Direction of travel

Richard Hamilton, Trainsition III, 1954

Richard Hamilton, Trainsition III, 1954

I often think my journey to work is a bit ridiculous. Like many people teaching in art colleges, I live in London but work elsewhere. On a good day* my commute is a four and a half hour round trip, give or take a bit. Though there is art in other cities – a lot in some places, but then Glasgow would be an even stupider commute for me – for me, being in London makes the most sense. (Plus, you know, I’m a Londoner. Always have been and probably always will be.) It’s just that I don’t happen to work here.

Like many of my colleagues, I accumulate piles of train tickets. Many of us seem to have vague plans to make a piece of work with them at some point. Whether anyone ever will, I don’t know (I’ve yet to see the evidence if they have). I know I haven’t (and, in all honesty, probably never will).

All of which means that there was one series of works in the Richard Hamilton exhibition at Tate Modern that really resonated: the Trainsition paintings. Hamilton taught at Newcastle for years but, it seems, stayed living in London. Suddenly my commute seems positively mundane. Unlike me though, Hamilton turned the experience into art. Well done that man.

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On being an artist

John Baldessari - Tips for Artists

John Baldessari, Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell, 1966-1968

I’ve written about John Baldessari’s text paintings before but this seems like a good time to go back to one in particular: while I’m thinking about words of advice, Baldessari’s Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell seems like a good work to write about. There’s something pleasing – to me at least – about the idea of using the conventions of painting to produce something so unapologetically unpainterly. Lets face it, if Baldessari’s tips are even a little bit useful, by ignoring his own advice so comprehensively surely he’s ensuring his own work is unsaleable?

Except of course, he’s John Baldessari and as such he’s very far from whatever part of the art market it is that prefers paintings to be of landscapes, flowers or the madonna and child.

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And finally

Marcus Harvey, Margaret Thatcher, 2009

Marcus Harvey, Maggie, 2009

There are some days you think might never come. Frankly, recently, I was beginning to think that the day I got back to regular blogging might be one of them but I started today with a new determination. Then I got distracted and by the time I sat down to write I quite foray onto the interwebs provided me with both further distraction in the form of the the news that Margaret Thatcher is finally dead (for real this time, not just yet another Twitter rumour). To mark the occasion – and after the havoc she wreaked through my late teens and twenties, it does need to be marked (and yes, I’d be dusting off my copy of Spike: the Beloved Entertainer if only I had a record deck that worked) – it seems pertinent to write about Marcus Harvey’s Maggie.

Marcus Harvey is undoubtedly best known for another controversial portrait: Myra, a picture of Myra Hindley made using children’s handprints (well, prints from plaster cast hands), caused untold furore when it was shown at the Royal Academy in the Sensation exhibition. His painting Maggie, made nearly a decade and a half later, is rather less well known but equally striking. In my head at least, they are companion pieces: both large scale, black and white paintings made from images widely reproduced in the press and both – arguably, and here I concede there is a difference – portraits of, well, if not actually evil, then of women whose lives one would wish had followed a different path.

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Party pieces

Bob and Roberta Smith, Join the Art Party, 2012

Bob and Roberta Smith knows how to make a point. In the exhibition The Art Party USA Comes to the UK at Hales Gallery at the moment (okay, not for much longer but there’s still a chance to catch the show if you’re quick), he’s in full-on soap box mode – he’s even made his own soap boxes for the occasion – in a bid to entice us to join the Art Party of the USA. The starting point for the Art Party was Bob and Roberta Smith’s May 2011 letter to Michael Gove, which he published to encourage others to write in to emphasise the importance of art in the school curriculum. Not a political party in any traditional sense, according to the website in order to join one simply needs to “make some art and encourage others to do so!”

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Ironing out the details

Gerhard Richter, Detail (Red-blue), 1970

The relationship between painting and photography lies at the heart of Gerhard Richter’s practice, from paintings made from found photographs to photographs of paintings made from, yes, photographs, this is territory Richter has explored more thoroughly and from more directions than perhaps any other artist. The Detail paintings, started in 1970, explore the nature of painting and the way in which we so often experience the complexity of the painted surface rendered smooth as a photographic surface. In these paintings, Richter has taken small details from paintings made with a heavy impasto and reproduced these, massively enlarged, as smooth painted surfaces. In Detail (Red-blue) a small area of heavily textured paint is represented as a three metre wide painting.

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Veils of abstraction

Untitled (1 July 1994)

Gerhard Richter, Untitled (1 July 1994), 1994

The end of summer is in sight and everything is starting afresh. It might sound odd, but Autumn always feels like the start of something new to me. Certainly, it’s the time of year when my thoughts turn to what to show a new intake of students. Some things don’t change much of course, but there are always works I’ve come across recently (many of them probably written about here already) or things I know well but now want to talk about differently. I’ll need to get my art history hat on pretty soon but before that I get to show a random selection of art to help get some ideas going and, with luck, defy a few expectations and destroy some preconceptions. All of which means that in a way I’m quite surprised to find myself trawling through Gerhard Richter’s Overpainted Photographs, but it’s a body of work that somehow always seems relevant.

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Memory bank

George Shaw, Scenes from the Passion: The Swing, 2002-3

The landscapes in George Shaw’s paintings all conceal stories but in this case the narratives are Shaw’s own childhood memories. For the series Scenes from the Passion, Shaw worked from photographs taken within a half mile radius of the house he grew up in. The area is unremarkable and, in Shaw’s paintings, unpopulated. There is a bleakness here but also perhaps a sense of anticipation. Though the area is very specifically the territory of Shaw’s childhood in a way it feels like the paintings depict a kind of everytown. There are certainly scenes here that I can match against my own suburban London upbringing.

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