I have gone back to last body of work before life got in the way. These are a set of watercolour/gouaches I completed in summer of 1994 shortly before moving to Edinburgh. I then completed a small run of etchings based on these drawings. That was pretty much, excepting a few drawings and a couple of paintings completed when an artist in residence at City Arts which leaned towards that area,all I done since! Seems incredible but as I said life got in the way….
Here part of watercolour sequence 1994
Here the new paintings just started
On Facebook ( that noted art history forum:-)
Matthew Collings posted the following:I have highlighted what seems to me the key lines. The second paragraph is his introduction to the set of photos which even I, as someone accused of convoluted and dense and unreadable sentences, found hard to fathom and only after several re-readings did I get a sense (I think) of what he on about. My interpretation is he is concerned that at a time when we surrounded by a tsunami of visuality (more artists, more imagery than ever) that there is no coherent ‘ethical’and ‘aesthetic’agreement of what is ‘good’or ‘right’. i.e. that we live in immoral times and that affects judgement too. This chimes with the ‘Rediscovering Aesthetics‘standpoint. I do not know to what degree he agrees/disagrees with their views. The idea of visual achievement V visual success may be contrasting actual artistic creation with visual success i.e. cheap fame….low artistic worth..I am not sure. Below my response on facebook and a continuation of my ‘objective argument’which I apparently regularly fall short on …woof woof:-)
Matthew Collings:On some very visual and recent art
If there is celebrating it’s celebrating the visual dimension,but the reason to post the album (and others) is not “let’s party”but to look at the possibility of visual substance,depth,richness in art,because in the general idea of what contemporary art “is”that operates at the moment this visual dimension is virtually either actually absent or else unseeable (and consequently undiscussuable or unappreciatable).
Some very visual current and recent art:
Reassurance of pre-modern and even modern art no longer available —universal Rembrandtian Shakespearean etc greatness out now —meantime fragmentary but very visual art does exist. Problem in heads is to get visual to connect with ethical. Many steps. First is to be visually observant. Then questioning. What is all this visuality for? How can we make it be for something else,something better? (That is not for wrong ideology,wrong life dictated by consumerism etc,as exemplified horribly by contexts in which this art is actually usually seen.) And is a visual system aiming at high visual achievement,or visual success —and which therefore has the possibility of failure —and therefore entails some kind of judging —is it connectable to moral and ethical dimensions,political dimensions etc? (Nazis judging good notes in symphony,still chuck victims in ovens etc.) Or do we have to accept visually abject art that has moral excellent credentials? Plus accept visual abjection that has excruciating pseudo thoughtful credentials (idiotic pretence at engaging with history society etc while remaining in-crowd smugness only)?
My response:Part one ( from facebook)
Ironically my period of intense engagement with painting coincided with the publishing of artscribe which was my bible in mid eighties. I stopped any meaningful production of art in 1992 and am now trying to begin again. So in some ways I am heavily influenced by the artscribe ethos and coming back to the art world I acutely aware of the marginalisation of visuality and the lack of a coherent and representative forum/magazine for that visuality. Both Modern Painters and Frieze seem to be ad driven fashion mags and art monthly is simply art monthly…long on theory short on images. My feeling (I will expand later) is we are at a watershed moment and that all this visuality is not looking,making and time based to the same extant it once was in the artscribe era. Fragmentation is an aspect of globalisation and the rise of the internet which may also mean a fragmentation of values as you hint at. Could artscribe exist now at all in the same ‘moral’and ‘tightknit’way it did in the 1980?s when it ringfenced not only a seriousness about painting etc but also a relatively coherant worldview and small set of tuned in artists? We live in a ‘bigger’artworld but not necessarily a more serious or a more productive one. Was artscribe a magazine dedicated to ‘visuality’?
My response:Part two
- I have written about artscribe as part of a longer piece called Beyond the crisis in art ‘Making and Doing’which covers the ‘artscribe years’. http://belcheresque.wordpress.com/2009/11/16/beyond-the-crisis-in-art-making-and-doing/
Whatever it was (for those too young or unaware of the magazine) artscribe was the most important magazine in the period 1976 -1985 after that it became Artscribe International and I felt lost its way and became a precursor of the fashionista art mags we have now. early artscribes were ad free tomes of high-seriousness where you could enjoy lengthy,erudite articles on painting especially from the likes of James Faure Walker,Matthew Collings and Adrian Searle. Collings himself is representative of the gradual change and led to the ‘Internationalisation’of the magazine. My feeling has been that the success and failure of Collings’s internationalisation is a smaller model of the sea change in British Art at this point i.e. Sensation et al. Ironically Collings left the magazine in 1987 after which it went downhill fast and disappeared totally in 1993. My only surviving copy is ironically from Collings time as editor because I feature in it albeit in a very minor role as a model in a Gilbert and George painting called Gateway which featured in an article on them. That was about as close as I ever got to the International Art World. So any discussion of artscribe and visuality and its apparent ‘demise’cuts heavily into my own artistic history or ‘suicide’depending on your viewpoint. Now this is where things get interesting –in searching for the artscribe image I came across Matthew’s ‘Rant’from the saatchi magazine.
In it he discusses Peter Fuller. Ironically I was interviewed for Goldsmiths course in 1987 and 1988. The first time of interview I had recently completed a black empty canvas for painting and sat bewildered as Mary Kelly and Nick De Ville pontificated about it for what seemed hours (I too shy to point out it just a ground!) before telling me I ‘interesting’and they would come back next year. Sadly my studio was demolished and penniless the next interview was in my legalised squat in Arnos Grove and a disaster…
Basically I uttered the name ‘Peter Fuller’and it was if I had shat all over the assembled interviewers (and a postgrad student who hung bing bags on hooks who ignored me and spent whole time staring at out coathooks). Now reading the Collings piece I understand how evil I had been…Collings explains
“When Modern Painters began in 1988 it was the brainchild of an art writer called Peter Fuller,a man loved by fogeys and philistines,and middle class people who kidded themselves they were into art,while the art world as such couldn’t bear him. I couldn’t bear him either,at least not what he wrote. It always seemed so off the mark.”
MY BEAUTIFUL NON-CAREER (an aside)
1989 Pyramid Arts,Dalston,London.
1988 Solo show. Square Gallery,Highgate,London.
1987 12 Young Artists. Square Gallery,Highgate,London
Influences –New Scottish painters like Campbell and Maclean,New French Painting and the post New Painting 1981 show at R.A. Italian Transavantguardia…Ivon Hitchins, Francis Bacon,Howard Hodgkin,John Bellany
Philip Guston,Fernand Leger,Malcolm Morley,Gillian Ayres,De Chirico,etc. etc…oh and Gilbert &George.. and artscribe!
My Response:Part three
In contrast I had actually read and re-read Fuller intensely ( especially Beyond the Crisis in Art)and loved him and Modern Painters under his editorship. He seemed then and seems now to have been way ahead of the YBA pack. Ironically Matthew seems to have revised his opinion somewhat…
“The bits I like are,mainly,his raving on (positively) about Ruskin,who in those days I didn’t know anything about and didn’t care to learn anything about. Now of course I think Ruskin’s great and in fact I believe only an idiot wouldn’t think the same. As a personality,Peter (who I got to know fairly well) was great too.”
So I was victim of an almost Stalinist rejection of a certain way of looking at art. The Goldsmiths tutors gave me short shrift refusing to even ‘look’at my Bacon and Sutherland influenced self-portraiture. I was a rank conservative..an amateur who did not understand the mission that Goldsmiths and YBA about to launch…( obviously the offer of a place at the Royal College for painting by Peter de Francia in 1981 was a figment of my imagination….sadly I was scuppered by Thatcher’s plan to give working class children a place at public school..guess what she took the money from the R.C. ensuring a foreign student took my place and this working class boy ended up on the dole). Forgive me if the International Art World leaves me a little sarcastic..wouldn’t you feel the same? ….Goldsmiths or Thatcher it all the same to me.
I ran out of critical road and ended up back in my parent’s council house in Didcot and immediately spent a year drawing the hills around my hometown in charcoal on location and effectively became as conservative as possible in reaction to the Goldsmiths debacle. My art career effectively over I went to ground just as Hirst and Emin won the art lottery. I continued to read Fuller and Ruskin and to ignore the London art scene for the next 20 years and pretty much still do. My artistic career petered to a halt with some etchings at Edinburgh College of Art in 1994 and that was that…until Moogee in 2005. So that was then but what about now and what about this contested ‘visuality’everybody banging on about?…..continues below….in it I hope to link the processes at play in 1988….Goldsmiths,internationalisation,YBA’s to my own career crash and the birth of Sattchi Land which more than anything both created and destroyed the ‘visuality’bubble.
My Response: Part Four: VISUALITY?
Required reading:Abigail Diamond:The role of the art object in contemporary art
Responding to internet representations of art.
The artwork online by Sarah Morris and a Frank Stella from protractor series
Interesting point here is you probably encountered both works in reality whereas I think I only ever seen one actual Stella and no Morris so have no idea of scale or construction of Morris so how could I really compare which brings us back to key point re. visuality..whose visuality?….we engulfed in a pervasive media which displays versions of reality..how many dscourses based on actual seeing any more..perhaps we need an institute of looking?
If we could assemble all the paintings you have here and make people actually look the responses may be very different. What we have here is a virtual gallery that lacks the essential ‘thingness’ of objecthood…..if one not responding to that essential object but only a virtual mis-representation then we are always on dodgy ground. What I find infuriating about contemporary theorists of the virtual is they discount the essential veracity of constructed artworks…to them and their students (and NTU has its fair share) they are continually avoiding the real by dancing spectacularly in clouds of theory and networks…..never touching the ground and certainly never needing to look at all..Ruskin would be appalled.
- Well ironically Artscribe was very much a visual celebrating mag under the editorship of its founder James Faure Walker,but when I took over,in early 80s,it became much more oriented to bringing news to UK of international trendy developments,and ultimately to airing info about those developments back to places where they originally came from —I wouldn’t say ethos of mag in my time was at all like ethos of these FB threads,which is because my true interests,while they were always there,were a bit buried in those days beneath my drive to make the mag buzzing and powerful.
That is really interesting Matthew ..so you are more naturally attuned to JFW content than your own in hindsight? Do you think there a current magazine that caters for ‘visuality’and here I using term loosely to denote contemporary visual art where the emphasis on ‘objecthood’….I struggling to put it more clearly maybe in sense defined by Abigail Diamond here …The role of the art object in contemporary art –http://sitem.herts.ac.uk/artdes_research/papers/wpades/vol3/adfull.html i.e. are we talking about art that reveals itself primarily as an object..in which case ‘OBJECT’would be perfect title for such a magazine
A touring exhibition which started in Norwich and currently at Millenium Galleries Sheffield this Tate Gallery touring show comes with a specific tagline i.e. ‘Part of the Great British Arts Debate’.
Now,if you are not aware this Great British Art Debate commenced during the first wave of Arts Council ‘restructuring’about two years ago. This seems to be a spin off from that ‘debate’. At the time that debate really amounted to no more than carefully chosen individuals talking in a ‘closed shop’about how best to redeploy funding in face of cuts by the then New Labour Government.
Any attempt to genuinely ‘widen’debate and participation is to be welcomed. That the Tate should choose to wrap a watercolour exhibition in such terms says more about current arts politics than any real ‘debate’out in the Shires. This exhibition highlights the deep uncertainty and failure of contemporary art to address notions of both identity and place and technique properly. It raises more questions than answers but not in the way intended.
The exhibition contains a great deal of stunning work and no-one can complain about seeing (even if in very low light to preserve the fragile colours) a collection that shows Turner,Blake,Sutherland,Burra and Offili in the same space. The Millenium Galleries,to their credit,are showing both local war artists and local ‘amateur/professional’painters work alongside the ‘masters’. However all of this is constantly being drawn into the shaping argument that a leaflet posits thus:
“Watercolour paintings have become shorthand for a comforting,conservative world view,rooted in the English countryside and largely rejected by the contemporary art scene. It wasn’t always so”
This statement has no author. It is presented as essentially true when it is,of course,contestable. It is illustrated by Burra’s ‘Soldiers at Rye’which is in the exhibition (see illustration above). Again our anonymous author cannot help but shackle a political point to it –
“”..is no portrayal of a pastoral idyll”
before drawing a comparison to oil painting which is just plain silly.
The comments also include a statement that this exhibition illustrates a ‘remarkable diversity’and also asks ‘where next’.
This is,I presume,continued in the exhibition catalogue which I did not buy for the simple reason that the interesting local artists and the work illustrated did not reflect what shown in Sheffield. It appears that if one wants to see the David Jones and John Piper work shown in the Tate publication one has to travel to Tate Britain next year.
The exhibition addresses two fundamentals of the watercolour tradition ‘sense of place’and ‘technique’and tries to map them to a contemporary notion of ‘diversity’.
Watercolour paintings have become shorthand for a comforting,conservative world view,rooted in the English countryside
‘Shorthand’is an unsatisfactory term based on a shallow perception of the tradition. ‘Shorthand’suggests watercolour painting is somehow inferior to the ‘easel painting’tradition and involves an almost throwaway sense of gesture usually ‘en plain air’. Anyone with a slight knowledge of the painstaking care that went into a Cotman or Turner can already see there a problem of some mis-aligned value systems here.
Instead of starting with the ‘tradition’the commentator is explaining the tradition backwards with a rather ‘secondhand’shorthand of their own. The suggestion they make is that watercolour is merely an amateur’s playground and the contemporary refuge of the conservative artist only. This smacks of the contemporary arts graduate view of art history and technique based on little real comprehension of its true history or creation.
i.e. in short –Watercolour + Landscape = a moribund ‘white male’tradition.
This notion is so embedded that the whole last part of the exhibition is set up as a failed retort to this assumption which instead of making one applaud the ‘beyond’as ‘groundbreaking’simply reinforces that there has been a break in both technique and value system which leaves no ‘beyond’–simply a sense of closure of that particular tradition.
If the instructional videos and cases of ‘this is how you do it’sketches and paintings littered around the show inspire one person to try the technique that is fine. However the examples used were illustrative in the manner of the conservative tradition the exhibition is supposedly challenging. Instead of inspiring true engagement it suggests an administrative dumbing down,reflected again in the noble but ill advised attempt to show and sell local work at the exhibitions end. It would have been far better to have a decent contemporary artist showing the technique ‘live’and ‘signpost’people to good watercolour artists in the community or have their work for sale in the ubiquitous ‘shop’than hang a frankly weak bunch of works next to William Blake which is doing neither party much good in comparison.
Because the Millenium contains an excellent Ruskin museum (all be it small) there were a couple of Ruskins and a large scale although slightly mad Burne Jones (a similar problem to most of the Burras being evident where scale and surreal subject matter outweigh a lumpiness and lack of touch in the works). Watercolour is a light and spontaneous medium which gets bogged down into sticky gouache when over-worked. Having said that a single ‘constructed’Burra landscape retained that effervescance.
The exhibition makes a very good fist of showing (albeit in a fragmented manner –i.e. Offili then Burra then Turner then Ruskin then Blake) some classic work in the medium. Nobody could walk away from the Cotman and not feel that they have seen an illustration of the very finest technique. It is almost as if one is in a hall of greats onto which a slightly amateur exhibition has encroached.
Now before the ‘post-modernists’cry foul and contest any suggestion of a “hall of greats”or “artistic canon”let me be clear. I do not buy into the notion that certain works of greatness can be explained away by socio-marxist reductionisim or are part of a white male tradition that needs ‘re-examining’. The reason the predominant works in the exhibition are from white males is simple. Historically,the only people able to safely travel the countryside and have the independent means to do so thus creating the topographical tradition,were men and white men of independent means at that. There were as few farm labourer watercolourists (male or female) as there were poets because of a harsh bondage to land. Arguments about impediments to joining ‘tradition’whilst valid do not change the available corpus of work we are left to examine.
So if one removes the ‘diversity’framework and examines the work one finds a fairly consistent and challenging set of works created by white males over a two hundred year period. The historical ‘romanticisation’of the ‘wilderness’occurred in this time frame. When the anonymous PR person spouts about a ‘conservative’tradition it is one built on socio-economic changes and predominantly male for a reason. Far more interesting would have been a ‘debate’centred on notions of ‘sense of place’not ‘diversity’as both are loaded terms.
The ‘contemporary’works undermine that tradition by both their subject matter and their technique,or lack thereof,and in my opinion this should have been divided into two shows maybe run concurrently.
Nowhere in the contemporary works do we see a similar level of technique displayed except maybe in the Blackadder (an illustrative painter whose work influenced a swathe of eighties illustrators). Other contemporary artists range from the slightly cack-handed (Offili) to the downright awful..Kapoor and Paolozzi or Houshiary. Indeed worst of all was a very contemporary bunch of splodges on paper by a ‘conceptual’artist I didn’t even bother looking at. All used watercolour in varying ways,none successful,and none with an understanding of the technique itself. Rather we were in the post-modern’s favourite place i.e. “Irony Island”.
Were these works selected simply for their possible ‘diversity’tick-boxing? Paolozzi not Peter Blake,Kapoor (not noted as a painter per se?) instead of Michael Andrews? The whole show fell between two stools in trying to concoct a ‘diverse’and ‘contemporary’‘beyond’that didn’t exist and in so doing it competely ignored a far deeper and questioning use of the ‘watercolour tradition’that could have included Conrad Atkinson amongst others. That would have been a real debate. Instead we are left holding the bath whilst baby and bath-water both lost and the bath increasingly leaky as a container for ideas……
To that degree ‘Tradition and Beyond’did reflect the current lack of confidence at the heart of arts organisations trying to hit targets in all areas..footfall,diversity,engagement and failing to concentrate on the matter at hand…..a word no longer politically acceptable above all others.
Quality is now so disparaged among academics and administrators that one is admonished for just mentioning the word. However all artists can be judged by that criteria if all could agree on a suitably diverse criteria to encompass works.
At present there is no such consensus and until there is we continue to drift through shows like this……like Turner strapped to the mast in a storm the water blurring our sense of vision….