Umbrellas in contemporary art

contemporary art drawing - umbrella sculpture sketch
A sketch of an idea for a sculpture, showing an umbrella mounted at the top of a conical structure that has short filaments protruding from it.
I have a fascination with umbrellas for some reason. I think it’s possibly due to a mixture of their slightly Heath Robinsonesque mechanical structure – the hinged flexible rods that are levered outwards to support a stretched fabric cover – and their pleasing form when in the open position. Not to mention their practicality. And the fact that they are, despite their mechanical intricacy, very much taken for granted and dismissed as objects of great mundanity.
My first ever published image was an absurdist redesign of the umbrella, published in the Sunday Times in about 1974.

Environmental art – planet earth in a kitchen waste bin

This is a visualisation of a concept that I’m thinking of developing into a piece of finished artwork.
It’s a form of environmental sculpture.
The work will consist of a conventional domestic rubbish bin with a black bin liner inside it.

environmental art - earth in a rubbish bin sculpture
From most angles (as in the image on the left, above) the bin will look like any conventional bin: however when viewed from close up at the front (the image on the right, above) the observer will see that looking inside of the bin the blackness of the bin liner gives the impression of a dark void within the bin. Visible in the void will be a glowing representation of the earth. The effect will be of the earth suspended in the vastness of outer space. The bin will appear almost to be a portal to another dimension.
The idea of a mundane rubbish bin containing a portal into outer space is very appealing.
I haven’t yet decided how the representation of the earth in the bin should be realised. It could be a dimly glowing globe or it could be a digital display on a screen positioned near the base of the bin.
The work is an environmental statement and carries an obvious message – that at the human race’s current rate of consumption of the earth’s resources we are treating the earth with contempt and are effectively placing the planet itself in the rubbish bin. The message is obvious because there is no time for subtlety here! Think of it as the sculptural equivalent of an environmental campaign poster.
The work is a development of a concept that I had in about the year 2000, when I produced several drawings of the earth falling into a wastepaper basket. The sculptural potential of using a real rubbish bin to create an illusion of outer space is a more recent development.
The emotional impact of seeing the earth floating in the black void of space inside the bin refers to some extent to the iconic photographs of the earth as seen from space as photographed by the astronauts in the Apollo moon missions.

Work created January 2017, Cornwall.

Rauschenberg: Automobile Tire Print. Thinking along the same track.

On a recent visit to the current exhibition of the work Robert Rauschenberg at Tate Modern I was interested to come across a work that I was unfamiliar with – Automobile Tire Print (1953).

Here’s a photo of part of Rauschenberg’s tyre print on a T-shirt in the merchandising section of the exhibition. Maybe the idea of the T-shirt is that the wearer will look as though a car has driven over them. If it’s an intentional joke, that’s quite witty for contemporary art (if a bit grisly). Rauschenberg seemed to be quite a fun loving person himself though, so it’s perhaps fitting.

rauschenberg-automobile-tire-print-t-shirt_4170

I very much like Rauschenberg’s experimental approach to creating art, in this specific case particularly so because the technique that he came up with is one that bears a strong similarity to an idea that I thought up myself during my early days as a cartoonist, when I created the greetings card below for a series on the subject of leisure activities.

rauschenberg-automobile-tire-impression-print-parallel-concept

I drew this cartoon in 1994 using pen and ink. Rauschenberg created his Automobile Tire Print using paint and a car. He did it in 1953, so he beat me to it by a good forty years.

Contemporary art: mirror based art

Mirror based contemporary art with screws

A study of reflections using mundane everyday objects to create interesting formations.
Here ordinary hardware screws are arranged to form a dynamic expansive configuration.
Screws lend themselves to this study partly because of their physically dynamic shape – large at one end and then tapering away at the other – and partly because of their intended purpose, which is to hold things in place – the exact opposite of dynamic expansiveness – which brings a slight touch of paradox to the work.
Anyone looking at the image who feels that I ought to have lined up the screw heads – it’s a deliberate act not to have aligned them, even though in real life I am a natural screw head aligner.

Contemporary art: chess set, disintegrating board with optical illusion (no black squares).

contemporary art sculpture - disintegrating chess board with illusion of black squares

In this work I’ve created a chess set out of short blocks of wood.
The first thing that the viewer notices when looking at the work is that the chess board is fragmenting or disintegrating.
Less obvious however is that the chess board is composed only of the white squares. These white squares are the tops of the blocks of wood, the sides of which are painted black. It is the black sides of the blocks that give the impression of the black squares of the chess board. The seeming existence of the black squares is a visual illusion, as they are nothing more than black holes. See the photograph below. The illusion is as true with the actual, three dimensional chess set as it is with these photographs.
Part of the impact of the piece is in the way that the viewer only notices the ‘black holes’ of the missing black squares on the chess board after already being intrigued by the disintegrating nature of the board.
The piece has political overtones, in that it is partly about the disintegration of power (as symbolised by the combative nature of the game of chess) and the disintegration of order (as symbolised by the rigid grid of the chess board). It is also about more existentialist themes such as dangers that lurk in the world (the black holes as traps or stumbling blocks) and the nature of physical reality (with the holes representing the unknown parts of the physical universe (such as the actual black holes that result from collapsed stars). It’s also just a nice visual illusion, and thus contains humour as well as its more weighty themes.

For other views of the chess board, and to see more of my contemporary art, <a href=”http://Disintegrating chess board contemporary art“>please click here.

Contemporary art: mirrors + multiple reflections = illusions.

An example of one of my projects in the field of contemporary art exploring mirrors, reflections and illusions, here using a piece of cord that is reflected multiple times to give the impression of a closed circle.

contemporary art mirrors and multiple reflection illusion

This work consists of three mirrors creating a triangular box with the reflective surfaces facing inwards. The box is placed over a length of brightly coloured meandering paracord. The cord is laid so that the section that lies inside the triangular box is reflected on the box’s sides to give the illusion of forming a circle. The second photo shows the piece from a different angle to show the structure.

For more of my contemporary artworks click here: contemporary art

mirrors and illusion

Tower of London ceramic poppies

I’m very interested in the sea of ceramic poppies that fill the moat of the Tower of London at the moment as a commemoration of the First World War.

My interest is partly professional, as the work has a few superficial similarities to a concept of my own – a sea of crocus flowers made out of darts. You can see the concept here.

I’m particularly interested in the controversy that’s currently raging in the pages of the Guardian newspaper (for which I used to work as an illustrator/cartoonist/graphic artist) about whether the poppies are a fitting comment on the horrors of war or whether they are a soft sentimental exercise in remembrance-lite.

Personally I like the poppies very much, and it’s my feeling that Jonathan Jones in the Guardian has misinterpreted their purpose.

The poppies aren’t, I think, meant specifically as a criticism of war – they are meant as a commemoration of the members of the services who died during the war.

Jones’s suggestion that a better statement about the war would have been made by filling the moat with barbed wire and bones instead of poppies is, I think, a bit like stating that gardens of remembrance and war memorials around the country should have their flowerbeds dug up and replaced with mud and skulls and that the wreaths laid on Remembrance Day should be constructed out of that very same barbed wire that he mentioned.

There’s definitely a place for the type of anti-war art that Jones suggests, but I don’t think that the centrepiece of remembrance is it. Jones is perhaps worried that the popularity of the Tower poppies is turning the poppies into a “Princess Di” event, encouraging people to gather together and indulge in falsely heightened emotions (as they did on the death of Princess Diane). Actually, come to think of it, I’d be with him on that one.

Jones mentioned in his Guardian article that he thought that the horrors of war are best conveyed through such means as the photograph of a dead soldier that was used as the cover of an edition of a book about the Great War by historian A J P Taylor, titled The First World War. I’m totally in agreement with him here – to the point that I actually used the same photograph, showing a twisted skeleton in a soldier’s uniform, as reference material for an illustration of my own about war (or more specifically about the threat of increasing nuclear armaments in the 1980s during the Reagan/Thatcher years). The photograph is, I think, one of the most poignant anti-war images that I’ve seen. My illustration appeared in the London listings magazine Time Out when it was a radical leftwing publication (and I liked to think of myself as a radical leftwing cartoonist).
Here’s my version of the image.

Margaret Thatcher emerging from post-apocalypse nuclear bunker

Here’s a detail from the image, showing the figure that is based on the photograph of the skeleton of a dead soldier in uniform.

Illustration using photograph of skeleton of dead First World War soldier in uniform as reference

Fox skull photo

fox-skull-chris-madden-1818

Here’s a photo of a fox’s skull that I took recently.
Nice abstract sculptural quality I think.
I expect the fox would be very pleased to know that its head had been put to such worthwhile use.

Like most of my images on this site, if you want to use the image please contact me, as the images can’t be used without payment. Thanks.

Capturing the Difference Between Sunshine and Shadow on Video

For a long time I’ve been interested in the way that the landscape is transformed by the effects of sunshine and shadows, and by the way that we often hardly notice the extent of the difference between the two (other than by a general feeling of pleasure when the sun brightens things up – here in cloudy Britain anyway). The scene filmed here in the grounds of Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, hopefully captures some of the transformational effect of sun and shadow as the sun emerges from behind a cloud (and then goes in again).

The various people in the background add a surreal air to the whole scene.

Concept for a Tate Modern Turbine Hall Installation: Crocus Carpet

The new Tate Turbine Hall installation by Ai Weiwei reminds me of a Tate Turbine Hall installation of my own invention – an installation that has never actually existed in real life, being a conceptual piece that exists purely as a figment of my imagination and as a few photographs. One of the photos is shown below.

Like Weiwei’s installation my concept is a very low-lying piece of work, made out of a very large number of similar elements. The elements in my work are not artificial sunflower seeds though, they are flowers.

The installation is called Crocus Carpet and it consists (as you can hopefully see in the photo below), of the whole floor of the Tate Modern turbine hall being turfed over and planted with crocuses (apart from the pleasant pathways between the flowers).
Art is often concerned with questioning one’s perceptions, and that’s exactly what this work does. The sensation of strolling through what feels like an area of parkland that’s actually inside a huge cathedral-like industrial building is hopefully unsettling and disorientating. The installation would include specially installed benches on which people could sit and admire the flowers.

Tate Modern Turbine Hall installation - Crocus Carpet
Tate Modern Turbine Hall installation: Crocus Carpet

Crocus Carpet doesn’t only make you question your perceptions by virtue of the fact that it’s an outdoor space that’s been transported indoors – it also does so because the crocuses aren’t crocuses at all. Here’s a close-up photo of them.

Some of the crocuses in Tate Modern’s Crocus Carpet

That’s right. They’re not crocuses. They’re darts.

Here’s how the parts of the darts correspond to the different parts of a crocus.

A crocus from the Turbine Hall’s Crocus Carpet

The installation explores concepts of reality, illusion, perception and deception by utilising the dissonance arising from the similarity in appearance and the contrast in nature between crocus flowers and darts.
In other words, it’s meant to be something about the difference between the soft nature of the flowers and the hard, aggressive nature of darts.