Welcome to the blog of Spike Dennis; an artist and sometime curator. Trained in London Spike has exhibited widely, from London to Los Angeles, and has delivered projects from Cardiff to Stockholm, for organisations including the Illustration Research network and Cardiff Design Festival amongst Others.

Twenty First Century Unicorn Hunting

Hunt for the Unicorn | Subversive Cross Stitch by Spike Dennis

Twenty First Century Unicorn Hunting

This blog post outlines some of the background research that informed my “Hunt for the Unicorn” embroideries. It highlights the ways in which I’ve used symbolic references and metaphors, both in terms of content and materials, to reinforce some of the themes that I have been exploring through this work. Whilst being far from exhaustive I hope it might give a little insight into the intellectual underpinning of my practice and give a little insight into the way I approach the making of my work.

The popular tale of the hunt for the unicorn tells us of how the creature can only be lured into captivity by a young virgin girl. This story was once a popular subject for artists, and perhaps the most well-known images of this story are those referred to as ‘The Unicorn Tapestries’ which are held in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

The tapestries are described as being ‘among the most beautiful and complex works of art from the late Middle Ages that survive’. Each of the seven panels describes a scene from a hunt for the unicorn. This starts with the hunters entering the woods and results with the unicorn in captivity.

Thought to have been designed in Paris and woven in Brussels the tapestries are laden with symbolism that was typical of much medieval art and reflects the significance of the unicorn. For example, in the image of the unicorn in captivity (below) the creature is chained but not secured and is surrounded by a low fence that he could easily hope over. This suggests that his confinement is agreeable and it is suggested that this image represents a tamed beloved.

The Unicorn in Captivity | Met Museum New York

As with the other six panels in this series the image is loaded with images of plants that are symbolic of marriage and fertility including wild orchids, violets and thistles. This reinforces the central motif of unicorn sitting beneath a tree which is in fruition with ripe, pomegranates, bursting, revealing their fertile seeds. There is also a frog pictured in the bottom right hand corner which was cited by medieval writers for its noisy mating.

Having read around the unicorn and its history and significance I started to think about the way in which I might reappropriate some of these tales to provide a commentary on attitudes and morals within a contemporary, rather than medieval, society.

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Made in Roath Open Exhibition Prize Winner

Wild Man #1 (Farmer McPhallus) Contemporary Video Performance Art

Made in Roath Open Exhibition Prize Winner

I’m very chuffed to have been selected as one of the winners at the Made in Roath open exhibition in Cardiff this week. The exhibition is currently open at The Sho Gallery and was judged by Chris Brown (G39) and Ben Borthwick (formerly Tate, Artes Mundi).

The exhibition is a true open and features a wide array of work by local artists. This includes landscape painting, drawing and some textile art amongst others. The exhibition features a couple of my puppets as well as a video installation, ‘Wild Man #1′ (pictured above), which was selected as a winning work.

‘Wild Man #1′ follows on from my unicorn research and taps into my interests in folk traditions, ritual, and the carnivalesque. As the first in a new series of works I’m delieghted it was recieved so positively.

You can view the Made in Roath Open exhibition at The Sho Gallery until the 29 September.

In addition to the Open exhibition there are a whole host of other events including, but certainly not limited to, poetry readings, exhibitions, performances and interventions.

Made in Roath is an artist-led festival which aims to take art out of the gallery and into the wider community, allowing a larger and broader audience to access the wealth of creative talent in our neighbourhood. It showcases the work of emerging and established artists, makers, musicians, writers and performers, who use the whole of Roath as the venue, including domestic, commercial, public and overlooked or disused spaces.

Find out more about Made in Roath and all the events taking place this year on their website: www.madeinroath.com

Bonnie Lucas’ Textile Assemblages

Textile Artist Bonnie Lucas

Bonnie Lucas’ Textile Assemblages

As my practice has evolved over the last year or so I have started to move back into three dimensions as well as time based and performative practices rather than being focused on drawing and embroidery. With this in mind I have been taking a look back at uses of textiles and cloth, exploring ways in which artists have used these materials in ways which bridge that gap between art and craft, with a particular interest in artists that use cloth for more sculptural or performative works.

This led to my discovery of Bonnie Lucas, an American artist based in New York City.

My kitsch sensibilities drew me to these textile assemblages, or collages. These works are carefully assembled from a variety of items that includes dolls, items of clothing, cheap plastic jewellry, thread and yarn, amongst other things.

Textile Artist Bonnie Lucas

They appear to be very ‘feminine’ pieces of work both as result of the colours in the work as well as the collections of objects used in their creation, such as dolls and women’s lingerie. Women’s issues are of particular interest to the artist and manifest in a disturbing contrasts within the work; for example, adult themes being addressed through childlike imagery and colours. Jeffrey Wechsler likens this approach to the way in which old fairy tales were formed in order to convey theme’s that might be considered as ‘adult’ in a more covert manner. At first glance these works might appear to be images created directly for children but the context of the objects is changed in such a way that it makes the viewer uneasy.

Whilst still they’re still wall based works I’m interested in the way in which Bonnie Lucas has assembled together tactile items, including some three dimensional objects, to create these images. It might not appear so on first glance, but it looks like a lot of work has been put into the creation of these assemblages to create these formal arrangements that work so well.

Textile Artist Bonnie Lucas

Visit Bonnie Lucas’ website to view more of her work: www.bonnielucasartist.com

Cross Stitched Panels

Contemporary Cross Stitch and Hand Embroidery by Spike Dennis

Cross Stitched Panels

These are some of the first panels I’ve completed recently for a new piece of work. They are hand embroidered with cross stitched cotton thread and each measure approximately 35cm tall by 13cm wide. All told I will need to complete 12 of these panels to realise the work.

The work has evolved out of my unicorn research and follows on from my previous Unicorn Dating embroideries. he work will similarly address issues around internet culture and online dating, albeit approaching it from a different angle.

This work is turning out to be quite the commitment in terms of time and energy as each panel is taking in the region of 40 hours to stitch… give or take; so don’t expect to see any images of the final work until the new year!

Made in Roath Open Exhibition, Cardiff

Made In Roath Cardiff Open Exhibition

Made in Roath Open Exhibition, Cardiff

Thursday 16th October – Wednesday 29 October

I will be showing a couple of pieces of work as a part of the Made in Roath Open exhibition at The Sho Gallery in Cardiff this month.

The exhibition will present an exciting open exhibition of works from a mix of creative locals, including painting, sculpture, digital art and photography. This will include a new digital video that I’ve created as well as some of my puppets.

Private View: Wednesday 15 October, 6.30pm
Opening Times: Tuesday- Saturday 10.00am – 5:30pm

The SHO Gallery,
1a Inverness Place, Cardiff CF24 4RU

For more information about the Made in Roath arts festival visit www.madeinroath.com

Local Grandmother Quilts Giant Penises

Local Grandmother Quilts Giant Penises

Local Grandmother Quilts Giant Penises

Holly Stewart, a grandmother from Kanasas, USA, quilted giant penises for an exhibition at the University of Kansas City entitled “Local Grandmother Quilts Giant Penises”. Funding for the exhibition invitations was secured via this Kickstarter campaign.

In her Kickstarter video the artist has explained how her interest in decorative members sparked from her time working in a sex toy factory:

I was looking on Craigslist for jobs and I saw an ad for a position that was sex positive and I had to know what that was. When I looked at it it was to be a de-molder in a dildo factory. I just knew I needed to be able to tell my grandchildren I had even applied to be a de-molder in a dildo factory. When I got the job it was even better.

Local Grandmother Quilts Giant Penises

I love the impact of these objects, the oversized brightly coloured phallic sculptures are as affirmative as they are transgressive. I particularly like the carnivalesque quality to the works.

Apparently, these sculptures formed a part of Stewart’s MA exhibition in which she appropriates the penis as a symbol of power whilst “contextualizing her work within ‘third wave’ feminist theory.

It’s a shame that Stewart only found internet fame with these works because of the novelty factor associated with them but if this brings her work to a wider audience it can’t be a bad thing.

Wild Man Unicorn Farmer

armer McPhallus - Unicorn Farmer and Wilder Mann costume by Spike Dennis

Wild Man Unicorn Farmer

Farmer McPhallus is a wild man unicorn farmer; my alter ego for a new series of works resulting from my unicorn studies.

The costume is inspired by traditions of wild man costumes that are a part of folk traditions around the world, particularity in northern Europe. The costume is comprised of a grey wolf head mask and a pair of trousers made up of the ‘skins’ of soft cuddly toys and teddy bears. The wild man’s body is white with black markings as pictured.

The body of work I’m producing around this character is performative, involving Invictus, my unicorn hobby-horse, as well as a number of other unicorns. It will take the form of video and live performances

armer McPhallus - Unicorn Farmer and Wilder Mann by Spike Dennis

Details of new videos and performances will be available in the coming weeks.