Tuesday, 3 November 2009

'Unpopular Culture'

‘Unpopular Culture’ was a recent touring exhibition featuring paintings, sculpture and photographs selected from the Arts Council Collection by artist Grayson Perry. The selection presents a very personal view of post-war British art from 1940-1980ish, and provides a subtle investigation of the mood, pace and preoccupations that underlie the period. The selection evokes a certain nostalgia, while addressing notions of place, identity and class. As Grayson Perry himself says: ‘Unpopular Culture’ conjures a picture of post-war, pre-Thatcherite Britain, more reflective, more civic, and more humane’.

Sadly I missed the exhibition, but recently bought the accompanying catalogue and found the selection really inspiring. Much of it seemed to reflect many of my own preoccupations and ambitions for my painting to do with creating an art that, in Perry’s words in the catalogue essay, ‘is subtle, sensitive, lyrical, and quiet’. I also enjoyed the sense of Britishness in the work, which can be more nostalgic and sentimental, but also find the selections have a contemporary resonance about current British society that particularly appealed. It is something I’d like to explore further in my own work, but have only touched upon in a few pieces.

It seems I also share many of Grayson Perry’s cultural passions. He says, ‘Many of the works in this show come from that span of British cultural history when the working class voice was beginning to be heard in film, photography, literature, drama and art because of post-war socialism, grammar schools and grants. The show is about Britishness, and is therefore a lot of it is about class.

David Hepher, 'Arrangement in Turquoise and Cream', oil on canvas, 1979-81

He also says funnier things, which nonetheless have resonance:

‘The sculptures and paintings…are nearly all figurative. This is a purely personal bias. Abstract art reminds me too much of beardy art lectuters with grey chest hair poking out of their denim shirts as they spout vague unchallenged tosh. I associate abstraction with unreconstructed machismo’.

Blake Morrison in his own essay for the catalogue writes, ‘Anyone knowing only that Grayson Perry is a contemporay artist might have supposed the show would be full of videos, installations, and self=conscious interrogations of ‘the meaning of art’ (there are none)… he has come up with a show, that is muted, modest, wary…a show to get us looking and thinking’.

'Slagheap', William Scott, oil on canvas, 1953

How refreshing. I’ve just been looking at the programme of events for this weekends Birmingham Contemporary Art Forum in Digbeth’s Eastside, and there does seem to be a lot of ‘self-conscious interrogations of ‘the meaning of art’’ on offer. Is it just me, or does anyone else find this increasingly boring? We’ll see. No doubt a blog will follow…

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