Marcus Cope - As we all know Turps Banana is a very good painting magazine. What makes you think they have what it takes to run an art school’ And what do you think will make it different from existing art schools’
Ross Walker - I have no idea they know what they’re doing. I think that’s the risk and the excitement. I can only go on what they have proposed. Which I think is wonderful. I don’t think that being able to talk about painting guarantees you can run an art school and I guess they would be the first to admit that. But then, the running of the Art School is not really the concern. I mean running in an adminstrative sense here, I guess. I think the point would be whether they can realise the enormous potential of the idea. Maybe that’s semantics. Here are a very small group of people who noticed that perhaps the postgrad art experience in the UK is inadequate in key ways, and have proposed something that is more adventurous.
I think the major difference is that there is not that same emphasis on a teacher-student didactic relationship. The 15 painters will be treated as professionals and help will be given in technical advice and through four main mentors. This idea was the part that really struck me about the Turps Studio Programme; the mentorship angle. The way the guys talked about the course, the focus was on the developmental as apposed to a didactive hammer-blow. This is what excites me. 15 painters will work in a large studio and each receive mentorship and also regular visits from a long list of very interesting people. And this list will change and mutate depending on who is in London exhibiting and interested in visiting. And I think that’s perhaps another defining point that has struck me: the enthusiasm from those involved to be involved and to make it work.
I always wondered why such a mentoring climate was absent in visual arts. Every one is isolated, in terms of their career projectile. Painters used to be apprentices. The Germans have their Meisterchuler. Of course, at postgrad, one has tutors, but I was always looking for more practical guidance, without feeling like I had to go back to school.
MC - Other questions obviously arise from what you say, primarily what it is that an artist is looking for out of the post graduate artschool experience’ (criticality, networking, time and space, mentoring/tutorial feedback, painting theory, connections with visiting artists etc)
RW - I have always pondered the idea of doing an MA. But when it came down to it, when I really thought about it, and I was honest with myself, I think I just wanted to do it because I thought they (y’know - those guys) would give me more shows afterwards and people would pat me on the back and rub me on the belly and I would get taken out to dinner by gallerists and get to order anything from the wine list.
I don’t know what artists are looking for from a postgraduate experience. I can only tell you how I view it. Most people I spoke to who did an MA in London seemed so desperately underwhelmed by it. Really, I was worried that it would be just a finishing school. If I gave my time to something, I wanted to be excited by it. And I wanted it to be a risk.
So, then I thought, well, what do I want’ I know I need impetus now, I know I need guidance. I’m not so arrogant to say I don’t need something. I really do need something. I think a painter’s career is about 60 years long. I’ve done a tiny percentage of that and, relatively, know fuck-all about what I’m doing. For me, the ethos of the Turps program seemed to fit. I don’t want to just go somewhere to say I’ve done it, that’s a waste of time and money. But I don’t want to be crushed by lecturing. I don’t want an art history lecture. I have had that and I read. This makes me sound a bit like a dumb, retrograde painty-painter. But I want to find out how you carry on with this nonsense. This ridiculous pursuit. How do you maximise what you are doing’ How do you make the great paintings’ How do you turn this potential that you have into a focused practice’ What do you use to make that blue look less Asda’ How did you do that’ What hours are you in the studio’ The more I ask these questions, the more it sounds like what Turps have been writing about and featuring, so that’s good. The institution is just too much of a personality, really. I think that’s the problem for me. I don’t want that personality breathing all over my canvases. I would like it to be a gang. And that’s what I envisaged when I was speaking to the organizers. A kind of Dirty Dozen (+3), because I hope that the common bond between the participants would be the courage that it’s taken NOT to go down the MA route and take a punt on the weird new thing. I wanted to ask you about Cyprus College of Art, I don’t think it’s something we have ever spoken about. Is it a similar thing’ MC - Well yes in a way. I have to be careful here because I could spend hours rattling on about this place. The college here is absolutely brilliant, if what you want is what it is offering - like you say about the Turps School. What it offers are studios spaces that are very basic, and by that I mean more akin to the kind of studio one rents as an artist as opposed to the (unreal) situation of the UK educational institution (I’m talking about workshops and technicians, equipment hire and bookable spaces etc). Having said that there is a small gallery space here that students can use to put up shows of their own work. The college is based in a small village, they offer free accommodation 100 meters down the hill, and a further five minutes away is the Mediterranean. They run a post-graduate diploma for eight months and then you can stay for a further four months I think and top it up to an MA .
One of the great things is the gang you mention, as there are usually around 10-15 post-grad students per year, living and working together so the bonds that are forged are very strong. Over the years they have attracted some very high profile artists to come over as visiting lecturers, and what is great about that is that these people usually stay for a couple of weeks (or more if they are undertaking a residency) so there is plenty of time for conversations about the work to develop long into the night. In fact time really is the best thing (and the climate of course!), because the days are long and warm and you feel a long way from the rest of the world and it’s related stresses. The college was started by Stass Paraskos, a Cypriot artist who was trained in England and taught there. He started the college (I think) because he was fed up with the bureaucratic nature of UK institutions and the direction they were taking art education in. Here it is all about the art, the making of, the problems with, etc. The simple stuff that attracted most of us to this art thing in the first place. Developing studio practice without all that professional development crap. I also notice a kind of pushing towards a self reliance I think. Again more akin to the transition to how it is/can be as an artist after the babysitting experience one can get as an undergrad. Contextual references are few and far between, and when they are slotted in they tend to be very much from a different era. Fashion is not a concern (either because they don’t know what is fashionable, or because they think that an artist should find his or her own mode of expression and develop their own language.
I initially came here ten years ago to do a four month residency and I can honestly say that it was the the most productive time of my life and the time when I felt most as though I was able to focus on the things that mattered, i.e. the pictures.
MC-v Is the Turps Art School anti art-institutions or are they trying to replicate one’
RW - I think its probably better not to paint (!) schools like this as anti-establishment because that seems too negative a basis. Certainly, they gestate from a dissatisfaction with institutions, but to just be anti-art-institution is not enough. It has to have it’s own ethos. I can’t talk for Marcus and Peter, but I feel the malaise in postgrad art education shares the aura that of most higher education in the UK in the last decade. The smell of going through the motions, which comes in part from the big-business nature of universities and also part of a wider aspect of the British attitude to education and intellectualism.
MC - You recently began a ‘Sponsume’ fundraising drive to help with the cost of your fees. What has the response been to that’
RW - It’s been great really, I have found such support from some wonderful people. I was really reticent to do it. I pondered it for a good while, but then I thought, fuck it, I need the money. Like every other educational thing in this country, it costs money and you’re damn sure no-one is going to help you with that, bucko. So, why not admit that you need the money’ My first reaction was, I can’t admit to needing the money, there is something desperate about it and therefore, by definition, I am admitting that I am not successful. But then, why shouldn’t I’ Haven’t artists always been poor’ Isn’t that what the people want’ The destitute’ But somewhere along the line, a paradox has emerged. Admitting poverty or a need to make money somehow means a lack of quality. Every time I have promoted the crowd-funding, I have had to fight this feeling. Because it is a feeling I have! These are thoughts I’ve had! And probably still will. Its strange. If I see a film-maker is at the ICA, I assume they are worthy of my attention. If a filmmaker is on Kickstarter asking for money, I think they are a failure. Where has this come from’ A good example, when I was hawking this around I got a great email from Alex Bowen who runs Mingles Corpus, that you had a show at a while back. Now, I think that gallery sounds brilliant and from what you have said and their ethos, I think they are spot on. I got an email from Alex, saying, I think jokingly “Ah god, this looks desperate, we have to do something about this”. And he was right, I agree, I AM desperate! I need the money! I refuse to go to a fucking bank and ruin the next 5 years of my life. Instead I am going to trade my commodities. And if enough people believe in me, or not even believe in me, maybe just want a really great fucking print for very little money, then that will enable me to do what I need to do.
MC - The artworld likes success stories and those involved with it don’t like to talk about a lack of money. If I worked on the Tesco checkouts I wouldn’t tell anybody because they would look down on me, but of course I need money to pay the rent etc, and London is an expensive place to live. Do you work in Tesco’ (in essence does the truth hurt’) Why no-one can admit to being poor. I’m broke. Are you’ What is wrong with admitting that’
RW - I think this is a subject we love talking about and I was really looking forward to throwing this one around with you. I just think we have got it wrong somewhere. I don’t know. Its perception. Because there is no strict guidelines of definite hierarchies in the art world, because the entirety of it is based on shifting tastes and who one aligns themselves with, no-one wants to be tainted. Its difficult to hold onto your place. Outside forces are at work, that you don’t have control over and admitting your are not wildly successful would be suicide. But then, how are these people making work’’ How are they getting their money’ In the UK particularly, where there is not one jot of funding. The arts are the most under-appreciated aspect of society. In fact to reference this, as part of the funding I was thinking of doing a painting of household appliances and the like that you can buy for 100 pounds and then sell the paintings for the same price. Show them and also take the piss out of my desperation and how bloody cheaply I was giving this stuff away for! I didn’t do it in the end. But the workday (aworkady…..) thing was a similar idea. Throughout the funding I pledged to make a painting a day and sell them for 100 pounds. I thought this was a good way of referencing the desperation and making light of it. Kind of like, “Look! Look at me churning this stuff out, like a machine, for you people”
But then I’ve probably shot myself in the foot, because people are probably looking at it, thinking, “well, he can’t be that good, look how cheap he’s selling it for!”
The full interview will appear on the upcoming Marmite Painting Prize blog. Marcus Cope is the co-founder of The Marmite Prize for Painting Ross Walker will continue to embarrass himself by offering wonderful prints in order to finance his fees till 1st October 2012, visit http://www.sponsume.com/project/funding-12-month-studio-programme The Turps Studio Programme: Year One starts in September 2012 http://turpsbanana.com