I have to mark yesterday’s date because it’s the date Heart of Midlothian FC beat Edinburgh rivals Hibs 5 – 1 to lift the Scottish Cup for the eighth time. After such an achievement art pretty much takes second place. Also the studios were open this weekend for the Late Shows, Newcastle and Gateshead’s annual late night cultural event that sees a variety of arts venues open up for two nights with special events and exhibitions.
Whilst its always good to welcome people into your studio space and get some feedback from them about your work it’s not always the best circumstances in which to do any work, what with the mess of wet paint and all. But it wasn’t as busy as the November open studio events so I did the chance to paint this card and plaster sculpture that’s been standing bare for ages.
I painted it pink to give an echo of (pale pinky) flesh, the vertical and horizontal shapes conjuring up a a distant experience of a reclining figure. Anyway that was the plan, only time will decide whether it’s a success or not.
Today’s studio work has mainly consisted of drawing using compressed charcoal on A1 paper. What I’ve been trying to do is synthesise figurative forms with surrounding forms but without being too or at all literal.
This led on to another glue and card construction, integrating the studio chair
Mixed media no less!!
Dan Glaister writes in the Guardian this week about American artist Thomas Kinkade, who died recently from an accidental overdose of alcohol and Valium. For ‘good measure’ Glaister writes a legal scrap has broken out between Kinkade’s ex-wife and his girlfriend. I hadn’t heard of Kinkade before reading the Guardian article but he was clearly phenomenally successful in his career. His company claims that his pictures hang in one in twenty American homes. However as Glaister points out there was clearly a wide gap between Kinkade’s private and public life and the saccharine images he produced.
I find work like Kinkade’s fascinating. Although I wasn’t familiar with his work I’ve seen plenty like it; nostalgic, sentimental, twee, there’s maybe a dash of early modernist tropes here, a little bit of expressionist style there but essentially its unchallenging, cheaply consoling stuff. I’m baffled at why people buy it and in such numbers. Washington Green pump this sort of stuff out all the time and its a market largely based on mass produced prints. There is a peculiar market in high end mechanically produced prints (not etchings, lithographs or silk screens) than can run into an edition of several hundred but all signed and numbered by the artist and so commanding a high price in the hundreds of pounds (or dollars). But essentially all you’ve have for your money is a well made poster.
This is art as pure commodity. You can buy one of Kinkade’s pictures in variety of different forms; as a framed picture, as a mug, as night light. I have no idea how sincere or serious about their work (in the way John Berger defined an artist as serious) artists like Kinkade are. To me the work is cynical and empty. It is a style arrived at and then worked to death. It had little to offer in the first place and after the thousandth iteration even less. And yet people do buy it and I can understand on one level why someone take that path. Earlier this week I went an open space event, in Newcastle, for those, particularly in Newcastle and Gateshead, working in the arts. There were lots of people there, running successful and high profile arts organisations in the North East and it was acknowledged that Newcastle and Gateshead and other towns and cities in the region have done much to make the arts a fundamental part of the region’s identity. But whilst the ‘Arts’ are valued many practitioners across the arts continue to earn a pittance for their work.
The opportunity therefore to milk a successful formula for all its worth and to earn $130m (£81m) in one year, as Kinkade did can be difficult to resist. Why do I think Kinkade’s work is so bad? For a start I think its all based on a sentimental fantasy of a society that never existed. One of rural calm, everything bathed in strange God given light. And the light (Kinkade called himself the painter of light, trademarking the legend) is certainly odd, as are the colours. I stared at the work on his website for quite a while trying to work out why the paintings looked so strange. What I think it is, is that they’re not paintings of scenes that are in any way based on observation of nature; they’re scenes as mediated through early Hollywood films (and Kinkade started out working in the film industry). This I think accounts for the strange colour. It is like early technicolor, which seemed to intensify the local colour so that it becomes ever so slightly unreal and almost subconsciously emphasises that what your watching isn’t real its a form of reality, a copy.I’d say it was an imperfect copy but based on his sales, for many Kinkade offered a more perfect copy.
One final thought. If Kinkade had displayed his paintings in a white cube, contemporary art gallery and presented it as an ironic take on kitsch taste could he have been just as successful? Maybe. Jeff Koons has built a career on that approach. Glaister draws a parallel between Kinkade’s methods of mass production and Warhol. And looking at Kinkade’s work you might be reminded of one of our giants of contemporary art, whose assistants pump out seemingly endless paintings for spots and spins.
Busy morning in the studio. I’ve been working on this painting for a couple of weeks now and it’s nearly complete I think.
In fact I was getting a bit concerned about overworking areas and that they were heading towards dull lifelessness. There are still some parts of the painting to work on but essentially that’s it. Once it finally complete I’ll take a better photograph.
Also today, I did a couple of drawings and this little relief with card and glue. Ideally I might be able to get hold of welding equipment at some point and make these constructions out of steel.