Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Glenn Brown and other stuff...

I visited the Glenn Brown retrospective at Tate Liverpool the other day. It was very exciting walking into the first room to be confronted by these huge canvasses of space stations and otherwordly landscapes appropriated from sci-fi illustrations and John Martin’s apocalyptic landscapes. I remember when these paintings were first exhibited and the controversy they caused. They were pretty outrageous, and still are.

From here the show moved you on through rooms that looked at the work that dealt with his interest in making paintings inspired by reproductions of others’ work, changing and distorting them, reducing thick expressive brushwork to invisibility and flatness. (Follow the Tate link, it explains it all much better: ). I really enjoyed Room Three with the collection of really nice re-interpretations of Frank Auerbach portraits. They were just incredibly beautiful on so many levels. I was getting really excited, wondering where things were going. And then…well, slowly I started to get incredibly bored by it all. The ‘flattening’ and distortions seemed to become really mannered in the worst sense. What started out as a critique of the materiality of painting and authorship of image, seemed to really unravel. All the paintings just had the same ‘look’ and had become distinctly ‘Glenn Brown’. Despite being made from a huge variety of sources they all ended up with essentially the same treatment of tiny curly marks with very little variety. It seemed to me to de-bunk the central critique running through the work, and the working methods of Photoshopping and projecting onto the canvas became more and more apparent.

The hand that painted them seemed less and less invisible too. But it was the style itself that seemed to suck the life out of any enjoyment of them after a while and the titles continually drawn from song titles seemed so annoying after a while too. In some there were little areas of flat colour I found myself really being drawn to as an escape from the figures and objects. Finally, I found myself reflecting upon how individually they would be very seductive in their scale, use of colour, weird, edgy images to a lot of private collectors. They seemed oddly very commercial.

Today I met Professor Tim Collins, Associate Dean for Research and Development at the School of Art and Design at Wolverhampton University. What was originally planned as a meeting about funding opportunities, slowly became a bit more of an intensive discourse about my portrait paintings. It felt really exciting being challenged about my work, and made me reflect about how when you are just working in isolation in your studio so much of the time it is difficult to get a more critical dialogue about your work. I do get the odd comment through the blog or my e-mail, but if anyone is actually reading this and wants to discuss the work further I’d really welcome it at times.

Finally, I took my students to see the David Cox landscape exhibition at Gas Hall yesterday. It was terrific, and they all loved it too. This was then followed by a trip to Ikon to Zhang Enli’s paintings (see previous blog!), which was greeted by utter indifference by the group. The student’s comments are often very insightful, and their cynicism with the ideas and the paintings themselves, confirmed my own doubts. And don’t get me or the students started on the work of Andrede Tudela’s installation in Gallery 2! Trying to get them interested in this made me feel like I deserved another half term holiday. They had some interesting ideas on how it could be improved though…

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