VAI Professional Development:
PAINTING AS EMBODIMENT
LONDON-BASED PAINTER VICTORIA WRIGHT OUTLINES SOME OF THE KEY IDEAS SHE SHARED IN THE COURSE OF DELIVERING A PEER CRITIQUE SESSION FOR VISUAL ARTISTS IRELAND’S PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME.
My first visit to Ireland was to take part in the show ‘Making Familiar’ at Temple Bar Gallery + Studios (10 August – 29 Sept 2012). The exhibition paired works by various painters, hanging them in ‘dialogue’ with each other (1). A weekly series of public conversations between the participating artists was a key element of the project. My work was shown alongside paintings by the Irish artist Diana Copperwhite. In our public discussion, held in the gallery, we addressed our inspirations and approaches around working practices – including philosophical ideas and how we each went about creating preparatory imagery for our works.
We also deliberated on ideas regarding conceptual thinking and how useful textual processes are, or are not, in relation to the production of material that could be used within a painting. We touched upon problems inherent in the slowness of painting as a medium, the complexity of how to develop a discourse between text and practice and thoughts around constructing a painting practice that allows for negotiation between conceptual thinking and the physical problem of creating works.
Through my involvement with ‘Making Familiar’ I came to meet many very interesting Irish artists who were grappling with similar preoccupations to my own. I was delighted therefore to receive the invitation from Monica Flynn, VAI’s Professional Development Officer, inviting me to present a peer critique session. The session took place on 27 March at the VAI offices and the participants were: Orla Whelan, Josephine Geaney, Anna Spearman, Monica de Bath, Aine Macken and Frances Nolan (2). While each of the artists presented distinct practices and individual concerns, as a group we all shared some broad concerns in terms of processes, especially in relation to the use of text alongside our respective practices.
In describing my own approach I noted that I like to keep my studio as empty and clinical as possible – removing any earlier works so that I can focus wholly on realising new projects. My general way of working involves taking inspiration from events, social / political discourse and philosophical writing. This creates structures for me to think within and draw inspiration from.
The body of work I showed in my 2012 show at the Josh Lilley Gallery, London, for example – entitled ‘THE GARMENTS OF THE DOMINATORS’ (1 June – 6 July 2012) – drew inspiration from a scrap of writing I found attached to a bus stop around the time of the London riots. The text, written by a local barber, was a strangely operatic explication of the London riots. This idiosyncratic treatise encapsulated Old Testament style paranoia and was based on the author’s amalgamation of overheard views expressed within his barbershop and a grassroots critique of the causes behind social deprivation that he believed had sparked the riots.
The text voiced the impotent expressions of people who feel oppressed and excluded from the political situation on the streets of London – the estranged victims of late capitalism. It added up to a rallying cry, that they should rise up against their oppressors and battle the snake that was slowly constricting its prey. These kinds of sentiments became the impetus behind a body of works exploring the idea of revolution – both as a constructive way to think about my painting, but also in regard to how the works would function in relation to art history and whose voice would be expressed. I wanted to give a platform, for once, to history’s dissenting victims. I see this way of working as analogous to the concept of revolution: texts and ideas themselves can be provocations and the impulse to make a piece of reactive writing is similar to the impulse to make a painting.
I also talked about my curatorial practice, including ‘Asymmetric Dance Class’, which will take place this October at the Josh Lilley gallery and will feature works by Talisker Black, Ed Burdiss, Fiona Sarison, Clare Kenny, Harry Meadows and myself. I’m also hoping to tour the show to some other UK spaces. The exhibition explores Slavoj Zizek’s reading of Jacques Lacan’s (1901 – 1981) idea of disharmony in human relationships. Zizek cites a 1980s British beer advert – a young woman kisses a frog, which turns into a handsome yet rather greedy looking Prince. He pulls her close and kisses her and she morphs into a beer bottle, which the man triumphantly holds in his hand. According to Zizek: “the man needs to reduce the woman to an object of his desire. Because of this asymmetric layout there will be never a relationship between sexes. Either we have a woman with a frog or a man with a bottle of beer: the phantasmic counterpart of this ideal couple would be the figure of a frog, who hugs a bottle of beer – an incongruent picture, which would underline a ridiculous discord instead of some harmony in sexual relationships.” (3)
In relation to curation, I typically aim to situate projects through the study of a specific text with a set of ideas, before looking for works that can perhaps embody and bring life to these concepts through their visual activation. I don’t believe that the artist’s job is to illustrate texts, rather I believe that philosophical ideas – which can be quite difficult to absorb through the text itself – can often be provocatively unpacked and explored through visual means.
I also talked about how in February and March this year, I collaborated with sculptor Hannes Brunner on a show in LOBE, Berlin, project space that programmes pairings of German and British artists working together for each of its shows. Brunner and I made artworks over the eight-week run of the project, with a view throughout to the curation of the finished exhibition. So I have a consciousness that artists ‘self-curate’ their work – which means I’m interested in extending such pedagogic thought processes through other artists’ works, through curation or through otherwise working with artists in events such as the VAI peer review session.
Some of the specific interests and modes of working that really struck me from the peer review group included Áine Macken’s probing of Lacan’s philosophical theory of jouissance in which the concept of ‘lack’ became the provocation for a set of water colour works that explored and embodied Lacan’s complex idea of absence, the splitting of the self and denial of the self.
I was also really struck by Monica De Bath’s startling exploration of land that had been used for peat production, the loss of employment that followed its decline and the complexities of land ownership. For me, these encompassed the ways in which art can become both a document and an interrogation / expression of themes pertinent to the artist.
When faced with the prospect of potentially losing her husband, Francis Nolan was compelled to address the traumatic situation through the process of creating a set of paintings based on her collection of kitsch ornaments. The work became a place of safety to examine the difficult process of grieving for the unknown, and the resulting paintings were personal and moving.
Orla Whelan’s practice is inspired by oceanic creatures, which emerge from somewhere otherworldly. Whelan uses this idea as a vehicle with which to examine the paradox of forming lifeless paint into elegant propositions, where subjects and ‘inhabitants’ feel suspended in another order. Whelan also undertook an interesting project with an architect, who built a scaffold on which the works were hung, challenging the traditional viewing scenario and offering instead something that suggested a penetrable and mobile space and provided another context in which to consider the paintings.
Alice Spearman’s sculptures seem to be somewhere between soft objects and architecture – somehow bridging spaces between the solid walls and columns of the architectural spaces that they often inhabit. They act as interventions, which could be read as a cushioned or tender human zone. In turn her works subvert the feel of the architecture onto which they cling. Spearman’s sculptures seem to ask us to reflect on the nature of architecture and how we occupy it.
I greatly look forward to hearing from all of the artists I met at the peer critique about their future developments and projects.
Vicky Wright studied fashion and textiles at the RCA, graduating in 1992. She completed her MA Fine Art at Goldsmiths in 2008. Recent recent solo shows include: The Garments of the Dominators, Josh Lilley Gallery, London (2012); The Informants, Josh Lilley Gallery, London (2010). Recent group exhibitions include: The Hecklers, New Art Gallery Walsall, Walsall; MUTAGEN, ASC Gallery, London (both 2013); The Dorian Project, Second Guest, New York (2012) and Making Familiar, Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin (2012). Vicky Wright is represented by the Josh Lilley Gallery and lives and works in London.
1. The other pairings of artists featured in the show were: Mark Swords & Paul Doran; Mary Ramsden & Mark Joyce; Daniel Pitin & Eithne Jordan; Andreas Golder & Damien Flood; Peter Burns & Kevin Mooney.
2. . ‘Peer Critique: Painting – with Vicky Wright’ (27 March, 2014, VAI Offices, Dublin) was devised to create dialogue and openness between artistic peers and foster networking and continued peer support amongst participants. The format of the event comprised each artist making a presentation about their work, followed by a constructive and supportive group discussion.
3. Slavoj Zizek How to Read Lacan 2006