The Moogee show ready for taking to Lady Bay for the weekend. This is my third time in the Lady Bay show. First time was in 2003 just after I had moved here and was a kind of retrospective. Then again in 2005 (I think) when I showed in the Church Hall and revealed the Curse of the Moogee.
Now it is going to be all Moogee in one form or another culminating in the M.A. illustrations for James Elkins.
I have decided to go with an all black and white theme as the room is decorated that way so it kind of makes sense.
The show starts Saturday 12-6pm and Sunday 12-6pm. Look forward to seeing some of you there :-). Woof.
I am showing here in my oldest friend…almost as old as me ..from school Stephe Hitchman’s house : The house overlooking the allotments 11 Mark Green (Drawing workshops) Hannah Hitchman (Illustrations) Shaun Belcher (Illustrations)
Silly blog post title of month. it amused me to write that especially as I just wrote that the future of painting is behind us…a smidgen of irony here.
At 55 years old and with a back catalogue of failed projects, dumb moves and shit jobs behind me (before I shipwrecked on to Academia Island) I have decided to once more ride into the valley of death armed with nothing more than a paintbrush and some blank canvases. Why? Why not everything else is shot to bits so might as well tilt at the greatest windmill of all….the painter of modern life.
I spent the day clearing out the cobwebs in my too often deserted studio and discovering that I had actually painted a few canvases in the past few years. Not many because I remain unconvinced that it an honourable occupation or even a perfectable art..see below. If I am like Will Self trapped in a Guston led Gutenbergian brain then so be it. I think paintings matter. I think they can change the world and that’s it really. Sod the consequences….life too short.
So here the sweepings from the last few years soon to be revealed at Lady Bay in my old schoolfriend Stephe’s front room. Not quite the Tate but you got to start somewhere:-)
The last entry in this ‘painting’ blog was October 2012. At that point I had the fragments of a broken multimedia M.A. degree and some paintings and not a lot else. From there on things improved and I have spent the last two years on a ‘research-led’ investigation of drawing that has taken me to London and New York and a set of subsidiary concerns with sequential art and technology that have led to Amsterdam and Paris. I have ‘done’ research quite well but deep down it didn’t really affect my longer term interest in returning to painting. Ironically as I am being pitched at ‘Graphic Design’ I will have to wear the designer mask a little longer but deep down I am a painter always have been always will be.
Will Self wrote an excellent piece in the Guardian last weekend about how he felt the ‘grand design’ of the modernist novel was falling apart and I feel similar concerns for painting. Despite the thrill of seeing the Dan Perfect paintings in the show with Fiona Rae at Nottingham Castle I still feel that we are at the thin end of a wedge of modernist painting not at the start. Like the novel maybe the best is behind us and we are collecting the fragments?
Perfect’s paintings straddled the post-digital and modernist divide beautifully but a nagging doubt remained that as effortless as they were the process of mapping up from smaller digital drawings whilst echoing Christopher Wool also lost something visceral in the process. The buzz of a Bratby-like density was over-ridden by the knowledge of the perfection (sorry for pun) of the execution. They were visual feasts perfectly constructed on finest linen but maybe lacked a grittier flavour? Fiona Rae’s work left me cold a lukewarm salad of tropes I’d seen before lacking the intensity of her early work. maybe that the devil’s deal gone sour. Early fame followed by a lifetime creating perfectly packaged show-pieces.
I purchased the catalogue in support of the organiser Tristram Aver. The catalogue disappointed being too showy and too many perfectly shot close ups and little real detail. Martin Herbert I am unfamiliar with I really don’t spend much time perusing the art press. His articles were pretentious nonsense but at least we have a contemporary Brian Sewell to amuse us. I learnt more about what Herbert thought of his own reading than I did of the work a sure sign of narcissistic writing. I am sure he is quite loud at dinner parties. Silence is sometimes golden. Perfect said more without saying a word.
Spent the afternoon in a not too cold studio (it has basic radiators thankfully) as starting to come out of over two weeks of severe chest infection. After looking at the neo-primitives below I thought I’d try black acrylic paint straight to canvas and compare it with other methods. Pencil and chalk, paint this was because I forgot to take some Sharpie pens to the studio. So I could theoretically call this an experimental artefact led methodology although I can only gain ‘qualitative data’. I have posted on facebook so be interesting to see what reaction I get.
I was vaguely thnking of the kind of memory painting Arshile Gorky did (most of his major works refer however subliminally back to his Armenian childhood) but after I’d finished the last piece I realised that today’s news about Hurricane Sandy and the associated imagery had leaked into my sub-conscious. I therefore named the drawing ‘Sandy’.
The smaller image in the gallery of two ‘badges’ is from 1987 and were a couple of examples of laminated drawings that I sold in aid of Greenpeace at my show that year in Hornsey Library. Proving that nothing changes and I was doing Burgerman before he was knee high 🙂
Looking closer other influences which I can see in the drawings include Leger, Mariscal, and Miro all major influences on my late eighties work so it feels like I have somehow carried on from a point then of semi-abstraction before I went more figurative and lost some of my spontaneity. I picked up a book from my library at studio called ‘Arshille Gorky: The Breakthrough Years. Which I will examine along with my present reading. I was heavily influenced by a book I subsequently lost by Harry Rand called Arshile Gorky: the implications of symbols ( I have now found it as paperback on amazon although out of print). The Gorky fascination is not so much in his application of paint but far more the way he created ‘memory symbols’ analogous to Miro. These repetitive symbols came from his childhood. I repeat similar motifs from my past almost like an alphabet and maybe analysing where this came from would be productive. In fact at one point I did try to make a pictorial alphabet of simple symbols. I will try and find the examples I drew. We then stray into both semiotic and literary territory. I will leave the deeper examination of this to the research pages.
I have started looking in more depth at the idea of ‘abstract comics’. There is an anthology assembled by Andrei Molotiu called ‘Abstract Comics’. He also has a very interesting blog at : http://abstractcomics.blogspot.co.uk/
This anthology includes work by Mark Staff Brandl.
It made me look again at the ‘Suit of Nettles’ work I produced for the Connect Course and exhibited at Lincoln. Although ostensibly a series of illustrations for a suite of songs the interesting thing was that as a non-linear series of unrelated images they could be hung together in any order.This leads in a strange way to some experimental work I have been doing in the studio with ‘abstract narratives’. This is why I was so interested in the series of drawings displayed on Guston’s studio wall…almost in a comic strip fashion.(see post below). I have played with a comic approach before as can be seen in these paintings (all sold or destroyed) from 2005. It is not a big stretch from these works to the paintings from September 2011 when I first had a painting studio again. http://www.shaunbelcher.com/canvas/?p=28
Ok so here I am back in the studio at the beginning of the second year of my M.A. by registered project and after a summer of drawing related ‘research’ I am standing in front of a very old work on paper (c.1988) and two new canvases done over the summer in the time not spent researching Frayling’s Categories (which wasn’t much). So what do the canvases have to do with research if anything?
I am struggling already to codify or analyse the works from any kind of methodological perspective. The ideas ’embedded’ in the paintings are intuitive, visceral (acrylic paint applied to canvas) and come from a half-formed naive idea of ‘comic’ forms from looking at various comic and graphic novels and studing Philip Guston’s work in some depth especially his drawings. I did read the book ‘Night Studio’ by Musa Meyer which I remember was quite a harrowing account of how his depressions and rages affected his family ( Musa is his daughter). It did however convince in describing the sheer effort that went into his work.
I suppose if I mined back into other works on him I would find material relating to his genesis of the comic forms that replaced his earlier ‘abstract expressionist’ period. I also own the book ‘Sweeper up after artists’ by Irving Sandler which I was half way through and which is very telling in its depiction of the fraught nature of post Abstract Expressionist careerism in New York in the early 1960’s. But is this research…it is art historical research for sure but unless it impacts on my physical creation of an object could it be said to describe anything but ‘contextual knowledge’. To impact on the creation of an art object surely it has to be more profound than that?
I am just asking questions here as at the start of a difficult journey. Turning ‘intuitions, feelings and observations’ into theoretical research is a hard task. I am not convinced as I start this ‘Studio Diary’ that it at all possible but I may learn something else in the process.
I am standing looking at the works. Day One. I photograph them so as to show the similarity in pieces created nearly twenty years apart and in very different locations and circumstances. Maybe that affects how I create images. Maybe the context is more important than I thought.
I am also awed by the quotation from Dickens that I discover Guston had on his wall, which he held to, about complete devotion to the cause. I have never liked ‘sunday painting’ but never had the means to devote my life to painting and this the reason I have stopped painting for long periods. I found an interesting article online by chance detailing Guston in the studio by Dore Ashton.
Before I started on the Nottingham Trent University M.A. by registered project I already had three fairly well-defined practices or is it PRAXIS. I had painted in oil for ten years and drawn regularly, I had written poetry which published as ‘Last Farmer’ (Salt Publishing 2010) and I had spent ten years or more writing songs and performing as my alter-ego Trailer Star, By the Lincoln Collection show of 2008 this morphed into a strange amalgamation of songwriting and painting in the Suit of Nettles project.
However none of this work was ‘research-orientated’ I just did it in a foolish Picasso/Miro-esque way you know like people had done for thousands of years before Research Exercises were even invented. BUT….as my M.A. was funded by my venerable institution and was supposedly part of ‘continuing professional development’ I set to on the chosen path for me of ‘MULTIMEDIA’ by registered project.This made sense to my peers and bosses and sort of made sense to me that was until they closed down ‘Multimedia’ department and informed me that the reason for that was the word ‘multimedia’ did not mean anything. This came as a bit of a surprise as we had done well to survive the mis-management from above and indeed our employability was nearly 80%. Indeed it had more to do with managerial self-promotion than common-sense but this was not apparent at the time. Whatever, it will be over soon (2014) but the M.A. carries on. I am now in a process of rationalising how my M.A. proceeds and alongside it I have created a separate ‘research’ praxis which uses cartoons to examine in detail the whole justification and deployment of postgraduate study in the arts. I now call this ‘GRAPHIC RESEARCH ‘ and a blog details all the work I am doing in this field.
So as it stands I have three simultaneous reflective journals done during the past two years..I wonder if any or all count for my M.A? In my opinion the cartoon research alone should qualify for a degree let alone the rest. I am going to stretch my examiners and supervisors patience to the test now by suggesting that I revert to PAINTING as the sole focus of the final year and use it to test theories of what research is and what practice is against each other. As the whole dichotomy of practice V research is what I questioning then physically separating the two and attempting both separately looks like a valid way of testing my ideas. This makes sense to me and in conversation with James Elkins I think makes sense to him. We are both examining the apparent contradictions in postgraduate fine art delivery, he from a theoretical ‘research on research’ angle, and myself from a physical practice versus research theory angle.
Simples Meerkats. If you are confused by all of this just try reading Pessoa whilst standing on your head…..
‘Gesamkunstwerk’ – ‘a total work of art’ – uses all or many art forms. (Dictionary definition.)
Intrigued by the title which has many facets and does not easily translate into English I made my first trip to the new Saatchi Gallery. A little late in the day but then I only visited the original one in North London a couple of times and missed out on the South Bank farrago. Intrigued however was not how I felt by the time I had left and I certainly had not seen an all encompassing show of the arts as promised by the title. Indeed I felt more like I had entered a time-warp and stumbled into the New Spirit in Painting show at the Royal Academy circa 1981 but without the same excitement or technique on display. The most impressive feature was the building itself which is a Wagnerian symphony of contemporary gallery chic and cannot be faulted. Indeed a more impressive set of floorboards I have never seen. If the building is intended to impress it succeeds but at what cost? Most of the work seemed quietly subdued by its illustrious surroundings and indeed a good deal of it sank altogether. Formerly famous for setting the ship of Britart afloat how does this show succeed in opening our eyes to New German Art of the 2010’s? Well, frankly, not very well.
There are good individual artists in this show but after finding ones way around all the floors and finally being overwhelmed by the frankly awful huge works at the top I felt I had no more idea about contemporary German Art than I had when I arrived. The picture-book ‘catalogue’ does little to enlighten and whilst I not keen on over explication a little more info would have helped greatly. My impression was that bar a rough correlation of ages there was little to tie the artworks together and this had been manufactured quickly and with little curatorial thought. The one common factor was an almost complete lack of digital works. This was about big, bigger and huge…almost all the works were over six foot and in some cases were collossal. In that there were echoes of the far better German artists of the R.A. show e.g. Penck, Middendorf, Baselitz, etc. but there comparisons ended. I did not see one painter on a large scale that really showed exceptional technique or content. It was almost as if a T.V. reality show had asked a bunch of fairly average artists to create a pastiche of German Art of the last thirty years in a week.
Some works were truly awful e.g. the reclining plastic coloured figures and the afore-mentioned ‘print’ across a hundred canvasses. Others were good but lost in the hang apart from the Tobias Brothers and the small shellac and watercolour works of Volker Hueller both of which I was impressed by. I will not add insult to injury by naming the worst of a fairly mediocre bunch but winners of irritating and downright stupid awards go to Andre Butzer ( New York Graffitti school overdosed on Penck with a horrible use of colour) and Isa Genzken’s tedious assemblages like a car boot sale organized by Rauschenburg if he’d been a pantomime Dame…tinsel and spray paint darlinks is so camp …yuk. It is easier to actually spot the reference in most works. Maz Frisinger and Alexander Bircken wouldn’t have a practice without Duchamp’s large glass basically and Ida Ekbald looked like a foundation art project to use concrete that had gone horribly wrong. It seems that such is the plethora of art students coming out of the academies that even basic aesthetics have been jettisoned. Maybe she networks really well..maybe you have to living in Norway..so how come she in a German show..ah she lives in Berlin well that’s alright then…shame they didn’t chuck Tacita Dean in too at least we could have seen something interesting. By the way Tobias Brothers were born in Romania so is this really New Euro Art? Again the contextual strings were missing…if a Norwegian then is this really German Art now or just a motley collection hastily cobbled together..methinks the latter. This is reinforced by the seemingly haphazard way works melt into each other. If Saatchi can afford to build such a place why does he not employ some decent designers to fashion some continuity and catalogue support. If ‘democratising’ the artworld means flabby shows with little thought I may not be so ‘democratic’ in future. Free to enter you do get what you pay for. It seems Saatchi is keener on being seen as super-patron than actually doing the right thing by the art he assembles. But then he is bigger (as his building) than any poor artist caught in their combined wash.
The show is worth going to for the well hung Tobias Brothers room and for the Hueller small works both of which show grace and aesthetic consideration rather than the Pantomime Showiness of most of it. I came away with the impression that New German Art had fallen into a rut of pastiche of former glories and far from benefitting from new immigration the ‘Eurozone’ dizziness of it all had actually devalued some of the participants. If a single currency has devalued the economies of Western Europe then this show displays that Saatchi’s global reach and international obsessions are similarly dangerous to ‘national’ ideas of art. Post internet, post Berlin Wall what we see is a weak and diluted parade of imitators and hangers-on to concepts and working practices which were old hat in 1960. If you want to see post-war German art at its best go google ‘Mülheimer Freiheit‘. This is just a pantomime of the new wilds and honestly it as tame a collection of physical art as I ever come across..one almost yawned on exit. Maybe Saatchi can blame his ‘art-teams’ for nothing on this scale is supervised that closely…..committee and buyers do the rounds hoovering up those who fit the bill.
Want to be in the next National Saatchi show…tick these boxes….International (i.e. not English) …large and technically inept and finally be devoid of real artistic merit…then you may stand a chance.
I would like to see a ‘opt-out’ clause for British native art from this circus before we all become clowns dancing to the same ringmaster.
CODA: Is Serota’s Tate any different?..same egos just different paymasters…
To celebrate Leonard Bullock’s forthcoming show at the The Front Gallery, London in November I have collected together various images and interview pieces about the artist in order to publicise his name a bit more over here in the U.K.
Originally from North Carolina and New York City, Bullock has lived in Europe for the last 15 years, frequently exhibiting in Switzerland and Germany. He was often involved in significant events of the artworld in important locations, including starting an artist run gallery in the 80s in NYC, assisting Leon Golub and more, thus making him the source of a wealth of interesting anecdotes and unique criticisms.
Bullock is a painters’ painter especially in his mark-making; his direct facture has influenced many better-known contemporaries. He often paints on surprising surfaces such as fiberglass or silk and includes text and images with pure abstraction.
I first was in contact with Leonard when blogging and he very kindly replied to a piece I had written. this can be read here :
Cora Cohen What is the basis of the dimensional pieces you do?
Leonard Bullock They are anecdotal in relation in to dimension. I see them as combination collision, aggregation of near polarities. They derive meaning from relation. The works, made with found materials, carry age and decomposition in unlike ways, stressing vernacular association. A table once used to roll tobacco leaves is not antipodal to the crystals used in the painting rising from its surface. The two things come from parallel domains. One is not assimilable into another. Each part retains something of the origin of its use, or of both. I made an attempt to mix the pure system of the traditional painting studio with the minerals (“fragments of a larger fragmentation” R.S.) and the tobacco rolling table with its parochial history use and decay.
CC So there’s a relationship in your thinking to that of Robert Smithson’s?
LB In one of his essays Smithson speaks of the slate in Bangor Non-Site as being “fragments of a larger fragmentation.” This stresses that the material of the works is from somewhere else in the world. Because the site pieces rely so much on transitive metaphors of displacement they continue to be activated by a sense of productive unresolve as works of art. Planet on the Table is intended in part to operate along these lines. These works satisfy a specific ambiguity grown out of the apposition of new matter the way it occurs in nature: one thing put next to another in succession, aggregated, part of flowing movement but retaining its nominal character.
CC How do you mean nominal?
LB I have to say that I’ve used the word nominal here as in its relation to the philosophy of nominalism. The nominalists held that there are no universal essences in reality—to our intellects everything real must be some particular individual thing. So all general collective words are mere words.
The poet William Carlos Williams’ notion that “there are no ideas but in things” bears a relation to this sort of thinking. I wonder if your family doctor can impart that kind of influence. (Williams was Smithson’s childhood doctor.)
CC You often mention the notion of negative capability. Has it a direct bearing on the nature of your work?
LB The English poet Keats first transposed his idea of “negative capability” in a letter to a colleague. He describes the moment of making (creating) at its most frustrating uncertainty, of seemingly insurmountable difficulty. If at that moment the artist/poet could continue without resorting to reasoned exit, resist difficulties and the urge to rationalize the effort, that “negative capability” would awaken the imagination.
CC In what way has your having been itinerant enhanced your work (or detracted from it)?
LB I’d rather it be peripatetic but both have been true. Yeah, I wanted more freedom and New York didn’t provide it. The offer I got from Rudolf (Zwirner) to live and work in Cologne was exhilarating; it fueled my work, no doubt. The time of my life at which it came (I was 27) was perfect. I needed the challenge more than I knew.
So I allowed myself to wander for a few years. That can do damage and it did, but it released so much untapped power. I hadn’t undertaken all this to achieve that end; it wasn’t a project; I’d done it out of desire…