Wednesday, 30 November 2011

UnMasterclass 48

A Google search for John Robert Cozen’s Between Chamonix and Martigny makes for somewhat uncomfortable reading for the true art lover. The top five searches for this painting conjure up four sites that will produce an authentic hand painted reproduction of this masterpiece and ship to you home, as the top search says “unframed in protective tube normally within 25 business days.” The fifth search brought up a link to Wikigallery, before finally the Louvre’s (who own the painting) website came up. Here in lies a message to one and all. Just as trying to paint in the style of a great master painter is virtually impossible from the restrictions inherent in attempting to do some from a reproduction of the original; so to is it virtually impossible to research something worthwhile on the internet. So just as an aspiring painter should turn from the web and book based reproductions towards the gallery to learn first hand from master painters, so the aspiring writer should turn away from the screen towards the page of the book. Or am I just an old fuddy-duddy!? The latest UnMasterclass is here

A Blind Python With Jewelled Eyes

A Blind Python with Jewelled Eyes is a group exhibition that brings together established artists, alongside students and recent graduates  from the University of Lincoln to speculate on the notion of coexistence. Navigating the precarious terrain of tensions and harmonies, and encompassing a broad range of disciplines, the show seeks to explore the paradoxical nature of relationships. Opening at The Greestone Gallery, Lincoln on Tuesday 6th December until Thursday 22nd December and curated by Andrew Bracey and Kate Buckley. Artists featured are Aislinn Ritchie, Ross Oliver & Nathan Baxter, Tessa Farmer, Steve Dutton & Steve Swindells, Samantha Donnelly, Thomas Cuthbertson, Joana Cifre-Cerda & Laura Dodgson, Kate Buckley and Andrew Bracey. More details at

UnMasterclass 47

In the excellent book, About Painting an interview between the painters Claire Undy and Alli Sharma raises some interesting points about how the contemporary painter should position themselves in relation to both painting and art as it has progressed over the last century or so. Asked about the pure approach to how she discusses her paintings Undy answers;
“There seems to be two ways you can approach painting today, which is either to ignore postmodernism and cynicism towards painting by going ahead and making geometric patterns, or gestural expressionist paintings or whatever, or you can be ironic, referencing the idea painting itself as an idealogy.” She goes on to say her position is somewhere between the two, saying that she has faith in painting, but is also realistic about what painting can be and do. She says that she is “more interested in discussing the ideas rather than believing that they are possible……Simply being an atheist does not mean that you can’t learn a great deal from religion.” Here Undy raises an interesting point, too often painting is dismissed as having nothing to say or that it is unable to discuss the times we now live in. Yet historically painting was the art-form that did reflect the times and historians use paintings as a valuable source to explain past times and conditions. So how can an artist that considers themselves a non-painter dismiss the lexicon of painting, is this the same as an atheist being les well grounded if they completely ignore religion? Intriguingly Undy’s answer to the next question (Are you keen on art history?) seems to counter her previous position. “It’s not something I’m particularly keen on. Making abstract work at collage means that you have to be aware of it because the criticism is that making purely abstract painting is a na├»ve thing to do and you either don’t care or you don’t understand it…..There have been over 60 years of history in this area I could spend a lifetime studying and I wouldn’t ever feel knowledgeable enough to make a genuine contribution to the discussion. But I do feel I have something that I want to add to the discussion of painting and I think it has to be possible to make abstract work today without having to answer every question of the last 60 years in every work.” Here Undy alternates in a position between having to be aware of the history of what you are in turn contributing to (in this case painting/abstract painting) and one of being aware of the restrictions of being too knowledgeable. If one was to fully know the subject and seek to make a consciously valuable contribution to the lineage of painting then one is doomed to failure, the pressure of having to answer every question of what painting is and can be within a work, would seek it to implode, be excessive, be shit or boring. Yet what a painter must not be most of all is ignorant, it is fine to not have to answer all the questions, or not to even know or consider some within the work and practice. But to wilfully carry on in a bubble is probably worse than trying and failing. The latest UnMasterclass is now live and viewable here

Sunday, 20 November 2011

UnMasterclass 46

“Create like a god, command like a king, work like a slave.”
Constantin Brancusi

Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”
Salvador Dali

“What moves men of genius, or rather what inspires their work, is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.”
Eugene Delacroix

“If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.”
Edward Hopper

What can we add to these quotes? See the latest UnMasterclass here

UnMasterclass 45

 Painting has increasingly become split between an innocent and naive practice and one that is knowing; one that relies and draws upon it’s own history, as well as other factors that mediate the message. Painting has had a journey akin to that of the dissemination of the written word, from the letter presses through large scale newspaper production to today’s digitisation through the web and the kindle. The word has remained pretty much the same through history, however it’s delivery as altered in many different ways. Similarly painting has transferred from the pigment embedded in the plaster fresco, through oil paint based easel paintings to the vast acrylic paint stained canvases of Frank Stella and Helen Frankenthaler and now through the digital painting of artists such as Tim Head and Joseph Nechvatal. Ultimately these painters are creating paintings, just as writers create the written word. However the way they do this and the materials on offer are constantly changing. With this expansion of the means behind the painting message comes a more knowing breed of painters/ing. As Peter Weibel discusses in his essay, Pittura/Immedia: Painting in the nineties between mediated visuality in context; “The painting has become a subject supposed to know. A knowing painting knows its own history, just as it knows its artificial surroundings.” Weibel argues that painting’s message is changing with this move into other art medias (especially digital), away from a trajectory of painting history, towards that of the picture being the point of departure. He cites painters such as Gerhard Richter and David Reed who reference the photographic or cinematic as equal references to painting itself. Painters are today influenced by other forms of image generating media as much as the lineage of painting. This is perhaps, and in UnMasterclasses eyes certainly, becoming a fact. What we have to be mindful of as a new generation of painters emerge that use the language of digital information is that painters such as Richter and Reed are technically skilled. They are fully able to embed these other contemporary references to painting in a knowing way that continues within the lineage of painting. The contemporary painter must learn to be able to respond to their times, as any good art does, but also not lose sight of the fact that they are also defined by the history of painting and their art must stand up to both mirrors of criticality. The latest UnMasterclass is here

Friday, 18 November 2011

A double dose of Suite Studios

Suite Studio Group have two opportunities to see work by artists in the group, including me, this coming week. On Thursday 24th November (until 18th December) we are taking over Cornerhouse Projects space in Manchester. On Thursday night join us at 6pm for informal drinkies as part of Cornerhouse's Art Night, with lots of other exciting arty things, including a screening of the excellent Tony Hancock classic film, the Rebel.
The next evening is the annual Suite open studios extravaganza with an informal display of Suite artists' work, an opportunity to talk to the artists, have a drink and enjoy the first mince pies of the year.
Details about Cornerhouse show is here
Details about Art Night is here
Details about Suite is here 

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Postcard Winter

There are two opportunities to purchase postcard sized paintings by me over the next month or so. Firstly the long running Royal College Secrets show will feature a new painting, alongside artists such as Tracey Emin, Anish Kapoor, Grayson Perry, Yoko Ono, Olafur Eliasson, Yinka Shonibare and John Baldessari. Get in the queue from Friday 18th November until the 25th. All works in the show are only £45 and all the money raised goes to Royal College students. Also on a postcard sized scale I have donated a new work to Pre-paid 2011, an exhibition and auction to raise money for The artists' Benevolent Institution and Global Hope. You can view the works at The Cornerstone Gallery, Liverpool from 16th November until the 7th December and online from the 17th November. Bidding starts in a silent auction from 6.30pm on the 7th December, though email bids can be submitted beforehand. Do you bit for great causes and end up with some great art in both cases.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

UnMasterclass 44

In 1927 J.B.S Haldane published a wonderful book, Possible Worlds; one that remains fascinating for the contemporary reader. Perhaps it’s most celebrated essay is On Being the Right Size. He discusses how scientists of the time appeared to neglect to consider the most obvious differences in animals, their difference in size; “In a large textbook of zoology in front of me I find no indication that the eagle is larger than the sparrow, or the hippopotamus bigger than the hare, though grudging admissions are made in the case of the mouse and the whale.”  He goes on to make a wonderful rationalising of the children’s book Pilgrim’s Progress. He claims that if the Giants, Pope and Pagan, were to be 10 times larger in reality, then their bones would collapse and break under the weight of their body if their skeleton were to remain in proportion. “This is doubtless why they were sitting down in the picture I remember.”
This is interesting to us as literature and art are not bound by the rules of physics and so a giant can be 10 times as big as man in a novel or a picture, but not in real life. To bring this back to relevance for UnMasterclass, when it comes to painting from reproductions, as opposed to the original paintings, there is much in common with John Bunyan’s giants than with scientific accuracy. There is huge inaccuracy inherent in trying to figure out and learn how a master painter has constructed a painting from a photograph of it. One cannot garner true knowledge from the reproductions. To draw further parallels with Haldane’s argument, there is a major difference between a typical Joshua Reynolds’ portrait and Caravaggio’s The Calling of St. Matthew; their size. Just as it is obvious that hippo and hare are of different sizes, so it is obvious that Caravaggio’s masterpiece dwarfs Reynolds work. Naturally there are also major differences in style between the 2 artists as well, but on the page or the computer screen the difference in size are indistinguishable. What should be an obvious difference is not perceived without knowledge of scale. And unlike the hippo and the hare, unless one is to see the two artists work in the flesh then it is unlikely that this major difference will be distinguishable to the non-gallery viewer. Here at UnMasterclass we paint from small reproductions of paintings on a small sheet of paper. We never claim to make proper copies of paintings, and not just in relation to size, for every other part of the painting too. This week’s (weak) UnMasterclass is viewable here

UnMasterclass 43

A short question for you this week. Why is it acceptable (or even be applauded in some circles) for an artist like Bill Viola to produce a version of a historical painting, whilst for a painter to do the same produces a sneer of derision? This week you can sneer or applaud the latest UnMasterclass here

UnMasterclass 42

Paul Housley’s layered and charmingly grubby paintings usually adhere to a particularly contemporary version of the still life genre, featuring objects of popular culture as a consistent subject.  Normally the final composition sits on top of several previous paintings, as if the artist is constantly at odds with transferring what is before his eyes to the canvas. Housley, perhaps in a manner akin to the master painters of old, eschews the photograph as an option for painting from, preferring to paint directly from life. This is an interesting construct for the painter of modern life; to do an act that is so traditional, and yet in the case of Housley, to do this in a way that continues to move on the lexicon of painting. Interestingly, to our purposes, the artist has recently produced some paintings that call upon past painter’s works. These are neither parody nor homage, though they may appear on first appearances to be both. Like Joffe and Pye’s Tate exhibition discussed last week, Housley has created paintings that are equal parts his and that of other artists. Here we see self portraits of Housley that are painted in a hybrid style, equal parts his own style combined with that of other painters. Here we recognise Picasso, Rembrandt or Valesquez morphed with the modern day doppelganger of Housley. Housley masterly manages to step between times, to have one foot poking into 16th century Holland or mid 20th century Mougins, whilst standing steadfastly in the pose of a 21st century distinguished painter. UnMasterclass’s latest episode can be seen here