chetwynd AKA Marvin Gaye Chetwynd.

NV: And she’d made these little bat paintings, and we were selling them for £300. I think she sold them all. We thought it was pretty amazing. We were never planning to sell them, but they just kind of sold. Then we could pay for the beers. That’s what I remember thinking. We can pay for the beers for the next opening.

AL: Show to show was definitely done in a way where we were financing the next show off the back of the first one. Literally we didn’t have any source of finance in place. We never got that. We literally started and it was a good time to start a gallery actually.

And were the artists your friends?

NV: Now it’s really obvious that a lot of the artists we started with were at art school with me, because I went to the Slade. So like Djordje [Ozbolt], Pablo [Bronstein], Matt Darbyshire, but they weren’t really showing at that stage. It was also an association with Magnani, because they closed in 2003, very suddenly, so we started showing three artists who they were working with, so Scott King, Donald Urquhart and Christina Mackie. And then Nicole Wermers was someone I’d met her through Emily Pethick [the director of The Showroom].

AL: We talked to her and invited to do the show.

[Here’s an installation view of her show Katzensilber, 2004 – works from which will be included in X – the anniversary show opening this week at Herald St]

installation 02

NV: Nicole’s just done the show at Herald St. with the chairs [it had chairs covered in fur coats, which was apparently the gallery’s busiest ever on social media].

But wasn’t it quite a big step for those artists to go from a commercial gallery to come show with a start-up in Dalston?

NV: It was different times then. It seems strange to say but there didn’t seem like there were any young galleries in the commercial area. There were way less galleries full stop. There was Hotel, they had already opened. I can’t remember too many more at the time. And we weren’t necessarily a gallery representing artists. We were just doing fun projects and parties.

AL: So initially when we started working with those artists we weren’t working in the…

Working in the ‘working’ sense.

AL: It was more like inviting them to do projects at the space.

NV: And anyway someone like Donald Urquhart had only just started showing a few years before, so his career was very young.

[An installation view of Donald Urquhart’s Listen to the Wine, 2004]


And I suppose Scott King to a certain extent. Christina we didn’t really do anything with until, she was the first show in this space. In Herald Street. That’s quite a funny story too. Wolfgang [Tillmans] used to come to a lot of our openings. And he turned up at the last one at Miller’s Terrace. The last show was called Curb Your Enthusiasm. It was a bit of a joke about how it had got a bit out of control. It was a huge amount of fun but it was also growing too quickly.

AL: And also too many works for this small space as well.

NV: It was a play on that and also the TV show as well. Wolfgang turned up and said oh, I heard you were looking for a space. And we weren’t. I mean we knew that we were…

AL: We had discussed it but no-one else had it been mentioned too, so it was really random that he said.

NV: He said, our landlord’s looking to rent out the ground floor space, you should come and see it. [At the time, Wolfgang had a studio in a vast warehouse space upstairs]. It was a sweatshop that he’d just got filled with cardboard boxes.

AL: It was filthy. It was really filthy.

NV: We just said no, because it was too big.

AL: We didn’t say no, but we walked in and said this is amazing, but it was way too big for us.

NV: I think our initial thoughts were, no this is too big, but then thought no, the maths are viable. Just about.

AL: Financially it was viable, but then we had to figure how we could, we actually ended up starting with a smaller space within a bigger space, and then as we could financially afford it we expanded into the space as it were. There’s been so many iterations of the gallery in terms of actually maximise as much space as we can from it.

So there was a bit between Miller’s Terrace and Herald Street when there was no gallery?

AL: Like three months.

NV: And we did a show in New York, at White Columns.

AL: Our first ever show as Herald Street was Matthew Higgs’ first ever show at White Columns. There’s a tiny project room right at the back and he gave it, and it was the first ever show by Herald St but we actually hadn’t even started the gallery yet. We were working on it but we hadn’t opened the space.

What was that show?

AL: It was a group show of artists that we were working with. It was six artists.

And by that point you were ‘working’ with them?

AL: Yeah, we’d sort of established that we had a relationship with these artists and we were working with them. When we started Herald St, we had realised that the initial model had changed from project space to a gallery, and we were running a gallery. We were already applying for fairs and stuff. In our first year as Herald St we got into Frieze.

NV: And Liste [the fair that runs in Basel at the same time as Art Basel]. We were the last gallery to be accepted in Liste that year. The fair was in June, and we’d only opened in April.

AL: Yeah we opened in April and got into Liste and Frieze that same year. Partly on the back of us having Miller’s Terrace before.

So the first show here was…

NV: Christina Mackie [currently showing in the Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain]. It was one large installation. It was amazing.

[I Can’t Help You by Christina Mackie – the first solo show at Herald St.]

CM 2005

We’re actually showing it again, but not here, but in Golden Square in two weeks time, as a marking of the anniversary but also because it’s an important work that hasn’t been seen for a long time. Tate acquired one of the other works in that show, and a few other pieces were donated to Tate as well. So it was quite an important show for us.

What was it?

NV: It was a screen made out of wood and plastic. That’s quite a crude way of saying it. A lot of the plastics were machined perspex, or machined plastics from a hardware store, like industrial screens to build a shower. Some had snow, some had rain, different weather patterns, and they made up the different parts of the screen. And then there are two different video projections, one that goes through it because it has these holes cut, one of a waterfall, and one of a bridge walking over the waterfall. It’s a really beautiful work. And the base of it is stumps of trees. It’s all held in place by these cut logs.

And by this point, was it obvious how to be a gallery?

AL: You know what, it happened naturally, but it actually happened quite early on. Back in Miller’s Terrace after that first show, where the mechanics of it started to fall into place, and you realised working with artists like that, a group of artists who all didn’t have galleries yet, who you were working with very closely and you realised that actually the relationships were really strong. You naturally were progressing into the normal gallery situation where you were representing them. And also because Nicky, a tiny bit from working at Magnani, but really from working at Sadie Coles, we realised really quickly, and also my background was more the business side of things initially, we figured out if you’re going to keep going, you have to put the systems in place that mean that it’s not just, “hey! It’s this fun thing!,” and it suddenly collapses because you haven’t been archiving stuff, which you don’t do to the extent that you do when you realise you’re a business, but we did have it down pretty efficiently considering initially it wasn’t intended to be a business.

NV: We were aware of the systems. Probably a lot we didn’t do at the beginning.

AL: No but we did do the most important things like we had all our accounts together, we actually had all of that in place. And actually ending Miller’s Terrace and setting up the new business, which was Herald St, meant that we could also really focus on knowing what we’d done in the last year, what was working and what wasn’t, we’d set up everything in a way that it could move from then on really efficiently. Sadie was invaluable in helping us.

NV: And Gregorio and Marina Bassano.

AL: And Pauline [Daly, director of Sadie Coles HQ] for being able to, if we needed to call anyone and say, “ohmygod, someone’s trying to buy a piece of work”, you could actually call somebody to give a piece of advice on what we were doing. And actually even Gavin Brown as well, because we’d known him for ages through Oliver Payne and Nick Relph, so again was really helpful in being able to go to if we needed to ask any questions.

And I suppose the nuts and bolts of doing a gallery are quite clear and straightforward if it works properly.

NV: You mean like systems and things.

I mean in terms of representing the artist, you show their work…

NV: You talk to them about what they’re going to make.

You’re a conduit for a thing happening.

NV: Yeah, kind of. A lot of what goes on in galleries you don’t see. A lot of it’s very boring administrative work, or archive, storage. Most of the stuff is super unglamorous. We were probably quicker to adapt to those systems than some galleries were.

AL: Well you look at some galleries, the problem with a lot of young galleries, a lot of them think it’s what you’re saying [as in, it’s quite a clear and straightforward role]: yeah you engage with an artist, you try and do a project with them… But if you actually look at it as a business, if you work from the beginning with a very laissez-faire, ‘yeah this is fun’ approach, if you end up actually doing quite well, but you haven’t put the systems in place, you’re still going to get four years down the live and you’re going to be really in trouble because your archive isn’t going to be, you’ll have all these things that then will make it really difficult, to have proper accounts you can go back on, all your shipping, which is very important because actually a lot of energy is actually about just movement of artworks around the world.

NV: A lot of money. Humongous amounts of money.

AL: And if you get it wrong, it’s the end of the gallery.

Why’s archiving so important for a gallery?

AL: Because you need to be able to go back and see every single work that’s gone through. If we go through our archive we can see every single work that’s in storage. We can see where in storage it is.

NV: Do you mean why is an archive important?


NV: Well because that’s part of the role of the gallery, to keep an archive of its artists and what they make, and keep records of everything. That record is definitely visual, but it’s also provenance, materials, where it’s been around the world, and values and how values might change, primary and secondary market. It’s actually a really huge chunk of what a commercial gallery does, in terms of representation of an artist, and one of the services that we offer an artist. If you work with us, you definitely get all those things. You don’t have to worry when you give us a work, where it is at all times, if its insured at all times. That side of things is super important, for making catalogues or for press. There’s never any issues there with that side of it. I think that’s one of the great things about how a gallery should work: it’s got an amazing archive, we’ve got everything that everyone’s made for ten years at the touch of a button, if you want it. For artists who say we want to do a book.

AL: Or even a show. If you get someone doing a solo show of an artist, sometimes it’ll be like OK, we want works from this period and this period and you have to be able to go back and find out what’s in storage, what’s with what collector, where the collectors live, it can be coordinating works from twelve different countries, But you need to know where all those things are.

So what were your first year shows?

[Both of them laugh] NV: I’ll have to look that one up.

AL: So the first solo show we did was Christina Mackie. And then who was after that? I know Tony Swain was in the first year Cary Kwok show was in the first year. Who was the show first after Christina?

NV: OK so it was… Cary Kwok! [Nicky is looking on his phone – the Herald St website has a full list of all their exhibitions, in order]. Cary’s quite a good story. Back in the day, way before we had the gallery, I’ve got a good friend called Jamie Johnston, you might know him [I do indeed – Jamie is a fabulous director of great fabulosity]. He was at Saint Martins doing graphic design. We used to hang out quite a lot. I had big curly hair, much bigger than this, and I used to hate going to the hairdressers. And Jamie also has big hair, and he was like, oh you should come with me and get your hair cut by Cary. He’s at Saint Martins doing fashion but he cuts peoples hair. I was like, fine. And so every so often we’d go down to this little flat in Battersea and he’d cut my hair. And on the second time, Jamie was like, Cary’s too nervous to ask you but he said you work in a gallery, would you look at his art. I was like, yeah sure alright. So I went round and he’d got all these insane drawings of like Kate Moss wearing a crazy Dries Van Noten dress, all super detailed. We were like, this is interesting, but not art as we would show art. It was more along the lines of illustration. But then we thought we should commission him to do some drawings of London Zoo because we did this thing called the Zoo Art Fair when it first started. Oh that was the first fair we did [Zoo took advantage of Frieze’s positioning in Regents Park, staging an independent fair in the buildings of London Zoo]. That was as Miller’s Terrace. He was like, what should I do? We were like, just go to the zoo, get some inspiration, do what you want. And he did this one amazing drawing of this peacock with every feather detailed, it’s beautiful. Then he did this drawing of a Hong Kong businessman staring into a tree and in the tree were these monkeys fucking. It was amazing, and we were like this could be really interesting, where this is going. Then we invited him to be in that show Curb Your Enthusiasm, which turned out to be the last show at Millers Terrace. He asked what should he do, and we said, literally do anything you want. He went, OK OK. We were sitting in a pub, me, Ash and you know Conor Donlon?

Yeah [Conor owns my local bookstore Donlon Books]

So he also opened a bookstore here when we opened this. So Conor was at art school with Cary, and we were all sitting in the pub and Cary’s got this folder, and we were saying, go on, show us stuff. He was getting really antsy, saying no, no, because the pub was really busy. We were like, what’s the problem? He was like, OK fine, gets the drawing out, it’s an amazing drawing of a huge erect cock, with all these naked men dancing on the cum.

[Here’s one of Cary Kwok’s works from the subsequent show Plumage – this piece is called Pole Dance]

Pole Dance

It was the most insane, I remember seeing it for the first time and we were all like, where did that just come from? He’d never done a drawing like that before. He’s actually done a new version of it for the show. This is the 3D version [Nicky pulls a work out of its wrapping – it’s extraordinary].

AL: You know what, the original one was just done with biro. He literally has to wipe it between every single mark so it doesn’t blob up.

NV: So that came out of nowhere, that he was suddenly an artist you could show. And people were going crazy about the drawings.

So Conor had his bookshop in here from the beginning?

NV: Conor had been working with Wolfgang [Conor was Wolfgang’s assistant, and appears in many of his images]. And so Wolfgang was like, if you guys have got too much space you should talk to Conor, because he wants to start a bookshop. I think he just had the space for free, but he looked after the gallery on weekends – that was the deal for a while. Certain people would come to the gallery just to see Conor. And he was what is now that storage space over there.

[This is what Conor’s first ever book store looked like, inside the Herald St space]


AL: It was always hit or miss whether he’d be in or not.

NV: You can quote that.

AL: He’s amazing, Conor. It was good having him in here too. A good synergy.

NV: It was good to have another energy and another reason for people to come to the space. And also the way he was curating his books it wasn’t just art, in fact at that stage it was way less art and much more culture and fashion and history.

And had Wolfgang opened Between Bridges by then [his eventual small gallery upstairs, now closed – though Wolfgang now has an exhibition space of the same name in Berlin].

AL: So Wolfgang had his studio, it was an enormous space and he would lay out the whole museum so he could plot physically how he would, he would hang whole walls.

NV: And he used to do crazy parties but you’ve probably been to those.

I never went to any of them!

NV: What any of them?

I never went to them!

NV: The first one I went to was at Maureen’s [Maureen Paley, whose gallery is down the other end of Herald Street. She is one of the most important figures in London art, and has been Wolfgang’s gallerist since the beginning of his career]. So that was his first studio in this neighbourhood –the top floor of Maureen’s. I think she had the gallery downstairs and he had the top floor. This is obviously well before we were here. I think there was a really famous photo from that party, it must have been 2001, and then he opened Between Bridges, that must have been quite a lot later than when we opened here.

AL: Yeah.

NV: 2007, 8? So that was good. Then you had three spaces on the street for a while. In the more recent history things have changed quite a bit. Hotel opened up there for a bit, and Campoli Presti opened there now, and then Laura Bartlett [whose space is upstairs from Herald St]. So four galleries and Herald St somehow still here.

AL: Not knocked down and built into studio apartments.

So what did you show in your second year?

NV: Pablo Bronstein’s first ever solo show was a seminal show. It was just three walls so it was quite a weird space, and it was super theatrical. And actually they weren’t even on right angles but you didn’t know that because you only ever saw it from perspective. His show, there were kind of two sides to the show but what everyone remembers is that he just cut this arch into the space and that was it.

[Installation view of Pablo Bronstein – 2006]

PB 2006

AL: So even behind the arch you could still see the structure of the wall, the beam coming down in the wall. But he just cut the arch…

NV: It was a really beautiful piece. Then it was Donald Urquhart. Then it was Nicole [Wermers].

AL: Did we do Klaus in that year?

NV: Scott King. Then Silke Otto-Knapp curated a summer show. We did a lot of summer shows curated by other people. Silke was quite important in that she had brought people like Alex Bircken to us and connected us with a different European set. That was a great show, it had Yvonne Rainer in it, Isa Genzken. Then we had Djordje Ozbolt’s first ever solo show, and then it was Klaus Weber. It was a seminal show here. It was the fountains.

[The Big Giving (Small Group) by Klaus Weber – 2006]

KW 2006

AL: We basically took up all the walls in that front space, and it was seven or was it six water fountains, they’re actually running. And what we had to do was build a sub floor for the entire space, so that the water could run onto the floor and into a pond, so that the entire gallery had a pond underneath that the water could then be pumped all the way back, underneath. It had to go off into another room and then through these pumps and then back. But the sculptures were made out of this material that is some sort of a metal by-product, it’s 90% metal, so the lightest one of those sculptures I think 700 kg.

NV: Some weighed over a ton.

AL: The biggest one I think was 1.8 tonnes.

NV: It was vomiting, pissing, sweating, crying. They were all doing bodily functions. It was a really difficult show to do. We spent a lot of money on it basically.

AL: For a gallery, everything that we’d saved up and worked towards, all of it went into that show. We also had alongside it, which was probably not a smart move, we ended up having to buy loads of dehumidifiers, was Matthew Higgs curated a show called Other People’s Projects and it was Christopher Knowles and B. Wurtz, a really beautiful show, we’d built a second space at that point, and we had the bookshop too.

NV: Conor called us up and was like, dude, all of my books are warping. And we were obviously like then were like, the works in Other People’s Projects were all consigned from Gavin Brown – shit, we’re going out of business again.

AL: They were really beautiful, simple text based works from the 1970s and we had to go out and buy loads of dehumidifiers.

NV: They worked. Somehow they worked. We were like ohmygod all of Conor’s books could be ruined.

AL: It was amazing because you’d empty them everyday and there would be a bucket of water this deep.

NV: Basically don’t put a massive indoor fountain in a commercial art gallery.

AL: But it was amazing.

NV: It was worth it.

Where were your desks when it was on?

NV: Back here.

Could you hear the fountain all day?

AL: Yeah.

Did it drive you crazy?

AL: Yeah it was definitely loud, but we’d kind of boxed it off in a room to the side. When you walked in you didn’t notice it immediately. But I remember it in here being pretty loud.

NV: The amazing thing, and that’s what Klaus had basically worked out, he’d worked out a way of doing a fountain in the space that when you walked in, you were already in the fountain. It wasn’t like there was a floor and then there was another bit, a pool. The water was collected through the cracks, because it was street slabs, paving slabs that we’d cut up for the space. That was the amazing experience, and why it was so good to be indoors, this idea that if you’re doing a public sculpture in an indoor space, you could walk into one of the bits of water if you wanted to. You couldn’t walk through the show without getting your feet wet.

Was it all one piece or were the individual fountains…

NV: It was sold as one work. The Hayward showed it outdoors in an expanded version, and then it was sold to a private collection and it’s currently on view in Conneticut. Thank god it got sold.

Is the show that you do after that necessarily completely quiet and nothing like that?

NV: The next show was Peter Coffin, he did a whole show of dark…

AL: We carried on. We were ambitious back then.

[Around, About Expanded Field by Peter Coffin – 2007]

PC 2007_b

NV: Yeah it was Peter Coffin. It says Cary Kwok again after that. Oliver Payne and Nick Relph. Then Gregorio curated a show. That had loads of people in it. Then it was Christina Mackie and Tony Swain. We repeated quite a lot in the first couple of years. Pablo. Then it was the Possible Document. That was a photography show. Josh Brand, Annette Kelm, Anthony Pearson and Wolfgang Tillmans. And we ended up working with Josh and Annette after that. Markus Amm, Nicole Wermers, Thomas Houseago did his first ever solo show in the UK here.

What was that?

NV: It was called Bastards. It was a sculpture show.

[Bastards by Thomas Houseago – 2008]

Picture 002


The group show by Gregorio was good – Rebecca Warren, Pae White, Pauline Daly was in that show.


NV: You can’t really see in that image but that was a net piece that she made. Because she was an artist. We were all artists at one point.

Was that a new work by Pauline?

NV: No that was a really old piece. 90s probably.

[The net piece by Pauline Daly in No Room For The Groom – 2007]

No Room For The Groom - Her Room 3

AL: And then we continue and we show lots of other people’s art up until now.

It’s always been the case that you’ve worked with people who’ve been from the beginning and you’ve had relationships with and it’s, like, nice and stuff.

NV: As in, have we fallen out with any of our artists?


NV: Well there’s a couple of situations but…

AL: I don’t think we’ve ever fallen out with any artists. There’ve been a few where we’ve ended up going separate ways. It’s usually to do with far more complex reasons.

NV: Nothing ever because of the gallery to be honest with you. Not in terms of what the gallery was able to do. More personal reasons, such as relationships.

AL: When we’ve started working with an artist, we haven’t just thrown ourselves in. We’ve usually started by putting them in a group show or something and getting to see if we work well with the artist. And we’re very close with all the artists. As a whole you build up that relationship and understand how well you’re going to work together. We make sure all the artists get paid and look after them, that they can always phone, within reason we can help them out with most things. We actually have very close relationships with all the artists and that helps.

NV: You do learn about personalities. There are certain artists that you might want to show but they might not work, and that’s another side. But you don’t know that until you’ve been through it. So we did have that the odd time, when we had difficult relationships with artists and we just felt that, was it worth it for the work? But having said that, we’ve never stopped working with an artist. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing but it’s still true.

AL: We do have good relationships with all the people we’ve ever worked with so.

NV: And even people we don’t work with we still have good relationships with.

When you say “see whether it works”, what is it that makes somebody work and be Herald St.?

AL: It’s not just about whether it’s Herald St or not. Sometimes it can be just about personality, but sometimes it’s also about whether we have the market to help somebody. Sometimes it will just be, we don’t really have, for whatever reason, we don’t feel like we’re helping them as an artist.

NV: I didn’t mean that, I meant more if you’re going to be able to work with them, as a person, other than if it’s possible to sell

AL: But sometimes it’s not been personality that has stopped us working with someone. There are sometimes people we’ve really got on with, and you just realise that for whatever reason you realise the gallery isn’t going to be able to work so well with them.

But there’s no unifying thread in the work, other than you like them as people?

AL: Sometimes it’s how it relates to the other work in the gallery. You’re definitely thinking about that, and how it relates to other artists you’re already working with. The last thing you want to do is tread on the toes of the artists you work with.

NV: And also there are other relationships to consider, like with other galleries, or other people who are involved with those artists, and whether you get on with them or don’t get on with them. There are lots and lots of things to consider about working with an artist. I suppose what you’re saying is there’s lots of artists we’ve shown in group shows that we really get on with and we’ve loved their work, we’ve sold their work, and we haven’t gone on to work with. And there are lots of those. Some perhaps we should have…

But then it’s also that thing as well of you don’t necessarily know what someone’s going to turn into when you start working with them.

NV: As a person.

As a person, or as an artist.

NV: The most amazing thing is to see an artist grow, in ability, in confidence, in stature, broadening their practice from the very seeds at the very beginning. That’s still very satisfying. It’s more satisfying now at mid-career level where you start to see a lot more museum attention. It’s really exciting at the beginning for all artists careers, people are starting to see things for the first time and you’re starting to see a lot of energy and a lot of excitement, and the funny thing is about getting to our tenth anniversary is we don’t really do that so much anymore. I think really it’s not necessarily our role so much, I mean we do take on young artists but not very often, I mean we took on Matt Paweski and he hadn’t shown anywhere before, but we hadn’t done that for a really long time.

[Matt Paweski’s debut show at the gallery last September]

MP installation view_b

The last artists we’d taken on were almost coming to their mid-career or early mid-career, or late emerging like Amalia Pica or Matt Connors. And then there are so many more young galleries in London who’d be a better place for that now. And young artists would probably want to show with them more anyway. There’s no problems there. So the role of the gallery changes a little bit. But that’s a bigger conversation about the nature of the art market in general. That we don’t need to have.

How did you find Amalia?

NV: Amalia’s a funny one because she is good friends with my girlfriend, Jenny. I had seen her and met her around, but actually less in the art world and more in a social environment, and we had just become friendly. And then one day I think we were at a pub, I think it was Mikey’s birthday, Mikey Spurlinger [Mike Spurlinger’s an amazing writer and curator and stuff], I remember we just started chatting for ages, and we were talking about art for ages, and thinking ah she’s interesting, and we did a studio visit, and it was very natural. And then we put her in a group show…

AL: It is interesting that we have a few artists that somehow the relationship is from initially meeting socially, or at least very close to… Matt Connors comes through a group of friends that we know from New York. It came through art but it was instigated by very good friends. We’re very close with him socially as well as in the art world.

[The amazing amazing debut show at Herald St by Matt Connors, who showed with Marc Hundley. Matt is a total favourite of mine – I wish I’d asked Nicky and Ash more about him, but maybe I’ll grab Matt himself sometime soon for a chat]

MC MH 2012


NV: And also Amalia’s a London based artist. She studied at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam and she comes from Argentina, but she didn’t have a gallery in London. She had a gallery in LA and a gallery in Amsterdam, but it was really important for her to have a gallery she could bond with here. I think also the generation thing – we’re sort of the same age and there’s a lot of similar energy coming through at that time so it made a lot of sense. We didn’t show her for a long time because she had so many museum shows, it was kind of a crazy year, and then we did our show in October 2013, it was really great, the performances – that was a great experience. That’s now in a museum.

[Amalia Pica’s amazing debut solo show, which to my great shame has a title involving mathematical symbols I don’t know how to find on the keyboard… whatever, it happened in 2013]

AP 2013

I think it’s interesting that thing about personalities. It’s the right way to do things. It’d be horrible to work with people you didn’t like.

NV: That’s the thing. The odd negative experience that we have had, we learned a lot from that. If an artist is just using you, which we had in a certain specific case, using us like a stepping stone, which at that time we were a little naive in, it was great because we got out of it what we got out of it.

AL: Yeah exactly. I think we figured it out pretty quickly. We got out of it what we needed. But then it becomes more about money and that doesn’t feel particularly wonderful, when you compare it to the relationships we’ve had with the majority of artists we’ve worked with.

NV: It was kind of working against that idea of a bad relationship to have a good one. And the good thing about having two people is that you can really use that to your benefit. It took us a while work that out. You can always have good cop and bad cop. And you can always switch it round. And if someone wants to talk about money, I’m always like, oh yeah maybe you’ll have to talk to Ash about that. We still use that tactic a lot. There are certain situations where I’m like, oh I’ll discuss it with Ash. Or he’ll say I’ll discuss it with Nicky. And it can buy you an amazing amount of time to really work out what the correct way forward is.

AL: It’s interesting. Even galleries you know have a director that set up the gallery, in most circumstances they’ve taken on, if not they’re actually partners, they’ve taken on somebody who works as a partner within. I think you need that. You need somebody to be able to run everything through.

Like Pauline.

AL: Yeah like Sadie’s got Pauline. At the Modern Institute it’s Toby and Andrew. Most galleries they end up with somebody, you have to be able to talk over everything that’s going on all the time.

NV: There’s a lot of situations where there isn’t a right answer either. There are multiple ways forward and you just choose one.

It’s interesting the gallery does seem to be defined by longevity rather than quick short term.

NV: Yeah it’s funny. It’s just come up in conversation a lot in the past few years that a lot of artists would struggle to have a career that lasts longer than ten years. Just because of the nature of the art market. Something’s hot, it rises, and if it doesn’t sustain, it’s very hard to carry on and sell art. That’s what I was touching on before, the idea of the mid-career. If it’s cool. If it’s hot. The art world really works on a lot of those levels, to get money moving through it. This idea of what happens next, it’s like a mid-career thing. We don’t do that much celebratory stuff in the gallery and this was a chance to do something, to do this one thing.

Tell me how you know Sarah McCrory [the unfeasibly amazing director of the Glasgow International who’s curating the tenth anniversary show at Herald St]

NV: We’ve known Sarah for a really long time. Well over ten years.

AL: Way more than that.

NV: She was at art school in Kingston with Olly and Nick. She actually did work for us for two days. Not that she’d admit it. We followed her path to success through various levels of curatorship, through the Royal College [where Sarah studied curating, and where I first met her], through Frieze and so on and now GI. It’s important for us to have someone cast an eye over it, so we don’t get too…

AL: We also have a celebrity who used to work for us. Holly Walsh. The comedian? She used to work for us for years.

I thought you said she was a medium.

AL: No. That’d be amazing to have a medium working for us.

NV: That’s what we need. What do you think the artist is really saying? Which works do you think that collector will like?

AL: That’s what you need. So what work would you like. No she was working for us and then decided when she was working for us…

NV: She was literally like I’m going to become a comedian and we were like, good for you. We couldn’t quite believe it. She’s now on CBBs and stuff.

AL: Never Mind The Buzzcocks and stuff like that.

I think the mid-career thing for artists is really important. It needs its hotness cycle to be steered in another direction.

AL: It is interesting though. We did go through where you’re a young gallery, you’re hip, your artists seem to be hip or whatever. And then there’s definitely a point where you realise you’re no longer in that category but you’re not established, you’re still trying to get away from this thing of being, oh young gallery. But you’re no longer a hip young gallery – you’re just a young gallery. There’s definitely that transition period. Then there’s suddenly a moment when you realise the gallery’s more respected. You realise, we’re actually quite well respected now, both by artists and collectors. It means you can work with different artists, and you have different collectors, you haven’t been introduced yet but they suddenly introduce themselves to you. They realise there’s something more.

NV: I think the point there is also that in terms of trying to keep a commercial gallery running, that thing of once the young cool thing has worn off, you’re still marketing those artists, you’re still selling those artists, you’re still trying to increase their profile and presence in the market, that’s a different job, and it doesn’t get talked about nearly as much as, ohmygod who’s the next new kid on the block, which everyone’s obsessed with. I’m still completely obsessed, who the new artists are and what they’re doing.

But also you’ve got amazing examples like Maureen over the road or Sadie who aren’t monolith megawatt…

AL: Well Sadie’s pretty big now.

Yeah but she’s still…

AL: I get what you mean. She’s not the Hauser model [Hauser & Wirth, whose].

NV: I think that’s the most important thing right now, that those galleries are foregrounded in London. As London galleries. I do the applications for Frieze, and all the big ones in London – Hauser, Gagosian, they all apply as London galleries. It’s done geographically, so you get these applications and it’s like, you’re not a London gallery, they only moved here in two thousand and whatever. They see themselves that their main outlet is here, but it’s people like Maureen and Sadie and these sorts of figures that have been round a lot longer, and are really important to London artists and the London art world. Maureen’s important, because obviously she’s down the street from us and she’s supported us from the beginning.

AL: Maureen was one of the first galleries to open east and she’s stuck with it.

NV: And the Modern Institute in Glasgow, they’re a good role model. These are the sort of galleries that we align ourselves with but they’re a generation above us.

Are there shows you’ve not mentioned we should talk about?

NV: If I say no, the artists reading it will be like… I think in a way all the original shows we did with all our artists were super important. Because a lot of them were first solo shows in London, or first solo shows in a larger space or a commercial space. For me one of the most important shows was Fade Into You, which was 2010, that was a show about abstract painting in the mirror. It had Matti Braun, Marieta Chirulescu, Michael Dean, Ida Ekblad, Aloïs Godinat, Wade Guyton, Rudolf Stingel and Padraig Timoney. And that was a really great show, and we ended up working with two artists who are now really important to the programme, so Michael Dean and Ida. That was totally a moment. And also we got an amazing Rudolf Stingel to sell. We managed to sell it. It was a miracle.

AL: Still the highest price piece that we’ve ever sold.

[Untitled by Rudolf Stingel, from Fade To You in 2010]

Rudolf Stingel : Untitled (P+N)

NV: Starting to work with Matthew Darbyshire was really important.

AL: Matthew Darbyshire’s first show was really, really important. It was only outside the gallery, so he basically boarded up the outside of the gallery with hoarding, but it was hoarding like you’d put round a building that was being demolished. He’d done the marketing for the building that was going up in its place.

[Elis by Matthew Darbyshire – 2010]

MD 2010

NV: He worked with architects and designers and he’d literally come up with this actual building. We were closed. You couldn’t gain access to the gallery. We’d had all these new-builds going up – there are two student housing blocks at either end of the street, they weren’t there but the plans were already submitted, they were already building them. He was quite aware of that so he wanted to make a comment about that.

AL: People would ring the bell and it was like, no there’s no show inside.

NV: They’d be like no but I want to get information on the building. How much are the flats? It was kind of amazing.

AL: That was another show where there wasn’t really anything for sale.

NV: I mean you could buy the hoarding if you wanted to.

AL: That was an important show, along with Klaus’s show. We also did the Klaus Weber sand fountain that was pretty monumental.

[Klaus Weber – 2012]

KW 2012

It’s interesting though because when you think back on shows it’s always the more spectacular ones that stand about because there’s so many you’re installing with the artist and you just think, I really love this show.

NV: Matt Connor’s first solo show was amazing.

[Matt’s first solo show – 2013]

MC 2013

AL: Again, some of them are more normal shows, as in it’s more straightforward – it’s a painting show, but actually when you’re there installing it, like Ida’s first show at the gallery, a really really beautiful painting show but you still get that moment when you’re like, I really love my job.

[Ida Ekblad’s first solo show, A clothespin left on the line – 2010]

IE 2010

NV: I thought that was a pretty epic show [Nicky hands me his iphone] – Michael Dean’s second show – the whole thing was built out in all these MDF consoles – it was crazy, a crazy installation. Each console had a different set up – tables or chairs, and he would arrange objects or books in them, and you could kind of see them all at the same time but you couldn’t see what was going on in them.

[Hah ahahahahaha ha Hahaha by Michael Dean in 2013]

MDN 2013

AL: The most recent Pablo Bronstein show with the 360 round rooms and the middle room was all velvet lined, that was pretty spectacular and different from anything you’ll see in a contemporary art gallery.

And is the show Sarah’s doing is it new work or old work or?

NV: It’s predominantly new work. Not exclusively, in certain cases there are things that Sarah wants to work with from the archive.

AL : Also some of the new work, it’s new but its referencing pieces they’ve done for us before it relates to a period of work that relates to the gallery.

NV: It’s going to be interesting to see what it looks like.

AL: It’s a fun show. It’s a gallery group show.

NV: Which we haven’t really done, apart from the very beginning.

AL: There’s a couple of works that are celebratory. Like Donald Urquhart’s done paper chains, but they’re black paper chains, and Amalia’s done a piece that’s bunting, but it’s framed bunting pieces. It’s celebratory.

NV: We’ll have to see. When it all arrives. Tomorrow.

And with that, I turned the recorder off.

As far as I know, all the works have turned up fine.

Such a total pleasure to spend time with them.

OMG their show opens officially on the 18th April! Go go go!

The upcoming Sonia Delaunay show at Tate Modern is gripping and revelatory – I had no idea. A preview

A gripping new retrospective of Sonia Delaunay is previewing today at Tate Modern.

It comes to Tate after a recent showing in Paris.

Usually when I write about such things, I try to feign some form of authority, but about Delaunay I was ignorant.

It’s one of those shows that tells of a life, as well as shows work.

She was Russian born, eventually arriving in Paris to study in 1904.

Finnish Woman, from her early years.


A cradle cover made for her new-born son.

It is said to be her first abstract work.



With her husband Robert, she developed a theory of simultaneous colour contrasts called Simultanism.

A simultaneous dress made for her visits to the tango ballrooms of Paris.



Electric Prisms.

In her younger years, Delaunay relied on the financial support of her uncle, who had adopted her.

The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 cut that chain.

In 1918, she opened Casa Sonia in Madrid, selling simultaneous fabrics and accessories, and taking commissions for clothing.

A coat for Gloria Swanson.


Delaunay herself wearing one of her embroidered woollen coats.


The fabrics are extraordinary.

Here is one designed for the Amsterdam department store Metz & Co.

It’s called Blocks.


Design B53.


Design 1176.


Design 1177.


Design 1389.


Design 1177.


There’s a whole wall of them.



Knitted bathing suit.




The Tate has also recreated the Vitrine Simultané, invented in 1924 by Robert to show off her work.

Large rolling scrolls.



The financial crash of 1929 caused her to close her business, though she continued to make designs for fabrics into the 1960s.

Fascinating for commerciality to be an early mid-career event, rather than something to exploit the fruits of a career in later life.

There was much other work aside from the commercial.

A curtain poem.


Rhythm Colour no. 1076.


A mural for the 1937 Paris Exhibition.


Her husband died in 1941 and this derailed her.

Her life left was long – she died in 1979 – but her focus was on promoting and preserving her husband’s work.

The show is dominated by her work before 1941.

But there are still some good pieces from the second half of her life.

A bookcase by Charlotte Perriand, with a colour scheme by Delaunay.

A mosaic.

First of a series of etchings titled Avec moi-même.


A woven carpet titled Discs.  It’s such a revelatory show.

I had no idea.

Amazing to see garments in the Tate.

Garments and fabric that is just as valid as the art itself.

It opens tomorrow, on until 9 August – go go go.

Grace Wales Bonner is staging a series of installations at the V&A today. It’s extraordinary. Some pictures

Grace Wales Bonner is taking part in Fashion In Motion at the V&A today.

A real honour for a designer who has only staged one presentation.

And a mark of her importance already.

The set-up expands on her presentation at the Fashion East Installations at LCM in January (if you’re quick, there’s another showing at 5, then at 8).

Her models took a series of poses, accompanied by a choir singing black spirituals.

The experience was powerful.

Some images.

A model walks in.

Those ballet pumps.

He takes his place on the set.

The choir started to sing an ANC hymn from the 70s, and the pose changed.

Another view.

A different song, a new pose.



I think that’s Larry B in the back, right?


Such an extraordinary experience.

And amazing that it was one open to the public, for free.

Powerful too to see gender addressed with meaning, individuality and character.

So much more resonant than those who do it as an empty styling trick.


That is all.

Hey! It’s kind of spring. Colour, right? Actually all I’m thinking about is black

Hey so it’s supposedly spring.


Except all I can think about is black.

The other week I got sent a big book of its autumn/winter 2015 collection.

I guess it’s meant to be a lookbook: the thing stylists or their assistants chose looks from for shoots, before made things easier.

Most lookbooks I get sent are immediately recycled, but this one’s a keeper.

Those short-sleeved black shirts.

The black nylon.

Yeah I know the whole look isn’t black but this little jacket is me.

Black has been on my mind since the menswear shows finished at the end of January.

A couple of weeks later, there was the most arresting menswear image.

A group of men dressed in black, on stage with Kanye West at the Brit Awards.


Just realised the guy on the left is wearing Astrid Andersen.

The performance in full.

I wanted to write about it at the time but was busy with womenswear.

And the Madonna thing kind of overshadowed it.

But it’s still on my mind.

It was such a powerful, simple, loaded message.

It energises clothing.

On stage with Kanye that evening was Skepta.

Skepta talks about wearing black in Shutdown, currently playlisted on Radio 1 , the words going into mass ears.

The lyrics:

“Fashion week and it’s shutdown

Went to the show sitting in the front row

In the black tracksuit and it’s shutdown.”

Later on is a female voice, a guess a parody, saying the following:

“A bunch of young men all dressed in black dancing extremely aggressively on stage, it made me feel so intimidated and it’s not what I expect to see on prime time TV”

In full:

I guess the show he was talking about was Nasir Mazhar, who he’s collaborated with in the past.

A black look from Nasir’s show.





Black at Astrid Andersen, again AW15.


It’s not weird to be looking at autumn/winter already, because the first deliveries will be arriving in June.

That’s like nine weeks away or something.

Black at Craig Green.


OK so yeah, it’s probably the case that if you looked at any seasons shows, you could cherry pick bits of black.

That’s totally the case with Bottega Veneta, which was all pink and purple and orange.

And also black.

Guess which I’ve picked out?


Usually the thinking is that colour outfits are the pop that keep people interested.

For me it was the black.

I’ve been wearing black Bottega Veneta sweatshirt and dancer pants obsessively the past few weeks.

Along with black Dries Van Noten dancer pants.

More autumn/winter black menswear.

The black version of the Rick Owens dick dress.


Saint Laurent is the last menswear show of the European season.

And it was dominated by black.

This is such a covetable look.

Especially with the strength of that shoulder.


It was fascinating to me how this is very much a menswear thing.

The womenswear AW15 shows were the usual over-embellishment and fuss.

I feel it has legs.

Hey if you’ve not made it to the Whitechapel’s show Adventures Of The Black Square, you HAVE to go before it shuts on Easter Monday.

It’s such an extraordinary exhibition.

Using Malevich as a starting point to study 100 years of abstraction in art.

Here’s his Black Quadrilateral, undated.

Metaesquema 464 by Hélio Oiticica.

Cogito, ergo sum by Rosemarie Trockel.

So so good.

Click here for more info etcetc.

What am I wearing at the moment?


Peach trackpants by Gosha.

Oh well.