The Moving Surface : An Interview with Andreas Fischer

October 3, 2013 · Print This Article

"Rehearsal Attire," slow gallery, Installation shot, 2013.

“Rehearsal Attire,” slow gallery, Installation shot, 2013. Photo by Jeffrey Grauel, courtesy of slow gallery.

This summer I visited slow gallerys’ group show, Rehearsal Attire. It was an exhibit about painting and something about what slow’s Director Paul Hopkin said has stuck to my ribs. Hopkin talked about how many Chicago painters created flat canvases, with a picture plane that stands parallel to the viewer, suggesting this predisposition might have something to do with our immediate landscape — the way we live in a flatland, on urban streets crowded with buildings. By comparison  Southwestern painters are prone to pictures with expansive skies and topographical landscapes  stretching indefinitely out. Hopkin admitted that conversations like that — about horizon lines and abstraction — led Fischer and Hopkin to organize Rehearsal Attire together. In this case, however, landscapes were not expressly present, nor limitless topographies. Rather, Fisher’s abstract paintings hung alongside Meg Duguid, Mindy Rose Schwartz and Charles Fogarty. Duguid disassembled a wall in the gallery and packed it in a suitcase. Fogarty removed a wall from his studio, on which he had painted a gingham cloth and re-situated it inside slow, beside a pile of campaign-like baseball hats that read “LUNCH”. Mindy Rose Schwartz sculpted a figure out of plaster cast with an unprimed, and partially stitched canvas face; in another work a delicate series of hoops reach off the wall at variant angles. Between the hoops’ bounds, flowers and thread weave in abstract, figurative compositions. I was drawn into these works with many questions — questions about limits, deconstruction, assembly and abstraction, questions that brought me to Andreas Fischer’s studio, where we discussed his approach to painting, and how Rehearsal Attire came about.

Andreas Fischer, Supposing We Were Ever So Sure Of All Those Things -What Would We Know Then That We Don't Already? 23" x 21" Oil, acrylic, charcoal, and pencil, 2012.

Andreas Fischer, Supposing We Were Ever So Sure Of All Those Things -What Would We Know Then That We Don’t Already?
23″ x 21″ Oil, acrylic, charcoal, and pencil, 2012.

Caroline Picard: How do you think about horizon lines in paintings? Can you have multiple limits operating at once in the same piece?

Andreas Fischer: Things like horizon lines and spatial boundaries come from  conventions embedded in the images I have been using.  The starting points for all of my recent work are what I would call conventional everyday image types -the kinds of images that are so present that they often get taken for granted or ignored.  At the same time, though, they have a problematic status because they are completely  contested territory even though they might look stable.

On  one hand I am using various aspects of the conventional states of these images, which are socially determined. On the other hand I am  materializing a reaction by trying to reconstruct these images, which I see as an example of how any individual might react. So, yes there are definitely multiple limits and they are directed by moving changing negotiations that I see as a kind of intersection of one idea of what is social and another idea of what is individual. Painting in this sense is a kind of materialization of reception or reaction — action painting in a sense, but not as a statement — maybe more like the way an electronic instrument might monitor a changing environment.

CP: Wait — that’s exciting. How is a painting like an electronic instrument? Is it responding to you or the viewer?

AF: Well, I think of painting as decidedly not static and that is a big reason I am interested in it.  I do think that so called fixed images are different from what we more clearly accept to be in motion.  Paintings are moving perhaps more slowly and can be understood as attempts to visualize actions in a heightened way.  Literally and chemically paint is  moving and changing over time from the moment pigment is ground, through the gesture of applying paint, to the drying; shrinking; aging and cracking that paint undergoes over time.

More importantly, though, a painting is an  action or gesture that begins to happen under certain circumstances and changes as the context around it changes. Our perceptions and interpretations of paintings change as the changing chemical compounds intersect with worlds that are always trying to figure themselves out. In this sense painting is like an electronic instrument in that it is a kind of sensor and feedback system that outputs interpretable data as the world moves — the meaning of the painting (or its output) changes as the stuff around it changes.

I am interested in the act of painting as a way of thinking, sorting or  diagnosing.  Both painting and electronic instruments come into being in a sense because of what they need to be able to do with their environments.  Electronic instruments are programmed to track, calculate, and relay data based on socially developed criteria or perceived need.  Maybe we do a version of this too as individuals  and if so I think painting is likely a materialization of this kind of reflection of a larger social environment.

Andreas Fischer, A Friend Who Believes You Are Reading Her Mind Knows This By Reading Yours  21" x 19" oil, acrylic, charcoal, 2012.

Andreas Fischer, “Arrested, Out Around 9:30 ” 19″ x 17″ oil, acrylic, charcoal, cut canvas, 2012.

CP:  How do you think about the logic of a single composition? 

AF: The operating functions for composition and formal relationships for me are negotiation and process. In a sense each work is compositionally and formally its own activity. The kinds of reactions and procedures that an image seems to provoke on a given day especially as these bounce off of different patterns of thought and expectation floating around in the world vary quite a bit. This part of the operation  is not a logical progression — it is more preformative, maybe a bit like the way a player responds to the action in many kinds of sports.

CP: But in that case are you playing against yourself? Like a soccer player bouncing a ball against a concrete wall with static, physical and predictable qualities? Or do you feel like the canvas/paint/medium brush are less predictable and somehow capable of responding to you, like — say — another player on the field?

AF: I definitely experience it as the latter.  What I was thinking about was the way a body navigates and responds to various barriers and desired outcomes in real time — the spontaneous interaction of it all is so much like the act of painting for me.  Maybe the ingredients of painting are not quite like another player, but more like the entire context of the game.  So yes, the medium is not predictable for me.  If I could control it I wouldn’t paint.  Furthermore,  I suspect that I am deciding or acting and reacting coextensively with social interactions I have had or might anticipate having in the future.  I think this is where the distinction between  what is social and what is individual falls  apart in an interesting way because each of these determine the other and maybe there is not really even a distinction in the end.  Maybe we are really post-individual.

"Rehearsal Attire," slow gallery, Installation shot, 2013.

“Rehearsal Attire,” slow gallery, Installation shot, 2013. Photo by Jeffrey Graul courtesy of slow gallery.

CP: How did your recent show “Rehearsal Attire” come together?

AF: Paul Hopkin and I have been talking about doing something for a while and when we started to think seriously about what a project might look like we started trying think of way to  acknowledge conversation as a generative tool. I was making work that was in many was the product of specific conversations I was having with a few people and was very interested in a group show as a way to extend that dialogue.  I think Paul had been on that page for a while before we started working on the project.

Much of art history is really the act of watching very particular materialized conversations between a surprisingly small group of people. One could argue that the real content of much art is the function of conversation or relatively intimate social interaction. I wanted to start acknowledging my work as a set of  indexes of  lines of conversation.  I wanted to take that system  into a gallery and mix it with a different group of people  having different conversations so that one conversational context would bounce off of a few others to see how they would co-mingle and resisted each other.  There are so many amazing ways that groups or specific conversations out in the world intersect with other groups.  There is something fundamentally fascinating about a semi closed circle bumping into another semi closed circle.   That vibration, that negotiation is incredibly exciting to me and has been a huge motivator for my work over the last several years.

CP: How do you see that fitting into the more general dialogue of painting at the moment?

AF: I see a great deal of coolness of one kind or another in painting right now. I might be interacting with that characterization in the sense that, even though I kind of love much of the work I would characterize this way, I am much more interested in a state of being thoroughly tangled in the messiness of thought, struggle, material, and process.  I am probably not anything like cool in my interaction with painting.  I think I embrace a kind of sloppy affirmational complexity that has more of a diving-into-the-muck quality to it.

CP: How do you think about deconstructing frames? Is that something of interest to you in painting?

AF: I love deconstruction and the expectation that it will yield different layers of meaning. But I don’t think of my work in those terms right now. I think the negotiations that I see the work enacting are more like a struggle to bring things together. There is the familiar idea about early modernism that at a certain point painting became more opaque, more interested in its own materialism as a way of enacting skepticism toward unified illusion and its ability to function as a vehicle for certain idealisms, perhaps dangerously so. This is a way of seeing materially oriented painting as engaged in negation, criticism or the act of taking apart to an extent. Now that the idea of a unified illusionistic painting is historical and the more usual way for painting to function is through assertions of materialism over illusion, I think materially active painting has executed one critical task that maybe does not need to be rehearsed as insistently anymore meaning that materialism is a kind of free floating signifier that can attach itself to a much wider range of potential functions.  The range of possibilities for material activity has opened  up.

One of the possibilities can be a link between opacity and the act or struggle to form an image or to produce rather than take apart. Painting can be expected to  create a narrative construction relative to images we know to exist or not. For me the act that is most important is the act of framing in a sense, or getting an image to grow and take shape inside a frame, on a surface, or within a field.  In that case when we watch a painting we are watching something grow.

Andreas Fischer, "A Friend Who Believes You Are Reading Her Mind Knows This By Reading Yours"  21" x 19" oil, acrylic, charcoal, 2012

Andreas Fischer, “A Friend Who Believes You Are Reading Her Mind Knows This By Reading Yours”
21″ x 19″ oil, acrylic, charcoal, 2012

CP: One of the things I often struggle with in abstract painting is how to understand the meaning, or what is at stake in a given work. Taking what you said into account, I wonder if this idea of emergent order (is that an accurate paraphrase for “getting an image to grow and take shape inside a frame”) is at the heart of the matter. Namely, whether or not a painting succeeds and/or fails at that — whether it makes the pursuit of that order interesting, and — if you’ll allow a sentimental tone — heartbreaking (again, because it succeeds, or almost succeeds)?

AF: I totally agree with what you are suggesting at least in terms of how I would like my work to live or die.  Heartbreak could very well be a part of it all.

I like that you use the term emergent order as well.  I understand that to be a bottom up kind of growth based on a kind of exchange and growth where no one entity is in charge, is designing or directing the process or even knows what is going on, but great innovation or development takes place anyway.  I think social interaction that flows beyond individual intent or understanding (or maybe just determines it in the end), but operates none the less is totally fascinating and it might be that many kinds of paintings are symptomatic of this kind of function somehow because they happen through a group of impulses, gestures, thoughts, urges, curiosities that just move around an individual  kind of unknowingly.  There is an argument about Cezanne, for example that his supposedly individualistic innovations in paint handling are really just marks that anyone could make, which means that Cezanne is not an old fashioned modernist genius, but a kind of repository of commonality and his brilliance is really in his assertion of a shared, common, everyday kind of simple mark that anyone could make.

In the end if all of these interactions somehow reflect something valuable  then they work.  And as you suggest, maybe if this kind of thing is true then it establishes a different way for painting to function than relying on what we might have called meaning in the past.  Maybe it is not really about the question of where or even if it ends up, but a kind of empathetic struggle to move toward something.




From Day to Day: An Interview with Magalie Guerin

September 17, 2013 · Print This Article

 

Magalie Guerin, "Untitled (Hat-black horizon)," 2013, oil on canvas, 16x20"

Magalie Guerin, “Untitled (Hat-black horizon),” 2013, oil on canvas, 16×20″

Over the last year Guerin has dedicated herself to a single shape. Every painting begins with the same premise — the same subject: an abstract shape originally derived from a chair, it has, over the course of its repetition developed other affinities as well. Sometimes it looks like a hat, or a four leaf clover, or a corporeal organ. Certainly it stands in for a figure. It is at once empty and pregnant with meaning.  By working exclusively with this shape, Guerin explores the medium of paint, focusing on its expansive possibilities, while remaining formally constricted. A collection of these works are presently on view at Columbia College’s Glass Curtain Galley, in a group show called “Slow Read.”  Painters Emiliano Cerna-Rios, Magalie Guerin, Brian Kapernekas, Nazafarin Lotfi and Tim Nickodemus  hang their work with accompanying, personally curated libraries. Guerin, for her part, includes a  journal with notes from studio visits, reflections on the history of paintings, the work of her peers and her romantic life.

Caroline Picard: You use a repeating shape or motif throughout this series of works. Can you talk about how you discovered this shape?

Magalie Guerin: Well, it’s an invented shape loosely based on a chair design. As I worked with it, it ended up looking more like a hat, so I call it the Hat shape although now it seems to have morphed into an organ of some sorts… But really, it’s a structural form onto which I apply the paint.

CP: When we met in your studio, I feel like there was a point where you started talking about the shape in terms of a relationship, as though each iteration of the shape is another portrait that offers new insight. Suddenly the shape seems less abstract and more personal — is that fair? Has your relationship to the shape changed over time? Do you ever fight with the shape?

MG: Yes, that’s fair (perhaps a little strange too). The shape has become a kind of companion to me, a pet form. There’s a strong association in my mind now between my studio practice and that particular shape. I’m not sure how I can let it go at this point; it’s been a year. My relationship to it is very similar to any relationship—sometimes I’m bored stiff with it or I love it or I’m angry at it.

CP: I like thinking about how the shape somehow lives in your studio. Almost as though when you are in the studio you inhabit its space.

MG: Or it mine… it’s all very symbiotic. 

Magalie Guerin, "Untitled (Hat-grey beige)," 2013, oil on canvas, 16x20"

Magalie Guerin, “Untitled (Hat-grey beige),” 2013, oil on canvas, 16×20″

CP: Does it feel like the shape exists as a thing that is separate and autonomous from you? Or do you feel like it is a projection of your own inner space?

MG: Hmmm, that’s a hard question and it creeps me out a little! A Cronenberg-esque scenario… So let’s think of the work— the paintings, not the shape itself. They wouldn’t exist without me so it does start with a projection of some sorts. But once they leave the studio, they develop a relationship with others so I could say a life of their own.

CP: I’m also interested in the idea of repetition and practice — it seems at the core of this project somehow and very meditative also (if that’s the right word). In other words, you return to paint the same shape again and again in different frames, with different colors and surfacing approaches — the shape remains the same, and yet I imagine your experience of the process changes dramatically depending on the day, the week, the month, depending on the peculiar challenges one composition demands, and depending on your own emotional landscape…what is that process like?

MG: I wish the process was meditative! It’s way too hard to be. I did reduce the possibilities in the studio in terms of size and shape but everything else is wide open so there’s a lot to attend to. Basically, I’m trying to create a focused practice and repetition has been helpful for that. I’m thinking a lot about what Morandi did with his ‘bottles’ and how, through sheer repetition, he was able to get to the essence of things—not the essence of the bottles but of life. It’s so very moving.

CP: Which then makes me want to ask about painting also — you mention Morandi, and the way he was able to distill his subject to earth tone bottles. I’ve heard people talk about how that makes his work emphasize the medium of paint. Do you think that’s accurate? Would you say The Shape does the same thing for you? By limiting your subject, you can focus on the materiality of your medium?

MG: Yes, I think that’s true. When I was working with multiple shapes, each painting was a new one and I was getting caught up on how the form looked and its design within the picture plane. There was a kind of anxiety about getting it ‘right’ because I had one shot at it. By repeating it, it’s more of an exploration of possibilities and subtleties—there’s no right or wrong. I can’t tell which painting is a better representation of it; they all blend in at this point. They are all the same.

InstallSlowRead

Installing Slow Read (photo by Justin Witte)

CP: You often sand down your paintings between layers.  I’m interested in the labor and erasure this process employs. Can you talk about how you came to that technique? And what goes through your mind when you begin to sand a particular layer of your work?

MG: It comes from doubt—I’m never sure that the color I add is right so I sand it down each time. And what that does is uncover the previous layers. The process is about revealing the past, building a richness of surface by allowing time to be seen. I often finish the painting by veiling it all with a coat of transparent Zinc white, which I love.

CP: For some reason this strikes me as a kind of violent act — maybe both sanding and covering with white.

MG: Really? That’s interesting, I’ve never thought of it being violent. Perhaps it is. Perhaps I hate them a little…

CP: It seems significant that you show these works with a journal, and like the paintings they are an amalgam of reflections on your studio practice, comments studio visitors have made, remarks you make about various aspects of the art historical cannon, your peers and then too your personal, romantic life. How did you decide to include this journal? And you’ve re-written it several times, by hand, for different exhibits — what was that re-writing process like?

MG: I write in the studio to help me understand what I’m doing (it’s a mystery most of the time!). When I started the ‘Hat project’ last September, I was interested in rules and limitations so I made a rule that I had to write something every single time I came to the studio no matter what it was. I really wanted to find out specifically what I was asking of my work. But obviously, there are days when my head is elsewhere even when I’m in the studio, that’s why the writing sometimes veers towards the weather of my romantic life. It was also a way to document how many times a week I was able to paint and how long the paintings take me to complete. Then what happened is that I was asked to make an ‘artist book’ for a show Sean Ward organized at Julius Caesar in Chicago. This opportunity came just after I heard the poet Kenneth Goldsmith talk about copying and organizing writing as his art form and I found that an interesting/conflicting activity for a writer to engage in. I thought—what if one copies oneself? If one also creates the original, does it change the nature of the copy?

So I took all the notebooks I’ve written in since moving to Chicago for grad school in 2009 and again, made a list of rules like ‘don’t add punctuation’, ‘delete dates’ ‘no chronology’ ‘repeat is ok’ etc. I merged and copied everything by hand in a Moleskine book. As I was transcribing the entries, I was also writing in my current journal about what I thought, critically, of the Notes project, complaining about the look of my handwriting and such while simultaneously copying these thoughts as a copy. That process became very interesting to me. I wrote about what I would do differently if I was to make a second version of the book, an edited/revised copy of the first one. A few months later, this latest opportunity—the Slow Read show—presented itself.  We were asked to curate a selection of books to accompany our paintings. Nazafarin Lotfi contacted a few artists about making books for her space—that’s when I did the second version. So my book is included with Nazy’s work in the exhibition, not mine. I’m showing Anaïs Nin’s Diaries.

Magalie Guerin, Light in studio, 2012 Working on 'Notes On'

Magalie Guerin, 
Working on ‘Notes On’, 2012.

CP: Would ever think about these journals — with each subsequent generation — as a practice that parallels your shape paintings? For instance, could we think of each shape as its own, non-semantic journal? Could each journal be a kind of non-painted Shape painting?

MG: Technically I’d say yes but I’m still confused about the place of writing in my art production. It’s the first time I’m sharing it publicly. I mean, the questions are— how much writing of interest can I generate? How can I present writing as a visual artist? Should the books remain one-of-a-kind like a painting? How do I think of writing as a medium? Can I allow grammar mistakes and such? Is my writing too personal? So you see, it’s all very complicated…

CP: It’s interesting to think that an object in book form would demand a different aesthetic criteria than an object fashioned from paint and canvas.

MG: Maybe it’s not different, or at least shouldn’t be so, but it’s all very new to me so I have a lot of questions about it.

CP: How did you end up selecting work to hang in your show, by the way? I remember you were having a hard time deciding which paintings to exhibit in Slow Read.

MG: Ha! That was hard because as I said, they all blend in now as one project. To have to select a few (I think there’s 11 in the show) out of the 30 or so I’ve made seems irrational. Justin Witte, the curator, had some favorites so that helped. But most of it was trying to find a variety that would best represent the whole spectrum of the project as of yet––because, well, it’s still going…

 

 

 




Dominic from Luton goes to Reykjavik

August 9, 2013 · Print This Article

Dominic from Luton as Paul Young (documentation of a performance)

Dominic from Luton as Paul Young. All installation photos by Ingvar Hogni Ragnarsson

Guest post by Mark Sheerin

It is more than 1,000 miles from Luton, England, to Reykjavik, Iceland. But Dominic from the UK town appears to love a good caper. Why else would he put together a group show on very little money in one of the most far flung and expensive cities in Europe?

“It was done on a wing and a prayer,” he tells me on the phone from his Luton studio. “The art was just really, really ambitious considering we didn’t have much money to play with. It’s amazing what you can do with a cardboard tube and a delivery van.”

Five artists took part. And the show has just run for a month at gallery Kling & Bang. Along with Dominic, the full bill included Gavin Turk, Mark Titchner, Laura White and Peter Lamb. The show went by the name London Utd. “It’s kind of doing what it says on the tin,” says Dominic, whose eponymous town is just a twenty minute train ride from the UK capital.

Not that he is the first to cross the Atlantic to the artist led space. He tells me that Paul McCarthy and Jason Rhoades have also shown at the dynamic and co-operative venue. And Dominic takes the opportunity to recount the tale of Kling & Bang’s legendary appearance at Frieze Art Fair.

Work by Gavin Turk at Kling & Bang

Work by Gavin Turk at Kling & Bang

“They did a Frieze Project in London in 2008 called Sirkus. It’s an incredible story,” says the artist, telling me that Sirkus was the name of a Reykyavik bar: “This place was the hub, the heartbeat of the arts community”. But after nine years of business, Sirkus closed down, leaving Kling & Bang free to turn the façade and fixtures into a temporary installation for the art fair.

Dominic warms to his tale: “They arrived at Heathrow in October 2008 and basically all their credit cards had been stopped because the [Icelandic] crash had suddenly happened overnight and so this bar, which was a mirror of good times and place to meet, became that again in London.” Word soon went round about the penniless Icelanders with the reconstructed bar.

Things are a bit better in Reykjavik now and in its way London Utd has become another bridge between the art scenes in both cities. Mark Titchner’s piece was a piece of text in Icelandic, which read The World Isn’t Working. (Perhaps the UK crash is yet to come.)

Gavin Turk meanwhile offered a twelve and a half metre diptych inspired by Andy Warhol’s Death and Disaster series and featuring the four wheeled emblem of working class Britain the Ford Transit. Laura White produced no less than 54 drawings of photos of sculptures which she herself had made. And Peter Lamb translated the shifting detritus on his studio floor into two large abstract canvases.

Asked about one of his own works in the show, Dominic is ready with another yarn. “That photo was done as a tribute to Paul Young,” he tells me. Like the artist, the singer came from Luton. “He used to work at Vauxhall [car plant] in the early 80s and he told someone I know in the canteen once that he was going to be a global pop star and then literally 18 months later he was, with Everytime You Go Away.”

The track resonates with many a Lutonian and inspired a Dominic from Luton performance at an event called Café Almanac organised by Bedford Creative Arts. This involved sourcing an 80s wig from Luton Indoor Market, posing for a portrait artist in the shopping centre and getting 5,000 badges made to cover a cheap suit. “I just stood up in front of about 50 people in this Working Men’s Club on a Saturday afternoon and sung my heart out,” recalls the artist.

Peter Lamb (installation view at Kling and Bang)

Peter Lamb (installation view at Kling and Bang)

This took place under a net filled with 200 balloons in the colours of the local soccer team, intended for release in the final verse. However “The net got caught in all of my badges so I had 200 balloons attached to me and I panicked and – it wasn’t scripted at all – I basically ended up having a fight with these balloons and stamping on them and stuff and it brought the house down actually.”

But despite the hazardous stagecraft, Dominic’s “biggest challenge” is a self-proclaimed inability to sing. So it comes as no surprise that the artist thinks most performance art is too earnest. “People would argue with this, but I think there’s a duty to entertain,” he says, “That’s just my take on it. That’s my little mantra.” Even the anecdotes which relate to each of his gigs are compelling experiences.

As a final aside, it’s worth pointing out that the artist formerly known as Dominic Allan comes from one of the most derided towns in the UK. His “from Luton” tag is a sticky piece of cultural baggage. Dominic tells me that the name just came about through being easy to remember when he ordered materials.

Now, he claims, “It’s just a very glorious vehicle for the idea of the underdog and also to shove it back in people’s faces now because Luton’s one of those towns which people laugh about . . . The more I go on, the more I realise that it is serious, and it is serious”.

So that’s Dominic, from Luton, easy to laugh with, hard to laugh at. Prepare to be entertained if he ever comes to your town.

Mark Sheerin is an art writer from Brighton, UK. He can also be found on Culture24, Hyperallergic, Frame & Reference and his own blog criticismism.com




Episode 410: Michael Scoggins

July 9, 2013 · Print This Article

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


download
scoggins-web
This week: The Amanda Browder Show rolls back into town! Amanda talks to artist Michael Scoggins.

Michael Scoggins was born in Washington D.C. in 1973. Growing up in Virginia and relocating later to Savannah, Georgia where he gained an MFA in painting from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2006. In the summer 2003 he attended the prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan, Maine. He has shown extensively, gained international recognition and has gallery representation in Atlanta, Miami, New York, San Francisco, Vienna and Seoul. Michael currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.




Anyone Can See That The Canvas Doesn’t Fight Back /// On Winston Churchill and George W. Bush

April 6, 2013 · Print This Article

Winston Churchill—one of the most famous men of the 20th century— was the Prime Minister of England (twice!) and a big, sappy painter. He loved his landscapes and still lives and painted over an estimated 500 in his lifetime. What drew a man of such political power to something like painting? He saw it as the end-all, be-all of anxiety, which I think says a lot coming from someone who nicknamed his own clinical depression.

Churchill was an accomplished writer as well, establishing a close friendship with American publisher Emery Reves — who would inevitably begin to collect the politician’s paintings. Reeves would later die in 1981 but soon after his wife, a native Texan, would establish the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection at the Dallas Museum of Art.

In Churchill’s 1932 meditation, Painting As A Pastime[1], he begins with remedies to avoid worry for those who have to “bear exceptional responsibilities.” He states:

Some counsel travel, and others retreat. Some praise solitude, and others, gaiety. No doubt all these may play their part according to the individual temperament. But the element which is constant and common in all of them is Change.

Change is the master key.

 

Churchill seen here in 1948, probably in France.

Churchill seen here in 1948, probably in France.

 

*****

Preston Hollow is a northern suburb of Dallas, Texas and the home of former president George W. Bush.  It takes, according to Google maps, about 10 minutes to get from downtown Preston Hollow to 1717 N Harwood St, the home of the Dallas Museum of Art. Make a few turns here and there and inevitably, you are surrounded by paintings by the most powerful Prime Minister of all time.[2]

Since the news spread in early February of Bush’s new interest in painting, and the inevitable link between the two men, I’ve thought a lot about what it takes to take up any act of artistic expression after immense anxiety. All crazy theories aside, I don’t really think it’s that far fetched to assume that Bush, the recent (for-a-lack-of-a-better-word) “victim” of cyber hacking, is unaware of the paintings by Winston Churchill.

Churchill was pretty unabashed about the masculine attributes of his endeavors. Painting, he felt, was like fighting a battle. Speaking of his initial hesitation to begin, he realized “anyone could see that it [the canvas], could not hit back.” It was, in his opinion, great for reducing the worry brought about by public pressure.

Though subject matter for Churchill was always of a tame, amateur nature that had been in vogue for hobbyists for a long time. The typical English countryside, French landscape or an orchid set up are his most notable works—never (thank goodness) any implied nude self-portraits. Churchill did not live to see the post-Warhol world, though, and was probably too busy to notice the Abstract Expressionists or any other Avant-garde art movements at the time. After his initial stint as Prime Minister, he was briefly in the United States to give the Iron Curtain speech[3] and was probably monitoring The Cold War thereafter as Leader of the Opposition party.

So while in theory he proclaimed in Painting as a Pastime and elsewhere that painting held strong sentiments to war and  ‘conquering a canvas’, as it were, Churchill’s actual paintings were anything but war-like.

An example of Churchill's paintings. He favored Orchids and other flowers with a contrasting backdrop.

An example of Churchill’s paintings. He favored Orchids and other flowers with a contrasting backdrop.

*****

In order to make his plan, the General must not only reconnoiter the battle-ground, he must also study the achievements of the great Captains of the past.

He must bring the observations he has collected in the field into comparison with the treatment of similar incidents by famous chiefs.

…

You see the difficulty that baffled you yesterday; and you see how easily it has been overcome by a great or even by a skilful painter. …You will look at the masterpieces of art with an analyzing and a comprehending eye.

 

George W. Bush is rather famous for waxing over any misgivings about his presidency by saying on numerous occasions, “let history be the judge.” If Churchill has given a precedent regarding hobby-painting after leading a war-driven administration, is it safe to say that Bush is attempting to reconcile his previous gutsy, no nonsense Cowboy persona by tapping into his artistic side?

He wouldn’t be the first but he is certainly the strangest.



[1] Originally appeared in Churchill’s essays of adventures, Amid These Storms

[2] Churchill took up painting at the age of 40 and was Prime Minister the first time, during WWII at age 66, when England was part of the allied forces against Germany, headed by Adolf Hitler—another famous politician and painter of the 20th century.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt wasn’t a painter but an admirer who established a role for artists as part of the New Deal. Supreme Commander of the allied forces, Dwight D. Einsenhower (later 34th president) was known to dabble in oil painting, Churchill’s preferred medium.

[3] Given on March 6th, 1946 at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, Churchill touted his long skepticism of Soviet control in Western Europe despite their former status as an major ally force. At the time Jackson Pollock still lived in relative obscurity and most artists at the time were seen as Communist-leaning, or “nutty” as President Truman saw it.