This is my first post for my Open College of the Arts course Visual Studies 1: Understanding Visual Culture. I feel very nervous about this but also very excited. It has been a long time since I last studied and I’m not sure how my brain is going to react.
Here goes: reading through the course info I’ve seen that I need to start going to exhibitions on a regular basis and then reflect on what I have seen. So I dutifully went to an exhibition in a lovely gallery space that is within twenty minutes of my home that I didn’t even know existed before. The gallery is the Vallpalou foundation (fundació Vallpalou) in Lleida, Catalonia, the city where I have lived for some ten years or so.
The exhibition is Nei Albertí i Alex Pallí: Rel ran de cel. Nei Albertí (1975) from Barcelona is a sculptor who uses a combination of materials in his work including metal, bronze, wood, and textiles. Alex Pallí (1972), also from Barcelona, is an abstract painter who uses a combination of highly graphic forms and very painterly brush marks, combined with the use of bright colours and black to form highly energetic compositions that pull you in and out of the picture space.
I read about the artist’s on their respective websites before going to the exhibition, which I found extremely enlightening. It helped me to focus on what I was about to see and gave me some questions to walk into the exhibition with. For example, I wondered how Pallí had created such sharp lines in his acrylic paintings and I wondered what size the paintings would be. In fact, as a painter myself I had many more questions about Pallí’s work than about Albertí’s sculptures. However, despite my admiration for Pallí’s paintings I found little or no information on his website about his process, which I found disappointing as I was left wanting more. This alone is a very significant point as I myself find it very difficult to describe my own creative process and perhaps I feel a little ashamed of it so I don’t supply any information about it on the few places on the internet where I allow my work to poke its little head out from under its rock. I now see how frustrating this habit is of artists that do not reflect on their own work.
Albertí, however, has extensive writing and videos of his process and looking through his website is extremely gratifying. I was absolutely in awe of how he completely changed his style as if from nowhere only a few years ago. His work didn’t really interest me much until I saw this leap of faith on his website. I’m not a huge fan of sculpture, I must admit, but I really began to appreciate this artist’s work and work ethic.
Arriving at the exhibition, I felt quite nervous, as if I were about to meet a famous person. I walked in and all the lights were off, it was about 12 noon. I called tentatively into the darkness “holaa..?” a scruffy youth appeared from somewhere and I asked him if the space was open, he affirmed that it was and then clicked on the gallery lights. Before my eyes all the paintings, sculptures and installations jumped into view, it was quite exciting. I had the whole space to myself so I got to work. I saw first the paintings were smaller than I had imagined, the canvas’s were quite thin and similar to the one’s I’ve been using, this made me feel slightly less intimidated by the paintings for some reason. Then I saw that Pallí had used masking tape to create the sharp edges in his paintings and in some places I saw faint pencil lines where he had coloured in some areas. I looked at all the paintings first, I really enjoyed the more graphic pieces where he used a lot of black lines of varying lengths and thicknesses combined with blocks of bright colour and oversized brush marks. They have a graffiti meets painterly expressionism quality to them which I find really exciting.
His work made me aware of new possibilities in abstract painting, of a new visual vocabulary, I wonder how it will manifest itself, if at all, in my own work.
Then I moved on to look at the sculptures and installations by Albertí. These were interspersed with Pallí’s paintings for some reason. It was a pleasing arrangement but I couldn’t find any explanation for it anywhere, in fact the lack of description of any kind was conspicuous by its absence at the exhibition. There were no labels and no literature. Maybe that is a valid decision by the curator, I don’t know.
There was a captivating installation in one section where strings in black and red had been extended throughout the space. A red shape had been created in the centre that seemed to hover in the air surrounded by the black lines of other strings. It was like a 3 dimensional drawing floating in space. That was really impressive. Other pieces were encapsulated in small Perspex boxes where netting in different colours was pulled out in different directions using thread creating spikes in the material. I found it interesting the way he had converted the soft netting into something solid and even spiky and threatening using this very simple technique. The two pieces I liked the most from these small-scale boxes used red and pale blue coloured netting respectively. They seemed to glow in the space, they were so vibrant and the way they had been contorted created interesting shadows.
I drew some pictures in my sketchbook, which I realised later really helped me to see the work and pay attention to it. I also made some notes about what I was seeing. This was good because I felt a bit overwhelmed by the exhibition as a whole and this process helped me to focus on some pieces in particular.
Something that really surprised me was that after looking at the sculptures I found the paintings very flat and less exciting than before! I’m not sure what to think about this, is my allegiance to painting shifting? Is my mind expanding? Am I growing as an artist after going to just one exhibition?
What have I learned? It’s really good to find out as much as you can about an exhibition before you go and see it. As an artist it’s important to reflect on your own process and practice on the internet. I am capable of enjoying sculpture. It’s important to see work in person as opposed to in photos. There are some good exhibitions on in my town. There are some very talented Catalan artists that I didn’t know existed.
In future I will make an effort to find out what resources are available to me locally and take advantage of the opportunity to look at work in person. I shall be open to enjoying work that is from a different discipline. I shall research the artists before I go and see their work. I will reflect on my own work and make an effort to record my process in some way. I will investigate Catalan and Spanish painters instead of being a typical expat and idealising Britain.
What sense can I make of this experience? I was closed off to the world before, I didn’t go to exhibitions, and I didn’t really read about art or artists. I lived in a fantasy world of my own making and felt entirely disconnected from the reality of where I live in an artistic sense. Now I realise that this was unhealthy and created a huge block in my growth as an artist and as an individual.
What else could I have done? I could probably go back to the exhibition a second time and see what might happen.