Friday, August 22, 2008

Threadneedle Figurative Prize (part 3) - Brandford, Shaw, Williams and the DVD

I'll be frank. Speaking personally, when looking at work in exhibitions, I'm still pretty much at the "would I want to hang this on my wall / have it in my house?" stage as opposed to "does it belong in a museum?"

Following on from yesterday's post about artists short-listed for the Threadneedle Figurative Prize, the ones I'm commenting on today are the ones that I responded to less on an emotional level. Which is not a comment on their skill or their concepts - just that they didn't reach out to me in the same way.

The Clothes Show (£9,500)
by Paul Brandford
oil on board, 102 x 122 cms

However, I think there's a pretty good chance one of these may well win at least one of the Prizes. Of course two of the artists (Brandford and Shaw) were the ones which got mentioned by the Guardian in their article on the exhibition so I don't feel too bad!

I've listed links to other coverage of the Prize and the exhibition at the end. It's fascinating when you've had access to the Press Release to read articles and realise which papers just regurgitate a Press Release! Interestingly two of those who were most likely to comment in the press were selecting the works and we're missing their views!

Paul Brandford

I really like the way that Paul Brandford paints. This emphatically is not about portraiture. He scrapes back and draws back in to the paint - and I certainly got the message of his painting loud and clear, but the subject matter (dictators) doesn't do it for me. However, his painting of the Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and associated henchman seems to be a painting which captures the imagination of the Picture Editors on various publications covering the Prize and exhibition - although some are less complementary than others.

The surface texture of The Clothes Show is much more powerful in reality than in the photograph. It's also a painting which provides a clear message in terms of the way it's painted. He refuses to paint the faces of dictators and distorts the facial features and degrades the surface texture and appearance of the medals. What I really like is the way he draws back into the oil paint and leaves lines which give a sense of being excisions and a point being made. Brandford won the Jerwood Drawing Prize in 2003.

Interestingly, I found out at the Preview that Paul is the husband of an ex drawing tutor of mine, Jeanette Barnes. Jeanette and I had a good old chat and catch up 'as you do', and she gave me the inside track on his other painting in the exhibition. Barking which I actually prefer. This is a painting of the announcement that Richard Barnbrook has won a seat on the council of the London Borough of Barking for the BNP. The irony is that Barnbrook was a student at the Royal Academy Schools at the same time as Paul and Jeanette. I think the title of the painting more or less sums up Paul's view on Barnbrook's new career and his approach to titling his paintings!

Tim Shaw

I have a problem with Tim Shaw's bronze "Tank on Fire" - which is that my personal view is that a particularly powerful photo should be left alone. It's a view I arrived at after I saw a sequence of the photos taken of Kim Phuc and the napalm burned children running along the road in Vietnam. The photo that was published was a deliberate choice - and awful as its subject is - it's a very powerful image and it changed a lot of people's perspectives on that war.

Tank on Fire (£25,000 - bronze) by Tim Shaw
wax, steel, black plastic on smoked wooden plinth 167 x 69 x 49 cm

Shaw's aim was to imagine the thoughts and feelings of somebody being consumed by fire and to try and experience the panic and the terror.
While making this piece I visited some soldiers from a tank battalion that had fought in Iraq. Listening to their experiences I became acutely aware of the plight of each individual within the frame of that newspaper photograph.
Catalogue - Tim Shaw
However in my view the Reuters photo of the soldier on fire while emerging from the tank is so much more powerful than this sculpture - it made me gasp when I saw it on the DVD - while this sculpture did not. Bottom line - the photo, rather than this sculpture, displays the potential horrors of war for individual soldiers and has real impact. The lack of any credit line for the photographer bothers me.

However there is a twist to this story. It's a challenge to to try and sculpt flame and he's used an interesting technique but I rather think the army is likely to be upset about the way he has portrayed the Warrior tank in melted black plastic when accounts suggest that the soldiers involved were rather proud of the fact that their tank actually experienced very little damage from the petrol bomb and commented that the pictures made the experience look worse than it really was. I'm very far from being any sort of advocate for the war in Iraq but if this is true then it seems to me that this sculpture actually changes the portrayal of what actually happened to the tank - it lacks truth. I thought 'not telling the truth' was an accusation levelled at those who ordered the troops into Iraq. Bottom line, I prefer the original photo - if 'prefer' is the right word to use in the circumstances - for the power of its imagery and its focus on the truth of the experience of the individual soldier.

If Shaw does win the prize I hope he keeps the 'glory' of being the first prizewinner and then donates all or a substantial part of the prize money to soldiers burned in action. It's sad fact of life that the focus of sculpture is so very often on the battle while the aftermath which soldiers have to endure as well gets neglected far too often.

Nicholas Charles Williams

Nicholas Charles Williams is a realist painter whose work is 'underpinned with symbolism'. He works from observation, paints in a traditional way and won the Hunting Art Prize in 2001.

Compassion Postponed (£20,000)
by Nicholas Charles Williams
oil on canvas, 153 x 127cm
This painting is one of the central works from my current series, which examines the fluidity of compassion in contemporary society and the consequences of its demise. A lost item such as a glove, placed on a post or wall in the hope that its owner might retrieve it was once a familiar sight. I have used this small, anonymous and unrewarded act as a barometer of compassion and empathy. In contrast, it is now common to see items passed by, trampled and ignored - an erosion aligned with the present volatile period of conflict, atrocities and terrorism
Catalogue - Nicholas Charles Williams
He has an interesting concept, but I simply didn't find him persuasive when talking about it in his interview and, when I first looked at it, it didn't communicate itself through his painting either - I simply didn't get it. I've always thought that if you need a painter to explain the painting then it's failing on at least one one level. However, he was much more interesting when talking about the painters who have influenced him and his approach to developing a painting.

I also very much admired the skill with which Compassion Postponed was painted - but I really couldn't engage with this painting in any way. It's the sort of piece which has me inclining towards the view expressed by some that 'good technique is not enough'.

An interesting fact - working from photographs

A number of the short-listed artists use photographs as references - and yet there is not one photorealistic piece amongst them. All have used the photo as the starting point and transformed it into their particular view of the world or concepts around which they have wanted to make artwork. It succinctly makes the point for me that work which uses photographs is not poor practice - when the work doesn't try to duplicate the photo and when it demonstrates the actions of both the brain and the hand of the artist.

For it to be a better image than the photograph it needs to draw us into the implied narrative - the story behind the artwork and the values of the artist.
The photographic sources from which my drawings originate are taken from daily newspapers. What interests me is not the photograph as documentary evidence, but as a provocation to an imaginative engagement with the depicted event itself. Paintings arrive, if indeed they arrive at all, via a series of drawings through which my responses and priorities can develop and intensify. I feel that my better drawings succeed in bringing opposing tensions together
Paul Brandford - Jerwood Drawing Prize 2003
Other works

Dervishes (£8,000 per figure or £40,000 for whole) by Marilene Oliver
Dye subkimation on glass organza 220 x 45 x 30cms

There's no question for me that I would have chosen Marilene Oliver's "Dervishes" as part of the shortlist - it's fascinating, intriguing and demands your attention, although thankfully the catalogue explains how it was made.........
Dervishes is made using an anonymised CT dataset, which Oliver reformulated using radiology software to present multiple encounters with a single (data) body.
Threadneedle catalogue - Mariline Oliver
I was also very taken with Reg - Bull Terrier which speaks of 'character'! Brian J Taylor's bronze was sculpted from life - and apparently Reg took 25 sittings because he was very disobedient!

Reg - Bull Terrier by Brian J Taylor
Bronze, 61 x 100 x 30cm

I was amused by his placement, he's stood 'on guard' in front of two paintings by Royal Academicians Anthony Eyton RA and Ken Howard RA - of their studios.

I also very much liked Damon by Alison Lambert and I see from the Internet that she specialises in charcoal drawings. It shows....

Damon (£3,500) 2008 by Alison Lambert
charcoal and pastel on paper, 35" x 30", 89 x 76 cm,

Threadneedle Figurative Prize - The DVD and catalogue

The Mall Galleries is selling a DVD of interviews with the artists which provides an overview of the shortlist and short interviews with each artist. They talk about influences on their work and concepts behind their work and their particular approaches to developing work and/or how they like to work

I was very taken with the DVD and I've suggested to the Director of the Mall Galleries that maybe they could include some brief extracts from it on the website.

Anybody wanting to enter the competition in future will find the DVD invaluable in being able to gauge the quality of the work which has been shortlisted and the concepts and strategies employed in developing the work. The DVD is available from the Mall Galleries and I gather from an email I got last night that it's also going to be available for purchase on the website in the very near future.

If you can get hold of a catalogue too I'd recommend you do so - apart from anything else because it has an interesting essay at the beginning by Karen Wright "In Praise of Figurative Art" which comments on the clash between different approaches to art in the last 20 years - since "Freeze"

The Debate -
What's the future for figurative art?

This takes place on Thursday 28 August, 6 - 7.30pm and will involve Selectors Richard Cork and Brian Sewell plus shortlisted artist Tai-Shan Schierenberg. They'll be debating the question What's the future for figurative art? Karen Wright, co-founder of Modern Painters, will chair the discussion. Advance booking is recommended and tickets are available by calling 020 7930 6844.

That about wraps it up. I don't think this exhibition will get three blog posts from next year(!) but I hope those thinking about submitting work for next year get something out of what I've written this year for the inaugural exhibition.

Don't forget to vote! The announcement of the winner is at a special Awards Winner on 3rd September.


1 comment:

  1. Having read about the TFP in your blog, I visited the exhibition yesterday. I would have liked to choose my favourite from ALL the works, not just the seven selected. Strangely enough, I was drawn to the sculptures, as much as anything. "Reg - Bull Terrier" by Brian Taylor caught my eye, his interpretation of the character of the breed was spot on. Also "Aya" by Suzie Zamit. I particularly liked "Port of Spain" by Jackie Anderson, very cleverly painted and "Damon" by Alison Lambert had a liveliness about it. "Hannah" is amazing considering Eloiza Mills is so young, but I would have liked to see it wall mounted. I think I would have missed it if I hadn't seen it on the web first.



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