Engelmarie Sophie: The Art of Duality

Conjure, if you will, the picturesque imaginings of a 12-year old girl in Germany as she uses her hands to mould something out of the earth.

Dialogue by Engelmarie Sophie

What does she see as she cradles the soil in her hands?  A shepherd tending his flock?  An anniversary gift for her parents? The chance to make something that speaks of nature, that is, in fact, of nature?

Undoubtedly, Engelmarie Sophie saw all of this and more.  It is the more that perhaps has driven her to the meanings that she conveys in her work today.

As she pattered through her cosy home in France, lithe and feline, one could not ignore the warmth and charm of the woman.

In a big room full of comfy chairs, the walls were lined with art works – some of them created by her.

When she offered me one of her pieces, I blushed.  They were all so beautiful and alive, much like Engelmarie herself.  I didn’t feel worthy.

The study of art

Engelmarie was taken by surprise when she produced her little shepherd in the soil.  Perhaps for the first time in her life, she realised that she could create something.

Le Doute by Engelmarie Sophie

As a result, in the early 1980s, she took water-painting courses in Frankfurt Germany.  Later that decade, she moved to France and worked on her technique.

For many years, she created art without showing her work to anyone.  But as she began working on what she called her ‘red series’ she felt something that she could not explain.

“I started to ask myself why I was painting?  I began to witness my own movement.”

Engelmarie became aware of new aspects of creation.  She paid better attention to her breathing and the progress of her strokes when painting.  She would take a step back and observe what she had done, and her work was deeply affected by this change in awareness.

During that time, people in her life, including her therapist, tried to convince her that it was important to exhibit, so she finally began to show her work in Evreux, France – the town in which she lived.  Yet she soon realised that Evreux was limited.

être different dans l'indifference by Engelmarie Sophie

“There were many artists who lived in Evreux and who had been networking for years.  And there was a limited amount of venues.  There were even some artists who knew politicians personally, which made them very difficult to compete with.”

After being refused in situations that seemed unfair, Engelmarie sought galleries and events in different places around Europe.  These places were ultimately moved by Engelmarie’s work and accepted her with open arms.

Materials

Engelmarie has never deviated from her original connection with nature.

“I prefer to use all natural materials, because it’s a link to nature.  When I work like this, I feel linked to the universe.  With stones, for example, I can feel the vibration of it going through my body.  If you are open, the work will come through you.”

She is a great fan of happy accidents, when pieces and materials fall together in a haphazard way.  Engelmarie will notice that something special is happening with the pieces, even if she is unsure of what it is.

il voulet être dif. by Engelmarie Sophie

I cannot help but be charmed by her again when she likens her situation to Ovid.

“Ovid’s text occurred because of his exile, his separation.”

She was, of course, referring to the famous Roman poet, who was exiled by Emperor Augustus for writing a poem that may have challenged the emperor’s legislation.

In his exile, he wrote poems that highlighted his depression and loneliness.

Yet, looking around the room, I could not relate these sad terms to Engelmarie’s work.

If art is a reflection of the artist’s spirit, then I can only imagine that Engelmarie Sophie is a conscious and brave person, who asks the canvas on which she paints the difficult questions of our humanity and existence.

“In the beginning, I wanted to lose myself in contemplation.  But I had to question myself, my way of thinking.  I was asking myself, what is art?  My art is what people feel when they look at my art, rather than what they judge it to be.  It’s to be touched without knowing why.  But it’s something that must happen, and this is difficult to achieve.”

rose by Engelmarie Sophie

Engelmarie believes that if her art moves her, then it is successful.  She hopes that the observer is a secondary consideration, which is why she does not wish to be emotionally invested in the outcome of the exhibitions.  Engelmarie believes that most exhibitions invite judgement.

Current projects

I could not help but be excited about the project that Engelmarie is currently working on.  She is collaborating with a man from Iran who does calligraphy.  The project is multi-faceted bringing together words, light and sculptures.

It is one of the things that stands out most about the artist.  She seems to be an art in progress herself, changing and growing, incorporating new techniques with the intention of perceiving her life and her work in a new way.

agnusdei by Engelmarie Sophie

Though, she demonstrated an excitement when she talked about her future projects, her tone became visibly somber as she described her 2005 project in Dresden called ‘The Interior Journey’, in which she used stone to illustrate the bombing that took place during the Second World War.

As Dresden was the place of her birth, the project was of historical significance to her, but also of personal interest because she lost her grandfather during the night of one of the bombings.   Still, of equal concern to Engelmarie were the extreme opposites, the duality of the work, what was invisible and visible.

Engelmarie Sophie today

The years have passed, and Engelmarie is no longer the little girl who was desperate, in an act of mimetic altruism, to recreate her surrounding world.

Now, she reaches deeper into the meaning of those tangible subjects, communicating that which is abstract, but natural.

The semiotics of human existence could be those intangible things that we take for granted, such as duality, trinity, and infinity.  These are the abstracts that Engelmarie wrestles with in her work.

These messages are powerful especially because they are as much a reflection of the artist as the art, and Engelmarie would undeniably see herself, her work, and the creation of her work as another tri-unity to be contemplated.

Engelmarie Sophie has artwork in many different mediums including photography, sculpturing, painting, and engraving.  Her work can be found in many galleries, including in Brussels, Paris and NY.

To see more of the artist’s work, visit http://www.engelmariesophie.com/

Daryl Brown: My Mother Holding My Now Dead Cat

Walking into Daryl Brown’s new studio was like following the walls of a labyrinth until finally stepping into a room alive with organic structures that watched over the artist like protective sentinels.

Daryl Brown from his series, "My Mother Holding My Now Dead Cat"room alive with organic structures that watched over the artist like protective sentinels.

My observation caused a chuckle from the sculptor.  “They’re almost like a gang,” he responded.  “A bit threatening.”

It had been over a year since I’d first visited Brown in his studio back in Hackney.  On that day in August, he seemed gentle and unassuming.

Yet in his new studio in Stratford, Brown appeared to have taken on a new confidence.  His movements were relaxed as he circled his works talking about the process of their creation.

Pointing to one he remarked, “This one is unfinished.  It’s really tricky.  I’ve always felt quite weird about it.  I’m often tempted to destroy things, rebel against them.”

My Mother Holding My Now Dead Cat

Brown’s sculptures are part of a theme that has been a reoccurring vision of the artist.  The first sculpture of the series ‘My Mother and My Now Dead Cat’ was shown in The Magnificent Basement by ALISN, an organisation known for it’s inclusive support of artists in London.

Using a variety of materials, Brown has stayed true to his vision never wavering from the original theme, yet evolving this vision into the sentinels that stand in his studio today.

Upon looking at the sculptures, does the image of Brown’s mother holding his cat become apparent?  Each observer must decide that for themselves.

But what is immediately noticeable is the organic quality of the sculptures.  They each embody a life; an ironic factor since the

Daryl Brown from his series, "My Mother Holding My Now Dead Cat"

theme touches on death.

Binary Opposites

Whether or not the irony in Brown’s work is a conscious act on his part is something else the observer can determine.

For example, one can hardly think of the theme of the sculptures without noticing an element of both tragedy and comedy.

Brown himself describes his work as “gritty and urban”, yet the theme suggests something sentimental and sweet.

Together, the sculptures stand as ‘a gang’ and yet the artist who created them is soft spoken and non-threatening.

“I wanted to show a loving embrace and then destroy that,” says Brown.

Method

Brown’s method is as abstract as the sculptures themselves.

He seems to add components using a variety of materials.  Each sculpture can standalone because each is uniquely formed.

Some of them embody what could be viewed as chaos, perhaps an element of the death theme, with wires that give the sculpture a

Daryl Brown from his series, "My Mother Holding My Now Dead Cat"

more technical appearance.

Others are softer and white, like amorphous bodies.

And still there is a darker figure and even a colourful body that appears to have human organs, which supports the idea of life.

Yet, one cannot escape the fact that these are sculptures, no more alive than the materials that form them, the now proverbial ‘dead cat’.

This it what makes Brown such an interesting artist, the opposing views that are conveyed in his work.

Like his previous Judo series, the artist is interested in the human form, but also in the progression of his work.

“I don’t want to lose this image of my mother with the cat, but I am not bound by it.”

Brown’s work has caught the attention of several art organisations, including the London Art Fair 2012, which will take place from 18-22 January next year.

The artist’s work will also be exhibited at the Residence Gallery in Hackney from 2 February 2012.

ALISN at the Sluice Art Fair

Last weekend, the Sluice Art Fair exhibited works from different organisations, including ALISN –

Bad Seed I by Michael Petry

who, in the past, has consistently supported artists with many wide-ranging perspectives. 

Rather than fit art in neat little categories, ALISN– run by artists Iavor Lubomirov and Jordan Dalladay-Simpson  – have confirmed a more abstract and eclectic vision.

ALISN’s part in the Sluice Art Fair evidenced once again a mix of genre by exhibiting artists, who are unafraid to mix the abstract with something tangible and solid.  These artists have successfully combined strong ideals with mixed media, vulnerability with strength, which ultimately results in a lesson of contrasts.

The work by Michael Petry, an artist in residence at the Soane Museum, is entitled Bad Seed 1.  Much can be derived from its’ name, but even more from observing the contours and shape of the piece.

A result of glassblowing, the object is amorphous and almost translucent.  It seemingly hangs off of the edge of a black leather bench chair as if disturbing a room that would otherwise be traditionally ideal.  The glass object does not interfere with the aesthetic quality of the bench, but simply disturbs the atmosphere.

The Fold; Collapsibles, and Their Reductive Space by William Angus-Hughes

Still, what is most appealing about Petry’s work is the organic quality.

Like the melting objects in Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, Petry’s object seems to be doing something.  Its’ shape is determined by the bench it is leaning upon.  Its’ whitish, cloudy colour speaks loudly of something ectoplasmic, something that has a life within.

In looking at the work of Dahlia Westmoreland, there’s no doubt that the artist understands the aspects of Expressionism.

The meaning that is conveyed in her moleskin sketchbook entitled August, evokes emotion and contemplation.

Westmoreland’s use of texture is also interesting; along with the written words around the painted or drawn figures and objects, they remind viewers that the creation of artistic works depends greatly upon the artist’s thought process.

Marq Kearey used gouache, paper and board to create Painting in the Shape of Poland, a piece that seems to have

Painting in the Shape Of Poland by Marq Kearey

multiple meanings.  There are two holes cut out of the board, one of them where the city of Warsaw would be.  The connotations are undoubtedly political, however, viewers are also compelled to notice some of the simple messages of Kearey’s piece.

The missing hole causes the piece to resemble an artist’s palette; therefore, the meaning, after all, is that the work is both art as well as a tool that the artist is using to convey a message.

If the works of Mark Rothko’s late period has taught the art world anything, it is the power and meaning that can be conveyed through windows.  This aspect of art is reiterated in The Fold; Collapsibles, and Their Reductive Space by William Angus-Hughes.

Using window and picture frames attached by hinges, Angus-Hughes creates perceived new spaces.  Yet, the structure takes up physical space of varying degrees depending on the angle in which each part is folded.

Blind by Bella Easton

Bella Easton’s Blind has a surreal quality that proves to be both separate and whole in the continuing geometry of squared patterns.  Copper plated etchings printed on graphite and paper, “Blind” depicts a seemingly gothic design.

Yet, there is also beauty and tranquility in the light that surrounds the darkness.  While the spiny design that resembles the branches of a tree speaks of knowledge and eternity, the smaller details suggest everyday life.

Further works in the ALISN portion of the exhibition were equally compelling, featuring artists Matt Blackler,  Brian Hodgson,  John Gibbons,  Mandy Hudson and Denise Hickey.

For more information about the Sluice Art Fair, visit www.sluiceartfair.com

The 9th Art: Graphic Novelist Olivier Broyart in Belgium

Brussels, the capital city of Belgium, is famous for its chocolate and waffles.

© Olivier Broyart's "Attention Nuage"

But lesser known is the treasure trove of artists that permeate the small city.

A recent trip to the quaint town with its interesting murals and graffiti, revealed a beating heart of young graphic novelists, unassuming, imaginative and undiscovered.

I had a rare opportunity to speak to one of them, Olivier Broyart.

The young Frenchman, face full of blondish hair, in many ways embodies the quintessential Bohemian artist of ones imaginings.

Born in Alsace, France, but living for the past few years in Belgium, Broyart didn’t easily speak candidly about himself.

Yet, as he spoke, the twinkle in his eye was evidence of his passion for a medium that he felt saved him during his difficult times as a young boy in school.

“I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing.  I wasn’t very good in my school work, but as I got better at drawing, I became a more confident person.”

Always an artist

Broyart always saw illustration as his only career choice.  He couldn’t imagine doing anything else with his life.  The social aspects of drawing helped him get over his shyness.

A joining together of illustrators, colourists, inkers and writers, the creation of a graphic novel is often a large-scale project.  Broyart lately has functioned in all of these roles; however, he typically performs the writing and the illustration.

Broyart also collaborates with other artists on a regular basis; yet, he admitted that the early part of his process is usually a solitary one.

“I can’t let other people’s opinions influence my work at the start, or else I will not be able to continue.  There are sometimes, of course, technical reasons why I need to know what others think, and I enjoy collaborative projects.  But this is a different sort of thing.”

The graphic novel surfaces

© Broyart's "La fée et la chouette"

In recent years, graphic novels have surfaced from its subculture into mainstream view, by way of the publicity of film adaptations such as 300 and V for Vendetta.

While these films seem of interest to the especially initiated alone, they have certainly grabbed the attention of those larger audiences attracted to science fiction, fantasy and action films.

Also, comic books – often less lengthy versions of graphic novels – have gained new momentum in the world of film with an abundance of adaptations from Marvel and DC Comic book heroes such as Batman, Spiderman, Superman, Captain America, the Hulk, X-Men and the Green Lantern.

Yet, graphic novels seem to be in a class all their own, attracting evermore specialised interests with intense and often gothic story lines.

Finding the human within

Broyart tries to bring what he learns in life to his graphic novels, by finding the humanity in his protagonists.

Primarily in the genre of sci-fi/fantasy, Broyart is attracted by the way that a character might deal with circumstances that he or she doesn’t necessarily understand, by acknowledging that they still have to go through it.

Citing Shelly’s Frankenstein as one of his favourite books, Broyart believes that curiosity is often a compelling drive for characters in his stories.

“My characters are not tragic.  I try to put myself in their situations.  My characters are aware of the pointlessness of fighting against the inevitable – but still, they must try.”

Broyart admits that his story is often influenced by his own mood.

“If I’m feeling down, then so is my main character.  My characters are not machines or supermen.  They are human.”

Introducing colour

The illustrator/writer has collaborated with a colourist, Sophie Bihin.  This leap of faith boded well for Broyart, who humbly appreciated the different perspective that Bihin added to his work.  This has ultimately caused him to invest in equipment that allows him to do some colouring of his own.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of artists like Broyart is their older/wiser need to be true to their vision rather than the pursuit of commercial gain.

Though in Brussels, the market is satiated with artists without enough venues to show their work, the level of integrity of Broyart and his colleagues is refreshing.

Many may think that fans of graphic novelists may like to see the genre better appreciated, but in truth, most would just like to see some of the incredibly talented artists like Broyart get their due.

With comics being featured in film so much more readily in the past decade, it will be interesting to see in the years to come if graphic novels are brought out of obscurity.

Journalist Patricia Floric reported in a feature article last year that graphic novels are “not really respected and often misjudged” which unfortunately makes them specialty items in the UK that are often too expensive for their particular audience.

Yet, with the growing population of artists like Broyart, who are, at times, entrepreneurial and freelance, the integrity of the art need not fall into the realms of commercialism.

As people seek for something authentic to hold onto, graphic novels seem to maintain a sort of dignity that bolds well for the artistic future of la bande dessinée.

True Wit: Curtis Eller Strikes Again

Curtis Eller just completed his tour through the UK and we are sad to see him go.

Eller during his tour through the UK

Nursing laryngitis while giving back-to-back performances in a different city every night, he draws from a seemingly overabundant sense of professionalism and talent.

Unstoppable, he rushes back to the stage to gulp down doses of honey in order to get through the next song.

He manages, through all of this, to elicit genuine laughter from the audience.  “Excuse me, but this is a little disgusting,” he exclaims, just before throwing his head back and dowsing his throat with honey from the bottle he squeezes into his mouth.

Then he’s back in the middle of the audience, belting out his best songs.

Not just another singer

Eller isn’t just a singer/songwriter/banjo player/yodeler (as if that isn’t enough).

Other than these impressive skills, he is also a bonafide comedian.

Singing a song about coal mining he stops mid-note to offer the audience another of his witticisms.

“I don’t know anything about coal mining, but you have to sing these kind of songs every once in a while in order to renew your banjo license.”

His humour may be one of the reasons why the artist is so popular amongst Brits, who undoubtedly appreciate Eller’s dry, irony so reminiscent of British comedy.

Curtis Eller at the Green Note in Camden, London

The show must go on

Eller stuck to old favourites that were easier on his aching throat.  But no one was disappointed, especially not his loyal fans who faithfully sang the chorus at Eller’s command.

Green Note is a small venue, but the intimacy of the place is perfect for performers like Eller whose interaction with the audience is such a delightful part of the show.

The audience laughed gleefully as he randomly blew out candles on tables, climbed atop chairs and chased waitresses and audience members while playing the banjo behind them.

Slightly ill, he may have been, but lacking in entertainment value Eller was not.  As energetic as ever, there was not a corner of Green Note the singer did not dance, run or play his way through.

Yet, behind the fun, it is almost impossible not to notice a sort of awareness of his own cultural identity.  Eller’s songs consistently remind us of the America that he sees, with all of its problems and promise.

Never failing to deliver, Curtis Eller also reminds his audience that though he is a performance artist, he is also a teacher.  And though the attendees of his class may be willing students, his lessons about “Robert Moses” and others acts as a reaffirmation of his hope that America may someday be a better place.

He ends the show as he begins, with another witty joke, a knowing shake of his head, his honey in one hand and his banjo in the other.

Bella Easton’s Dog Kennel Hill

Once you walked in the door, you couldn’t miss it.

Bella Easton's "Dog Kennel Hill" from inside the installation

This may have been ALISN’s largest exhibited work yet.

Taking up a great deal of space, Bella Easton’s “Dog Kennel Hill” seemed a magical portal to the unknown.

What was interesting about the main piece featured in ALISN’s latest exhibition was it could not be pinned down.  Engaging and vocal, the work invited the audience to interpret the message that was being conveyed from multiple perspectives.

Dog Kennel Hill

The installation inspired a great deal of conversation.

Having what could be seen as Matisse-like influences, a closer look revealed a montage of tiny pieces of dark paper, hand-coloured to produce an almost stained glass window effect.

At times, the colours met together in a corner of the piece to produce strange, dark faces peering back; and at other times, a city of lights, shimmering water or talking mouths.

Easton’s piece was tactile, and the crowd could not help but climb inside of it’s house-like structure.

There was a spiritual nature to the work, acting as the safety and shelter of a church.

The lighting only added to the feeling of warmth and worship, reflecting the various colours.

A connection with nature

Yet, Dog Kennel Hill still suggests a connection with nature, as the separated pieces do not keep those within the

Bella Easton's "Dog Kennel Hill" - The inner ceiling of the installation

roofed side of the work completely indoors.  This is enhanced by the feeling of shimmering sunlight on the walled piece.

The strength of Easton’s work is that it gathers together different techniques and images that in essence, produce a solid effect, a solid structure.  And Easton seems to have done this in such a way that the final outcome appears serendipitous rather than intensional.

One is seduced into giving much thought to the piece, long after walking away from it.

Easton’s work, ultimately, does what great art is meant to do: challenge the artist’s range of capability and engender a variety of perspectives and discussion.

If Dog Kennel Hill is any indication of Easton’s talent and ability, audiences should expect other great works from her in the future.

For more information about the artist and her work, go to www.bellaeaston.co.uk

Musicing: Innovative Team Building

Team Building with 'Musicing'

Anyone who has spent a fair number of years working in Corporate London has, at least once, been dragged to a team building workshop.

Usually having to do with the squeezing of spongy balls or watching boring presentations that lead to equally boring questionnaires, the only upside to these tedious exercises is that it allows the attendee to get away from their desk for a few hours.

Enter Luke Crookes.  An accomplished Bassoon player, Crookes decided to use his social skills and musical knowledge to create ‘Musicing’, a team building company which promises that at the end of a workshop, the attendees – no matter how novice – will be able to play a musical instrument with their colleagues in a full orchestra.

Skeptical?  So was I.  So I decided to give Musicing a try.

Pilot workshop

On a Sunday afternoon, along with about 60 others, I attended Musicing’s pilot workshop.

Luke Crookes, CEO of Musicing - Photograph by Charlotte Medlicott

The attendees were asked to choose from a compelling array of instruments including the clarinet, violin, viola, guitar, a variety of brass and percussion instruments, vocals and best of all, the cello.

I’ve always loved the sound of a cello, but had never touched one.

I found myself excited by the prospect of producing even one solid note from the hour glass shaped wooden instrument that one of Crookes’ staff members handed to me.

With its glossy façade and weighty presence, I cradled it as if it were a newborn baby.

What’s great about a cello is that the sounds produced by its strings when stroked with a bow are so deliciously rich that one need not play well to sound interesting.

Still, playing as a group is a different thing entirely, and the job of every team builder is to get a group of people to create something vital together.

Musicing: The String Section

The mission

Crookes was on it.  The mission never alluded him, but the cleverness that he brought to this particular team building venture, which will perhaps deem his methods as more viable than normal exercises, turned out to be two important aspects.

First, Crookes maintained throughout the entire exercise that each of us brings something unique to the table.  Not a new concept, yet surprisingly effective when someone gives you the freedom to explore that possibility.

The staff members in charge of the cello players asked us to play with our eyes closed for a few moments.  We had been told what to do, but would not be able to see the hand signals that alerted us to the next step.

But this faith in our group caused an interesting shift in perspective and a measure of trust in our fellow novices that had a pleasant result.

Musicing: The Tuba

It caused us to listen to the other players to determine the next step – surely the point of any team building exercise.

Crookes reinforced this idea, at the end of the session, when we all jammed together and basically tried to add something to the ongoing rhythm that reverberated around us.

The second aspect of Crookes method that caused this experience to be unique is that though most of us were playing a particular instrument for the first time in our lives, there was never a moment during the exercise when we weren’t taken seriously.

We were entrusted with beautiful, and likely expensive, instruments.  We were given clear instructions about how to hold the instrument and play it properly.  Each section of the orchestra was treated as a vital part of the whole.

But most importantly, there were more than 20 staff members, actual orchestral players, who instructed us and played alongside us during the entire exercise.

This more than anything caused me to take my part very seriously.  And the better I played, the more focused I felt.  A staff member, who instructed the violinists, somewhat firmly pushed us to do better as if she expected that we could.

A feeling of confidence

When it was over, I walked out of the venue feeling confident.  As cliche as that may sound, it is ultimately logical once we factor in an inevitable truth: I left my house that morning barely aware of how to properly hold an instrument.  But by the time I returned, I had played the cello with an entire orchestra.

And although it is a sure bet that my playing was rubbish, I can now imagine taking lessons and one day giving myself countless hours of pleasure by playing regularly in the comfort of my own home.

The bigger picture for Musicing is that it’s recipients will likely feel creative drive and purpose with their fellow work colleagues.

It is not so farfetched to envision a group of employees from the Reporting team of a major corporation getting a natural boost by having an orchestral jam with the Risk and Assessment team.  It sort of put things in perspective when you’ve created something you can be proud of.

It will be interesting to see how many companies will be willing to take the leap. Although the past two decades has seen an increased interest in tapping into the creative or right hemisphere side of the brain, left hemisphere functions such as problem solving and language are still very much lauded in a corporate environment.

Still, there is a rising need for creativity through teamwork in order to come up with innovative ways to solve problems and to keep up with technological advancements.

This is where a team building method like Musicing has the potential to make a difference in corporate environments.  In the consistent atmosphere of mergers and lay-offs, and the poor economy, there is little opportunity for feelings of accomplishment in corporations.

Musicing may be a welcome respite and a useful learning tool for companies wishing to increase morale and stimulate teamwork.

If you’re interested in what Musicing can do for your team or company, contact Luke Crookes at lukecrookes@me.com

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