Saturday, 27 February 2010

Ambiguity – naturally not always what it cracks up to be.

I do not understand the modern desire for ambiguity in the art we look over. Surely clarity has greater power? Let me quote Jake and Dinos Chapman’s F*** Face, 1994. There is no doubt as to the statement being made (though it need not always be so forceful and crude as in this instillation) and its imagery remains strong in your memory due to its transparency. I do not understand the modern need to be uncertain – to not know the answer. I want to know the answer and have the knowledge. Perhaps I’m just not post-modern enough?

What does this ambiguity do? It is the selfish quest of the audience. It makes us feel intelligent – this is not enough of the reason for it. Equally it expands our imagination – this too should not be the aim of art. Gary Hume summarises this pro-equivocation point of view when he discusses his work, “The viewer can’t be wrong. This is why I don’t explain them [his pieces of art]. I’m secondary – the viewer is primary.” But, the viewer can be wrong! If each viewer has a different opinion, and some contradict, how can they all be right?

I want the artist to have more power, and not be enslaved to pleasing an audience. I want the art historian to regain some authority too, that he/she can state from research what was the intention of the long-dead artists, so that the poor voiceless creator cannot be misunderstood and ill-judged. This is less of a pressing issue, as generally pre-modern works don’t dabble into the ambiguous anyway, and wisely I say!

One of my art school tutors advised my friend to morph a textbook illustration of a muscle, into something less well-formed in order to welcome in the intrusive ambiguous. Imitation isn’t great… but, nor is consumerism – lazily lacking purpose and message so that the audience can boost their artistic pride in interpretation. It is also a fear of realism that should not be encouraged. Power is greatest in the revelation of truth. And these are great works of art.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

‘The Hot 100’ by Peter Davies

Last week I watched ‘The Saatchi Gallery 100’ – A hundred works of art that changed British Art in this post-modern era. A title such as this always intrigues me – each Christmas I am involuntarily beckoned into watching the 100 greatest adverts/comedy films/romantic moments on TV, because not only do I feed off recommendations, but I am to an extent obsessed with order, and with achievement. I want to be best, know what’s best, and be judged best at knowing what is in fact best – and this is what art critics essentially do, is it not? I recall also, solely for your humour, the time I reached back into my vague, and deep-set memories in order to record each and every film I’ve ever watched. Wonderfully anal I am.

Featured on The Saatchi Gallery’s 100 was The Hot 100 by Peter Davies – a list that is art. I don’t think I’ve heard of a more interesting topic explored in art, and that is this: Davies colourfully and ironically disorderly hand-wrote onto canvas the 100 greatest artists of all time, in order…according to him. We can not dismiss this work as menial, and rushed just because it’s not ‘a painting’; I know from experience that the making of this piece probably took as long as any said painting from a great master – in this way it is certainly well formed. Davies in becoming the critic. He is an artistic who is tactically considering his competition or, (if he doesn’t examine it as such,) reflecting on his inspiration; both so that he might achieve greater things, with this method of self-improvement.

Everyone wants to have his or her say on art. But more than a matter of freedom of speech – everyone wants his or her opinion to be right. This is the secret desire of Davies – at first just to contribute to the omnipresent discussion of which artists are best; but then he admitted that although his opinion does not matter, he secretly hoped/and does hope that people would/and will agree. The statement made in this artwork is epic– that his list is beautiful enough in content to be termed art, which of course only ensured more debate.

What is so interesting and relevant about the concept embodied in The Hot 100 is that it is simultaneously contemporary and age old. It’s the primeval dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest, the popularity contest between Hera, Athena and Aphrodite known as The Judgement of Paris; X-factor etc etc. The need to achieve, or be best at something, is deeply rooted in our society. This is socially interesting therefore. It is our idiosyncratic capitalist culture. Why can’t there be many artists producing great work in order to satisfy our need to feel part of a class, in all cases a better class – a Capitalism idea again. It cannot be because the only art we pay attention to is that which is worthy – there can be no equality in art because it seems impossible for everything to be appreciated. Or, for someone to look at a piece of art, without deciding instinctively whether or not they have taste for it, and to relate it to something which is better or worse.

The subjectivity of opinion is highlighted perfectly in his spontaneous making into a series of Top 100s of artists. Davies said he quickly became annoyed by his choices and began to rewrite the once singular list, into numerous categorising lists such as The Hip 100, The Fun 100, The Cool 100, and The New Top 100, acknowledging that the History of Art is always changing due to additions made to it, and as taste with time is always changing. All art is liked first and later disliked. If an artist follows a popular taste, it will later be unpopular.

I love the idea that like an IPod, no one person’s selection of favourite art works will be the same. I don’t know why if we talk about an IPod of each person’s favourite artists it becomes so much more controversial. Well I do, it is the human need to be loved, or respected at least. Regardless it remains true that there will always be favourites, and it is no doubt because on most measures they are the best – the undiscovered are undiscovered for a reason – someone has found them, but that someone wanted to hide them again. By popularity, it has been chosen. If we were to do a survey, we would then find out (at this point of time, and in this taste of art) who the best artists are and in what sequence. Fact. And as Jonathon Jones said in his article In Art, Why is Popular a Dirty World “The artists I love best are precisely the ones everyone else loves. I’m drawn to the sense of community that truly universal artists create.”

So who wants to do a survey? I didn’t think so. So until then, let’s revel in the mysterious, in the joy of debate, and let’s see what you think about Davies’ authority on the matter…

Sunday, 21 February 2010


Running on from, and building upon Sacred, and giving you an insight to my practical work.

I’m going to argue that art should be quiet. Art is visual, not acoustic or literary, (but it is not the connection to language of which I am considering.) Art is at it’s best when it’s silent, and when it’s silencing. Then it is sacred. It is best like this because it goes into the realms of the spiritual. Contemporary artist Michael Raedecker has said that, “by whispering you spread the message much better.” It is not speed he expresses, but is the participants’ willingness to listen. Rachel Whiteread’s comment about her work also provide a link between the two – through a quietness found in death, and in space…in emptiness – her ideas and her instillations are poetic, they are quietening as she successfully “mummif[ies] a sense of silence in a room…”

Considering some of the works that we as a society define as masterpieces - so many can be ushered into this quietness, and this spirituality. Kenneth Clark highlights this in his essay What is a Masterpiece, exemplifying with worthy works of craftsmanship – Donatello’s Annunciation; Dead Christ by Mantegna; and a couple of personal favourites: Descent from the Cross by Roger Van Der Weyden, and by Rubens also. These are emotionally engaging pieces, they are, as Clark stated, highly impacting on people and this is the only way a masterpiece can really be measured. It is true also, that not only do all these examples narrate a moment of silence – they are quietly dramatic – but they tell of sacred moments.

My aim in the work I am creating at the moment is utterly counter-modern. In my untitled Final Major Project, my intent is to indirectly, and happily consequently, create spirituality in my art attributed to a quiet, meditative quality. In my statement, I quoted Renoir: “For me a picture should be a pleasant thing, joyful and pretty... There are quite enough unpleasant things in life without the need to manufacture more.” This has not recently been the reaction to the ‘unpleasant things’ Renoir talks of in this world. Most of our modern art has come out of a reaction of dissatisfaction and desperation to escape. Yet, I feel compelled only to create pleasant work – which meditates on the beauty of creation in people (through portraiture.) Meditation is to concentrate on the mundane in order to distract and disengage your mind – it is a form of escapism from reality. It is the entering into a personal reality.

I believe I have a style, which begins to work with these ideas, and that is my obsession with the unfinished. I know I often lack the daring character of the arrogant artist (that which would make me modern). I am cautious; pensive; heavily analytical and self-critical. I will stop and consider. I will get to a point where I am satisfied enough by what I’ve stimulated visually and then in fear I will probably not continue. But I look at this trait more positively than I have worded, because I see potential. It is better for it to be good and the onlooker to believe it could be even greater, than to take an exploration too far and for something good to become rubbish and later dismissed. I am: a perfectionist; and counter-modern: I recognize that most modern (successful) artists are arrogant. They will explore boldly - not in angst of what they cannot take back.

I am building this into my distinctive style. I feel it would be denying of myself to ignore or altar this aspect of the work I am creating. My concerns have by this method, become tainted by emptiness – by a predominance of negative space. A spiritual purity, and blankness. That bittersweet partnership of fear, and of excitement in possibilities in the remaining untouched canvas. It is where I started, and it’s where I finish – with an expectancy of more.


‘Ghost’ 1990 by Rachel Whiteread

‘Occluded’ 1997 by Michael Raedecker

Saturday, 13 February 2010

A Note about What I Do

I often wonder how these blogs relate to what I do in the studio – densely lexical and elaborate it’s often hard to compare them directly to the visual of what I am practicing. I often also wonder how these writings are going to relate to my reading of the History of Art at BA, as a search out where I should study in order to suit my greatest interest and approach. This blog for me has been an indescribable, but surprisingly well sourced and structured ‘blah’ on art. I did not think I had a definable or exacting approach to thinking and writing about the history of art and what I am noticing about this deep ranging and reaching culture.

I have been subconsciously introducing you (in my following,) to the New Art History. A regeneration of the History of Art that many I am sure would believe is like ‘the rear-view vision of the art historical machine, which remains fixed on the great dead,’ and that Mark Roskill’s 1974 publication What is Art History would have you believe is ‘about style, attributions, dating authenticity, rarity, reconstruction, the detection of forgery, the rediscovery of forgotten artists and the meanings of pictures…’

It is a discipline I’ve only just read and even heard of, yet it is what I have been doing for the last numerous months I’ve been committed to blogging. I’m an art historian of my age – through no specific education; I have brought myself to be concerned with the contemporary in artistic thought. No doubt somehow only my journey I have been trained in this post-modernist style, even though I’ve always considered myself rooted traditionally.

Gombrich, a considered traditionalist, reminded us that the study of the History of Art is not dead - it is never left in the relics of the past - “But is not this constant need for revision one of the thrills of the study of the past?” And so the relationship between what I do here when I write, what I do when I paint and surround myself with 21st century amateurs and professionals is assess the present so I can critically predict what later will be a contribution to the well-received, past – The History of our current arts.

The New Art History is a collection of essays under editors A.L. Rees and F. Borzello

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Visible Invisible: Against the Security of the Real at the Parasol Unit

In Cecily Brown’s work what initially appears like a mess is in fact beautifully crafted chaos. In this show it is an intelligent disguising of figures and skulls within deep brash layers of interweaving brush strokes.

Aujourd’hui Rose, 2005, 194.6 x 139.7 cm, is a less developed exemplar of this captivating style. It’s restrained and refined when compared to the ten superseding miniature canvasses that are a variation on the visual theme of Aujourd’hui Rose.

Cecily is among five artists in the exhibition, (also: Hans Josephsohn, Shaun McDowell, Katy Moran and Maaika Schooral), of which the press release described as sharing common ground not only within the thematic exploration of reality, but in style: ‘[they] take on the challenge of creating works that fall somewhere between figuration and abstraction.’ Of the ten paintings (entitled #19, #86, #97, #60, #11, #96, #20, #95, #98 and #22 - as viewed from left to right) I noticed three were figurative immediately, but the remainder within ten seconds I had dismissed abstract and void.

Aujourd’hui Rose beckoned me due to this equilibrium in style between figuration and abstraction. Even though the clich├ęd subject – a skull, compiled of figures, impressed me little. I considered Dali’s both elegant and eerie memento mori Ballerina in a Death’s Head, 1939, as strikingly similar in content, but I couldn’t dismiss Brown’s work as trite for some reason. Another artistic cousin of this motif would be Damien Hirst’s The Blue Paintings from his farcical No Love Lost (see article December 2009). I delighted in the irony that my plan was to visit another Hirst show earlier in the day for relish and as a provision of redeeming grace for the artist. But I was acceptingly thankful when the White Cube at Hoxton Square, was in fact closed.

So why is Brown’s work not trite after all? One of the most attractive elements of painting is surprise, which I would define as positive revelations, and not unwanted shocks, when, for example, out of nothing something appears surreptitiously and suddenly. In this series of paintings, the surprise is that all are depicting skulls morphed into/out of ladies – so exacting do they abruptly appear to your realised vision that these ladies are almost definitely identifiable as from the 19th century, and that in complete juxtaposition to our association with death, they are full of life, exchanging and gathering gossip in many instances. They are surprisingly deliberate.

The beauty is in how this technique could and does become incredibly powerful to the ignorant viewer. These, which scan a period of three years from 2006-2009, and come from a minimum of 98 paintings, I can only conclude are all trials and errors of the technique used in Aujourd’hui Rose. That said it is possible that she ventured elsewhere in her concerns in the meantime, however this need to correct, re-create and perfect is obvious in the regular re-committing to this composition. The ten are varied in brushstroke, moisture application and palette range. In colour, the irony of life in contrast to death remains present and most appear to allude to a season, and seasons mark transitions in life.

‘Visible Invisible: Against the Security of the Real’ is open until 7 February 2010. The Parasol Unit is a small gallery that advertises itself as a foundation for contemporary art, in N1 London.