Alex and I will host our open studios event, in association with Richmond Art House, the weekends of June 23/24 and June 30/July 1st. All welcome of course. If you’d like to come along please do drop me an email here to find out all details or download the Richmond Art House brochure .
I’m flattered to have been invited to show work in Headcleaner, a group exhibition at TOMA Project Space, Southend-on-Sea, curated by Ian Segrave. The show focuses on the “obsessive daily practice of painting” – which is certainly something I’m familiar with! The PV is Saturday June 23rd so please do come down and say hi! All details below. Drop me an email for more info.
Between August 27th and 31st 2017 I will be taking over the Young Space WIP Instagram account to document my practice and current projects. As part of this I will be collaborating with ArtRooms art fair on a series of posts featuring artists who, like myself, have applied to exhibit in the 2018 edition of the event. It is clear to me that both Young Space and ArtRooms share a strong interest in promoting and supporting independent artists, and seek to offer them the opportunity to present work to a large audience on their own terms. Needless to say, I am very much in favour of such an approach, and having been accepted for a takeover of Youngspace WIP it occurred to me that there could be much to gain in suggesting a collaboration with ArtRooms, not only for the 3 parties involved, but critically for other artists as well.
To give a brief explanation, Young Space is a highly respected online platform that showcases hundreds of talented independent artists through interviews, website features and social media, plus occasional ‘live’ projects. ArtRooms is an annual art fair for independent artists (i.e. not galleries) held at the Melia White House hotel in London. More information on either can be found on their respective websites www.art-rooms.org and www.young-space.com. Critically, neither charges artists for the oppcortunities they offer. Young Space do not charge artists for their features. Aside from a small application fee to cover admin costs, ArtRooms do not charge selected artists for their space at the fair, which is in stark contrast to most any other equivalent event of which I am aware. I’m very happy that both parties have been so enthusiastic about working together and through doing so I hope we can offer something to the artists we have selected to feature and of course those of you reading this. The subject of the collaboration is the artist’s view on art fairs in relation to their own practice. I drafted a short interview on the subject which was put to all ArtRooms applicants and we have selected five artists’ responses to publish alongside documentation images of their studios and work in progress.
The art fair is a subject of great interest to me. Having worked for a gallery at numerous fairs both in the U.K. and abroad for many years, I have a good understanding of a dealer’s approach. Over the last decade or so the importance, scale, number and profile of art fairs has increased considerably. Of course the vast majority cater for galleries as exhibitors, rather than independent artists, and as such they are essentially high end trade fairs. Running a gallery is a costly pursuit. Above all an art fair represents an opportunity, often the best opportunity, for a dealer to make sales and in the majority of cases more people will visit one’s art fair stand in a week than would ordinarily pass through a permanent premises over the course of a couple of months (assuming one even has such a space). What’s more, many visitors to a fair will be very much open to the idea of making a purchase. The chance to make a relatively high number of sales in a short space of time cannot be ignored by the gallerist, and this is entirely understandable, particularly considering that most art fairs are eye wateringly expensive to participate in (stand fees alone can often reach tens of thousands of pounds, plus there’s shipping, staffing and so on). Thus, any gallery wishing to make good business decisions will approach an art fair with sales front and centre.
As an artist, one must look at this with pragmatism. Generally speaking the art fair does not offer the greatest curatorial value around. By its nature it cannot present a broad and even survey of artists working today and in terms of artists exhibited it cannot be an inclusive, meritocratic event. What it can be is a good gauge of the art that is selling at any one time. We know galleries will hang their stands to sell, and this is understood. For the vast majority of artists, ever seeing their work appear at an art fair is highly unlikely. First they would need to achieve gallery representation, and then they would need to be seen as one of that gallery’s prime commercial options. Of course only a tiny percentage of artists manage this, even with the significant growth of the art fair in recent years. I certainly have no expectation that my work might make its way into an an art fair via this, the established route. Furthermore, if it did, knowing what I do about the way galleries use fairs, I would consider it of little value beyond the commercial. For most artists I would suggest that the art fair represents very well all that is exclusive, inaccessible and unattainable about the fiercely commerce driven art world.
However there are now a small number of fairly young fairs that focus on independent artists as exhibitors, rather than galleries. This is of course a wonderful development for artists, even if the general structure is basically the same as those events that cater for galleries. Costs are still relatively high, so sales remain the main aim. This is where ArtRooms differs. ArtRooms offer exhibition space to selected artists for no fee, and for me this changes the game entirely. Such a gesture of support removes the necessity for exhibitors to consider the commercial side of their work at all if they so choose. Artists have the liberty to work with creative freedom and present something at an art fair that goes entirely against the rigidly prescribed commercial angle. ArtRooms have adopted what I understand to be an unprecedented approach to supporting artists – taking the most overtly commercial structure the artworld has thus far devised and turning it on its head for the significant benefit of the artists. They offer a very real route to exhibiting at an art fair without the traditionally associated financial risk and, by extension, the restriction on what can reasonably be exhibited. ArtRooms is a unique opportunity for artists to approach their work free of commercial burden, but still achieve the significant exposure that is unique to the art fair model. It is true that they charge a commission on sales, but even this is significantly lower than a traditional gallery fee and is of course only payable if the artist themselves makes a sale. Overall it’s a deal that, on a one to one basis, makes it practically impossible for the exhibitor to come out worse off than the fair. That’s pretty much unheard of in my book.
The potential outcome is significant. Aside from the obvious benefit to the exhibiting artists, the fair as a whole could well become one of the best examples of its type in terms of pure creativity. Artists have the opportunity to present work raw and uncensored. Work which has not been presented through the filter of gallery acceptability or given the commercial gloss that makes it a ‘marketable asset’. One can go to any number of art fairs and wind up seeing the same work, presented the same way, hung on the same temporary contract matt white partition walls. Their homogeneous nature is such that a fair in Hong Kong could just as well be a fair in New York or a fair in Basel in terms of content. However ArtRooms has the makings of something altogether different. It is accessible, fosters true creativity at source, and offers its visitors insights into the way an artist works like no other event of its kind.
So, these are my own thoughts on he subject, and why I believe that among the many, many fairs out there, ArtRooms deserves particular attention. Before hearing from the five interviewed applicants I’d like to make it clear that at the time of publishing this I have yet to hear whether my application to exhibit at ArtRooms has been successful. And in case anyone was wondering, I’m not on their payroll either! The fact is I believe they’re running a very worthy project aimed at benefiting independent artists and irrespective of the outcome of my own application, they warrant genuine support.
1. What are your opinions on art fairs as an artist? Are they important to you as part in your engagement with art overall, in comparison to going to gallery exhibitions, artists’ talks, seminars and so on?
2. Where do you think art fairs fit in the art world in general and what do you perceive as their major benefits and drawbacks to artists?
3. Why did you decide to apply for ArtRooms in particular? If selected, how would you hope to benefit from participating?
-4.Does your intention to exhibit at ArtRooms affect the way in which you approach your own work?
1. I consider going to art fairs a part of my job as a professional artist. They are a great way to see a lot of art in one place. On the downside, they are a challenging environment in which to experience art so if I want to go deeper with an artist’s work and really spend time with it, I prefer galleries and museums to art fairs.
2. Increasingly, galleries make most of their sales at fairs so they are very important commercially. What is great about fairs is the number of people who come through and see and hopefully buy the art. A major drawback of the proliferation of fairs is that they create a certain environment in which ‘loud’ and / or gimmicky art does much better than quieter and more subtle kinds of art, which means galleries bring that kind of art to fairs, which in turn shapes collectors’ perception and expectation and makes it more difficult for some artists to get their work noticed.
3. I was fortunate to be selected for ArtRooms 2017 and it was a positive experience so it was clear that I would apply again. If selected, I hope to make more interesting contacts and to have my work seen by the growing international art audience ArtRooms attracts.
4. While it doesn’t affect the content of my work, having participated in ArtRooms 2017 means I know how the rooms work and what their strengths and weaknesses are. This will certainly influence which works I choose for ArtRooms 2018 if I am selected to participate.
1. Art fairs are definitely secondary to exhibitions and artist’s talks; I use them as a way of seeing how not to display artwork!
2. Art fairs are important; they allow galleries to be seen by a massive audience, over a short period of time and some galleries only survive on art fairs. My problem is that galleries tend to play it safe to guarantee their sales and are less likely to take risks with emerging or younger artists. Having said that, the project spaces are good platforms for emerging artists. Some bigger fairs are becoming too elitist and events to be ‘seen at’, rather than see.
3. ArtRooms gives the artists control. With the unique concept and environment I am hoping for a more intimate engagement with the audience and to move away from the white wall look, letting the works speak for themselves.
4. ArtRooms will provide the platform to exhibit the work, not influence it. It will be nice to exhibit works in an environment that is new to them. With most of my 3D prints being unique, one off works I will produce a limited print edition for the ArtRooms event, allowing my work to be accessible to everyone.
1. Art fairs are a great way to view current contemporary art by artists who are not necessarily established or have the constraints funded artists may be experiencing or working within. When you select an exhibition to visit it may relate to your personal interests and it can possibly inhibit you, however when visiting an art fair, you may encounter works which you would otherwise overlook or not have the opportunity to view. There’s also a social element to the experience, it is always positive to communicate with like minded people and discuss processes and artworks. The art fair will usually feature international artworks, there’s a real feeling of excitement that the world’s art is under one roof.
2. Art fairs within the art world enable both artists and galleries to present to a much wider audience. It allows an engaging platform in which your artwork can be viewed in a different way. A bonus would be the ability to reach out to your audience and gain exposure and hopefully more interest in your work. As a gallery there’s the opportunity to gain more followers or subscriptions to your gallery newsletters. I guess the drawback of the art fair would be the overwhelming amount of art in once space and artworks almost competing for your attention. Artworks may sometimes struggle to breath within the space and perceptions may become skewed or influenced. But I think as a whole art fairs are a positive for artists and galleries, and as a viewer it allows a wide range of art to become highly accessible.
3. Last year I visited Le Dame Art Gallery and after speaking to the curator I became very interested in the concept of ArtRooms and felt it complemented my practice as an artist. I explore the power of the bedroom and would really incorporate this should I be selected to show at ArtRooms. I am currently working on a sculpture which has been specifically inspired by this concept and I have benefitted already just through gaining inspiration when visiting the exclusive space.
4. ArtRooms will be an amalgamation of different and diverse artists, from which it would be difficult not to gain inspiration! The ArtRooms concept is unique and allows a contained freedom which really interests me as an artist. I have always been drawn to ‘the room’ as a paradoxical place of both solace and turmoil; I would really use the space to fully immerse my ideas and concepts.
1. The art market in general is getting more and more difficult for emerging artists. Art has become an equity investment vehicle, which makes it very difficult for lots of artists who are not represented by a gallery or are reluctant to do so for various reasons. The art world has changed and art fairs have become an important part for galleries as this is where collectors now do most of their browsing and buying. Participating in an art fair these days can cost a gallery hundreds of thousands of dollars and this means they can only focus on selling ‘market tested’ trophy works.
2. These factors make it very difficult for emerging artists and the only answer is to take part in artists’ fairs. This allows work to be seen by a large number of visitors, much larger than the average number of gallery visitors. I have taken part in several art fairs in the past, which was a really good way of getting my work seen and making a few sales, but the overall experience was that the sales cost just about covered the expense of the hiring fee of the stand which I consider the main drawback. However I feel that it’s an essential part of an artist’s practice now to run their own show as it is also a way of networking with other artists.
3. The reason I applied for ArtRooms is explained above. I think that it is great that selected artists get an exciting, far more creative and also organic platform to play with that’s not the hostile white cube situation. I imagine that it will give visitors an opportunity to view the works in an environment that might inspire them as it might mirror their own homes or give them ideas of how best to place a work of art in a domestic setting. There are a lot of people who lack that imagination and this this might be a way to change that. The benefits of taking part in ArtRooms is not only to show the work to a much wider audience, but once again the networking opportunities that might arise from taking part and which might lead to future exhibitions.
4. The character of my work would not be changed by participating in ArtRooms as I consider a lot of my most recent works as drawings/paintings in space, i.e. They become part of a space.
1. I generally try to avoid art fairs as a way of experiencing art. The grander art fairs tend to be full of ‘the usual suspects’ exhibiting populist works that can guarantee a sale. Whilst the smaller ones reek of desperation as the artists need to make sales to cover their entry fee. It doesn’t often feel like a healthy reflection of human creativity.
2. In my opinion art fairs are a bit of a necessary evil. Galleries and artists want to reach new clients and we all need to pay the bills. They are purely for the purpose of making money so it is important that anyone visiting realises that they will not necessarily experience the true message of the artist. The art fair is the meat market so I believe the gallery space is still the best place to experience the art.
3. ArtRooms is a great concept. The fact that there is no fee for the space means artists are freer to exhibit works that they may otherwise decide to leave in the studio, the braver pieces. This encouraged me as I have always had trouble reconciling the financial stresses with the creative instinct. I believe ArtRooms’ approach is much more sympathetic towards the artist. If selected, I look forward to engaging with the public and other artists about my work, experiencing my peers’ work in the environment of the art fair and, fingers crossed, selling some work.
4. There have been moments when I have viewed my work with the opinion of a buying public in mind and this has upset me. As my practice is so heavily based in the expression of emotion I am concerned that any tendency towards manipulating the work for sales would destroy the sincerity. However, with the unique way that ArtRooms is structured I don’t feel any pressure to curb my creativity for the masses.
I recently visited with Art Car Boot Fair and was so impressed with the event that I am compelled to commit some thoughts to paper (screen). For those unfamiliar, the Art Car Boot Fair is a one day art fair based in London that has been running since 2004. To quote their website “The idea is simply that the artists show up in person to flog their specially made just-for-the-day wares.”. This is true, but is an over simplification and, in my opinion, desperately understates the importance of the event for the artists involved and as a key alternative to the accepted art world establishment.
The presentation is pretty much exactly as the title suggests – it’s set up just like a car boot fair, complete with rickety tressel tables, cheap garden pergolas and, literally, car boots (or trunks to those of you reading this in the USA). It is unpretentious and without ego or affectation. The event is sponsored by car manufacturer Vauxhall, and although this is made quite clear, the commercial sponsorship fits well. It is present, but not overbearing. But the great thing about the sponsorship is that “unlike any other art fair, there is no financial transaction between the artist and the organisers. They simply show up and take what they make. The project is run on a sponsorship model and as well as funding the event Vauxhall also provide production funds…”. That’s right. The artists get to take home all the money they make. I’ve certainly never come across a deal quite like it. I’d call it trail blazing in its inception back in 2004 and in its ongoing support for independent artists. Take that 50% gallery commission!
Of course it doesn’t look exactly like a car boot sale. It looks like one that’s been put on by artists, because that’s what it is, so there’s all manner of elaborate displays, props, costumes, and just craziness in general. It’s utterly packed out (I understand people were queueing up almost 24 hours before it opened) and heaving all day, but also very child friendly. I took my 5 year old daughter and there were various creative activities for her to try out and lots of unusual stuff to keep her interested and entertained. Admittedly there were moments when parental censorship was necessary, but that’s what happens when the content of any one artist’s stand is entirely down to them. An absence of creative censorship is to be applauded. And anyway, we’re liberal artists darling. Live and let live. There was food & drink, live music and just a fantastic atmosphere overall.
So, queues not withstanding, a really great day out for the casual punter. But this is just a small part of the event’s significant value. In my opinion it’s deepest importance is what it offers the participating artists, and in particular those emerging artists working hard to achieve some success and recognition. There were various ‘household name’ participants who have been present most years. The likes of Gavin Turk and Peter Blake are regulars. Other big names were present, such as Bruce McClean, Polly Morgan, Vic Reeves and Bip Ling, and there were more. There were other successful artists whose names are perhaps less well known too, and then there were those to whom I would assume the event offered most – those relatively early in their careers, working to reach that elusive point when they can truly survive as artists. The great thing is that the Art Car Boot Fair offers them this opportunity – to participate in an event of significant scale and repute, working on an entirely equal footing with some very high profile people. It felt democratic. Gavin Turk’s stand was no larger or more polished than anyone else’s. Vic Reeves was sat under an awning and had propped his paintings up on a table and around the floor, in just the same way everyone else had. It really felt like it was all on a single level and I consider that a real triumph of equality – something that is in desperately short supply in the art world.
For the art loving public one of the main draws of the ACBF must surely be the accessibility of the work. In general things are priced well below what one would consider the accepted norm for the art market. Even works by bigger name artists sit at a price point well below what would be generally expected. Again, a fantastic approach and something for which the event has become known. Whether this was originally the intention of the organisers, or if the participants have, over the years, taken it upon themselves to initiate and perpetuate this approach, I honestly don’t know, but genuinely, often unusually affordable art is now synonymous with the fair. On most levels it’s great. We came away with 5 pieces, including the very first painting in my daughter’s own personal collection, all for a total of £40. Bargain. There was work priced as high as £3000 and as little as a fiver, but for the most part prices I saw rarely crept above £200 and were usually below £100. It gives anyone at all the opportunity to be an art collector.
As I say, this is good on most levels, but as you may have guessed I do feel there are certain drawbacks. Needless to say I’m all in favour of affordable art. The way I see it, the difficulty comes when artists whose work is highly collectible offer pieces at a much lower price than they would ordinarily be, particularly in this arena. I understand they do so in good faith and that it is arguably a defining feature of the fair, but inevitably the names and prices end up attracting low level ‘flippers’ – the equivalent to ticket touts – drawn in by the opportunity to make a bit of quick cash out of a big name. They go there to buy at the low price with the express intention of immediately selling on at a heavily inflated price, eBay being the general conduit through which to achieve this (case in point, as I write this 3 or 4 copies of Harland Miller’s Hate’s outa date postcard sized print, released at something like £250, are being offered at £3,700 just a week after the fair). There’s little to be done about this though. It’s first come, first served and those prepared to queue a whole day in advance will get the goodies. It just seems sad that like so many worthy causes, this well meaning approach can be easily undermined and abused by those with less lofty ideals, and that the beneficiaries of a good intention are often those looking to exploit it. Still, this is the basis of a capitalist business – buy at one price, sell higher. There’s little point moaning too much about something that cannot really be controlled. Think of it as unavoidably irksome in an otherwise very fulfilling scenario.
However the second drawback can be addressed. Going around the fair, I saw a mix of quality, speaking as objectively as I can. There was a fair bit of stuff I really liked. There was also plenty that, although it didn’t appeal to my personal aesthetic, was still clearly of good quality, which I can appreciate. Then there was stuff which I didn’t like and that appeared poorly or lazily made, and that I cannot endorse.
Physically the ACBF is a relatively small fair. No doubt there are many, many artists who would love to be involved, but are not (count me among their number). There are comparatively very few indeed fortunate enough to be offered a pitch. It is my opinion that those who are have a responsibility to bring with them work of a quality befitting the privileged status they are so fortunate to have been offered. My concern is that some artists invited to take a stand at the ACBF see the opportunity to sell lots at cheap prices as justification to produce ephemeral work quickly, carelessly, even disrespectfully. I saw a fair amount of work that appeared dashed off and as a result spoke of the artist’s apparent disdain for the event and those attending. It suggested an attitude that because it’s ‘art’ and it’s affordable, it somehow doesn’t matter that, frankly, it just isn’t that good.
One of the great things about the ACBF is the freedom it offers artists. No stand fee. No commission. No restriction on content (to the best of my knowledge). If you’re in, you more or less have carte blanche to present what you like to a large and very receptive audience. A rare opportunity indeed. Because of its inclusive, democratic, accessible, equal opportunity, establishment-alternative approach, it is unique and in my opinion is to be considered a national institution. However it is all these great qualities that render it open to abuse. I believe that any artist participating in the ACBF has a duty of care to do the very best they can for themselves and for the event, and that means making and presenting work of the highest quality they’re able. Ironically it is by not treating it like a car boot sale – an opportunity to flog all their unwanted old gear – that they can best serve both the fair and themselves. This event is built on a grand and worthy idea, but it lives and dies on the content, and that’s down to the artists. If, year on year, visitors perceive a drop in quality or a lack of effort on the part of the participants, they will stop coming, and that would be inexcusable. As it stands, the ACBF is a fantastic opportunity for artists to make some cash and some contacts, but it can only remain so if the content of the show as a whole aspires to the same high principles as the event itself. There can be no excuses.
I should conclude by saying that despite the concerns highlighted in that penultimate paragraph, they are minimal compared with the huge amount of exciting, interesting and great quality work to I saw, and my overwhelmingly positive response to it. I enjoyed the great work on the Turps Banana and Turps Alumni stands, a strange and fascinating performance/live art making thing with Bruce McLean going on with Worton Hall Studios, excellent individual artists like Geraldine Swayne, Frea Buckler, Bob & Roberta Smith and Ivan Black, live pulling of Billy Childish woodcuts with L13 Light Industrial Workshop and a bunch more besides. I honestly can’t wait to go again next year and have no doubt it will once again be a triumph. If you’ve not been before, you must. And if you have, well, you must again!
Due to my transparent approach to pricing my work, many conversations I have had lately have revolved around this. Most any artist will tell you that their work is not made with sales in mind, and I genuinely believe that this is true the vast majority of the time. Nevertheless, aside from a very few cases, commercial success of some degree will be required and probably desired. Having someone buy your work is an undeniably satisfying thing, both in terms of the bank balance and the critical acceptance.
But buying and selling art is a funny thing. Pricing work is pretty much arbitrary, based on our own valuation of the things we’ve made. We may compare our prices with the upper end of the art market, or with our peers, or ask opinions or advice, but in the end there really is no frame of reference to guide us. By the same token there is no more information for anyone considering buying what we make. We are very much reliant on an encounter with someone who just happens to like our work and more or less agrees with our valuation of it.
Furthermore, the manner in which art is traditionally presented, marketed and delivered is very specific and based around an arguably excessive reverence for the object and exclusivity of general access. There is a perceived risk that trying to sell artwork in a way that is considered less “respectful” lessens its worth. Thankfully this is changing. Art fairs have never been more numerous, popular or successful. The majority gather together galleries, but there is a growing number that offer individual artists the opportunity to present their work, for example The Other Art Fair, New Artist Fair and Art Rooms to name just a few. It’s very promising.
Art is of course also sold online, again most notably through large operations like Artsy. They offer galleries another opportunity to market themselves and their artists, but also by sites that cater for the artist as individual. Saatchi Art is the most well known, but others are appearing, and I for one have noticed a far more personal approach from organisations such as ArtThou and CurateArt, both of whom have been contacting artists directly and meeting them in person.
I am one of a growing number of artists setting up their own personal online sales conduit (my webshop can be found here). Most artists are doing it all themselves and for me this is a fantastic opportunity to make work instantly accessible. And accessible is the important word. As I mentioned, traditional presentation, marketing, pricing and delivery are all geared to make art exclusive, but this does nothing for the majority of artists. In my opinion there is absolutely no reason or benefit for most of us as self sustaining to subscribe to this approach. I want my work to be available to as many people as possible, so putting it online is, as they say, a no brainer. Needless to say I welcome enquiries from anyone and everyone.
But simply making work available does not equate to making it accessible. This is where pricing comes into the equation. Any artist wishing to get their work seen will probably have a website and is likely to use social media. The value of both is undeniable and artists embraced the opportunity long ago. However if we are to make our work truly accessible we must also give serious thought to pricing, which is why my structure is entirely transparent (link).
I set up my webshop for 2 reasons. Firstly, honestly, and quite obviously, it’s a commercial venture. A sales conduit over which I have total control, which allows me to make my work available worldwide and which I hope will help fund my practice and my life. Secondly though, I genuinely want to make my work accessible, such that anyone at all may reasonably consider owning it. The webshop itself makes it available – it can be bought with a few clicks, and the pricing makes it affordable. Together availability and affordability equate to accessibility.
As I mentioned, I’m not the only one adopting this approach. Artists such as Jessica Wilson have been making their work available at affordable prices through web shops. Gabriele Herzog is doing something similar with her Sunday 88 project on Instagram. Chris Rexroad and Charlie Roberts’ Got It For Cheap and Kris Day‘s Papercuts follow similar models but gather together works by a large number of artists.
True accessibility: availability + affordability is growing swiftly and if the trend continues I believe has the potential to improve the way in which art changes hands in a very big way.
A huge thank you to everyone who attended the opening of my exhibition The Waltz last week. The turnout was great and I was absolutely thrilled and humbled by the overwhelming positive response I received. For those who didn’t make it there are some installation photos below, but the show’s still on through until May 5th at Darbyshire Frame Makers. Open weekdays only, do let me know in advance if you plan to visit so I can either come and meet you there, or if that’s not possible, alert the chaps at Darbyshire to your imminent arrival.
I plan to begin putting a selection of the smaller works from the show up for sale on my online shop quite soon, which will be priced at £30 +P&P each. More info on that in due course…
I’m very pleased to announce my solo exhibition, The Waltz, will be held at Darbyshire Ltd, Angel, London, from April 6th – May 5th 2017, with a private view on the evening of Wednesday, April 5th. Viewing is by appointment, so please do drop me an email if you’d like to visit or to attend the private view.
As some of you may be aware, my father passed away in October last year. He was 66. Needless to say, it has been very hard for my mother, my sister and me. I wrote a tribute to him, which I read at his funeral, and I can be quite affirmative in saying that doing so was helpful. It covered many aspects of his character and life. It was a private thing, meant for his family and friends, and I have no intention of repeating it all publicly here, but there is a part which is particularly relevant to the things I do choose to send into the world both virtually and physically, and it is this I wish to touch on now.
To say that my father was a great influence on me seems obvious, but still, the specifics are pertinent. He introduced me to painting – the pursuit I love most. The thing I work to build my life around. He gave me something that I will love and pursue forever. What more can a parent do for their child but to provide them with a source of lifelong joy? A joy that cannot be lost, nor even diminished. I can only hope I may be able to do similar for my daughter. In some way, everything I make now is in tribute, or in thanks to him whether I am conscious of it or not.
He was deeply intelligent, vastly knowledgeable, sharp, witty. One could possibly call him a polymath and whilst his modesty and self image would never have permitted him to accept such a label, his ego would have been quietly assured of its suitability. I have not inherited his ability to absorb information, but from him I have acquired a protective arrogance countering an insidious self doubt. Unshakable belief and deep fragility battle for supremacy, neither conscious of their mutual dependence and collaborative levelling of the whole, or the fragility of the structure they antagonistically fashion. We travel a narrow path, he and I. It can be treacherous at times, we have both had occasion to stumble, but have managed to self right, or be righted, and go on. I take comfort from this. Anyone may fail at any time. Most everyone will at some point. But, not everyone will get up, accept their failure and try again. It was in him to do this and I thank him for passing that on.
And it is these qualities we shared that form the foundation of my lasting tribute to him. He claimed as his own a phrase from the antiquarian book trade, the industry in which he worked for most of his life, to apply to himself – with all faults. In simple terms it means sold as seen, or that an item offered for sale is flawed, damaged or suchlike, and the prospective buyer ought to be aware that there are imperfections in advance of making a purchase. For dad though it meant ‘take me as you find me’. He was well aware of his own imperfections, but was able to accept them and face the world as he was. Latterly I have found it necessary to do similar, and his phrase, with all faults, is now inextricably linked to me too.
The statement stands alone, but I have also made my own addition. In connecting it with a second aphorism, are we found, it is read in a number of ways, all of which are valid:
With all faults are we found first refers directly to myself and my father. We were flawed in similar ways and have both strived to overcome the resultant problems.
It can also be read as a more wide ranging statement. It speaks of everyone. We all struggle with something, and are encountered as we are. Whether we choose to hide from or conceal these imperfections, or wear them openly, none of us are free of them. The statement is a universal truth. A leveller of sorts.
There is a third function of these words too: Here we are, warts and all, found with our faults, and that’s ok. The statement is a reminder that tolerance and acceptance are virtues to be pursued. It’s not always easy to be tolerant and it’s certainly difficult to be virtuous, but a reminder to be accepting of the bad you may perceive in others or yourself can help to leave you open to the possibility of seeing the good too.
These are the readings of the phrase in this format, however the statement can be reconfigured to appear as a question: are we found with all faults?.
This is my question and a response to a conversation I had with my dad over the summer. As I have said, he and I suffered with certain similar problems. Particular details were uncannily alike. He feared that our problems were likely genetic – passed down the generations and inherently ours. Then again it would appear that they came to the surface as a result of a series of extreme events – during times of severe difficulty. I don’t know how much of it to attribute to one thing and how much to another. It’s a nature or nurture question, therefore I ask – Are we found with all faults? Or do we gather them over time? It’s an important question to me because it has a bearing on my future, but I am also very much aware that it is an unanswerable question and, ultimately, not one that would change our course of action if we did know the answer.
Finally, there is the aesthetic input behind my tribute. Since I first encountered it at the Hayward Gallery 15 years ago the work of Douglas Gordon has been a great influence on me. Not specifically in what I make as such – his art bears zero resemblance to my paintings! No, it’s something less tangible. The atmospheres he creates, the suggestions and ambiguities he presents, particularly through text, and specifically his focus on a duality of character – the ‘Caledonian Antisyzygy’ if you like (thanks to Brian Robertson of Zembla Gallery for introducing me to that phrase). I find it all utterly compelling. He has often worked in the medium of tattoo, inscribing phrases onto himself and others. We will usually encounter them in the form of photographs, and I don’t know for sure whether the documentation alone constitutes the artwork or if it is the tattoo itself, but I love the idea of the permanence and impermanence of the works – tattoos are considered permanent, and to get one is often a big decision, but people are inherently impermanent, so tattoo as art irrevocably changes the person involved, but cannot hold any of the physical value associations that a painting, sculpture, print or whatever does. These works will not be archived or restored. They won’t be present in a retrospective show in 2117. They exist only as long as the ‘wearer’ is alive. They both transcend and remain slave to their own physical manifestation.
Now, I certainly don’t claim my tattoos as art. They’re a tribute to my dad, a message, a reminder and all the other things I have discussed, but they are also a nod to Douglas Gordon (I hesitate to use the word homage – too loaded). I have appropriated his style, format and the font he most often uses for his text pieces. On a very basic level, I love the aesthetics, which if you’ve waded through any amount of what I’ve written you’ll know is important to me. Going a little deeper, I would like to think I have been able to achieve some of the ambiguity and outre atmosphere he employs to such great affect. I understand much of his work is personally profound. This is certainly true of my tattoos as you have just read. Overall I suppose that the phrasing and clearly the sentiment are very much inspired by and for my father, whilst the presentation was heavily influenced by Gordon.
To wrap this all up I will describe a theory of dad’s that I have always remembered. You could call it a partial parenting philosophy. He believed that children should experience deep wonder – joyful things that amaze them and thrill them and, critically, transcend their ability to comprehend. Children perceive magic. Innocence carries them over the grit and dirt of reality. Unburdened by rational thought, understanding of the how and why, free from the demand to grasp the mechanics of life they are receptive to awe and this is something dad believed that we, as adults and parents, must ensure is not wasted, for it does not last forever. We have the ability to create lifelong memories of pure joy for our children. I know this to be true, not just because I have such memories, but because he gave to me the ability to perceive wonder where one could reasonably argue there is none. Painting, in of itself, is not an amazing thing, but his influence has given me the ability to be amazed and awestruck and deeply, viscerally moved by it. I can’t say that he gave this to me, or taught it to me, or that there was any one activity that caused it. I supposed what I can say is that he saw it and nurtured it and encouraged it. He drew it out with openness and enthusiasm, passion, belief and indulgence and in doing so, helped to plot the course of my life in a positive direction.
Exciting news! I have just launched my new web shop, where you will be able to buy some of the new paintings I make. At present I have just the 2 works illustrated below for sale, both are in editions of 10 and are priced at £25 + P&P each. Please click here to visit the shop.
I have been painting pretty much daily for about 3 months now and it is fulfilling and has moved swiftly. Without other distractions I have been able to concentrate on it far more keenly than ever before. With the irrelevant and mundane things that used to waste my time discarded I can focus and ideas flow freely, can be explored fully, and are executed in a manner which, more often than not, pleases me.
I inhabit a different world now. That which has come before has formed and informed what I make and the way I make it. I have the time and opportunity to evaluate and analyse why I make things the way I do. I have been making small, abstract paintings for about 4 years now and production has been vigourous. For more than a year before that I made very little and prior to that I made, generally speaking, a small number of large scale figurative paintings.
When I made the significant move to abstraction it was in order to ensure that I could enjoy painting. I wanted to indulge in the singular joy of applying paint and the work was designed purely to afford me this opportunity, and it worked. At that time I understood it to be a simple thing. I love painting. I was unable to do it to any satisfactory degree in the form I had previously pursued. I had no means to change my circumstances and therefore the thing I could change was my practice. I redesigned it to fit into my life, such as it was, and by doing so I could paint again. Quite simple. Now though, I see things a little differently, or at least, being able to stand away and look back at things with some sort of overview, I believe I can see more of what lead me to reshape my painting as I did.
The truth is, since early 2013 I have not enjoyed life. I was not happy, but, and this may sound odd, I wasn’t actually aware that I was that unhappy. I shan’t go into detail, but I was busy – excessively so. I didn’t have much time to think about things like happiness, or to paint. At least I managed to figure out a solution to the latter! So now I look back on my change of approach as a far more profound attempt to inject some little joy into my daily existence. I wanted an escape. An indulgence, a responsibility free pursuit that I could be assured would give me a little pleasure and honestly, it did offer me that. Now of course, things are vastly different. Day to day life just does not compare. I can confidently say that I am much, much happier. There’s a way to go of course, as is the case for most everyone I’d have thought, but the direction of travel is clear.
What intrigues me now, is how my painting will respond to this change. The form it has taken until this point has perhaps been protective. It has taken the shape of psychological refuge, offering that little bit of respite from difficulty, but now that I have been pulled free of that I feel it just beginning to move in a different direction. It has served its purpose in its current form and I am excited to see where next it will go. There are already some new questions I am beginning to ask of my practice. Something more I want it to provide for me and, I hope, for others. It’s exciting, and I welcome the potential complexity that I have hitherto consciously and quite vocally eschewed.
I don’t suppose this is the sort of post most people would put out as they try to promote their ‘business’ (yuck). It’s not what you’d call projecting a relentlessly positive or ‘on message’ image, but frankly I don’t care about that. One’s experiences shape and inform one’s practice. It would be easy to spin it all with a cheerful grin, but it would not be honest and it wouldn’t cast the things I make in the right light. For those of us blessed/cursed with the creative urge it can be the case that we don’t really know what we’ve made until sometime after we’ve made it. If it turns out that what we made isn’t actually what we thought it was, well, tough shit. Give it all greasy gloss, present it with a forced smile and toe the line you drew for yourself if you want, but I’d rather be straight about what’s really going on or, if it’s not clear what’s going on right now, at least give my best guess about what went on. And if my opinions change, or I realise i got something wrong I’ll say so, because if i can do that, I think I’ll have a much better chance of seeing and embracing whatever comes next.