Painting Here and Now: Tate Britain and beyond…

How many things can happen in only one week? This week has been frantic with my part time job as an academic and also working on my own process of being/becoming a professional artist. Besides the actual painting I also need to work on the “business” side of art: selling, pricing, marketing, promotion, networking. Many artists find these actions a bit repellent, but the important thing here for me is to start thinking on ways to share what I do and give my work a material expression. In previous posts I have talked about “coming out” of the artist closet, and this involves also to meet like-minded people: fellow artists, gallerists, designers, and to keep a dialogue with what is going on in the art world. The key words here are RENEWAL and EMPOWERMENT (I am part the on-line project Arts Empowers Me started by American artists Melissa Dinwiddie and art business coach Cory Huff –The Abundant Artist-).

Apart of the on-line forums and the occasional book about “being an artist”, I’ve tried to meet some fellow artists, so I am attending exhibitions, galleries openings and just following the work of interesting artists in internet. Recently I have had the fortune to meet a number of fellow artists living and working in the United Kingdom. I will be writing about these talented artists so watch this space! The pleasure of having a “tribe” to talk to and like minded people to share anxieties, ideas, and lessons, its invaluable! In particular, I’ve been developing a life-enhancing art-friendship with Lesley Longworth, a very talented painter, specialized in portraits of animals and people. Her ability to capture and understand how people behave, honed since her childhood, is the key to her impressive way of rendering the soul of her subjects. Her portraits are indeed “troppo vero” (too true!) and this is part of the endearing attraction of her work. Lesley is a generous and wise woman, and I am very grateful for her advice and enthusiastic attitude during this new path of our lives. As part of this process we are also furthering some informed conversations about painting, art, portraiture and what is happening around us. This “research” aspect of being an artist is the key for establishing dialogues with what is going in the art world: we are visiting galleries, studios and museums, establishing dialogues with other artists, trends and expressions. Last week we went to the recently refurbished Tate Britain in London to visit the exhibition Painting Now, featuring the work of five contemporary painters.

Although many have declared the “death” of painting as a relevant artistic expression, obliterated by the high commands of conceptual art, performance, spectacle and digital expressions, it seems that painting refuses to die! Indeed, the number of fellow painters I’ve met in these few months is just another proof of the relevance and transformative nature of painting. The exhibition at Tate Britain demonstrates the indisputable relevance of painting and the artists featured are given enough space and air to be explored by the audience. In this review i would like to write about three of the five artists, this is an arbitrary selection based on my impressions or “dialogues” created in my encounter with their work.

The first artist presented is former Turner Winner (2006) Tomma Abts, whose small and private canvas are an invitation to question the materiality of painting. This artist manages to transform a two-dimensional painting into a three dimensional object, or rather a threshold, where the viewer can get lost in labyrinths of colour. For her the act of painting is “a concrete experience anchored in the material I am handling” (Catalogue Tate Britain: Painting Now, 2013). Her work reminds me of the Colombian painter Omar Rayo, whose geometrical paintings are inspired by pre-columbian designs, and at the same time, they look futuristic and modern.

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Omar Rayo (Colombian 1928-2010). Kumo XV. Zebe 2010 by Tomma Abts

Simon Ling is the other artist presenting his impressions on apparently derelict and mundane urban landscapes. His attention to the detail and the poetry of urban life emerge from his own technique of painting in the open air, directly rendering the impressions of what is life in the city. Through a skillful framing, this artist opens the door for a different interpretation of those places walked and passed by without further attention by pedestrians and citizens. Instead of focusing on grandiose buildings, this artist prefers to reveal the magic of the mundane, the seemingly ‘ugly’ or ‘banal’. For him, the act of painting is an even about time and emotional connection and response – between him, the material of paint, the motif and what results as a painting (Catalogue Tate Britain: Painting Now, 2013). I would add that this artist is also very aware, and he makes us aware, of the materiality of the buildings as “living beings”. The marked absence of people suggests a “presence”: who lives here? what conversations have taken place through these streets? … Through a combination of framing the image and his rich application of colour, he transforms the ‘banal’ into magical. In this sense, there is some connection to the “flaneur” (in the work of Walter Benjamin on Charles Baudelaire). The figure of the “flaneur” as a “wanderer” but also a “wonderer” of the city, is crucial in the development of modern art in connection to the urban experience. Somehow, it seems to me, that Simon Ling re-takes the role of the flaneur, as an artist-poet, but instead of using words or literature, his wanderings are expressed in suspended moments of rich and dense color.

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Simon Ling. Untitled 2012

Thirdly, the work of Gillian Carnegie reverts the language of (academic) figurative paintings creating atmospheres and silences of an extraordinary impact. Through the genre of “still life” and “interiors” this fantastic artist succeeds in conveying an atmosphere, a moment in time and space that is almost tangible. Her palette is made of greys and greens and blacks and blues, and her mastery consists in creating “moments” and “silences”… a cat stops to listen, to be in the place, and be suspended in time and memory, captured in the canvas. And somehow, her paintings are not statements, one may think they have been always there… perhaps inside of our childhood memories, the sound of the creaking stair in the silent afternoon, the smell of the hand picked flowers languishing in the corner, just touched by the sunrise light…

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Gillian Carnegie. Prince (Detail) 2011-2012

These three artists coincide in addressing the materiality of painting, in other words, to treat the canvas as an object rather than a medium. This concern regarding the materiality of painting reminds me of a recent publication by Michel Foucault, based on a series of lectures on the topic of “Manet and the Object of Painting”. In this work, Foucault stressed the fact that Manet place as initiator of Modern Art is rooted not only on his departure from classical academicism (in terms of subjects, themes and techniques) but also in the way in which he addressed the materiality of the canvas. Foucault argues, that Manet succeeded at “inventing, if you like, the ‘picture-object’, the ‘painting-object’” — a move that made possible all of modern art.” Foucault analyzed three main aspects in Manet’s work: (1) the space of the canvas; (2) lighting; and (3) the place of the viewer. (See http://www.mikeettner.com/12/2012/manet-and-the-object-of-painting-by-michel-foucault/)

What I enjoyed most of this exhibition was to explore what does my painting has to say in relation to contemporary artists? My main response to the exhibition was emotional but also physical, and I was marveled at the capacity of painting to create these suspended moments in time and space. Attending the exhibition is an embodied experience involving memories, sensations, sounds and smells. My work, in contrast, is highly visual, almost psychedelic in the sense of exaggerating the magical and whimsical aspects of a scene or an event. From this show, I was particularly inspired by Simon Ling’s view of the city. As many other artists, I keep a number of sketchbooks, many of them produced in my visits to London and many other cities. For me the sketchbooks are living documents of moments in the city: he transit of thousand of souls loving, living, working, dreaming… So at the end, it was not only the exhibition but to be in London, to be part of the city, what really inspires my work. So, perhaps I am developing my own particular romance with London, and responding with my own paintings as a way of living and loving the city. At the moment, I am trying to work on my botanical illustration and the urban flora in London is a rich topic to explore.

Inspired by Lesley’s stories about London trees I made some sketches and later I created these two images:

London plane tree -platanus acerifolia. Created by Beatriz Acevedo. Using Brushes App (iPad)

London is full of these wonderful trees, which shedding bark is a convenient way to “clean” the trees from the pollution of the street, and the seeds can make original toys for the children of the city.

and mahonia… and when the dark days of winter come by, the mahonia is here to cheer us up!

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Created by Beatriz Acevedo. Using Brushes App (iPad)

References:

Tate Britain (Curators) Lizzie Carey-Thomas, Clarrie Wallis and Andrew Wilson. (2013). Painting Now: Five contemporary artists. Tate Publishing: London.

Benjamin, W. The Writer of Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelaire

Baudelaire, C. The Painter of Modern Life, Orig. published in Le Figaro, in 1863.

Borriaud, N. and Foucault, M. (2012) Manet and the Object of Painting. Tate Publishing: London.

Sinclair, A., “Renewal”, Mt Eliza Business Review, pp 39 – 44 Vol 7, Nr 1, 2004 – See more at: http://upclose.unimelb.edu.au/episode/27-mindful-leadership#sthash.NIDwHJEn.dpuf
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