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December 06 2011

Turner prizewinner Martin Boyce: 'The tree just sort of blossomed' – video

Martin Boyce speaks to Charlotte Higgins about the inspiration behind his installation Do Words Have Voices



December 05 2011

Martin Boyce wins Turner prize 2011

Martin Boyce receives £25,000 award, confirming Glasgow's indelible importance to Britain's art world

Having sculpted a quietly atmospheric, lyrically autumnal installation as his entry for the 2011 Turner prize, Martin Boyce was on Monday presented with the £25,000 award at a ceremony at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead.

Boyce, 44, is the third successive Turner winner either brought up or educated in Glasgow, following Susan Philipsz last year and Richard Wright in 2009, and he confirms the city's now indelible importance to Britain's art world.

The artist was born in Hamilton, and was among the first students to graduate from Glasgow School of Art's now famous environmental art course. His year included Douglas Gordon, who won the prize in 1996, and Nathan Coley, shortlisted in 2007.

The prize was handed to Boyce by photographer Mario Testino at the Gateshead gallery. It is the first time the Turner prize has been shown outside the Tate family of galleries, and only the second time outside London.

Boyce created an installation for the Turner that has the feel both of an interior space and a mournful municipal park. Trees (in fact, the pillars that support the gallery ceiling) loom, their geometric aluminium leaves dappling the light that is cast over the space. On the ground are scattered more leaves, this time cut from paper, each of them of the same rebarbative, angular shape.

There is a madly angular park bin, too. But there is also a desk, based on a library table by French modernist designer Jean Prouvé, with letters scratched into it as if by a schoolchild. Much of the artistic vocabulary for Boyce's installation derives from a modernist garden – complete with concrete trees – created by designers Joel and Jan Martel in Paris in 1925.

The judges praised his "opening up of a new sense of poetry", while Sir Nicholas Serota, director of Tate, not a member of the jury, commented: "He is an extraordinarily strong artist who has been steadily maturing over the past seven or eight years. He made an extremely strong show for the Venice Biennale in 2009 – and I am surprised he was not shortlisted then. It is a strong choice.

"He has consistently reinvented the language of early modern art, and he is deeply engaged in that. But he makes work that does not depend on an understanding of early modern art: it is beautiful and arresting in its own right."

Boyce was the bookies' favourite for the prize, but many will be disappointed that George Shaw, 44, missed out.

Shaw, who is based in Devon, paints the estate where he grew up near Coventry, skirting dangerously close to kitsch with his deadpan, affectless depictions of dreary side roads, locked-up shops, littered half-urban woods and derelict pubs – the depressing but utterly recognisable edgelands of suburban England.

He had been nominated for a solo exhibition at the Baltic earlier this year.

Karla Black, 38, is another shortlisted artist who was educated at the Glasgow School of Art and is still based in the city. Nominated for an exhibition at this year's Venice Biennale representing Scotland, her sculptures for the Turner show are simultaneously delicate and on a huge scale. Here are giant, rolled-up balls of sugar paper chalked over in ice-cream colours, "bath bombs" from a high-street toiletries chain and painted polythene sheets made to dangle from the ceiling by sticky tape.

The final shortlisted artist was Hilary Lloyd, 46, based in London. Working with video, she creates works that are part film and part sculpture, revelling in the physical apparatus of her hardware's cabling and projectors, and showing images – of say a road bridge, a shadow on the floor, or the moon – that are deliberately unedited. She was nominated for an exhibition at the London gallery Raven Row. Judges for the 2011 Turner prize were Godfrey Worsdale, director of Baltic, and curators Katrina Brown, Vasif Kortun and Nadia Schneider. They were chaired by the director of Tate Britain, Penelope Curtis.

The prize returns to London and Tate Britain in 2012. It will be based in Derry in 2013, with the intention it should travel to cities outside London in alternate years.

The Turner prize was founded in 1984 and is awarded to a British or Britain-based artist aged under 50 for an outstanding exhibition in the preceding year.

Previous winners include Rachel Whiteread (1994), Damien Hirst (1995) and Grayson Perry (2003). The Turner exhibition continues until 8 January.


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October 26 2011

Adrian Searle: 'It's confusing. But it's the Turner prize'

Adrian Searle passes his verdict on the Turner prize 2011 in Gateshead, where Martin Boyce, Hilary Lloyd, Karla Black and George Shaw mix mediums to unsettling effect



October 22 2011

Turner prize 2011 - review

Baltic, Gateshead; Hayward Gallery, London

George Shaw is an oddity in recent Turner prize history in that his paintings do exactly what they say on the tin. The tins in question are the little pots of Humbrol model paints with which he creates his meticulous one-size-fits-all scenes from the place he grew up, Tile Hill in Coventry. Eight of them are presented for his Turner prize 2011 show at the Baltic, four of which are new pieces. They quickly do away with arguments about sentiment and the limitations of simple depiction, and demand that you look.

If there is a soundtrack playing behind Shaw's compositions of the returned-to terrain of his 1980s adolescence it is the Specials' "Ghost Town". He finds traces of human occupation in his excavation of this recent past, like the shades of scrubbed-out graffiti on an end-of-terrace wall, but mostly this place is as emptied of life as Pompeii. He chooses his angles carefully. The places he dwells on, like his past itself, are boarded up and closed down to him. In the brick-built lock-ups of The Resurface even the ingrained child's-bike landscape of puddles and potholes, the gravelly contours of empty Sunday afternoons foregrounded in much of Shaw's painting, has been Tarmac-ed over.

Elsewhere, he can get only as close to the boxy houses of a new cul-de-sac as the wonky builders' fencing and rutted brownfield no man's land will allow. In The Assumption, his old primary school may have been razed but the gates remain stubbornly locked – one strut pulled out of true by some forgotten accident – along with the vestiges of the "Keep Clear" sign on the road.

Shaw's hobbyist's paints and Airfix eye for detail capture the diminished postwar reimagination of his corner of the city with an obsessive, metallic precision: the slowly accreted landfill mountain of black plastic sacks in The Same Old Crap; the brilliant comic incongruity of Landscape With Dog Shit Bin, an omphalos of council scarlet in the centre of a landscape leached of green by the drabness of the day and the neglected tiredness of verges and hedging.

Philip Larkin, another Coventry exile – Shaw now lives in north Devon – would have loved these paintings, but they are made with love as much as any kind of bitterness. They are also a hard act to follow.

The three other Turner nominees at the Baltic all make a strong fist of it, though. Martin Boyce is also much concerned with the interface between concrete and jungle. His work interrogates the implications of early modernist ideas of nature, in particular a photograph of four angular "tree" sculptures made by the artists Joel and Jan Martel in 1925.

He uses the leaf forms to create a kind of prefabricated ode to autumn; at ceiling height the stylised leaves become an elaborate lighting rig; flattened art deco versions of the pattern are adopted for ventilation grilles and a three-dimensional take becomes a waste bin. The floor is littered with paraffin-paper leaves artfully blown into piles.

Within this idealised municipal park, Boyce makes more personal statements; his angular forms are the basis of a self-invented hieroglyph typeface, etched into the school-desk surface of a work table inspired by an Eames design and referencing a Calder mobile. A utopian breeze from the 1920s seems to threaten to blow through these works and animate them – of nature and public spaces recrafted in harmony by the artist – but they remain as curiously inert and ghostly as George Shaw's shopping precincts.

Next door, there is creative nostalgia of a different kind in Karla Black's pastel swags and scrunched-up sugar paper hills and valleys which fill the room. The smells and colours are of a nursery school, and Black's make-believe landscape looks like a wilful return to more innocent artistic freedoms. She colours her polythene clouds by whacking them in a bin bag full of Early Learning Centre chalks until the colour sticks; pink bath bombs have part-exploded on her chalky hillsides. Beyond the sense of play there are primal psychologies at work, of a pure infant engagement with colour and material and form and, through adult eyes, all the loss of wonder it implies.

Hilary Lloyd's films are also hung up on barriers to wonder, especially the difficulties of looking itself. Moon is a pair of vertical screens on each of which 21 moving images of a full moon behind a clock tower outside the artist's window are projected. None will stay still for a moment; they flicker and bounce and move in and out of frame. You are reminded of the fragmentary rods and cones of vision, the way even the solidest of objects is pieced together from flickering fragments in the brain. Lloyd emphasises partiality – Shirt, a concentrated close up of a striped and spotted fabric, is a limited but smart illustration of how looking is as much to do with language as form – and you find yourself beginning to apply the same doubts to the complicated bridges and buildings that make up Gateshead through the adjacent window.

Going straight to the George Condo retrospective at the Hayward in London, after these discreet and concentrated slices of attention on Tyneside, is perhaps not the ideal juxtaposition. Condo's world is decidedly broad brush and translatlantic.

Having hung out with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat in the heady New York of 1980, Condo has trademarked a personal purgatorial cartoon world that is one part Francis Bacon, two parts Bugs Bunny. His satirical objects are the perceived grotesques of our times – The Stockbroker a jug-eared knucklehead with his pants down, a limp rag doll standing in for his manhood, or The Executive, who is pictured, for comic effect, beneath a dangling carrot (the Queen, in nine versions, and Jesus, in two, come in for similar Looney Tunes treatment).

Much is made of Condo's internal menagerie of characters – as if this were unusual among cartoonists – and the speed at which he works. His more recent semi-abstractions tend to ape art history standards – harlequins in search of a Picasso or whatever; Old masters are recast with his speciality gurning faces, in the same spirit that the Chapman brothers defaced their Goyas, but without the sacrilegious questions raised.

Satire generally requires some specificity; Condo mines instead the archetypal – the homeless drunk woman with a windmilling drinking arm; the dinner-jacketed toff with an unhinged libido – and attempts to make it extreme enough to resonate.

It didn't, for me, as a rule. I liked his Uncle Joe not so much for the figure's post-coital leer and the champagne glass balanced on the upturned sole of his foot, but for the fact that his mad, staring eye was somewhat reminiscent of Steve Bell's Tony Blair and the visual echo seemed fitting. In this kind of context, Condo's portraits of Her Majesty, goggle-eyed in most, a carrot through her head in one, surprise principally for their laziness. Quite endearingly, the artist acts as his own cheerleader in the catalogue – though the unlikely duo of Will Self and Kanye West also tout his genius. "They may not be pretty," Condo explains of his portraits, "but I think we can all see ourselves in these pictures; they are so hideous and yet so utterly real." Speak for yourself, George.


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October 21 2011

World of miseries

In the compact surrounds of Gateshead's Baltic gallery, George Shaw's miserabilist suburban brand of metaphysical painting marks him out as a strong contender for the 2011 Turner prize

The exhibition spaces given over to the four contenders for the 2011 Turner prize at Baltic in Gateshead are smaller than at Tate Britain, where the show usually takes place. This is no bad thing: the artists have to be concise.

When she represented Scotland at this year's Venice Biennale, Karla Black completely overdid her installation, and her Baltic show is much tighter, though still a joyous, childish mess. The way in is through a kind of airlock of dangling, paint-smeared polythene sheeting, like going into a spray-shed in a garage. Suspended precariously on bits of sellotape, you think the whole thing might collapse at any moment. Dried colour, poorly adhered to the plastic, sheers off in crumbly shards onto the floor.

Beyond are nests of scrunched-up cellophane and great wodges of torn and folded paper, painted in thin pinks and aqueous greens, the insipid tints of bath products and the poster paints kids use. A faint odour of deodorant and moisturiser hangs over Black's room-filling terrain of bulging, crinkled paper. It's like a kindergarten rockery. There's even a sort of grotto to rustle through.

Amid it all are Lush bath bombs, like little pastel cannonballs, and drifts and mounds of chalky pigment on the floor. I wish it were all more precise, or added up to something magical. I want more mystery and pleasure. I feel like mum, hands on hips, shouting: "Clear up all this mess NOW, or no TV for you!" This is painting or sculpture by other means, but it's all indeterminate abstraction, with its little formal niceties, the rips and folds and dustings of colour, the occasional finger-painted daubs. Black's work is fading on me, fast.

While Black attempts a sort of pre-linguistic, haptic play, Hilary Lloyd revels in a kind of techno-fetishism. Her room at the Baltic is alive with images, screens, trolleys and swanky suspension units. The ranks of projectors, the pole-mounted screens, the DVD players and monitors are as important as the hovering, flickering images they display. Images of part of a tower block shuffle about one screen, sheering and joggling against milky whiteness. Here they come, there they go. The rhythm of their passing is nice. In another work, the pistonlike movements of an unknown, silhouetted object – it could be a sink-plunger – thrust this way and that against a wooden floor.

The camera dwells on a patterned shirt, looking like an indoor landscape in a white room and, on a second screen, drifting off into static, or an inverted bleached-out after-image of the same thing. I am not really sure what I am looking at. Nor whether to sit and look, wander about, focus on the images, at the apparatus, even at my own shoes. All this drifting is the point, I think. One wall of Lloyd's space is a floor-to-ceiling window. Against it two screens, mounted one high above the other, display a fragmented, nocturnal London. Low-volume police sirens wail from the speakers. Big Ben hoves in and out of view. Is that the moon, or headlights in the night? The fragmentary images jerk and wallow around with a kind of rhythmic urgency, against the real, elevated view through the window, Newcastle and Gateshead going round a bend in the river. The real view wins.

Soon, all Lloyd's paraphernalia of projectors and DVD players, monitors and digital HD-branded hardware will look out of date. Later it will acquire a kind of redundant technology retro-chic. The images they display will be as inscrutable and inconsequential as they appear now, still swaying, going in and out of focus, still doing their thing, interminably as well as to no particular end. Paradoxically, that's when they might become interesting.

I like Martin Boyce's room very much. It feels like a place that's both real and fictional, present and past. From the decorative, fake ventilation grilles set low down in the walls to the suspended ceiling of flip-flapping white metal shapes hanging beneath the lights, casting a dapple of geometric shadows over the walls, it is a good place to be. The centrepiece is a library table, all canted angles, hidden over-slung lighting, solidity and frippery, confusing itself with a hanging mobile that dangles from above on a chain. Taking its inspiration from a library table by French designer Jean Prouvé, the table has a wood worktop inscribed with fragmentary letters and words, like an old school desk. It is an object you'd like to sit at, thinking complicated thoughts.

Boyce's installation is a play on modernist high style, with a twist. Most of all I like the geometric autumn leaves, made from waxy crepe paper, that drift and pile up in corners of the room. The whole installation is a play on insides and outsides, mental space and physical place. Look in the wonky rubbish bin and its binbag turns out to be woven, like an upturned, involuted jumper. I can't catch all the references to utopian modernist aesthetics, but just being here is pleasure enough. Perhaps Lloyd and Black want their installations to be places to be and linger in, too, places to sit and wait and ponder. But I guess the crowds won't allow that kind of meandering desultory contemplation.

George Shaw's paintings, on the other hand, depict places you want to escape from. You can take Shaw out of Tile Hill, Coventry, but you can't take the post-war housing estates out of Shaw. This is his perennial subject, with its abandoned 1950s follies, the Barratt homes and 60s semis, the scruffy woodlands and graffitied shop-fronts. Where Constable might paint a distant farmboy in a red shirt, to counterpoint all the bosky greenery, Shaw gives us a red-painted dogshit bin.

The feral woodlands, the brown field sites and the wanton atmosphere demarcate a familiar zone. Lucian Freud and Michael Andrews sometimes painted a similarly forlorn decrepitude, and, at his best, so did LS Lowry. Shaw records a perennial Sunday – or possibly Thursday – afternoon in indeterminate weather, and there's never anyone about. Shaw's paintings are always rendered in Humbrol enamel, the paint hobbyists and kids hard at it with their model plane kits use. Or did, before computer games took over.

Shaw has eight smallish paintings in the Turner show, some of which were shown in his immensely popular exhibition at the Baltic earlier this year, for which he was nominated. Shaw is popular because he speaks about his corner of England – though it could be anywhere – with a kind of melancholic truth. Shaw's art chimes in with an England of Tony Hancock and Philip Larkin, Orwell and Morrissey's Every Day is Like Sunday. Shaw's is a miserabilist suburban sort of metaphysical painting. The paint itself has a nothingy, curdled quality, like the place and the weather it depicts. It's all atmosphere, or the lack of one. And his art is always the same, everything just getting slowly worse and unloved and a little more embittered, just like England itself.

Should Shaw win? I prefer the hope I find in Boyce, whose elegant, astringent aesthetic appeals. There's hope in what he offers. But somehow I think Shaw should win, with his small miseries. He gives us the world we live in.


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May 06 2011

Artists kiss goodbye to London

The Turner prize shortlist – determinedly non-metropolitan – shows that the British art scene is broader and more geographically spread than ever

Every year the Turner prize shortlist is drawn up by four judges with individual tastes, outlooks and backgrounds. There is no continuity, and the prize is not a lifetime achievement award, but rather aims to rigorously reward the four best exhibitions staged by artists under 50 who are based in Britain. There's a limit, then, to the grand, sweeping conclusions one can come to about the state of the art based on the year's Turner prize contenders. And yet, and yet... there is a sense in which, taken together, the nominations, over their 27-year history, provide a crude kind of barometer to taste and trends in British art. Even that's not simple, though. It's easy to talk about a kind of Britart "heyday" in the mid-1990s for the prize: Damien Hirst won in 1995 and Gillian Wearing in 1997; but it was the sui generis Douglas Gordon who won in 1996; and Tracey Emin, though she was nominated in 1999, lost out to Steve McQueen, too much of an individual to be plugged into a YBA classification. And of course, it's impossible to distance the Turner prize from its reception: the prize has always been "about" how its artists have been labelled by the media as much as what its artists' practices have actually been aiming to achieve.

Bearing in mind all those provisos, then, what I would nevertheless extrapolate from this year's shortlist is that the centre of British art seems to be drifting away (and not before time) from London. This year, there are two Glasgow artists, Martin Boyce and Karla Black, on the list. Of the others, Hilary Lloyd is based in London but painter George Shaw in Devon. Last year's winner was Susan Philipsz, who was born in Glasgow, studied in Belfast and lives in Berlin. The year before that, was another Glasgow artist: the English-born but Scotland-raised Richard Wright, who studied at Glasgow School of Art and still lives in the city. Lucy Skaer, who also trained in Glasgow, joined him on that shortlist. What we are seeing is the success of a generation of artists, now mid-career, who were educated at Glasgow at the height of its powers (some, but not all, coming from the environmental art department which had such effect on those who passed through it). It's interesting that none of the artists on this year's list completed their undergraduate degrees in London (it was Sheffield and Newcastle for Shaw and Lloyd).

There's only so far you can go with this: next year every shortlisted artist will probably live in Hackney. But I'd like to think – as juror Katrina Brown put it – that the geographical spread is a sign of the increasing maturity of the contemporary art scene in Britain. It is no longer concentrated in the few square miles around east London, but finds ways of flourishing all around the country: surely something that is echoed – and will be helped in the future – by the proliferation of contemporary art galleries outside the capital, from the beautifully refurbished Mostyn in north Wales, to the about-to-open Hepworth in Wakefield and FirstSite in Colchester, the newly minted Turner Contemporary in Margate and the recent Mima in Middlesbrough and Baltic in Gateshead – the last being where, appropriately, the Turner prize exhibition will be held this year.


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May 04 2011

Turner prize shortlist 2011: the artists – in pictures

Painters George Shaw and Karla Black are joined on this year's Turner prize shortlist by sculptor Martin Boyce and video artist Hilary Lloyd



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