Matthew Musgrave was born 1985. He lives and works in London, having recieved an MA from the Royal College of Art (2011), and a BA from Chelsea College of Art and Design (2008). He has exhibited widely, selected exhibitions include, a solo show at Supplement, London (2012), and group exhibitions at Josh Lilley, London (2009, 2010, 2010), the Zabludowicz Collection, London (2010) and Stroud House Gallery, Stroud (2010). His work was included in Jerwood Contemporary Painters (2009) and Saatchi’s New Sensations (2008) prize exhibitions.

Estelle Thompson was born in 1960. She studied at the Royal College of Art, London 1983–1986 and lives and works in London. She has exhibited nationally and internationally including eight solo shows at Purdy Hicks, London (most recently 2009), and solo shows at Wetterling Gallery, Stockholm, (2004), The New Gallery, Walsall (2001) and Rosenberg and Kaufman Fine Art, New York (2001). Selected group exhibitions include, Back and Forth, B55, Budapest (2012), Calligrams, Eagle Gallery, London (2010), L’apres moderne, Project Midi, Brussels (2008) and Drawing Breath, National Art School Galleries, Sydney (2007). Her work is included in major collections internationally including the Arts Council of Great Britain, British Council, British Museum, New York Public Library, Contemporary Arts Society, Towner Art Gallery, Ferens Art Gallery, Abbott Hall Art Gallery, Oldham Art Gallery and Deustche Bank.

Ivan Liotchev was born in 1982 in Sofia, Bulgaria and is currently based in Manchester. Holding an MFA from the Slade School of Art, London and a BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, USA, he has exhibited widely across the UK, USA, Bulgaria and Turkey. Recent exhibitions include A Million Minutes, AIR Central Saint Martins, London (2012); Moneymaker: International Collaborative Drawing Project, The Art House, Wakefield (2013); and Rive Gauche, Null and Void Projects, London (2011). Recent awards include an Arts Council England grant for artists and the Juliet Gomperts Trust. 

Flore Nové-Josserand (right) lives and works in London. She holds an MFA from the Slade School of Fine Art (2007), a Diplôme National Supérieur d’Art Plastique (DNAP) from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Art de Paris-Cergy, Cergy, France (2005) and a BSC in Biology from Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, London (2001). Recent exhibtions include Summer Show, Cul de Sac, London, UK (2013), Warm Breeze Over Rock, The Royal Standard, Liverpool, (2013), Flatfile, Eastside Projects, Birmingham, UK (2012), 俺たちの愛情で世界中を燃えあがらせてやるぜ。やりま くるぞ 。, Angus-Hughes Gallery, London (2012), and Group Occupation, The New Art Gallery Walsall, Walsall, UK (2012).


Robert Holyhead was born in 1974 in Trowbridge, UK. He lives and works in London. He has had three one-person exhibitions with Karsten Schubert (2009, 2010 and 2012), a solo show at PEER (2012), and took part in the Whitechapel Gallery's East End Academy: The Painting Edition (2009). Other group shows include Towards a New Abstraction, Fondazione MACC, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Calasetta, Italy (2012/2013); The Space Between, Tate Britain, London (2012/2013); British Modern Remade: Style. Design. Glamour. Horror, Park Hill, Sheffield (2012); Corridor, Oechsner Galerie, Nuremburg (2010/11); Contested Ground, 176, London (2009). The Arts Council Collection, the Government Art Collection, and the Tate collection have acquired his work.

Nicholas John Jones (left) was born in Taplow, UK in 1982. He holds an MFA in Fine Art from the Slade School of Art (2011), and a BA from Wimbledon School of Art (2006). He received the Kirsgillow Residency Award, Florence (2011). He has been artist in residence at the Sunhe Museum, Hangzhou, China (2012), and at GURA, Kyoto, Japan (2012), and at The Trelex Residency, Switzerland, 2012. Recent exhibitions include, 1, Block 336, London (2012), Embedded Reflectons, Dahan Gallery, China, (2012), Takoyaki & Chips, Kokinen, Japan (2012), Invention of Painting, Centre for Recent Drawing, London, Istanbul was Constantinople, Hush Gallery, Istanbul, (2010) and SomeThingWicked, Sydney Metropolitan Art Gallery, Australia.

Can painting transcend the comfortable confines of society’s internet-centered framework to find new strategies for positive progression? Is there such a thing as post-internet awareness/logic?

In today's image-savvy culture, what makes a painting become more than just another image?

HEAD TO HEAD takes on three questions relevant to how painting that maintains its traditional format might continue to progress today. Three pairings of works become points against which to situate your own position for each question and invite you to consider whether paintings like these continue to contribute to a broader debate in art. Standoffs, arguments, and flirty winks provoke a charged space for urgent discussion about current issues in painting.

The stripped back, straightforward, questioning dialogue, created by this pairing dynamic aims to charge the air between the two works with epiphanic potential. This 3-part journey pinpoints avenues of possibility along which painters continue to move forward.

Alongside these questions and works that address them, four texts provide context and further thoughts regarding painting at this point. Each writer was simply asked not to aswer the questions, but instead to produce something that addressed points they considered significant regarding painting at this point.

There is no empty space in art

Martin Holman

In October 1942, Marcel Duchamp provided the layout of an exhibition of Surrealist works to aid inhabitants of Nazi-occupied France. He had been asked to be economical as possible with the installation and string, he knew, was cheap. So Duchamp bought 16 miles of the material and set to work. He wound an almost impenetrable web around exhibits and furniture, connecting framed documents with light fittings, furniture and door handles. The job was done with just over a mile of string used.

Children loved it. They had the temerity to enter the entanglement with confidence. On the opening night, specially encouraged by Duchamp to make it their playground, they adapted the erratically fastened skeins for skipping, football, hide-and-seek and other distractions. I have not found any juvenile testimony of the quality of the exhibition but the descriptions of that first night by adults attest to their pleasure at its presentation.

Everyone else (I imagine that to mean ‘adults’) had difficulties with finding their way to the paintings. The environment was so off-putting that they began to complain about the children. “Mr Duchamp told us we could play here,” was their retort and no doubt set off as much head-scratching as irritation among the puzzled guests.

We cannot know for certain Duchamp’s intention for his design. Refreshingly, and in exemplary fashion, he never felt the need to explain himself. But it is unlikely that he had chosen to upstage his peers; even if scene-stealing was in his character, a charity event was hardly the occasion.

No, maybe the Frenchman’s sublime Dadaist act was provocative for a constructive reason. One thought is that it reminded visitors that play occupies an essential part in our attempts to make sense of the world we inhabit and, as art is closer to the hub of that world than our higher-educated selves will often admit, to make sense of the art we see. We put aside the educative properties of play far too soon in our lives.

Or, just as persuasively, Duchamp wanted to make physical a metaphor for the difficulties, endlessly articulated in newspapers, then and now, that the layman is presumed to encounter (and often does) in attempting to interpret modern art.

Interpret or, as some still describe it, to “understand” modern art. Duchamp would have recoiled from attempts to “understand” his work. And it’s my belief that art does not exist to be understood. And, by and large, comprehension remains elusive, perhaps even by the artist who made it. The question mark hangs over much of what we look at.

Moreover, that is especially true of work classified as “modern art” or “contemporary art”, two more distinctions that I do not accept as existing. For our experience of art is always contemporary, regardless of its chronological era. Even though one cannot underestimate the part history plays in revealing its references, the best work transcends epoch.

Instead, art thrives in the present moment and from its earliest forms has remained, at its progressive edge, beyond the non-practitioner’s ability to “get it” from the idealism of Hellenistic sculpture to Braque and Picasso’s Cubism or, indeed, Duchamp’s re-evaluation of the object "to put art back in the service of the mind." I looked today at a painting that Titian completed in the 1510s; my approach to it hardly differed from the appraisal a serious piece of new work deserves by a living artist.

Thus, I maintain that art thrives in the present moment. From its earliest forms has been the outcome of questions asked by its makers and by its observers, the people on the receiving end, as it were.

The types of questions can be categorised, and academics and theorists have done so. They are formal, aesthetic, emotional in nature, among other bases, and they come out of memory, fantasy, reason and the irrational. Already, just the mental image of this invisible computing and comparing seems to be filling the space between the observer and the observed like numerous light beams cutting through the atmosphere.

For the artist, questions emerge from certainty or doubt, struggle and ecstasy, need or indulgence, the repetitive and the unique. These are among the emotions and states of mind that thicken the atmosphere in the studio, a place that is prison and playground to the artist, as well a manifestation of that person’s artistic past, present and aspired for future.

Questions often support or, even, generate the struggle that is an integral part of making, the need to make another painting, object or whatever. Questions, therefore, can help to justify another picture. They are proofs of creativity within boundaries, and they may arise from a patron’s instructions, the circumstances of the most competitive art of former eras or, more perniciously and the reality of much made now at the most progressive level, from the stranglehold of expectations, the artist’s own or those of others.

Anyhow, back to Duchamp’s room. I mention it because the idea interests me of making physical patterns of behaviour, thought, attitudes and the mental processes of absorption and reaction. The reason for this is a conviction that experiencing art is as three-dimensional as walking through high wind, playing a contact sport or, even, illness. The experience is fully sensual and its parameters go beyond the visual assessment of formal attributes of colour, line and surface and the mental decoding of them into a narrative with which the viewer can occupy the pictorial space imaginatively.

While I am writing, there are several weeks to go before this exhibition opens in Manchester. But the form it has in my imagination is already more than a linear arrangement of different-sized rectangles on a whitewashed gallery wall. Perhaps I have allowed visual documentation of Duchamp’s astonishing installation influence my mind. But what happened in that private ballroom at 451 Madison Avenue in wartime New York City could easily serve to illustrate what happens when an artwork falls under the gaze of a thinking spectator. Or maybe it’s more accurate to offer this image of mental ping-pong as representing what an artist hopes will happen. The air will move.

The photographic record of the Duchamp room resembles one of those photographs in which a person’s movement within a space has been traced in beams of light. Or when lines are drawn across an image to follow the trajectory of the human eye back-and-forth between points of interest. We could settle for it being a combination of both, at least, if not more phenomenological events. No longer a mere container, the space in which the meeting occurs and its architecture become curiously energised. A foreign terrain opens up to the senses. They wrap around and across and up and down the place in the effort to deduce the significance of the object of their attention.

I suppose what I mean is that I conceive of the project (and, indeed, of any successful exhibition) three-dimensionally. That may be illogical bearing in mind the concentration of Head to Head on painting. Where dimensions are concerned, painting can only really claim two. But the show is not only about painting. Its particular appeal is to stress the encounter with paintings as well as the paintings themselves, and we can apply that experience to other art forms, like sculpture, installation, photography, film.

The choice of the organisers (two painters) to restrict their thesis-inducing project to painting has the unexpected effect of heightening awareness of our physical and mental behaviour. Why? Because, in spite of its millennia-long existence, painting is arguably less seen in early-twenty-first century exhibitions than its volumetric or time-based cultural compatriots. For all its ancestry, painting has become to seem, perhaps momentarily in its grand historic span, strangely novel.

Whether paintings are images in their own right or figurations of a reality familiar from the everyday, they have, by their nature, the epidemiology of propositions; once released, hypotheses have the tendency to multiply and spread. Some, inevitably, are easily contained and eradicated. But others settle with a viral insistence, incubating rapidly before presenting the recipient beneficially with keys to a kind of thinking.

Pairing makers, placed together deliberately and with discretion by the selectors, anticipates dialogue. It extends the existence of their work from the flat plain that typically hosts painting into open debate by virtue of the equally open mind that, coming upon them in a location dedicated to that purpose, seeks to interpret that surface into significance.

At that point, the turnover of many ideas activates mental space. If we can correlate that mental space with the place a body occupies, you might then begin to share my view that this exhibition emphasises on something – or some things – more than registering visual representations.

Taking account of painting in this physical way inevitably underlines the fact that observation brings art out of latency and into its active mode. What sight does is to complete the circuit, just as the “on” switch releases charged current. The chain reaction that ensues somehow ionizes the air of the gallery within the intimate exchange between observer and object. Another viewer will have an independent and equally intimate intellectual encounter within a shared, public setting.

Inspiration is often depicted as a bolt of lightning. Well, meteorological dramas on that scale are less common in the atmosphere around art. But they happen, depending on the mix of negatives and positives the visitor brings to the task. At different altitudes possible new perspectives on the familiar can flash overhead. Or a point of view opens up, as literally as Duchamp’s string parodied the entanglements of art, that we were never before so lucidly aware of experiencing.

None of this is easy.  No guarantee exists that the connection will spark. That is not because of any failure of intelligence by either party if, on the one hand, the painting is charged to start with and, on the other, the observer is willing to receive. Compliance does not come into it, in much the same way as no gallery space deserves to be passive.

The space that art occupies is electric, although sometimes the current does not flow.

© Martin Holman

21 January 2013


Nicholas John Jones: Points for Thought

In putting together this exhibition, Ivan and I wanted to encourage dialogue around questions that struck us as relevant in approaching painting at the present moment. The works were selected to visually offer avenues of possibility that represent different approaches taken right now that we find interesting. These are not offered as definitive answers but as considered suggestions that provide points by which to navigate personal standpoints – after all these questions do not have finite answers.

We wanted the texts for this publication to provide context and points for thought rather than attempt to answer the questions directly, so here I wanted to take a personal perspective and address a couple of things I consider interesting and relevant right now.

1. The positive roll of doubt

Doubt is generally considered a negative attribute, suggesting weakness. To me it seems natural and positive for artists seeking progression to doubt their direction, after all it is not an easy journey, particularly in the labyrinth of today’s art world. Doubt signifies a positive and genuine engagement and struggle with issues of the moment, rather than a blind fumble through the dark or an overconfident charge.

To dedicate yourself and persevere despite doubt, does this suggest inherent worth, or is it simply a foolish kamikaze of stubborn ignorance? Well, of course if the doubts turn to lack of genuine belief or interest, then there is a point to let go, but in fact as long as this doubt does not suddenly overwhelm, then the questioning it symbolises, should lead you away from a dead end, instead progressing in a new direction.

The balance between doubt and belief is crucial. The belief that the path you are on will reach somewhere pristine, somewhere wonderful is balanced against the doubt that it might possibly take you to some tourist trap filled with others who have already taken the best spots. The approach taken on this journey is crucial, doubts cause you to consider your surroundings more thoroughly, carefully selecting which path to tread; thought leads to advancement. Woe betides those who follow their feet blindly.

Doubt played a significant role in the formulation of HEAD TO HEAD, with it’s questioning format aimed at exploring those doubts and bringing to attention relevant issues for debate about a medium that seems to have gone quiet. Hopefully the doubts that brought these questions to the fore will instigate intelligent consideration of channels of progress.

2. The cultural specificity of looking

Most people take looking for granted. We look, we see something, we have a feeling about it, we like or don’t. We might occasionally question whether we have enough information to understand what we are looking at, but most of the time the fact that our aesthetic taste and the way that we approach things is learnt rather than inherent is of little consequence.

In the arts, as artists and art lovers, the things we appreciate change over time as our conceptual and aesthetic sophistications develop. The way that we learn to look is affected by the lessons we learn about how to think and what to look for, stemming from our cultural values, philosophies, artistic histories. Though we each develop personal aesthetic preferences (or perhaps due to the subjectivity of our preferences), aesthetics have for a long time not been a criteria of primary relevance in judging value in the arts, even where they are a major concern relevance must be justified with the focus being on the why rather than the what. So if we have learnt to assign value by questioning the connotations and connections evoked by what we see, while also being aware of the sensation of its presence, it follows that precedence within art of particular localities will effect ways of thinking, perception and looking. Different histories will lead to different aspects of appreciation and different ways of seeing. This leads me to what I will term the cultural specificity of looking.

Even within our increasingly globalised world, the way that differing populations as a general mass view the world (and art) shift. As a suitable example given the context of this publication I will consider how the way generalised societies look at painting shifts.

In England, we have a strong history of image and narrative with the like of John Constable, Stanley Spencer, J M W Turner, and Lucian Freud holding strong positions in the national psyche. Even the best know of our abstract artists – Francis Bacon, Patrick Heron, Henry Moore, Frank Auerbach – have figurative bases. On viewing an abstract work, no matter how pure, people will so often say something like; it reminds me of… or that looks like... they instinctively look to find image. Even when we know there is no specific image. The English look for associations, for a something to project into.

On encountering the exact same non-representational work, somebody from the US will often have a different reaction. They will consider how what they see affects them, makes them feel, consider what the piece offers them as an object, rather than an image. The strongest and most emphasised elements of America’s art history stem from the second half of the Twentieth Century, with abstract expressionism, minimalism, and conceptualism all moving away from image and narrative.

Largely closed off from the rest of the world for much of its history, China has a history of image making that changed very little over several hundred years and in which Chinese traditional painting still holds a strong position alongside contemporary art. Involving simplification, unrealistic perspective, and flattening of space, Chinese traditions focus on concerns of narrative, philosophy and the spiritual over accurate representation – as we pursued in the western world following the Renaissance. China’s education system continues to value technique and symbolism highly, and interestingly there is little abstraction in Oriental contemporary art. My experiences of Chinese viewing abstract painting saw high value being set on technique and space – space being fundamentally tied with the philosophic projection of the self into an image). It is as if the question of significances of object or image are irrelevant – image has never been the primary point of engage, for the Chinese it is about the philosophy behind the work, and how it pulls the viewer in to it.

While this theory generalises, individual experiences of the histories that surround us create personal interests. Across a culture, these individual specificities of looking combine to create cultural precedencies. As connectivity and migration between cultures continues to increase, it will be interesting to see how traditions of cultural perspectives develop.

3. The increased relevance of the handmade

The event of Duchamp’s readymade in 1915 devalued the traditional importance of the artist’s hand in art. Ever since, the parameters of art have rapidly expanded with artists embracing new technological developments, some practices have expanded into alternative fields (i.e. science, advertising, mass production, theatre, cooking, comedy) while others have abandoned the gallery altogether in favour of more social places to engage an audience.

Today, with scientific advances meeting methods of mass production, advanced technologies are ready available at a reasonable price. We have the option to be constantly in touch with a world of communication and knowledge. Understandably, Western society has become saturated by devices designed to make our lives more comfortable, productive, and to keep us entertained.

In this post-internet age the constant buzz of communication seems as natural as the multitude of advertising images that surround us.  We understand that most products are mass-produced to contain inbuilt-obsolescence that limits their life so that we must buy new ones. Handwriting is becoming less and less important in schools as children instead gain an incredible fluency with the keyboard. I do not suggest that in this situation we should repent our love of technology – far from it. This situation does however, by contrast underline and enhance the value of the handmade.

The increasing novelty of the handmade, rather than suggesting obsolescence, seems to highlight the qualities it offers, raising them from the everyday to the revered – in something of a reversal of the situation when technologies such as the computer where first being pioneered. That people continue to make with their hands, in an environment where to buy something pre-made would be more cost effective, is a testament to our desire to create and to learn though doing.

In the arts, the handmade offers a space that has great potential to explore, create and communicate in a way that is intimate, personal and direct. The fallibility of a human touch or deftness of a master’s hand become engaging alternatives to screen or machined surface, that can shift in the manner and pace at which we absorb information, creating new perception and awareness of time. This quality becomes increasingly apparent as the pace of daily life continues to increase.

This is by no means an obituary for the handmade, or a desperate conservative longing for the old days, I simply offer for thought the notion of a flux in our relationship to production in this rapidly changing world.

© Nicholas Jones   25.01.13

Nina Rodin

Thoughts on Abstract Painting

In the studio of one of London’s last painting courses we wryly joked that for something that is dead, Painting is certainly exhibiting some curious symptoms. There is however no denying that  we are past a point of no return with respect to an age of innocence where marks were yet to be invented and where merely letting paint do its stuff as a direct extension of the artist’s thoughts and emotions was original and could be construed as sincere. Navel-gazing painters who stick to the expressionist mark as one that represents emotion make me cringe with their naivety. Perhaps this is why  a number of abstract painters feel ‘ up against the wall’. In ‘La peinture est presque Abstraite’, the existence of abstract painting seemed almost denied: all painting is representational, there is no such thing as painting that is just itself. All painting is image, it cannot just be mark and process. Declaring yourself an abstract painter with brush and canvas today thus seems a stubborn act of defiance, a position, an attitude. How can you insist on invention within a medium that is but a series of quotes of gestures already performed by others? Every brush mark feels like an imitation of the marks of those that have come before me, every painting feels derivative. The notion of the hand of the artist as a value seems outdated: trying to invent a new mark for yourself seems like a desperately forced attempt at affirming difference. Whether you apply the paint through the intermediary of a joystick or an electric drill, I will be briefly amused but walk away shrugging my shoulders and wondering what the point is. If originality through touch is no longer possible, then why not simply exploit the amazing productivity of the digital image, where variations in colour and composition can be experimented with infinitely faster, then choose a form of mark making from the archives of history and send the whole project off to china where skilled craftmen can imitate the hand of any artist.

I would like to propose that the reason we painters keep banging our head against this wall that we feel pushed up against has something to do with touch. When I work on studies for my work using photography and photoshop, there comes a point where I am overtaken by a physical urge to return to the materiality of paint, an almost primeval desire for the visceral mess of pigment and binder. Though we have become more and more adept at talking about concept and form in our bejargonned statements, dig a little deeper and this infatuation with the damn stuff is what draws contemporary painters back to the coloured mud again and again. Talking to Nicole Hassler, a Geneva-based artist who produces immaculate and conceptually tight monochrome panels with nail varnish or cosmetic foundation powders, I was relieved but not really surprised at her admission over tea in my studio that it was all very good, but she needed to get back to ‘la matière’.

I find that this urge is satisfied in equal measure when I actively paint or when I look at a painting but hardly at all or much less directly when I look at a reproduction,whether printed or digital. I believe this has something to do  with the mirror neurons or empathy neurons - a subset of neurons in our brain which do not distinguish between self and other. For example, some fire in exactly the same way whether I move my hand or watch someone else make the same hand movement. Thus if I see someone painting, there is a small part of my brain which feels exactly as if I was painting myself: touch by another is experienced like touch by myself. By extension, I believe that when I look at Fiona Rae’s latest paintings, the excitement I feel is to do with the illusion that I might have painted them myself , the memory of an illusion of touch, and it is all I can do to stop myself running a hand over their surface. By contrast, what the images of the same paintings on a computer screen fail to convey, is a sense of the layers, the thickness of the paint. The image is physically flat and does not engage our stereoscopic vision or our sense of touch. It starves it. And so there is no empathy, only detachment, a flat array of pixels that sooner or later sends us scuttling out in search of physical presence, yearning for a communion with the painter through the thin surface of the canvas, the relief of standing in front of the real thing in a gallery and leaning in to its flimsy but real depth of surface, layers, time and labour, personal engagement and sincerity. No shortcut combination on the keyboard here: painting allows for no hurry, no impatience.

Painting can be skinned, crucified and disemboweled, burnt and dismembered. Emptied out of meaning to our heart’s content. It survives and remains relevant because we are animals who need to touch.


Andrew Smaldone: Good Usage

Darkrooms and non digital printmaking studios have all but vanished in many United States universities making a black and white photography course or an intaglio printmaking course – both seminal classes in a foundation student’s education as recent as ten years ago – virtually obsolete today.  Painting, on the other hand, is really the only wet media (along with ink drawing) still being taught everywhere despite being impractical.  Classrooms are full of would be painters and in a post studio art world, there are plenty of studio seekers; people with postgraduate degrees who are perfectly willing to spend their time and money on empty spaces where they can make paintings.

The contemporary painter most definitely has a presence in the artworld, but it does seem next to impossible for most to agree on what makes a painting good today.  In the summer of 2012 ‘good’ meant Giorgio Morandi and Julie Mehretu both having works at curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s dOCUMENTA (13).  I’m basing my definition of good on the hypothesis that these two painters ‘beat out’ all other painters to occupy a place at, debatably, the world’s most prestigious international art exhibition.  Morandi’s paintings might be described as the antithesis of technology and the fast paced fragmented world we live in.  It’s as if Morandi touches something deep within us and, thus, continues to receive an abundance of praise and exhibitions the world over.

In 2011, I went to see a few Morandi’s at a local gallery called Galleria Frediano Farsetti in Florence with British art critic Martin Holman (who has also contributed to this catalogue).  Some of the Morandi’s were real knockouts but others not so much.  It wasn’t a salon style hang, but there were plenty of paintings all bunched together in long rows.  It’s the kind of thing that most contemporary painters cringe at.  Yet with Morandi anything goes: his work can show up at the hippest spaces in New York, London, and Germany but it’s also going to make appearances at the local gallery too.  Whereas, there’s not a chance in hell that Julie Mehretu is coming to a local gallery near you, unless your local gallery is Marian Goodman Gallery.

The point I’m making is that with Morandi it doesn’t really matter where his work is being shown.  I’d also say that he’s an anomaly because his work is both provincial and international at the same time.  He found the universal in the local, which is why one can see a Morandi in a small gallery in Florence and at a huge international show in Kassel.  Yet most living painters won’t find the Morandi example an easy one to follow.  It’s more likely that a painter will be judged harshly for having an exhibition at a local gallery.  Good painting today, on the contrary, seems to be based largely on where a painter is showing.  If the gallery is good then the painting is good. 

Let me attempt to clarify by using an example from music.  A painter friend made the point once to me that if someone says they saw a certain band the first question is never, “Where were they playing?” but any number of other questions pertaining to the music or genre of music the band was playing.  If, on the other hand, two artists are speaking about new work one of them saw, the first question is almost always, “Where were they showing?”.  The answer allows the other artist to classify said painter almost immediately.  

I think, in conclusion, that the best attitude for a painter today is to make paintings with a certain, “Who cares?” mentality.  I say this not to be facetious, but rather to state that making is the first act of painting.  I believe that an artist is coming to art, and if a person creates art through painting then he or she is an artist who paints.  There are plenty of people who would like for this to happen in paint but often it happens with another medium or not at all.  For me, engaging with painting is a lifestyle, and I think it is for most painters.  I feel it’s worth spending some time with a painter’s work, even though we know we’ll never look at a painting as long as the artist did when it was in their studio.

Andrew Smaldone is an artist, writer and lecturer who has written for a variety of international art publications including ArtReview, Fisk Frisk, Input Journal and others.  In 2005 he co-founded ArtSEEN Journal, acting as senior editor until 2008.  Recently, exhibitions of his work have taken place in Italy, the UK and the USA, while upcoming exhibitions will take place in Palermo and Hamburg.  He lives and works in Florence.

Is there still merit in taking painting as the prime subject – rather than using it as a means to illustrate an external concept?