Generational differences..?


Though its a while back now and sadly one of the two is about to close I wanted to write a little about two shows recently viewed. Both of them feature painters hereabouts – serious practices that intrigue and occasionally slightly baffle me, mostly I suspect, because of the thirty plus year generational differences between them and me.

Tristram Aver‘s display in the Angear space at Nottingham’s Lakeside entitled ‘There is a pleasure in the pathless woods’ is deliberately difficult to read, both in terms of content but also in the form. These oval pictures (for the most part) have an intense LED neon light band that acts as frame and visual tease obscuring the painting content through the relative darkness that these garish glows create around the imagery within. It’s a novel way of using neon…I saw something similar a few years back in a late show of work by the renowned COBRA artist Karel Appel where pornographic images were disrupted by shards of neon over them. In Appel’s works however the disruption was blatant, a way of posting a disjoint from the potentially shocking and offensive imagery deployed. [They must be quite controversial still as the above link is the only reference or image I could find on the web!]  Aver seems more subtle, aiming I guess to draw you into the gloom the better to explore the imagery within.  I’m (probably wrongly) detecting a trend developing with the neon…the current painting show at MOMA in NYC features works by Mary Weatherford that have it splashed over the surfaces of her atmospheric and gauzy abstractions. But with many (most) painters nowadays drawing on the legacy of screen based digital imagery perhaps its not surprising they want to get a glow going on in the finished work too?  As for Tristram’s imagery there’s a heck of a lot of deliberate elision at work…so that field sports of the 1800’s sit cheek by jowl with riot cops and cheerleaders, baying hounds trade blows with logo explosions and much more besides. Maybe for my taste a little too much though the resulting melange is unified in part through pattern imposed here and there in largish doses.  One worth seeing and still time to do so…though accessing the venue is no mean feat whilst the Tram works continue!


Also on show (though you’ll have to be damn quick unfortunately) is another worth a viewing.  In ‘Harlequin’ at Gallery No.1 in Repton, South Derbyshire another painter –Louisa Chambers– is flirting with patterns. But here they take centre stage unencumbered by overt references to imagery obviously from the ‘real’ world mediated through a plundering of the internet. Though thats maybe a little wide of the mark too…given that two of the core sources of ideas in these paintings are modernist architecture and the history of non-representational paintings and that its likely? that the origin of these in the main might be the internet. Wherever the sources (and one suspects there are a host of others from the vast world of pattern, both as ‘art’ and as decoration) the resulting works are oddities…there’s a wonky and deliberately handmade aesthetic here with elements either juxtaposed in clanky and curious ways or left suspended in space as in the digitally printed work, a large blow up of a small work on paper, Harlequin that forms the exhibition’s centrepiece.  Is there another trend at work here…earlier in the year we chanced across Jeff Elrod’s solo show ‘Rabbit Ears’ at Luhring Augustine where he too was blowing up small sketches, doodles and very provisional collages.  I like the notion of these pictures being oddities – too much of the smaller scale contemporary abstraction by those under forty is either tasteful or deliberately ‘zombie’ in idea and execution.  Chambers, in her best pictures treads a fine line twixt these two polarities.  Louisa gets about a bit…we’ve actually shown in four mixed shows together this year…so even if you’ve missed this one no doubt there will be a chance to see her work again soon.

Both shows use aspects of contemporary painting practice in many ways not so dissimilar to my own…but I think if there is a significant difference it has to be buried in the context from which we emerged.  I’ve done my fair share of digital exploration (see my Extracting Digits for a summary) but I come at it from a foreign land, I am, as Lauren Laverne suggested recently an immigrant, whilst Tristram & Louisa were born and brought up in this place.

So two artists, within a few miles of here both pushing hard at careers as painters with a proper practice…heartening at a time when a lot of current activity is flim flam bricolage more often than not produced only to state subsidised command…but enough of my mardy prejudice it’s Xmas…a time of good will to all so I’m off to savour Sarah’s tastefully decorated trio of trees…


Merry Christmas one and all!

Sleep Deprivation and the Digital Age!

paperspapers1 daves-granddad


I made the piece thats hiding at the back of the gallery – titled Papers Made, Papers Printed back in the early 1990’s.  It was one of my first forays into the digital world.  My colleague at Yorkshire Artspace, the inestimable Piers Williams, was an early adopter of sophisticated photo manipulation software and using his skills we inserted myself and a photo of a painted paper piece into a photo of my grandfather making paper in a Mill in Devon back in the late 1940’s.  This was shown with four of the paintings on paper as a single work.  It began a fascination for me with what the digital age might bring us as painters that I’ve documented in my book Extracting Digits that covers three of my projects from 1999 to 2010.  I’m still using digital means to inform the painting process today (most notably in the Deadly Delicious series) though I’m less interested in the boundaries now that so many others are mining them.

Nowadays I find I need a great deal less sleep than I did in the past.  I recall the apocryphal stories about Margaret Thatcher existing on only a very few hours a night and it used to trouble me that I wasn’t getting enough rest but I’m learning to live with it.  Today I woke before six having not fallen asleep until after 1am and having (unusually) only my iPhone to hand (I normally keep at least one of my two iPods that now house my entire music collection by the bed) turned to Facebook to provide me with some music.   If you’ve persisted to here, I’m getting to the digital age again honestly.  I rifled through postings of music listening to that which acquaintances had posted in the last couple days.  It began with a lovely piece by what I think are a Canadian duo (reposted by a colleague in Sweden),

Was followed up by a piece by Corey Mwamba’s upcoming trio album,

then a link that he’s fond of pasting in regularly, in this case a superb Tony Williams drum clinic,

and then a link to sound recordings from nature, recently uploaded by Cornell University,

It got me to thinking about what is happening to us as creative individuals when virtually any and every creative act can be accessed immediately and increasingly virtually any creative artefact in the recent past (certainly from the 1960’s onward) is available with ease.  How individual thought patterns can wander through this plethora without intercession from the physical world, how near random selections (such as that I followed earlier) can be pieced together in the individual psyche, what the weight of all this ‘stuff’ puts on us (and here I start thinking about how my ‘mind map’ sorts, selects and prioritises this material having lived through the period and how that might be different to a twenty year old who came into the picture in the last few years) and where we are all headed in terms of what creative practice will be like in another few years.

I hope I’m no luddite and I don’t ever want to become the kind of reactionary backward looking, “it was all better in my day” individual but it does increasingly seem to be hard to find authentic experience that is truly original and startling and that, more than anything else, seems to me is the compelling reason why there are so many complaints about ‘attention deficit’ amongst people nowadays.  I don’t doubt there are a lot of very talented, far more intelligent commentators out there writing vast tomes on these issues and more, but it occurred to me as I listened to the material this morning  how this might be feeding into the visual arts?  I guess that – often – we rely on the actual experience of seeing a work?  Or do we?  After all there’s so much of it ‘out there’ and our individual capacity to get around and view it is variable – for myself, with a fair bit of time and a comfortable stipend I see quite a lot of ‘stuff’ certainly within the range of a day’s driving, but it barely scratches the surface of current practice in the area, let alone what is going on further afield.  So maybe much of our notion of what is ‘interesting’ or ‘worthwhile’ (and how subjective are these words) is more mediated than we’d like to admit.

In any event, give Corey’s album a listen and go order a copy…I fell in love with the ‘vibes’ after hearing Milt Jackson as 13 year old and a year or so later discovered Gary Burton (and tracking this down was hard going back then in a small provincial city with but one decent record shop to its name) and he’s both a talented and inventive exponent of the instrument.corey