Text written for exhibition HEAD TO HEAD.
ROGUE PROJECT SPACE, Manchester
Darkrooms and non digital printmaking studios have all but vanished in many United States universities making a black and white photography course or an intaglio printmaking course – both seminal classes in a foundation student’s education as recent as ten years ago – virtually obsolete today. Painting, on the other hand, is really the only wet media (along with ink drawing) still being taught everywhere despite being impractical. Classrooms are full of would be painters and in a post studio art world, there are plenty of studio seekers; people with postgraduate degrees who are perfectly willing to spend their time and money on empty spaces where they can make paintings.
The contemporary painter most definitely has a presence in the artworld, but it does seem next to impossible for most to agree on what makes a painting good today. In the summer of 2012 ‘good’ meant Giorgio Morandi and Julie Mehretu both having works at curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s dOCUMENTA (13). I’m basing my definition of good on the hypothesis that these two painters beat out all other painters to occupy a place at, debatably, the world’s most prestigious international art exhibition. Morandi’s paintings might be described as the antithesis of technology and the fast paced fragmented world we live in. It’s as if Morandi touches something deep within us and, thus, continues to receive an abundance of praise and exhibitions the world over.
In 2011, I went to see a few Morandi’s at a local gallery called Galleria Frediano Farsetti in Florence with British art critic Martin Holman. Some of the Morandi’s were real knockouts but others not so much. It wasn’t a salon style hang, but there were plenty of paintings all bunched together in long rows. It’s the kind of thing that most contemporary painters cringe at. Yet with Morandi anything goes: his work can show up at the hippest spaces in New York, London, and Germany but it’s also going to make appearances at the local gallery too. Whereas, there’s not a chance in hell that Julie Mehretu is coming to a local gallery near you, unless your local gallery is Marian Goodman Gallery.
The point I’m making is that with Morandi it doesn’t really matter where his work is being shown. I’d also say that he’s an anomaly because his work is both provincial and international at the same time. He found the universal in the local, which is why one can see a Morandi in a small gallery in Florence and at a huge international show in Kassel. Yet most living painters won’t find the Morandi example an easy one to follow. It’s more likely that a painter will be judged harshly for having an exhibition at a local gallery. Good painting today, on the contrary, seems to be based largely on where a painter is showing. If the gallery is good then the painting is good.
Let me attempt to clarify by using an example from music. A painter friend made the point once to me that if someone says they saw a certain band the first question is never, “Where were they playing?” but any number of other questions pertaining to the music or genre of music the band was playing. If, on the other hand, two artists are speaking about new work one of them saw, the first question is almost always, “Where were they showing?”. The answer allows the other artist to classify said painter almost immediately.
I think, in conclusion, that the best attitude for a painter today is to make paintings with a certain, “Who cares?” mentality. I say this not to be facetious, but rather to state that making is the first act of painting. I believe that an artist is coming to art, and if a person creates art through painting then they're an artist who paints. There are plenty of people who would like for this to happen in paint but often it happens with another medium or not at all. For me, engaging with painting is a lifestyle, and I think it is for most painters. I feel it’s worth spending some time with a painter’s work, even though we know we’ll never look at a painting as long as the artist did when it was in their studio.