Alexey Menschikov – photographer and street artist

Alexey Menschikov is a young artist and photographer from Russia. Like many street artists, information on him is hard is sparse. Hisart builds on things that catch his attention  on the streets, like cracks on the pavement and paint chips on a wall and he integrates these into his art.

He is most well known for his street art but it is his photography that captivates me. His black and white photos use shadow, repetition, line and negative space to create mesmerizing images. His subjects include birds, cats, dogs, insects and people. There is definitely something to be learnt from his clever compositions but I’ve no idea at this point in time how he works.

You can see some of Alexey’s photographs in a Pinterest Board I have created:

And you can view some of his street art here:
Subtle Street Art by Alexey Menschikov

He also has a Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/menshchikow

 

 

 

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Contextual focus point: Prunella Clough

(1919–99) British painter

Born in London in 1919 Prunella Clough was an innovative and pioneering painter and printmaker who developed a unique and highly individual style. Throughout a career which began in the 1940s she was fascinated by urban and industrial landscapes and detritus. Her paintings evolved during her lifetime into an abstract distillation of her subject matter.

The archive held by Tate Modern (London) includes a collection of photographs and notebooks. Her photos captured elements that she had seen and others might easily miss but her paintings were not a direct translation of these. Instead she used her photos and written notes, which described what she saw and how she felt, and interpreted them into a new visual language of her own. It was unusual, at the time, for a woman to be taking inspiration from what was widely viewed as a man’s world of manual labour and industry and her working method was highly individual.

Clough’s work demonstrated a new way of seeing but despite a considerable contribution to modernism and the development of abstract art, she was a very private person and never became a household name. She was as prolific in her output in the years leading up to her death, aged 80 in 1999, as she was in earlier years. After a lifetime of painting, her achievements were finally recognised when she won the prestigious Jerwood Prize for Painting in 1999 shortly before her death.

In the 40s and early 50s she was associated with the Neo-Romantics, a term applied to the imaginative and often abstract landscape based painting of Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland and others in the late 30s and 40s.

Clough’s early work (from the 40s onwards) focused on labourers in industrial settings (fishermen, lorry drivers, builders, factory workers) using an angular, graphic style and limited colour range. These early paintings combine elements of the Neo-Romantic spirit of place and Social Realism’s attention to the everyday conditions of the working class and the poor.

Her abstract and figurative paintings share a common purpose which she expressed in 1949 when she wrote: “Whatever the theme it is the nature and structure of an object – that, and seeing it as if it were strange and unfamiliar, which is my chief concern.”

In the 50s and 60s Clough moved to a less figurative style as she began to focus more on urban scenes. She travelled visiting cooling towers, steel smelters, derelict factories and scrapyards reflecting the growing urbanisation and industrialisation of Britain. She took inspiration from the shapes and colours of the industrial structures and scenes she encountered.

As her individual style developed, she used found objects such as hairdryers, wire mesh and rusting scrap as a basis for her explorations of paint and form. She declared that “a gasometer is as good as a garden, indeed probably better, as one paints what one knows”.

By the 60s her paintings and prints had evolved to pure abstraction using a very restrained range of colours. They give very little away except a sense of perfect harmony and balance in terms of colour, form and composition. There is something calm and meditative in these paintings.

In the 1980s Clough created a series of abstracted paintings featuring light industrial objects such as gates, fences and wire. She also became absorbed by shadows cast by people and objects on walls and pavements (there are many photographs of these in the Tate archive).

In the latter decades of her career, Clough made a number of works that reference scraps of urban debris found on the streets of London, such as plastic bags, discarded gloves, and oil stains. In1989 she exhibited these paintings in a show entitled Prunella Clough: Recent Paintings, 1980-1989 at  Annely Juda Fine Art Gallery in London. The show was a critical and financial success and gained her wider recognition.

Later in life she turned her attention to found plastic including colourful objects such as buckets and toys that might be found on a market stall.

A chronological look at some of Clough’s paintings
A chronological look at a selection of Clough’s paintings is enlightening because it reveals the evolution of her personal style and her journey to pure abstraction through explorations of shape, form, scale, layering, composition and colour. We can see that as confidence in her individual methods and approach develops she becomes a master of composition, filling the picture plane with a distilled energy and making excellent use of negative space.

Trawlnet  (1946) Inspired by workers at Lowestoft in Suffolk, this painting has a Neo Romantic feel as well as hints of Social Realism in the depiction of fishermen attending to their nets on the beach. Clough had a staunch belief in the dignity and value of labour.

Deserted Gravel Pit (1946) This scene of abandonment is reminiscent of the work of Graham Sutherland. Here we see a simplification of a largely lifeless landscape depicted in a muted grey, ochre and brown with just one small glimmer of green.

Lowestoft Harbour (1951)  This is one of the most notable paintings in her series of fishermen The influence of Picasso can be seen in the blocky line work in this painting but Clough preferred a more subtle colour palette of grey with touches of ochre and rusty brown.

Landscape with cable (1957) A fully abstracted landscape consisting of geometric shapes and employing a muted palette gently lifted by subtle accents of pale blue.

Cooling Tower (1958) Clough travelled the UK seeking out industrial landscapes and studying their shape and form. In this painting the colour range is severely limited to a very pale grey and the lightest of browns. The monolithic tower dominates while delicately painted industrial detritus surrounds.

Electrical Landscape  (1960) The faint oval shapes in the vertical band at the centre of the painting recall electricity pylons. The limited colour range is characteristic of her work. She has created texture by scraping areas of paint.

By the Canal (1976) Here we see Clough’s fence motif in this minimalist industrial landscape.

Broken Gates (1982) Another of Clough’s favoured motifs – a tangle of broken gates.

Wire and Demolition (1982) Clough became ever more focused on micro elements of the landscape in the form of discarded waste. Tangled wire became another of her motifs.

Perforated fragment (1985) No doubt a found fragment but, typically, Clough is giving nothing away.

Toy Pack Sword  (1988)  Plastic detritus, a market stall sword? Clough is perhaps now painting the market stall items and plastic objects that fascinated her later in life. More vivid, vibrant colours are being used.

Household Goods (1989) The market stall as the source of objects that may later be discarded, broken and become waste?

False Flower (1993) – A discarded object that resembled a flower? The Tate descriptions say much about the painting technique but do not attempt to interpret the image. The archivists were working directly with Clough when this painting was first documented… she may have not wished to interpret her own paintings preferring to leave it to the viewer.

Accessories (1996) I find Clough’s later paintings increasingly difficult to analyse but perhaps that’s because they are meant to be felt rather than rationalised.

Samples (1997) As above.

Brief biography
Prunella Clough was born in London in 1919 and studied at the Chelsea School of Art and Camberwell School of Art. Her first solo exhibition was at the Leger Gallery, London, in 1947. Her aunt was the architect and furniture designer Eileen Gray; a pioneer of the modern movement.

The Whitechapel Gallery in East London staged an early retrospective in 1960 – a landmark for a female painter – but for the last 40 years of her life she kept a low profile, avoiding interviews.

A retrospective of her work was held at the Camden Arts Centre and Oriel 37, Newton Powys in 1996 and a major exhibition was held at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge in 1998. She won the Jerwood Prize for Painting in 1999 shortly before her death in the same year.

A retrospective of her work was held at Tate Britain London in 2007 which also toured to Norwich and Kendal.

Clough’s work is in many public collections including the Tate and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London

References
The Tate website, Prunella Clough Archive
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/prunella-clough-921 (accessed 30/11/17))

Clough, Prunella (1919–99), A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art, 2015

Art and Artists, National Galleries Scotland website https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/438/electrical-landscape-1960 (accessed 30/11/17)

Spencer, Catherine, A tour through the wastelands: don’t miss Prunella Clough at Osborne Samuel, Apollo magazine, 12 May 2015
https://www.apollo-magazine.com/a-tour-through-the-wastelands-dont-miss-prunella-clough-at-osborne-samuel/ (accessed 30/11/17)

Prunella Clough at the Jerwood Gallery, Hastings,  Government Art Collection – http://www.gac.culture.gov.uk/jerwood.html (accessed 30/11/17)

Gayford, Martin, The painting prize that got it right, The Telegraph, 22/09/99
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/4718483/The-painting-prize-that-got-it-right.html (accessed 1/12/17)

The Tate website – Art terms
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/n/neo-romanticism (accessed 01/12/17)

Wikipedia – Social Realism
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_realism (accessed 01/12/17)

Wikipedia – Prunella Clough
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prunella_Clough (accessed 01/12/17)

Nationwide choice: Prunella Clough, The Times (London, England) 04/08/01
News: p30.

Sketchbook experiments – Wexford scenes

Last time I was doing some printing, I’d started to clean up when I thought I’d press a few pieces of paper into what was left of rolled out black ink as the results might provide a background for a drawing.

Sketch 1, The Graveyard, is I think reasonably successful. The background print has provided a random element and added some extra to the drawing. I felt the marks in the printed background had some relationship with the patterns made by erosion and lichen on the tombstones.

Sketch 2, I liked this rock because it reminded me of the prow of a ship and got me thinking about all the people who immigrated in the Great Famine in Ireland in the 1840s. I also liked different textures where the smooth pristine sand met the craggy rock. My underlying print resembled a mountain  but unfortunately I overdid the drawing over and virtually obliterated the print. Later I washed off some of the ink with a tiny quantity of very dilute bleach and drew into the picture again. This created a more successful sketch that does capture some of the mood of what I saw on the beach.

I would use these techniques again but be much more careful to let the underlying print contribute.

 

 

 

Seaweed impressions – drypoint prints

While in Wexford, Ireland in October I photographed some patterns in the sand that looked as if they were made by the action of the tide pulling seaweed back into the sea. They were a very special ready-made drawing and I was delighted to find them. I’d never seen anything quite like them before.

I’ve made a couple of drypoint prints from my photographs. As prints they become quite ambiguous. They could be seaweed, or hanging fronds of a tree or plant, or tresses of hair. I wonder what you see?

As a first attempt at reproducing drawings in the sand  I’m reasonably pleased with these prints but they don’t have the depth or beauty of the actual sand drawings. I’ll keep working with them…

Project 4: The human form – final drawing

Stephen – 30 x 24 cm (pastel, pencil, charcoal)

The aim of this exercise was to create a journey which leads the eye of the viewer into the overlapping twists and turns of the limbs.

What works?

  • I’m fairly pleased with this. I feel I’ve learnt something about composition through the various exercises and it shows in this drawing. It’s a tight composition in which all the parts work and there is energy throughout, including at the edges. The negative shapes / space are good and definitely contribute.
  • The limbs themselves seem to lead he eye of the viewer. The pose is slightly ambiguous which is a good thing as it’s not necessary for everything to be immediately obvious.
  • This wasn’t an easy pose to draw because of the foreshortening. It’s not perfect but to my eyes there aren’t glaring errors in the proportions.  I did what I could to pull out muscles (there were only so many reference points) but I feel the figure has weight and stucture and, importantly,  looks alive which has not been the case with some of my life drawing in the past.

Before cropping

  • I cropped my drawing very slightly on the right to bring it back to my earlier crop  in the preparation exercises. I’d added a part of the arm thinking that it might make more sense of the pose and then I decided this was unnecessary and detracting  from the dynamism of the drawing.

 

 

The Family (Squatting Couple) – Egon Schiele, 1918 (the year before his death).

What could be improved?

  • I had a flick through a book of Egon Schiele drawings looking at his masterly use of line and tone. In response to this I strengthened some of the lines but they could still be bolder.
  • I also noted how Schiele often puts his figures against dark backgrounds which makes them stand out and gives emphasis to muscle and tone.
  • My lines could be looser and more expressive. I lost some spontaneity in scaling up my drawing. It’s often the case  that my sketchbook work, which is done quickly, is more expressive than my final drawings. I need to work on this.

I decided not to make further changes to my drawing for fear of spoiling what is a reasonably successful picture. But I’ve made a note to study Schiele’s work more closely next time we do figure drawing.

Project 4: The Human form – preparation

Making a drawing of two combined body parts… Look at the curves and the rhythms set up by those curves. Look at the muscles and bones under the skin and the tension and energy they give…

It’s a while since I’ve done any figure drawing and I feel out of practice so I did some preparation in my sketch book using the Croquis Cafe online life drawing resource (onairvideo.com). Then I looked at how I might crop my drawings to make a tighter composition that both fills the picture plane and uses the negative space.

I have had a reminder of how difficult feet are to draw, especially when they are fore-shortened.

My plan is to do a final drawing when I’ve done some thinking about which composition works best.

Initial drawings

Exploring composition by cropping

 

 

A second piece in response to Matisse’s more sophisticated use of space and pattern

Incidentally, I don’t think I would describe Matisse’s use of space and pattern as ‘more sophisticated’ than Blackadder’s. They are simply different and Blackadder has chosen to create a quiet ambiguity with her work. I would describe Matisse as making a more ‘exuberant’ use of space and pattern.

Anyway, my opinion cannot mask the fact that I am no Matisse or Blackadder. The two drawings above, created with watercolour pencils in my sketchbook, show how difficult it is to create a Matisse-style still life with joyous use of colour, spatial ambiguity and exuberant use of repeated motifs. I did not think either of these merited the time and effort to scale them up as drawings but. However, the black and white or colour adjusted version of Still Life with Chair and Flowers might translate into a lino print (see below).

Reflection

I have learnt many things  through this project including how

  • space and spatial ambiguity can used to great effect in still life composition
  • repeated motifs can be drawn from textiles or artifacts and woven into a composition helping to pull together a cohesive whole (as in Blackadder’s Flowers on a Indian Cloth and Matisse’s Harmony in Red).
  • empty space can be used to guide a viewer into a drawing (as in Matisse’s Red Studio).
  • empty space surrounding objects isolates and draws attention to them.
  • well-used negative space can make as much impact as the still life objects themselves.
  • Surrounding blocks of colour can pull a disparate composition together and change the mood.

I will remember these points and try to apply them appropriately in my own practice. I have a tendency to create busy, cluttered compositions so these lessons about using space rather than simply filling space are important to me.

Still Life with Flowers and Chair

 

This is reasonably successful as a lino print although the quality of my home printing is variable. But I do wish I had not added a line to represent the table. What was I thinking of? The whole point was to create spatial ambiguity. I’ll try another version with the background blue cut away when I get time.

Update 15/11/17 I ran off a couple of prints of this at my printmaking class today and without any prompting my tutor said it looked like a Matisse!