Andrew Tift – Walsall New Art Gallery



Sadly I missed the opening of Andrew Tift’s show of portraits a few weeks back, but today I headed over to The New Art Gallery Walsall.  And I am so glad I did. The gallery from top to bottom was totally rewarding. Wonderful to see a show dedicated to an artist’s portraits made over 3 decades. Wonderful also to see a full wall screen of an entrancing dance film by Hetain Patel, Photographs from Pakistan by Mahtab Hussain, Cornelia Parker’s Thirty Pieces of Silver and as always the Garman Ryan collection of gems.

Andrew Tift’s portraits reflect the artist’s life experiences and people’s he has engaged with from his home town of Walsall and the places he has visited including a spell in Japan. Many of the drawings and paintings are from a hyper realist tradition and are framed in conventional rectangles as are many of his influences.  However there is a piece that is not rectangular – Body Shop,  It is a car door, but it is painted and hung vertically. At first unrecognisable as a functional part of a car.  Like a piece of Rauschenberg pop art it reveals itself and goes on to offer more as the painted image, equally out of sync with the shape it is on, and the work of the artist that surrounds it – Japanese men in a sauna. This is from a study visit Andrew made to research Japanese car manufacturing. In 1995, he was sponsored by oil and gas giants BP to create a portrait based solo exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery titled Sayonara Pet. He focused on the cradle to grave work ethic in the Japanese car manufacturing industry, initially in Sunderland and shortly afterwards in Tokyo. He documented the car workers and their families. The painting in itself feels like a document of the men’s culture outside the work space. It feels like we are being offered the opportunity to share in the artist’s ‘look into’ a moment.  Like much of Andrew Tift’s work the portraits are celebrations of his subjects, but also a document of their lives.

His paintings and drawings are in the main created from series of photographs that he compiles over a focussed time with his sitters. He took over 400 pictures of Kitty Godley in 2006 to help him formulate his triptych of her. She was the daughter of Jacob Epstein and first husband of Lucien Freud who painted  her in 1948/9.  The resultant portrait was the image used in the 80’s on a poster to advertise the collection in the old walsall art gallery and encouraged Andrew to cross the doorway into the hallowed gallery and be inspired to make paintings. He never forgot that image, even though he was surprised how small it was in the real.  He arranged to visit Kitty in her home in Suffolk to make a triptych of black and white portraits which became a BP Portrait prize winner. He also embarked on a single portrait of Kitty in the same pose as for Freud’s portrait over 50 years ago. Its inevitable that comparisons are made between the portraits and how Kitty’s face reflected her life then and now. Andrew’s portrait is not a homage, it is his interpretation and reflection of the woman he met which feels deep and full of admiration of her life.

Woman with White dog and The Bath

Kitty  was born in Wednesbury, a town near Walsall,  as was Andrew’s Wife Anne who posed for two drawings in the Show;  The Bath and Woman with  White dog. The latter is based on the painting by Lucien Freud of Kitty when she was pregnant. Again we are invited to make comparisons across time, but also the fact that the location of both  subjects are the same: the Black Country in the West Midlands. Andrew’s large drawing seems more empathetic of his wife than that of Freud’s.

The catalogue essay, ‘Conversations with the Past by Charlotte Mullins’ 1.  provides valuable insights into Andrew’s motivations and recurring foci on life and death, past and present, and portraiture itself.  She refers to Tift’s  contemplation of his portraits, the dedicated preparation with his sitters and the meditation of the process of drawing. She Refers to Roland Barthes concept of the good/valuable photograph capturing the ‘air’ of the subject.” Barthes cautioned, ‘if the photograph fails to show this ‘air’ then the body moves without a shadow, and once this shadow severed ….. there remains no more than a sterile body.’ 2. Tift strives to capture the ‘air’ in both photographs and paint, for it is ultimately through paint that he brings his sitters to life. The portrait is not complete for Tift without time being folded into its surface as it is painted.’  This is an important differentiation between the photograph and the drawing or painting. The photograph can capture the ‘air’ of the subject, however the skilled work and attention selection of the detail to be made by the painting and drawing artist brings something ‘more’ to the portrait and adds to the ‘air’ of the subject.

His My daughter and My Mother hang next to each other, decades between them, but painted in the same year, 2018. In the catalogue they each sit on a page next to each other with the fold between them, however the invitation to compare is even more apparent in this closer format. One is encouraged to make comparisons, and contemplate the passage of time, and the painter’s perceptions of his relationship with these two females so very close to him that he has presented to us, and himself.

As said above seeing Andrew Tift’s body of work in the New Art Gallery with the Garman Ryan collection that inspired him was a treat. The viewing was beautifully complimented by Hetain Patel’s film, Don’t Look at the Finger;  Photographs from Pakistan by Mahtab  Hussain and Cornelia Parker’s Thirty Pieces of Silver. My visit was helped by the brilliant gallery assistant that brought me up to date with the exhibitions and the recent acquisition of a Frank Auerbach painting from Lucian Freud’s collection made available through the Arts Council Acceptance in lieu scheme.

Below is a slide show from my visit.:  

hetain patel - Dont look at the Finger
Watching hetain patel - Dont look at the Finger
hetain patel - Dont look at the Finger
Mahtab Hussain
Mahtab Hussain
Wall of Portraits
AT Noddy Holder
Andrew Tift detail
Detail 2
The body shop - japan nissan door spa
Andrew Tift Portrait-Life is Sweet.
kitty triptych
Kitty L Freud
Kitty portrait 2006
walsall window
Auerbach via lieu of tax
bird pictures
close inspection
cross light
Mahtab's straw room
mahtab Hussain
foyer from afar
cross light
Fantastic enthusiastic and knowledgeable Assistant
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  1. Charlotte Mullins, Immortaloise. Cornerhouse publications, home 2018.
  2. 2.Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, 1980, trans. by Richard Howard. Flamingo 1984. p110

Bahrain Artists in Birmingham @ulafaa

The rise of Maliha @ecstaybash

I dropped by the IPS ( International Production Space in Birmingham School of Art)  that flowed from pieces from Bahrain Artists presented by the Bahrain based Ulafaa Initiative in the foyer.  It is a rewarding show with insights into how young artists are making their voices seen and heard locally and internationally.  I asked the curator Tamadher AlFahal about the show’s origins and she invited me to the talk she was presenting (as part of her PHD) that evening and an open invite to a further panel discussion about the cultural production of the Arab Gulf that is happening on the 19th @ 5pm in the IPS :’AS NOTED/UNNOTICED’ a part of “I AM KHALEEJI”; a series of events and happenings that offers prelude to the contemporary art scene of the Arab Gulf.

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free Hugs campaign
slow down female walking
three prints
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From the discussions  it is clear the art scene “within the Arab Gulf (or GCC) has been through a state of flux. Typically exposed to Western audiences, and the greater art world, as a strongly diluted stereotypical image of the Middle East. The Arab Gulf’s distinctive art identity remains undervalued.

This project addresses the misconceptions of the contemporary art scene in the Gulf, it offers an alternative view that is diverse, unique and vernacular in attempt to understand its complexity and dynamics.  Specifically focusing on shedding light on the Gulf art scene as a distinctive voice within the Middle East. “

Issues of identity, religion, gender are clear in the work on show, but the range of video, photography, graphic and printed artworks are strong in their own right.  There are plays with sign posts (literally) and the two photographic/print based pieces – The rise of Maliha @ecstasybash and My Ghutra is Me @stefanistan deal directly with issues of personal image and identity in clever, creative and insightful ways.  ‘Maliha : a Name meaning having beauty, kindness and strength’ and ‘Ghutra’ the traditional male headress and as one of the subjects told the artist : ‘the eyes are the window on the soul, but first tell me how you wear your ghutra and I will tell you who you are……’ Both pieces are portrait based although the whole portrait is not shown in either works. 

@ecstasybash’ instagram bio is understated : “Photographer , Slightly Artistic, mildly photographic”.  Her website also provides further insight into the inspirations for The rise of Maliha.

The show is also referred to By the Book @ulafaa



Tracey Drawing Conference

Tracey Drawing Conference

Presentations from Day 1 at Loughborough University Fine Art Department in this slide show.


Following an introduction to Drawing / phenomenology: tracing lived experiences through drawing,  by Conference Organiser and host Deborah Hartley, a diverse and insightful series of  presentations covering intensely local to expansive global drawing projects ….

Deborah Harty: drawing is phenomenology?

Jane Cook: Drawing the Domestic: a practice-led phenomenological study through–drawing investigating notions of the experience of home. 

Martin Lewis: Perfunctory Acts of Drawing. 

Marion Arnold: The Sensing, Knowing Hand: a Phenomenological Drawing Tool.

Eleanor Morgan: Fixing the ephemeral: the materiality of sand-drawings.

Phil Sawdon: … feel my way … outline judgements … I made some pictures

…… there was a choice of 4 workshops for the afternoon session.

I selected the intriguingly titled : Gained in Translation: Drawing Art History presented by Sarah Jaffray from the Bridget Riley Foundation at The British Museum.  Surprisingly this was a participatory session where we were encouraged to draw from the collection of British Museum prints inc great masters and more recent drawing works.  Beginning with quick draw exercises to get us loosened up we worked through pictures at speed and then on to a longer 10 minute drawing session.  My selected drawing for this longer session was  Michel Thevoz in the library of the Art Brut Museum, Graphite by Ariane Laroux. This longer focus on ‘copying’ or ‘Re, Representing’ a drawing enabled me to begin to understand the flow of the drawing through the artist’s eyes, by copying her drawing with intense attention to detail to honestly copy and represent  her drawing.

The drawing captured the subject, but left much of the subject out. Much of the paper remained white and untouched. Following the drawing from head to hand seemed to reveal decisions made by Ariane Laroux to draw her subject, which may have gone unnoticed without the attention to detail required to copy her drawing. This seemed to confirm the thesis that faithful copying from original art is valuable to the copier in terms of dexterity, skills and insight into the artistic process.

I was not attempting to make better the original, but to replicate it honestly to the best of one’s ability to make a genuine copy. I felt the process of drawing Ariane’s Drawing brought me closer to her process to draw her subject. It was no longer an exercise, but an engaged desire to be true to her drawing, and to be with her, in her mark making and her decisions to draw parts of her subject that illuminated her whole subject. I did not know or see her subject before her, as I did not know the Ruben’s or Leonardo’s subjects, but with licence and dedicated time to draw from her picture I got to know the subject and even closer to the artist’s representation of the subject. Whilst being drawn into the process and giving as much as I could into the timeframe I felt I wanted to talk to Ariane about her drawing choices, in this portrait, because I thought I ‘knew more’ than when I began.

Sarah Jaffray’s workshop focussed on translation, which is wholly pertinent, however I took from it ‘the right to copy’ as an educational, skills and insightful process of value. She, through the Bridget Riley Foundation,  encourages drawings of the drawings, for the benefit of of the contemporary drawer.

This process encouraged  me to question where Drawing and Phenomenology meet?

The workshop abstract : 

Gained in Translation: Drawing Art History

Drawing from drawing is as old as the artist’s workshop: students drawing from their master’s work, tacked to the wall of a studio, began their journey to mastery through faithful copying. Today however, in the wake of post-modernism’s reaction against authority, copying from a ‘master’ feels outdated and has thus been erased from contemporary arts education.

For the past three years the Bridget Riley Art Foundation at the British Museum has worked with over 1,000 university art students to revive and interrogate the value of drawing from drawing as a contemporary research method. In the process of over 150 workshops we found that students who initially dismissed the practice as ‘servile copying’ began to legitimise the process with the language of translation.

Building on this qualitative research, our workshop will examine the practice of drawing from drawing through the lens of translation theory. We will discuss translation, in the manner of Walter Benjamin, as a mode of cognition that allows the translator to critically interrogate their own artistic language. Working through a series of drawing exercises from (reproductions of) drawings in the British Museum’s Prints and Drawings collection we will actively explore the question: what can translating teach the translator

Those interested in drawing from the collection can make an appointment at :

The  Artworks used from the British Museum collection:

1. Paul Cézanne, Study of a plaster Cupid, c.1890; graphite. 1935,0413.2

2. Bridget Riley, Untitled 2 (Circles with verticals), 1960; Pencil, blue ink and gouache paper. 2013,7097.2

3. Vincent van Gogh, La Crau from Montmajour, France, May 1888; Pen and brown ink, over black chalk and graphite. 1968,0210.20

4. Ariane Laroux, Michel Thevoz in the library of the Art Brut Museum; graphite. 2001,0929.12

5. Théodore Géricault, Study of Soldiers fighting Civilians, 1823; Graphite over red chalk. 1920,0216.3

6. Sol Lewitt, Untitled, 1971. Pen and yellow ink. 1981,1003.27

7. Antoine Watteau, Studies of a woman standing, seen from behind, a half-length woman with head in profile to left and women’s hands, 1684-1721; Red and black chalks, 1857,0228.213

8. Peter Paul Rubens, Mary Magdalene, c. 1620; Black chalk, heightened with white. 1912,1214.5; H16

9. Frank Auerbach, First drawing for ‘Ruth’, 1994; graphite. 2013,7059.48

10. Leonardo, The Virgin and Child, 1478-80; Pen and brown ink, over leadpoint, the lower sketch in leadpoint only. 1860,0616.100, P&P 100

11. Barbara Hepworth, Sculptural forms, c. 1938; ink on paper. 2008,7082.1

12. Honoré Daumier, Clown playing a drum, c.1865/7; Pen and black and grey ink, grey wash, watercolour, touches of gouache, and conté crayon, over black chalk underdrawing. 1968,0210.30




NPG BP Portrait award 2017

Had whistle stop tour round the BP Portrait Awards 2017 at the National Portrait Gallery.

Many great works including the Tavel Show winner. New and old techniques inc egg tempera for EMMA by Antony Williams. Daniel Coves picture was a departure for him as he usually paints the back of his subjects. However for this show he painted Blind Portrait facing forward. I have captured visitors backs as they look at the arresting/moving blind portrait.

Brian Sayers portrait met his needs to capture “the type of features he likes to portray” . This something we tend to forget.  i.e. A portrait is also a reflection of the artist’s desire as well as the character of the sitter.

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