Saturday, 22 January 2011

Five artists I don't hate and why.

When my children were small we would play a game where we would make a mental raft. On this raft we'd place musicians, actors, comedians or even teachers (yes, they did like some!). This was the group that were safe. Anyone that failed to make the cut would suffer the big flush. We'd cut out pictures of the worst offenders or draw some if photos weren't available and then conduct a farewell ceremony where the bits of paper would be flushed down the pan. As an adult I suppose I should have set a better example and encouraged them to be more benevolent, but what the hell! I can be as small-minded and vindictive as the best of them and it gave me enormous pleasure to flush the likes of Sir Gordon Of Sumner (Sting), and Damien Hirst headfirst down the toilet.
 This list will be along the same lines, I will list five artists whom I shall grant status and respect and a further list of five artists who have caused my displeasure.
 If you are mature, well-balanced and grown-up, look away now and go read an article by Waldemar Januszczak. If like me you have vengeful, mean streak that needs airing every so often, read on and feel free to add your own contenders. I get the power of Veto, so I give you fair warning.
 The first artist that I shall smile upon is:
  5) Stuart Pearson Wright 
For those of you ( if anybody is going to read this) who are expecting a kiss-arse fest, you've come to the right place. The next post is where I get mean. Stuart Pearson-Wright is a young Eastbourne Born (?) artist. His ability with the brush/pencil/ and printing plate are outstanding. Now I will be honest in admitting that I am drawn to artists who have mastery over their tools. I get it that technical ability is not a subject for polite company these days. But when I see work that makes me want get out my sketch book and practice, practice practice, I can't help but fall in love a little. Stuart is one of these artists! His pencil drawings are beautiful, his paintings aspirational and his prints.... I want one!
 His newer works puzzle me a little. He apears to have gone off on a personal journey of sexual exploration. His pervy images of wanking subjects don't quite do it for me. His apparent celebrity obsession comes over as a little predictable even though most men would probably invent reasons why they simply must  include Keira Knightly in their work. Other than those two minor misgivings, Stuart Pearson-wright is one of my favourite contemporary artists, and I would certainly make room for anything by him on my wall.
Domestic Scene Etching, 2003 Etching, aquatint and drypoint on paper 1000 x 580 mm

Mr and Mrs Cramp, 1999 Oil on linen 1500 x 1200 mm

4) Tracey Emin 
Now Tracey, where do I start? Tracey Emin as a person and as an artist stirs up a lot of feelings in people. Everyone has an opinion on our Trace! And I must admit I tended to dismiss her as a talentless, attention seeking brat. I would argue with anyone who dared cite her as an interesting artist. She was a prime candidate for the big flush. I don't know when the exact moment my Tracey epiphany occurred, but it happened. It may have been her blankets that first moved me, or the relentless criticism she attracted, most of it hurtful and personal having nothing whatsoever to do with her work. The words on the blankets struck me as honest and authentic. She wasn't holding back or playing up to an audience. She was revealing something of herself and I appreciated that. Coming from a mixed background like hers, her remark about 'wogs' chimed with mine. I remembered an incident at Heathrow airport where my poor mum, all blonde hair and blue eyes was trailing luggage and three obviously brown children was sworn at by a porter for being a wog lover and breeding like a rabbit. I, like Tracey had no idea what a wog was. All I knew was that it made my mum's face go red, and change her mind about asking for assistance.
I decided to give Emin's work another go. Without the goggles of prejudice I saw something I'd missed. I saw a brazen, defiance. A thrust-out chin daring people to do their best, take a swing. And she is brave and honest to a fault. She has no guile, a mixture of childish naiveté and a cunning knowing. I read her book Strangeland, which fleshed out her personality and helped me a get a bigger picture. The more I read the more I liked her and appreciated her work. 'Tracey Emin' the persona is part of her oeuvre; you can't disconnect her from her work. A lot of people don't seem to get that. And anyone who still doubts her talent should take a look at her 'Baby Things'. a work she created for an exhibition in Folkestone which she reprised for the group show at the Foundling museum in London last year. Alongside giants such as Paula Rego and Mat Collishaw. Tracey's work stood out with its gut wrenching simplicity. A tiny lost mitten left atop the railings outside the museum, a lonely, well-loved teddy under a bench. The work spoke so eloquently of loss and separation it could only have come from her heart. All I can say is that Tracey Emin is a national treasure, and I love her.

Artist Tracey Emin in her east London studio. Photograph: Karen Robinson

Appliquéd blanket, 'Western Oriental Gentleman.' (I'm not sure of the actual title.)

'Baby Things' from a group exhibition at The Foundling Museum 2010
3) Henry Darger
Henry Darger spent over 40 years, in a small Chicago apartment creating a mountain of work that was only discovered when he was moved to a nursing home shortly before his death. His landlord came across this treasure trove, he found works such as In the Realms of the Unreal which included The Story of the Vivian Girls, in what is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, and extends over 15 immense, densely-typed volumes of 15,145 total pages. The text is accompanied by three bound volumes of several hundred illustrations, scroll-like watercolour paintings on paper, the work of six decades, derived from magazines and colouring books. In addition, Darger wrote an eight volume, 5,084-page autobiography, The History of my Life; a 10-year daily weather journal; assorted diaries; and a second work of fiction, provisionally titled Crazy House, of over 10,000 handwritten pages.
 Darger has spent his early years in a home for the feeble minded even though he regarded himself as a smart alec with a superior intellect. He seemed unable to connect with people but never gave up trying to adopt a little girl to replace the baby sister that he was separated from in early childhood.
 I have heard some question the value Darger's work as art. They see it more as the ramblings of a mentally ill individual. But I defy anyone who sees this work not to be awed by its quality, its strength and its cohesion. He may not have intended it to be seen by others but that doesn't take away any of its power and beauty as well as its sheer variety. I say Darger's art is of the highest order. It is art at its purest. He only ever listened to his inner voice, so he avoided the prostitution that often comes with fame and notoriety. I recommend him without reservation to anyone who thinks you have to whore yourself out to the media, or follow the whims of a fickle market. I say Darger was a true artist and that's that.

Watercolor, pencil, carbon tracing, and collage on pieced paper. 19 x 70-1/2 in.

'Storm Brewing'

Henry Darger's workspace/apartment.

Religious Collage, Henry Darger
2) Stanley Spencer
I first came across Spencer's work when I bought a poster of his ‘Resurrection.’ It showed a village scene, I later found out it was his beloved Cookham, all the graves had opened up spilling out their residents who were all emerging joyous and overcome with happiness. He was another unconventional painter who was unsparingly honest. It was thanks to this shocking honesty that painters like Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon felt they could take such liberties with their models a generation later, lovingly including every blemish and crease. I have heard Spencer dismissed by some morons as a fuddy-duddy little Englander whose whole world was Cookham. But you only have to look at his paintings of Patricia Preece, his second wife, a lesbian who refused to consummate the marriage. Spencer exposed his desperation, his paintings telling us far better than any words how he felt. He was no innocent fool; he knew that in return for lost innocence we get experience. Not always a fair exchange but it's up to us to make the choices. Spencer was a religious man; his religion imbued almost everything he produced in a sensual, original way. That sometimes puts people off but it's their loss frankly!

Stanley Spencer, “Double Nude” (1937)

Stanley Spencer, Love Letters (1950)

Hilda and I at Pond Street, 1954

1) Robert Crumb, Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Sophie Crumb.
Drum roll here please! I've listed the artists here in reverse order, not in any way judging their value or importance but listed in a very personal way to reflect their impact on me. So I Arrive at Robert Crumb, AKA God! I should also take the time here to give equal billing to his amazingly talented wife and muse Aline Kominsky-Crumb and their daughter Sophie. What a family! So they are comic artists, so what? If you are one of those prissy art snobs that categorises and splits art into craft/comic/fine etc, stop reading here. In my opinion there is only two kinds of art: stuff I like and stuff I hate. That's it!
Robert Crumb was my education, far more than college, university or even the Royal College of Art! I pored over his pages studying his lines, his hatching and cross-hatching. His technique (entirely self taught) is idiosyncratic, true and elegant. He can draw hands and feet with ridiculous ease. His trees, cars and buildings make me jealous. His talent is indisputable. His is never afraid to tell it like he sees it. He has been unfairly accused of racism and misogyny, but that is a shallow baseless judgement only made by the lazy-minded sheep-like followers of the right-on brigade. If you can't be bothered to look deeper to see where the work is coming from go and look at anodyne works of Thomas Kinkade (Painter of Light, or shite?) or some other hobby artist. Crumb lives his life the way he draws, no-holds barred and he doesn't give a shit who gets offended. Whoever described his as the Breugel of our times was spot on. Lack of fear and unconventionality seem to be a running theme with my five artists!
'The little guy that lives inside my brain.'

'The Future According To Robert Crumb.'
Aline Kominsky, his lovely (even though she has trouble believing it) wife was the subject of my dissertation for my printmaking degree. I was looking around for an artist that inspired me enough to write a few thousand lines about, when I came across her book ‘Need More Love. I started looking through it casually, but I ended up reading it cover to cover in one sitting. I could understand why someone Like Crumb would be attracted to her. She was fearless, funny and very, very bright. This shone through her work, which was so revealing in places I was literally reading while covering my eyes with my fingers! It is a human instinct to present a face to the world that is somewhat prettified and censored to show only the best of us. Aline doesn't seem to have this instinct. Every part of her life and psyche is fair game. And I love her for it.
“Heeb,” 2006, cover Collaboration with Robert Crumb Ink and watercolor on paper 11 7/8” x 9 1/4”

Alice Kominsky Crumb, Sex Crazed Housewife, 1 of 4 pages, Ink on scratchboard, 15 x 12
Now, imagine if you will the Great Robert Crumb joins forces with the indomitable Aline Kominsky, Nuclear fission occurs and Sophie springs forth, like Athena from Zeus' forehead. A force of nature fusing the talents and attributes of both her parents. Sophie's art has matured and refined over a short time to become some of the most exciting work at the moment. Not that you'd expect anything less with genes like hers! Her blog gives some idea of her talent, take a look here.
 This family have made such a large footprint on contemporary art, they have managed to lift an entire genre from its obscure little niche and drag it kicking and screaming to a grateful new audience. Their work transcends genre and enriches art in general. And I am so glad they did.

A page I pinched from Sophie Crumb's blog !

A piece from Sophie's recent solo show.

Another sketchbook page stolen from Sophie Crumb's blog.
So there you have it! A short list of artists that have really meant something to me. There are of course loads more that I will talk about in future posts but these are the ones I turn to for inspiration, they never fail me. For that alone they will all be saved. That however won't be the fate of those who appear on my next list. It will be a list of five artists I don't love. It will be brutal! It will send shivers down the backs of the global art community, no one is immune (except for the group mentioned above and my beloved... kids... dogs but that's it... I think.) For now.

If anyone has any suggestions for candidates for the great art flush email them to me here.


  1. Haha, we have such similar taste! I love Henry Darger, and I ADORE all the Crumbs. I particularly love Need More Love, and that's so cool you wrote your dissertation on it! Aline K-C's early stuff is harder to get hold of but well worth a bit of effort too.

  2. I know what you mean about Aline's early work, it's a shame she is so overshadowed by Sir Robert of Crumb. As an artist , they don't come any braver or more honest. Sophie seems to have combined the best of both parents.


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