Sunday, 14 April 2013


Richard Hamilton, 'The Treatment Room' 1983-84
Artist Hamilton's artwork depicting Margaret Thatcher's brainwashing of the nation

It’s been a week of reflection. The death of Thatcher has inevitably made me look back on her time in power during the Eighties with both anger and contempt. Anger for the devastation she brought upon the community I grew up in, in the industrial Black Country of West Bromwich and its surrounding towns, which saw the needless loss in such a short period, of all the manufacturing industry the area was known for. A period which saw ordinary working men like my own father and his friends finding themselves unemployed and unemployable: ‘too old’ for jobs in their forties, as factory after factory closed down. Contempt for the politicians and the right-wing media and their cronies as they ‘remember’ this ‘Great Briton’ this week. This Great Briton who through her actions of closing down our industries, our dockyards, our pits, was the architect of this Welfare State we are now told we should despise by the same people who hail the achievements of this ‘towering’ figure in British politics.  The irony sickens me to the core. On so many occasions this week I have felt like smashing the television or radio. At least as the week has gone on there has been a souring of this type of coverage, as more people openly express their anger and bitterness at Thatcher’s true legacy: a Britain torn apart by vast inequalities between rich and poor; where the needs of the individual override any sense of the needs of the many, of society; a society driven by rampant consumerism to drive the economy (as there is nothing else to now); a harsher, more selfish society for us all and our children.  And I’m being asked to pay for the funeral? It says it all about this country we seem to be living in right now.

Jeremy Dellar and Mike Figgis, 'The Battle of Orgreave', DVD still, 2002

I needed to say that (though the likes of Glenda Jackson, Mark Steel, and Russell Brand have said it so much better this week-see links below).  In the relative safety of my studio I’ve been reflecting on some of the paintings I’ve made in the last four years or so, since starting the website, in preparation for an interview with a local commercial gallery on Friday, who wanted to see more work after I contacted them with a few images. Park View Art Gallery is a local gallery in Kings Heath that I often pass, but seldom visit, despite liking much of the work I often view in the window. I was drawn into the gallery by some great abstract paintings the other week, and found myself really enjoying lots of the work on display, which was often very painterly yet formal, and with examples of both abstract and some good figurative work. After chatting to the owner, on learning that I was local, he encouraged me to apply as they were currently seeking new local artists to promote, wanting to develop the gallery after a recent period of refurbishment.
'Silence', oil on canvas, 100 x 120cms, 2012

I could only send three jpegs, so I sent two motorway paintings and a Scandinavian drawing. When selecting more things from the studio ( I took eight paintings in all), I thought it would be better to choose more of a range of work, as I do work fairly widely across many interests, and see where this would lead.  They could only say no. When I found myself looking back on the all the landscape inspired work, largely paintings of trees and flowers, I found myself feeling, about paintings I had previously enjoyed, just how short it all seem to fall now They all seemed ideas half-realised, experiments in form and language, rather than the finished thing, compared to the motorway work, which does appear at least to be a more cohesive representation of ongoing concerns, and definitely more distinctive. 
'Shudder' oil on canvas, 90 x 110cms

And this is sort of how it panned it when I went in funnily enough. They really liked my motorway paintings, and have selected two of those, and want me to complete further drawings, similar to the ones recently displayed in Rugby, to be mounted and accompanied in a portfolio when they go on show (that’s my studio time for the next two weeks!). They also are mounting about ten of the Scandinavian drawings for the portfolio too, although they weren’t honestly that enthusiastic about these. However, they did also take two of the older paintings, ‘Spring’ and ‘Bring Down’, which I decided to take, thinking their decorative qualities may have a wider appeal, which is a view they shared.  They were definitely most enthusiastic about the grit of the motorway paintings though, which I’m pleased about, because this is where I’m at presently, and also because of my own lack of conviction in these older pieces now.  It would be good if they could find a home, otherwise they are coming off the stretchers.
'Spring', oil on canvas, 120 x 150cms, 2008

I did also take in some of my still lives and a portrait, but unfortunately, they were less than enthusiastic about these. And yet in my opinion I actually think ‘Stop Pause Rewind’ is one of my best paintings in recent years, and ‘Safeera’ is my favourite portrait from an experience of making around 100 portraits.  Still, just because they didn’t like them shouldn’t diminish them, but where I feel I should be pleased to have achieved an ambition to start getting my work represented in a commercial gallery, one can’t help feeling rejected as much as accepted because of their reaction to these. One is left with a mixture of emotions, but maybe that says more about me, and my relationship with my paintings.

 'Stop Pause Rewind', oil on canvas, 150 x 110cms, 2009
'Safeera', oil on canvas, 120 x 90cms, 2010

Presenting my work to the gallery was quite a tough gig, and I think I’ve had my fair share of tough gigs over the years, so at the end of the day to get these paintings taken on is great. The recent experience at Rugby recently seemed a backwards step in many ways, as I’ve done so many shows like this: exhibitions I’ve put on myself etc, I came away with a new determination to try and get the work presented in different ways, particularly in a commercial context, and take different risks. Park View is a good gallery,  in a good location, so I’m cautiously excited to be following this next lead for now in the hope that it may be the beginning of trying to find a wider audience for my work, but also mine some new territories….

Back to Thatcher…here are a few must read links to help straighten out a distorted story. The artworks at the top of the post are examples of some of the anti-Thatcher protest art made over the years. Think I may start on my own tonight...

1 comment:

Hugh Marwood said...

Shaun. Now, you see that's what I should have written in my recent post instead of waffling about railway bridges in Grantham. Couldn't agree more, we are all stained by their attempts to rewrite history over the last week. I do suspect they'll have to mount a 24 hour guard on any permanent memorial they might try to make us pay for after the event. It is some small comfort that at least certain folk who actually remember the 80s are prepared to stand up and be counted as nay-sayers.