This is (the first part) of a text I started writing ahead of the symposium at The Herbert Gallery. Coventry organised by Matthew Macaulay, but continued after the event to incorporate some thoughts about it.Given my active engagement in the subject and experiences of the period (I spent that decade working in the subsidised Visual Arts sector and often visiting both London & elsewhere always endeavouring to take in any shows I could) naturally I was keen to go along. As it happens quite a few of those things I had already written about came up on the day…though quite a few others didn’t so here goes…
Where does one start in a discussion about this subject?Is it even a valid subject at all? For a start what constitutes “British’ in these Brexit times, or even more so back in the 1980’s.At the start of the decade the Royal Academy was still a quarter of a century from electing its first Black artist (Frank Bowling in 2005) but had fully embraced European emigres such as Freud and Auerbach. Identity politics, around Feminism and gender as well as race, were all impacting on the art of the time although the official organs of distribution were still, certainly at the beginning of the decade, indifferent if not ignorant of them.Two speakers on the day (Rebecca Fortnum & Maggie Ayliffe) spoke at length to issues around Feminism and its impact on abstract painting, though in passing its worth noting that much of their eloquent testimony revolved around paintings, and especially exhibitions, from the early nineties rather than the eighties. Perhaps a more blatant omission was any testimony to racial politics and the absence of any people of colour at the event (I’m fairly sure of this though I apologise if I’m wrong) and but a passing visual reference to only one British artist of colour on the day (Frank Bowling again) in a decade when the emergence of the “Black Art’ movement (admittedly short on ‘abstract’ painters) was a key feature of what was taking place.
Moving on, as we all know, the term “Abstract’ is fraught with difficulties too numerous to detain us in this lifetime (and certainly within this text) but the notion of boundaries between that which is properly abstract, that which is ‘abstracted’ and figuration, however loosely defined played quite a part in the decade in question.This was raised a couple of times in the day but never really teased out.As it happens most of those painters referenced were ‘abstract’ in that they abstracted from reality (of some sort!, more qualification!) and notions of landscape was a shadowy presence for nearly all of them.There was little mention of painters who might more readily be accepted as truly non-representational (accepting that some of them might allude to ‘real world’ influences anyway) other than in Daniel Sturgis‘s text on Alan Uglow though even here we were teased with the references to football pitch layouts that Uglow enjoyed alluding to.
Painting as a term we might all understand a little better but even so by the 1980’s even this had reached myriad points of debate. A good deal of the boundary shifting in painting was taking place in the USA and at the event David Ryan in his opening paper drew a good deal of attention to what was happening there as well as what happened here, including some of those artists engaged in that very practice.
And beyond all the foregoing history is, of course, written primarily by the ‘winners’ although we now live in dramatically revisionist times that suggest that, as in previous centuries, time will have a profound say on what shakes out over the long run (the ‘re-discovery’ of Uglow championed on Bob Nickas may or may not prove to be an example). Although, as is inevitable with an open call for papers, the day was full of disjointed and disparate texts there was much to reflect on and the show Matthew had brought together that was the end point of proceedings is well worth a visit. Part 2 to follow!
I’m off to a seminar (a rare occurrence nowadays)…this Friday in Coventry organised by the energetic Matthew Macaulay. Its about British Abstract Painting in the 1980’s and as a painter who is British, works non-representationally (pretty much from 1968 till now) and was about in the eighties I thought I’d pop along. Though the eighties was a weird time for me…as I went a bit figurative (ish)! Not that I was the only one it seems…quite a few painters seem to have wobbled about a bit – strange days indeed. Quite what I thought I was doing I’ve not the slightest idea thirty plus years on…
Anyway I’m working on a short piece on the topic…and will post it here as and when…with maybe some thoughts on what transpires on the day.
and rediscovery too… I’ve been absent from this site for over a month I realise, making use of quite a bit of the good summer weather and being (unusually) at home to drag work out of the basement. I have stored older work down in the dark recesses over the years despite knowing full well that the fetid conditions rapidly rot canvasses away. Those that survive often require some restoration but its those that never got properly resolved, or where I lost interest that are most interesting. Some remain intractable but I have found myself increasingly interested in resolving and completing others.
I’m looking at these two from the Conversation Pieces (part two) series. And have decided that part of their resolution will be to join forces as a diptych where two conversations get crossed wires. Part of the process for me is re-imagining it as I did when first working on them…around six or seven years back. Mostly I don’t work with tapes preferring to paint to the pencil line but just occasionally with these I chose to tape up a block to get that crisp, slightly raised line.
Another interesting thing for me is rediscovering old pictures I’ve quite forgotten about. This one comes from a series made in the mid 1990’s and was the only one of a group of a dozen or so in landscape. It never quite fit with the rest, stylistically as well as format, but only now do I realise it was a precursor of the large series of paintings that began in the late nineties through to 2004/5 and formed the backbone of a solo show at Derby Museum ‘Nothing But Mirrors & Tides’
It’s been quite a while since my last post…more pressing matters plus a short holiday has meant scant opportunity to do so. But I’m also increasingly aware that finding anything worthwhile (to me at least) to say gets harder over time especially as, several years back now, I decided that only painting matters would be discussed here (and I’ve managed to mostly stick to that). So here’s the thing…does time away in other environments affect the outturn of works initially influenced by other impulses and locations? Here’s a Wonky Geo picture (No. 47, if you’re keeping count) that, as regular readers will know, comes from an enormous stack of them that have been on the go, on & off, for several years now. But I just decided it complete, with additions of the past few days since a week in Italy…?
“their judgement of artwork may be faulty”…Many, many moons ago I worked in an art gallery, and the Director (just returned from NYC) gave me a piece of paper. Its here now…
Although it was written (gawd help us) nearly forty years back much of it, despite the many changes in the art world, still stands. It was the dealer Ivan Karp who, having had enough of artists pestering him, wrote it to stem the flow. Goodness knows what he’d make of today’s art market. But its that last sentence that resonates with me right now. And what stands for dealers and gallerists and curators (what vulgar, squalid words they are!) equally stands for judges in competitions. I know many of them are artists too, but generally they are those whose primary objective is not making work but ‘networking’ and ‘brown nosing’ the aforementioned thus rendering their judgment equally faulty. Its in my mind as yet another competition has passed me by…or not (as I’ve observed of late, that many of these exercises in fleecing artists of their meagre funds, they often ‘extend’ deadlines to pull in yet more gullible punters) and I marvel at the plausibilty of all of us – I’m not immune as I, albeit occasionally, do it myself – in falling for the lure of bright lights and associated fame promised by the tiny odds of success.
Trucking’ On…Time passes, and seems to do so with increasing rapidity as one ages. It seems only a few weeks back that it was Christmas and we are rapidly approaching the longest day of the year after which, as my dear old mother was fond of saying, the nights will start drawing in. I often feel that I don’t get much work made in a year but perhaps thats simply because I dither about making pieces (like the one above) that take for ever to get to a point that I’m (more or less) happy with. This is the final outcome of the three banners that were to have gone to Honfleur (see previous posts). Whether or not they may be able to be shown in the return leg exhibition is a moot point as space will likely be at a premium. In the end I titled them after the three major churches of the town of Honfleur that I viewed one morning from the town’s best vantage point, Mont Jolie.
And today I’m even more aware of time passing as its ten years since Esjborn Svensson died, tragically in an accident. E.S.T. were always one of my favourite bands since I first came across them in the early 1990’s and his death was a sad reminder of tempus fugit. All the more so a decade on. Yesterday I played the above discs as I worked but today the maudlin’ might be a tad too much. So let’s just keep truckin’ on…
With nowt worth watching on terrestrial telly nowadays I was drawn to The Trip to Italy last evening. On retiring my wife suggested I shouldn’t be so envious of funds as I’d expressed, quite forcibly, the desire to sample some of the venues visited in the programme…and I agreed that actually I was doing alright enough with our requiring 500+€ a night accommodation in the Med (not that it wouldn’t be fun…). This came back to me this morning with the Mediterranean weather of late having deserted us for ‘typical’ English summer (cold, wet and windy) and I decided to bring a small banner work into the kitchen where I can work on it in the warmth. Along with a pot of decent coffee and a soundtrack of Corrie Dick’s wonderful ‘Impossible Things’ album life doesn’t get any better…
As it happens Corrie turns up on the new Dinosaur album…notionally Laura Jurd’s band but I reckon now truly a collective effort with – certainly Corrie’s input – but also as intense a presence from the other two members, Elliot Galvin on synths and Conor Chaplin on bass. Together they have made some especially extraordinary music this time around, not that their first album wasn’t a great piece of work (recognised with a Mercury nomination). But this one is a peach mixing jazz with, well, just about everything, all sorts of influences from sixties UK jazz (think Gilles Peterson’s Impressed samplers), through roots folk, to heavy metal riffs all bound together with Laura’s superb trumpet work that has a fluency and lyricism blended with an edge that evidences her understanding of the very best contemporary jazz phrasing and technique.
Anyway enough of the music reviews (probably best left to better ears than mine) and back to the paintings. As it happens I’m less focussed on the pictures at present (they seem mercifully to be taking care of themselves both colour and structure wise at the moment) and more thinking about presentation. Originally they were to be proper scrolls with canvas backing and rollers but then I decided to go with framing, cropped to the edges in a white stain wood. But now I’m considering an even more expensive solution, plain oak with a mount – go figure! (and not so much bliss…)