Gonzo: Some New Painting in London


everything talked to some of the artists from the Gonzo and World of Painting shows about those three redoubtable old chestnuts: irony, the death of painting and, (oops) a new spirit in art.
The artists are: (from the World of Painting show) John Chilver (JC) paints pictures of stiles and railings using a square section steel applicator. Paul Morrison (PM) Astrix the Gaul or Fred Flintstone might be the inhabitants of the rustic scenery in Paul's recent paintings and Michael Raedecker (MR) Suburban boulevard-scapes and holiday in interiors, combining paint and cotton thread . (From Gonzo): Luke Gottelier (LG) Photographs of arranged stuff to look like landscapes. Keith Farquhar (KF) Abstract felt-tip pen paintings and Stuart Cumberland (SC) portraits of friends and cover version paintings of Rembrandt's.

e: When I went to see these two shows both John and Luke said that they could discern a shift over the last six months in the way people were approaching this thing called producing art. Firstly, I'd like to ask John and Luke what they think characterises that shift and then open the discussion to the rest of you.

LG: When I was putting the show together I just approached the artists I liked. It was when the show was in place that it seemed like something new was going on. With Gonzo, and a lot of other exhibitions recently , I think there has been a change in attitude.

JC: I'd always planned to do a painting show at Unit and there were a lot of shows going on like Bank's Mask of Gold, and a lot of interesting painting at City Racing, which seemed to be about a parody and piss take of painting. I thought there was a lot of work going on that wasn't really getting a voice which involved satire and burlesque but still believed that you could use the languages of painting in a non-pastishe way.

e: Do you think it's possible to do that given that painting has so much excess baggage ?.

LG: A lot of painting that's around today, and quite a lot of the work in the Gonzo show, gets accused of being ironic (particularly Martin Maloney, who is quite straight forward about painting what interests him, it's just that one of his interests is art). PM: A lot of the painters are actually quite genuine although observers might call it pastiche, ironic or knowing. There is an element of knowingness but they don't do it to take the piss. When the Michael Stubbs pictures [in theWorld of Painting] were first shown at Nicola Jacobs in 1990 they were kind of taking the piss, but he's someone who's now really into paintingŹŠ he's kept going and ended up doing what he was originally mimicking Š which kind of proves that he wasn't taking the piss in the first place.

e: So there's an assumption in the viewer that there's an irony to it. But that's a problem in itself Š it will inevitably be read ironically.

JC: Everyone who is working in these two shows is aware of that expectation so in that respect it is knowing.

SC: But I think it goes a lot further than being simply knowing. The artists we are talking about are utterly convinced in what they are doing and I think that shows.

K F: I think in my case it's more than just irony, it's much more to do with setting up a sort of idiosyncratic faith system. Of course everyone uses irony and there's no good reason why that shouldn't come into their art. But for me it's more about setting up a faith system that can deal with these historic issues about painting, and can be a bit irresponsible with it.

CJ: I was wondering Keith, do you see what you do as painting ?

KF: Yes. I'm still doing the pen stuff but I'm also trying to use more paint. I don't want to be gimicky I want to pare it down and make it simple.

e: There was something in the Gonzo and World of Painting show that seemed to be about emptying out meaning. This contrasted with the Mask of Gold and the Keith Coventry show [at the showroom around about the same time] which seemed to be about openly displaying those traditional problems.

LG: I think that a lot of that kind of art is 'end game art' concerned with 'the death of painting'. I don't think the artists in Gonzo and the World of Painting are so interested in that issue any more.

SC: It's not as if weÕre denying any possibilities. What might be common to both the shows is that the people involved aren't interested in that question anymore Whatever it is we'll be doing will be much more bizarre, idiosyncratic, rich, weird and multi layered. We can make as many references as we like, but it doesn't have to be so formulaic anymore Š it doesn't have to be the usual 'modernism gone wrong' thing. LG: If someone goes to see an art show and they're confronted with a painting of a house, they want to believe that it's more than just that, and so they accuse it of being ironic. Maybe it's not.

e: But if it isn't ironic, it would just be there. If it is ironic it can get filled up with lots of other stuff and there would be there's more for commentators to talk about. So, what does it mean to make something without a reference or inflection to something else ?

SC: The issue isn't whether it's ironic or not and maybe that's characteristic of what's happening now, it's not seen as black and white, there are lots of other shades, it's not simply dogma, it's more multi layered so the points of reference are quite rich KF: People aren't limited, they paint what they like. A lot of people are interested in painting things which are quite close to them.

e: There's the idea that painting is a marginal activity that it travels on a limited area within the art world.

LG: I don't think it is marginal, I think it's central. If you look at the best artists who came out of the Freeze generation, it was people like Fiona Ria (rea?) and Ian Davenport and they were new.

JC: I think everybody in the World of Painting and the Gonzo shows are interested in making references to things outside painting. Keith makes things that look like white boards. ThatÕs the crux of the work; that it's close to the language of painting but it's got that ephemeral quality .I guess that's a generational thing, ten years ago you weren't allowed to do that. Someone like Simon Link was doing Art Forum paintings and had an obligation to be critical of commodities or of the art world within the work. I think that maybe we're fortunate that we don't have that. So there's something to be grasped now that won't necessarily be around in another five years time.

KF: I don't think we should be too frightened of the word irony. If there is an irony it's not so much to do with attacking painting. It's a much more natural irony about the way people respond to their lives. People responding to situations in a wider realm, trying to make work which is close to their lives, in the same flavour of how they live their lives. That is a much more natural irony than using strategic art language . SC: I thought the world of painting show had a lot to do with application.

JC: Yes I think that's true. I see it as an antidote to process abstraction. I think application has got a bad name because of it and I see that as a wasted opportunity. MR: I use a lot of threads in my paintings but after a time you don't question its use any more than you would question the use of paint.

SC When you know artists who have a reputation that sort of consideration would drop away.

KF: That's a liberty that this generation has.

PM: I was quite surprised when people came to the show and said; 'did you make those? We had a really good laugh at them.' IÕm not to sure that I made them to be laughed at. You say that our generation have got that liberty but as soon as somebody else comes to it they have a different mentality.

MR: IÕm sure everyone doesn't laugh

LG: I did

JC: There were a lot of painters about ten years ago who weren't particularly innovative about the way you apply paint materials. There was nothing new in Glenn Brown's way of applying paint. It seems to me that a lot of that's been put on hold. A lot of the Freeze generation weren't thinking about different ways to apply paint. They were thinking more of what other kinds of paint can you do drip paintings with (Ian Davenport) or what other ways can you do minimalism with (Gary Hume).The idea you could think about other ways of applying paint was uncool because you might end up in some kind of Morris Louis type cul-de-sac.

PM: I think Ian Davenport deserves a lot of credit.

JC: We'll agree to differ on that one.

PM: There seems to be something there at the moment. The whole freeze generation thing is so full, there isn't room for anyone else so people just have to carry on doing what they're doing.

KF: But I think there is an interesting thing in painting right now there's a climate where people happen to make paintings that just hang on walls. Polk made paintings in an abjact way after being a student of Beuys, who was very anti painting. I think the climate is a bit like that again . I think people are making things not too difficult for the viewer, not necessarily in the content, but actually putting the thing on the wall is easier Š no messing about with instillations and things.

PM: Do you think itÕs anti museum ?

LG: I think it's anti content, all very shallow, which is good because artists are stupid so it's probably better if they avoid the content.YouÕre stupid Keith, I know that. PM: He's quite surprised me actually .

KF: .... People don't question that a painting is a commodity and that's fine. I never go into darkened rooms and watch videos. I like looking at something nice on the wall. JC: I think anti content is another type of content, but I agree with Keith that people seem to be less bothered about orchestrating the content or directing it or giving it a theoretical package. People are more interested in leaving that to the viewer. SC: I think it's a question of being less didactic about content, these painting's aren't telling you the correct reading. The content is there to be discovered.

KF: There's a sense of people being a bit more humble, a bit more informal...

LG: There are different production values but I think people just want to do the same thing as ever, get money and have a show in a beautiful white gallery. I have White Cube fantasies, Lisson fantasies the same as everyone else.

KF: The thing about aspirations is that you can't make work to fulfil career aspirations Š you can't do that Š it's the wrong way to go about it. It just doesn't happen. It's impossible for an artist to sell out.

JC: The fact that Luke answered the point about aspirations in terms of career is interesting. It was a cynical answer to that question. In the end work is separate from success. I'd see it more in terms of somebody giving someone a picture that they could live with. That is less aspirational than the ambitions of an artist working ten years ago. I think everybody here would want to make work that people could live with for twenty years.

PM: Matisse !

JC: I didn't say it was an armchair.

© Interview Steve Rushton 1998 elogo