Apologies but the reason this posting is so late is that yesterday Tony and I were in Oxford (explanation below) and this morning having written the blog I managed to delete two thirds of it. It has taken me a few hours to calm down and resist the overwhelming urge to throw this damn computer in the canal!
Anyway here we go again, second time lucky………………….
In late Mannerism the subject of art became art itself, art imitated art rather than nature, in post Modernism, art also self-consciously imitated art, often quoting it as a signifier towards other ideas. What do I mean, well let's take an example. Drips of paint, why do we have these in our work, what's their purpose? In its simplest sense they suggest the art was made quick, in a hurry with great urgency, the artist was caught up in a passionate urge to create and was too involved to care about a few drips. But what are those drips really saying?
They are actually saying this painting is an act of untrammelled creativity; it is pure, undiluted or 'unmediated' as they say in artspeak. It's not been tidied up but remains as a statement of the artist’s creativity. So to unpick it further, the drips signify an 'authentic' connection between artist and viewer and the purity of that connection has value. The artist is seen as a person of raw creativity and is therefore held in high esteem by an art world desirous of 'authenticity' and willing to pay for that perceived 'authenticity'. A gallery can then market the work accordingly playing to the persistent myths around outdated romantic notions of the artist as an unconstrained creative force in an increasingly constrained world. It's an attractive idea that can still generate big bucks in the international art world.
So a few drips, which on the one hand can be seen as clichés of expressionism can also be seen as powerful subliminal signifiers of creativity. I use drips as just one example but I could just as easily have used thick paint, large scale, unfinished work, scrawls and numerous other tropes of the painter today. None of this is wrong especially when used honestly and acknowledged but I find myself offended when galleries (and artist's and museum's) collude in deceiving a naive public by trotting out these tired old clichés as though they were new and authentic ideas merely for the purpose of extracting money (entry fees, catalogues, postcards and even purchases of originals). Art and marketing are now so closely entwined that the press release has replaced any form of intelligent analysis. The recent death of the great critic, Robert Hughes was a much bigger loss than I think many of us realize, he was one of the few clear eyed independent voices who saw through this kind of flummery.
Tony and I spent an interesting day in Oxford yesterday and the first part of it was unsettling, we went to see the Jenny Saville show at the Museum of Modern Art. I won't talk much about the paintings as they re-played that old Francis Bacon trick of simultaneously repelling and attracting. The subject is repellent whilst the paint is delicious, it was called at one time ‘Gore Chic’ and it’s still a powerful device. Bacon added into this mix luxuriant gold frames and glass so he had the signifiers of tradition, wealth and decoration all wrapped up to make the work irresistible especially to the international glitterati, happy to gulp Bolly whilst gazing at a scene of vicious sodomy. The jaded rich seem to love paddling in the gutter now and again, Jenny Saville needs to be careful.
The drawings are lovely, delightful and joyous, what is there not to love in a mother and child scene? The subject is perfect however the method needs explaining. All the writing I have read about the drawings, stress the endeavour and struggle of making such large impressive drawings. But this is to say the least, a bit dis-ingenious, a case of magician’s mis-direction because there is a trick. It’s a trick commonplace to many artists but one rarely spoken about outside Arts Magic Circle. It’s called projection and here’s how it’s done. First take a number of digital photographs of your subject, second using Photoshop increase the contrast of the photographs. Thirdly, use a data projector attached to your computer and project these photographs big or small onto any surface and then draw or paint over the image projected. You can overlap images, draw fast or slow, big or small, it always looks good and accurate whatever medium you use. You can rub out, smudge, distort do whatever you like as the image is always there as a perfect safety net for your creativity, no risk and best of all it’s easy, very easy.
So Jenny didn’t really work very hard on those drawings, it just looks like she did, like all the best magic tricks, it’s easy when you know how. The problem is the mis-direction for profit, the big international gallery writing the press releases and creating the ‘narrative’ of the exhibition need to promote the myths and so they do but really it’s all a little bit of a con, not so much Lucien Freud as Derren Brown but I still like them and the frames are epic.
The painting that really knocked my socks off was the All Soul’s Triptych by Benjamin Sullivan at the Ashmolean. It’s a commission, traditional, beautifully painted and very impressive, sadly there is no glossy press release or expensive catalogue, the whole thing is very low key but believe me it’s a painting that will be remembered by those few who see it for a very long time. The image on the artist’s website is good but the original is far better and the scale is bigger than you think.
Benjamin Sullivan works from life, a real labour of love, Jenny Saville works from photographs and there is the difference. JS works hard at animating a dead thing and BS doesn’t need the defibrillator, he just shows it as it is, old fashioned and laborious but his method works. Every Thursday we do the same and sometimes it comes alive and sometimes it stays on the slab but it’s that close connection to the motif which is the important thing.
We had some good work on Thursday, an appropriate response to our excellent model, Guy.
Paintings and drawings by Barry, Catherine, Chris, David, Fiona, Hilary, Ian, Kate, Patrick, Paul, Roger H, Roger S, Russell, Steven, Teresa, Tom and Tony.