BogeArt Review: Beauty and the Beard

Me and my bearded friend

Me and my bearded friend

Beards. Like ‘em, love ‘em or hate ‘em, Somerset house is bringing them to us in everyshape, size and colour. Only open for the month, BEARD is an exhibition showing a series of photographs taken by award winning photographer Mr Elbank. Elbank’s concept originated as a collaboration with his friend Jimmy Niggles, who is behind the charity Beard Season, which raises skin cancer awareness by encouraging men to grow beards.

The beards on show belong to the old, young, male and female. It largely addresses the beard as a trend/fashion statement/self-expression, with many of the subjects displaying other conscious fashion ‘statements’ in their appearance, such as tattoos, unusual hairstyles and bold clothing. They mention how beards have been ‘scorned, mocked, celebrated and legislated against. Worn by kings and warriors, radicals and revolutionaries they have symbolised power and intimidation or individuality and defiance’; but the images on display are firmly rooted in the 21st century (some of the subjects were found via Instagram) and the focus is on self-image.

The beard is a distinct look, and today one would assume to have a beard is more of a conscious effort than to not, but how did this begin? In a time before grooming (at least to the degree that we know it) surely having a beard must have been the norm for the male gender, as would long hair and pubic hair, it is only in recent history that is has become otherwise. Surely not shaving is more natural than shaving? Regardless, today clean shaven is common and beards have become distinct, and, as these photos show, one can experiment with them just as much as we can the hair on our heads.

The beard is a signifier of many things. Perhaps the most obvious one is masculinity. Women cannot grow beards. Beards are an outward extension of the body, like a penis. The bigger/stronger the beard, the more masculine you are. This exhibition showcases many beards of all shapes and sizes to illustrate a variety of masculinity, as would an exhibition of penis photographs. Mr Elbank draws attention to the usual phallic qualities of the beard, by the inclusion of a portrait of a drag queen sporting a strong beard and a female (The British lady Harnaam Kaur) who has grown one of the more competitive beards in the show. Surprisingly the portrait image of the woman manages to avoid having a circus vibe, instead she blends in quite well as one of the more beautiful bearded specimens to be photographed.

Whilst the beard is a symbol of masculinity, many of the ones displayed are so carefully thought through and groomed that they have gone past the point of masculinity and are verging on the point of feminine. Many of the beards photographed are more metrosexual than manly, and I think the exhibition manages to touch on the changing gender boundaries of the 21st century. What it means to be ‘male’ or ‘female’ is something that is constantly challenged today, with homosexuality, transvestites and transgenderism being accepted on a growing scale. What is expected of us, because of our gender, is, thankfully, losing its rigidity.

In addition the beard, to a modern viewer, has many connotations unrelated to gender. To what many are calling the ‘me-generation’, individuality and distinctiveness are central; and beards, no matter how common they are right now, remain distinctive. Beards can be a strong and bold fashion statement, but if the masses make strong and bold fashion statements, what are we left with? Right now beards seem particularly fashionable, and they do not rely on ‘god-given’ facial features to be successful, unlike the clean shaven look. All they require is testosterone.

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Theoretically it is an accessible trend (although I’m sure many of my male peers who struggle in the facial hair department would disagree), and if it can make the average male face a little more exciting its popularity is understandable. Many members of the older generation seem to find it a rather scruffy trend, but this is a very shallow association. Throughout history the beard has meant very different things, but I think the most relevant, and perhaps interesting, to the ‘me-generation’ would be its role as a symbol of anti-establishment. Not only do quirky beards feel like a stance against the systematic and faceless corporations that have defined economic life, but they have a place in anti-capitalist history. Karl Marx was identified by his thick dark beard and moustache; his writing partner Friedrich Engels held a ‘moustache evening’ with his peers in opposition to clean shaven bourgeois ‘philistinism’; and Che Guevara, fashion’s favourite communist, sported his signature facial hair. Note how only the trendy communists (China is not known for its facial hair) sported the beard.

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Self-image, especially in regards to the subjects of this exhibition, is a curation. The upkeep and grooming of the beards photographed requires commitment, as the grooming guide in the brochure explains, and I am confident that each person photographed is conscious about how they want to be perceived. Then again how can they not be when they are posing for a photograph? I doubt that any of them are consciously thinking about masculinity, anti-capitalism or Che Guevara every time they reach for the clippers, but the beard does imply all of these things. But some vein of these implications is present when a man (or woman) is curating their self-image, even if they just like the ‘look’ of beards.

Two qualities of the beard as an image I feel are not addressed by these photos (perhaps hinted at, but only by default) are the concepts of disguise and religion. Beards can be a disguise, as they prevent us from knowing the beard owners facial features exactly. There is an insincerity to them, the owner might be hiding something underneath the mass of hair. Beards have lots of religious connections, they’re an integral part of some religious practise, but ‘hair and religion’ would need its own exhibition, probably a bigger one than BEARD, and I’m beginning to think I’ve already taken too much from what is essentially a trendy charity exhibition.

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Olly, 20, French and German student

Why do you think the beard is so popular right now?

‘We all want to be unique- just like everyone else’

Isabella Bornholt; BogeArt

BogeArt Events: Friday Late at the V&A ‘Queer is Now’

The Grand Entrance at the V&A

The Grand Entrance at the V&A

Every last Friday of the month the V&A hosts an evening event which is open to the public, and I thought it was about time we review it here on BogeArt. This month the theme was ‘Queer and Now’ with the aim to ‘challenge traditional gender roles and exploring the diverse worlds of the LGBTQ history through art, design, performance and politics’. This month’s event garnered a lot of interest as DJ’s from the notorious club nights LOVERBOY and Amy Grimehouse were playing in the grand entrance. The V&A brings the LGBTQ London night scene to the academic institution, and pairs it with think pieces concerning what ‘Queer’ encompasses today.

The 'Challenge Heteronormativity' pinata in the grand entrance, by Rachael House

The ‘Challenge Heteronormativity’ pinata in the grand entrance, by Rachael House

The V&A Garden at night

The V&A Garden at night

watching Amy Grimehouse

watching Amy Grimehouse

You have to get there early, as all the events and performances fill up on a first come first serve basis, and they all fill up quickly. Highlights included Salon Outre, who provided ballet from Swan Lake, burlesque set to Kylie Minogue and readings of Shakespeare’s homoerotic sonnets. Particularly interesting, and a little more serious, was a presentation by ‘guerrilla gardener’ Paul Harfleet, who plants pansies at locations where homophobic abuse has taken place and then photographs them. The photos stand-alone effectively, with a familiarity to images of the remembrance poppy, but, for ‘Queer is Now’, the artist presented correspondences between pansies in the collection at the V&A and his work.

During breaks I wondered around the cast courts, where real people had been invited to pose alongside the stone sculptures, in order to highlight the ‘constricting physical idealism and rigid social identities embodied in classical sculpture’. These ‘live sculptures’ also provided great life drawing compositions, which I have tried to capture in some snaps:

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My recommendation- see as much of the instillations, performances and talks as possible. The music doesn’t stop, and whilst listening to a set in the grand entrance of the V&A feels pretty fab, the majority of people were nervous to really get into it and dance, making me wonder if perhaps museum etiquette is too ingrained in us for this kind of night to fully succeed? If you really want to boogie then I would perhaps suggest actually going to the DJ’s club nights. It’s also hard to really get into the music when the evening stops at 10pm. The aim to utilise today’s music scene as a curation tool I don’t think has yet been fully achieved by any of these late night museum events (including Late at the Tate), but I do think they are getting closer. It’s not just the organisers who need to get it right, I think the viewer has some adjusting to do also. Saying that, what a fun, thought provoking and wonderful way to kick off the weekend!

We asked some guests what they thought of the evening:

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Molly, Art student, 20

‘I really like the theme, it fits in perfectly with the flamboyance of the V&A- plus some great music. I really liked the work by Paul Harfleet, I guess others did too as the room was packed!’

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Alice, 19, Geography student

‘Me and my mates just heard about this and decided to come last minute. It was great to see the LOVERBOY and Amy Grimehouse dj’s for free, especially in such a monumental venue! I’ve never seen a museum have such a vibrant atmosphere’

http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/f/friday-late/

Isabella Bornholt; BogeArt

BogeArt: Humans of Art

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Clare, 61, Restaurateur; seeing Rubens and his Legacy at the Royal Academy

‘I love Rubens; his painting’s remind me of the balls I used to go to at the Banqueting House in Whitehall. He painted the ceiling you see- a lot of people don’t know that. His overtly fleshy touch is a bit much for some, but you can not deny he was a superior painter.’

BogeArt

BogeArt: First Thursdays Review

First Thursdays has been a staple in east London nightlife for a few years now. Every first Thursday of the month galleries in east London showcase their new exhibitions to the public, offering free beers and/or cheap wine to visitors. In my experience it has always been more about the free booze and the beautiful people, rather than being enthused by the art, and it became a regular fixture on my calendar in my late teens. Having not been for a couple of years, on Thursday I headed towards Redchurch street, with BogeArt readers in mind and Maddy at my side, to find out if first Thursdays could be more than just a pretentious way to pre-drink.

At first we headed to a little gallery on Redchurch Street which got our attention purely due to the promise of alcohol, it’s proximity to the overground and a break from the -12 degree night. As is often the case with spontaneous decisions on a Thursday night in Shoreditch, the gallery was extremely underwhelming. The visitors were sparse, as were the film posters on show, and it was hard to find the will to chat to the gallery owners/curators/assistants about anything, apart from the cold weather, when I was barely one drink in. I do not even remember/care what the name of the place was, nor do we have any photos as our camera man (a mate who offered to take pics for us after brandishing my photography skills as rubbish) had yet to arrive at this point.

So on we went to the Londonnewcastle project space which had a large queue outside; it seemed this was February’s blockbuster show. Inside it was packed and rather hot, but the hallway of deer skulls made from wax and sticks were enticing as was the broken bark we were treading over on the floor (how alternative). I managed to push through the crowds to get one of the limited beers on offer, and was ready to continue my cynical approach. Unfortunately for me, it was not long before I was actually rather impressed.

The exhibition on show was Animal by ‘spanishurban’ artist Gonzalo Borondo. It is curated to achieve a wow factor- with things projected onto the walls, hanging from the ceiling, scattered on the floor and a couple little claustrophobic cupboards to immerse us with the artist’s vision. The aim of the show is to ‘explore the conflict between our innate animal instincts and our present lives, which are coated with the dependence of technology and our fear for the unknown’, which on certain levels, I suppose, it achieves. The thing that impressed me most was the artist’s mark making: he painted on perplex glass, he created an animation using paintings and, particularly impressively, drew through etching in to paint on perplex. Interestingly, or ironically, mark making is one of the things that sets us apart from animals, a complete paradox to our ‘animal instincts’, as it is one of the defining features of human civilization. Before we left this exhibition our camera man had shown up so we have plenty of photos and even a video of Animal (see below).  x7zp9U qIInBN oZL50Z LdYPTL

The alcohol ran out, we had been there for over an hour and the edginess of it all was no longer a novelty so we decided to try our luck at Richix. Richmix is a cinema with a couple of exhibition spaces and is a regular fixture on the First Thursday scene. By the time we arrived there was no more free alcohol, and very few people (except those waiting to see Birdman). We bought some popcorn for a bit of fuel before examining the exhibit.

The exhibit was almost as underwhelming as our first stop, but perhaps if there had been a more buzzing atmosphere and free beer I would have given it more of a chance. Democracia real ya! was an exhibition showing Mexican street art, with the usual anti-authoritarian theme that one expects from street art. Undoubtedly in Mexico, with all its corruption and crime, there is perhaps more prevalence and gravity to this kind of art compared to the likes of Banksy. Although unfortunately, to my eyes at least, the format of this work has become so familiar that it is hard not to glaze over it as gimmicky urban illustrations. It’s even harder at 10pm when the lure of the pub was hanging over the group.

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So, off we went to The Owl and the Pussycat. At the pub people kept telling me how nice it was to ‘do something new’ with their evening and I definitely had a good time; I suppose enjoying 1 out of 3 galleries isn’t bad. We also asked two First Thursday virgins what they had to say, hoping that they would be devoid of my cynicism: dxjfh9

Shona, 20, student: What did you think about the exhibition?                                             ‘I really like how it was curated. The hay bales, turf, flowers and bark gave the exhibition a real festival vibe, and don’t we associate festivals with ritualistic and often animal behavior? I think everything was displayed very creatively and touched on some interesting issues.’

How has you First Thursday experience been?                                                                 ‘Its been cool, met some cool people and saw some cool things. It’s nice to be able to discuss the work with others. At museums the norm is to view things quietly. Tonight everyone has been very vocal- not sure how much of it is about the art though!’ gyEECk

Frank, 21, Sudent What has your first impression of First Thursday been?                       ‘Its fucking dope. I like the free booze’                                                                                 Anything else?                                                                                                                     ‘Not really’

Photography courtesy of Aaron Jones

Isabella Bornholt; BogeArt

BogeArt Film: Behind the Big Eyes

Tim Burton with his personal collection of Keanes

Big Eyes has been hailed as Tim Burton’s best film in years. On this project he has shied away from his usual CGI effects, singing, and Halloweeny make up. Instead, this film focuses on what is often the basis for great cinema: an incredible, and true, story. Big Eyes tells the story of Margaret Keane, an American artist who painted images of children with huge, soul baring, doe-like eyes. In the 60s, during the fruition of her work’s success, her pieces were sold under the name of her husband at the time, Walter Keane, until 1970 when she announced to the world that she was the craftsman behind the famous images.

Considered kitsch by art critics, Keane’s paintings were a common fixture in American households of the 60’s. The images of her waifs feature largely in the film, and, when I look at them formally, frankly they leave a lot to be desired other than their cutesy/Tim Burton-esque charm. The handling and colouring remind me of the cheap paintings flogged on Bayswater road, and the characteristic ‘big eyes’ are reminiscent of manga comics and the power puff girls (the animator of which has admitted basing his cartoons on Keane’s waifs). Furthermore, when I look at the images as a painter, I feel no envy nor curiosity regarding technique or any other painterly aspects. To me these qualities are almost irrelevant; so many 20th century painting’s interest and prestige have very little to do with the marks made on canvas.

One of Keane's many 'waifs'

Amy Adams plays a quietly brave Margaret Keane, who at the very beginning of the film walks out on her first husband, long before, as the narrator explains, it ‘became the fashionable thing to do’. The narrator almost immediately explains how limited a woman’s options were in the early 50s, ‘the 50’s were a grand time- if you were a man’, introducing a theme that has now come to encompass Keane’s paintings: gender politics in the mid-20th century.

Margaret then marries Walter Keane (played by Christopher Waltz- who smashes it as per), a savvy salesman/hustler/con-man, who is trying to sell tatty paintings of Parisian streets when he notices the interest his wife’s artwork garners. He sells her pieces under his name, and convinces Margaret to play along by saying ‘sadly people don’t buy lady art’. Without Walter Keane the famous big eyed waifs would not be the familiar kitschy images they are today.

Amy Adams in 'Big Eyes'

An enterprising salesman, Walter embraced the post-war capitalist America he was living in. He used the media to elevate his status; by donating paintings to celebrities and institutions he created great photo opportunities for the papers. His self-generated buzz (words often used to describe $198millon artist Damien Hirst’s popularity) was so effective that people would snatch posters and pamphlets from his gallery if originals were beyond budget. Keane’s solution? Charge them for the posters. Not only did this make him a rich man, it ensured Margaret’s work was available to the masses, and, with a nod to 50’s stereotypes, Keane’s vulnerable children were very popular with the housewives of Middle America. Keane was the nuclear family’s Warhol (apologies).

Regardless of whether one ‘likes’ Keane’s paintings, or even views them as art at all, does not distract from all that they represent. These paintings are emblems of a story that, in its entirety, encompasses the changes that gender politics, and the art world, underwent during the 20th century. As one of the first artist’s to capitalise on the mass production of their images, Walter/Margaret set the precedent for many artists to come. They are an early example of 20th century ‘rockstar’ artists, whose persona contributes largely to the popularity of their art. A persona which will have grown after the release of this film.

Margaret Keane was a woman who walked out on two controlling husbands, successfully raised a daughter alone, made a living using her talent, and then finally got credit for it. During the artist’s life span, divorce and single parenting has become largely accepted by society, it’s widely acknowledged that talent has zero to do with gender, and women are now recognised by the art market- although more progress could be made on this front. To conclude the film ends with the court case between Margaret and Walter Keane, where the judge orders them to both paint a ‘big-eyes’ in the court room. Walter refuses to do so. The female protagonist triumphs, at a craft which, throughout the centuries, has been dominated by the opposite sex. Keane’s images, rejuvenated by this film, symbolise all these developments.

Back to the very start of the movie, with a quote by Andy Warhol: ‘I think what Walter Keane has done is just terrific. It has to be good. If it were bad, so many people wouldn’t like it’. Burton’s film seems to accept Warhol’s view, which embraces the decline/hostility towards craftsmanship and artistry. There has been speculation about this common view being why Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner has largely been snubbed this award season unlike Big Eyes (Amy Adams has just won a Golden Globe). In a modern world within which we are obsessed with equality, are we wary of genius and talent? Do we worship the mediocre? Or perhaps the lack of craftsmanship/artistry is really just part of artistic evolution and we should all move with the times? This film brings these questions to mind; rather impressive for a comedy which did not make me laugh out loud once.

BogeArt; Isabella Bornholt

BogeArt: TOILET PAPER MAGAZINE

Photo on 10-01-2015 at 20.04 #2

If you’re into gaudy colours, surreal subject matter and photos with an “uncanny ambiguity”, then this magazine is for you. Toilet Paper, its images and concepts were all created by Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari with art direction from Micol Talso. With their publications going back to 2010, Toilet Paper’s repertoire is bizarre, sexy and fucking fabulous. Check it our for yourselves: http://www.toiletpapermagazine.org

Maddy Martin; BogeArt