BREVIEW: Thomas Bock & Edmund Clark: In Place of Hate @ Ikon Gallery – running until 11.03.18

Thomas Bock - Mithina (1842) / On display at Ikon Gallery until 11.03.18Words by Lucy Mounfield

Ikon Gallery’s latest programme introduces two individual exhibitions, showcasing the work of two seemingly discordant artists, packaged together tonight in a single opening event.

First up is Birmingham-born Thomas Bock (1793-1855), in the inaugural UK exhibition of his work. This collection forms a sort of retrospective, although it mainly spans the period after 1823 when Bock, an illicit abortionist, was convicted of ‘administering herbal concoctions with the intent to induce miscarriage’ and shipped to Australia for fourteen years. Bock was convicted during the tumultuous period of British settlement, and his reputation as one of the most important artists working during the colonial years is clearly identifiable in the many drawings, paintings and photographs on display. These works are in many ways not just a selection of his artistic output during his time in Australia, but a detailing of the sudden and chaotic change in both his personal and public life as a painter.

This sudden shift is made visible in the first room of the exhibition. One wall contains small landscape drawings of English villages and St. David’s Church (early 1820s), which are either quick sketches en plein air or from memory as he was making the journey from Birmingham to Van Dieman’s Land (now known as Tasmania). These works are small, detailed sketches, which showcase Bock’s skill, whilst the simplistic composition evokes the sense that they are distillations of his love for his England – the rural countryside scenes are idyllic as only memories can produce. Opposite are small portraits of aborigines; Larratung (larratong) (1832-1835) and Untitled, Wurati (woreddy) (1831) stare confidently outwards, meeting the gaze of the viewer, whilst forcefully confronting the earlier images of Bock’s homeland on the opposite wall. Wurati has a dominant posture and a commanding presence that confidently acknowledges the pride with which he holds himself. Taken together with the landscape sketches, these images confront the ideology of their time, of the undignified and primitive aboriginal people, and this curatorial trope heightens their aggressive gaze.

The exhibition separates several of Bock’s images into categories such as nudes, frontal portraits, landscapes, portrait profiles and families. Clear contrasts and comparisons are made between the English settlers and the aboriginal people, with the physical juxtapositions seeming to reinforce the democratic way in which Bock depicted both.

There are several pencil drawings of domestic scenes, including Woman and baby (1840), where a young woman is holding a small baby in their home. Here, the domestic space is the female space. Study of an aboriginal family (1832-35) is similar in Thomas Bock - Untitled, Wurati (woreddy) (1831) / On display at Ikon Gallery until 11.03.18 and style – the small pencil drawing is an intimate depiction of family life. Whereas the English woman and baby are alone in the domestic space, the aboriginal family shows the father holding a spear in the foreground, whilst the mother and small child sit in the background. This is an outdoor scene and one that clearly identifies the roles taken within the family, with the father as the hunter and the mother the caregiver. Bock has treated this image in much the same way as the English familial scene and in doing so has imparted much of their character into the drawings.

There is a depth of warmth in these portraits of aboriginal people. Mithina (1842) is a watercolour portrait of a young Aborigine girl. It is a full-frontal portrait in an oval shape that replicates the intimacy of miniature paintings. The girl is wearing a red dress; her hands are clasped together and she is smiling outwards meeting the gaze of the viewer. Beneath that smile belies a self-consciousness that hints at the awkwardness she must have felt posing for a white man who is clearly in the position of authority, even if he was lower in rank to many of his colonialist countrymen.

In much the same way Bock treated the aborigine portraits, his portraits of the middle-class English women are skilfully treated – accents of white on lace in Woman with bonnet possibly Mrs. Georgina Butler (1840s) add characterful elements to the piece and accentuate her self-importance. However, his portraits of the aborigines are treated with much more depth and understanding. Where the Woman with bonnet included her accoutrements and trappings of wealth, the portraits of aboriginal people hold their weapons and wear their tribal clothing as a badge of honour. Their gaze does not arrest our sympathy, but asks us to look at them as we would our own countrymen and women – not as savages, ‘noble’ or otherwise, but as individuals.

Whilst Bock’s images of aboriginal people can be deemed dignified and aesthetically interesting, they are emblematic of the seriousness with which he took himself as an artist. The three hand-coloured daguerreotypes in the last room of the exhibition hint at his miniaturist background, but show his commitment to developing new techniques and processes. Together with the handwritten personal colour chart, they are evidence that Bock considered himself an artist rather than a convicted criminal. Van Dieman’s Land has become his home rather than his prison, and similarly he depicts the settlers and aboriginal people as individuals with respected traditions rather than as the warden and prisoner binary that so often characterises the period of the British settlement. With Bock’s personal understanding of this situation, he treats the portrait sitters with equal respect.Edmund Clarke: In Place of Hate @ Ikon Gallery until 11.03.18

In much the same way as Bock depicts people as individuals, Edmund Clark, in his exhibition In Place of Hate, reappraises the prison system and the figure of the inmate. Edmund Clark is Ikon’s official artist-in-residence at HMP Grendon in Buckinghamshire, a role he has taken on since 2014 and will continue until 2018. Established in 1962, HMP Grendon uses a democratic and therapeutic approach to enacting punishment, asking the inmates to accept their prison sentence and to take responsibility for their crime.

Clark uses a sequence of rooms to portray the innovative prison system at Grendon. What struck me whilst walking through the rooms was that the structure and layout mirrors Foucault’s theory of the Victorian Panopticon – a prison design in which the centrally located warden can see everything at all times. Clark himself offers this view about the prison system at HMP Grendon:

This panopticon effect can clearly be seen in the second room, which has a circle of chairs with three video monitors on top of them. These video monitors represent the prisoners in group therapy and once I sat down, I too felt compelled to start talking and listening to the voices of the video as if I were joining in. The videos use actors to recreate stories from Greek tragedies. Mythologizing the prisoner’s experiences like this is an interesting way to convey their trauma and background without revealing private information. On the walls around the circle of chairs are posters entitled, ‘Therapeutic Community Model of Change’ and ‘Personality Pathway’. The posters provide a psychological background to the prison system and offer a pattern of abuse that suggests a prisoner has learnt behavioural methods from other people.

Edmund Clarke: In Place of Hate @ Ikon Gallery until 11.03.18The prisoner mug shot is examined as an undermining and problematic image. Clark uses the image of a flower throughout the exhibition, to stand in for the traditional photograph of the prisoner. For me, the flower is a metaphor for how the inmate at HMP Grendon is treated and arguably how the penal system should consider the convicted criminal; much like a flower, the inmate can grow and flourish to their full potential. The first room contains a large white u-shaped structure that displayed pressed flowers. For me, each flower poignantly represents each prisoner at HMP Grendon.

The next room further explores the problematic issue of the public image of the prisoner. Four rectangular screens hang down from the ceiling and each one is playing a video that shows the inside and the outside parameters of the prison building. We see the interior from the perspective of an inmate and some parts of the videos are blurred, which is reminiscent of CCTV footage on news reports where the offender has been pixelated.

What looks like an empty prison building is populated by these pixelated figures, creating an eerie and dystopian atmosphere, ultimately alluding to the erasure of the prisoner from the consciousness of the both the public and the prison system itself. Similarly, the last room projects blurred mug shots of black and white figures onto fabric interspersed with images of flowers. These projections again hang from the ceiling, allowing the viewer to walk among them as if they are people. Our shadows are caught on the fabric and further blur the images. The criminal here appears as an absence. Who are they really? Clark’s exhibition can elicit such questions from the viewer, challenging us to re-evaluate what a prison should do.

The Thomas Bock and Edmund Clark: In Place of Hate exhibitions at Ikon Gallery can be viewed together or separately; they work well in their own right, but taken together can highlight themes of identity and representation. Running both exhibitions concurrently until March 11th 2018, Ikon has presented a unique and thought-provoking exhibition program.

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BPREVIEW: Thomas Bock & Edmund Clark @ Ikon Gallery 06.12.17-11.03.18

Words by Lucy Mounfield / Pics courtesy of Ikon Gallery

On Wednesday 6th December, Ikon Gallery will unveil two new exhibitions: Edmund Clark: In Place of Hateand the first UK exhibition of work by convict artist Thomas Bock (1793-1855). Both exhibitions are free to enter and will be on display until 11th March 2018.

The official opening of Edmund Clark: In Place of Hate will be held at Ikon Gallery on Wednesday 6th December, running from 6pm to 8pm with a ‘pay bar’ available to guests.

Thomas Bock was born in Birmingham and trained here as an engraver and miniaturist. However, in 1823, he was found guilty of ‘administering concoctions of certain herbs … with the intent to cause miscarriage’ and was sentenced to transportation to Australia for 14 years. It was in Tasmania that Bock developed his role as convict artist; he was commissioned to document the penal system, prison life and the many executions that took place there.

However, the exhibition at Ikon will showcase his portraits of Aboriginal people which he took during his time in Tasmania. Portraits during this period depicting Aboriginal people often focus on their powerlessness during the British settlement; their indigenousness is founded upon this. It will be interesting to see how Bock – as a marginalized British convict – portrayed individuals and families living in Tasmania at the time.

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Concurrently, Ikon Gallery will be hosting In Place of Hate by Edmund Clark. Edmund Clark is Ikon’s official artist-in-residence at HMP Grendon in Buckinghamshire, a role he has been in since 2014 and will continue to produce work in conjunction with the gallery until 2018.

Edmund Clark: In Place of Hate is a culmination of his time at Europe’s only entirely therapeutic prison and will display a series of installations, photographs and videos which will engage with his experiences therein. Established in 1962, HMP Grendon uses a democratic and utilitarian approach to the prison system, asking the inmates to accept their punishment and to take responsibility for their offence. On Ikon Gallery’s website for this exhibition, it states that ‘evidence shows that Grendon has delivered lower levels of violence in prison and reduced instances of re-offence after release’.

Edmund Clark: In Place of Hate has the potential to be an exhibition that invites speculation on the effectiveness of the current prison system as well, as a reflection the artists differing experiences of the prison system.

There is, of course, a world of separation between transportation to Australia 200 years ago and a residency at HMP Grendon, but by bringing these two artists together the questions of crime, punishment and rehabilitation are opened up – making a rare shared context in which to interpret their work.

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BREVIEW: Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz @ Ikon Gallery – exhibiting until 26.11.17

The Prisoners (1908, Peasants' War - plate 7) / Käthe Kollwitz

Words by Lucy Mounfield

Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945) has always been recognised as an artist but her status and place in art history, until recently, has been overshadowed by her male counterparts – Otto Dix, Max Klinger, George Grosz, to name but a few. Subsequently, Kollwitz’ work has been lumped into the canon of German Expressionism and has often been ignored due to her empathetic depiction of working life; instead of being the artistic stereotype with lofty ambitions she became a conduit to the suffering of the people she depicted, herself becoming invisible in the process.

Ikon Gallery’s current exhibition, Portrait of an Artist – presented in collaboration with the British Museum, puts Kollwitz’ prints centre stage and marks the 150th anniversary of her birth. Many themes are explored: the crushing weight of human suffering, the question of agency and creativity in a male dominated world, the role of industrialisation in the plight of the working man and woman, revolution, personal loss, and death.

Käthe Kollwitz – Self Portrait (1924) woodcut © The Trustees of the British Museum These themes are not obvious at first; on entering I was greeted with a series of self-portraits spanning a forty-year period which, on their own, don’t lend themselves easily to interpretation. The prints are presented without comment; the accompanying text refers only to the medium of each print, eschewing lengthy biographical and symbolic interpretation. This allowed me to walk through the exhibition making connections as I went along.

Aesthetically, Kollwitz’ earlier self-portraits are excellent examples of her skill and draughtsmanship; these lithographs are incredibly detailed and the mark-making creates a sense of intimacy. However, as Kollwitz got older her technical ability became a little looser and her style changed from intricate lines to bold strokes that depicted the curvature of her older body. The latter depictions are particularly animalistic, with sunken eyes and a hollow face made up of several parts that don’t quite form a whole. These self-portraits from the 1920s and 1930s are barely recognizable – her face is worn down and the thick black lines create a sense of gloom. This technical and emotional change is somewhat baffling until you enter the second room.

Social and political protest is captured by Kollwitz in many small vignettes from her two series A Weaver’s Revolt (1897) and Peasants’ War (1908). Portrait of an Artist includes one lithograph and two etchings from the weaver’s series. These pieces were inspired by Gerhert Hauptmann’s play The Weavers (1892) which told the story of a failed revolt by Silesian weavers against mechanisation in 1844. Kollwitz may be referencing the literary world but her images have a universal truth about them that can be understood today.

Die Carmagnole (1901) / Käthe Kollwitz © The Trustees of the British MuseumHighlights from this section of the exhibition are The Carmagnole (1901) and Riot or Storming the Gate (1903-1897). These two prints stylistically reference images and iconography from the French Revolution most notably in The Carmagnole which depicts women dancing around a guillotine like a maypole. Indeed, the composition references a scene in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and the title of the piece is taken from the French Revolutionary song, ‘Die Carmagnole’. Here, Kollwitz captures the revolutionary spirit of the German people who happily worship the guillotine.

While many works depict moments of insurrection, there is never much to be happy about; even during revolt, faces appear tired, distorted, resigned. The aftermath of one such outbreak is depicted in the woodcut Memorial to Karl Leibnecht (1920), where haggard mourners surround the dead Leibnecht. The large block of white around Leibnecht’s dead head creates the impression of an orb like halo (alluding to depictions of Christ). He, along with Rosa Luxemburg and others, was tortured and murdered by the proto-Nazi Freikorps following the 1919 Spartacist uprising (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands / KPD)  in Berlin. Kollwitz herself was never a member of the KPD, and was in fact asked to create this piece by Leibknecht’s family. But looking at the work itself together with the other prints it can be interpreted as mourning not just Leibnecht the man, but the hope for a different future briefly glimpsed in the Free German Socialist Republic he had proclaimed.

From many wounds you bleed, o People (1896) continues the allusions to the Crucifixion by juxtaposing social commentary and religious symbolism. The image is very small and could almost be a preparatory print for a larger triptych or religious altarpiece.

From many wounds you bleed, o People (1896) / Käthe KollwitzThe tripartite composition has two crucified figures of women to the left and right whilst in the middle section shows a body being stabbed by man with sword. The central figure is lying on bed of thorns, who when analysed alongside the title could represent the ‘people’ of Germany. It has been argued that the two women on either side reference Michelangelo’s Slaves, though Kollwitz expresses anguish as female rather than male. The religious symbolism is most striking in this image and suggestive that death is inevitable for the ‘people’ who struggle against social injustice.

Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz also proposes to look at her role ‘as an empathetic and suffering mother.’ A large wall in the second room is dedicated to Woman with a Dead Child (1903) which has often been analysed regarding theWoman with Dead Child (1903) / Käthe Kollwitz - The Henry Barber Trust © The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham. death of her son Peter in 1914. A dead child’s head sticks out from the hulking arms of a hunched crossed legged figure. The triangular composition and muscular frame is reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Pietà – a marble sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding the crucified Jesus. Four different versions hang alongside each other showcasing the creative process and the varying crescendo of emotions that erupt when losing a loved one.

However, for me, Raped (1907-08) stands out above the images of Woman with a Dead Child; this startling and visually unsettling work captures the empathy and social duty that runs throughout Kollwitz’ work. A woman lies tangled in an overgrown garden, her body contorted, her head and neck thrust back into the soil whilst her legs are bonded to the roots of the plants. She is forever bound by the memory of the rape. Unusually Kollwitz has chosen not to show the act of rape or the attacker, but instead the aftermath. The stillness of the scene makes the brutality of the rape more affecting. What I did not recognise at first but became clearer on my second and third viewing, is the young girl overlooking the scene from behind the shrubbery.

Kollwitz is often said to have been concerned with the ‘suffering mother’, Raped (1907/8, Peasants' War - plate 2) / Käthe Kollwitz but the suffering depicted – while the subject is often a mother – appears more universal. It is violation of not only the mother but the daughter that makes the image all the more chilling.

Like Raped, Kollwitz Death and Woman (1910) captures the artist’s preoccupation with the universality of suffering; Death twists itself round a woman’s naked body whilst a small child tugs at her breasts. The dynamic proximity of the three figures mirror that of the three stages of a human life, and the way the woman’s cheek touches Death’s forehead is as if she is greeting it like an old friend. The ecstatic face of the woman contrasts with her stiffly contorted body, implying that life is a cruel tightrope between pleasure and strife.

While Kollwitz depicts a world of downtrodden subjects, loss, and stillborn revolutionary moments, it is never apparent that to struggle on is foolish. How does one continue in a world without hope? Inspiration (1904-05) portrays a masculine figure hunched over a weary woman wearing a shawl. The larger muscular character is drawing into the ground using a scythe, their hands and arms becoming one as if being guided by him. This image can be read in two ways: firstly, the woman is Kollwitz the artist, hollow-faced and guided by inspiration. Secondly, the female figure represents the working people of Germany who continue to toil because the masculine rulers of society force them to. Here, Kollwitz could be arguing that while suffering is inevitable, it is also inescapable that she must continue to be creative in the face of anguish.

Portrait of an Artist: Käthe Kollwitz is a fantastic exhibition that not only showcases her as an artist – who had a brilliant sense of mastery and skill – but as someone who thought that printmaking was her egalitarian duty to expose the merciless and arbitrary cruelty of the poorer sections of German society. Yet in a way there is hope, because the pain that Kollwitz and others felt lives on through both her work and further exhibitions like this. 

Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz is exhibiting at Ikon Gallery until 26th November. For more on Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz, visit

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BPREVIEW: Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz @ Ikon 13.9-26.11.17

Self portrait – looking left (1901) / Käthe Kollwitz © The Trustees of the British MuseumWords by  Lucy Mounfield

On Wednesday 13th September, Ikon unveil their new exhibition, Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz, which will be on show until the 26th November. Organised by Ikon and the British Museum, this exhibition is drawn from a collection of forty works from the British Museum – complemented by a small number of loans from a private owner and The Barber Institute of Fine Arts collection. 

Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945) was a Prussian artist whose drawing, prints and sculptural work depicted and reflected a world ravaged by poverty, class struggles and war. Kollwitz lived through a tumultuous period in Germany’s history – through the Empire of Kaiser Wilhelm II, post-First World War struggles and the Weimar Republic, the growth of the Nazi party and the outbreak of the Second World War.

Kollwitz’s body of work has divided opinion: conservative collectors admire the craftsmanship of her printmaking, whilst from a social political point of view her oeuvre encapsulates the anti-war stance and class consciousness of the German Expressionists in the inter-war years. Kollwitz’s two great graphic series, The Weaver’s Revolt (1897) and The Peasants War (1908), document social injustice suffered by working men and women.

Die Carmagnole (1901) / Käthe Kollwitz © The Trustees of the British MuseumConcurrently Käthe Kollwitz’ subject matter has been looked at through the lens of her as a female artist; Kollwitz did make considerable gains in the art world. She studied art courses at women only schools at a time when women were ostracized from academies. In 1919, she became the first woman to be elected to the Prussian Academy of Arts, later becoming the first female professor there.

Critical analysis of women artists has often been problematic. Many exhibitions and much art historical critique has previously centered around Käthe Kollwitz as a ‘woman and artist’, whose empathetic and compassionate art was directly related to her gender and role as mother. The theme of motherhood has been explored regarding the death of her son, Peter, in 1914 – during the First World War, citing this as an influence for her Woman with Dead Child (1903) print. This image epitomizes the animalistic quality of her work, the etched jagged lines mirror the sharp jolts of grief. Many artists depicting war and poverty have often described the physical signs of struggle, but Kollwitz and her contemporaries – Otto Dix and George Grosz among them – revealed the psychological effects of a country in turmoil.

Woman with Dead Child (1903) / Käthe Kollwitz - The Henry Barber Trust © The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of BirminghamIkon and the British Museum‘s Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz exhibition aims to look at her work through the ‘exploration of three themes: social and political protest, self-portraits and the role of an empathetic and suffering mother.’ It promises a re-examination of her as ‘someone who illuminates what it means to be an artist and to sustain a creative life’.

Furthermore, this exhibition will be the first time that many of the artworks have been seen together since Campbell Dodgson, Assistant Keeper – then Keeper – of the Department of Prints and Drawings (1893-1932) at the British Museum, bought these images in Germany before the First World War. Perhaps it will bring together the contrasting interpretations of Käthe Kollwitz’ work and present a fuller picture of her creative influences.

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