o Right now, cigarettes seem to be a popular subject in contemporary art. Damien Hirst exhibits overflowing ashtrays and cabinets of butt ends, Tracey Emin puffs up a storm and piles up the stubs around her famous “Bed”, and Sarah Lucas, another leading lighter-up of British art, is currently drawing on the power of nicotine in her new show at Sadie Coles. “The fag show” includes a cigarette-covered life-jacket, a beaten-up chair wearing a bra filled with two footballs painstakingly covered with spirals of cigarettes, and two large self-portraits which trace out Lucas’s features in carefully applied lines of Marlboro Lights. Although she has given up the filthy weed, it is still very much on her mind. But, as the famous cigar addict Sigmund Freud would confirm, smoking is a symbolic activity and it is no slip that Lucas, whose art relies for much of its impact on our powers of association, also has a concurrent exhibition this month at the Freud Museum in Hampstead.
o Tony Oursler is another artist who taps into the subconscious and his new work at the Lisson Gallery includes a large scale installation of video sculptures whose subject matter runs from camera obscuras and the redefining of perspective to public and personal depictions of good and evil. There are glass devils lit by video projections, a rotating colour wheel with a video overlay of talking heads and a projection of a man struggling to free himself from a glass bottle. Imagery taken from television broadcasts is overlaid with more personal themes of evil and alienation to create an intensely disquieting environment where nothing is fixed or finite.
o At Fa1 Contemporary Art, there is more boundary blurring as Matthew Smith’s floor sculpture spreads across the gallery like an island vaguely recognisable as Britain, but with sections of coastline displaced and reordered. This uncanny land, at once both strange and familiar, stands as an apt symbol of a country in which technology shrinks distances, towns blur into countryside and notions of regional and national identity are becoming increasingly eroded.
o The latest artist to join the White Cube stable is Neil Tait, who finished his Royal College MA in 1993 and whose quietly disturbing small scale paintings present a lower key alternative to the gallery’s more throat grabbing line-up. For his first solo show at White Cube, Tait has painted a number of ghostly, mask-like portrait heads, that have the blank, etiolated appearance of Flemish panel paintings, but at the same time, although they are built up in translucent layers of oil paint, have the frozen, “captured” quality of photographic or mechanically reproduced images.
o Two more young painters of promise are on show at Gallery Westland Place this month: Katie Pratt’s combination of buckled, dripped paint surfaces and meticulous, almost forensic marking came to wide notice last year when she was included in New Contemporaries 99; Jo Bruton highlights her canvas surfaces using delicate layers of paint and glass beads to produce stretched, lace-like lattices. Prices range, according to size, from £1,500 to £3,800.
o Visitors with spots before their eyes from looking at Yayoi Kusama’s solo show at the Serpentine Gallery can drive themselves even more dotty at Victoria Miro Gallery, which is featuring five artists, including Kusama herself, who use dots, droplets, spots and circular shapes as recurring elements in their work. As well as Kusama’s polka dots, nets and circular macaroni, “Spot on” features the shimmering canvases of Peter Doig, the amoeboid forms of Ross Bleckner, the collaged canvases of Udomsak Krisanamis and a new work, “Mono rojo”, by Chris Ofili.
o At Modern Art Inc every surface has been completely smothered, not with dots, but with woodblock prints, courtesy of Richard Woods, who is best known for re-painting the surfaces of found objects, such as “rolls of carpet” into ersatz versions of themselves. His current installation gives computer equipment, bikes and old TV sets, as well as the floor, walls and ceiling, the surface treatment, but this time using the most low tech method of reproduction.
o Walls fuse with ceilings in the new Clerkenwell premises of Blue Gallery who have employed ultra -groovy dECOi architects and the engineering force of Ove Arup to create a space in which the standard white box is substituted for “amorphous fluid forms” and “warm sensual curves”. Their opening show goes by the name of “Manifesto” with part one this month consisting of painters and photographers from the UK and beyond, including Mark Fairnington, (UK) Tim Maguire (Australia) and Leslie Wayne (US).
o George Shaw is probably best known for his meticulous paintings in Humbrol enamel that went on show at East 99 and John Moores 21 last year. However, at Lift his painstaking work is just one element of a collaborative exhibition with his artist flat-mate John Strutton which transforms the gallery into a cross between an insane teenager’s bedroom and an artist’s studio. As well as paintings and works on paper there is an abundance of personal ephemera—from Ladybird books to photographs and a cricket bat—which also plays a vital part in feeding their imaginations.
o Peter Sedgley’s optical paintings and radical kinetic experiments with coloured light not only attracted attention in the 60s and 70s, but continue to strike an utterly contemporary chord in the work of young artists such as Ugo Rondinone whose soft focus concentric circles could have come straight from Sedley’s studio. Because he has lived in Berlin since 1972, Sedgley is rarely seen in the UK and so his current London show at Austin Desmond is a rare chance to see his work, (prints for £150, major pieces for £8,000).
o Artists are doing it for themselves in Battersea this month at what has become the UK’s largest artists’ art fair. Over 150 practitioners from all over Great Britain are converging on Battersea Arts Centre for the Battersea Contemporary Art Fair where they can sell their own paintings, prints, sculptures and photographs direct, with no dealer’s commission. Works range from traditional to experimental and prices reflect the lack of gallery percentage ranging from £25 to £2,500. L.B.