David Austen Whistler, James Abbott McNeill, 1834-1903; Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Chelsea

Starry starry nights (or a few astral weeks) (2020)

Austen (whose own painting  On the Edge of Night  was selected by Director of Dundee Contemporary Arts, Beth Bate) writes the following passage on his selction,  Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Chelsea ,1871 by Whistler:

… the whole city hangs in the heavens …

London dreams.

It is post-twilight. A crepuscular light from the moon, lit windows and fires reflect in the silver water. The air feels impregnated with mercury. A solitary man stands on the foreshore.

Recently, I have been riding my bicycle along the Thames—up to Richmond, down to Rotherhithe—often passing the location of this painting. I look up the timetable to take note of the low tides so I can mudlark on the exposed banks.

The watchful, but indifferent river feels to me in these peculiar times like the sentient ocean of the fictional planet Solaris. I imagine a vast black cloud gathering over London. A huge psychic force, dark and tumorous, settles and is subsumed by the water; the outgoing tide like a breathing lung bears it away to empty in the deep.

– David Austen, May 2020

The rich blue glow of a jagged razor blade cuts into Austen’s ‘starless and bible-black’* painting, opening up a glimpse of a world beyond. Inspired by a West African sculpture and the rich ultramarine pigment seen in many pieces by the Yoruba people, Austen describes the zip shape as ‘a violent act in some way’. Teeth are bared.

Light and dark, moons and stars, dreams and night are recurring motifs in Austen’s practice. He creates liminal worlds of lost loves and lurking violence. Texts run throughout his work with found phrases becoming titles, and sometimes works themselves. The title On The Edge of Night, perhaps an as-yet unmade noir film or book of crime fiction, locates us on the boundary with darkness and all of its dangerous and lustful possibilities.

– Beth Bate, May 2020

* Dylan Thomas, Under Milk Wood: A Play for Voices (1954)

Beth Bate is the Director of Dundee Contemporary Arts.

Starry starry nights (or a few astral weeks) is devised and organised by Paul Bonaventura. The project is supported using public funding by Arts Council England. Visit the curations website here.

Starry starry nights (or a few astral weeks) is a new show on Art UK which offers viewers an unashamedly escapist reflection on the beauty and majesty of the cosmos while our own planet is in lockdown.

The exhibition features a selection of paintings of stars and the heavens drawn from public collections across the United Kingdom. It is prompted by the desire and necessity to remain optimistic in the face of the current health emergency and takes its lead from an inspirational remark by the philosopher, historian and novelist Thomas Carlyle: ‘The eternal stars shine out again, so soon as it is dark enough.’

Works in the exhibition have been chosen by an international network of artists, curators and scholars who are currently isolated in their cities, towns, villages and homes. Each contributor has been asked to pick a favourite celestial item from the Art UK database and write about the reasons behind their choice.

Starry starry nights (or a few astral weeks) is devised and organised by the independent producer and curator Paul Bonaventura. The project is supported using public funding by Arts Council England and premiered at the height of the Covid-19 crisis in May 2020.

Read Show time – Art UK launches its new ‘Curations’ tool – https://www.apollo-magazine.com/art-uk-curations-international-museum-day/