Monday, 30 April 2012

Worlds Apart - the book

In October of last year Alison Auldjo of Union Gallery approached me to be part of an exhibition, Worlds Apart, with Kevin Low. I agreed straight away and was very, very excited. I could not believe I would get the chance to show so much of my work at once in Edinburgh!

It seems as if this happened just yesterday and yet today that seemingly long-distant exhibition will close. The journey to this point has been at times a delight and at others a trial, nonetheless I would not change one moment of if.

I'm very grateful to everyone who helped me on the way to make the series of paintings that were my half of the show: to my supporters and patrons, to my family and friends, to Kevin, Alison and Rob and most of all to Megan. Being an artist can be a lonely calling. Without this network of special people, I might never have completed a series that contains some of my strongest work to date. Thank you all.

From today onwards, a book containing my complete Worlds Apart series goes on sale. It is a square book of 74 pages with a clean, modern design, that includes close ups of what I regard as the key works. As a bonus, the book also features an edited selection of my journal entries made as I created the series, giving an insight into the whole process. I am particularly pleased with the colour reproduction of the printed photos, that make these images look very close to my original paintings.

For those who made it to the exhibition, or those too far off to drop by, this will make a great souvenir of a key moment in my painting career. I really hope you'll pick up a copy – please let me know if you do, as I would love to say thanks!

Ps. until May 2nd, you should be able use coupon code IHEARTMOM to get free shipping

Sunday, 22 April 2012

It's all the rage

This week, Megan and I took a trip through England, visiting many big public galleries. In London we visited the Tate Modern, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery; in Birmingham the Ikon Gallery and the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery; in Manchester the Manchester Art Gallery. I learned that I have almost no affinity whatsoever for conceptual art and that, if I am to believe what I saw in some of these galleries, I am only interested in art that was made before 1950. Does this not make me seem rather like a philistine? It certainly made me feel like one and that was most unwelcome.

I have documented here my problem with conceptual art several times, going as far as to label it Fashion Art. I am now, frankly, tired of this it. I'm tired of seeing it in all the major modern galleries, I'm tired of talking about it with every artist I know or meet, I'm tired of getting angry about it and, most of all, I'm tired of thinking about it. And even with all of that, I still can't stop myself from once more rehashing my experiences of it.

Having seen so much of it in the past week, at the Tate Modern and Ikon Gallery, I feel like an idiot for not understanding it, for not caring one jot about it and for thinking that it is simply cannot be art. How can I call my self an artist and yet be so completely at odds with what seems to be the major art movement of my time? When I read "As the title suggests, Steel Zinc Plain represents a territory or a space as much as an object. By placing it on the floor rather than on a plinth and allowing it to be walked across, Andre alters the viewer’s relationship to the work of art" why do I keep shaking my head and wondering what I am missing, before feeling stupid and excluded? If I had been alive in the nineteenth century, would I have shunned those appalling new pieces by the so-called Impressionists, with all of their mess and unlife-like appearance?

Conceptual art depresses me. It depresses me because it is omnipresent, seemingly to the exclusion of every other contemporary art form. I want to see work invested with feeling, that has been wrought by artists using the hand, eye and heart, rather than this stuff of sensation and empty questions. Alternately, as an artist I could simply be jealous that conceptual artists appear to be swimming in the depths of accolades and money, while the sole of my foot is barely even wet.

I ought to take a lesson from this and totally avoid conceptual art in future. This, however, would appear to be no easy task at a time when there seems to be almost no other form of contemporary art on display in public galleries, almost as if each and every curator is dancing to the beat of one drummer, following in the wake of the unclothed emperor.

In many of our public galleries, we see vast spaces taken up with a small number of thin-seeming conceptual pieces, while enormous collections are held in storage, away from the public's eye. It seems wrongheaded, especially when one considers how disengaged audiences seem to be with conceptual art, compared to more traditional forms. At the Tate Modern viewers drifted through the spaces, never seemingly stopping for long, whereas in the National Gallery some paintings held constant and barely-moving crowds in front of them like magnets.

If we are to believe these admittedly-jaundiced memories, then something is clearly amiss. It would seem that many of those in charge of the public's art purse are purchasing and showing work that the public does not particularly care for.

Recently, Edinburgh's Fruitmarket Gallery held an Anna Barriball exhibition, that featured around twenty works lost in the brilliant white space of this mid-sized venue. On top of adding to the gallery's reputation for hosting unpopular and unlikeable art, it was shockingly empty when compared to the nearby Royal Scottish Academy. That building was playing host to the annual exhibitions of Visual Arts Scotland, the Scottish Society of Artists and the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour, all at once. Here was an exhibition showing a cross-section of contemporary art; a vibrant, lively and attractive show, where walls had to be jammed full of paintings and which ran for only a month.

One of the many empty spaces in Sarah Browne's
How To Use Fool's Gold in Birmingham's Ikon Gallery.
Last week in the Ikon Gallery, another attractive mid-sized space, Sarah Brown's exhibition How To Use Fool's Gold took up one whole floor. This time less than ten pieces failed to fill the space. There seemed little unity in the work and if there was a vision for the exhibition it was far from evident. Once again an exhibition of contemporary work in a modern gallery lacked any emotion and had few visitors.

When most of the money and public gallery space in contemporary art is stuck to what appears to be vacuous gimmickry, it is not just the majority of artists who suffer, but the viewing public too. The artists starve or give up to take a soul-destroying job; the public turn away from art thinking they do not like it and live an unenriched life of corporate entertainment and large-screen televisions. We can surmise that, just as with our financial world where the 1% have all of the riches, so too the art establishment only notices the fashionable 1% (some of whom it would appear are even part of the financial 1%). It is a sad state of affairs.

The "Fighting Temeraire" Tugged to her
Last Berth to be Broken up – William Turner, 1839
Happily, our England trip was not totally consumed by conceptual upset – we also got to see justly famous artworks of beauty and emotion. At the National Gallery we saw several rooms of great Impressionist works, including Degas' Combing the Hair, as well as a wall of van Goghs and Turner's stunning Fighting Temeraire. Here Megan fell for even older pieces: Hans Holbein's The Ambassadors and Jan van Wyck's Arnolfini Portrait. Up north we particularly enjoyed two Modiglianis, with one in Birmingham and one in Manchester.

Our last stop at Manchester Art Gallery, turned out to be an unexpected highlight. With an impressive, well kept and well laid-out collection, covering an almost 700 year span, it packs an impressive punch for a gallery of its size. Its rooms of Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian art (including John William Waterhouse's Hylas and the Nymphs and Charles Mengin's Sappho) were a particularly treat, which was a genuine surprise given my previous lack of interest in work of that type.

While much of this work was often beautiful and even at times emotional, little of the contemporary work on show was either. I am an artist, who by very definition makes contemporary work, work that is, to me, both emotional and beautiful. Over the past few years I've met plenty other artists who are similarly engaged. I believe that this kind of work, made using the hand, the eye and the heart, would be well received by the viewing public, if only they knew of its existence.

Today I am part of the unfashionable 99% of artists. Being unfashionable does not upset me, neither does being one of the masses. What does upset me is the skewed perception of contemporary art that our public galleries foster. It think it is time for the 99% to get their turn. Who's with me?

Friday, 13 April 2012

Don't talk about…

The period of time after an exhibition opens can be, for the artist, amongst the hardest. Here now the work of the previous months, or years, is out in public. The artist, feeling the pressure of having their work exposed, will doubtless be asking many questions. Does anyone understand the work? What are their responses to it? Will they share those responses? The biggest question, however, is likely to be 'will it sell?'

It always seems tacky to mention selling one's art. This is an unfortunate preconception, that seems to suggest that to make art to sell is somehow less worthy, that commerce pollutes the ideals of art. Sadly we do not live in a socialist utopia, where artists are maintained by the state as a necessary part and expression of life. Artists, unless they are very lucky, need to sell their work to live.

The patron who is buying art is doing more than taking home something that will hopefully enrich their life, they are buying the artist a future. Each piece an artist makes has been paid for long before a patron is likely to see it – the artist has already invested their time and money in the work. When a patron buys a piece, it allows the artist to continue making new work.

There is also a question of validity here because, for all of the positive responses the work in an exhibition can garner, be it from friends or in media reviews, it is very hard not to use sales as a measure of success. In many ways, this is quite a false measure, for who can tell why a patron does or does not buy art. For example, in the middle of a recession sales of everyone's art are certain to be lower than in more buoyant times. Does this therefore mean that all art made in a recession is less worthy? Patently, this is a foolish statement.

Nonetheless, sales remain an important gauge to an artist. A week after my work went on show, it is something that is hard for me not to ignore. It is ironic that at this time, when I should be sitting back, relaxed and enjoying the paintings that I have worked so hard to produce, I am instead almost more worried now than previously. I know this will pass.

The exhibition runs for just over two more weeks. If you are in Edinburgh, please drop by Union Gallery and have a look. For those further afield, you can see the work here.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Worlds Apart opens!

It doesn't quite seem real yet, although at the same time it all feels very ordinary: my latest series of paintings, the series I have worked on for the three intense months, is on show. It opened last night.

The opening was a hectic affair, a crowded room full of family, friends and numerous others. For almost three hours I talked and talked and never stopped. I love being able to share my work and one of the best things about having such a great opportunity as last night is being asked questions about my paintings. Be it a question about meaning, or a question about technique, it is just a thrill that people are interested enough to ask!

In the past few months, I have worked hard to create the body of work for this exhibition. I have produced some of the strongest paintings of my career and have enjoyed the experience thoroughly, for all of its highs and lows. Last night was an intense night and, on a deep level, a very emotional one for me. This soon afterwards, I can't quite sift through the complex web of thoughts and feelings, that such an evening leaves behind. I do know, however, that somewhere in there is acceptance and I value that more than I can express.

Thank you all of my friends and family who have supported and encouraged me. Thank you Kevin, Alison and Rob for giving me this opportunity. Thank you especially to those who came along last night, to Mum, Julie, Dad, Steven, Raymond, Adam, Annabella, Craig, Dave, Elaine, Fiona, Graeme, Iain, James, Janet, Jonathan, Joe, Kenny, Lou, Neil, Ruth and especially the amazing art star herself, Megan. It is through all of your support that I am able to do what I do. Thank you.