We Make London Christmas Craft Show (plus free tickets for readers!)



It's that time of year again... Christmas is fast approaching and it's time to start thinking about the dreaded Christmas shopping. I'm planning to make some of my own gifts this year: at the risk of sounding like Kirstie Allsopp (a somewhat terrifying thought) there's something really special about receiving a handmade gift - and what's more, making presents at home in the warm is infinitely preferable to the usual high street shopping hell.

Alternatively, when you're short on time (and realistically there's no way I'm going to be able to make all my Christmas presents, nice idea though it may be) but are looking for something a little more distinctive for your gifts, there's always the various Christmas craft fairs that take place around this time of year.  I went to one at Craft Central in Clerkenwell this weekend, which proved a little on the pricey side for me (I'm afraid that no one will be receiving £400 bespoke silver necklaces or jugs in the shape of sea-urchins from me this year) but I'm much more hopeful about this weekend's We Make London Christmas Craft Show.

We Make London was formed two years ago by a group of designer-makers who were prompted into action by a lack of cost-effective places to sell their products. They work together to champion the underground craft scene and promote the idea of buying handmade as an alternative to the monotony of the high street -  or as they put it 'something unique and timeless in today’s fast-paced, throwaway world of mass production'.

Their Winter Wonderland fair takes place this Saturday, 4 December from 11am - 5pm at Chelsea Town Hall on the Kings Road. There will be loads of great designer-makers there selling lovely things like those above - just a few of my favourites from the full list. There will also be festive delights including a fancy dress competition, Christmas tree decorating for kids and a cafe serving seasonal treats - I'm sure it will be the perfect place to find a little handmade Christmas inspiration.

What is even better, We Make London have offered 20 Follow the Yellow Brick Road readers a free ticket to the fair. If you'd like to go, please do leave a comment below. The first 20 comments will receive a free ticket!

Turner Prize 2010

The Turner Prize is the one contemporary art prize that everyone has heard of, even if they, like Brian Sewell, believe it's simply for ‘extremely contemporary rubbish – assemblies of rubbish masquerading under important names’ – or, as ex-Culture Minister Kim Howells once put it, 'cold, mechanical bullshit'. That's probably because over the years this prize has become synonymous with shock and controversy, causing all kinds of brouhaha and outrage in the pages of the tabloid press.

Yet given its racy history, this year's Turner Prize exhibition feels surprisingly tame. You won't find anything like a Tracy Emin bed, or the Chapman brothers' pornographic dolls, or Martin Creed's light-switches, or even an Ofili dung-encrusted canvas on this shortlist. But then, on the other hand, you could say that these works are everything that contemporary art clich├ęs are made of: this year's selection offers us powerful, witty but ultimately rather ugly paintings by Dexter Dalwood; distorted sculptural objects by Angela de la Cruz – canvases lying ruptured and battered on the gallery floor, or smashed up against a wall; and a predictably obscure installation from The Otolith Group – a dark chamber filled with books, old TVs playing grainy subtitled films, and walls painted with obscure quotations.

Yet the final work in the exhibition, Lowlands by Susan Philipz, really does offer us something a little bit different. This three-channel sound installation of a sixteenth century Scottish lament sung by the artist was originally shown as part of her exhibition at the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art, and has been reconfigured for the Turner Prize, where it fills the otherwise empty gallery with a haunting and mournful melody.  Compared to what we might usually expect from a Turner shortlisted artwork, this is scarcely ground-breaking stuff - but is the shock-factor really what matters?

On the day I was there, the gallery housing Philipz’s installation was jam-packed with people, from Japanese tourists, to old ladies with their eyes shut, to students lying on the floor with sketchbooks – whilst the other galleries remained empty but for the occasional hushed footfall. For that reason alone, Philipsz would certainly get my vote for the overall prize. Controversial it’s absolutely not – but how refreshing to encounter a work so straightforwardly immersive, emotive and strangely beautiful in the context of a Turner exhibition.  And who would have thought that the most unusual thing about this year's Turner Prize artwork would be that the public would actually like it?

[Image: Turner Prize 2010, via Tate]

the ideal bookshelf

If you're anything like me, when you visit someone's home for the first time, you just can't resist taking a look at their bookshelves. There's something about people's book collections that's incredibly personal and revealing, which is exactly what artist Jane Mount aims to capture in her project Ideal Bookshelves. In this series of artworks, Jane paints sets of individuals' favourite books in her own unique take on portraiture.

Some of the sets are themed according to her subjects' particular likes (picture books, cookery books, gardening books, art books, or even a complete set of Harry Potters) but my favourites are the ones that, like my own bookshelves, muddle lots of very different books together in a pleasingly idiosyncractic selection, so the Hardy Boys can sit alongside Nietzsche (yes, really) and Steven Hawking with Dr Seuss.

You can see more examples at the Ideal Bookshelf blog, or on Etsy: Jane also paints 'ideal bookshelves' on commission.

Of course, all this has got me thinking about which books I would choose to be on my own ideal bookshelf. A very tricky decision... which books would you choose?

more ideas than time

Tuesday's thought for the day. This could be my own personal strapline. Print by Chris Piascik available via the Urban Outfitters Print Shop.

P.S. Artists, illustrators, creators... have you joined the follow the yellow brick Flickr pool yet? Dive in here!

dive in to the new follow the yellow brick flickr pool

For ages now, I've been wanting to give more space here to writing about the work of individual artists and interesting new projects. In an ideal world, I'd have lots of time to spend wandering round small galleries, finding out about exciting new talent and discovering innovative new projects, but in reality, especially when you're busy, it's all too easy to end up going to all the same 'big name' galleries and seeing all the same 'headline' shows. And whilst writing about the Turner Prize, the Liverpool Biennial or a Tate Modern turbine hall installation is undoubtedly fun, what is even more fun is finding out about new, lovely and exciting things that artists, illustrators, designers and makers are getting up to.

In the interests of this (and shamelessly cribbing an idea from the fab US art blog My Love For You is a Stampede of Horses), I've just set up a sparkling new Flickr pool for follow the yellow brick road. The idea of the pool is that anyone can add a picture of their work/project/exhibition etc. and I'll be doing regular 'round up' posts for work submitted here on the blog.

So if you've got some artwork, or images from a project you've been involved in that you would like to submit, do dive in to the group pool. Anyone can submit work - the only caveat is that by submitting it, you give permission for it to be used here on the blog - with a credit and a weblink for you, of course. I'm hoping to do the first group post next weekend, so if you can get your images added this week, you might be featured in the very first pool 'round up' post. All are welcome, so please do pass the message on to anyone else who you think might be interested in joining in!

P.S. I should probably say that unfortunately, to date, David Hockney is not a member of the follow the yellow brick Flickr pool. But you never know...

[Image: A Bigger Splash by David Hockney (1967) via danamunz on Flickr]

John Moores Painting Prize 2010

This review was first published on
Interface and is the result of an Interface and National Museums Liverpool Bursary Partnership.

Now in it’s 50th year, the John Moores Painting Prize has a reputation for offering up a selection of the most exciting new British painting. Yet far from the shock of the new, what is striking about this year’s John Moores selection are the references this diverse range of artworks makes to the traditions and conventions of painting.

A whole history of painting styles and approaches is represented here, from the photorealism of Steve Proudfoot’s ‘The Party’ to the self-conscious archaism of Veronica Smirnoff’s ‘Lubo’, painted in egg tempera onto gessoed wood panels. The acid brights of Stuart Cumberland’s ‘YLLW240, Cornelia Baltes’s good-humoured ‘There You Are’ and Ian Davenport’s technicolour ‘Puddle Painting’ nod and wink to Pop Art, whilst Jason Thompson whips up a tribute to Vorticism in ‘Refractions (Robert Hooke)’, Meanwhile, Daniel Coffield references the Surrealists and Situationists in ‘Episodical’, and G.L. Brierly brings a hint of Rembrandt to his small, precise, dark explosion of what could be a bundle of flora, fur, or something altogether more sinister.

The best of these works are far from straightforward tributes to a particular painter or painting style. In fact, many of this year’s John Moore’s artists seem to be actively seeking to disturb and interrogate the conventions of painting: Theo Cuff’s uncanny and aptly-named ‘Untitled’ is a prime example, suggesting a conventional head and shoulders portrait, but with the face at the centre of the canvas apparently obliterated by a sweeping blur of white paint. Similarly, Joseph Long’s ‘Hortus Botanicus’ is at first glance a highly conventional flower painting, until at closer inspection it becomes clear we are seeing it through a lens of plastic bubble wrap. Amongst the prize-winning artworks, Philip Diggle’s richly-textured abstract ‘For Your Pleasure’ might be a portrait, but its crusty layers of impasto in garish pinks and yellows ultimately render it unrecognisable, leaving us in the dark.

Of the prize-winning works, Nick Fox’s ‘Metatopia’ stands out – a dark, circular portal, revealing a troubled wasteland peopled by elusive, mythic figures. Referencing Rossetti and Burne-Jones, Fox here makes explicit the sexual subtexts that haunt pre-Raphaelite painting. Close by, this year’s first prize winner, Keith Coventry’s ‘Spectrum Jesus’ is a riff on the tradition of religious iconography; but this is an unexpected depiction of Jesus – anxious and alienated, depicted entirely in dark blue tones, kept behind a pane of reflective glass that both keeps us at a distance, and calls to mind holographic religious icons.

But it is Adam Fearon’s tongue-in-cheek ‘Untitled’ that finally hammers the point home: here the canvas itself performs a striptease for the viewer, exposing the wooden stretcher beneath. Ultimately, it seems that far from making painting new, the 2010 John Moores selection seeks to deconstruct and disassemble the conventions of painting– and raises some questions about what ‘new’ British painting might look like along the way.

[Image: Detail of 'Spectrum Jesus' by Keith Coventry, the winner of the John Moores Painting Prize 2010, via Liverpool Museums]

Things Organized Neatly

Things ­Organized Neatly does exactly what is says on the tin: this strangely compelling photography blog collects and catalogues carefully ordered images. The brainchild of Indianapolis design student Austin Radcliffe, it sets out to document 'things that have been laid out carefully, precisely, evenly; things on shelves, in vices; studio photography, diagrams and right angles' - be they matchboxes, spoons, cake ingredients, or even bananas.

[All images from Things ­Organized Neatly]