Thursday, 10 August 2017

'A Late Night Walk Through The Park...'

Julian Schnabel, 'Ornamental Despair (Painting for Ian Curtis)', oil on velvet, 1980

I visited ‘True Faith’ at Manchester City Art gallery the other week with my friend, artist and writer Andrew Smith. It was an exhibition celebrating the influence the music of Joy Division and New Order have had on a range contemporary artists, and as such was a diverse show of painting, sculpture, artist films, photography, printmaking and graphics. It included artworks by many art world ‘big hitters’, including Julian Schnabel, Martin Boyce, Dexter Dalwood, Liam Gillick, Glenn Brown and Mark Lecky amongst others. It also featured a collection of memorabilia from both bands in the form of hand-written lyrics by Curtis, notebooks and graphic artwork such as posters, record sleeves and flyers, with many of the later ones designed by artists as diverse as John Baldessari,  Barbara Kruger and Robert Longo.  And of course heavily represented was the influential artwork of graphic designer Peter Saville which has been a mainstay with the band right up until their current incarnation. 
Barbara Kruger's poster for New Order's 'The Perfect Kiss'
Peter Saville's design for 'Power Corruption and Lies', using a painting, or a postcard of a painting by nineteenth century painter Henri Fantin Latour

His innovative graphic work set the template early on for so many of both band’s defining aesthetic ideas in the way they presented themselves and their music, which is sort of what many of the artworks in the show also seem to respond to and reflect. I thought it was a shame that Anton Corbijn’s famous black and white photographs of Joy Division in various evocative 70’s urban locations around Salford, Manchester and London were not present. I would have thought these had been highly influential on much rock photography that has since followed, and also very much defined the identity of the band. They are the images I think of when Joy Division come to mind.

A selection of Anton Corbjin's photographs of Joy Division in 1980, not represented in the show

There is a good write up here:
about the context and ideas behind much of the work on display, but for my own purposes I thought I would reflect on a few specific pieces that I particularly enjoyed and really got me thinking about some of my own ideas and work.
Mark Leckey, 'Dream English Kid 1964-1999AD', video still
Unusually for me the work that left the biggest impression on me was a film by artist Mark Leckey called ‘Dream English Kid 1964-1999 AD’, seen here:
This 23 minute autobiographical film had me totally absorbed with its found footage of post-war leading to post-industrial Britain, particularly Leckey's native Liverpool, from the 1960’s to the 1990’s; a world of empty nocturnal motorways (sound familiar?), towering pylons linked across the landscape, council estates, factories and nightclubs, and excerpts from long forgotten TV shows. This was combined with footage the artist himself had filmed, which included in particular scenes from underneath a model he had made of a motorway bridge. In this video link here:
Lecky discusses the piece underneath a life size version of this model installed in a gallery.   
Mark Leckey, installation shot 'Containers and Their Drivers' 2016
The film obviously brought to mind my own paintings beneath motorway bridges at night, and reminded me how connected I felt to the world depicted in Lecky’s film. I’m currently working on some other things in my painting, which I would like to discuss at some point when they are a bit more resolved, but this film felt like a strong calling to this shadowy nocturnal world of concrete and steel and all those bits of landscape between: the edge lands.
Shaun Morris, 'Silence', oil on canvas, 100 x 120cms, 2012
I also loved the sculptures of Martin Boyce, which were installed around much of the low-lit, gallery and how they were described as representing ‘the experience of walking through the park late at night’. They hover between abstraction and figuration (again, sound familiar?) with a strong leaning towards early modernism, and are made from and reference the materials and forms one might find in the landscaping and architecture of the city, including cast metal, wire mesh, fluorescent lighting, bins and containers.

Martin Boyce, 'Our Love is like the Flowers, the Rain, The Sea, The Hours' (title references lyrics from a Joy Division song)
Shaun Morris, 'The Street (Negativland), oil on canvas, 100 x 120cms, 2017
Often objects were spotlighted as if seemingly under sodium streetlamps, which seemed to echo some of the images of my recent ‘Negativland’ paintings. I found the whole experience really inspiring, and it offered me a much needed sense of renewal with some of my own ideas at this time. I left the exhibition with an urgency to push on…

‘True Faith’ is on at Manchester City Art gallery until September 3rd and is part of the Manchester International Festival .

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