Hiding in plain sight

Sean Landers, Navel Gaze, 1995

If a picture paints a thousand words then what happens when the picture is words? Sean Landers uses painting as a way to tell stories but it’s not the picture part of the equation – when there is one, and more often than not there isn’t – that does the talking. It’s all those words.

I saw Landers’s work first in Young Americans at the Saatchi Gallery in, I think*, 1996. I remember being mesmerised by it. I made a very good attempt at reading the paintings but I think I failed. By the time you’re about three or four lines in it’s hard to get from the end of one line to the start of the next without skipping or re-reading so hoolding on to the thread of the narrative becomes troublesome.

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It’s only words

John Baldessari, Everything is Purged from this Painting, 1968

Thinking about books becoming art yesterday made me ponder the use of text – one of the raw materials of books – as art. Language is key to the conceptual art of the 1960s, with the idea taking precedence over aesthetics. Inevitably the resulting work could be rather dry and hard to engage with, but this is far from universally true. John Baldessari’s text paintings work on several levels for me. Firstly, Baldessari confuses matters by rendering his text in paint on canvas. Secondly, the text is often funny, especially in the context of painting.

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In the BANK

20120222-123622.jpgBANK, Fax-Bak Service, 1998

Invigilating exhibitions is fundamentally pretty boring. There is a lot of sitting around, often without anyone to talk to. In the days before smart phones, laptops and WiFi made spending the time pissing about on the internet an easy option, you had to make your own entertainment. In 1998, while running Gallerie Poo Poo, the artists’ group BANK did just that.

There is always reading matter in galleries. If nothing else, press releases from other galleries arrive daily and it was to these that BANK artists Simon Bedwell, Milly Thompson and John Russell turned to while away long afternoons in the gallery. They were artists after all, and running a gallery; why wouldn’t they want to stay abreast of what was on and read about art? As is happened though, they didn’t much like what they read.

And so it began: The BANK Fax-Bak Service: Helping You Help Yourselves!

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It’s who you know

Peter Davies, The Hot One Hundred, 1997

You can learn a lot from looking at art.

Reading a Peter Davies painting is a bit like looking at someone else’s bookshelves or CD collection: a sneaky insight into their taste or knowledge. The Hot One Hundred tells me what art Davies rates; it feels like quite a random hierarchy but every time I look at the painting it reminds me about an artist or a piece of work I’ve forgotten about and Davies’s  descriptions of the work always makes me smile. Emma Kay’s The Story of Art – a list of every artist and art movement Kay can remember, made in 2003 for Tate Modern’s Contemporary Interventions series – has something of the same feel though it’s not as nice to look at.

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