Sunday, 15 October 2017

A Freshers Guide to Arts & Culture in Aberdream!

I recently met some students from the Aberdeen University Art Society who spoke about doing some talks and workshops as part of their new programme of events and it got me thinking about Aberdeen Uni and the huge student body it holds. I often make it along to Grays School of Art for their numerous events and document where I can but the other uni students have always been a bit out of reach. And the fact I try not to force my social media channels on people might be a bit counter productive but I've had the brain wave to try and use my knowledge of the local cultural sector to try and piece something together for new students and really anyone else who's interested, a rough guide to who's doing good stuff in Aberdeen across the arts, music and architecture.

All too often I still hear people say "Aberdeen is boring, nothing happens, blah blah" and suprisingly it can come from people who should be doing stuff whether its painting or making films or recording music but for some reason they have become blind to their own apathetic bullshit. But fear not, here's some insights and a little local knowledge. So where to see good art in Aberdeen...

Kaffe Fasset at Aberdeen Art Gallery
Although currently shut while a new floor is added, the gallery is undoubtedly the jewel in Aberdeen's crown. Hosting a breathtaking collection of classic and contemporary art its a place to see paintings by old masters like J.M.W. Turner  to Francis Bacon and Tracy Emin. The gallery also houses an extensive James McBey collection, his huge body of travel paintings and sketches will no doubt inspire your own travel adventures. A few personal highlights for me over the years include seeing original photographs from the Diane Arbus collection, the realistic sculptures of Ron Muick and the Kaffe Fasset exhibition (see above). The gallery is like an oasis in the city centre, as soon as you step through the doors the bustle of the city fades away and you can browse, sit and chill or get some lunch (although I think you have to eat in the dingy little cafe as apposed to being able to sit in the big courtyard, it was nice when they did that during cafe renovations). 

Peacock Visual Arts started almost 40 years ago as a printing studio run by a rabble of drunks and hippys and not much has changed except the hippys have PHDs! Peacocks has been through a lot of changes during its time, most recently losing the old main gallery space and adapting an old shop on the Castlegate to create W OR M, a new contemporary space for housing exhibitions but also a place for conversation, learning and ideas. How this will pan out remains to be seen but with Nuno at the helm things have been opening up both in the print lab and on the critical thinking front. If you wan't to learn about screen printing, etching or laser cutting then they have you covered. They also house an impressive print catalogue with work by Shepard Fairey (OBEY), Mike Giant (see above), Adam Bridgland (Jealous London) and Michael Agnew (Grays School of Art) so get rid of the Bob Marley posters and start your art collection now!

The Painted Doors
Speaking of Michael Agnew he's the latest artist to add to the Painted Doors Aberdeen project, having finished a door just along from the WASPS studios complex on Langstane Place. Painted Doors was an initiative to put Aberdeen and shire artists work onto the streets of Aberdeen. It can seem like there's not much going on in Aberdeen when in fact there's an exhibition opening every other week and we have a huge amount of varied and incredibly talented artists including Ade Adesina who you can see below working on one of his giant lino cuts. The doors really showcase a bit of everything from fine art oil paintings to spray painted donut characters. The trail starts at the top of Langstane Place and travels right down to the Green and up onto the top of the St Nicholas Centre, check out the full map here and check out their insta here to see the latest doors in progress!

Ade in the studio at WASPS
A few of the Painted Doors artists can be found in WASPS Artists Studios located at the back of Soul Bar on Langstane Place. Although its a closed door studio complex they do host open days every year where you can go wander around and see what the artists have been up to. There's a members page on Facebook which will also keep you up to date with whats going on and who's having exhibitions. Its suprising even to me how many great artists they have in the space including Ade (above), Joe Fan, Peter Mcrae and Tomasz Wrobel, all artists working in different areas and mediums. Sadly the old Project Slogan space shut down a few years ago (located on the ground floor of WASPS) but provided ample opportunity to meet other students, party, perform and enjoy high and low brow art. Having just taken on a new studio space we're hoping to be kicking off in the same vein with some shows in the near future which you're all invited too!

The Anatomy Rooms
The Anatomy Rooms is Aberdeen's newest studio complex, located in the old dissection and teaching rooms at Marischal College. The building has sat empty for years but Jim Ewen (All In Ideas) had the vision to start a new space for artists who didn't quite fit the WASPS criteria or couldn't be bothered with their waiting list. After a mass of funding applications, negotiations with Aberdeen Uni and a few upgrades the space was finally ready for its first inhabitants. Three years later and the space has grown with more workshop space being added, residency programmes and now the Citymoves Dance Agency have moved in and will be programming a series of contemporary dance events kicking off this week with Dance Live. Jim and the rest of the team working in the space are super friendly and approachable so be sure to get in touch if you want to find out more. You can see a short film about the studios here!

Its was Esmee & Rory from Aberdeen University Arts Society that gave me the idea for this post. They recently joined me for one of the Nuart Aberdeen walking tours where we go find all the artworks and I speak about how they came to be. The society aim to highlight a bit of whats going on in the city but also provides workshops, organises talks and looks to help students engage and experience some of the wonderful things Aberdeen has to offer. You can stay in the loop via their facebook group here.

Work at the Grays Degree Show 2017
Although a little out of the way Grays School of Art has loads to offer anyone willing to jump on a 1 or 2 bus. Situated in the leafy suburb of Garthdee the school is home to the cities emerging talents and is arguably one of the most important cultural bodies in the city. But one of the drawbacks is that the school tends to do its own thing with pop up events only lasting a few days or a week. Also many people might feel a bit out of their depth, mingling with students while hammering into the free Cheetos but most of their events are open to the public. I've often wondered why students from the two Universities don't have more of a cross over, especially history of art as you could be making connections to the next Tracy Emins or Banksys. Certainly the school has produced a huge amount of incredible artists over the years and although I didn't attend the school I did make many creative friends from hanging around there in the early 00s. Also the school hosts the Guests at Grays lecture series, invited guests from different discplines give presentations about their work along with running workshops and events although these do tend to be for RGU students only but the talks are well worth a look. Find out more about the talks here.

Student work on show at HATCH
If design is more your bag then Hatch on Belmont Street might be the ticket. Located above Nandos on Belmont Street, Hatch is an extension of the art school but run by two former students and aims to provide exhibition space, to help showcase good design and to provide a platform for talks and events. Its all quiet at the moment as the team sort out the finer points but I'm hoping they'll be up and running again soon and will be showcasing some great work. You can follow em on Twitter here and see some previous shows here.

Also located on Belmont Street, Seventeen is the councils cultural outreach space, initially set up to handle the city of culture bid, the space now plays host to exhibitions and events along with housing a digital lab where you can 3D print yourself and get things laser cut. They try to keep a finger on the pulse and do daily updates about whats on via their facebook page but can sometimes forget to remind people about the stuff they have on show in their own space. But despite the failed city of culture bid Seventeen has proven to be a vital asset to the city and provides great opportunities for new graduates and established artists alike as well as hosting workshops and events across all disciplines.

Prep for a stencil making workshop at Rosemount Community Centre.
The Creative Learning Team are based up at Rosemount Community Centre and do lots of great work around engagement and providing opportunities for artists. My good friend Caitlin Hynes can testify to this as she took on a group workshop using drawing and collage to help create artworks which were translated into 3D objects, giving her the chance to teach a small group some new skills but also for the group to show off their new creations! Along with opportunities for learning the team also organise talks and skills share events. I was given the chance to talk about what I do with the blog and it was great to stop and take stock for a minute, looking back over what I've tried to achieve and where I'm currently at. In addition to the Creative Learning side we have Art Hive by Kelly-Anne Cairns which aims to provide a series of events, talks and networking opportunities for local creative and anyone who's interested. Its also a chance to share what you're working on, maybe get some help with a project or to commiserate the struggles of being a creative with some friendly faces. The first few events have been fantastic though and you can find the next event here this Friday (20th Oct).

'Same Same, But Different' at The Suttie Art Space
The Suttie Art Space up at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary (yes the hospital) is perhaps one of the best places to see cool and engaging art in the city. Run by Grampian Hospitals Art Trust the space has played host to amazing installations and performances including Pester & Rossi (also mentioned below) portable skate ramps (although we had to stop as an operation was in progress below the gallery, watch the video here) and some incredible painting shows by Julie-Ann Simpson and Kyle Noble. The hospital isn't the first place I'd think of to see some great art but with over 4000 works in their collection and a custom built gallery space which allows bed bound patients access its actually really worth the short hike up to Forresterhill to see whats on! 

Pester & Rossi for Look Again Festival 2017
Look Again: Visual Art & Design Festival is one of the key annual events in the city for bringing visual art out onto the streets of Aberdeen. Working with Aberdeen based and international talents the festival provides a huge opportunity for the artists to test out a new idea or to create a new groundbreaking piece of work but it also takes the city and turns it into an experience, opening up spaces like the Marischal Quad or St Nicks kirkyard and filling them with art, sculptures and performances which provides ample opportunities for a new kind of experience in the city. There's also chances for you to get involved whether volunteering as part of the team, assisting the artists or simply by getting out and seeing the works. I made a short film about this years festival which you can peep here and you can check out some photos of the artworks here.

Nuart Aberdeen made huge waves in April for many reasons. Being the first time the festival has appeared outside of its native Norway was a big deal for Aberdeen and the local reaction to the art works has been phenomenal. The level of engagement has been high right across the board from the very young to the very old with everyone in between coming out and getting lost in the city trying to find all the artworks. The festival brings artists operating at the top of their game and facilitates the production of new works, both big and small in scale, murals and street level interventions but also works to add an academic and informative element through talks and panel debates. I was lucky enough to help out during the festival and have been running the walking tours which take in about 95% of the artworks and I get to regale people with the tales of their production. With tours only running on Saturday 21st & 28th October there's limited time to get the full experience but the joy of street art is that its there, on the streets and you can do your own tours using the handy map available here. If you struggle to find any of them feel free to get in touch with me via my facebook page.

A few other orgs worth checking out include Aberdeen Artists Society, Aberdeen Art Centre (ACT), for life drawing classes check out Nudles, beyond the city limits you'll find Deveron Projects up in Huntly and Scottish Sculpture workshop (SSW). All of the orgs and spaces mentioned above are run by good people so reach out, fire them a message, find out what they have on and get out and explore. Also this is by no means a be all and end all, there's probably a load of fun things that you guys know about so be sure to share their pages and help clue others in.

I have to admit I don't go out as much as I used to. The idea of being down the front at a sweaty techno night isn't really my thing these days but the experiences I had at the old Snafu are well cherished, having to deconstruct the visuals for Bloody Beetroots for fear the TVs would get smashed and watching sweat drip off the fake cave ceiling (video here), hanging out with 2 Many Djs and watching them admire the big projections I did was another highlight (check out the video here) but all bragging aside music was and still is an important aspect of my daily cultural intake. And Aberdeen has a lot to offer especially with Let It Bleed continuing to bring the top names in house and techno to Aberdeen. Venues of choice are Unit51 who also host hippy markets and have combined music with art via the Walk The Block festival along with The Tunnels who have hosted everyone from Olafur Arnalds to Les Savy Fav (that was a wild one!). 

If more alternative sounds are your thing then Interesting Music have brought some incredible acts to the Granite City and continue to host intimate gigs and are always on the look out for interesting places to put bands on, maybe you have a cool basement they could use? Labels like Fit Like Records have been shining a light on North East acts including Best Girl Athlete (new album is amazing, really) and Wendol Borton  while Captain Toms studios is the perfect place to experience a bit of the underground scene, scuzzy punks to riffed up metal heads and everything in between. Tribal Takeover did a great job mixing up a club night with live dance performances, visuals and a gallery up stairs (read about it here). And of course there's a whole load more that goes past my radar but if you're looking for comprehensive guides then 57North should have you covered.

Old adverts on Victoria Road, Torry (circa 1930s)
If you find Aberdeen to be a bit of a gray city then you maybe need to step out of your routine and start exploring. There's certainly lots to see in the city centre like Marischal College and St Nicholas Kirk but there's so much more beyond that. If you head along anyone of the numerous side streets connected to Union Street you'll start to find weird little alleyways, quaint manor houses and victorian parks you didn't know were there (walk around Bon Accord Terrace). A quick rummage around the Castlegate will bring you down the last remaining 'old lanes' while the numerous streets and alleys off King Street offer you the chance to get lost without wandering into too much trouble. The images above show Victoria road in the 1930s, the ghosts of advertisements can still be made out on that gable end and Torry is a treasure trove of architectural delights with a beautiful river side path and a wander up to the Torry Battery will give you one of the best views in Aberdeen. You can also explore the harbour, one of Aberdeen's most overlooked assets, the old fishing huts lay rotting as new developments move in, bulldozing the history which you can still see and smell!

If its oldie world you're interested in then Aberdeen University is slap bang in the middle with the quaint Spital showcasing some beautiful old housing while further along Old Aberdeen you'll find St Machars Cathedral and Seaton Park. You can make your way over to Bridge of Don or along to the Don Mouth and back along the beach, walk far enough and you'll come to another old settlement called Fittie or Footdee. The old fishing village is located right on the harbour mouth, cut off by the beach and the industrial sprawl, oil tankers loom and supply boats fill the horizon but I can't think of a more perfect evening than catching a sunset from beside the harbour masters tower.

That's it for me, if you want to find out more about what I mentioned above click on the names, they're all linked to the relevant social media, you can find me on Facebook here so feel free to get in touch and be sure to get out there, keep your eyes open and hopefully the next 4 years will be full of adventures that go beyond Soul Bar and Espionage on a Wednesday night!

Monday, 9 October 2017

New Mural on Holburn Street!

For the past couple of years I've caught the bus on Holburn Street which passes by this old toilet block which was closed and then bricked up. I wondered about what its like inside, how could a space like that be used better, could it become a studio or even a gallery space? It seems in Aberdeen that buildings and spaces like this are often over looked, perhaps the cost of turning such a plot into a cool micro house out weighs the gains or maybe the planning permissions are just un workable. Whatever the case we seem to be stuck with an ever increasing set of bland new builds and overlooked / undervalued quirky spaces.

But a few months ago miraculously the Holburn toilet block was given a make over with a new design depicting colourful geometric shapes and what looks like local fauna and plant life. I'm not sure who created the mural but I've heard rumour it might be the council or a residents group. Whatever the case the mural has totally brightened up my morning commute and hopefully hints towards a wider creative awakening beyond the city centre and all the artworks created during Nuart Aberdeen. For too long public art has been lacking in Aberdeen and certainly initiatives like Painted Doors and the Release the Pressure Festival have added massively to the cities visible culture while Look Again Festival has brought great design and contemporary sculpture to the fore adding another filling to the cultural pie but its nice to have these smaller projects appear and hopefully there will be more to come.

If anyone knows more about this particular project then let me know via the social media channels and if you haven't seen the mural yet its located at the Holburn roundabout just across from Ferryhill Library!

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Sticker Life with Futz.Oner!

One of the great things about the creative community in Aberdeen is that its really easy to meet people. Its one of the things I've always liked about the city. I've been lucky to meet some great people at art exhibitions and openings, at numerous gigs and even just out on the streets. Friendships have been made and continue to enrich my daily social media intake, whether  its a new release on Charleys Fit Like Records or a fresh drawing straight out of the brain of Brian Ross. But social media gives us huge power to extend way beyond our own geographical boundaries and its through instagram that I managed to connect with sticker artists Futz.Oner.

I've been spotting his stickers around the city for a while along with Itsherve, Hello The Mushroom and Francis Vomit. Local sticker artists also started to appear like BFL and I soon clued into the fact that a lot of these artists send their work to friends in other cities allowing their designs and ideas to travel far beyond their own physical reach. Coming from a skate background I've always been attracted to stickers and dabbled quite a bit putting up my own lego brick stickers around Barcelona while friends took some to Berlin and seeing their photos certainly gave me a real kick. And its a lot easier to put up a sticker compared to the late night missions I used to undertake with stencils and a bag full of spray cans!

But back to Futz.Oner. I'd been following his work and enjoyed seeing how far his stickers have travelled, always acknowledging the friends who've put his work up in their cities but suddenly I saw a flurry of stickers appearing in Aberdeen and photos of the city. A quick DM later and I'd found out he was actually visiting Aberdeen and we made plans to meet the face to face as I wanted to see what he looked like (he never posts pictures of himself, its the best way) but also just to find out more about his work. Over a two hour period we walked around the city centre taking in the Painted Door trail and onto the Nuart tour route while Futz spoke about politics, music and the deep connections he's made through sticker trades, even pointing out other sticker artists he follows like Lost Hills who's work appeared in the city during Nuart.

I think after Nuart we saw a huge rise in the number of stickers across the tour route, one of the side effects of a festival founded on the principals of putting work on the street and not asking permission. Of course its an extension of the whole graffiti / street art ideals but with less severe repercussions if you get caught. Also as a medium its incredibly easy to get access too with many artists printing at home while others use professional print companies, replicating their work across thousands of stickers for a few hundred pounds. A few lessons I learned from Futz include to always take your sticker peels away with you, don't leave anything behind other than your sticker, the US post office always has free postage labels if you cant afford to get stickers printed and that a sporran makes for the perfect sticker pouch!

To find out more about the sticker community then check out this compelling mini documentary by Juxtapoz  titled 'Stick To It' which looks at the mass appeal of stickers and some artists who utilise them to share their message. It was cool to step out from the social media bubble and to meet Futz in the flesh and to help show him around the gray shiny streets of Aberdeen. Although he's happy to trade slaps with people you can support him by purchasing some stickers from his online shop here and become part of the Futz Club. Its incredible how such a humble act has brought Futz not only to Aberdeen but has seen his work travel far and wide. Hopefully he left Aberdeen with fond memories and one more connection, a new friendship to add to the long list of slappy friends!

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

North East Open Studios 2017!

September has been a month of work and more work, not the fun kind either. But it did provide a few opportunities to get out and see some great art especially during the 9 days of NEOS (North East Open Studios), an annual event where artists from all over the region open their studios to the public. You'd be amazed by the amount of places dotted about out there, 269 at this years count! So we packed the car, looked out the map and hit the road!

First stop was to the Eat Your Biscuit studio out in Kintore. Despite arriving during the lads lunch break we managed to get a peek into the art shed, home and work space to Andy Walker who paintings and drawings adorned the walls along with some work in progress pieces and invited friends like Jetpack Dinosaur. Jetpack aka Chris had a selection of digital prints, many from his sketch a day series (check his insta for more) which he was selling far too cheaply along with specially commissioned bonsai sketches. I picked up a print of his painted door design, the whale

After flicking through the NEOS booklet I decided to let my eye decide and it brought us to the studio of Roderick Scott. A quick read peaked my interest along with the small image provided. And Roderick didn't disappoint! Tucked away in Kemnay, Rodericks studio is full of incredible lino prints, some depicting current US tyrant Trump, craftily printed on airline sick bags and arranged to form an upside down US flag, an official distress call and a rather witty comment on the local business owner come US President. Delving further into Rodericks work he presented more politically charged pieces and some fish and chips. Other works explored the brain and how we visualise memory, its worth noting that in a previous life Roderick worked as a scientist which perhaps informs his creative work. Whatever the case Roderick is a perfect example of the talents we have, moving to the beat of his own drum but his work is channeling big world issues and was a real eye opener. Roderick was so welcoming and was very generous with his time, showing us his work and explaining his processes, I hope to cross paths with him again soon!

With daylight fading we made a last dash to catch the Oor Monsters and Small Stories pop up at Oriel Studio in Westhill. While Gabi presented her beautiful brooches and designs along side a host of other makers and artists it was the Oor Monsters forrest trail created by her and husband, Philip Thompson which stole the show. In an area of low lying tree branches we discovered a host of characters from woodland twig men to Ghbliesque robot wardens, quietly sitting on the tree, waiting for the wind to tickle them into life. The hanging masks also provided perfect selfie opportunities to which Gabi kindly obliged although the sinister dunces hat did draw my eye, revealing its dark meaning through the clever use of shape and colour. Over the last few months its been impossible to ignore the current state of world affairs with the racial divide in America appearing to be a strong as ever despite some of the huge gains over the last 50 years. I guess for many they may feel a little lost or helpless when trying to find a meaningful way to address these kind of issues but its heartening to find artists on my own doorstep willing to take up the baton and challenge these ideas. 

Certainly through leading the Nuart Aberdeen street art tours I've found myself becoming increasingly heated when I come to the murals which directly address Trump and his views and lack of understanding. In the age of keyboard warriors and sofa political experts its nice to chat with people who know that compassion, listening and understanding are more powerful and are willing to take action, make work and put apposing views into the world via their creative endevours. 

I was a little sad that we'd only made it to 3 stops out of the potential 269 although I don't think anyone could visit that many places in 9 days. But what NEOS does is so important in highlighting what all these artists are up to, often behind closed doors and often right under our noses! I'd love to spend a day on a bus with strangers stopping off at these places, I'm sure not everything would be to my taste but when you find a few gems like we did this year it makes it all worthwhile. Its also got me thinking about next years event and having just taken on a new studio space with Mary we might even have something to say for ourselves by then. Watch this space!