From time to time I write art /culture reviews of various exhibitions. See here for a selection.


Chelsea Flower Show 2012

The two ladies behind me stretched to try to see over the crowd in front of Diarmud Gavin’s garden. Did he get anything? I don’t think so. Can you see the sign? No. I don’t think he got anything. I couldn’t resist. I turned around to tell them I think he got a silver-gilt. Aaah they said. Ta.

Chelsea. The Flower Show. It’s easy to forget it’s for a charity it has become such a landmark event. The great and the good of all things floral and garden feature flock here every year. This is the hard core, the militant wing of seed growers and Iris fanciers (of which I now realise I am one). Where else will you find the Delphinium Society, indeed any Delphinium Society? Or a stream of people who all notice the same new and interesting pale blue flower and who all ask it’s name – it turns out to be flax.

The Show has a ritual all of it’s own, and it is vital to join in and do the rites as proscribed to get the full effect.

We weren’t entirely sure which tube station to get off at, just somewhere after Victoria. We needn’t have worried. At Sloane Square station elegant posters told us to ‘alight here’ for the show.

Phot by CJ Fanning 2012

Dressed for Chelsea

We could have guessed anyway had we looked at the platform, clearly awash with people kitted out for the show. It’s a tribe, the dress code is clear. Summer frock. Sun hat. Roomy shoulder bag and sensible shoes. The truly organised bring a collapsible plastic trolley with wheels.

Outside the station the procession of sunhats and florals drifted along a couple of side streets to the main gates. Touts begged us for spare tickets or tried to sell us extras. The papers had reported these were now changing hands for six times the original price. Suddenly Chelsea was the hottest and hippest ticket in town.

A queue had formed for the free canvas bag with the picture of an Iris. But it was hot, we headed for the grassy bit near the bandstand to have a little think and read the catalogue to plan our campaign.

The first priority was to work out how soon we could reasonably have a Pimms. This settled, we headed for the show gardens first followed by the Grand Pavilion.

It was hot. Incredibly hot. And crowded. The sun baked down on us. We soldiered on.  By the afternoon the sunshine and walking were taking their toll. I expect the couple of Pimms helped. Along with many others we found a gap in the crowd on a grassy spot under the shade of a tree and lay down to take a power nap. The band played Duke Ellington and Forties songs.  Naturally I got up looking like a lobster.

Photo by Cj Fanning 2012

Posh Ladies Loos

Strangely, the ladies loos deserve a mention. Usually the bane of these events is the dreaded portaloo. But on this occasion no such trauma. Inside a very large tent were more than enough cubicles, so the queues were quick. But the tour de force was the indoor fountain where ladies washed their hands, with a selection of scented hand gels, all bathed in mellow light from the canvas roof. It was really very pleasant!

We all assiduously collected the plant lists from the gardens and all asked the same questions. There were three deep at each so a bit of shuffling required to get close. The overall impression of the gardens this year was of pale mauve and white. The other interesting theme was the use of plants not usually associated with flower beds, the aforementioned Flax was a show stealer a delicate star petaled flower but with an electric tang that made sure it stood out adding a bright zing to the planting. . Another plant – Giant Sea Kale – was allowed to flower into dramatic statuesque bundles of white flowers looking a lot like a gigantic gypsophelia. Grasses and ferns featured too. Water was generally in straight edged ponds and still. The exception to this was Gavin’s huge pyramid of planted terraces, which I suspect worked best looking out from the centre.

The nurseries have their displays of show plants and the latest varieties inside the big tent of the Grand Marquee. The burgundy Iris was here again and a stunning almost black frilled edge tulip. A display of primula was almost surreal the white centres were so sharp.

Photo by CJ Fanning 2012

Look what I bagged!

Saturday is the last day of the show and at the end of the day the flowers and plants are sold off but only after 4pm. Before that people can book their plant on some stalls with little tags being tied around the stems, but for others you just have to queue.

The tannoy crackled into life across the Grand Marquee. A fission of excitement rippled over the queue of ladies in summer frocks. We were ready for the off. The posh RHA voice announced ‘The Sell Off will begin at the sounding of the bell’. The gong went off. And at once all over the tent plants began to float upwards gently and drift over the ropes to the waiting outstretched hands of delighted gardeners. It had begun.  From this point on the whole edifice of flowers begins to disassemble itself as people and plants mix together and everyone heads for the exits.

Outside all along the Kings Road the plants float along above the heads of the crowds, bobbing and waving towards pubs and tubes. Recent visitors nod to each other in acknowledgment spotting the tell tale signs; that bag, a plant on the tube, a rare occasion of strangers in London connecting.  We ended the day in a local very traditional pub, the next table along being shared with a couple of ornamental trees.

Another year another show; roll on next year.

Camilla Fanning 2012 For La Flaneur

Soggy Tapas

A thin stream of rainwater followed the delicate arabesque of the Moorish fretwork before falling to the tiled floor where it bounced before being lost in the general deluge.

Damp groups of soggy cold tourists huddled together for warmth and to admire the Alhambra through driving rain. We made brave dashes from archway to archway across the elegant courtyards of the Nazrid Palaces; past the rain-pockmarked pools that should have been glassy mirrors in bright sunshine. We shivered as we admired the rich blues and reds of encaustic tiles and froze as we marvelled at intricately carved ceilings. The palace was carefully designed to create cool in the blistering heat of a Granadian summer so in this weather it was effectively a walk in freezer.

If the bus ride up was a rampant dash then the ride back down was a feat of daring only for the brave. The extremely wee bus scooted down hills so steep the floor inside the bus sloped at a forty-five degree angle, but we were packed in close enough to keep ourselves upright. Standing at the front I could see white walls approaching at speed whenever the slippery road took a sharp turn and more than once I wondered idly if I was about to make the evening news for all the wrong reasons.

I had arrived to perfect sunshine and heat, and having left Ireland at 5am was still wearing a thermal vest and had done the dance of the seven veils to remove it while waiting for the airport bus. I soon found myself sitting with my travel mate under the arbour of a small taverna beside a baroque church for my first experience of tapas. I was hooked. We set about truing as many as possible, tapas being a speciality of Granada. However, that was the last we saw of the sun.

The Bodega Carteneda is considered the oldest tapas bar in Granada and is famous for its wide menu selection and glorious atmosphere. Waiters yelled continuously, the bar was mobbed, the small space packed with happy Granadians while huge platters of rationes were ferried high over the heads of the crowd. A warm fug of happy people permeated the room and we soon got a spot at the counter opposite the galley kitchen where we could see what was going on. On the first night we ordered the hot tapas half ratione and a wooden platter arrived with enough food for a small horse.

Photo by CJ Fanning 2012

A street in the Albaicin Quarter

We braved the rain to walk among the narrow alleys and streets of The Albaicín section of Granada. The guidebooks would have you believe that this was the dodgy part of town, warned ominously about thieves and bandits, we saw none. White painted walls and black wrought iron bars of nestled tall houses clustered up the hill, often we turned a corner to see the walls of the Alhambra laid across the crest of the hill opposite, an Arabian nights palace in dusky pink stone.

Photo by CJ Fanning

A Tiled Patio

We walked down steep hilly cobbled streets looking into tiny courtyards of exuberantly colourful mosaic patios, and passed a guitar maker in his workshop.  A medieval Moorish bathhouse was quiet and still in the centre of the tourist zone. A place to sit and contemplate, avoid heat, have a chat, tiled water cisterns for a quick splash. It may have been the ambience but it still had the echoes of past times. The sky trickled grey rain.

The bar with the recommended Flamenco show was booked solid, but the sun was over the yardarm somewhere, so we tried the local sherry. Solana – rich amber liquid, thicker and sweeter than most Sherries. And the tapas they brought with it was midas. This wonderful dish is made of fine breadcrumbs fried in bacon fat with roasted garlic, garnished with bits of bacon and fried green peppers.

In the evening we made our way to the Sacromonte area to find anything flamenco, we knew it was likely to be at the touristy end of the spectrum, but we were in the mood, and guidebooks promised us gypsies in caves. It turned out to be a pretty hillside street lined with taverns built into what looked like old cellars. The floorshows were what you would expect, perfectly pleasant but soulless, no duende here.

The next morning the rain came down in sheets, rivulets running between our feet as we peered from under an umbrella into shop windows full of excoriating tat – bliss! Surely it is only on holiday that these shops hold such an allure. Shelves were packed with tiny colourful things of a generally Spanish theme, flamenco hair combs, an array of folded fans, dodgy painted pottery and tiles and for reasons unknown a vast collection of dolls house furniture. Just stuff.

My companion bravely tolerated my shopping compulsion for longer than I had any right to expect and then he consulted his notes to see which tapas bar we hadn’t yet frequented. The tiny Reca bar is rightly famous for its Salmorejo. This is a cold tomato soup of sorts but  that description doesn’t do it justice. It was sweet with tomato ripened under a Spanish sun but gently sharp with a hint of vinegar.

That evening we decided the time had come for the mother and father of all tapas crawls.  This was going to present some logistical problems. If we were purist, and ate only whatever the bars decided to give us free with each drink  then we were likely to become seriously pickled early on and not last long enough to try out very many tapas. If on the other hand we ordered them ourselves we removed the random element. So we compromised, let nature take its course for the first drink in each bar, then get more strategic. The other logistical problem that emerged early on was that we were seriously lacking in capacity to consume the incredibly generous portions being served. However, we were on a mission so soldiered on as best we could trying out as wide a variety as possible.

The décor of Los Manueles was grotty Formica but there was a lively crowd. The free tapas arrived, an unappealing stew, then we spotted deep fried anchovies on the menu and promptly forgot our plan.

Nearby in the Bodega Castañed the winner was a plate of lettuce, artichoke hearts and salted anchovies dressed only in sweet olive oil with a dusting of dry dill, and was more than the sum of its parts. We carried on.

Cervecceria La Plaza had a leg of Jamon Serrano on a stand, we watched as a new one was opened and the careful carving began. It was served on a wooden platter with olives and salted almonds. We were defeated.

It rained solidly for three days without let up. We trudged around in it damp and cold. But truth be told although I know this to be true it’s not what I remember. Granada is a warm place in any weather, the orange stone, churros and hot chocolate for breakfast and crowded bars with their profligate tapas endlessly inviting.

That said, just to be sure, next time I will go in June.

Camilla Fanning 2012 For La Flaneur

© Camilla Fanning 2012


Greyson Perry and Alan Measles at the British Museum – The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman by Camilla Fanning

We are met at the door by a Teddy Bear in a decorative shrine on a matching multicoloured Harley in bright pinks and yellows – think Indian festive elephant meets sixties psychedelic. This is Alan Measles, the main protagonist in Perry’s work and a recurrent character in all of the exhibits. The Harley, Alan and Perry completed a real life pilgrimage across Germany together and now the bike is here to welcome visitors to the show. It sets the tone perfectly. This is art as serious fun.

Alan Measles is Grayson’s teddy bear of 50 years acquaintanceship and as such has played the vital childhood role of dashing hero repelling enemies and later as friend and confident along life’s path, as such he is the perfect witness – and the essence of discretion.  A worthy collaborator in this work imagination.

The collection inside the show is heart stoppingly beautiful while rib ticklingly humorous.  The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman explores the very meaning of craft and identity. Who are these anonymous makers and how much does it matter that we don’t know their names? In an era of celebrity it is a timely question.

Throughout the exhibition Perry has chosen key artefacts from the Museum’s collection entirely according to his own whims. The influence of Alan is clear however, and the teddy bear becomes an iconographic element within images on a variety of surfaces in a variety of media., and in a disorientating turn also emerges within many of the historical artefacts.

The place is hopping as only an exhibition on a Sunday afternoon in London can be. And there is the noticeable presence of children who need no help in understanding what they are seeing. They are running around and thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Perry has used traditional materials to make modern images and objects and set these beside a selection from history. As you would expect from medieval and tribal art many of these look surprisingly modern, the sensibility at least is very similar.

Greyson Perry

Rosetta Vase by Greyson Perry

The large ceramic vases hark back to the pottery collections in the Museum but are covered in gaudy decals of modern images interlaced with oriental and old English decorations. The effect is mesmerising. The overall impression – I want one!

Indeed, due to Perry’s inspired use of various means and materials along the route through the works it becomes progressively more difficult to tell apart the pieces made by Perry from those from the Museum collections.

The context is the notion of pilgrimage as a path through life. A map of the Pilgrims Way inspires a huge wall tapestry of events and locations in Perry’s own past. All made with the verve and colourful excitement that is evident in so much of his work.

Map of Truths

Closeup of Map of Truths by Greyson Perry

He also allows his quirky sense of humour to sneak out in many pieces which at first glance seem more serious. A couple of large sculptures side by side represent a Him & Her of pilgrims – and is it my imagination that she is carrying a lot more than the man? These are simultaneously both beautiful poignant images of humanity at its most basic and elegant and stunning works of art.  What’s more they are just one in a series of wonderful pieces by Perry scattered along the path of the exhibition.

We come around a corner to see a huge fertility symbol version of Alan Measles who presents himself in the company of a Síle-ne-Gig – neither leaving much to the imagination.

As we reach the end of the exhibition a glass case displays what must surely be one of the most iconic versions of Alan Measles yet, a small hessian doll with large eyes and a triangular head. It is only when we look at the label that the coup-de-grace is delivered with unfailing accuracy. This piece is from medieval Puru.  We walk out of the exit only aware that somehow Greyson Perry has managed to blend with history, and inevitably, with an even greater sense of admiration for those nameless and faceless generations of artists and makers of the past.

This exhibition has been extended to until 26th of February

© Camilla Fanning 2012

Dublin Contemporary 2011 by Camilla Fanning 

On a typical rainy day you step into the shiny white entrance to Dublin Contemporary and know you are somewhere worth being.

Earlsfort Terrace

Earlsfort Terrace

The exhibition uses spaces across Dublin but the epicentre is Earlsfort Terrace. You are led through a labyrinthine series of rooms on three floors containing a variety of exhibits from installations to paintings. In a space called ‘the office of non-compliance’ debates are planned.

As you walk the corridors and floors there is a sense of being a visitor to Bedlam, peeking into the cells of inmates. The corridors and doorways are narrow increasing this sense of huddle and jostle. Clusters of art enthusiasts block doors.

The artist preview was packed. A mixed crowd trod the path diligently, examining every corner. Raincoats and sharp suits, tall men with hair buns strolled, tweed jackets frowned. There were a lot of smart phones. Bob Geldof kept his camera handy as one of the curators gave him a tour.

I stopped to chat to a local arts officer. We agreed it was great to have this show here in Dublin. I asked if he’d like to do similar in his locale. He replied wistfully if only he had the space! We decided he would need to commandeer the whole town.

With no refreshments laid on, corridors long and the route complicated, one enduring memory is a combination of thirst, sore feet and vague disorientation. I decided the best thing to do was ignore the map and follow my nose. This worked out fine. A few simple signs at the start and a fair few blocked routes keep you on track. Bring provisions.

The exhibition gets better as you go up the floors, partly due to tuning in, but also because many of the most stunning pieces are kept to last. That said, along the way there are still gems to be seen.

Wilfredo Prieto

Nebulosa 2009 by Wilfredo Prieto

Walk into a large bright airy room to see a cloud of silver suspended overhead, only to realise with a shudder that this is made entirely of sharply gleaming razor wire. It doesn’t take long to wonder what happens if it falls. And to sense the strange dichotomy between reality and image.

A small room is stuffed with tin foil satellite dishes – both eerie and laughable. It seems to ask who decided we are going to talk to the universe and what if the universe replies? Will our tin hats protect us then?

Painting is represented, including a small soulful landscape by Mairead O’hEocha. A church bell on a pile of books are tied up with ropes, a potent image of repression.  The Irish duo Cleary & Connolly give us a wonderful black and


Studio 1 Plus/Minus by Cleary & Connolly

white interactive video projection, inviting and elegant, ‘interrupted by people’ who become the image.


The Cradle by Wang Du

A huge rocking bed invites us to push it, but the signs say don’t. TV screens over the bed dribble on about world news, positioned so a supine head could watch but still snooze.

Some bits were a bit dubious. I did find myself distracted by a pile of old palettes in the car park, varied tones from rain, sharpened by a shaft of sunlight, looking good by comparison to whatever it was had failed to hold my attention inside.

Some of the art displayed is trite, bordering on agi-prop and with a distinctly adolescent sense of outrage. It gets wearing. Then you look into a room and your blood runs cold.

The piece that did this for me was the room of empty desks and chairs made of flaking plasterboard, an empty crisp packet and coke tin indicates the pupils. In the corner Rome burns on a screen. In a cracked and crumbling world, a bankrupt civilisation constructs its generations, already defeated. It sent a chill down my spine.

The star of the show is the building. Earlsfort Terrace itself is stunning. In some instances it outshines the exhibits. This is a wonderful venue and I hope it is used again.

It took a good two hours to go round and that was without going to the other venues. Whatever you may think of conceptual or contemporary art this exhibition is a landmark event and not to be missed.  It is well worth the time and effort.   A must see.

Published –

© Camilla Fanning 2011

Draw the Line (January 18th -29th 2011) by Camilla Fanning

Crisp air, strong smell of hops from Guinness, an escape from the mad evening traffic to a quite parking spot on Fishamble Lane. A Christchurch bell rings out the quarter hour. I stroll down Temple Bar to the Monster Truck Gallery for the opening of ‘Draw the Line’ their latest exhibition; the perfect Dublin evening.

The Gallery is a lovely clean space, the works are displayed unframed on the walls – pinned or hanging from clips – it is a rare treat to see the surface up close and not behind glass. They range from abstract modern to the more traditional and representational with everything in between. The drinkies on offer are beer and water, a nod to the times, but the lively crowd here don’t seem to mind as they swig from their longnecks.

Curated by Dr. Ruth Pelzer-Montada of Edinburgh College of Art the exhibition showcases both drawing and printmaking, and examines the relationships between the two – she writes ‘closely associated throughout history, as with a great many current art forms, these two now broadly encompass previously disparate practices such as installation, video, digital image modes, animation and three-dimensional work’.

Alteration by Debra Ando Printmaker

Alteration by Debra Ando Printmake

I walk around the exhibition. A glorious red construction of overlapping prints, the colour radiating in its depth catches the eye at once.   I meet up with the artist Debora Ando. I ask her to tell me about the work “in Alteration my starting point was the horizon line in Sao Paulo city where at any time of the day a line of pollution can be seen” she explains “I used spitbite on copper deliberately as it gives me a more velvety and delicate result. The piece Alteration is composed of 20 prints, working with the principle of self destructive art, as each time the matrix is printed the grains of the spitbite get worn down. The series is about the ongoing changes on the plate surface that will show further destruction”.

On the wall my eye is caught by a quirky work drawn on a desktop – literally, the old wooden surface covered in pencil drawings. Killian Dunne is looking at drawing at its simplest, he says “Vintage scenes, fonts, cartoons and designs are depicted from an era before the influence and ideals of prepackaged graffiti culture, where graffiti was more pure in its expression. Graffiti is drawing in its most accessible, venerable, disposable form, abandoned by its artist, and often erased by authorities it has none of the great intent print has to record history”. The piece also has a cheeky humour, the ‘little visual pun’ on desktop is intentional.

A small but exceptionally colourful screen print grabs the attention nearby. I ask the artist Mo Levy about it.  She says ‘FizzBomb’ is part of a series exploring the taste & experience of cheap sweets – others in the series include  ‘BlackJack’  and  ‘ PopRocks’.  I can almost taste the colours.

We are waiting for the video ‘Stage E’ to start. It will be run once during the opening because it needs the lights switched off. We all check our watches, it’s nearly time.  The artist, Colin Martin says “the film is of a green screen, the whole idea of illusion and suspense that is central to cinema but it is also related to drawing, about looking and observing”. The film begins.  A deep band of colour moves across the screen.

It is projected onto the back wall of the gallery so that at night, when the rest is in darkness, strollers out on the street can look in and see the film, like peeking inside a camera obscura. And so the gallery itself becomes a frame for an artwork using the outside space as well.  I nip outside to get the full effect.

I meet Grainne Dowling who is exhibiting a delicate softgound etching, ‘Parkland’ displaying as ever her mastery of the technique and exceptional sensitivity to line quality. She is very taken by the show, and expands on this saying “this is an interesting show with a noticeable emphasis on tonal display. Caitriona Leahy’s work is an excellent example of this.  Its evocative images set at the base of the triptych are given immense power by the silence of the space above.  Mo Levy and Debora Ando, by contrast, with most of the other prints choose colour to stunning effect.  Debora Ando’s sculptural print contains a private exuberance which does not tire by repetition of the image. Mo Levy’s small subtle print shows her absolute control of the emotional impact of colour. This can’t be learned”

I can only concur. This is an exhibition that should be seen by anyone who likes their art skilled and intellectually satisfying. This is food for the soul indeed.

Published by


Blackchurch Print Studio

Killian Dunne

Debora Ando  (Sao Paulo)

© Camilla Fanning 2011


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