Jerwood Painting Fellowships 2013
JVA at Jerwood Space, London
13 March - 28 April 2013
Review by Simon Bayliss
Painting can now be considered a mode of thought or a philosophy which can be applied outside of the confines of the medium and its traditional supports. This was the defiant outlook of the last Jerwood Painting Fellowships; coloured-paper sculptures and snapshots of paintings placed in urban settings shared the limelight with just one body of conventional canvases. This assertion continues in this year’s exhibition of three candidates, as perhaps it should, but to a lesser extent. And it is refreshing to see more paint; the push and pull of brushmarks, as well as more insistent dialogue with the history of the medium.
Sophia Starling’s work typifies the kind of discourse found at the boundaries of painting; in particular that which takes the conclusions of formal abstraction - the point at which Ad Reinhardt claimed he was making the very last paintings - as a starting point. Her work looks beyond the picture plane, to the basic physical components of painting, as a point of expansion. An excess of canvas billows out like a tablecloth from behind a tall oblong stretcher with rounded ends. In ‘Unpeeled (Green/Purple)’, the picture plane is painted a warm glossy green, whilst two circular canvases in aubergine purple sit as tiers at either end. The bottom half of the picture has been relaxed from its support, but remains stiff from the dried medium.
Although suffused with the influence of Steven Parrino, whose destructive processes were paradoxically reviving painting, it seems Starling’s approach shares none of his anxiety or violence. And there is no need; the death of painting debate has passed. Instead of physically contorting, ripping and scrunching paintings - until disfigured yet transformed - her processes appear more dispassionate. In ‘Shifted X’ for example, the area of painted canvas has been casually relocated and re-stretched to one side. Starling’s paintings do not assume an animistic role - where a Parrino-slumped canvas reflects a psychological state - and instead feel more concerned with formal and material aspects. Each of her works showcases a different weave of raw-canvas for example. Her emphasis is not on the destruction of painting, but perhaps its deconstruction - like a chef reworking a classic recipe - and they are delivered with a great sense of future potential.
The theme of Susan Sluglett’s large paintings is a Royal Wedding, but it is a debauched pantomime affair. With their profiled features painted in pallid whites, the bride and groom in ‘Merrily we go to Hell’ lean in for a sloppy inebriated smooch. She has ballooning breasts and he has the royal trait of a king-size ear. A bouquet or basket of fruit hovers as a chaotic mass between their bodies, and like a clown’s conk a pink plum-like object appears to be attached to his nose. The painting itself is unashamedly sloppy; paint drips down his face, as though he is sweating profusely, and leaks from beneath her bosom. Curiously contradicting Sluglett’s seemingly slapdash alla prima technique, bare canvas and residual charcoal lines from preliminary sketches extend throughout all of her pictures, revealing the scrupulous preparation behind each composition. Once established, it seems the painter lets rip with the oily medium, in a kind of feverish burst of energy, as if she was part of the raucous, formerly planned celebrations.
A collapsed wedding cake, a discarded bouquet, the stag tied upside-down with hazard tape to a column, and a tower of beer cans, form other subject matter. These intricate compositions are arenas for a messy uninhibited paint binge, where clumsy passages of smears and splashes meet thick swirling concoctions in a sickly pallet of creamy whites, emerald greens and sugary yellows. This series could be thought of as a contemporary ode to Hogarth’s moralistic whistleblowing of upper-class society. His series ‘Marriage à la mode’ seems especially related: in his case ‘à la mode’ meant ‘according to the fashion’, but it can also mean ‘served with ice cream’. For Sluglett both definitions are applicable.
The enigmatic objects in Anthony Faroux’s row of modest paintings might be abstracted from observations or memories of vessels, house-plants or even buildings. Although they waver on the cusp of the unfamiliar, they possess mass, and subtle neutral light falls directionally. The works have the hall-marks of European sensibility, but are also akin to Philip Guston’s paintings made during his metamorphosis from abstraction to semi-fictional figuration. In one picture a cluster of wobbly blocks, of indeterminate size or weight, sit on a grey plane casting long shadows. In another, clunky green edifices, like globular rubbery leaves, mingle among slate-grey troughs and props; their renderings suggest little distinction, however, between organic and inorganic matter. Faroux’s small formats and muted colours have a feeling of tentative painterly exploration, yet struggles are perhaps concealed beneath their encrusted surfaces.
Accompanying Faroux’s paintings, an installation includes a short film in which a kaleidoscopic sequence of clips from an unsteady camera inquisitively surveys urban and domestic interior scenes; a strip light, the edge of a window frame, an illuminated clock-face, plant leaves behind a hessian curtain, all accompanied by recordings of city noise and hypnotic improvised drumming. They act like the artist’s preparatory studies, the enquiry behind the paintings, and the raw processes on the journey into abstraction. They could be scenes from inside his studio and the surrounding area. It appears that this ecosystem of imagery generates a cyclical process from which transient ideas begin to season, becoming digested, fusty and peculiar in the paintings themselves.
Although sympathetically curated, the three artists’ works are inherently independent from one another; therefore linking between pieces in the exhibition is not necessary. Instead a general thematic observation, contextualising the work within the field of young British painting, is perhaps more appropriate here. Namely, Faroux adopts a collective fixation with exploring and abstracting liminal subject matter; spaces and objects on our perceptual periphery. And this seems to be a predominantly male concern, arisen from enduring rejections of iconic macho expressionism. Yet female painters, as Sluglett and Starling demonstrate, appear less self-conscious, and freer to make large dramatic works. Of course this rumination is a bold generalisation but, as the Jerwood Painting Fellowships showcase current discourse in painting, it invites consideration.