James Ensor curated by Luc Tuymans at the Royal Academy of Art, London

by Sue Hubbard

ScreenHunter_2386 Nov. 21 12.27In 1933 the Belgium artist, James Ensor, met up with Einstein, when the latter was on his way to the States, for lunch on the coast near Ostend. Walking along the beach Einstein tried to explain the theory of relativity to the bemused artist. “What do you paint?” Einstein asked. To which the painter of masks replied “Nothing”. Whether this response was existential, bombastic or simply bloody minded it's hard to say but it does illustrate something of the enigmatic complexity of one of Belgium's most celebrated artists who, despite a British father, is barely known in the UK.

That father was a bit of a wastrel and a drunkard who married beneath him and, with his Belgium wife, ran a souvenir and curiosity shop in Ostend filled with an array of parrots, exotic masks, and even a monkey. These curios were to have a profound influence on his son's later imagery, imagery that has continued to intrigue as well as baffle. Opposed to ideas of classical beauty, James Ensor was equally infuriated by any notion that an artwork might need to have a social function. An outspoken exponent of ‘the prestige of the new', he considered the greatest artistic sin to be banality. Although he'd go on to have a profound effect on Expressionism and Surrealism, the orthodoxies of Modernism held little interest for him and, when he spoke of them, it was with limited understanding. Yet he produced many stunningly original works. Now the Belgium artist, Luc Tuymans, has curated a show at the Royal Academy that brings this enigmatic artist to a wider international public.

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Georgiana Houghton: Spirit Drawings. The Courtauld Gallery

by Sue Hubbard

“Wonderful scribble-scrabbles”

GH jpegEngland, for the Victorians, was a very different place to the irreligious, multi-cultural country we have become. Then we believed ourselves to be a ‘great' Empire that would, forever ‘rule the waves'. It was a society where the majority still believed that God created the world in seven days, yet one in the midst of huge technological change where rural communities were leaving the land to work in Blake's ‘dark satanic mills', powered by new-fangled machines that threatened their traditional way of life. Steam, speed and noise came to represent modernity. It was a time of social rigidity as well as social upheaval, where the rich man sat back comfortably in his castle, while the poor man doffed his cap obsequiously at the gate. Fuelled by privilege, hypocrisy and secrets – as was evident in the treatment of women and children and its hidden sexual practices – Victorian society had not yet seen Europe torn apart by two World Wars. Yet death was an ever-present threat. It hovered over childbirth and the lives of infants who might, at any moment, be snatched away by infectious disease. That the Victorians were obsessed with death is, therefore, hardly surprising.

It's against this backdrop, along with the loosening of the bonds of the Anglican Church, the shifts in intellectual thought and the new range of scientific innovations that spiritualism took hold. Séances and mediums became popular as a way of making contact with the departed. It would be easy for us to mock spiritualism as a bit of irrational 19th century jiggery-pokery conducted by the unscrupulous, in darkened rooms swirling with miasmas, in order to extract money from the naive and malleable. But its popularity was more significant than that. The 19th century developed an especial interest in animal magnetism, in madness and criminality, as well in an attempt to discern where the real self resided, exemplified in Robert Louis Stevenson's celebrated novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The studies of Frederic W.H. Myers (1843-1901), the Cambridge scholar who founded the Society for Psychical Research were, in many ways, precursors to Freud's later investigations into the unconscious. In his posthumously published Human Personality and the Survival of Bodily Death, Myers discussed ideas of creative genius with special reference to automatic drawing, which, he suggested, sprung from the ‘subliminal' as opposed to the ‘supraliminal' of normal consciousness. Spiritual mediums used trance and automatism to tap into this psychic reservoir. According to Myer artistic inspiration came from a ‘subliminal uprush' when combined with a ‘supraliminal stream of thought' – an idea that would later be developed in the language of James Joyce and the art of Surrealists such as André Breton.

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Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers

by Sue Hubbard

“We are homesick most for the places we have never known.”

― Carson McCullers

ScreenHunter_1933 May. 09 10.24It is a truth pretty much universally acknowledged that the past is another country. But that this country, this green and pleasant land should be seen as ‘other', experienced through ‘foreign' eyes, provides an interesting perspective on our identity.

The power of the photograph is that it allows us to see ourselves as others see us. My goodness did I really look like that, wear those glasses, have that hair style? Don't I look young/slim/naïve? Did we honestly behave like that? How odd. I had quite forgotten until now…

Curated by the British photographer Martin Parr – best known for his satirical, yet affectionate technicolour images of the British enjoying their leisure in tacky seaside resorts – Strange and Familiar at the Barbican Gallery, London, includes the work of twenty-three international photographers from the 1930s onwards who have responded to the social structures, clichés and cultural changes within this sceptred isle. There's street photography, portraiture, along with architectural studies by a number of celebrated modernist photographers that reveal the diversity within this small island from the Outer Hebrides to Northern Ireland, from Welsh coal mining communities in their death throes, to boys at Eton. It also brings together an extensive photobook section of many rare and out-of-print publications.

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Stan Douglas: The Secret Agent

by Sue Hubbard

ScreenHunter_1774 Mar. 14 08.46It is said that the camera never lies – but that was before things went digital. At the Victoria Miro Gallery, Stan Douglas has created a number of disturbingly hyperreal images with the use of digital technology that give the illusion of documentary accuracy. These theatrical black and white mise en scènes explore the seedy underbelly of post-war North America before what the artist describes “as the sudden call to order and morality” that was achieved by peacetime prosperity. Based on archival photographs a hotel used to house World War II veterans has been transformed into The Second Hotel Vancouver, 2014, an uncanny image where Piranesi seems to meet Edward Hopper.

Small areas of cold white light glow against the foreboding brick walls of this looming Victorian Gothic façade with its dark stairwells and fire escapes. In the empty street below beams from a wrought-iron lamp post flood the crepuscular corners. Like a Christmas advent calendar there's the sense that behind every window of this building is a secret. If we look hard we can catch a tantalising glimpse of a coat hanging on a rack – who does it belong to? – an empty brass bed or a woman at an office desk, who might well be awaiting the arrival of a character from a Raymond Carver novel. Like some 50s film noir these lit windows draw us into the possibilities of the building's many hidden and possible stories.

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Chantal Joffe, Victoria Miro, Mayfair, London

by Sue Hubbard

ScreenHunter_1687 Feb. 15 10.27“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, Leo Tolstoy famously wrote in Anna Karenina. But what Tolstoy might, actually, have been implying is that the effects of happiness tend to be bland, the results ubiquitous. It’s those who are not entirely comfortable within the all-encompassing duvet of family life that prove to be interesting. Their quirks and idiosyncrasies lead them to become artists and writers or simply that awkward, interesting child who doesn’t want to join in but rather watch clouds, read a book, draw or make up stories. Tension and a degree of discord between siblings, between mother and daughter, father and son are meat to the creative juices. As the essayist and psychoanalyst, Adam Philips writes: “From a psychoanalytic point of view, one of the individual’s formative projects, from childhood onwards, is to find a cure for….. sexuality and difference, the sources of unbearable conflict… Adolescents,” he goes on to say, “are preoccupied by the relationship between dependence and conformity, between independence and compliance.”

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Chantal Akerman: Now

by Sue Hubbard

Until 19th October 2015, Ambika P3 Gallery, University of Westminster, London

Chantal Akerman portrait (1)The Belgian filmmaker and artist Chantal Akerman died suddenly on October 5. It is said to have been suicide. Maybe it was her nationality, the nature of her death or her multi-screen installations with their themes of alienation, interiority, conflict and violence that drew me, in these complex de-centred times, to write about her now. A self-imposed death, whether of an artist or a suicide bomber, is always an enigma and the nature of her demise can't but help colour our view of her work, which seems to echo the mood of these sombre days with uncanny prescience.

Born in 1950, an adolescent viewing of Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot Le Fou (1965) decided her career as a film-maker. After moving to Paris she took part in the seminal events of May 1968, then in New York met the cinematographer Babette Mangolte and hung out in avant-garde circles with the likes of Jonas Mekas and Michael Snow. Mostly widely known as a film-maker, her Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, made in 1975 when she was 24, is said to have influenced film makers from Michael Haneke to Todd Haynes. But it was to the cavernous underground industrial space of The University of Westminster's Ambika P3 gallery that I went to see, what has turned out to be, her swan-song exhibition. The central work, NOW, was commissioned for this year's Venice Biennale. Akerman was working with curators on the show until close to her death.

Her work requires patience, like the reading of a complex modernist poem. It unfolds slowly, so there is not an obvious sense of a coherent whole but rather images that fit together to create associations and metaphors. Maniac Summer (2009) is a disquieting piece that explores, among other things, the passing of time. A digital clock counts the seconds of each recording, evoking Hereklitian notions of being unable to step into the same river twice. Though, of course, the irony is that the technical innovation of video allows for a constant revisiting. Shot from the vantage point of her surprisingly bourgeois Parisian apartment, the camera is left unattended so we see her at her desk fiddling on her mobile phone and taking care of daily appointments, pottering around her kitchen amid normal domestic clutter, or isolated alone in dark silhouette. Outside children play in the park and the camera pans along empty streets, their pulled shutters closed like eyelids. Some of the images are manipulated, moving from colour to black and white. Shadows appear smudged on the wall like the afterglow of a nuclear holocaust. There is singing or, perhaps, chanting. Doors bang. This is the minutiae of life. Yet there's a sense that everything is vulnerable, everything transient. That all we will leave behind are traces.

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Frank Auerbach at Tate Britain until 13th March 2016

by Sue Hubbard

“These fragments I have shored against my ruins”

― T.S. Eliot: The Waste Land and Other Poems

ScreenHunter_1456 Oct. 26 10.13From the young painter who, in July 1948, sold his canvases from the pavement in the LCC ‘Open-Air Exhibition' on the Embankment Gardens, Frank Auerbach has become one of the most important and challenging painters on the British landscape. Despite his great friendship with the priapic and party loving Freud, Auerbach has, by comparison, lead the life of an aesthete; a monk to his chosen calling. He hardly socialises, preferring the company of those he knows well. He drinks moderately, wears his clothes till they fall apart and paints 365 days a year.

Though he rarely gives interviews and does not like to talk about his work, he has said of painting: “The whole thing is about struggle”. As Alberto Giacometti contended it is “analogous to the gesture of a man groping his way in the darkness”…”the more one works on a picture, the more impossible it becomes to finish it”.

It is out of this creative darkness, this complexity and unknowability of the world and the self that Auerbach has conjured his series of extraordinary heads, nudes and landscapes. Whilst the past for him may be a foreign country where they do things differently, one that he doesn't choose to revisit – “I think I [do] this thing which psychiatrists frown on: I am in total denial” – it's hard to walk around this current exhibition at Tate Britain and not feel that his dramatic early years had a profound influence on his work.

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Politics as Art, Art as Politics: Ai Weiwei and William Kentridge

by Sue Hubbard

Ai Weiwei: Royal Academy, London until 31th December 2015

William Kentridge: Marian Goodman Gallery until 24th October 2015

Key-1The Chinese artist, designer and architect, Ai Weiwei has come to be regarded as a creative figure of global stature, largely because of his personal bravery and strong social conscience in speaking out against the repressive Chinese government. He has been imprisoned for his pains and galvanised a generation of artists. On his return to China in 1993, after twelve years in America, his work began to reflect the dual influences of both his native culture and his exposure to western art. He cites Duchamp as “the most, if not the only, influential figure” in his art practice. As a conceptual artist Ai Weiwei starts with an idea – for example China's relationship to its history – addressed in this major show at the Royal Academy by Table and Pillar, 2002, and made, as part of his Furniture series. A salvaged pillar from a Qing dynasty (1644-1911) temple has been inserted into a chair to form a totemic work. Having spent a month in China in 2000, I can confirm that Ai Weiwei has every reason to be concerned about the destruction of his cultural heritage which, when I was there, was daily being destroyed to make way for ‘modernisation'. Coloured Vases, 2015, further questions notions of value and authenticity by illustrating that fake antiquities are made with exactly the same techniques as authentic vases. In classic postmodernist style Ai Weiwei's objects take on the characteristics of a Barthian ‘text' to be deconstructed by those who are able to ‘read' and decode them.

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TIIME and SPACE. Richard Long. Arnolfini, Bristol until 15th November 2015

by Sue Hubbard

It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.

— Nietzsche

Arnolfini_Long_003Since early Christianity pilgrimages have been made to the Holy Land, to Rome, to Lourdes and Canterbury, by walking on foot. Buddhists, understanding that a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, walk in mindfulness. The writer, Bruce Chatwin, wrote in his celebrated book, The Songlines, that “… a Bushman child will be carried a distance of 4,900 miles before he begins to walk on his own. Since, during this rhythmic phase, he will be forever naming the contents of his territory, it is impossible he will not become a poet”. According to Aboriginal legend, the totemic ancestors – among them the great kangaroo and dream-snake – were first sung into existence, as was every feature of the natural world, as ancient Bushmen walked across the Australian continent.

The British artist Richard Long also walks. Other artists paint, sculpt or make installations but Long walks and as he does so he notices and records the minutiae of the landscape. Sometimes he stops to create interventions using the raw materials – stones and driftwood – found along the way as a means of articulating ideas about time and space. Through the act of walking connections are made to rivers and mountains, deserts and clouds, sky and ground. He touches the earth lightly, rarely re-tracing his steps. His interventions are tactful: a realignment of stones, a path trodden across scree, a track left in grass or water poured slowly onto rock. He has been walking for more than 40 years. His process is simple. He takes time, pays attention and records what he notices and hears, sometimes as text, sometimes in photographs so we, too, can share something of the experience. And although we might all engage with the natural world this way, the point is, we don't. He makes looking and seeing into art.

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Chantal Joffe: Beside the Seaside

Jerwood Gallery Hastings, East Sussex, TN34 3DW, until 12th April 2015

by Sue Hubbard

CJ518_AnneSextonWithJoy_2008Chantal Joffe made her reputation as a painter with work inspired by pornography and fashion, based on images torn from magazines. She is friends with the fashion designer Stella McCartney, has painted Kate Moss and Lara Stone, collaborated with the fashion photographer, Miles Aldridge, painting his wife the model, Kristen McMenamy, in her Islington studio, while Aldridge filmed the process. She enjoys what clothes do to the body, the excuse they give her to paint zig-zags, polka dots and Matisse-like patterns. Her work, mostly of women, questions how images are constructed and presented, subtly challenging the objectification of the female form, wrenching it back from the traditional ‘male gaze'. Recently she's moved more towards painting friends and family – her daughter Esme, her niece Moll and her partner, the painter, Dan Coombs. The results are works of disquieting intimacy. It's no surprise to learn that she has long been a fan of the emotionally jagged photographs of Diana Arbus, whose studies she describes as having: “everything about the portrait of a human that you can ever want.”

Joffe was born in 1969 in St. Albans, a small town in Vermont, in the US. When she was 13 years old her family moved to England and she went to school in London. But it was not until her foundation course at Camberwell School of Art that she began to find herself by ‘discovering Soutine, and all that paint.' Now she has been invited to show at the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings, the beautiful seafront gallery with a view over the beach full of working boats. Beside the Seaside features a number of new and unseen works made especially for this show and reflects her long-standing links with Hastings where she frequently visits family who live in the town. She often draws on the beach, though photographs commonly provide a starting point. She's not interested in literal truth but rather in what goes on under the surface, the awkward emotions that are held in check and frequently remain unconscious, only to leak through the publicly presented face. Just outside the main gallery is her 2008 painting of Anne Sexton with Joy. An American confessional poet, writing in the 1950s, Sexton was attractive, ambitious, manic depressive and suicidal. Like Arbus she penetrated shallow and socially conventional facades to reveal a brew of anger and suicidal thoughts. Here she is shown with her daughter and we can see just how imbalanced that relationship is. Joy looks away as her glamorous mother clings to her, voracious and needy.

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Drawn by Light: The Royal Photographic Society Collection

Media Space, Science Museum, London: Until 1 March 2015

National Media Museum, Bradford, UK: 20th March- 21 June 2015

Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen, Mannheim, Germany: 2017

by Sue Hubbard

The Hippopotamus at the Zoological Gardens, 1852, Juan Carlos Maria Isidro, Count de Montizon de Borbon © NMeMPhotography is quite, literally, a miracle. In this technological age we forget how much, forget what the world was like before we could capture the fleeting, the momentary and lock it with one single click of the shutter into eternal aspic. Before the photograph memories were just that. Memories. To look at old photographs is to have a direct worm hole into the past. They are not the same as paintings. There, in front of us, is often the actual living plant, view or person as they were, maybe, 150 years ago. That is the way the light fell on a particular day, those are the actual clouds or dirt under the fingernails. It is not so much an interpretation but a preservation. Even a re-incarnation, and it often seems magical.

Founded in 1853, the Royal Photographic Society began making acquisitions following Prince Albert's suggestion that the society should collect photographs to record the rapid technical progress in photography. Royal approval soon followed. The 1850s were a moment of unprecedented optimism in Britain as we stood on the edge of a new, modern industrial world. There was a belief in the unlimited possibilities of science and technology, symbolised by a new young Queen on the throne. The RPS was modelled on the Victorian ideal of the learned Society. These existed all around the country to discuss literature, philosophy and the natural sciences and bring about self-improvement. The aim was to promote both the art and the science of photography. Today this unique collection contains over 250,000 photographs and is one of the most important in the world. Drawn by Light: The Royal Photographic Society Collection is the first co-curating enterprise between The Royal Photographic Society, the Science Museum and the National Media museum and the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen. The title provides a delightful pun – for, of course, photography is pure light. The exhibition not only reflects the development of camera technology but the psychological, philosophical and aesthetic trends of particular eras and includes works not only by the greats such as Julia Margaret Cameron, Paul Strand and Don McCullin but also by many less known photographers.

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Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album

by Sue Hubbard

Key 019“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/But to be young was very heaven,” wrote Wordsworth on the eve of the French Revolution. Though his words could equally have been describing a very different time and place and another, later, revolution where to be young was, also, ‘very heaven'. This revolution was expressed not through chopping off aristocratic heads but through drugs, sex and rock n'roll. And, as with the French revolution, its utopian values of freedom grew out of the restrictions and constraints of the dominant culture.

I was at school in the 1960s and remember going to see Easy Rider. It's hard to explain, coming from my bourgeois English background, just how mesmerising it was to sit in the dark and watch this anarchic road movie. Cool, sexy and intense, its saturated colour, naturalistic shots and long lonely vistas of desert highways seemed to embody a sort of frontier freedom that was primarily American, something I'd only previously encountered in the writing of Jack Kerouac. Easy Rider was wild, thrilling and a little frightening. It encapsulated the restlessness of the 60s counterculture, the feelings of a generation increasingly disillusioned with organised government and the political conflicts that surrounded Vietnam, poverty and issues of race. The film stared three men who would go on to become iconic anti-heroes: Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper.

Key 049Mad, bad and, no doubt, dangerous to know, Dennis Hopper became a cult figure. He embodied the restless mood of those emotionally charged times with their major social shifts and changes in moral values. Good-looking, self-confident and iconoclastic – part outlaw, part artist – he was the sort of guy who was always going to be something even if he didn't know what that something was going to be. By the age of 18 he was under contract to Warner Bros and became fascinated by the creative potential of film, co-starring with that other American icon, James Dean, in Rebel without a Cause (1955) and Giant (1956). By the late 50s Hopper was living in New York and studying acting under Lee Strasberg. He was also taking photographs of street signs, walls and ripped posters, material not yet commonly the subject of art. At 25 he married the actress Brooke Hayward, daughter of the photographer, Leyland Hayward. On Hopper's birthday Brooke went to her father and borrowed the money to buy him a Nikon camera. From 1961 to 1967 he carried it everywhere until he began work on Easy Rider and put it away.

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Two women painters: Jenny Saville at Gagosian and Celia Paul

by Sue Hubbard

Jenny Saville. Oxyrhynchus. Gagosian, 6-24 Britannia Street, London WC1X9JD. June 13 – July 26, 2014

Celia Paul. Victoria Miro, 16 Wharf Road, London, N1 7RW. 12 June – 2 August 2014

SAVILLE 2014 DuskTwo current shows at major London galleries illustrate that painting is not only alive and well but a vibrant, intellectually and emotionally challenging force. Both these shows are figurative and both are by women. I first met Jenny Saville when she was 22. She'd just left Glasgow School of Art and Charles Saatchi had purchased her MA show and offered an 18-month contract to support her while she made new work to be exhibited in his London gallery. Interviewing her for Time Out, I found her idealistic and determined that Saatchi ‘wouldn't change her'. Her work was aggressive, personal, raw and highly accomplished. Flesh and the female body were her subjects and graffiti-style texts that subverted traditional notions of feminine beauty were scored, like self-inflicted wounds, into the thick impasto of the body of her subjects. Although part of a generation for whom painting – in particular figure painting – was not considered fashionable, she was soon to be seen as the heir to Lucien Freud.

SAVILLE 2014 OdalisqueNow Gagosian Galley is presenting her first-ever solo show in London: Oxyrhynchus. A number of these new works are inspired by the rubbish dump found on this ancient Egyptian archaeological site where heaps of discarded documents were preserved in the area's dry climate, including Euclid's Elements and fragments of Sappho's poems. This historic palimpsest has given Saville an intellectual armature on which to hang much of her imagery that often involves the complex layering of bodies. Faces and limbs overlap and ghostly reflections create a series doppelgangers or shadow selves. The viewer's eye slips between forms, uncertain which limb belongs to which figure, as in Leonardo's cartoon of The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and the Infant Saint John Baptist, circa 1499, where theownership of individual arms and legs is ambiguous. In the exhibition's title work, (pastel and charcoal on canvas), bodies have been reduced to fragments. A foot sticks from a heap of marks as though broken from an ancient sculpture. Elsewhere there's a pile of breasts. This intermingling and cross-referencing runs through Saville's work; black bodies intertwine with white, genders are blurred. Modern life is not seen as fixed but as complex and fluid. Boundaries and borders dissolve. Saville pays a conscious debt to art history with her references to Degas' Olympia, and her nervy abstract marks that wrestle to find form and space in the manner of De Kooning.

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The Maestà (1308-1311). Duccio da Buoninsegna. Opera Metropolitana Museum, Siena

by Sue Hubbard

Maest_0_duccio_1308-11_siena_duomoSiena, a mediaeval city of windy streets, dark alleys and red roofs is one of Italy's jewels. It may now be full of school children and tourists eating ice cream as they wander amongst the stylish shops or stop to have a drink in the Piazza del Campo – which twice yearly is turned into a horse racetrack for that lunatic and partisan stampede, the Palio – but it was in the Middle Ages that Siena reached its zenith. Having been ruled by the Longobards, then the Franks, it passed into the hands of the Prince-Bishops. During the 12th century these were overthrown by Consuls who set up a secular government. It was then that Siena attained the political and economic importance that led to its rivalry with that other gilded Tuscan city, Florence. The 12th century saw the construction of many beautiful buildings: numerous towers, nobles' houses, Romanesque churches, culminating in the construction of the famous black and white duomo.

The great age of Sienese art arguably started with Duccio. No contemporary accounts of him, nor any personal documents, have survived. Though there are many records about him in municipal archives: records of changing of address, payments, civil penalties and contracts that give some idea of the life of the painter. Little is known of his painting career. Many believe he studied under Cimabue, while others think that he may have actually traveled to Constantinople and learned directly from a Byzantine master.

As a young man Duccio probably worked in Assisi, though he spent virtually his entire life in Siena. He's first mentioned in Sienese documents in 1278 in connection with commissions for 12 wooden panels for the covers of the municipal books. In 1285, a lay brotherhood in Florence commissioned him to complete an altarpiece, known now as the Rusellai Madonna, for the church of Santa Maria Novella. By that date he must already have had something of a reputation, which guaranteed the quality of his work.

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PETER DOIG: Early Works. Michael Werner Gallery, London

by Sue Hubbard

DOI 122It takes a certain chutzpah for an artist to dig out his early student work and put it on display for the world to access, especially in a rarefied Mayfair Gallery hidden away in a gracious Georgian house just yards from Claridges Hotel. In the case of Peter Doig, such confidence may well be underwritten by the fact that his White Canoe – a dreamy painting of a boat reflected in a lake like some post-modern version of Charon's craft – fetched the staggering sum of £5.7m in 2007 when put up for auction by Charles Saatchi.

Doig is something of an outsider. Born in Edinburgh in 1959, the son of a peripatetic shipping accountant, he lived in Trinidad from the age of two to seven, then moved to Canada until he was nineteen, where he took up such northern rituals as skiing and ice hockey. After leaving for London DOI 179to study painting at St. Martin's, followed by an MA at the Chelsea College of Art, he supported himself as a dresser at the English National Opera and became absorbed in the emerging club scene frequented by the likes of performance artist Leigh Bowery and experimental film makers such as Isaac Julien. Chelsea College was a very different proposition, then, to Goldsmiths, the conceptual kindergarten that spawned Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Angus Fairhurst under the éminence grise Michael Craig Martin. It was full of painters still interested in the possibilities of what paint could do, despite the popular mantra that painting was a dead form. Doig was never allied to the conceptualist YBAs, or included in Saatchi's watershed show Sensation at the Royal Academy in 1997. And, unlike many of the YBAs, he continues to work alone, without a studio full of assistants. It doesn't appeal to him be surrounded by people he has to keep busy; to become a production line. He likes the “simplicity” of paint; “the directness, the dabbling quality”; and still believes in the possibilities of being able to surprise and innovate in this most ancient of media. People are always asking him when he's going to make a film. But he's not interested. His outsider status has meant that like many émigrés, he responds best to places he knows when he is not actually there. Canada was painted whilst in London, the Caribbean from the vantage point of his Tribeca Studio.

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UPROAR! The First 50 years of The London Group 1913-63. Ben Uri Gallery, London

by Sue Hubbard

Cat-2-Sands-The-Pink-BoxIn the autumn of 1997 the Royal Academy of Art mounted Sensation, an exhibition of artists promoted by Charles Saatchi that included Damien Hirst, Michael Landy and Marcus Harvey's notorious painting of Myra Hindley. As the title of the exhibition suggested its aim was to shock. Many might be forgiven for thinking that such an act of épater les bourgeois was something new on the British art scene. But a fascinating exhibition, Uproar! at the Ben Uri Gallery, which marks the centenary of the London Group, an artists' exhibiting society set up at the beginning of the 20thcentury to provide a radical alternative to the staid intellectualism of institutions such as Royal Academy, (rather ironic given its later involvement with Sensation) shows that rocking the Establishment boat is nothing new.

Cat-48-Bratby-Kitchen-Interior-(2)Charting The London Group's first 50 years, the show reveals its complex history, its arguments, schisms and ideological discords. The choice of name signalled inclusivity, rather than the neighbourhood parochialism of the Fitzroy Street Group, The Camden Town Group and the Bloomsbury Group. Created at a time of exceptional turmoil in the British art world it brought together painters influenced by European Cubism and Futurism, and survived the early resignation of its founding fathers, the Danish-French artist, Lucien Pissarro, then living in London, and Walter Sickert, to continue to this day. From the onset the group's radicalism enraged many diehard critics. The Connoisseur snottily complained that in the work of Epstein and others ‘the artistic tendencies of the most advanced school of modern art are leading us back to the primitive instincts of the savage.' That many of the artists then panned now rank among the pantheon of British modernist greats might give some critics pause for thought.

From the start uproar raged both inside and outside the Group. There was press hostility to the ultra-modernists, rivalry between the Group and other exhibiting societies such as the New English Art Club, not to mention the warfare between Camden Townites and Wyndham Lewis's Vortecists, between the Surrealists and realists, as well as differing political attitudes exemplified by Mark Gertler's anti-war stance and Wyndham Lewis's bellicose right-wing posturing.

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