I have found it difficult to make art in a pandemic, it is difficult to consider the idea of art when so many people in the world are suffering and when you realise that the industry that drives the thing you spend your life engaged with, might only ever be within the grasp of those small amount of people now ruling the world. ‘Ordinary working people’ do not have original visual art in their lives, just look at Rightmove, the incidence of original visual art in homes outside of London is very low. Most of us get our art from municipal galleries and museums, the experience of which is a little like being allowed into the homes of rich people from the past and often is. It is possible to book a visit to Manchester Art Gallery for a socially distance walk around to see how some museums are trying to confront these issues. It is easy to detect efforts to reposition and re contextualise the collection. Among the usual gathering of colonial wealth and privilege are many more pastoral scenes, of working life, farming, families, people in cafes, dragged up from the vaults to punctuate what is, as in most municipal art galleries, a sort of visual history of rich people. In addition, they have bought the keyworkers print by Craig Oldham and Sonia Boyce’s multi-channel filmed performance takes on even more relevance when everyone is wearing a mask. It is an uphill task for a museum to be classless when its foundations are so compromised. After my visit, I found myself wondering about a ‘peoples art,’ and what that might be. I tasked myself to find a working class drawing and came up with this by Edward Woore, pencil on paper circa 1900. He was linked to the arts and crafts movement and a member of the guild of master glass painters and therefore passes the working class test, although he may just have been one of those privileged Victorians that became fascinated by working class culture, a bit like middle class people now, buying workwear jackets from the past to wear formally. In the drawing, poverty is cast as a figure, skeletal and in chains, he, and it is he, wears robes like the grim reaper in Ingmar Bergman’s Seventh Seal. The man being stared at is week with hunger and clutches what seems like a piece of bread, he is gaunt and desperate, gripped with worry, terror even. There is a painting hanging on the wall behind the man, as if he is a man of means who has hit on hard times. It is interesting to consider if there is such a thing as working class art and to think about what characteristics it might have and how to measure that. Perhaps the BBC could ask Vic Reeves and Grayson Perry to team up and investigate. Man with chip, riding third class on a one class train.
Recent American madness has made me think about its art, and what responses have been imagined by artists to Trump. I couldn’t really find anything interesting, and ended up thinking about other times it’s gone mad and I arrived at Philip Guston (1913-1980) and this drawing; Untitled ink on paper 23.8 x 32.7 cm, drawn circa 1970s. Among what appears to be a chaotic pile of stuff is a figure upended, represented by two legs one pointed directly up the other stretched across the floor towards the foreground, partly buried by what could be potatoes or cakes, bricks, boots, a book and sacks. A plank with nails hammered into it; an improvised weapon, leans over the pile as if thrown in for good measure at the end of an assault. On the left of the drawing poking out from behind exposed bricks is what could be a severed leg. The setting has the feeling of a cellar, stone flag floors and naked light bulb, odds and ends, things thrown down to get them out the way, and forgotten about, the figure accidentally caught up in the mess. The tone is in keeping with other drawings made in this period, those critical of the Nixon administration shown at Mayfair Hauser & Wirth last year. This one however is not obviously satirical, representing a more general and domestic chaos, antagonistic and grumpy, funny, senseless, the drawing revels in its own stupidity. Political ideology seems to have crept to the forefront of discussion around artistic practice now, but despite this I can’t think of an artist who has or would radically shift their practice to confront the sociopolitical context of the time in the way Guston did then. His rejection of the safety and convenience of a movement, the easy association with a group dynamic and its associated critical discourse, now history, was bold and risky. Luckily, he was good enough to make turning his back on the gloomy seriousness of abstract expressionism in favour of having a bit of a laugh, a positive move. Contemporary artists are more likely to affect the thin veneer of faux activism through social media, liking and sharing and signing petitions in a bandwagon jumping bonanza.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more straightforwardly figurative Cy Twombly drawing than Venus, 1962, pencil, coloured pencil, and watercolour on paper: 70 x 50 cm. It looks distinctly like a figure, or two very different figures in fact. The first is a head and shoulders, there is pink where a face might be, with curled hair around it, there are what look like the suggestions of clothes over shoulders in the pencil grey around the pink, there might even be a tie. Then, within this outer figure there is what looks like a more whole female naked figure, the venus of the title, there are breasts with nipples, there are thighs and a scribbled pubic area. This figure is obviously more likely, the word ‘Venus’ is written in an arc in the upper part of the image above what would be the head, but neither is clear or certain. Some violently used red line right in the centre of the drawing could be another word, ‘face’ or ‘lace’. All of the marks are augmented in a way that makes for a convincingly human like form with a shadow cast behind it. There is often an all over quality to Twombly drawings and paintings where areas of concentrated intensive mark making are spread across the whole rectangular surface, however the marks here are organised differently, the upper part of the paper left deliberately empty, acting as a background/backdrop. I like the way Twombly mixed his drawing media like a child; pencil scratched into wax or oil crayon, or scratched into wet domestic paint, he was clearly unconcerned about its longevity. I also like the way that in this drawing he uses a word as a way of making us interpret through a layer of meaning, in this case the Roman mythology which became a vale through which his work was seen after his move to Rome where he apparently lived near the Colosseum and the Forum, among the ruins. I can think of many reasons to move to Rome, one being to be among its great layers of ancient history and I imagine the everyday experience of ancientness might have fed into Twombly’s work in a way that made him refer to mythology, architecture and statuary almost unconsciously.
Seeking out the exotic is a strategy adopted by many artists making work today, affordable travel allows artists access to new historical contexts and different socio-political environments in which to form their art propositions. It is however difficult to pull off, there is a lot of week work where the sole merit seems to be the fact that it was produced in a country foreign to the artist. It engenders a quasi-documentary approach to film making or photography, ‘Anthropology for the middle classes’ a friend of mine once labelled it, Grande Tourism would also seem appropriate. It reminds me of the first time you go to a foreign country and you spend your time just looking, in detail, looking up, at the tops of buildings, looking at street signs and other infrastructure and marvelling at the difference, the otherness. I wonder if Gauguin felt the same about the South Seas, was he like countless artists today looking for something to give his work an edge, of the international perhaps. Certainly the subjects in Gauguin’s case were different and would appear unusual to the Parisian audience of the time. But there is still a transformation of the image and experience through the filter of the artists approach, process and style. The artists hand in the case of both artists always evident, the subject in lots of ways is secondary. ‘Tahitian Woman with Evil Spirit’ oil transfer drawing, 56 x 45cm, 1900 depicts the exotic in more ways than one, we have the fact that the subject represents a primitive existence that challenges the idea of life in the modern city of the time. Then, even more exotic, we have the idea of a spirit and the fact that the way of life being observed might offer some transcendence beyond the realms of the everyday. No doubt Gauguin was wide eyed at the prospect of this way of life and went about its documentation with some urgency. This particular method of drawing leaves a lot of residue, making the image appear dirty, the woman’s face is half blackened as if she is bearded, giving her an air of some Victorian freak. The spirit cowering behind the woman is battered with one black eye, representing either the danger of the exotic, or Gauguin himself. A good artist has the ability to make the local international, bad art manages to render the international parochial.
Sandro Chia seems to be a slightly forgotten member of the 80’s European neo expressionist group of artists. The German version of this movement seems to have fared much better than the Italian version over the years, I don’t … Continue reading
In this drawing of what looks like a tramp blowing bubbles by Steven Shearer, the subject is softened by the use of red pastel. The tramp who we might assume to be a drunk or an addict is fixed in … Continue reading
The paper trumpet is a forum for artists and art students in Higher Education to share ideas and discussion about drawing. Through the publication of discussion, images and text online we aim to generate a knowledge base of ideas about drawing. We are interested in starting discussions around the possibilities within contemporary art for an experimental approach to drawing. We are interested in the specific medium of drawing and its potential as a contemporary art proposition. The Forum considers drawing in its broadest context to incorporate a full range of media including film and performance, where a speculative and exploratory methodology has been engaged.
I currently have a show in Dusseldorf’Hearing Voices at Felix Ringel Gallery. The gallery used part of a text Martin Holman wrote about my work posted here.
DAVID MACKINTOSH Hearing Voices 6 September – 20 October 2013
In the current climate for the practice of drawing, in which its ploys and strategies, relativities and functions are being scrutinised, extended, retracted and dissolved, an exhibition by Mackintosh arrives like a fresh breeze in an expanding Sahara. Newly heated and warmed-over discussions about what drawing is give way to the essence of the medium. That essence is the practical deployment of line close to nature and expressive of a thought.
If an artwork embodies thought, Mackintosh presents thinking in visible form on a scale few of his contemporaries can equal. Launched into the sight, minds and physical territory of the spectator is the fundamental, intuitive value of making a mark. Sheets of paper advance diverse and sometimes indistinct images, repeatedly leaping out with a surprise that can bring a smile or a reaction unexpectedly different. The viewer, captivated by one type of imagery, rhythm of gesture and suggestion of space, is suddenly shaken into another type, rhythm, space and image. Lines tangle and shade; they shape, overlay and obscure; they are enlivened by the potential for movement if not made to move already by the artist through animation.
(Martin Holman, 2011, from “Curtian Call”, Martin Holman awaits David Mackintosh