Open Studios


As an interim show, Open Studios has provided an opportunity to consider how the different components of my art – painting, printing, making objects – can be exhibited together. It has generated new possibilities , for example perhaps the prints can be collaged into the paintings.

“Artists cannot begin in antiseptic abstraction, like philosophers with
their notepads, or theoretical physicists at their blackboards.
They have to begin in medias res, literally in the middle of things:
oil, canvas, squalor. So it is the artist’s task to discern somehow
what is worth saving, and what can be transformed, and finally
to crawl out of the morass.”

James Elkins, What Painting Is, p72


Objects with lichen and green paint stains

Objects with lichen and green paint stains

How does this work photo print work differently to the imagery in my painting?

In the Photoprint:

– the objects seem more confrontational, disparate
– a tastelessness in its portrayal of objects
– the colours are acidic
– the printer fails to make sense of the scene

Whereas the paintings:
Still life with phallic objects
– perceptually unify everything
– render colour tonally
– allow me to take complete control of making sense of every aspect of the scene
– are tasteful

Their contrasting appearance is problematic in terms of exhibiting them together, however this generates new possibilities and lines of enquiry. Can both techniques be combined? How do these different approaches feed into each other? What is the value of painting from direct observation rather than making the photoprints? What possibilities does this photoprint suggest for how I can develop my subject matter – e.g. the objects I find, make and arrange? Eric Bainbridge’s artworks offer some direction.

Eric Bainbridge:

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Working in the specialism of painting – notes taken from Merlin James’ lecture, ECA, 22nd Nov 2013

Merlin James considers that painters have always worked in an expanded field; that art discourse should re-evaluate the importance of the defined disciplines, e.g. painting (whilst accepting new ones); and that painting deserves a better form of criticism. Here are notes taken from his lecture:

Perhaps freedom for painters comes from accepting painting as a specialism. However, in order for this to work, painting needs a better kind of criticism to create a healthy discourse.

Painting criticism rarely looks at painting in art history in a direct way, considering what paintings of, e.g. Cezanne, might mean to us now. Art history’s best painting has what could be described as ‘a universal dialectic’ rather than a local commentary.

Rather than being retrograde, to define oneself as working within the specialism of painting is a radical stance. It goes against the trend of working in an expanded, cross disciplinary/anti disciplinary field of practice. It goes against the generally accepted notion of art having to make progress and of painting being antiquated.

(Mark Leckey exemplifies an artist whose raison d’etre is an unerring, avantgardist and teleopathic belief in art’s progression.)

However, for painting to remain relevant, it has to reinvent its own language. Paradoxically, this can mean that, in order to go forwards, an artist must sometimes look backwards into the history of painting.

One example is Philip Guston’s famous return to figuration. It came at a point when the progression movement in abstract expressionist painting had become a dogma. His ‘Studio’ painting is an allegory about painting (perhaps all the best paintings are). It seems to be based on Vermeer’s ‘Allegory of Painting’. In the background, Vermeer’s map and Guston’s curtain, both act as a cypher for 2 dimensionality.

Philip Guston, The Studio, 1969

Philip Guston, The Studio, 1969

Vermeer, Allegory of Painting, 1666

Vermeer, Allegory of Painting, 1666

It’s important that an artist negotiates or constructs the limits of the practice that he or she is using. Contemporary painters often betray insecurity about their relationship to the medium.

There is a tendency for them to include pieces of sculpture or installation alongside paintings, e.g. Andrew Kerr’s recent show at The Modern Institute. Painters are keen to overemphasise that they are working in an expanded field (as if it were ever not part of an expanded field!). Painting’s portrayal as existing in aesthetic quarantine is fallacious.

Paintings are more interesting when they internalise how they are superconscious of their environment.

Still life with a spore sac and human pelvis

Still life with a spore sac. Oil on canvas

Still life with a spore sac. Oil on canvas

Exploring a narrative of museum display and ideas of forgotten, overlooked objects, bad lighting, poorly conserved.

Merlin James commented in his recent lecture that sometimes, as an artist, you have to look back in order to move forwards. The tonality and style of this picture looks back to still life painting in art history, e.g. Chardin. However, rather than following a traditional procedure, the technique is improvised. This picture explores an approach of rendering the objects tonally – paying as much attention to the space they occupy, their relationship to one another and the shadows they create as their individual detail.

In James Elkins’ book, “What Painting Is’, he writes (p70):
Academic painting had a natural affinity with mud and
excrement, because of the common use of brown hues and thick
varnishes that yellowed and darkened with age. The
Impressionists laughed at the academics’ “brown sauce,” but
William Blake had already put it best when he said Rubens used
“a filthy brown, somewhat the color of excrement.” From the
mid-sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth century, paintings were
routinely founded in “earth tones,” and it was only a step to go
from speaking about “muted colors” to acknowledging what the
paint was really like: sluices of mud, running diarrhea. (Another
name for the materia prima was terra foetida, “fetid earth.”2 )
Impressionist and Postimpressionist canvases are acts of
repression: they pretend that a high enough chroma takes paint
out of the sewer and puts it in the fresh open air. Painters who
work in browner and more traditional styles cannot acknowledge
those facts, except as jokes: but their reluctance, or blindness,
about what they do is better than the obliviousness of most
painters, who think they are saved by bright colors and hardly
give their excremental medium a second thought.

After I made this picture, I took some photos in the Museum of Scotland:

Venice Biennale first hand

Chimera rhino fish camel goat vulture dinosaur creatures in little wooden boxes. Clay trifid flowers and toadstools. Bananas, carrots, a ready to roast chicken and a large jug glass. People looking at things. African artefacts on a low shelf. Large sheets of glass leaning against a wall covering them. A turquoise hole punch. Kitchen roll and a red circle with a blue centre. Wooden batons fanned out across a steel work table. A prickly Australian looking lizard. Layered, archival footage of 1950s/60s America. A 7 foot, black metal cuboid frame with anthropological looking objects placed upon it. Eastern spirit boats. A protazoan medusa lantern. Ochre yellow and red, disc, rotund and phallic shapes laid out across a two tiered table. Illuminated black and white shapes within a rectangular border. A large wooden tray containing a collection of small multicoloured implements. It’s covered with glass and there’s a shadow (myself?) cast over it. There’s a Sarah Lucas figurative sculpture of bronze cast tights and someone with a jacket over their arm walking behind it.

The RSA John Kinross Scholarship 2013

I was awarded the RSA John Kinross Scholarship 2013.

The John Kinross Memorial Fund was established in 1982 by Mr J.B Kinross CBE, HRSA, in memory of his father, Mr John Kinross, RSA, architect (1855-1931) to assist young artists and architects from the established centres in Scotland, within the departments of Architecture and Fine Art, to spend a period of time in Florence.

I spent a month in Florence over summer which was a valuable period of autonomous research into Italian art history and reflection on my own practice. This was an opportunity to see in actuality works from art history which I most admire, such as the frescos of Piero della Francesca. Visits to the Uffizi and Pitti Palace has also informed my research for this semester which focused on the Wunderkammer.

This opportunity has introduced me to other RSA scholars, staff and members. The final part is that in January 2014, the RSA will select a piece of artwork produced after the research trip for inclusion in their collection.

Avery Singer

Performance Artists, Avery Singer, 2013 acrylic on canvas, 264 x 198 cm

Performance Artists, Avery Singer, 2013
acrylic on canvas, 264 x 198 cm