The following is a blah – meaning it isn’t an essay, it’s a riff – I mean all of it, but that doesn’t mean its definitive – it’s really chasing a bee, one idea, to see if it has legs – it is in no terms a critical appraisal of the art or artists in the Emergency5 exhibition – it is a mode of thinking – it is a leg in a journey of appreciation and understanding of the art in the show – this is a single facet of a many-many sided form

Zeitgeist. Processing the hundreds of applications to Emergency is a whizz through a burgeoning scene. It doesn’t signify ‘now’ – because the applicants we attract consider themselves emerging [hey! now you get the title], meaning they’re recent graduates, post-graduates or inside that bubble before a significant solo show. ‘Now’ is the domain of the broken through (that become the broken, as horses are broken – that leads them into the knacker’s yard, of some celebrity, perhaps, where they are glue). It’s a cynical allusion, but the Arts are a stampede, an endless ongoing. In fact, ‘now’ is only a photo of a blur of motion. Our minds will stillness, an explicable frame of events. Zeitgeist. Emergency 5 is a polaroid of what might be/is happen/ing next. To be fair, to those who weren’t selected, there could’ve been three or more versions of the exhibition, each with different artists – and those shows would’ve demonstrated an alternative facet of… of just about to… So, getting to the point, what does this actual Emergency5 lay bare?

Empiricism? I think so. Empiricism is the usual impetus of untutored artists (born of childhood, of touchy-feelie reaction to stuff, to believing what we feel – physically and emotionally – to be a true and explicit explanation of who, what and where we are). I’m not saying any of the Emergency5 exhibitors are untutored artists, I’m saying it’s because they are both trained and talented that the evident empiricism in most of the work is notable.

It might seem most demonstrable in the ‘stripped’ mirrors  of Dan Coopey – because they’ve a quality of Abstract Expressionism, nodding to Robert Motherwell, and the fact they revel in the material of their making. You might even propose the schismatic views that the mirror grouping reflect analogous with an empiric outlook, but I don’t – not fully. There’s too much of ‘drawing’ in the work – though Dan told me the process of removing the silvering from the mirror back was not overly considered, because of the manner of that removal, painter strippers and 0000 wire wool – Untitled (Stutter) is observational, depicting the occurrence of mirrors in an urban environment. They are the ricochet of viewpoints that bombard you in upmarket shopping centres, nightclubs, and anywhere wanting to earmark ‘glamour’ as its metatag. Recent and various 1980s-centric fashions in music, in graphics, in visual art and in fashion, have used the cheap brilliance and vanity inherent in mirrors (and shiny surfaces) as a cornerstone. Dan’s mirrors are also the vandalised, the derelict, the shabbiness of urban streets – they’re the true leftovers of the 1980s of steel and glass – they’re bus stations, redundant shopping precincts, what cheap glamour becomes, tinfoil. They’re rainwater on asphalt. They are endless compositions of shifting perspectives. Coopey’s work in Emergency5 becomes empiric through our reading, only partly in its making, in Dan’s eye for a visual poem.

Julian Brown’s paintings are an excellent example of this ’empiricism’ I’m debating exists in the show. They seem hybrid-born of British Colour Field (Hoyland), material and process fixated painters like Ian Davenport, of early Soviet Abstract Expressionism, of Philip Guston, and of absolutely loads of that kind of thing. Brown indulges paint in its substance nature – to a degree. He allows – provokes? – dribbles and splutters, letting the material seep free of its bondage in the image -it clearly satisfies Julian, lending the work an aesthetic he desires, one he’s promoting – therefore, its significant. There’s a dirtiness in the surface quality, to the skin of the works – a nicotine-stained, aged varnish, sickliness. The effect is one of salvage, of canvases dishwashed and retouched. Elements within the composition overlay each other or they burst through or they’re clasped into place. The shapes infer (for me) architectural features, roofing tiles, repeat mouldings, brick wall, floor patterns – patterns, the paintings are of patterns that are broken, into, through or isolated. Like Dan Coopey’s mirrors, Brown’s work seems urban – there’s something Rising Damp, something bill board or fly posted, something of scrubbed-at graffiti. The thingness of the work, its object self, is its statement. Ours, the audience, the distanced, ours is an emotive response, we must react to what Brown expresses, it’s not a cipher we can solve – instead, relying on commonality, on a mutual appreciation of a nod in the direction of, – a poem in its function. It walks in and around a garden of sense without latin names, without science, without a narrative or a map or anything, except the paintings and their titles. Buccaneer, Zapora, Tonka. Pirates and treasure, jewels, seas, bravado? Polish for ‘obstacle’? [Polish, as in Polska, and not polish] Hefty, yellow and unbreakable toys for boys? They are useless clues, they signify anything and everything you might conjecture, they lead nowhere via routes of hither and thither. What is there of ‘buccaneer’ in the painting Buccaneer? Whatever Julian’s own machination, we’re left with empiric works – a dialogue to be had between the artist-individual and the viewer-individual and everyone else.

Why are we hesitant to admit to work that is empiric? All artwork is, ultimately – whatever the notions of quasi-science or actual science (paint is chemistry) or the faux formulae involved in the generation of the piece – choosing to reference, utilise or evoke the self-detachment of a scientist is  a mode an artist adopts to best essay ‘experience’, testing the nature of ‘being’, of their being – imbuing the resultant art thing with empiricism.

Whoa. If all visual art is fundamentally empiric, well, how’s Emergency5 signposting anything new? [Good question – words ‘paint’ and ‘corner’ come to mind]

Okay. Lets bump the word ’empiric’ and sustain its relevance using ‘expressionism’ – because that’s an easy arty concept. I’ve made reference to Abstract Expressionism in reference to Julian Brown’s paintings – that was a movement seeking to wrestle individuality free of the remaining strictures of a rigid society – a lot of the Arts in the late 1950s were about it too (in film James Dean and Youth were rebelling, literature was Beating at the walls, jazz went Bee-bop) – artists were shaking off the last trappings of repression they’d thought would *poof* disappear with the end of WW2. Before WW2, Expressionism was narrative, attempting to illustrate the horror, wickedness and corruption of Man, standing witness to the rise of Fascism, the collapse of an old economy and the focusing of power in the hands of the Business/Media. There was some joyful, manic blasts of new freedoms won sounding out of the forming USSR – before Stalin, before the Iron Curtain descended. What connects all modes of ‘Expressionism’ is the animism of materials. Oil paint thickens, loosens, emotes. Materials become extensions of gesture – beyond the inherent gesticulation of brush, of mark-making. Stuff became indicative of emotion, of psyche. In the Fifties, artists adopted modern, classless, disenfranchised stuff/materials to primal scream – to visit themselves on the world. It was loud, fast and savage work, not as thoughtless as it appears – it was expression constructed of ordinariness, of stuff without prestige or critical history. House paint, paint tins, roofing felt, bitumen – yep, pretty blue-collar and domestic, bedsit and Thunderbird wine. Those that became Pop Artists etc in the 60s, they chilled, enjoyed the free affluence of the times, barefoot and righteous, and had little self to express (they protested in unison, as confederates – they were angry about things not just projecting inner turmoil). But, these artists maintained this lexicon of stuff, of emotive material – but the quality of that emotion changed, it diversified, grew subtle. Metals, plastics, new materials and production methods leant greater eloquence to expression, to relating individual-life experience. This revery in material stuff flipped 360 degrees in the late 60s and Seventies – counter-culture deplored ‘material value’, the worship of. Artists began stripping away material, delivering the simplest form of an idea, to meek to make they hung ‘concepts’ like post-it notes, relying on the audience to do the work (hippy slackers).

In the West, there’ve been a few insurgencies into Expressionism, but largely stylistic, or nostalgic, or too idiosyncratic to bond a movement (Glasgow School of the 80s, Ken Kiff) – until now (it might seem). The lexicon of material, the material literacy of society has sped up with the momentum of RAM being crammed into a processor, flood through the monsoon saturation of advertising (I’d say ‘Media’, but most Media is now a form of advertising – what a pity that the Arts are now so buddy with Media, Art stops being art when it beds with Media – Art can and must abuse Media, as it does media). Now, in Emergency5, I see the begins, or buds, or iceberg’s tip of a NEW [something – insert defining label] Expressionism. What the artists in the show are expressing are personal accounts of a shattering society, disintegrating economies, the all-powerful minority, the struggling majority (struggling for satisfaction, basic rights, condition, reasons, against impotency). These are people, these artists, who wanting to make sense of being, of life, who can only explore and gesticulate with the stuff they feel literate in, material.

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Now, quickly, bullet-pointing through the other artists – Empiricism (or Expressionism) and:

  • Tom Iriks: compositions, they’re photographs with the weight of the History of Painting behind them – in the shifts of textures (of light on surface) we experience an actuality that represents a greater actuality (the architecture of Antwerp’s subway stations). They are images that emote (as the high contrast B&W of Film Noir emotes). We are invited to occupy the emptiness of the scenes, to join the artist there, to complete and so share the moment, to feel what Tom proffers – what he felt? What he ordains? They deny narrative, they are immediate, you aren’t led anywhere, you are there or you are not – expressionistic in the manner of German Expressionism of the 1920-30s, perhaps, as much an exposé of Society…
  • Kit Craig: The Bracketed Space feels cryptic – there must be some fathomable explanation. The space, the precise arrangement, the overall mode of exactness suggests the esoteric sci-fi of the late 1960s-70s (2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, Clockwork Orange). It is definitely a Kubrick-ian quality. It seems to deny all emotion, lauding its own internal logic – ideal art for Vulcans. But, it’s the internal logic of things that is the stuff of empiricism. Pollack’s action paintings demonstrate the same expression, as if, in attempting to deny emotion, or thought, both, we are drawn into, drowned in, the devastating inner-monologue that artists is mouthing (hapless, helpless, tongue movements of paint).
  • Amanda Loomes: I’d like say that collaging of one moving image within another is an archetypal technique of Expressionist Cinema, I don’t think it is. I ought to be, isn’t it just another way to abut light and shadow, black and white, one thing with another? There is something of British Expressionist Cinema, which includes a lot of film made for the GPO film unit – gritty, absolute and concerning the nature of human enterprise (The Night Train, The Islanders, Spare Time). Loome’s Equivalents sounds Fine Arty, it’s comes chaptered with Roman numerals – unseen, I’d have guessed it an artwork involving bronze and alabaster. It’s a video. A video about houses and housing. It not some essay on architecture and Society, it’s concerns are human, routine and domestic – a lifetime of employment used to be consolidated in bricks and mortar, a house, a home, which consolidated experience (individual, family and social) in upbringing – effecting outlooks and interaction with the wider world – consolidated in a community. In the parts we’re presented, there’s an elegiac feel, this is a presentation of lost, damaged and murdered expectations: doesn’t that make it a Film Noir, expressionistic?
  • Hania Stella-Sawika: I refer you, dear reader, to my previous arguments, those for Dan Coopey, Kit Craig [I’m aware this post is already epic – sorry to ‘ditto’].
  • Blue Curry: things to be enjoyed and thought about for what they are, objects – yeah, there’re cultural references on the tip of the artworks’ tongues, but, Blue is about the fullest quality of a thing being, or ultimate thingness – Blue is an empiricist.
  • Duncan Swann: he lives in Munich – expressionist! Okay, it doesn’t mean he’s an expressionist (can he speak German, even?). But the images are expressionistic, they’ve a Otto Dix, Lasar Segall, Dresden quality. Again, referencing the parallel states of NOW and 1920s Germany, the most marked difference being the plurality of our state – German’s collapsing economy is our collapsing economies, etc. These are images of violent absence – a figure lounges minus an armchair, a relaxed stance is disturbed by the distortion caused by the missing form – they are delicate and brutal paintings.
  • Scott Mason: watch as text is beaten up by its own continuation, its own distribution, redistribution and appropriation – if this is empiric, it is the emotional and inner experience of being text that is being expressed.
  • Christine Sullivan & Rob Flint: I’ve no argument that can eek a cockle of Expressionism or empiricism from this work – partly because it isn’t the ‘work’ but a proposition for an artwork. It is impressionistic, obviously. Maybe, in the plaintive, increasingly desperate refrain ‘where are you, Bob?’, there’s some expression of a soul in anguish. Or not.

That’s all, folks. Please, don’t take this as meaningful, it’s running water, sometimes clear and refreshing, other times it’s piss.

Yep. I missed out Charlie Tweed, or Charlie Tweed missed out on me. Sorry. I’ve included an image of the video work that looks Film Noir-ish, let that be it – enough of this nonsense.


Again, I could’ve spilled these beans from the can of any angle of Art Theory – that’s always the issue, what makes most art writing unconvincing – what it does help with is prodding and poking an artwork for your own reaction – in a non-blog world, I’d return to fragments of this, fragments of other approaches, and construct some actuality of what I think and experience when looking at certain art –

Listing to WU LYF

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