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“I Could Do That!” – A Lesson Learned By A Modern Art Sceptic

A Lesson Learned By A Modern Art Sceptic

 by Hollie Lancaster, October 2015

I grew up always surrounded by art, as my Mum is a graduate from Art College, and has expertly explored many different styles and mediums over the years. Unfortunately, none of this talent transferred onto me. Friends have always mocked my efforts of mastering something as simple ‘stick men’; my art teacher at school actually asked me not to take Standard Grade Art*, despite my enthusiasm for the subject and the fact that she only had 4 other students take it up.

* The Scottish equivalent of a GCSE

I’m not bitter, and my mum understands my plight. Her (and her mantel-piece) have suffered first-hand experience of my creations – a clay giraffe that resembled a diplodocus/elephant love-child; my still life drawings whose perspectives were so far off, that even Salvador Dali would have thought they needed some ‘straightening up’. And the final straw, my Mum always had to be on my Pictionary team.

But my lack of any artistic skill hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for appreciating art. In fact, whether home or abroad, I have always been drawn to explore the nearest gallery. Aberdeen Art Gallery was the first I ever visited, and I remember being blown-away by “Flood in the Highlands” by Edwin Henry Landseer; I even bought a poster print that I proudly hung on my bedroom wall.

Flood in the Highlands by Edwin Henry Landseer

Since then, (not meaning to brag) I have been privileged enough to have visited the Uffizi in Florence, Guggenheim in NYC, Espace Dali and The Louvre in Paris, Musee Picasso in Antibes and, closer to home, the Tates’ Modern, Britain and St. Ives, to name but a few (ok, so there is a little gloating going on). On each occasion, I have always outlasted the patience of my accompanying Mum or husband (who likes to remind me of his A in A-level Art), as I make sure that no piece is left unseen and that I leave, at the very least, with a postcard of my favourite piece.

Now when I said I appreciate art, I probably should specify a little. I like what I like, and I’m not narrow-minded to a particular style or era. However, I am ashamed to say that when it comes to so called ‘modern’ art, I’m so sorry, but I just don’t get it. I see a stuffed crow on a stick or a bunch of newspapers glued to a canvas, and betray my quiet nature by bursting out with “I could do that!”.

My most recent incident was at the Hood Museum of Art in Hanover, New Hampshire. Floor one spoilt you with a superb display of works, varying from ancient Assyrian stone reliefs to striking pieces by Georgia O’Keeffe. As we headed upstairs to the special exhibition, “Auto-Graphics”, I could feel my husband cringe at my side…as before us unfolded a collection of the ‘classic’ giant white canvasses, demonstrating big block colour blobs, squiggles and circles. That dreaded phrase was on the tip of my tongue.

And then we moved closer.

Victor Ekpuk

Victor Ekpuk

My naivety immediately shamed me. In front of us were the most intriguing works I think I’ve ever seen. The larger block coloured pictures we’d seen from a distance, were in fact made up of thousands of tiny interlinking graphics. I was mesmerised by the confidence shown in the continuance of the line through-out, and also hypnotised into exploring each unique and fun ‘hieroglyphic’ style symbol.

The master behind these incredibly intricate pieces is Nigerian artist Victor Ekpuk. He has developed his own unique “Glyphs” style of expression following his University studies of the nsibidi, a form of encoded writing with symbols, as well as other graphic and writing systems from ancient African cultures. Another influence that I can see in his work, is Ekpuk’s previous job as illustrator and cartoonist for a Nigerian newspaper. All his “script” flows purely from his memory and “personal archive”.

Victor Ekpuk

Victor Ekpuk

My respect was extended further when I discovered that to open his exhibitions, Ekpuk creates a unique piece in each gallery, often using chalk and blackboard, as live action art; only then for it to be washed away at the end of his residency! It is refreshing that he is not ‘precious’ about his works, and demonstrates a refreshing way to involve an audience.

I really have been schooled in the old adage, “don’t judge a book by its cover”. Thank you Victor Ekpuk for challenging me to look deeper into all art, for converting this contemporary art skeptic, and creating a less embarrassing gallery companion for my husband!

I really have been schooled in the old adage, “don’t judge a book by its cover”. Thank you Victor Ekpuk for challenging me to look deeper into all art, for converting this contemporary art skeptic, and creating a less embarrassing gallery companion for my husband!

Victor Ekpuk is coming to London! His “Portraits” exhibition can be found at the Sulger-Buel Lovell Gallery until 24th October.

If you can’t get to London, check out this Youtube clip to see what you’re missing!

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