I do love painting, and at the end of January I saw an exhibition of paintings by American Dana Schutz that completely blew my socks, and was at another level than almost any other contemporary painting I’ve seen. It was at the rather brilliant Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield, and I travelled up keen to see the show, surprised and curious that this much feted Brooklyn based painter was showing in Wakie of all places. I say that, but the Hepworth gallery is a major international exhibition space, with the Yorkshire Sculpture Park also a short drive away. It’s just that I used to have a studio right behind where the gallery has been built near the river, on the top floor of an old mill. It was a huge and cheap space, the biggest space I’ve ever worked in, which I shared with two other artists, but really had to myself as they never turned up, which, in my experience, is often the way with these studio set-ups. I’ve often worked in shared studios, hoping to meet and engage with other artists, but I’ve been the only one ever there. It’s sadly defined much of my experience as an ‘artist’.
Anyway, Schutz’s large, colourful, funny, paintings were a truly joyous revelation that had me grinning from ear to ear as I walked around.
'Piano In The Rain'
Populated by rather melancholy individuals, couples, or large crowds, in scenes of weird psycho-dramas all of their own making, and in their own painted world, they were so inventive and witty. But the painter’s technical dexterity and seemingly effortless skill left me truly taken aback. The use of colour was terrific for one, but the handling was in another league. Each mark, dash, and stroke and wonderful line and shape seemed to have this strange life of it’s own within this amazing cohesive whole. They were so fresh and alive. They also seemed to take on the legacy of Picasso, in a way that no other figurative painter seems to want to touch, and turn it inside out and make it so contemporary. I can’t remember when I’ve seen a better painter, I really can’t. I’m so glad I went.
I’d previously only ever seen one of Schutz’s paintings before, in New York a few years ago, and had not been that impressed by their Expressionist tendencies, as I was desperate to move away from these in my own work. But these works in Wakefield were also very recent, and seemed much more sophisticated and fresher in their technique than the one I had seen then. Weirdly, when I was painting in that studio in Wakefield I was also painting very large figurative canvasses that contained their dense narratives and psycho-dramas of their own.
I also went to see David Tremlett’s wall drawings (not paintings, he is very distinct about this) at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham yesterday, which were really impressive. Their blocks and bands of colour and geometry really chimed with some of my current thinking for my own paintings, so that was really inspiring. I really think I should look further at Tremlett’s work, and I shall go and see this again when I’m not with my wonderful, but very loud, daughter who just loves testing the acoustics at Ikon, as well as the Martin Creed singing lift (which both my children love).
3 Wall Drawings