Once more it seems that painting is the new currency; the old-new currency indicating the stubborn interchangeable fact of substance as both commodity and a means of questioning the limitations of our apparatus of perception. The twitchy economics of the world always seem to cycle back to this situation.
In 2015, there is the added complexity that the selective ownership of physically substantial things becomes an announcement of status whilst also being an indefinably appropriate response to the tsunami of information and images which surround and define us. A refined editing on a number of levels.
The overt compulsion to respond immediately, to merely react, to the missives, directives and info piped through the not-so-new ‘new’ media is a primary aspect of those medias operations.The peculiar bastard offshoots of reductive painting and Minimalist sculptural play which sit around, hang around, and perch on the wall of, the Castlefield Gallery (Manchester, UK) retain a sulky slow-burn aspect which the flash, buzz and zip of the technology of the Post-Post-Modern doesn’t.
The ‘Real Painting’ exhibition, co-curated by Deb Covell and Jo McGonigal with supporting text by Craig Staff, seems to both reach back to Merleau-Ponty’s holistic, experiential phenomenological model of perception and attempts to gather examples of contemporary (non)-painters who are firmly corrupted by the conceptual speculations thrown up by ‘Painting’ (with a capital P).
To their credit they proceed with an obvious understanding that ‘painting in the expanded field’ is a tired mantra only ever really expounded on by academics who approach the topic with a joylessly forensic sensibility and a selective memory of paintings produced in the last 100 years.
Painting may have failed to be the liberating playground for free expression dreamt of by left-wing art critics and jazz fans but it does have a surprising ability to absorb, mutate and become a subtly different beast decade by decade.
So the works here show the relatively flat architectural unit of that thing considered as ‘a painting’ being deformed, damaged, turned into boxy constructions, inflated like overstuffed cushions, hanging as a sheet of pure paint or curled up and attached to lengths of painted wood.
A typical Alex Harding (‘Hood’, 2012) shows an ice-cream pink skin of paint forever threatening to slide vertically off its wooden support.
Angela de la Cruz has three very different works on show and, unusually for a group show, her larger pieces are some of the best exhibited - ‘Compressed 1 (White)’ (2010) looks like a partially crushed kitchen wall unit, its white oil paint coating giving it a cartoon smoothness; ‘Battered 4 (Red)’ (2012) shows its painting and sculptural influences, a rich red balloon cushion appearance with intentional flaky patches of paint revealing a shiny silver aluminium support.
A small simple off white encaustic and gesso-on-wood by David Goerk (‘Untitled (12.28.12)’ (2012)) seemed to have 10 small oval holes which turned out to be dabs of paint on its surface. Its bold simplicity made it one of the best works in the show.
Sticking with the shows larger remit of testing for paintings essentials (whatever they may actually be) Deb Covell had a long hanging sheet of white acrylic paint,‘Nowt to Summat’ (2014), reaching from ceiling to floor and interrupting the main rectangle of the larger basement space.
It worked well as a spatial pivot for the show especially when mapping the larger space with wall pieces of varying scales but it did highlight the fact that there really is twice as much stuff present than there should be.
Covell’s co-conspirator seemed to take the whole enterprise to the next stage of head scratching. Jo McGonigal’s ‘Yellow Yellow’ (2015) had a cotton t-shirt knotted into a handshake with a silk scarf. Both bits, not surprisingly, being yellow: a paintless painting which demands, because of context, to be interpreted according to older diagnostic models.
‘Real Painting’ works as show not because it repeats older questions about the flexibility of things to qualify as paintings, the ‘expanded’ notions of painting, but because it makes clear the undefinable nature of the physically substantial without some baggy, mutually agreed rules.