Saturday, 26 January 2013

Tutters and shushers: Popping my opera cherry.

by Jon Cronshaw

I don’t claim to be an expert on opera, far from it. My only reference points for opera are an obnoxious moustachioed insurance salesman, a busty Aryan in a Viking helmet, and Pavarotti. My New Year’s resolution is to try new things and force myself out of my comfort zone, so when The Culture Vulture and Opera North offered free tickets to see Otello, I thought “why not?”

David Kempster as Iago at Opera North

Before the performance, we were shown around the backstage area, and got to meet the villain of the play: the dastardly Iago (who I presume was named after the parrot in Disney’s Aladdin), performed by David Kempster. It gave me a fresh perspective to the proceedings, and allowed us to see the theatre from the vantage point of the performers.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Acclaimed Latvian artist to be shown in Leeds

The work of artist Voldemārs Matvejs (1877-1914) will be on display at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, from January 30 to April 14.

Matvejs was a Latvian painter and art theorist who was fascinated by the display and understanding of art. He took 'Vladimir Markov' as his nom de plume in 1912, marking the first publication of his theoretical writings. In the three years before his death he researched a universal theory for the development and understanding of art, based on fundamental studies of the art of 'all periods and regions'. His research led him to photograph works of art across Europe, documenting many different modes of display, and, indirectly, revealing the ways in which photography can be used to tell a particular artistic narrative. This exhibition focuses on the depiction of sculpture, by exploring photographs, publications and a painting by Markov from 1910.

The display, developed by the Henry Moore Institute with Dr Jeremy Howard (University of St Andrews, 2012 Henry Moore Institute Senior Research Fellow) and Irēna Bužinska (Latvian National Museum of Art, Riga) investigates how Markov developed a visual theory of appreciating sculpture.

Between 1910 and 1913, while studying at the St Petersburg Art Academy, Markov became a spokesman for the Union of Youth, a Russian avant-garde artist group demanding artistic change and breaking out of the restrictive tenets of the academy and salon. In the first two issues of the Union's journal, published in April and June 1912, Markov's Principles of a New Art acted as a manifesto for the group.

Markov was obsessed by art, constantly finding ways to travel in order to visit ethnographic collections of sculpture. In 1912, as a representative of the Union of Youth, Markov visited Berlin, Cologne and Paris. As part of his work he purchased photographs of sculptures and paintings by Picasso, his (ultimately unrealised) aim being the establishment of the first Russian museum of contemporary art. In 1913 he travelled with his close friend Varvara Bubnova, and a camera given by the Union, to Oslo, Copenhagen, Hamburg, London, Paris, Cologne, Brussels, Leiden, Amsterdam, Leipzig, Berlin and St Petersburg. In each collection he visited, he made notes and drawings, and carefully selected individual works to photograph.

The images show Markov frequently found his way into storerooms, often using paper and sheets as makeshift backdrops. Markov's visual research informed four books. In Creative Principles in the Plastic Arts: Faktura (1913) he paid particular attention to the surfaces of sculpture and material processes in an investigation of the assemblage, artistry and 'noise' of visual art. In 1914 The Art of Easter Island was published, analysing the sculpture of the region from artistic, rather than ethnographic, perspectives. Between 1913 and 1914 he worked on the posthumously published Negro Art (1919), researched a year before Carl Einstein's 1915 much referenced Negerplastic. These books, along with exhibition catalogues from exhibitions organised by Irēna Bužinska, are held in our Research Library. His final planned book, The Art of Northern Asia, was unfinished at his untimely death, with many of his notes and manuscripts subsequently lost, leaving only a few surviving images as evidence of his research.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Leeds Print Festival offers a weekend of events.

Leeds Print Fair
by Jon Cronshaw

The second annual Leeds Print Festival hosted a range of events this past weekend at Leeds Gallery, Munro House, York Road, Leeds.

The events included an opening party on Friday 18th, the Leeds Print Fair on Saturday 19th, a series of talks on Sunday 20th, and an ongoing print exhibition.
The exhibition features print-based works by Dan Mather, Marc Ross/Prefab77, Robbie Porter, Sarah Milton and Sebastian Koseda.

The Leeds Print Fair featured ten artists and printmakers from across the country including Karoline Prerrie, Back to Back Press, Ditto Press, Bradley Books and Caroline Pratt.
Talks were given by Alan Kitching, Matthew The Horse and the Print Project on various aspects of contemporary printmaking.

Event organiser, Amber Smith, noted that ‘we are continuing to work with unbelievably talented people so that the hard “second album” has come together, and we have a programme of exhibitions, events, workshops and talks – really, you have got to love print for that.’

The Leeds Print Festival will run until January 27th.

For more information visit, or follow Leeds Print Festival on Twitter @LPF2013 for the latest updates. 

Photo: © Jon Cronshaw.  

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Submissions open for Vantage Art Prize.

by Jon Cronshaw

Ellington House
The Departure Foundation has announced the Vantage Art Prize, a Leeds-based competition for emerging artists working in all media, with a first prize of £1,000.

The deadline for artists to submit applications to the competition is 23 January, with a shortlist of 20 artists being selected to have their work exhibited at Ellington House, Leeds Valley Park, Leeds. The exhibition will be curated by local artist Adam Young.

The winner will be announced on the evening of 23 February on the opening night of the exhibition.

For more information visit

Pavilion to host ambitious new arts project at Temple Newsam.

by Jon Cronshaw

Harold Offeh
Leeds-based arts organisation Pavilion are giving the opportunity to 6-8 young (15-25) East Leeds residents to assist with the work of London-based visual artist Harold Offeh.

Pavilion will host three training sessions at Temple Newsam House, Leeds, during February which will explore the history of Temple Newsam and the art practice of Harold Offeh.

The project will culminate on March 16-17 when the artwork, which will bring together elements of street art, performance, film, and photography, will be launched with the assistance of the youngsters involved.

To get involved in the project, please email or call on 0113 343 2718. For more information visit:

Friday, 4 January 2013

The spontaneous creative impulse and critical art practice.

by Jon Cronshaw 

Jon Cronshaw, 'Post-Lapse'
In 2009, I interviewed Greek-born artist Janis Rafailidou for Art Fist magazine. During the interview, we had a lengthy discussion about the compatibility of a critical art practice with spontaneous creative impulses. Only a small part of the discussion made it to press, but it is an issue that both myself and Janis felt was deeply problematic, and one which is often sidestepped as a legitimate concern. As Janis noted in her interview: “How does one fit into the other, conceptually?” Today it seems that spontaneous creativity is the last thing on an art school’s mind. Artists have been trained for so long to think about their work in relation to others’: whether it is to use theoretical texts as a launch-pad for producing work or responding to the work of other artists or the current trends in visual culture, the simple fact is that if we are all drawing from the same tainted well, we are going to be poisoned, no matter how we prepare the water. Even when we start from a spontaneous place, it seems that we need to apply a wider explanation after the fact – often distorting our original intention to fit with wider concerns. As Janis observed, “I go through phases where I create a lot and then I look back and try and analyse it, I try and situate it with what is happening with contemporary art.”

Is it possible that the academic training provided by today’s art schools and universities is actually stifling creativity? Is it possible that the emphasis on self-criticism, art theory and placing our work within its context is actually preventing any radical change? Are we as artists just adding to an already existing discourse rather than creating our own?

How many artists have we seen whose work draws on the ideas of psychoanalysis, post-colonial theory, structuralism, or other branches of cultural studies? It’s almost become a cliché that a work with sexual imagery will be situated within the context of Freud or Jung; a work which deals with race should probably be peppered with the ideas of Said; and anything which plays around with letters or words should probably throw in a bit of Derrida. It is contrived at best, and at worst it is limiting the questions that can be asked of or by artistic practice.

The demand for artists to explain our work is the root of the problem. The artistic statement, which has become a necessary evil for the artist, is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it makes our creations more accessible and easier to comprehend, but on the other, it serves to restrict the possibilities of artistic experimentation. Surely an art object itself should be its own explanation? If we are constantly having to explain what we do, then nothing is opaque, nothing is mysterious and there are no puzzles left to solve. In fact, it might be better just to submit an artistic statement and be done with producing objects altogether. Jacob Epstein said it best when he was asked to explain his sculptures: “My work rests in silence.”

In the end, we come to a quandary: can art practice ever be separated from art theory? The issue is that theoretical concerns are so entrenched in the language of art that it is almost impossible to think of art objects not relating to theory.

What we need is to take stock, and ask ourselves why we are working the way we are, and whether we are stuck in an eternal loop, as if we are all stuck in the final turns of chess game, taking turns to move around in different but incredibly limited ways, but ultimately unable to finish the game. Perhaps we should be looking to play different games altogether.

Welcome to Leeds Art Scene.

Leeds Art Scene is the place for the people of Leeds to catch up on all the latest that our city has to offer in the visual arts. We aim to provide the latest news, reviews and interviews, as well as showcase the work of artists and curators based in and around Leeds. If you would like to write for us, have your work or event featured, or advertise on the site, please email and follow us on Twitter @LeedsArtScene. - Jon Cronshaw Editor