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Category Archives: Art

The beauty of art can counter Islamophobia

What kind of Islamic art has the power to open American hearts and minds, at a time when Donald Trump has relaunched his attempt to ban entry from several Muslim-majority nations?

In May, a new Institute of Arab and Islamic Art, set up by Qatar’s Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Al-Thani, will open in downtown Manhattan. The timing is not accidental. Al-Thani is trying to humanise Islam and broaden perceptions of it in the US. He hopes the institute will “not only showcase the breadth of art and culture from the Arab and Islamic worlds, but also challenge certain stereotypes and misconceptions that hinder cross-cultural understanding”, he told the Art Newspaper.

Some hope, you may say. The depth of prejudice flaunted by Trump (and apparently shared by many of his voters) is so aggressive in its refusal to engage with a complex world that it seems unlikely to be healed by a bit of Islamic art in New York. Surely that’s the wrong location, anyway – the hearts and minds that need opening are hardly those of Manhattanites who voted Hillary.

Yet that’s too pessimistic. If there is one thing that can communicate across every border and cultural gap it is art. Where words define and definitions divide us, visual art is open, ambiguous and allows imaginations to wander in time and space. Looking at Islamic art allows non-Muslims to feel the inner beauty of beliefs and traditions we do not share, to look with “another heart / And other pulses”.

Islamic art beckons me with its beauty. The Alhambra in Granada is the most enrapturing place in the world, a palace of dreams where ethereal intricacy of design, and craftsmanship of quiet genius, turn brightly lit rooms into caverns of delight. Crystalline ceilings and harmonious tiles glitter everywhere you look, illuminated by windows filled with the Andalusian sky. It is truly like being on a cloud halfway between heaven and Earth.

Of course, it is not possible to put this medieval building in an art gallery. It is very difficult to capture the wonder of any Islamic art in a gallery. The rich, subtle weave of decorative patterns and textures that makes the Alhambra so seductive is, in fact, typical of many of the greatest Islamic artistic achievements. All-embracing abstract design, rather than the iconic “masterpiece” tradition of western art, is what gives Islamic marvels from Isfahan to Cordoba their magic. The best advice is to go to these places. A couple of days in Marrakech would do wonders for any Islamophobe – visit the gorgeous Ben Youssef madrasa and feel the warmth and gentleness of the city that surrounds it.

So the task of an Islamic art gallery is not so much to display masterpieces as to find a way to connect them in a living flow of colour and pattern that gets across the multidisciplinary ecstasy of these places. One place that does this very well is the V&A in London, which uses low lighting and aesthetically harmonious arrangements to unify ceramics, rugs, architectural fragments and calligraphy in a serene, entrancing installation. Islamic art is emotional; it changes your relationship with space and time. To open American minds, the Institute of Arab and Islamic Art needs to replicate that sublime psychological effect. It should be like wandering into the old part of an Arab city: less a museum than a medina.

Some Islamic art is more effective than others. If I was creating a dream collection, I would concentrate on the medieval caliphate of north Africa and Spain, where art reached the sumptuous yet reserved heights of delicate beauty that can still be savoured in Morocco and Andalusia. For instance, the minaret of the Koutoubia mosque in Marrakech is identical to the former minaret that is Seville’s cathedral bell tower. They were both built by the 12th-century Almohads. The abstract glory of north African and Andalusian art can still be savoured in portable works, though. A wooden minbar – or pulpit – carved in the medieval Moorish style would be the most enchanting object this new gallery could show.

Art being made today shares the liberating effects of medieval Islamic creations. It has been rumoured – although the IAIA says it has not yet announced its future collaborations – work may be shown by Mona Hatoum that dramatises global tensions. But is her work likely to change how Americans see Islam? I would recommend it display the much more utopian, visionary art of Waqas Khan. His huge and intricate abstract drawings share the ethereal freedom of the greatest Islamic art. Here is an artist to change your mind, your soul.

Then again, America has never lacked cultural curiosity. In the 19th century, Washington Irving wrote Tales of the Alhambra and Edgar Allan Poe raved about the intoxication of “arabesques”. Khan’s work not only evokes medieval Islam but American minimalism, too – for there are close affinities between the American feel for abstract art, from Jackson Pollock to Donald Judd, and the Islamic world, where art always has been largely abstract.

So we come back to the basic problem. The US already has great museums full of liberal good intentions. The problem is that Trump has appealed to the worse angels of our nature, and they have howled acclaim. How can beauty help when voters have shown they prefer the beast?

The Visionary Architects Who Shaped Japan

In a forest clearing in West Sussex, a tall wooden chimney stands propped up on timber scaffolding, a fierce jet of fire roaring from its top. All of a sudden, the flaming flue crashes to the ground with a loud thud, splitting open in a cloud of smoke to reveal a scaly blackened surface of charred planks within. “No trained architect would use this material,” says the 70-year-old Terunobu Fujimori, as he scuttles away to douse some more newspaper in a bucket of petrol. “Which is exactly why I like to use it,” he adds with a broad grin.

The mischievous architectural historian turned builder has made a name for himself in Japan by crafting beguiling little buildings that refuse to follow any of the usual rules. His hand-made structures look like the nests or cocoons of curious creatures, woven, whittled and thatched with organic, earthy materials that could have been scavenged from the forest floor. He has built a tiny teahouse for himself in Nagano, vertiginously perched at the top of two tree trunks (“because one leg is dangerous and three legs are too stable and boring”), and another – named theFlying Mud Boat – that hangs from wires like some floating seed pod. His buildings are sculpted with the fairytale allure of a child’s drawing, topped with oversized roofs and wonky chimneys, dotted with little hatches and porthole windows, as if transported from a manga animation.

This woodland charring factory is part of Fujimori’s preparations for an exhibition at the Barbican on the Japanese house since 1945. He is building a teahouse in the gallery, using his trademark burnt wooden cladding. Entering the space through a low doorway, visitors will follow a winding path through grassy mounds to reach his black cabin, characteristically raised up on legs and accessed through a small opening at the top of a ladder. “The teahouse should always be slightly awkward to enter,” he explains. “The architecture should make you crouch, or crawl, so you show some respect for the tea ceremony.”

The Barbican’s gnarled concrete walls will provide a pleasing contrast with the crackled black crocodile skin of Fujimori’s charred boards. The ancient Japanese practice of yakisugi was used for hundreds of years to seal wood against rot and rain, before weatherproof paint was invented. And it is just the kind of primitive technique that captures Fujimori’s imagination, coming from outside the traditional architectural canon.

“The history of architecture is much older than the history of architects,” he says, explaining how his training as a historian led him to try to shed any influence of what had gone before. “I made a rule that my work shouldn’t reference anything else in the history of architecture.”

Delighting in his role as a professional amateur, Fujimori builds his structures with the help of an enthusiastic band of friends known as the Jomon Company, taking their name from the Neolithic period of Japanese history. A motley group of volunteers that includes a novelist, painter, sake brewer, publisher and priest, they use basic tools to give buildings a warm, roughly hewn feel, their sideways approach leading to such eccentric details as leeks planted on rooftops and knobbly lumps of charcoal pressed into plaster ceilings.

Fujimori, who got his first commission at the age of 44, is just one of more than 40 architects whose works will feature in this ambitious exhibition. Featuring more than 200 works, it reveals the Japanese house to be a site of unparalleled architectural invention over the past seven decades. It will show the products of postwar optimism and the promise of mass production in a country rebuilding itself from the ground up; the reaction against this brave new world and the longing for craft and tradition; the eco-experiments of the 1970s, followed by the lavish dreams of the 80s bubble economy; and, more recently, the ethereal urge to float away in whiter-than-white houses.

The private house in Japan has been a fertile laboratory for new ideas because there has always been such high demand for new dwellings. Never mind the fact that much of the urban fabric was obliterated by bombing in the second world war, or that the country suffers from frequent earthquakes – the house itself is seen as a temporary asset, lasting 30 years on average before a new one takes its place. It keeps the country in a perpetual building boom, and a continual churn of innovation.

“It might seem a strange idea in the west, but in Japan the house is a disposable thing,” says Barbican curator Florence Ostende. “Because of inheritance tax, people are much more likely to demolish their parents’ home and rebuild their own, and there isn’t the same attitude to preservation and heritage. Many of the houses in the exhibition are no longer standing.”

With virtually no market for “pre-owned” homes – one of the reasons that Japan has the most architects per capita in the world – the house is a vehicle for personal expression. The exhibition is full of crepuscular concrete bunkers and diaphanous light-filled lanterns, homes that turn their back on the city and others that try to bring the city into the house, opening up the theatre of domestic life for all to see.

In the 1970s, cosmological enthusiast Kiko Mozuna conceived his home as a “nested universe”, composing a series of different sized cubes with triangular openings to form what he called the “Anti-Dwelling Box”. When creating a dwelling for a graphic designer, meanwhile, po-mo prankster Kazumasa Yamashita played on the idea of a facade by arranging its windows and light shaft into a Face House.

7 Tips to Create an Excellent Observational Drawing

Tip 1: Look at what you are drawing

Failing to look at what you are drawing is one of the most fundamental errors an Art student can make

This sounds obvious, but it is the most common error made by art students. Many students attempt to draw things the way that they thinkthey should look, rather than the way they actually do look.

The only way to record shape, proportion and detail accurately is to look at the source of information. Human memory does not suffice. Forms, shadows and details are hard enough to replicate when they are right there in front of you; if you have to make them up, they appear even less convincing. In order to produce an outstanding observational drawing, you must observe: your eyes must continually dance from the piece of paper to the object and back again. Not just once or twice, but constantly.

Note: even if you pursue a theme about mythical creatures, fairy tales or some other imaginary form, you should work as much as possible from observation. Piece your creatures together from fragments of life. Dress people up and then draw them or merge different parts of insects or creatures together (using artistic license as appropriate) rather than creating an entire form or scene from your head.

Tip 2: Draw from real objects whenever possible

The phrase ‘observational drawing’ typically implies drawing from life (see the superb observational drawing exercise set by artist and teacher Julie Douglas). Ask any art teacher and they will list the benefits of drawing from objects that are sitting directly in front of you. You are provided with a wealth of visual information…changing light conditions; rich textures; views of the subject from alternate angles; as well as information from other sense…smells and noise from the surroundings etc. Transcribing from three-dimensions to two is ultimately much harder than drawing from a photograph, but it often results in drawings that are ‘richer’ and more authentic.

Tip 3: Don’t trace

Throughout history, great realist painters have traced from photographs or worked from projections blown up onto walls. But these painters are not high school art students; nor are they assessed on their ability to replicate form.

There is a place for tracing in IGCSE or A Level Art (such as when tracing over something you have already drawn or creating a repeat pattern), but tracing from photographs and then simply applying colour or tone is not acceptable. Such methods of ‘drawing’ involve minimal skill, teach you little and run the risk of producing clunky, soul-less outlines. Don’t do it.

Tip 4: Understand perspective

As objects get further away they appear smaller. The replication of this change of scale on paper (through the use of vanishing points) is called ‘perspective’. The fundamentals of perspective are usually taught in junior high school; by Year 10 at the latest. If you are a senior art student and have somehow missed this lesson, remedy this situation urgently. There are not many theoretical aspects of art that are essential to learn, but this is one of them. Please view the perspective handouts in the Student Art Guide free teacher resources to get you started.

Tip 5. Use grids, guidelines or rough forms to get the proportions right before you add details

Many students start with a tiny detail (the eye on a face, for example) and then gradually add in the rest of the image…ending up with a drawing that is badly proportioned or doesn’t fit on the page (or floats aimlessly in the middle of it). This can be avoided by approximating the basic forms before adding details or by using guidelines to ensure that proportions are correct.

If working from a photograph, using a grid can result in highly accurate work. It allows students to focus on one small segment of the image at a time and gives arbitrary lines from which distances can be gauged. This can be a helpful strategy when precise, detailed images are required and can itself become a celebrated component in an artwork. As gridding is methodical and involves meticulous plotting of lines, however, it is important to acknowledge that this approach runs the risk of producing tight and regimented drawings that lack in ‘spirit’ and should thus be approached with care.

If working from life, roughly sketching outlines of the major forms will allow you to get the proportions right, before you add the details. While you do this, you should constantly check which points line up (i.e. edge of nostrils lining up with edge of eye) and the size of every object should be estimated in relation to the things that are beside it. You must get used to seeing things not in terms of absolute scale, but in terms of how one thing compares to another.

Tip 6: Be wary of ellipses

This diagram by Rachel Shirley illustrates some of the common errors when drawing an ellipse.

Ellipses – the oval shapes that are visible at the top of cylindrical objects such as bottles or jars – frequently ‘trip up’ a weak drawer. They can send an immediate signal that a student isnot looking at what they are drawing. All ellipses, no matter what angle they are viewed from, should be rounded (not pointed) at the ends, as illustrated in the image to the left (by Rachel Shirley) and below (sourced from IDsketching).

Tip 7: Keep the outlines light

This observational study was part of an IGCSE ‘A’ grade Coursework submission by Georgia Shattky, from ACG Parnell College. It shows folded fabric hanging over the corner of a wooden dresser. Note that there is not a single black outline within the work: edges are defined solely through variation in tone.

As your drawing is fleshed out in more detail, with attention given to the subtle variations in shape and form, the natural inclination – especially of the novice drawer – is to want to darken in the outlines, to help ensure they are visible. Do not do this.

Real objects do not have dark lines running around every edge. Edges should instead be defined by a change in tone and/or colour, as in the beautiful graphite drawing by an IGCSE Art student shown to the left.

If you are producing a line drawing, a cartoon or some other graphic image, outlines may be darkened, but in an observational drawing – especially one which you wish to be realistic – dark outlines are never advised.

Tips to Choosing The Right Painting Medium

Here are lists of pros and cons for most common painting mediums. In addition to those listed here, paintings can be made with many other mediums such as gouache, oil pastel, ink, pencil, markers, spray paint and silkscreen among others. Experimenting with new painting mediums, even for a short period of time, can be fun and inspiring, and expand how you use your current medium once you return to it.

Painting with Oil

Pros: Oil paint is slow drying, allowing for more time to make changes and to blend colors. Oil refracts the color pigment in the paint for a beautiful, rich glowing color. Great for realism, blending and detail, oil can also be used for experimental and playful methods of abstraction

Cons: Working transparently (such as glazing) requires the use of oil mediums that often contain toxic solvents. Oil paint alone is not toxic, but some mediums used to extend oil paint are toxic. Reduce toxicity by using non-toxic mediums in the paint and baby oil to clean brushes.

Oil paint never fully cures even when dry to the touch, so correct care must be taken for handling and storage. The painting must not be shipped or varnished too soon. Layering requires correct chemistry so that a more flexible layer is always applied over a less flexible one.

Oil has the potential to crack, especially if used thickly. Most oils turn yellow over time, dramatically reducing luminosity in white and light value colors.

Painting with Acrylic

Pros: Acrylic paints, mediums and products are almost all nontoxic. Acrylic is known for its fast drying qualities but is also available in slow-drying forms. A wide variety of acrylic products are available to customize paint and to personalize preferences in surface absorbency, texture and sheen. Fast-drying acrylic paints are great for layering while slow-drying acrylics imitate the look and feel of oil.

Paints are available in varying consistencies (viscosity), so acrylics can imitate both watercolor and oil in look and feel. Acrylics can be as thin as ink or thick and heavy bodied for textural effects. Acrylic offers the widest range of possibilities and is now considered more archival than all other mediums. When used correctly it will not crack or yellow, and fully cures in about two weeks. Acrylic can be used in conjunction with many other mediums such as creating a fast-drying underpainting for use under oil paint.

Cons: Acrylic binders usually contain ammonia, and though considered nontoxic, can cause sensitivity with some people, especially when used without proper ventilation.

Painting with Watercolor

Pros: Watercolor naturally creates transparency, and its water-soluble nature allows for some changes even after it has dried.

Cons: Because watercolor is usually applied to paper, the paint will sink into and stain the surface, making the paint difficult to remove fully once dry.

When finished, watercolor paintings need protection, such as being framed behind glass, due to paper being not as archival as panel or canvas as well as the non-permanent nature of the watercolor paint.

Painting with Chalk Pastel

Pros: Pastel is actually a drawing medium, but finished works in pastel are often referred to as paintings. Drying times are not an issue when working with pastel, making it portable and an excellent choice for working outdoors. Good quality pastels can produce a unique and luscious sheen in the final surface. Colors come in a wide range and can be blended and mixed directly onto the surface.

Cons: Pastel remains delicate on a surface and requires protection with glass and framing. Alternative protection, such as spray fixatives and sealers, will diminish pastel’s color and sheen.

Painting with Mixed Media

Pros: Combining paint and painting mediums with other materials expands possibilities and adds an immediate contemporary appearance.

Cons: Non fine-art materials, such as those made for craft and commercial use, can fade over time with exposure to light and air, requiring UV or other types of protection such as sealing applications or framing with UV glass.

When one type of material is layered over a different one, it may need extra procedures for proper adhesion between them.

A Word About Painting Mediums

The word medium has different meanings depending on its context. It can designate a discipline such as oil or acrylic, or it can refer to an actual binder or extender used in the chemistry of that discipline. For example, linseed oil is a medium and is used with the medium of oil paint.

What Is Mixed Media Art

All stirring and wise and fearless words to live by from artists featured in Seth Apter’s book, The Mixed Media Artist. The guide showcases 40 artists and the tips, tricks, dreams, and points of focus they use to inspire themselves and keep their creativity active and energized.

Just skimming it in preparation to discuss the resource with you, I got distracted because there was so much to ignite my creative side:

  1. Take out a pen and paper and ask yourself what three things you are inspired by. Write them down. Can you think of three? Can you think of 30? What first three come to mind and are they what you would call your “most inspiring” inspirations? The answers might surprise you.
  2. Desk clutter is not clutter at all. These are our touchstones–objects we see every time we sit down to work and that means they have power. Keep items that inspire you nearby as well as the essentials for your art-making. Anything from a camera or iPad to a collection of favorite pencils to a glass of wine or tea (depending on the time of day) can be what you need to have at hand to create the way you want to!
  3. Do you have a routine that you embrace or a routine that feels more like a rut? If you are looking for a trick to get back into the studio, think about how you can vary your routine (if you work solo, maybe ask a friend to join you) or remove the roadblocks that don’t let you keep one (turn the phone off or on silent when it is time to create).
  4. What is your dream art project? To work on a large scale without space constraints? To travel the world and capture the landscapes you see in art? Something public? Or is every piece dreamy to you?

Someone gave me the nicest compliment today when they said,”You made my day.” Mixed media art has that same effect on me as I explore the lush and strange and exciting inner-landscape of my mind and creative spirit. That is what I wish for all of you as well, so if you are interested in answering the question of “what is mixed media art” for yourself

Scientists Decode the Mysterious ‘Mona Lisa’ Smile

The world has long been captivated by Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and the subject’s enigmatic expression. Part of the famous painting’s widespread appeal is said to be its ambiguity, but participants in a new scientific study almost universally agreed that the portrait’s subject is unequivocally happy.

The study, conducted by neuroscientists at the University of Freiburg, paired a black-and-white version of the Mona Lisa with eight manipulated versions of the image in which the angle of the mouth had been adjusted so that four looked sadder and the others happier. The nine copies were shown to participants in random order 30 times, and the original painting was judged to be happy no less than 97 percent of the time.

“We really were astonished,” study co-author Juergen Kornmeier toldAgence France Presse. “There may be some ambiguity in another aspect … but not ambiguity in the sense of happy versus sad.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time that scientists have claimed to crack the da Vinci code, so to speak, when it comes to the painting’s subtle expression. In 2015, scientists from the UK’s Sheffield Hallam University claimed that Leonardo had developed a technique for an “uncatchable smile” that is visible only from certain angles, and almost seems to disappear when one looks too closely.

While the general consensus is that the Mona Lisa depicts Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine merchant, her true identity is still subject to debate. One possibility is that the portrait is based on Salai, a young man who was Leonardo’s apprentice—and maybe even his lover. Even more out there is the notion that the artist was depicting his own mother, and that she was a Chinese slave.

There are other theories swirling around the Renaissance masterpiece as well. Just last month, for instance, Jonathan Jones of the Guardian posited that the model might have has syphilis, and that the greenish tint to her skin reflects her sickness.

Pikachu Garden And a Ruthless Critique of Consumerism

Remember way back in the summer of 2016? Barack Obama was president, and the world was obsessed with Pokemon Go. In many ways, it was a simpler time. As New York digs itself out from the blizzard of 2017,Castor Gallery invites visitors to escape the winter blues with Michael Pybus’s Pikachu Orchid Garden, a summery art installation full of cuddly stuffed versions of the undisputed star of the Pokémon franchise.

The bloom may be off the Pokémon Go these days—although I still occasionally spot museums advertising the presence of Pokéstops on site—but relaxing in a plushy, albeit commercialized Pikachu oasis sounds like it could be just the sort of soothing experience art lovers are in need of. And Pybus isn’t just jumping on the bandwagon: He’s worked with the character for over a decade.

The work, titled In 3D the basil never wilts, is part of Pybus’s exhibition inspired by global brands. Everything in the garden was purchased at IKEA, which has bragged about using CGI to create three quarters of its catalogue’s imagery. (The show’s title is derived from a quote from the company.)

As it becomes nearly impossible to tell the difference between real and computer generated imagery, the global reach of brands such as IKEA and Pokémon extends further and further. The exhibition statement describes Pikachu as “an icon of consumerist thirst, engineered to never be fully quenched”—appropriate given the game’s “Gotta catch ’em all” tag line.

An Artist Who Tore Down The Old to Build The New

For years, I would encounter Gustav Metzger in public talks and at galleries, often away from the beaten track. He was always there, always watching and listening. At first I found him a bit intimidating. More recently, I would see him, looking slightly frail and small and in a certain disarray, struggling with bags of documents and other papers, as he went to and from where he lived in London’s East End.

His activities included the accumulation of thousands of newspapers and other ephemera, and he could appear a little eccentric and vulnerable. But impressions can be deceptive. Everything Metzger did had purpose, even his inveterate walks in the city he had known since the second world war.

From the 90s onward, appearances in large exhibitions – where Metzger showed, on one occasion, the congealed liquid slides he had once used for light shows with Cream and the Who in the 60s – located him among younger artists who regarded him as a sort of errant father figure.

For Metzger, who arrived in England on the Kindertransport in 1939, it was David Bomberg (whose background was also Polish-Jewish) who was a kind of father figure. Metzger studied with the painter for years at Borough Polytechnic – working in his influential life class alongside Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff – before choosing a different path.

A few years ago, he showed the sad wreckage of his early life drawings and paintings, the tattered remnants of his early paintings. They had the status of evidence. However, he continued to believe in the power and importance of art to a degree that might seem idealistic. Persuaded by the curators to take part in an exhibition Art Into Society, Society Into Art at London’s ICA in 1974, he produced a manifesto calling on artists to stop producing art between 1977 and 1980, in the first art strike.

Metzger was a paradox. He could, he thought, have been successful had he not been so political – he once gave a lecture on Damien Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull, a work he found beautiful, while at the same time complaining about the lack of ethics in the art world.

A small, intense and somewhat prickly man with twinkling eyes, his cantankerousness was at once political and personal. He had numerous arguments and fallings-out, not only with Bomberg but also with Lord Goodman(who supported him for a number of years), with Joseph Beuys and with John Latham. The disputes were ideological and artistic. Essentially a warm, kindly man, he could be recalcitrant, and would follow ideas to what seemed extreme conclusions.

His art made connections – in one work, between Hannah Arendt, Walter Benjamin, Paul Klee’s watercolour The Angel of History, and Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann. He made works using archive newspaper articles on mad cow disease (prefiguring Roger Hiorns’ work on the BSE crisis) and, like Eric Hobsbawm andWG Sebald, worked against forgetting what had led to, and happened, in the Holocaust.

Art for Metzger could be painting or a drop of water sizzling on a hot plate; a piece of metal floating on the Thames, a display of 10,000 newspapers, a stack of refrigerators or 120 cars, or a group of inverted dead trees, their roots aloft. His lectures, manifestos and films all attested to his beliefs. It turned out he was right on many points. I shall miss his constant, agitating, difficult presence.

His auto-destructive art was an anti-capitalist gesture against global corporate power and domination, rather than simply a formal gambit. Metzger didn’t want to destroy art. Artists, he believed, had a responsibility to help society and to prevent future wars. “Can art do it instead of just politics?” he asked. “Art can do it. Art must do it. And I must be one of the artists who do it.”

Why Cyprus Is Europe’s Most Exciting

There is movement afoot in the art world, triggered by the rising scale of the art market coupled with the downturn in Western economies, from the cultural capitals to places on the margins where physical space is more affordable and mental space more expansive.

Dropping out is not the risk it used to be: While the conditions in major cities have become prohibitive to creative production and the stakes higher, art producers and dealers have become nomadic, even shedding gallery spaces, to chase increasingly interesting marginal markets around the globe.

In turn, art production is becoming less object-oriented and artists hop from residency to residency, making it easier to participate from the periphery.

Located at the southern terminus of the European Union, Cyprus is both isolated and yet highly contested for its strategic proximity to three continents as well as offshore oil and gas resources. The heart of the capital, Nicosia, is split down the middle by barbed wire—a formerly lively market street and the international airport left bereft in the UN buffer zone—the scar of a political stalemate between Turkey and Greece. The threat of conflict is escalating even now as hard-line Turkish president Recep Erdoğan ramps up nationalist rhetoric. The cancellation of Manifesta 6, planned for Nicosia in 2006, attests to the complex nature of the Cypriot reality.

So living on the edge is nothing new to Cypriot artists, and a young contingent has returned from studies abroad to collaborate in getting one another’s work out there by opening collective project spaces.

The art market has always been illusive in Cyprus, and the few influential commercial galleries that were active—like Archimede Staffolini, directed by Pavlina Paraskevaidou, and Omikron, backed by collector Nicos Pattichis—did not survive the economic crisis, the latter closing in 2012.

Staffolini showed now successful artists such as Haris Epaminonda and Polys Peslikas early on; Omikron’s 2010 group show “Notes to Self,” curated by Elena Parpa, introduced a new generation of Cypriot artists who grew up in the digital age.

A year after Omikron closed, former director Maria Stathi, previously at London’s Anthony Reynolds, opened the nonprofit space Art Seen in Nicosia, which produces limited-edition prints and multiples to support its exhibition program.

The production of affordable art supports the exhibition program and is part of an attempt to reach out to a nontraditional audience. “It is super challenging to work in Cyprus,” she says. “There are not that many people who understand what we are doing and why we are doing it.” Aside from a dearth of contemporary art spaces, there was no fine-arts degree program until very recently.

Similarly, Point Centre for Contemporary Art, established by Andre Zivanari as a not-for-profit space in 2012—following on a program supporting Cypriot artists for the Künstlerhaus Bethanien residency—commissions original work from artists for solo exhibitions. The recent show, “Completely Something Else,” curated by Jacopo Crivelli Visconti, brought together a mix of foreign and Cypriot artists, including Epaminonda, Phanos Kyriacou, and Christodoulos Panayiotou, to convey how relationships between physical objects, repeated and juxtaposed, generate new and universal meanings in different contexts, often as shadows of other places and times. Artists Victor Costales, Julia Rometti, and Maria Loboda stayed for more than a month to explore what they perceived as the island’s “charged landscape,” highlighting how space is constructed through experience, memory, and history.

Phanos Kyriacou’s upcoming exhibition there, “Exhaustion,” will comprise an installation of 36 drawings and a small sculpture in an attempt to evoke the tension between representation and reality through the repetitive depiction of an object, its planes accumulating finally to suggest its form but not its substance.

In fact, Kyriacou’s now-defunct project space Midget Factory (2003-12) anticipated the current proliferation of artist-run spaces, many of which alternate as sort of open studios: located in the red-light district of Nicosia’s old town, it was “open” 24/7 through the use of movement-detection lights and attained a cult following by the time of its demise, when the building was finally demolished. Other precedents were Stoa Aeschylou, directed by Demetris Neokleous and Panikos Tembriotis, andApotheke, run by Demetris Taliotis in a post-industrial space in the city center until 2012. A multidisciplinary node for innovative happenings, it nurtured a network for many of the young artists practicing now, including Kyriacou, Maria Toumazou, and the director’s brother, Constantinos Taliotis.

From Art to Selfies

One of the first photographs I ever took was of Pete Townshend of the Who at what is now known as the band’s seminal concert at Leeds University in 1970.

I had been a drummer in a band that practised in my mate’s garage, fortunately a small venue as we were terrible. I thought that the next best thing to being in a band was to photograph my heroes – and none were bigger than the Who. I duly took the film into the local chemist and, a week later, I went to collect my works of art.

I opened the first sleeve and nothing, the next nothing, the next nothing and so on. I got to the end and, bingo, there he was, Townshend complete with Dr Martens boots in mid flight, framing Keith Moon perfectly.

This is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life – I was in heaven. The trouble was I didn’t know how this particular frame had come out. I had moved all the dials in different directions during the gig and one combination collided to work.

Nevertheless, this fledgling experiment with the genre was enough to trigger a lifelong love of photography, something I get to explore in my three-part BBC series, Britain in Focus, where I travel across the country to tell the story of the evolution of the medium. I get to go back to see how the pioneers cracked the genre and to ask some giants of the game what they were trying to do.

The series begins in the summer of 1835, when landed gentleman and polymath Henry Fox Talbot was seen purposefully walking in and around his country house at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire. He was carrying with him a small wooden box that his carpenter had made for him, trying to decide where to place the object. Fitted out with a lens from one of his own microscopes, Fox Talbot was trying to take Britain’s first ever photograph – something he succeeded in doing.

From here, the series moves on to, among others, Roger Fenton, a founder member of the Photographic Society of London, dedicated to raising technical standards but also to making photography into a fine art.

The most celebrated photograph that Fenton took was during the Crimean war –In the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Yet there is no fighting shown here, no dead bodies, just a landscape with cannon balls. But the power of the photograph is undeniable, you can sense the horror.

In 1860, Fenton returned to Yorkshire. Over 11 years, taking nearly 2,000 photographs, Fenton had wanted to elevate his medium of expression to the point where it could be accepted as an art form. But his life’s work was coming under threat because, by the 1860s, photography was not so much concerned with art but with commerce.

Evidence for a boom in commercial photography could be found on every high street – like in Lewes, East Sussex, where Edward Reeves opened for business in 1855. For Reeves, and others, the new wet-plate process had made photography a sound economic proposition. And as prices dropped, for the very first time in history, people of even modest incomes could afford to own a portrait of themselves. On reflection, and what impresses me most, is how far photography had travelled in the 60 years since that first experiment by Fox Talbot.

The focus on capturing oneself in photographs has taken on a fresh impetus in modern times. In episode three of the series, I meet 16-year-old Molly Boniface from Huddersfield who is one of 500 million Instagram users worldwide. With her smartphone, Molly takes snapshots and instantly shares them online.

This clearly isn’t just a hobby for Molly. She’s creating a commentary about her own life – almost in real time. Molly expresses herself through photography every day and the medium has never been more alive than in the hands of someone like her. And it’s the self-portrait that dominates her pictures. It’s become the most prevalent genre in the 21st century: now, the most important subject for the average photographer is themselves.

My own particular “moment” in my personal journey came when working as a sports photographer on the Observer in 1985. It was the European Cup Final, between Liverpool and Juventus in the Heysel stadium in Brussels. I wasn’t expecting anything like the horror that was about to unfold, and which I would capture on camera.