Wednesday, 21 December 2011



Why be a painter now?
In this digital age what does it mean to be a painter? Is it relevant or justifiable as an activity?
Our computers remember. We can access anything and everything at the click of a button, here and now. We are gaining a collective rather than a personal memory. My memory is being transferred via metaphorical Ethernet and the keyboard to hard-drive, the internet and the blog.
I cannot drive, I walk. I have time to think, to contemplate and to see what would pass you by if travelling in a vehicle.
Why would you want to paint, an activity that takes time, slows time down, that does not ‘know’ and often comes out completely different to how you started?
You can destroy a painting with one wrong flourish of the paint brush or equally save it with another one; it hangs in the balance - isn’t that wonderful? You cannot click undo.
Painting is intuitive, something you test, try and work at; more often than not your mistakes are more interesting.
I have thought a lot recently about what it means to be a painter, I do not believe in painting’s death, I do not mourn it, but I am somewhat guilty of doing it, why?
I am excited by what it has to offer, both to myself as the creator and as a viewer.
It is very special to go to the studio and be part of a discipline that is slow in today’s culture. To be slow in the frenzy and overload of our contemporary life is a bloody good reason to be a painter.
I often plan out my work before hand, the idea is worked out and I paint the idea.
There is logic.
What would it mean to be illogical for a year, how would I cope with this?
What would it mean to let go of the rules for making art that I alone create for myself?
Each year the first year students where I teach are asked to create one hundred drawings in two days. They are told little else. They all do it. Nearly all of them struggle when asked to make their own work. I am always amazed that they fail to make the connection between the two things.
Work can generate work.
In 2012 I will be illogical in my approach to work in a logical way.
I will set up rules that allow me to create without rules.
Here they are.

10 RULES FOR 2012

1.       1.  Each work will inform the next work, however big or small that connection might be. Move on, do not stick to a series of work, but move each work on.
2.       2.  Do not be afraid or guilty of gesture, size, canvas and being a painter.
3.       3.  It is ok if there is no common thread in the works produced, in fact it is better; work it out after rather than before.
4.       4.  Think of creating a group show of work, not a solo show.
5.       5.  Be different, but do not worry about being original.
6.       6.  Use time wisely.
7.       7.  You can destroy and replace, as well as create.
8.       8.  Do not show any paintings made in 2012 in 2012.
9.       9.   Do not be afraid to not stick to rules.
10.    10. Smile.

UnMasterclass 51

In 1944 Robert Motherwell delivered a lecture at MOUNT Holyoke college in Massachusetts in which he discussed what it means to be a modern artist and how his perception of the art world created a condition that forced the artist into isolation away from religious (or as he discusses spiritual) and socialist ideals; a condition his art, in turn, came to represent. Through a discussion of shifts in the class structure he came to an interesting conundrum; “The artist’s problem is with what to identify himself. The middle-class is decaying and as a conscious entity the working class does not exist. Hence the tendency of modern painters to paint for each other.” Here Motherwelll appears to suggest that artists have lost a reason for their art, with the erosion of religion and the bourgeoisie ideals then the artists begin to lose an output for their art. And in turn they become more insular in their outputs, painting not for the churches or wealthy patrons, but for the artistic community. Motherwell’s argument is flawed, after all his first solo show was at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery, surely an exempla of the new monied ruling class (as Motherwell put it “The present ruling class was able to gain it’s freedom from aristocracy by the accumulation of private property.”) But if we take Motherwell at his word and believe that the radical work associated with the Abstract Expressionists arose because these painters felt freed of producing art with a patron in mind and instead turned to producing art for themselves and their circle of fellow artists, then what does this mean in the age of the internet. Here we have entered a truly democratic age. Every web page is the same for each person, whether they be a princess or a refuse collector, just like the coca cola observations of Warhol. And so art that is put on the web is viewable and thus meant for anyone. Art made for the web is freed of being made for any form of class or even any pre-conceived choice of who they might be. On the web the artist has no choice of who their audience is and so are free to an even greater extent to produce what they wish. And yet with this comes even more responsibility. When one does not decide the audience for your work, then the artist must be sure of the work before it is put up for everyone’s viewing pleasure. Here is a gallery for the potential millions, if not billions of people from the biggest cross section of society imaginable. The bourgeoisies  is no more. Rest in peace. To view the latest UnMasterclass please visit

Saturday, 17 December 2011

UnMasterclass 50

In Joseph Kosuth’s Art after Philosophy the great artist sets out his position for the cerebral nature of Duchamp’s readymades being the true beginnings of a fulcrum shift in art towards Modernism. Kosuth sets out his stall for art’s function being one of the idea, what we understand as conceptual art and it’s assimilation into pretty much anything that has been produced that is good in the art world over the last 40 years. He sets out his argument with a discussion that seeks to separate art from aesthetics. As a little aside Kosuth continues his argument by drawing a parallel between the critical reception of art to that of architecture; “ that architecture has a very specific function and how ’good’ its design is is primarily related to how well it performs its function. Thus, judgement on what it looks like corresponds to taste, and we can see that throughout history different examples of architecture are praised at different times depending on the aesthetics of particular epochs.” Here Kosuth appears to say that a buildings worth will be valued by how well it functions in respect of its needs over how it looks, as taste associated with aesthetics is transient. Architects of new ‘wow’ Museums and Galleries please take note! Kosuth goes on to say “Aesthetic considerations are indeed always  extraneous to an object’s function or ‘reason to be’. Unless of course, that object’s ‘reason to be’ is strictly aesthetic. “ He uses as an example a decorative object whose purpose is to make a surroundings more attractive, and for it to fulfil this it must be in relation to taste. He continues by saying that the Formalist art that was being lauded by that key critical component of taste of the fifties and sixties, Clement Greenberg. And hidden in a footnote is a damning retort to this weeks UnMasterclasses subject, Morris Louis and his peers; “The conceptual level of the work of…..Morris Louis…et al. is so dismally low, that any that is there is supplied by the critics promoting it.” And by Kosuth’s position that one should separate aesthetics from art goes on to state that the work of Louis and others associated with the formalist painting movement, should be taken as decorative in it’s function so “one could reasonably assert that its art condition is so minimal that for all functional purposes it is not art at all, but pure exercises in aesthetics.” Formalist art and the critics such as Fried and Greenberg associated with it, in Kosuth’s respected opinion cannot question the function of art as Duchamp did, and if you do not do this as an artist then you cannot move art along. As Kosuth stated in his earlier interview that is quoted in Art after Philosophy, “Being an artist now means to question the nature of art. If one is questioning the nature of painting, one cannot be questioning the nature of art. If an artist accepts painting (or sculpture) he is accepting the tradition that goes with it. That’s because the word art is general and the word painting is specific. Painting is a kind of art. If you make paintings you are already accepting (not questioning) the nature of art.” And so we come to UnMasterclass, we believe we are questioning painting, not art, but we are also not accepting of painting being a still thing, we believe it should shift and turn, whilst being something that has historical precedents that must be considered if one is to be a painter. We do not aspire to be Louis or Kosuth. But we must say we have learnt more about painting form reading Kosuth’s essay than from painting the reproduction of Louis’ painting. Maybe we should go and read it in front of the real painting, Alpha Phi in Tate Modern. After all to give Louis his due the reproduction we painted from has little in common with the original. The reproduction of Kosuth’s essay we read in Art in Theory: 1900-2000 is pretty close to that to that printed in Studio International’s October 1969 edition. Is UnMasterclass art then? Have a gander at the latest episode here

Friday, 9 December 2011

UnMasterclass 49

Just as Magritte’s Masterpiece was not a pipe, so UnMasterclass is not painting, but a video of someone painting a rather poor version of another’s masterpiece. Ceci n’est pas une peinture. To view UnMasterclasses version of Magritte’s non pipe click here