I attended two openings this week. The first was Green on Red’s showing of Alice Maher’s The Music of things, the second, Isobel Nolan’s On a perilous margin at Kerlin. Maher introduced a world of naïve animation. Pencilled images evolved from one another into a spontaneous retinue of thought-art, the ghost of each preceding image remaining as a signal of process. The show was closeted; the expansive space of Green on Red reduced to a darkened room housing several animation vignettes. Nolan’s exhibition was different in both aspect and method. Finished product made up the content of the show and everything was very visible. The sculptural works took centre stage and justifiably so as the paintings were somewhat incongruous in an already overly packed room. The delicate stitching of the silk sculptures focused on the immediacy of artist-artwork interaction and explored the base nature of pigment.
Nolan’s sculpture reminded me of Anish Kapoor’s recent work which looks at this idea of pigment, the work in question featured in Waldemar Januszczak’s recent BBC2 documentary Ugly beauty. Not one to focus on the underdog, Januszczak also used Damian Hirst as an exemplar of contemporary gothic beauty, comparing complex classical still lifes to Hirst in an attempt to show the tradition to which such art belongs. Instead it proved what a hackneyed cliché much of Hirst’s work has become. Speaking of art TV shows, I also caught School of Saatchi on the same channel and it reminded me of what an odd business art is. Tracy Emin in her role as critic delivered a cutting judgment on one fledgling artist whose work looked very Francis Bacon-like, by telling him it was very Francis Bacon-like. What caught my attention was that Emin’s fellow YBA, Hirst, did something very similar in his triptych Insomnia. Insomnia for me betrayed a deep-seated longing in the artist to return to classical training. It made me consider that artists born of the conceptual era and many of today were never given what is pejoratively perceived as a stultifying salon training in ‘how to’ art, when really it’s just training in their practice. These artists are now desperate to prove themselves because of it. Hirst’s move into self-painted pieces demonstrates this perfectly, except he now has the selling pressure of the gallery system that buoys him to deal with. By foregoing the manufacturing harem of his other works, Hirst has punctured the air-bag of his image and admitted he has something to prove. One must look to the art schools to redress this problem for further generations. Technique is important and can be the foundation of thoroughly experimental artwork; without this we are often left with empty concept and weak imitations.