Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Alibis - Sigmar Polke, 1963-2010 at the Tate Modern

by  George Upton  I

Before a friend suggested that we go to see his retrospective, I had never heard of Sigmar Poke. The extensive and comprehensive exhibition, just closed at the Tate Modern in London was, then, a welcome introduction to Polke and his work and, for an ex-Art Historian, I had the uncanny but not disagreeable experience of seeing a vast body of work fresh and unsullied by digital facsimiles. It was a small window into life pre-Internet, and I throughly enjoyed it.

However, unenlightened but curious, perhaps I was exactly who the Tate is aiming at. For the most visited museum in the world, the Tate Modern is surely conscious that its visitors are not all art literate and that many are drawn by the spectacle of the converted power station’s architecture and the sensational, large scale Turbine Hall installations. Indeed, as I began to walk around the exhibition, I did not notice my lack of preparatory research or prior knowledge of Polke. Picking up what information I needed from the wall panels and the booklet guide, I could drift, drawn from one work to another, following the whim of my fancy. 

Sigmar Polke (1941 - 2010)
Girlfriends (Freundinnen) 1965/66
© 2014 Estate of Sigmar Polke / ARS, New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

The relatively sparse hang (the exhibition benefited by occupying an entire floor of the Tate Modern) accommodated this relaxed approach to Polke’s work. The succinct introduction was enough to let you start bringing your own conclusions to his work. The short biography, for example - 

Born in Silesia in 1941, Polke had to leave his home with the advance of the Russian Army at the end of the Second World War. Again in 1953 he was displaced as his family fled East Germany to settle in Dusseldorf. He settled in Cologne in the late 1970s and died in 2010.

- immediately allows you to cast Girlfriends (1965-66) in its political and cultural context and interpret Polke’s anarchic take on popular imagery as a comment on the gaudy post-war Western consumerism that must have been startling to someone fleeing Communist East Germany. 

Like many of his contemporaries - specifically Pop Artists in England and America - Polke was drawn to comment on the rise of consumerism and mass media. He decontextualised mundane food stuffs and used images found from newspapers and adverts. And yet, unlike Roy Lichtenstein, who also recreated mass printing methods in paint and Richard Prince, who similarly reappropriated mass imagery, there is something particular and more sophisticated about Polke. In the work above, the artist has mimicked by hand the raster printing process (an method of organising dots of colour to form an image) but, doing so by hand, there is a human and even humorous feel in the ensuing imperfections. 

Sigmar Polke (1941 - 2010)
The Illusionist 2007
Private Collection
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke / DACS, London / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

And this sense of humour is present throughout the exhibition, tying together half a century of varied and disparate work. Police Pig (1986) is, at its most basic, very funny, and whether Polke is confronting Germany’s Nazi past or the non-Western cultures he encountered in his many journeys to Asia and South America, whether he is painting or taking photographs, there is this same wit imbued in everything he did. Although to look solely at these works for their humour is to over simplify them, it is this that gives him the edge on his fellow pop-commentating artists. This extra dimension serves to remind the onlooker that there are issues that need to be faced, discussions that need to be had, but that nothing should be taken to seriously.

Sigmar Polke (1941 - 2010)
Police Pig (Polizeischwein) 1986
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke / DACS, London / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

To have such a vast collection of work from throughout Polke’s creative life allows the viewer to freely draw together his work from across the decades and visually come to these conclusions. Many retrospectives allow you to do this but it was especially present here. It is a testimony to the curation, of course, but also to this astoundingly talented artist - whatever he turned his hand to, in his sketches and in his films, in his paintings and sculpture, he got it just right. I had no knowledge of Sigmar Polke before I came to the exhibition but I left thinking he was one the best artists of the latter half of the 20th century.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Interview: Aaron Blaise

by  George Upton  I 
For over two decades, Aaron Blaise animated and later directed films for Disney such as Beauty and the BeastAladdinThe Lion KingPocahontasMulan and Brother Bear, where he specialises in drawing animals. Having left and set up his own animation studio, Blaise now runs his own website and youtube video channel that seeks to democratise teaching on art and animation. 

You have stated you always liked to draw, especially animals. What made you want to get into animation?
I actually fell into animation by chance. I trained as an illustrator at Ringling College of Art and Design from 1986-89. When I started there it was my goal to work for National Geographic as a staff illustrator. When I found out that these positions didn’t exist in the way that I was looking for I started looking elsewhere. I found out that Disney was coming to our school to interview so I put together a portfolio of my work thinking that maybe I would become a background painter. After I was accepted to a Disney internship I became hooked on animation through Glen Keane who was my mentor. It’s because of Glen’s inspiration that I’m an animator today.

Why the interest in animals?
I’ve always felt a bond with the creatures we share our world. For me it’s hard to define why because it’s just always “been” for me. Animals were the first subjects ever depicted through art on cave walls. I think for many of us we can empathize with them. We can feel a bond. 

And what is the process or methods you use to give animated animals expressions and emotions?
I really just feel my own emotions and expressions as I’m drawing a particular animal and attach those expressions to the character. I don’t use a mirror when animating. I never have. I instead end up actually making the expression as I’m drawing it whether on a human or animal. Through this “feeling” I can draw the expression more naturally. 

What was it like working at Disney?
Working for Disney for 21 years was an incredible honour for me. I was creating work that became part of some of the greatest animated films ever made. Working on films like “Beauty and the Beast”, “Aladdin”, and “The Lion King” were highlights of my career. Even more than the work though, we were an incredibly tight family. We all really kind of grew up together. Many of us started in our early twenties and we worked together into our forties. We went to each others weddings, watched each other have children. All while making great animated films. It was like a dream.

What was the best film to work on?
I loved working on Beauty and the Beast. It was my first big break as an animator and Glen Keane, who was supervising the Beast character wanted me as part of the animation unit. He was very generous with the scenes he gave me and it enabled me to shine as an animator. Because of that, I was able to take on bigger rolls and challenges on later films.

I also loved working on Brother Bear as a director. It was the first feature I directed and I learned an incredible amount in creating stories and their structure.

How has the development of technology affected the way you work?
The biggest effect technology has had on the way I work is that when it comes to animation and film development, I rarely work on actual paper anymore. I do almost 100% of my film work on my Cintiq. If I’m animating I use TVPaint on my Cintiq. If I’m doing design or concept work I’m using Photoshop on my Cintiq. Everything is digital now.

What do you think of the future of animation? Will there always be a place for drawn animation over 3D animation?
I don’t think there will ever be a place for 2D over 3D. I think there is a place for both equally though. If we can get the production costs down and create a great story then I think there will be a company in the future willing to take the risk on 2D again.

What are you hoping for with you online educational videos?
I really want to get art education out to a mass audience. I feel that art schools have gotten way too expensive and there might be some talented young people out there that will never be able to go to school because of the cost. That to me is a terrible shame. So, my business partners and myself decided we wanted to start getting art education out to those that may not be able to afford college or maybe they’re in college but are looking for supplemental material. Education should not financially ruin anybody.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Interview: Rosaline Shahnavaz

by  George Upton  I
Rosaline Shahnavaz is a photographer from South London. Although she only graduated from university last year, she is rapidly making waves across the diverse discipline of contemporary photography - spanning art, fashion and documentary in her work. Her high profile commissions, although a credit to Shahnavaz's seemingly unceasing work ethic, was aided by her outstanding final project, Far Near Distance - an intimate portrait of her cousin's closed life in Tehran juxtaposed with the unattainable beauty of the surrounding countryside and a series of letters that highlight Shahnavaz's relative freedom. For this she won both the Michael Wilson Award and an award from Photoworks.

Having honed her practice in the classrooms and darkrooms of the London College of Communication, Shahnavaz is now making her living as a photographer. I spoke to her about making the step from education to employment, the effect this and on her work and her recent exhibition at the Notting Hill Arts Club in London.

How have you found life post university? 

Post university life has been great. I mean, it has been very non stop. I'm almost too exhausted to be tired.

I've been teaching photography part time, shooting commissioned work, putting on exhibitions, working on personal projects. I guess it's what I've always wanted to do so I'm really embracing it and enjoying every minute of it. It's definitely a good kind of busy. 

Your work during your degree has been very personal, either because it documents those around you or because of the style in which they have been made. How will this be affected by you ever increasing renown and the subsequent commissions, such as that for C-Heads magazine?

Well, I first got into photography through intimate documentation of my friends, or those around me. It's very much the experience of getting to know someone, and the camera almost becomes secondary. I've never been about staging or shooting excessively to find the right shot. It's more about having experiences and capturing it in a photograph. This has translated into all of my work whether I'm backstage at fashion week, shooting a musician for a magazine, or documenting my cousin's poignant story for my degree show. It's always about the people and the relationships I build. That's what's more important to me. Obviously with the shoot such as the one for C-Heads I did have a time limit so it's a faster pace but I still seek to get to know my subjects in all situations. Their personalities need to come through. It's essential to my practice. 

Will you also therefore look towards fashion photography, as you have with TEETH magazine, or stick to a more artistic approach to image making? Or both?

I don't think I need to draw the line between the two. My art has influenced my commercial work a lot. They're not entirely different entities, they definitely influence one another. Doing both is really important to me. 

You were recently featured in a series of articles and a video for Nikon and The Telegraph, how did that come about? 

Yeah that was really fun. They were interested in my work and wanted to follow me shooting some personal work, so they documented me on one of my shoots with the Focus E15 group. It was kind of interesting to look back on a day in my life in a way, I'm often too busy to reflect on what I do so it was nice to sum it up in a few minutes. Although they did make me seem as though I was some sort of Nikon addict and cut out the parts where I discussed my love for my RB67 and my film cameras. I shoot film 95% of the time so I hope the video wasn't too misleading! I think it's revealed in the interview articles that followed it up.

Your recently mounted a solo exhibition, a feat in itself for a recent graduate, entitled Nothing In The World But You. What was the thinking behind the show?

So, Nothing In The World But You was a show of all my personal portraits of my friends that I have taken over the years. They're really almost unintentional photographs. Most of the time I was just a fly on the wall, but it's these photographs that have influenced the way I work with my subjects still today. The opening was really great, my best friend DJed and it was a great opportunity to get everyone together. It was nice, almost reflective. I've been so busy with commercial work so it was nice to kind of take a step back to where it all started. I had a lot of feedback about how intimate the photographs are, how personal they are, and how raw they are. That meant a lot. 

What are you working on/for at the moment? 

I was recently approached by Effra London to shoot their Valentines campaign. They're really into my personal photographs of my boyfriend and myself so they wanted me to more or less recreate these. So I just documented myself and Ben like I usually do but this time wearing some beautiful jewellery! It was such an organic and natural process which is what I love when photographing. I've also got a couple more editorials and some portraits for Topshop and Lula mag coming out soon so keep your eyes peeled!