Monthly Archives: June 2014

unacceptable vandalism?

On Durham Road leading through Low Fell in Gateshead, in the space Gateshead College where once stood, there is now a housing estate being developed. All along the road are boards, shielding from passersby the view of the building work going on behind, and bearing photographs of the perfect family life available to anyone who buys one of the new properties.

Passing by these advertisements I have mused as to how I could go about subverting the message of bland conformity they give off, the invitation to put yourself into debt for what is likely to be a house with very small living space. . Imagine my excitement when driving by on Sunday and I noticed someone had vandalised one of the posters so that the woman in the photograph looked grotesque and almost skull like. Certainly not the cosy domestic image the developers want to convey to sell the newly built houses. Excitedly I parked the car and ran across the road to photograph this blow to capitalist propaganda.

It was only later on, looking at the photos that I wondered whether this was the work of an anti-capitalist protester or something rather more sinister. Just days after Conservative MP and offensive fool Michael Fabricant had tweeted his urge to punch journalist Yasmin Alibhia Brown in the throat, was this act of graffiti/vandalism more anti-woman than anti-system? Sadly, I think it probably is

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heiratic head of SC

A portrait of my friend Stephanie, a farewell gift on her leaving the charity we both work(ed) at.

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Obviously there was never any chance of doing a straightforward naturalistic portrait, but whilst painting it I was increasingly drawn to Gaudier-Brzeska’s Heiratic Head of Ezra Pound as reference and much more so by the end, than the few photos I took before beginning the painting. Gaudier-Brzeska makes no attempt at a likeness of Pound. The sculpture seems more about the force of Pound’s personality, but maybe its not even that, and what Gaudier-Brzeska was doing was creating another Ezra Pound completely, one that exists not in any mimetic sense but one equal to the Ezra Pound that happened to be made of flesh and blood and bone.

Yesterday at an artists social gathering at the studios in Newcastle where I paint, at one point during the evening someone wondered aloud what would today’s art be like if modernism hadn’t happened and the old Renaissance rules still held. An interesting question but I think modernism and the break with how painters and sculptors imagined the world on their canvases and in bronze and marble, was inevitable, a consequence of changing social and economic conditions as that were being radically affected by industrial and political revolutions that were taking hold in the 18th century.

The collapse of old hierarchies of state and religion, the developing new social-political forces (bourgeois/proletarian), the development of cities and the impact of science, engineering and philosophy on our understanding and interpretation of the natural world; the collapsing of space and time by new technologies like railways and photography all combine to make the ‘isms’ of 20th century modernism simply unavoidable. The challenge we face now is still how to come to terms with and work through the freedoms modernism has given us and to make art that is of its time and relevant but not completely up its own arse…

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Work on paper

Continuing to largely work on paper (sheets of A1 pasted and stapled together) with poster paints. And continue to be impressed by the quality of the paints. I’m tempted though to try varnishing one of the paintings to return to it the gloss and depth of the wet paint and see what results.
These are the three works from today, each taking as it’s starting point two figures lying together.

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degree shows

Yesterday I visited Newcastle University’s Fine Art Degree Show. I arrived about 30 minutes before the show closed for the day, my efforts to arrive earlier having been frustrated by both the rail and bus services. I therefore didn’t manage to get around all the works on show, probably less that half of them.

Of what I did see it was encouraging to see painting and sculpture prominently on show, although one of the most entertaining works was a video piece (Verity Casey’s fictional landscapes). However what lingers longest in the memory isn’t necessarily the art being exhibited but the well produced catalogue, (a bargain at £2), and the students firm grasp, as they seek to position themselves and their work, of the frequently baffling lexicon of the artists statement. Their work is variously subjective, unorthodox, decontextualised, absent, limitless, fragmented, distorted and more.

None of these characteristics might be apparent when standing in front of the actual work. Anyone unfamiliar with contemporary or modern art may simply be tempted to ask ‘why’ or ‘what’, as might the familiar but sceptical. The problem facing anyone making art these days, whether student or professional (as loosely defined a description as your every likely to encounter given the low income of the majority of most artists) is how to justify what they do so that it is serious and worthwhile to a society that doesn’t really know what it wants from the thousands who describe themselves as an artist. In 2011 AIR, the ‘UK’s leading professional body for visual and applied artists’ reported having in excess of 16,300 members.

There is no commonly held view about what art is for these days, whether amongst those who are making art or those viewing or buying it. Often, it seems for the political class art is about national prestige and boosting GDP (or GVA); for collectors its a commodity and an investment; for the public sector its social work; for the majority its decorative or its irrelevant. Meanwhile for artists, the continuing temptation is to scrabble about, as many of these students ably demonstrate, constructing reasons for their work out of sets of cultural, political and/or sociological theory, technical and obscure words and phrases.

The artist statements (and the articles and essays) that result might be interesting, playful or genuinely thought provoking. Keeping up with them can certainly help to make you feel part of a (exclusive, artists) club (useful if your not making any money out of your efforts) but in the long run, when it comes to improving the lot for most practicing artists, they probably don’t help.

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