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Q&A: Keith Harrison

6 Aug

David Trigg: Your work seems to be a million miles away from what we might normally think of when we consider ceramics. How do you get from making coil pots to recreating Jah Shaka’s sound system?!

Keith Harrison: I never really did the coil pot thing. As an undergraduate I transferred from an industrial design course to ceramics because I wanted more freedom. I had no real experience in ceramics beyond an enjoyment of working with the material at school and a short design project for an airline when a ceramics tutor threw some raw plates for me to cut and work back into. Therefore I had to make things up as I went along.

Keith Harrison, Float (detail), 2011

DT: Your work is certainly unconventional!

KH: I am interested in the opportunities that clay offers in its different states; as a liquid, plastic and solid and, ultimately, the potential to transform the material directly using electrical systems both domestic and industrial.

DT: The relationship between clay and electricity is central to your recent work. What was it that drew you to this unusual area of investigation?

KH: The electrical connection comes from my family background; my dad and brother were trained as electricians and subsequently worked in the electrical engineering laboratories at Birmingham and Aston Universities. My works are live tests, experiments acting as a bridge between our two respective worlds, and they’ve both helped me to realise past projects.

DT: Your work for the Jerwood Makers Open, Float, draws inspiration from the ‘gramophone scene’ in Werner Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo and your memory of seeing the Jah Shaka sound system. Was this the first time you’d incorporated sound into your work?

KH: I used sound, and records in particular, in a work called Brother (2009) in which a record deck played Northern Soul while a life-size clay replica of Karl Marx’s head was fired at one end of the gallery. At the other end of the space, a facsimile of Michael Faraday’s Royal Institute lecture table became an impromptu mobile disco, which also provided a hub for powering the work. From this I started to experiment with using a turntable like a potter’s wheel and also to explore the potential for ceramics to carry sound. I made ceramic copies of New Order’s Blue Monday and played them on hired disco equipment along with the original 12″ and raw clay copies of the record.

Keith Harrison, Blue Monday / White Label, ceramic records, 2009

DT: How on earth do you go about making ceramic records?

KH: I had to make a polyurethane cast, then a silicone one and then a plaster cast from the original Blue Monday vinyl. Then I made a copy using porcelain casting slip.

DT: And how did it sound?

KH: Horrendous!

DT: So what records are you playing on Float?

KH: I’m playing two records taken from Florian Fricke’s soundtrack for Fitzcarraldo: ‘Il Sogno’ sung by Caruso and ‘Musik aus Burundi’. This music is played as the steam ship Aida journeys up the Pachitea river. The main character Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, played by Klaus Kinski, stands next to a gramophone as Caruso plays out into the jungle and the drumming responds. In the performances as part of the Jerwood show I’m attempting to recreate this scene using the sound system and DJ equipment.

DT: Are you using ceramic records?

KH: I’ve made ceramic copies of both records but in the performances so far I’ve only used the vinyl records as I felt there was sufficient clay in the work impacting on the sound produced, both as raw clay filling the bass speakers, acting as a mute, and the one thousand Piezo ceramic transducers covering the sound system, which function as tweeters.

Keith Harrison, Float (detail), 2011

DT: Why did you want to mute the speakers?

KH: It was an attempt to keep the noise levels down as the capacity of the sound system is for a much bigger, stadium sized venue but at the same time it provided an opportunity to set up a tension out of the wilfully oversized nature of the work and its potential for damage to both onlookers and surroundings. The act of the clay blocking or absorbing sound has references to the trumpet mutes of Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis.

DT: But the clay has started to crack.

KH: That’s one of the things clay does and in doing so the material make up of the work is made very apparent. I think it’s also about attempting to control some aspects of the work whilst allowing others to be left more open, a testing ground to see what happens when the unpredictability of raw clay meets electricity. There is an initial suppression of the sound but, as the sound system is played, the clay will progressively crack and shatter, resulting in the sound system becoming louder, leading ultimately to the complete breakdown of the work.

Keith Harrison, Float (detail), 2011

Artist in Focus: Keith Harrison

30 Jul

By David Trigg

Towering above visitors at the Jerwood Space is a gargantuan wooden structure comprising twenty-six hand made speakers. Perched atop these, only just visible, is a stack of audio equipment, waiting for a ‘selector’ to come and activate this vast sound system. This is the opening night of the Jerwood Makers Open and the ‘selector’ is artist Keith Harrison who, kitted out in a white Adidas tracksuit, calmly walks across the gallery and clambers up on the top of the speakers. But instead of blasting visitors with the heavy bass-driven sounds of dub reggae, he begins to play an Enrico Caruso recording.

Keith Harrison, Float, 2011 (opening night performance)

Inspired by Werner Herzog’s 1982 film Fitzcarraldo, Harrison’s Float (2011), makes reference to a scene where the protagonist (played by Klaus Kinski) voyages up the Pachitea River on a steamship, playing Caruso records on a gramophone in an attempt to communicate with the indigenous tribes of the Peruvian jungle. Another key referent here is the artist’s experience of the legendary Jah Shaka sound system at Exeter’s St George’s Hall in 1994. As Harrison recalls, the sound system was ‘so loud and solid that the crowd seemed physically aligned around the speakers, banked either side of the room, like iron filings between magnets’. But the potential power of Harrison’s sound system is muted, for each speaker cone has been filled with raw clay. Bass tones are deadened, and the gallery is filled with tinny high frequencies, emanating from the hundreds of ceramic transducers covering the work.

Keith Harrison, Float, 2011 (opening night performance)

For Harrison, this ambitious work is an investigation into the potential for sound to transform matter and is the culmination of several smaller scale works and live experiments in which sound, clay and electricity have played a central role. While previously domestic and industrial electric heating systems have been employed to physically alter clay in front of live audiences, here it is the power of sound waves that causes the clay to fissure and crack, physically destroying the work in an act of auto-destruction. Indeed, Harrison cites as influences artists such as Gustav Metzger, whose auto-destructive artworks ‘re-enact the obsession with destruction, the pummeling to which individuals and masses are subjected’. Other artists to have inspired Harrison include radical ceramicist Gillian Lowndes, and the Argentinean conceptual artist Victor Grippo, whose most well known work harnessed the electrical potential of potatoes.

As we watch Harrison’s performance, ceramic dust is shaken to the floor and several of the clay mutes begin to crack. It’s an exciting, unpredictable piece that confounds our preconceptions about what ceramics should and can be. With his various projects and performances Harrison not only breaks all the rules but has thrown away the rule book all together, creating astonishing experimental pieces that sit a million miles away from the image of the proverbial potter at his wheel.

Keith Harrison, Float, 2011 (opening night performance)

Who’s Afraid of Skill?

25 Jul

A lot of young people are somehow put off struggle and difficulty. Because of the nature of entertainment, people are adrenalin addicted; we are addicted to drama, everything has to be exciting. We’re all being gradually pushed to the point where our attention span is that of a gnat. Difficulty, learning a skill that might take 10 years –over 10,000 hours — is something that frightens us to death, when in fact, when you attain it, that’s probably the happiest most joyful thing you can do.

— Grayson Perry BBC Radio 4 ‘Thinking Allowed‘, February 2008.

Grayson Perry in his studio

What’s the Difference?

20 Jul

By David Trigg

‘Craft, art, and design are words heavily laden with cultural baggage. For me, they all connote the profound engagement with materials and process that is central to creativity. Through this engagement form, function, and meaning are made tangible. It is time to move beyond the limitations of terminologies that fragment and separate our appreciation of creative actions, and consider the “behaviours of making” that practitioners share.’ — David Revere McFadden, chief curator and vice president, Museum of Arts and Design, New York

.

Keith Harrison, Float, 2011

What’s the difference between a maker and an artist? After visiting the inaugural Jerwood Makers Open exhibition, currently showing at the Jerwood Space, one may conclude the answer to be not very much.

Heike Brachlow, Avis I, 2011

When I was studying fine art there was an attitude amongst my peers (myself included) that the applied arts (ceramics, textiles, glass etc) were somehow inferior to fine art. We were the ‘serious’ artists, engaged in a rigorous intellectual discourse, whereas the applied arts were without significant meaning or consequence, to be viewed merely as decoration or to fulfil some utilitarian function. Thankfully, I have since repented of this snobbery and come to realise that the line dividing the fine and applied arts is far more blurry than I’d ever imagined (remember when the potter Grayson Perry was awarded the Turner Prize in 2003?).

Emmanuel Boos, Cobblestones, 2009 - 2011

This is certainly the case with the Jerwood Makers Open. Consider the work of Keith Harrison for instance; despite working in the context of ceramics, his gargantuan sound system, Float, straddles the fields of installation, sound art and performance. In fact, if I’d seen this anywhere else I doubt I’d have guessed it was by an applied artist. Emmanuel Boos, the other ceramicist here, may take a more traditional approach but his glazed porcelain cobblestones and hanging works seem to be as much a celebration of form and material as the work of any number of contemporary sculptors. The same is true for glass artist Heike Brachlow, whose stunning balancing glass sculptures could easily be seen alongside the work of so called ‘fine artists’ working in glass (Josiah McElheny, Lino Tagliapietra and even Dan Graham spring to mind). Indeed, the last two editions of the Venice Biennale have included the Glasstress exhibition, which explores the use of glass in contemporary art. The other maker here is Farah Bandookwala, who despite working as a jewellery maker, has used the Jerwood opportunity to move into the field of sculpture, using her experimental, cutting-edge techniques to create interactive works that could sit comfortably in any number of contemporary art galleries.

Farah Bandookwala, Flicker, 2011

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So what then are these makers making? Is it art, craft or something else? How should we categorise such practice? The term ‘maker’ it seems is just as vague as the term ‘artist’. Is it simply a case of the context in which works are made and shown or does it lie ultimately with the intention of the artists themselves?

The Trouble With Painting

14 Jul

During my research into contemporary painting I came across this ICA event which seemed to resonate with some of the discussions I’d been having with the Jerwood Painting fellows: Why do artists continue to paint? Does painting have an intrinsic value? Or an enduring relevance because of its potential for innovation and influence on other forms of art making?

In the lead up to last year’s Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition, Bruce McLean, Vanessa Jackson, Margarita Gluzberg and Mark Leckey considered the current state of painting today. The event, chaired by ICA curator David Thorp, is a fascinating insight into current thoughts on painting that, ultimately, raises many more questions than answers.

Artist in Focus: Corinna Till

11 Jul

David Trigg: The paintings in your photographs are themselves based on photographs of domestic gateways. What was it that initially drew you to these sites?

Corinna Till: When you’re drawn to something you don’t always know why, but I had been looking at lots of different things and was drawn to the shifting contours of the images that appeared between people’s gateposts as I cycled past.

DT: Are these gateways that you pass regularly or did you go out looking for them?

CT: More often they’re gateways I pass regularly, sometimes noticing one a few times before stopping to photograph it. I take hundreds of photos of gateways but only use a few to help make the painted images on cardboard that end up being photographed in gateways.

DT: So there wasn’t some kind of grand concept behind the gateways?

CT: I didn’t start off thinking I would make some work about gateways or about the thresholds between pubic and private space. I’ve gone up lots of blind alleys with my work but the fact that I didn’t start off thinking about these ideas doesn’t mean that they aren’t in the work. If I had found I was making work that didn’t have all these other things going on then I may not have been interested enough to carry on.

Corinna Till, Gateway Series, 2011

DT: And what about the photographs you choose to paint, why choose one image over another?

CT: I’ve tried using lots of images that haven’t worked. I’ve got some really bad looking bits of cardboard in my studio and photographs that look absolutely terrible! There’s a lot of wastage.

DT: Was it always your intention to place the paintings back into gateways, or had you planned to show the paintings themselves?

CT: These bits of cardboard were deliberately sized and painted to be inserted across the gateways of typical London terraced houses. I wanted to see the processing and transformation that had gone on in the painting by putting the painted surfaces back into the same type of place – to see what the painting does next to other constructions.

DT: But the paintings aren’t placed back into the sites from which they originate are they?

CT: No, that would become too circular. When I’m painting on the cardboard I am only making a section of an image without knowing precisely what the rest of the image will look like – which gateway will be used. Some of my attempts maybe don’t work because the paintings are too complete. One of the things I try to do, in this partly blind process, is to resist making too complete an image. Perhaps the fact that the process often doesn’t work – a painting only seems to be activated across certain gateways, and I have to keep trying until it works or is abandoned – is a kind of ‘proof’ that the idea by itself isn’t interesting, or doesn’t work in itself. Something has to happen materially.

DT: The element that instantly catches the eye are the hands, are they yours?

CT: No, I have someone helping me. The hands bring up issues to do with where you can and can’t put things and about having the power to change a surface. It’s about the tactility of human agency, about being able to actually move things around in the world and using your hands to touch things and to change them. But it’s difficult to get permission to fix something somewhere – you can hold something in place, carry or wear something, but you can’t necessarily fix it somewhere permanently. I found that a human can be a very good mechanism for holding something in place quite exactly. Then, when you look at the work, all kinds of questions arise: ‘who is that person behind there? Are they trapped in there? Is it the artist hiding behind their work? Am I being kept out or welcomed in?’

DT: What happens to the pieces of painted cardboard once you’ve taken the photograph?

CT: Nothing, I’m keeping them in my studio. They’re not works in themselves; they’re a bit like props for my work, surfaces within the paintings.

Corinna Till, Gateway Series, 2011

DT: So surface is something that is particularly important in your work?

CT: Yes. Surfaces are the bit of the world that we see and touch and from where we get a lot of information about how something came to be the way it is, who it belongs to, what feelings are induced.

DT: But these surfaces are not available for us to touch or experience, we only see their image in the photographs.

CT: The photographs are attempts at bringing together those surfaces and presenting them for someone to see. I didn’t set out to make a conceptual point about the relationship between painting and photography, rather photography is a way to get those surfaces together.

DT: Some artists use photography to document actions, do you consider your work to be at all performative?

CT: I’m never sure what performative means, I find the concept confusing. But the photographs are definitely not documention. The photographs are the work. They’re paintings that have used photography rather than being photographs of paintings.

DT: So how do you answer the criticism of some who say that what you’re doing isn’t really painting?

CT: When I say that these photographs are paintings I’m making quite a specific claim: in this case, the bits of card with paint on them are activated using photography. I do move a substance around on a surface a lot as a starting point but it’s not necessary for me to claim that I am a painter.

DT: How useful then do you think the terms ‘painting’ and ‘painter’ actually are?

CT: I would like to think about this question more, and in relation to the fact that there are still departments, including painting departments, in art colleges. Painting is a way to touch something – a point of contact. It’s an appendage of substance that allows me to do things I can’t do with my body alone.

Corinna Till, installation shot, Jerwood Space, London, 2011

In Conversation: The Mentors

6 Jul

Recently I sat down with this year’s Jerwood Painting Fellowship mentors to discuss, among other things, how they selected the artists, their thoughts on contemporary painting and how they approached their role as mentors.

David Trigg: How did you go about selecting and agreeing upon the three Jerwood Painting Fellows? I’m assuming there were a lot of entries, did it take you long to agree upon the final three?

Paul Bonaventura: There were a lot of entries and in the first instance we were mostly looking at images on a screen.

Chantal Joffe: On a computer.

Stephen Farthing: Everyone sent in digital images.

PB: Yes, everyone sent in digital images and there were hundreds.

SF: Many more than we expected.

CJ: And a higher standard than we thought there might be. There was around three hundred wasn’t there?

PB: I’m pretty certain it was up around three hundred. Chantal is right, the overall quality was very high but I don’t remember it being that painful arriving at the short list.

SF: No, I think it happened quite organically, we didn’t have any arguments.

CJ: It was pretty obvious who was really good and I think that’s always true in short-listing – what’s good shines out.

PB: In the vast majority of cases we agreed almost instantly.

SF: One thing I remember is that we were all mindful of the fact that work often looks better in photographs than it does in real life, so we were prepared for disappointments.

PB: How many did we eventually interview?

SF: Five?

CJ: No, more… eight?

PB: I think it was eight.

DT: So how did you arrive at a consensus?

PB: By discussion.

CJ: Like the X Factor!

[laughter]

PB: In fact everyone we saw could have been selected. But, as well as thinking about who should have it, I was also thinking about what kind of an exhibition the three individuals would make together.

CJ: I wasn’t.

SF: No, I wasn’t either, I was just thinking of them as individuals. It wouldn’t have mattered if they didn’t fit together because that wasn’t the project. I think we got a good mix in the end.

PB: We did.

CJ: It was also important to find out what they were like as people, not just what their work was like. I wanted to know how serious and how committed they were.

SF: It would have been pointless choosing people that we didn’t feel we could add something to. We turned down people who were very good but it was because we didn’t think we could do much for them, we didn’t feel we could enter into a dialogue. The question we all asked ourselves was: ‘do we want to spend more time with them?’ The fellowship was not a reward, it was an opportunity. We were thinking of it more in terms of being able to help them.

Stephen Farthing

DT: You described the fellowship as a ‘professional development scheme’, offering ‘intellectual support, tangible assistance and artistic stimulus to emerging painters’. Can you give some insight into how these objectives were met?

SF: We went to art exhibitions together, we decided on books and magazines that they should read and created an environment where we could share and swap ideas. We also created a kind of social context where we’d go off on little trips and sit in taxis together.

CJ: Taxis were good; a lot of chat took place in taxis.

PB: In previous incarnations of Jerwood painting shows individuals have either shown one, sometimes two or, if they’re lucky, three pieces of work, but here they’re given a solo exhibition. These three individuals were actually given the opportunity to generate a brand new body of work that led towards an exhibition. That’s where the artistic stimulus came in, not just hanging out with us three and the various people that we introduced them to but also that they got an opportunity to go back to their studios and develop a body of work over a number of months.

SF: I don’t think there’s any bigger gift you can give a young artist. To give these artists an exhibition in a serious venue at this point of their careers is just amazing. This is their first exhibition of this type and it’s really this first exhibition that determines for most people whether they carry on and have a serious career or if it’s a back burner career where you’re earning your money as a barman and, in the end, finding it too difficult to support a studio and so it becomes a tabletop activity that probably fades away into nothing.

Chantal Joffe

DT: Looking at the work currently on show in the Jerwood Space it could be argued that there needs to be a clearer distinction between ‘painters’ and ‘artists who use paint’. Considering the expanded nature of contemporary art practice, do you think the term ‘painter’ still has currency?

CJ: Yes I do. I think it’s really important. Painting is a thing unto itself as I think photography is and installation and sculpture are. It has its own edges, like a painting itself has edges.

SF: When you said photography I was thinking … what’s good about photography is people like Thomas Joshua Cooper who are real photographers, they adore the chemicals, they’ll do anything to get the camera in the right place, and that’s what good painters do.

PB: As you were talking I was thinking about Corinna’s work. Corinna uses photography but it’s simply a delivery system, and that’s all it is, yet she is a painter through and through.

CJ: Yes, she talks in terms of painting.

SF: She has no interest in photography.

CJ: Clare is a fantastic artist but I’m not sure I would call her a painter…

PB: Clare is obviously on the boundary but we felt that for the purposes of this project that she was a painter. Someone else might interpret her work completely differently but we instinctively felt that she sat easily within this company and that was enough for us to consider her a painter. The good thing about the Jerwood in this instance was that they gave us free reign. To a certain extent people were self selecting in that when they sent in their submissions they obviously thought about themselves as painters – after all they were applying for the Jerwood Painting Fellowship. We interpreted the term as we wished.

SF: The idea of being a painter has obviously become more complex because a lot of art schools don’t teach painting any more; they don’t teach drawing, they don’t teach photography. Most painting is self taught now, but when someone like Ewan Uglow was teaching at the Slade, painting was taught by a master and a methodology was handed down. There’s not much being handed down now other than the sense of being an artist; it’s almost as simple as passing on a lifestyle and an accepted set of manners. There isn’t a bag of tricks or a set of skills that go along with studying in art schools today.

PB: Corinna and Clare do think of themselves as painters and that’s very clear when you’re in conversation with them. And the fact that they applied for this fellowship – they knew who the mentors were going to be, two outstanding painters and a curator who has frequently worked with painters. For me this term ‘self selection’ comes through again and again, not only in the selection process but also in the mentoring process.

DT: When I spoke to the artists it was Corinna and Clare who both very much wanted themselves to be seen in the context of painting, whereas Cara, who is most obviously working with paint, isn’t as happy to be defined in this way.

PB: Yes. I can imagine in ten year’s time Cara’s work looking completely different.

SF: I can imagine her being involved in film making.

PB: Yes.

Paul Bonaventura

DT: What have you found most rewarding about being mentors?

SF: Seeing them spend the money was good. Two of them got new studios, Clare extended hers and they all spent more time in them. It’s sad but true that work is often only as good as the time and money invested in it. You don’t need to have lots of money to make good paintings but you do need to have good time and it was really good seeing the Jerwood’s money spent so wisely. With a lot of these art prizes my guess is that people pay off their overdrafts, have a holiday and that’s it.

CJ: I was in the wilds of north London near Crouch End and I was going down all these streets with endless gates and each higgledy-piggledy front garden was different, which was just like Corinna’s work. That was a great moment for me.

PB: All great artists show us the world in a new light. For me it’s great to be given an opportunity to help people who want to help themselves. Cara, Clare and Corinna could have put together a really good exhibition without our involvement but, because of the Jerwood, three emerging artists were given a fantastic opportunity, not only financially but also intellectually and, as it transpired, socially. They really grabbed that opportunity and, to a certain extent, we as mentors got carried along in the wake. That was a wonderful thing to experience. You get that with enthusiasts in any subject but it’s lovely to be around people who just want more; they were eager, they had a real appetite and there was never a sense of any tiring.

The next leg of the Jerwood Painting Fellowships exhibition tour opens this Saturday (9 July 2011) at Swansea’s Glynn Vivian Art Gallery. Click HERE
for more information.

David Trigg: How did you go about selecting and agreeing upon the three Jerwood Painting Fellows? I’m assuming there were a lot of entries, did it take you long to agree upon the final three?

Paul Bonaventura: There were a lot of entries and in the first instance we were mostly looking at images on a screen.

Chantal Joffe: On a computer.

Stephen Farthing: Everyone sent in digital images.

PB: Yes, everyone sent in digital images and there were hundreds.

SF: Many more than we expected.

CJ: And a higher standard than we thought there might be. There was around three hundred wasn’t there?

PB: I’m pretty certain it was up around three hundred. Chantal is right, the overall quality was very high but I don’t remember it being that painful arriving at the short list.

SF: No, I think it happened quite organically, we didn’t have any arguments.

CJ: It was pretty obvious who was really good and I think that’s always true in short-listing – what’s good shines out.

PB: In the vast majority of cases we agreed almost instantly.

SF: One thing I remember is that we were all mindful of the fact that work often looks better in photographs than it does in real life, so we were prepared for disappointments.

PB: How many did we eventually interview?

SF: Five?

CJ: No, more… eight?

PB: I think it was eight.

DT: So how did you arrive at a consensus?

PB: By discussion.

CJ: Like the X Factor!

[laughter]

PB: In fact everyone we saw could have been selected. But, as well as thinking about who should have it, I was also thinking about what kind of an exhibition the three individuals would make together.

CJ: I wasn’t.

SF: No, I wasn’t either, I was just thinking of them as individuals. It wouldn’t have mattered if they didn’t fit together because that wasn’t the project. I think we got a good mix in the end.

PB: We did.

CJ: It was also important to find out what they were like as people, not just what their work was like. I wanted to know how serious and how committed they were.

SF: It would have been pointless choosing people that we didn’t feel we could add something to. We turned down people who were very good but it was because we didn’t think we could do much for them, we didn’t feel we could enter into a dialogue. The question we all asked ourselves was: ‘do we want to spend more time with them?’ The fellowship was not a reward, it was an opportunity. We were thinking of it more in terms of being able to help them.

DT: You described the fellowship as a ‘professional development scheme’, offering ‘intellectual support, tangible assistance and artistic stimulus to emerging painters’. Can you give some insight into how these objectives were met?

SF: We went to art exhibitions together, we decided on books and magazines that they should read and created an environment where we could share and swap ideas. We also created a kind of social context where we’d go off on little trips and sit in taxis together.

CJ: Taxis were good; a lot of chat took place in taxis.

PB: In previous incarnations of Jerwood painting shows individuals have either shown one, sometimes two or, if they’re lucky, three pieces of work, but here they’re given a solo exhibition. These three individuals were actually given the opportunity to generate a brand new body of work that led towards an exhibition. That’s where the artistic stimulus came in, not just hanging out with us three and the various people that we introduced them to but also that they got an opportunity to go back to their studios and develop a body of work over a number of months.

SF: I don’t think there’s any bigger gift you can give a young artist. To give these artists an exhibition in a serious venue at this point of their careers is just amazing. This is their first exhibition of this type and it’s really this first exhibition that determines for most people whether they carry on and have a serious career or if it’s a back burner career where you’re earning your money as a barman and, in the end, finding it too difficult to support a studio and so it becomes a tabletop activity that probably fades away into nothing.

DT: Looking at the work currently on show in the Jerwood Space it could be argued that there needs to be a clearer distinction between ‘painters’ and ‘artists who use paint’. Considering the expanded nature of contemporary art practice, do you think the term ‘painter’ still has currency?

CJ: Yes I do. I think it’s really important. Painting is a thing unto itself as I think photography is and installation and sculpture are. It has its own edges, like a painting itself has edges.

SF: When you said photography I was thinking … what’s good about photography is people like Thomas Joshua Cooper who are real photographers, they adore the chemicals, they’ll do anything to get the camera in the right place, and that’s what good painters do.

PB: As you were talking I was thinking about Corinna’s work. Corinna uses photography but it’s simply a delivery system, and that’s all it is, yet she is a painter through and through.

CJ: Yes, she talks in terms of painting.

SF: She has no interest in photography.

CJ: Clare is a fantastic artist but I’m not sure I would call her a painter…

PB: Clare is obviously on the boundary but we felt that for the purposes of this project that she was a painter. Someone else might interpret her work completely differently but we instinctively felt that she sat easily within this company and that was enough for us to consider her a painter. The good thing about the Jerwood in this instance was that they gave us free reign. To a certain extent people were self selecting in that when they sent in their submissions they obviously thought about themselves as painters – after all they were applying for the Jerwood Painting Fellowship. We interpreted the term as we wished.

SF: The idea of being a painter has obviously become more complex because a lot of art schools don’t teach painting any more; they don’t teach drawing, they don’t teach photography. Most painting is self taught now, but when someone like Ewan Uglow was teaching at the Slade, painting was taught by a master and a methodology was handed down. There’s not much being handed down now other than the sense of being an artist; it’s almost as simple as passing on a lifestyle and an accepted set of manners. There isn’t a bag of tricks or a set of skills that go along with studying in art schools today.

PB: Corinna and Clare do think of themselves as painters and that’s very clear when you’re in conversation with them. And the fact that they applied for this fellowship – they knew who the mentors were going to be, two outstanding painters and a curator who has frequently worked with painters. For me this term ‘self selection’ comes through again and again, not only in the selection process but also in the mentoring process.

DT: When I spoke to the artists it was Corinna and Clare who both very much wanted themselves to be seen in the context of painting, whereas Cara, who is most obviously working with paint, isn’t as happy to be defined in this way.

PB: Yes. I can imagine in ten year’s time Cara’s work looking completely different.

SF: I can imagine her being involved in film making.

PB: Yes.

DT: What have you found most rewarding about being mentors?

SF: Seeing them spend the money was good. Two of them got new studios, Clare extended hers and they all spent more time in them. It’s sad but true that work is often only as good as the time and money invested in it. You don’t need to have lots of money to make good paintings but you do need to have good time and it was really good seeing the Jerwood’s money spent so wisely. With a lot of these art prizes my guess is that people pay off their overdrafts, have a holiday and that’s it.

CJ: I was in the wilds of north London near Crouch End and I was going down all these streets with endless gates and each higgledy-piggledy front garden was different, which was just like Corinna’s work. That was a great moment for me.

PB: All great artists show us the world in a new light. For me it’s great to be given an opportunity to help people who want to help themselves. Cara, Clare and Corinna could have put together a really good exhibition without our involvement but, because of the Jerwood, three emerging artists were given a fantastic opportunity, not only financially but also intellectually and, as it transpired, socially. They really grabbed that opportunity and, to a certain extent, we as mentors got carried along in the wake. That was a wonderful thing to experience. You get that with enthusiasts in any subject but it’s lovely to be around people who just want more; they were eager, they had a real appetite and there was never a sense of any tiring.

Post-it Quotes: Marcel Duchamp

1 Jul

Taken from Pierre Cabanne, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp (New York: Viking, 1971), p.93.

Post-it Quotes: Angela de la Cruz

30 Jun

Taken from here.

Artist in Focus: Clare Mitten

23 Jun

David Trigg: Your work seems to be about the mediation of an idea through several different media, whether it be sculpture, collage or painting. How do you go about starting a work?

Clare Mitten: They tend to start with a specific object that I own or with an image of an object that intrigues me – maybe a phone, a clock or some kind of gadget that I want to investigate further. I then attempt to replicate it in 3D using paper or cardboard. The materials I use result in rather crude objects that very quickly start to suggest other things. The gouache paintings then become a way of editing or re-evaluating these objects.

DT: So you make gouache paintings based on the constructions?

CM: Yes, and then the collages are based on those paintings. For several years I’ve had an ongoing fascination with the relationship between object and image. Before I was at the Royal College I was making objects and then making oil paintings of them. But because the objects were made out of these subversive materials and had a very contemporary feel, as soon as I made a painting of them in traditional, conventional painting material they didn’t seem to work. So for a long time it’s been about trying to find a way to have a flat image or to have 2D things that work in tandem with the 3D objects that function as equivalents rather that straight forward copies. The gouache paintings help me to understand the objects. They flatten them in the same way a photograph does but because the process is hand made it encourages other things to happen – surprises and errors that suggest other things. The gouaches are then translated into collages, where again I have to make quite crude decisions. I have to edit further and make decisions about shapes and how they fit together. The collages are much much simpler and sharper but far more abstracted.

Clare Mitten, Burg (creeping up and taking off), 2011

DT: But you’ve chosen not to include any actual paintings in the show.

CM: At one point I was very keen to show the gouaches but somehow they felt less like painting than the rest of the work because they function much more like drawing for me. The paintings are usually a kind of intermediary stage, a process that helps me to understand the work, although sometimes they are a means of catching an object before it moves on or collapses.

DT: The constructions are quite rudimentary. They have the feeling of maquettes or studies for work that is yet to be made or is perhaps not accessible to us.

CM: It’s important that they feel rough and unresolved like sketches because the process is ongoing – there’s rarely a full stop. They’re stages of a larger process and they feel like they’re still in flux. Things keep evolving and start to inform other things and if they were more resolved or cast in bronze then they wouldn’t be able to do that.

DT: In what way do you consider the paper and card constructions ‘painterly’?

CM: I think the process of making these constructions is analogous to painting in that it’s fluid and in flux before solidifying temporarily at the point of exhibition. Also it’s like painting through construction with one thing layered on top of another. They’re very gestural and the roughness of the materials that I use are, for me, very painterly, particularly where the glue and the wetness of the gum strip stain the objects. Similarly with the collages; the fact that they come from the simple flat gestures of the gouaches and then there’s the creases and the folds and the way the paper lifts off from the surface. I think all this starts feeling quite painterly.

Clare Mitten, Still Time, 2011

DT: There is a clear visual relationship between certain works in the show. Take for example the watch strap of Still Time and the caterpillar tracks of the tank in Burg (creeping up and taking off).

CM: The watch strap actually inspired the tank. Also, the large collage – also titled Burg (creeping up and taking off) – is based on a gouache of a slide carousel construction, but the images of projectors I was using suggested tanks as well. That piece connects to the watch face too, so there’s definitely a strong visual connection between those three works.

DT: Looking at your show I thought that the watch had informed the tank and that in turn had informed the collage.

CM: Well in the studio, one comes into being and then other things are often started in tandem. They’re not necessarily made in a linear way; it’s not like I finish one thing which then gives rise to something else. I have multiple things on the go in the studio so automatically they’re feeding off each other. The way I was imagining it in the Jerwood Space was that there are these lines of connection between the objects that don’t flow just one way. It might go from the watch to the tank to the caterpillar track and back to the watch. Then to the watch face back to the collage and from the collage back to the carousel and then round to the other objects in the space. So there’s a kind of back and forth that creates a network in the imagination of the viewer.

Clare Mitten, Burg (creeping up and taking off), 2011

DT: So how do you answer the criticism of those who might say that what you’re doing isn’t really painting?

CM: I think everybody has their own understanding of what painting is but painting is the context of this exhibition and it has always been the context in which I’ve worked. I see myself as a painter and everything I do relates to painting. As a viewer that should start you thinking about how these works might or might not be considered as paintings and this opens up a dialogue.

Clare Mitten, Indoor Static, 2011