Category Archives: sculpture

Charles Petillon: Invasions

On show for a brief period at Magda Danysz Gallery, London, was the sculpture and photos of the French photographer Charles Petillon. Petillon is a commercial photographer but the exhibition showed his personal work. Inflated white balloons of various sizes are placed or squeezed into various locations, often with associated lighting. They are fascinating interventions in space that play with scale in a fun way; an approach that has lots of potential for the future.


Part of the Charles Petillon exhibition. You can just see some white balloons through the doorway on the left

The sculptures can be like clouds or foam or bubbles, or like droplets of liquid before they coalesce. The installations are transient but preserved as photos, which become the artwork. Or another artwork really. Although not a new concept (c.f. the works of Richard Long or Andy Goldsworthy), the photograph becomes the work rather than simply a record of an ephemeral installation.


Petillon uses the landscape, the built environment and interiors as spaces for his sculptures

Petillon plans to continue with his balloon sculptures internationally over the coming years, so keep your eye out for some fun!

Candida Höfer: images of Villa Borghese

I have been a fan of Candida Höfer’s quiet, frozen-in-time style of photography for a long time, but I only know her work from books so I was really pleased when I heard she has a show on at Ben Brown Gallery in London. I made a bee-line for it on the first day.

Ben Brown Gallery

I was the only visitor in the Ben Brown Gallery – how lucky am I?! the uncluttered space suited the images of Villa Borghese, which contain both empty space and lots of detail.

Candida Höfer was a student of the Bechers at the Dusseldorf Kunstakademie  from 1976 to 1982, where she was contemporary with the likes of Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth and Thomas Ruff. This school of photography encouraged students to find then stick to their own photographic path, though within the framework of the built environment and a series-approach to image-making. Höfer’s own path has taken her from 35mm to 6x6cm then to 5×4″ film, but virtually always in colour. She has specialised in architectural interiors but she achieves something more than a competent photographic record. She manages to use the underlying dicotomy of photography, that it both abstracts the scene as well as records the detail of what is in front of the camera, to great artistic effect. I have been a fan of her images for a long time but I only know them from books, so it was with cautious anticipation that I went to this exhibition of her large prints. I am always skeptical of photographers who exhibit large prints; it seems to be what their buyers demand but does the photograph really benefit aesthetically apart from the initial visual impact? Well in Höfer’s case, yes they do have value at the larger size, allowing us to see details that are less apparent in books.

The opening image of the show at the Ben Brown Gallery.

The first image of the show at the Ben Brown Gallery. The central statue is an androgynous figure with a rather surprised female top looking down at the erect penis of the bottom half. No doubt the cause of much amusement to visitors over the years. © Candida Höfer, Köln / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn


All the pictures on show use single-point perspective, giving the exhibition an immediate visual coherence and symmetry. But not quite: although the basic architecture and composition is often symmetrical, the decor and sculptures break the symmetry in a way reminiscent of Chinese art. I wondered whether Höfer was now adopting single-point as a personal style but a check for other Villa Borghese images on-line show that she also uses dual-point perspective where she feels it is appropriate. Her photographs do not include people and her style has been referred to as The Architecture of Absence, that’s to say that people are implied rather than present. Her photos here are no exception and conjure up a mental image of noisy, unruly crowds of visitors waiting impatiently outside while the photographer works quietly and unhurriedly inside on our behalf.

As a public art gallery, the Villa Borghese take precautions to protect the works. Candida Hofer cooses not to remove these features. © Candida Höfer, Köln / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

As a public art gallery, the Villa Borghese take precautions to protect the works. Candida Höfer chooses not to remove these features. © Candida Höfer, Köln / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Examining the detail in these large prints becomes an act of meditation after a while.  You will soon notice that Höfer has chosen not to remove the guard chains around the sculptures even though it would have been feasible to do so. I think there may be two reasons for this.  It reminds us that this is now a public place, but it was not always so, having started life as the estate of a high-ranking cardinal in 1605 only becoming public in 1903, thus the chains link us through layers of history from the private opulent space intended not so much for living in as impressing other members of the Roman elite, through to today when this level of ornamentation seems excessively ostentatious and over-the-top.  The chains also point out that all things pass, but a legacy of culture from the past lives on, and the photograph asks the question of anyone collecting it “…and what legacy will you leave?”

I recommend exploring Candida Höfer’s photography if only by visiting this exhibition, which is on until 19 September 2014. The gallery is in the Oxford Street/Bond Street area at 12 Brook’s Mews, London W1K 4DG.

Is Edward James’ garden, Las Pozas, surreal?

Edward James (1907-1984) was a wealthy Englishman who never quite fitted in to the high society life that he could have been a part of. Instead his artistic temperament  set him on a life-long search that led him to the town of Xilitla, about 200km north of Mexico City, where he bought land to create an orchid garden called Las Pozas.  Unusually heavy snow and low temperatures in the winter of 1962 wiped out many of the orchids but James didn’t replant. Instead he conceived a garden of exotically-shaped structures, sculptures and buildings made in reinforced concrete. For almost 2 decades construction took place, though many of the structures remain unfinished, and it is these structures for which Las Pozas is rightly world famous in gardening, architectural and artistic circles. This picture gives you an idea:

Las Pozas colour image

Colour photograph of unfinished structure, Las Pozas (note the person on the curved stairs to give an idea of scale). copyright Malcolm Raggett

Edward James associated with the surrealist movement for much of his life, acting as patron and collector. He was not a hands-off collector though: artists such as Dali and Magritte credited James with at least some of the inspiration for their pictures.  James had an innate tendency to turn the logical into the illogical, the rational to the irrational and the real into the surreal. But for many years he dismissed the idea that Las Pozas was a surreal garden, only later did he concede that there were surreal elements to it. The passage of time and the lack of money for maintenance since James’ death has meant that the structures have weathered and the jungle invaded to produce a (to me) marvellous combination of organically-inspired sculpture with natural foliage. This juxtaposition of reinforced concrete with sub-tropical jungle contains a distinct surreal concept. There are some visitors who cannot warm to this, and who even deny it
the label of “garden”, but for me it is without doubt a fantastical, exuberant surreal garden.

But how to photograph it? Taking colour photographs provides a great record but is somehow too “real”. Photographing in black & white provides a useful degree of abstraction to the images without being sufficiently surreal, so I tried black & white infrared film. I hoped that the pale foliage against the dark concrete would give me that other-worldliness I was after. Here are some examples. Do they work for you?

black & white image

Image taken on black & white film without infrared filtration. The tonality of the foliage and the concrete are very similar. copyright Malcolm Raggett

black & white infrared image

Here's a similar image but taken on IR film with infrared filtration. The pale foliage against the dark concrete differentiate the two more clearly and give a surreal element to the image. copyright Malcolm Raggett

Here are some more examples, all using EFKE Aura 35mm film and a 720um IR filter:

black & white infrared photo

copyright Malcolm Raggett

black & white infrared photo

copyright Malcolm Raggett

Anthony Gormley sculptures at De La Warr Pavilion

I’ve been intending to visit the modernist De La Warr Pavilion on the south coast of England for some time, so when I heard that Anthony Gormley was exhibiting a version of Critical Mass on the pavilion’s roof, the opportunity to see both was too good to miss. It was a warm sunny and breezy day when I visited and the pavilion was at its best – a marvellous study in light and shade, which changes character as the sun moves round.

On the roof terrace were Anthony Gormley’s cast iron figures being brilliantly lit by the sun, which made the shadows as interesting as the figures. I started by seeing the sculptures as objects; cast iron shapes in almost abstract form, but as I walked between them looking at detail – the rust pockets, the fall of light and shade – I started seeing the resemblance to the bodies at Pompey, where the volcanic ash has preserved the shape of the huddled figures even though the body has long since decayed. It was as though Gormley’s figures and those at Pompey were negatives and positives of the same event. And the Gormley figures are a black – negative – version of his own white body from which the casts were made.

My final reaction to the sculptures was how they must resemble bodies on a battlefield or exhumed from a mass grave. Although I’ve never been in this situation for real, I can imagine anyone who has would have their memories re-kindled by this display.

Despite my rather macabre reaction to the exhibit, it is was well worth the visit.