The Magical World of Alison Dunhill


I went to the Fermoy Gallery in King’s Lynn to see Alison Dunhill’s exhibition ‘Plaster, Parquet and Pillars’ with great anticipation. My first impression was, “I love it!”

In this beautiful space with natural light coming in from above, the predominantly small scale work was excellently curated. Each piece is an island of discovery. An element of play is present.

Microcosms under glass. Scrolls concealing stories. Clouds floating above carrying their secrets. Intricate objects and collages.

It is in the surrealist ideas of chance and found objects that Alison finds her inspiration.

Satellite of Love II

Alison says “I owe a lot to Kandinsky and his ideas of dynamic and static form and to the poetry of objects in Joseph Cornell’s Boxes. I am enjoying the discipline and the disordering of geometry in abstraction.”


She is led by the materials she works with. Found objects and re-cycled materials are part of her repertoire but cut paper, painterly elements or even canvas wedges can be found in her constructions. Sometimes these elements settle onto a bed of setting plaster. The textures, shapes and functions come together but it isn’t all chance. Alison makes the final aesthetic decisions in the work.

The studio space Alison had while she was artist in residence at Largo das Artes International Art Residency Programme in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2015 further inspired the discoveries she was making in her collages. Alison began collecting twisted and crushed metal debris from the streets of Rio.

The roof rafters of the space gave Alison a means of hanging work. A new opportunity for creativity presented itself. The piece Rio Road uses this locally found debris. Often the same or similar object is sewn to each side of the piece creating a soft shadow or reflection. There is no front or back. Everything is in balance.

Not only does Alison play with objects, she also plays with words. The titles of Alison’s work are chosen in such a way as to allow the viewer to wonder about the piece without conveying a particular meaning. The titles are given after the work is completed. Perhaps this is Alison, the poet, coming through.

Alison pictured with Seventh Cloud, Three Swans and Rio Road.

This poetic aspect is further demonstrated in her work Three Swans which is a visual interpretation of her poem of the same name.

There was so much to see and experience in this exhibition, all quite diverse and pleasurable. It seems to me though, that a golden thread of exploration passes through Alison’s  work and that Alison is dedicated to that exploration.

Visit Alison’s website
Email Alison

Esther Boehm

Artwork © Alison Dunhill and Esther Boehm


Interview with Esther Boehm

I was very surprised and it felt great to have my work chosen. It had been quite a struggle to get the pieces finished as I had a few false starts with the resin work. The precision needed with the technical side was at odds with the energy I wanted to portray in the work. The prize felt like a reward for my persistence! Continue reading “IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHELE SUMMERS”

108 Steps …

A Line in Norfolk, 2016
Photography: Peter Huggins

108 steps is what it took me to walk the length of A Line in Norfolk by Richard Long. Walking the line is reminiscent of Long’s ground breaking work of 1967, A Line Made by Walking. Now, 50 years later, I was walking a line parallel to a work made specifically for this exhibition. A measured line made of local Norfolk Carrstone connecting the house entrance to Full Moon Circle, a piece created in 2003 for the Houghton Sculpture Garden.

Late afternoon on a sunny day, the contrast between the shiny flat surfaces and the darker linear edges of the slate carefully placed within the circle were heightened. My slow movement around Full Moon Circle caused the sunlight to flow over the surface, taking up the edges, creating shadow, the surface shifting and shimmering, truly like a full moon. Richard Long says of the piece, “In Full Moon Circle slates were placed flat to reflect the weather and the season. When a high sun moves around the sky on a summer day the circle looks white and brilliant, yet it becomes dark and shiny in the rain, and in actual moonlight it appears very different again.”

Walking through the extensive grounds, it seems the pieces are deliberately connected through the use of the archetypical line, circle, cross and spiral used by Long throughout his career. A spiral is found within the circular form of Wilderness Dreaming and again in White Deer Circle where Long used massive tree stumps dug up around the estate. ‘Sea Henge’ immediately comes to mind connecting Long to something primordial whether intentional or not.

North South East West, 2016
Photography: Peter Huggins

Another circle is found in North South East West in the Stone Hall. Here we find within a circle of flint a Cornish slate cross that is found again in Houghton Cross located in the walled garden. In both crosses, the slate, rather than lain flat on the round, projects upwards toward the sky.

It is strange seeing North South East West indoors in an environment also made of stone but one elaborate in its design, with carvings from floor to stuccoed ceiling. It seems contrived and pompous next to the natural shapes of the stones within a circle that the organic softness of the flint and the hard roughness of the slate share.

The White Water Falls in the colonnades are as true to their name as Full Moon Circle. These mud drawings are executed with extreme concentration. Long likens the action to that of a musician playing a live concert. There is only one chance to get it right. For him, in the end it is purely chance that determines the results once the bucket of mud is thrown. The white on black is at times bold and forceful and at other times intricately beautiful.

Richard Long March 2017
Photography: Peter Huggins

In the South Wing Gallery I realize how extensively Richard Long has walked in his lifetime and how integral walking is to his life and art. Large scale photographs document walks and works created on the way either by placing rocks in a circle or a line; sometimes throwing them to create marks on the landscape. Each work created is relevant to the location.

Seeing the photos and reading the words also impress through the idea of the experience of walking done. This is not just a casual walk on the beach or 108 steps. It’s an involvement with the elements and essence of the place. A winter walk in England, Tibet or Antarctica contrasting with the heat of Mexico, the Sahara or South Africa as extremes of the spectrum.

The text works are a concise and aesthetic observation of detail with every word conjuring an image, vivid, alive.

The second gallery located in the house surprises with smaller wall works. Found pieces of wood are utilized in the shape found, perhaps cut at one time or another, sometimes worn, aged, irregular, or with rust stains where a steel band used to be. These works make a welcome contrast and show another aspect of Long’s work. There is something ritualistic and primal about the methodical daubing with mud on these pieces.

White Deer Circle, 2017
Photography: Peter Huggins

The exhibition is rounded off with display cases presenting catalogues, documentation and other publications by and about Richard Long giving an extensive documentation of his career.

Esther Boehm

The exhibition runs until 26 October 2017.
For opening times and more information  visit the Houghton Hall website.


Signs of Life 2

Interview with Esther Boehm

My father’s family emigrated from northwest Germany, then ruled by Denmark, to Estonia in the mid-nineteenth century. Many German families emigrated to the Baltic states, then ruled by Russia. My father was born in Moscow. My mother’s family were in Latvia. She was born in St Petersburg. Both families left Russia, by whatever means possible, after the Bolshevik revolution Continue reading “IN CONVERSATION WITH ANDREW SCHUMANN”

Rauschenberg — Absolutely Inspiring

Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) is an artist who has been a motivational figure for me since I studied Fine Arts. What he did was ground breaking. It was inspirational. Now, having been lucky enough to have seen his retrospective at the Tate Modern, I see that his work was far more extensive and far reaching than I remember. What is striking is the curiosity, imagination and variety of his endless experiments — his sense of humour — his outlook on life and art.

Detail from Rauschenberg statement on Joseph Albers, undated. Courtesy Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

Having studied under Josef Albers at the avante garde Black Mountain College in North Carolina, Rauschenberg was exposed to the full range of diciplines and the expectation to explore them. He found Albers criticism “excruciating and devastating” but also considered him the most important teacher he ever had. This grounding seems a vital contribution to Rauschenberg seeing everything and trying everything. This is evident considering his white paintings, black paintings, red paintings, tire tread impressions, images recorded on light sensitve blueprint paper, transfer drawings, constructions using everyday materials, silk screen printing etc. etc.

Meeting John Cage and Merce Cunnungham at Black Mountain led to Rauschenberg doing the set and costume design when the Merce Cunningham Dance Company began in 1953. Through this work he become a player in performances as well. The innovative and aesthetic Pelican (1963) with Rauschenberg on roller skates donning a parachute or the experiment in propulsion using himself and two large rubber tires as seen in Map Room II confirm his creative interdiciplinary versatility. Collaboration remained an integral aspect throughout Rauschenberg’s career.

While set designing with Merce Cunningham, Rauschenberg also created combines. Combines, are neither sculpture nor painting, but rather works which incorporate aspect of both in constructed works. An early combine, collaboration and pivotal work was Short Circuit (1955).

“Rauschenberg was invited to participate in the Fourth Annual Painting and Sculpture Show at the Stable Gallery; some artists he wanted included were not. So Bob made a Combine – he called it Short Circuit – which incorporated works by the refusés: Jasper Johns and Bob’s former wife, Susan Weil.”
– Leo Steinberg, quoted in Encounters with Rauschenberg (1997)

Combines are ingenious in their use of everyday objects such as neckties, umbrellas, alarm clocks, fans and anything else that captured his interest. It is the was they are put together in unlikely combinations that makes them special. Perhaps the most famous work, Monogram (1955-59) “combines oil, paper, fabric, printed paper, printed reproductions, metal, wood, rubber shoe heel, and tennis ball on canvas with oil and rubber tire on Angora goat on wood platform mounted on four casters.” A favourite of mine is Gift for Apollo (1959) with a bucket chained to a wheeled object. The green necktie is a lovely touch.

For the performance Oracle (1965), in collaboration with engineer Billy Klüver, Rauschenberg produced a group of movable objects exploring human movement interacting with these objects. 9 Evenings: Theater and Engineering (1966) followed. Its success led to the project ‘Experiments in Art and Technology’ (E.A.T.) a non-profit foundation promoting interaction between artists, engineers and industry. Further experiments with technology led to Mud Muse (1968-71), an ambitious feat of engineering in which the natural springs and geysers of Yellowstone National Park were his inspiration.

This was the time of American involvement in the space race. Technological advancement was progressive and exciting. Rauschenberg was asked to create a drawing for Moon Museum (1969), a microchip with artworks by 6 prominent artists of the time which would be sent to the moon. He was even invited to attend the launch of Apollo 11 — an exhilarating experience.

Parallel to this euphoria, was also disillusionment. The assasinations of Teddy Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the war in Viet Nam — the fight for Civil Rights at home contributed to Rauschenberg leaving New York and establishing his studio on Captiva Island, Florida. The 70s saw the Hoarfrost Series of sovent transfers and the Jammer Series using coloured silks found in his travels to India. It is undoubtedly this sequence of events that prompted Ruschenberg to reach out to humanity, in his way, as an artist.

“The Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange was an expression of Rauschenberg’s commitment to human rights and freedom of artistic expression. Through the R.O.C.I. project Rauschenberg travelled widely, often visiting places where artistic experimentation had been suppressed. He showed his own artwork, while exploring local art-making, aiming to spark conversations and create mutual understanding through creative processes.” (From Rules of Rauschenberg. Text by Kirstie Beaven & Lily Bonesso.) The R.O.C.I. went from 1984 to 1990. In this time Rauschenberg travelled to the 10 countries Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, China, Tibet, Japan, Cuba, the USSR, Malaysia and Germany. The project ended at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.

Glacial Decoy (1979)

Another work also presented in China in connection with the R.O.C.I. is Glacial Decoy (1979) a dance theatrical collaboration with choreographer Trisha Brown. The backdrop, a cycling projection on four larger-than-life screens of Rauschenberg’s black and white photos of Fort Myers, Florida.

In 1985 Rauschenberg travelled to his home state Texas. The oil crisis left behind metal signs, oil cans and other metal objects from which he created the Glut Series. It is especially the white piece Balcone Glut (Neapolitan) (1985) that makes an impression on me.

The Mirthday Man (1997)

Late works by Rauschenberg focus on photography and the technology of ink-jet printing. Thanks to a team of assistants he was able to produce large scale images, many referring back to or using motifs from the past as seen with the x-ray image of himself in Mirthday Man (1997) made on his 72nd birthday.

Even after 2 strokes, Rauschenberg went on, with the help of friends, to produce works from his vast achive of images. He continued looking and living until 2008.

In conclusion, a very fitting statement at the end of the retrospective exhibition: “… Throughout his collaborative, generous and experimental approach to art-making, he anticipated the social, networked and media-driven culture of today.”

For anyone who missed the retrospective at the Tate Modern but would still like to see it, it will start in May at the MoMA in New York City. If that is too far away, here are a couple of links giving indepth info on the artist:

Esther Boehm

Artwork © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation