Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Jeff Koons

This month's challenge featured Jeff Koons, an artist who tends to provoke strong reactions among critics. The challenge is still open - choose any work by Koons and send your review to the email in the right-hand column.


Patricia Wilson Smith

Bouquet of Tulips, Paris, 2019.

In October 2019, Jeff Koons’ memorial sculpture Bouquet of Tulips was finally unveiled after three years of public debate. A giant hand offering a polychrome cluster of tulips, Koons’ trademark ‘balloon’ tulips have been likened to anuses on stems, the ‘Caucasian’ hand holding them a pallid nod to the Statue of Liberty gifted to the United States by France in 1886.

The sculpture was commissioned in 2015 by the then US Ambassador Jane Hartley, as a memorial for Paris in the wake of a string of terrorist attacks across France.  The proposal provoked complaints about its cost, its location and not least, its appropriateness. In 2018 the artwork was roundly attacked as a cynical piece of product placement. 

Jeff Koons makes an easy target for those cultural critics who reject his work as ‘Disney-esque’ and ‘kitsch’. But might this furore have been better directed at the commissioning committee who, we assume, spent some considerable time discussing the proposal? The balloon tulips, or ‘culipes’ as they came to be called, were not an unknown in France: in 2008 a tulips sculpture had been included in the hugely expensive Jeff Koons exhibition at the Palace of Versailles; an exhibition that attracted a barrage of criticism from the cultural elite, and drew smiles from his admirers.

Public art is a notoriously tricky thing to gauge. The Eiffel Tower was once described as a ‘hole-riddled suppository’; the Louvre extension was ‘atrocious’. The French may not love Tulips, but they certainly enjoyed the debate.  

Miklos Legrady

Miklos Legrady's version of  Balloon Dog

I painted this balloon dog taking a dump, a small stainless steel paperweight, because Jeff Koons is a modernist. I took his idea one step further into postmodernism, which is always a little bit nasty or self-destructive. Of course Koons did it first. That makes mine a linguistic exercise while his was a cultural statement. He said “The more anxiety you can remove, the more free you are to make that gesture, whatever the gesture is.”

Jeff Koons tells us that when he was nine years old, his father would place old master paintings copied and signed by his son in the window of his shop in an attempt to attract visitors.  As a young adult he worked as senior staff at MOMA, and in 1980 got licensed to sell mutual funds and stocks.  From that moment on, he was on the path to success, able to finance his own work. 

Others disagree, and in 2010 Gerg Allen dug deep into Koons past. Koons was in vacuum-cleaner sales as early as 1979-80, his stockbroker jobs lasting weeks, not years. His breakout solo show at International with Monument, Equilibrium (with basketballs, Nike ads, cast-metal scuba gear and life rafts), came in 1985.

So we have a love of beauty, a call for status, and rather superficial morals. The genius of one’s talent does not guarantee an honest nobility. Although Koons work is the apex of beauty, it’s superficial because Koons is shallow.  

Josephine Gardiner

 From the 'Made in Heaven' series

Most articles on Jeff Koons begin by highlighting the insane prices his works fetch (and yes, I know what I’ve done here), rather than the work. Which is a pity, because the more interesting discussion - about what on earth he is trying to do - is pushed aside. Would Koons provoke such passionate loathing in art critics if works like Balloon Dog, for instance, sold for £500 or £5,000 rather than £58 million? Probably not; Koons’ reputation is mired in the swamp of his own wealth – any claims he might make to be holding a (gilded) mirror to vapid consumer culture, or to be transfiguring the commonplace, are emasculated by the fact that his creations are toys for billionaires. You could – almost - feel sorry for him.

The first work I ever saw by Koons was a series of retouched photos and ceramic statuettes titled ‘Made in Heaven’, featuring the artist having sex with his then wife, Ilona Staller. They were enjoyably shocking (this was the 1990s, long before Instagram and the Kardashians), not just because seeing porn-mag images presented as art was a surprise, but because everything about the works – the ice-cream colours, the insouciant disregard for ‘good taste’ – had a transgressive, punkish newness. In the image above, the couple pose on a pink satin sheet, menaced by giant butterflies which have escaped off a Hallmark greeting card. A window is open, the night sky full of drifting feathers, like a scene from Peter Pan; Koons looks directly at the camera, his expression serenely unreadable, while Staller pouts downward at his face. This one is about Jeff, not Ilona, though she is perhaps the more interesting character: a porn star who became an Italian MP and once offered to sleep with Saddam Hussein in exchange for peace in the Middle East – a braver and more honourable strategy than ‘shock and awe’. 

The ‘Made in Heaven’ series had an unironic innocence about it when it first appeared. Here, and in other work, Koons seemed to be asking us to look squarely at the despised artefacts of commercial culture, posing a legitimate question about art (what is kitsch and why, and when does emotion become ‘sentimental’?). Thirty years later, though, he is still asking the same, very profitable, question.  

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Damien Hirst

Flesh Tint by Damien Hirst (2016)


Miklos Legrady

It’s not a bad work considering that it’s by an anonymous artist hired by Damien Hirst in exchange for a weekly salary.  Hirst is not the first whose assistants do all his work but that’s a recent phenomenon; assistants in the past copied the master’s work for sale to the middle class. In 1617, Sir Dudley Carleton protested to Rubens that paintings offered to him as by the hand of the artist himself were in fact largely the work of his studio. Rubens was quick to replace them with works he could vouch for as being entirely his own - it would not do to acquire a reputation for passing off inferior work as original. 

That’s not the case here. Hirst hires bright artists to think up ideas and he hires skilled painters to actually paint the image. Imagine if you love soap and enjoy making all kinds in your shed for the sheer love of it. Friends buy some then word of mouth brings you more business so you get a bank loan and open a factory, where you sit at a desk looking after the business.  But now others make the soap, which is what you loved doing.  Instead you sit at a desk.  That’s what happened to Damien Hirst.  As an artist life is a bit more festive; you go to lots of parties.  We need to ask what is art, why make art?

Mary Fletcher

This picture reminds me of colour blindness tests, but it doesn't have a number within which only the not-colour-blind can see. Does this colour blind reference refer to anti-racism? It is also reminiscent of charts used by campaigners on which people use markers to indicate their views. The title Flesh Tint is puzzling.  Does it mean it takes all colours to make humanity?

When at college in 1968 I made a sculpture using coloured balls on a circular platform on bed springs. When the platform was touched the balls moved at random, bumping into one another, as I felt people did in meeting. Damien Hirst exhibited, with others of this series of spot paintings that are not placed on a grid like his earlier ones, ping pong balls of various colours, blown about by machine in a confined space - maybe a similar idea. He speaks of these paintings as like cells. They could represent atoms.

Critics have slated them as bad paintings. They say their exhibition, 2018, at a stately home in Norfolk, was a gimmick to get paying visitors there for the aristocrat who owns 18th-century Houghton Hall and to sell Hirst's work at high prices. The family portraits were removed temporarily to install these paintings in the grandly decorated rooms.

Does it imply the family portraits were of mortals as unimportant in the long run as any other collections of atoms that make a person?

Pendery Weekes

This reminds me of a busy Chinese beach where millions of people are trying to get cool at the same time, while it also makes me think of the beautiful fabric of my grandmother’s handmade dresses. Then I remember it’s a painting by Damien Hirst, 'the' Damien Hirst, the artist who made The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (a shark in formaldehyde). Then again, it looks like my cous-cous gone bad with a myriad of colours of mould. (Be sure to wash your hands afterwards, as it might also be contagious.)

Flesh Tint must have taken an infinity of hours to complete, even if he used assistants to paint this; my patience would have gone out the window after the first 50 points. Try and guess their number, and who gets the closest number wins a prize; instead, we must guess the tints of flesh that we see here. Are they bodies, human bodies? Can one stay in the foreground, in the background, or is it just one jumble to create paranoia?

I believe Hirst is one of the few artists who really has fun with his work, which can be seen from all the variety of styles he plays and experiments with through his paintings and sculptures. He says of his spot paintings, “I think of them as cells under a microscope.” It could be a throwback to the bacteria and microorganisms of single cells. What’s next Maestro Hirst? You’re only 54 years old.

Bart Gazzola

Joseph Stalin once upbraided his son for exploiting his father's name: “But I'm a Stalin too,” said Vasily. “No, you're not,” replied Stalin. “You’re not Stalin and I’m not Stalin ... Stalin is what he is in the newspapers and the portraits, not you, no not even me!”
The Cedar Tavern Singers, in their jauntily caustic 'The Physical Impossibility of Damien Hirst in the Mind of the Living' (satirizing his most famous work's title) go further: “He's a YBA artist that's right why be an artist when you can just take the piss???!!”

It's impossible to extricate Hirst's artwork from his persona: his performed identity is more Cesare Borgia than Cecily Brown. Proliferation leads to a keener awareness of the poverty of his aesthetic. But let's turn that on its head: if Flesh Tint was by anyone else, would I so smugly dismiss it? Would I give it a more rigorous examination, attempting to discern – even projecting – a greater relevance into this work?
Well, you can't have it both ways. In a bizarre horror story I read years ago, a person so 'colourful' he has inspired numerous characters by countless authors, is 'stalked' and kidnapped by famous fictional characters, imprisoned in a library basement because he exists more 'truly' to many as a dramatis persona than as a person. 

Hirst is less artist than caricature (but it's said an age gets the art it deserves), and Flesh Tint is a recycled 'appropriated' 'postmodernist' Seurat (no offence, Georges). 

Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson: 1937


Margaret Lanterman

Just as Nicholson never really left behind his earliest line work, perhaps he also never fully cleared his earliest joy of representation and landscape. The course of Ben Nicholson’s work makes perfect sense.  Begun under the influence of his landscape-painting parents and further enriched by his travels and interactions with artists of various visions, Nicholson expanded his own style, influenced by what was going on around him.  Perhaps he adapted the attitude of Brancusi, who claimed to pursue hidden realities and the essence found in objects. 1937 seems to eject all unnecessary detail and present a clean image.

But did subliminal inspiration send him back to his earliest training to set the foundation for this minimal, Neo-Plastic painting that purged itself of objects and set a path for a new art?

With lines as smooth as cleaned bones and corners as sharp as a bird’s beak, the painting presents as analytical geometry.  Cubism lays a picnic blanket of logic and basic form over the picture plane.  Limited and simple colours form a pleasant puzzle of shapes.  Pure white, a rascal red and a raven black quietly delight upon a field of greys.  
A closer look might show the illusion of depth as the geometry glides into foreground and background, a landscape slipping in under the austerity of horizontal and vertical.  Music seems to move though black shadows, white clouds pass grey doves; a picnic laid in a field of lily and poppy.  Perhaps nature is not an unnecessary detail after all.  

Liviana Martin

(English translation below Italian)
Rettangoli, quadrati, bianchi, neri, di colori primari. Una partitura musicale, una gabbia, niente linee curve, ma l’astrazione pura, il mondo della natura visto in termini geometrici/matematici.
Il titolo è solo una data (forse è stato dipinto dopo la visita del pittore allo studio parigino di Mondrian  , nel 1934)  ma quanta poesia e quanta luce in questo quadro!

Tra le forme lineari che si incastrano le une nelle altre, il nero assoluto mi richiama alla mente il quadrato nero di Malevic, il “punto zero della pittura”, da cui può iniziare l’arte contemporanea. 

Staccarsi dall’aspetto naturale delle cose   è stato il contributo decisivo del cubismo ;  l’obiettivo finale dell’arte neoplastica, di cui Nicholson è stato un esponente di rilievo, è la continuazione e il superamento  del cubismo e dell’arte pura, astratta. 
In basso, i due rettangoli si espandono oltre i limiti del supporto , sembrano voler uscire dalla tela. Come non pensare al pittore italiano Lucio Fontana, e ai suoi rivoluzionari tagli nella tela? Fontana voleva “bucare” lo spazio, andare al di là del visibile. E forse è proprio questo lo scopo di Nicholson: superare le forme naturali per far immaginare ciò che non si vede.

White, black, primary coloured rectangles, squares. A musical score, a cage, no curved lines, but pure abstraction, the world of nature seen in geometric/mathematical terms.

The title is only a date (perhaps it was painted after the painter's visit to Mondrian's studio in Paris in 1934), but so much poetry and so much light in this painting!

Among the linear forms that fit together, the absolute black reminds me of Malevich’s Black Square, the "zero point of painting", from which contemporary art can be said to have begun. Detaching oneself from the natural aspect of things was the decisive contribution of Cubism; the ultimate goal of neoplastic art, of which Nicholson was a prominent exponent, is the continuation and overcoming of cubism and pure, abstract art.
At the bottom, the two rectangles expand beyond the limits of the support, they seem to want to come out of the canvas. How can we not think of the Italian painter Lucio Fontana, and his revolutionary cuts in the canvas? Fontana wanted to 'pierce' the space, to go beyond the visible. Yet this is precisely the purpose of Nicholson: to overcome natural forms to make us imagine what is not seen.

Mary Fletcher

This painting is recognisable as a Ben Nicholson in its abstract austerity.
One rectilinear shape overlaps another so that there are at least twelve apparent shallow layers. Some of the shapes are very slightly off-kilter and placed to wittily draw attention to this - a disruption of the delicate precision that keeps most of the rectangles carefully aligned in geometric straightness.
The colours are a mixture of pale good taste with some more intense hues in different quantities.

I imagine Ben carefully adjusting the shapes within the rectangle to keep a balance but offer a subtle brace of perverse aberrations to keep us interested. If you are what you paint, I unaccountably imagine his thin body positioning itself artfully perched on some beige thirties’ furniture, Ben poised to make incisive points and get noticed by some very important person. 

Miklos Legrady

The National Gallery of Scotland owns this work and writes that many of Nicholson’s paintings of this period derive from still-life motifs on table-tops. We read that Nicholson started to paint rectilinear arrangements in primary colours and mostly tones of blue, grey and white, after his first visit to Piet Mondrian’s Paris studio in 1934 where he was impressed by the feeling of light. I ask myself if I could live with this work on my wall, if it ages well, and the answer’s yes, though I would not have looked at this painting twice unless it was brought to my attention.

I’m disturbed by that dominant black in the centre; find it irritating, though that may be the artist’s intention because that black holds the other colours in place.  Similar works titled 1937 all have that black as an element, including the lithograph to the right. 

The minimalism is fitting to the 1930s, but these images would not stand out today.  On the other hand, they are good works of visual art and this points out a clash between social values (what’s trendy) and visual art’s values (which are dictated by biology).  Art was born in the dawn of hominid evolution as a mnemonic tool. Visual art consists of a graphic arrangement, an ordering of reality that we make part of our environment so that it affects us by the order encoded within, by the visual language and what it says.

Davide d’Angers

There are two features which I find quite remarkable in this painting. The first is the taut, severe angularity of the colour blocks. And the second is the harsh contrast of these geometrics of colour set against a bland, mundane background.

But overriding these impressions is the black rectangle at the heart of the picture. It looks to be close to the centre, or 'dead centre', as black symbolises death and mourning: black is not a colour but an absolute of negativity, without colour, so just a void. The pastel shades of blue, yellow and red mitigate this focus by drawing the eye jerkily to the right, as they appear like arrows or the extended wings of angular birds, leading up and out of the picture and saving us from the nothingness at its heart.

Is this what Nicholson wanted us to think? Did he see the black as something we move away from and out of, following the colour? Or did he see the black core of the painting as exactly that, and try as we might to avoid it, we are constantly drawn back to nothingness, as we ourselves, with time, will become. Yet the wide monochrome surround looks as if it has legs at the bottom, like a table or easel, as if this is a work in progress: perhaps he wanted us still to have time to decide on whether to fly, or whether to be subsumed by the void.

Maxine Flaneuse de Cornouaille

It is tempting when faced with such an abstract statement as Ben Nicholson’s 1937 to look into the artist’s past to see what was happening to him at that time or to take a leaf out of history and wonder if intimations of war are visible here.

But having noted the oblongs and squares and the colours, beige, magnolia, white with a hint of blue, speedwell, buttercup, sandalwood, ink, black, I also notice that the darker sections seem textured, the lighter ones smoothly painted. The only anomaly I can find is that the painting begins to lean towards the section on the right of the picture where, unlike the section on the left the lines are no longer completely vertical.
I look at the painting from the front but I get a sense of side. I am definitely seeing things hidden, so that I am not, quite literally given the whole picture as though a pile of canvases stacked against a wall show only teasing sections of what each painting might contain.

And then I wonder if I am looking down from above at some kind of deconstructed floor plan, a staircase, a building that has, like a concertina collapsed downwards.
But I am trying too hard to find something I can relate to. I can and have at times felt an intense connection to the severity of abstraction in a painting or sculpture but here, too many lines and a lack of energy leaves me feeling bleak and empty.

Bart Gazzola

It's been suggested by cancers of critics (like murders of crows) that the worst insult to spit at artworks is 'derivative.' In confronting Nicholson's 1937 (titled the year of execution), I must ask, after Malevich's Suprematist Composition: White on White (1918), why denigrate originality with simulacra? 1937 is imitation without innovation, unnecessarily muddying the waters of excitement and energy that was (intermittently) Modernism. The colours are banal and uninspired, the tones so soft as to be irrelevant and easily ignored, more wallpaper than worthy.

But I revere Ad Reinhardt's black-on-black abstracts, decades after Nicholson. And I often 'spit' at ahistorical 'critics' knee-jerking their shallow immediacy as elucidation.
So, consider 1937 – the year defining the painting, perhaps. WWII looms, Stalin's 'Great Purge' begins, the Hindenburg detonates, the rape of Nanking commences, and Franco is 'inspiring' Picasso to paint Guernica this very same year. But Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs debuted that year, so never mind those Soviet show trials.
Yet 1937 has some affinity to Chamberlain's hopeful/hopeless assertion of 'peace in our time' (1938), and despite what Thomas Hirschhorn declares, personal enthusiasm is not a panacea to the reality of others, or even ourselves. Nicholson seems to try, here, but falls short, conceptually and formally, from his Constructivist gospel: but I'm a brutal orphan in the 'deconstructed postmodernist dystopia' where subjectivity is an inescapable blessing and curse.
1937 was also the year SPAM was first marketed. Nicholson's 1937 would make a nice label for that. Maybe it did.

Josephine Gardiner

Normally I give titles of paintings only a cursory glance – if they are not simple labels, then they tend to be superfluously descriptive (‘Woman in Bath’, ‘Boy with Goat’) or defiantly gnomic (‘Stone Glove 4’, ‘Mauve Rabbit Library’). With this picture though, the historical date of the title hovers over it like a dark filter - at least for a European observer.

The upright black rectangle, positioned just off centre, compels and repels the eye immediately. Unnerved, you dart away into the square of pale wintry light to the left, then across flat borders of beiges and creams - the gently tea-stained shades of pre-War offices and railway waiting rooms - seeking out the sky blues and lilacs, the stripe of yellow and the blood-red sunset on the right of the painting. But all this is useless, it’s impossible to focus on these hopeful flags; the black door pulls at your peripheral vision until you have to face it again: a denial, a refusal to talk, a hole in the light. Negative, but not passive – it owns all the energy and force in the picture, shoving clear and neutral colours back to the margins.

1937 invokes the queasy sensation experienced after looking too long at a light source - the sun or an electric lightbulb – leaving an absence at the centre of your vision.

The landscape of Europe by 1937 had of course become extremely dark, from all viewpoints, and it is difficult to avoid the impression that the artist, whether consciously or not, was reflecting this here. So if Nicholson had called the picture ‘Harmony in Beige’ or similar, would it have provoked the same response? My instinct is to say yes, though the darkness at its heart would not be so precisely located.

Pendery Weekes

Looking at works by Ben Nicholson from the thirties and in particular, 1937, led me to imagine a man in his forties getting up in the morning with some effort, and after his morning coffee and English breakfast facing still another day where he would paint more of his rectangles and occasional circles overlapping each other. Is that what cut it for him, becoming his raison d'être for that period? Which square or rectangle does the viewer focus on first, those in the foreground or the ones in the background? The smaller ones or the black imposing rectangle in the centre begging for attention? The Courtauld Institute of Art writes about his “sense of depth achieved by the visual weight of the coloured planes”, but what appears to me is a flat work of plainly coloured geometric figures.

Through the psychology of cubism we could try to analyse why he was painting boxes and view it as a form of order to his chaotic world and that of the world around him that was falling into total disarray, rectangles representing doom and isolation, as though he was fenced in. His work of that period seems more the rebellion of an unfulfilled mathematician or builder. Being the son and grandson of artists, Nicholson knew the art business very well; he knew what he was doing, and in my opinion, it was all calculated. He once said, “Satire is fascinating stuff...” Was he pulling us all along, taking us for a ride?

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Ken Turner

Ken Turner – Anthem For Doomed Youth – Wilfred Owen 

Tremenheere Sculpture Garden, Penzance

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.


Maxine Flaneuse de Cornouaille

Ken Turner’s painting was accepted for this exhibition but was not hung as it was deemed to ‘overpower and dominate the other paintings’, some might say perfectly matching the power in Wilfred Owen’s poem. 

After the opening accusatory question and the monstrous anger that answers, it is the noise of battle that takes over the substance and rhythm of this poem. There is immense anger here alongside searing pity. It is the ability to think at once of the soldiers who died needlessly in their thousands and of those back home deprived of loved ones that makes this poem so much more than many other war poems. The two stanzas carry us from the shrill field of battle to those quiet shires where we see genuine tenderness for the dead, for the young. From noise and movement, the poem moves to utter stillness.

Ken Turner’s painting gives us none of the tenderness of the second stanza. There is monstrous anger here. The central figure has been stripped of its humanity and left to decay in the mud of the battlefield. The title of the poem has made a crown of thorns for this crucified figure with arms outstretched and gaping, grinning teeth reminiscent of a bandolier of bullets.  The sense of sacrifice is strong, the sons have been given up for slaughter. There is something of the Icon about this painting, those incredible intrusions of royal blue that leak out around the letters that also sanctify as a halo. The eyes do not shine with holy glimmers but are supremely powerful in their emptiness. These are eyes that have seen too much and now see no more. Both painting and poem ask the question ‘Why?’ and both leave us with a silence into which we cannot easily put an answer.

Miklos Legrady

This poem makes more sense if we look back at our own youth, because there have been disappointments and losses which wounded us dearly, but we healed through the veils of forgetting. As we remember we’ll identify with these words.  Our personal tragedies were actually necessary in order to awaken the best of our character, which otherwise would remain sleeping in the depths of our mind.  We need challenges to become ourselves and the darkness of our shadow reveals the brightness of the light we walk in.  Unless you die.

We cannot imagine that war, how many died, brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts erased, no longer there.  In the First World War, tactics were chaotic; thousands of young conscripts were sent walking into machine-gun fire, their commanders not knowing how effective such fire was, so the kids died like flies. Their lover will miss them.
The painting shows the smile of someone ravaged by the unbearable. The mood is insane.  The teeth show horror.  In fact, that painting’s too much; because it looks stupid, our mind rejects the insane message and will think the artist is nuts.  For those who experienced their friend’s death in the trenches, seeing the bones, such a painting is cathartic, know that we too feel what you feel, you are no longer alone with your memories, we share the same pain.
For those of us whose protected lives shielded us from insane horrors, the painting and poem won’t mean much, they push us away.

Bart Gazzola

I recently read Goddamn This War!, a graphic novel about WWI with art/story by Tardi with a 'chronology' by Jean-Pierre Verney. The opprobrium of the true genesis of the 20th century makes me long to read the original French, as surely it’s more shrieking in that tongue (the shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells).

Entire pages in War! feature the disfigured faces of soldiers. It’s been suggested the surfeit of 'monster' films in the 1920s was society's way of 'dealing' with these 'monsters' (“No mockeries now for them”). Correspondingly, words are often less brutally evocative than images: not Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen. “What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?”: Temple Grandin has more mercy in her slaughterhouses than Owen knew, here. 
Turner's painting is a fussy contrivance. I've recently been compelled to revisit the Group of Seven, and one of their number, Frederick Varley, rendered For What? (1917 – 1919) with mounting corpses muddy, wheelbarrow overflowing with deathly war machine slag (“no prayers nor bells”...). His words: “We are forever tainted with [the war's] abortiveness and its cruel drama....we’d be healthier to forget...we never can.” 

Yet Turner mimics a 'war banner': this perverts (corrects?) the vainglorious 'king & country' militant madness that never asks “what does it mean—to kill your children? Kill them and then…go in there and sing about it!” (Findley). It’s been suggested I've a 'Russian' (dark?) soul. I answer Owen with Solzhenitsyn: “Dwell on the past and lose an eye. Forget the past and lose both eyes.

Critical Writing about Art & Politics

Pendery Weekes

Like a burial shroud, chilling to say the least, this work by Ken Turner strikes a chord in my soul. Though I was involved in the Vietnam war protests that helped end that war, this piece is a reminder of my passivity and inaction for not protesting more. Even if soldiers today no longer lose their lives in such vast numbers as in Wilfred Owen’s poem, civilians on the ground are certainly losing their lives, their limbs and livelihoods. Thanks to videogame technology, soldiers from miles away can aim their killer drones, indifferent to the moving figures on the screen, later no longer running, lifeless. Their blood is very real but for the soldiers seems a game, though PSTD lingers, popping up in nightmares and daymares for years to come. What’s next, Venezuela?

Ken’s banner reminds me of the famous burial shroud in Turin, said to have been used to wrap Jesus of Nazareth after his crucifixion, bearing imprints of a man’s image. Instead, what remains here are the imprints of teeth and part of a skeleton with endless blood spattered everywhere. Even more powerful is Owen’s poem on the back of Ken’s work, written like a final, dramatic message to the dead. It is not surprising it was selected to be displayed in the exhibition at the Tremenheere Sculpture Garden, but at the hanging was excluded because it would overpower the other works. Yes, the violence of war is overpowering, too much so for Cornwall now.