The Turps Studio Programme 2018 show at Paul Stolper Gallery is, to use one word, bad and it is so bad that it might be useful to approach it from the point of view of a phenomenology of painting to try to learn a little bit more about the conditions in which these paradoxically exhausted works made by supposedly young and energetic artists happen. Mentored by Dan Coombs, Andrea Medjesi-Jones, Clare Price, Anne Ryan Benjamin Senior and Neal Tait, these group of artists use painting as their main medium to create images that come across as cold and inexpressive while at the same time, trying to do something innovative with it.
Upon arrival the visitor is confronted by Eleanor Bedlow’s sculpture titled ‘Denise’ which is the only piece that is not on sale. In the tradition of Barry Flanagan’s Central San Martins explorations in that medium, ‘Denise’ looks like an inverted stool that could only be considered as a painting because it has some pigment on it. Freya Guest’s post-Mondrianesque explorations deal with the issue of the frame which without any particular reason she transforms into architectural elements where cut and paste figures seem to inhabit. For those interested in buying some art, it is on sale at £1250 plus VAT. Kieron Simms’s Untitled is priced at £3000 (plus VAT) and is composed by a series of irregular coloured papers arranged, on a transparent polyester surface, in a way that might come across as a commentary on certain aspects of Brazilian abstraction (I am thinking of Helio Oiticica or Lygia Clark, to give just two examples), also addressing Lucio Fontana’s preoccupations on how the work of art looks behind the canvas. Visually the outcome comes accross as laboured and complicated.
Craig Lee’s The Dead Banker is made of stains over an unprepared canvas with a few gestures placed here and there. At a price of £6000 (plus VAT), its shape and size come across as ambitious. The title is monumental too but when we focus on what is inside the frame, the gestures and stains come across as a commentary on modernist painting which transforms the whole exercise into an actualisation of what in 1978, curator Marcia Tucker considered as ‘Bad Painting’. I am, of course, referring to the show she curated with Nicholas Africano, Jennifer Bartlett, Denise Green, Michael Hurson, Neil Jenney, Lois Lane, Robert Moskovitz, Susan Rothenberg, David True and Joe Zucker at the newly created New Museum in New York. Their ‘bad paintings’ were a reaction to the heroic tone of both Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism following the path opened by the tragicomic visual rethoric of Philip Guston for whom the autobiographical and the social commentary was necessary after the Vietnam War. Forty years later what is Craig Lee stained canvas and the rest of the artist of this show reacting to? Do they even care? Well, we should. As viewers who are asked to spend a few minutes in front of these works, if they are not trying to be a post-modern commentary on the modernist tradition, they might possibly be trying to get in touch with the humanist aspects of paintings as a human activity. This takes me to the debate that took place between Bad Painting’s Babara Rose and October Magazine’s Douglas Crimp, in the eighties, when the latter announced the death of painting after considering that the former’s belief in humanism concealed the ideological architecture of bourgeois society. Agreeing with Crimp, Hal Forster said that the way Neo Expressionism tried to explore the authentic through a rejection of style was ‘a gestuary of self aware acts’. In other words, the result of these efforts were mere poses trying to pose as authentic. But if Craig Lee’s is a pose, what is it form? What is he really trying to say? The answer to that might be disclosed approaching the show as a totality.
Hannah Turner-Duffin’s ‘Forget me not’ is an irregularly framed object made of painted linen and nylon on canvas. From the point of view of its materials and size, it refers to the ‘essentialist’ first generation of feminist art which believed in creating a true femine image from small, textile and biographical images. Again, it is as if these artists were looking at the seventies for inspiration in order to empty their predecessors from their original energy so as to convey a world that is more depressive than melancholic. The question is, at this point, whether they actually know who those predecessors were or they just think that what they are doing is innovative? The same could be said of Scott Miles and Evan Thomas colour field paintings which are a hollowed out concoction of Robert Ryman’s materiality and Mark Rothko’s opticality.
This banal unconscious revival of late seventies and early eighties ‘new painting’ gets to the point of the uncanny with Tom Rapsey’s ‘A Cloaca Opens Above Cythera’ which to the informed eye is an homage to Julian Schnabel’s monumental sculptures emulating sexual and primitive funerary paraphernalia. But, again, that he know that there is an original or he just got here through ‘experimentation’? Rhiannon Rebecca Salisbury’s portraits of fashionable black women become bas-reliefs in the nails and the jewellery of the sitter and that seems to be the selling point. Nothing particulary intersting there.
At first there is the temptation of see these paintings as conceptually innovative but clearly that is not what they are. What this kind of ‘edgy’ painting try to do has been done in a context where what was attempted made much more sense.Then, it was criticised by the likes of Rosalind Krauss, Douglas Crimp and Benjamin Buchloh as retrograde and defended by champions of paintings such as David Salle as ‘a medium that has the weight of history’. I struggle to see in the Turps show any ‘weight of history’ or, even, and most worringly, ‘humanity’. I wouldn’t like to socially hang out with those artists to be honest for they come accross as tedious and without a purpose and maybe that is the point of this show. Are these young upper middle class boys and girls posing as bourgeois boheme trying to get into what Richard Florida calls ‘the creative industries’. The fact that they have been curated and put immediately on sale without having achieved anything of interest or having anything interesting to say means that at Turps they failed at teaching them how to paint but instead they gave them enough encouragement to price and quickly put their ‘objects’ in the market. The zeitgeist. J A T