The 74-year-old American artist talked to me about bobble heads, bodily fluids and getting cuckoo whilst setting up his London show, 'New Paintings' at Hauser & Wirth. You're not a typical painter, what can we expect of the show? 'It's an experience; it's evidence of an action of a performance. I always see it as entertainment.'
There's a lot of humour in your work. 'I have a good sense of humour. Why not take advantage of it? I think it's pretty funny how the art business is taken way too seriously.' Read the full interview on Time Out London.
I was commissioned by the Zurich Opera House to write about the London-based artist, Idris Khan in relation to his set design for Wayne McGregor's new ballet, 'Notations'. Floating Notes There’s black and then there’s black through the eyes of the London-based artist Idris Khan. It takes on a translucent, silky and luminous quality with incredible depth. The 36-year-old has always made work in a predominantly monochromatic palette, so his photographs, paintings, sculptures and wall drawings blur the distinction between light and dark, history and present, rendered and erased. The Royal College of Art graduate layers varied information in different media. His photographic composites have condensed every page of the Quran into a 136 x 170 cm digital print; transformed the eminent psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud’s seminal text on the uncanny into an eerie mass of words and combined Bernd and Hilla Becher’s extensive series of industrial machinery into ghostly apparitions. Khan's technique of overlaying appropriated imagery and text is certainly at it's most poetic with his photographs of complete works by composers. Pieces such as ‘Struggling to Hear…After Ludwig van Beethoven Sonatas’ from 2005 capture the cacophony of sound or the lack thereof for Beethoven with distilled poignance. It was works such as this that caught Wayne McGregor's attention. And it seems to only have been a matter of time before the right collaboration would require Khan's visual language: 'I think his choreography is really complex and he saw a relationship between my way of thinking about layering and got in touch.'
Following in the footsteps of Picasso and David Hockney, this will be Khan's first set design, which one might expect to be a daunting undertaking when your natural habitat is the confines of a gallery: 'The context has completely changed so you have to think about the dancers, the lighting and their interaction with the art. One thing that really struck me straight away was when are you going to get the chance where an audience is going to sit and look at one of your pieces for forty minutes. So for me it was all about how the audience responds to looking at something for that length of time. I don’t think you really think about that when you’re creating work for a gallery.' Rising to the challenge, he's effortlessly translated his artistic practice into an immersive design that eloquently marries the sublime fluidity of McGregor’s choreography crossed with the serene tones from Richter splicing of Vivaldi’s 'Four Season'.
This is the first time Khan has ever created one of his
music pieces using an arrangement by the Baroque composer: 'I always used music
that has influenced my life in some way, whether it’s my mother’s favourite
pieces or something that's educated me. It made complete sense to create a
music piece because of the nature of what Max did to the Four Seasons. When I
listen to that piece of music it’s all about stripping it down and keeping
something familiar and then creating something new and that’s exactly what
appropriation is.' And Richter's composition of disarranged notes comes alive
in Khan's large gauze screens printed with superimposed sheets of Vivaldi's
Every note is seized in a state of limbo. They're caught
between lines, squeezed between other notes, gripping each other and sandwiched
together. What is once claustrophobic is also a release from conformity as
notes meld into one another, inadvertently posing as another. They're captured
together in a single moment that will last the duration of the performance.
There is no beginning or end, just now. There is no order, only chaotic
This intense compression of information is balanced by the
contemplative element of the entire design that echoes Vivaldi’s priestly
background. Accompanying the notes will be a sculptural structure that has
certainlybeen informed by the
physicality of Richard Serra’s large-scale steel sculptures along with Sol Le
Witt's obsessively drawn formations: 'I wanted it to look almost like a sketch
on the stage in the middle of this black field and you'll only see the curve
when the light hits it. I’ve used the same process as I do for my paintings
with layers of gesso, which is made with rabbit skin glue, black pigments and
slate dust and then it’s sanded back and sanded back so it creates this
incredible marble finish. What I love about gesso is the way is absorbs light,
it really sucks it in.' But the curved form isn't just inspired by Khan's artistic
background, it also mirrors the performance's context of dancers interacting
and responding to music. It'll sweep down the stage like a bass clef, emulating
the arced movements of the dancers as well as providing a constraint to their
presence on stage, a boundary to which they must adhere. By restricting the
space on stage Khan creates a tension for the dancers to reverberate off. But
he's also created a realm aided by the lighting design of Lucy Carter where
they will literally physically interact with the music: 'I've used transparent
gauze so when you light it from the front, the audience will see the music but
when lit from the back they'll see the dancers. So at any one given point the
dancers are immersed in the musical notation, becoming part of the music,
becoming notes.' In the same way that McGregor will build phrases with his
ten dancers and Richter has rephrased the notes of 'Four Seasons', Khan has
created a design that echoes these abstract interpretations to create a new
orchestration: 'At any one point I'm jumping over phrases and putting them back
on top of each other, almost creating my own symphony.'
The New york-based artist told me about painting 'The Simpsons' and keeping things fresh with glossy paint at her Lisson Gallery show. What's been a constant inspiration? 'I'm drawn to discarded stuff like toys that have a history. They give me something, I don't know, a connection.' Are you satirising the candy coloured world of cartoons? ‘I’m not political. I just don’t want the work to be nice or sweet. Disney’s cartoons are usually very sweet. I want the work to be deeper, to have more personality.’
I had the pleasure of talking to the film director about the factory photographs in his forthcoming Photographers' Gallery exhibition as well as finding out about his love of coffee, curtains and Chinese food. Read the interview on Time Out London.
I got up close and personal with the Scandinavian art duo Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset amid their latest creation commissioned by the V&A. They took me on an exclusive tour of the home of reclusive architect Norman Swann.
I spoke to the Turner Prize-nominated siblings about their recent work 'False Positives and False Negatives', in which the twins camouflage their faces to confuse CCTV technology and visiting Chernobyl for their haunting series of photographs, 'Atomgrad'. Why have you turned the lens on yourselves? Jane: 'The gift of us being twins was too good to pass up. Especially as the "False Positives and False Negatives" portraits are about identity.' Louise: 'We've used paint to scramble facial recognition software.' Move over, David Bowie... Louise: 'It's not quite "Aladdin Sane." It's totally military. If you go back to the First World War, they started painting planes with dazzle camouflage.' Jane: 'It's a nod to that idea - it's designed to confuse biometric readings of the face.' Read the full interview on Time Out London.
Known for his complicated sculptures that have the appearance of machines, east London-based artist Conrad Shawcross isn’t one to shy away from a challenge. So when the Director of Camden’s iconic Roundhouse contacted him last year to create a site-specific work, Shawcross jumped at the chance. Taking its inspiration from the 24 columns in the main space, ‘Timepiece’ has transformed the building into an immersive clock installation. I caught up with Shawcross ahead of the opening to talk about this awe-inspiring piece that will turn everyone into their own gnomon (that’s the spike of a sundial to you and me).
He acts, directs, writes and makes art. Is there anything James Franco can’t do? Freire Barnes caught up with Franco on the eve of his first UK exhibition, 'Psycho Nacirema' at Pace Gallery. Your exhibition is presented by Turner Prize-winning artist Douglas Gordon. What was his involvement? ‘We had previously collaborated on a project and we liked the idea that he would help curate and produce this show. I discussed all the pieces with Douglas as I made them. You could say that the subject was partially inspired by one of Douglas’s most famous pieces "24-hour Psycho".’ The exhibition’s title is a play on words, can you explain it? ‘Basically it’s "Psycho American", but American is spelt backwards. The title comes from many places. I like to incorporate the work of other people who inspire me. So in that way I’m the American, and "Psycho" comes from Douglas, comes from Hitchcock, comes from even Gus van Sant’s ‘Psycho’. Later I was told there is some sort of anthropological study of Americans called "Nacirema".’ Previous work has also dealt with iconic films, why did you choose ‘Psycho’ as the basis for an art installation? ‘There are so many themes and approaches in the film. There’s role playing... Read the entire interview with James Franco on Time Out London.