This is a review of the event on Tuesday 10 December at Griffin Gallery written by artist Sam Mould
PaintUnion welcomes artists Susan Sluglett and George Little for our first evening of discussion. The term Painter of Modern Life applies to each artist, Sluglett presenting her painterly investigations based in an arbitrary mythology and Little adopting the metaphorical platform of the restaurant. Susan and George will each give a brief presentation of their work and then we will have a conversation with the artists, with a focus on how the history of painting is embedded in their practices.
Susan Sluglett currently lives and works in London; she is one of the three Jerwood Painting Fellows 2013. Following the opening show at Jerwood Visual Arts in April, the exhibition toured to BayArt in Cardiff through August, and will open in Aberystwyth Arts Centre in January 2014.
George Little currently lives and works in London. In 2012 he graduated from the Royal College of Art. He has exhibited widely both in the UK and internationally, including the Liverpool Biennial and the ICA as part of Bloomberg New Contemporaries.
Image: Susan Sluglett and George Little at PaintUnion, image courtesy Bosse and Baum
The Painter of Modern Life to coin a phrase was an essay written in 1863 by Charles Baudelaire as a commentary upon the modern day artist. This infamous essay reaches into the notion of duality between beauty and the artist ‘the duality of art is a fatal consequence of the duality of man.’
For Baudelaire, beauty is always in flux and momentary, yet enduring and eternal. ‘The pleasure which we derive from the representation of the present is due not only to the beauty with which it can be invested, but also to its essential quality of being present’and because we are made up of components analogous to what constitutes being man, there occurs a duality. The modern or ‘contemporary’ artist is considered the dandy, ‘a worldly observer with the curiosity of a child’ and ‘beauty is nothing else but a promise of happiness’.
This brings a slant on the investigative title of the talk: the painter of modern, or should it be said contemporary life. If we consider this the starting point in framing the work of George Little and Susan Sluggettwe are immediately immersed in a commentary upon these notions of beauty, flâneurism and a thoughtful, yet possible grotesque analysis of the indulgence of the western world.
George Little uses a variety of otherwise mundane subject matter orientated around the detritus of the restaurant to create a structured, yet opportune series of paintings. Aspects of pure painterly occurrence, such as metaphoric stains left on a tablecloth or the smear of lipstick on a napkin wrestle with bold lines and predictable patterns as though tussling with one another for dominance of the viewer’s attention. Layer upon layer of evidence is left, like the crumbs on plate. Underlying all of George Little’s work is a reflection on a fundamental need to eat and drink, this eating and drinking however comes with a commentary on what is left, the discarded bits of that beautiful plate of food, that experience of eating.More recently Little’s paintings have rolled into an installation format full of gestural mimicry. The palette and pattern are reminiscent of Henri Matisse’s use of colour or Patrick Caulfield’s bolshy prints. Likening the art world to the world of service. A cord between an expressive gesture and a formalized pattern is held in tension.
Susan Sluggett’s gestural still life paintings have a strangeness about them that seems to be a different way of at looking at things, and when we look at those things they get translated though painting into quirky animated objects that appear to be up to no good. Referencing demise and excess amongst other things they cynically critique our everyday existence in the world. Obsession with the rich and famous, evidence of their demise on one level serves as a commentary of social awareness, like a Hogarth etching and on another level acts around this notion of flânuerism for the everyday individual to find solace in the fact that celebrities, and even morphed animated objects have their vices. There is a strange juxtaposition, like finding a champagne bottle resting on the wall of a housing estate in Hackney or the blow up doll left at the gateway to a church. The humour and irony cannot be missed, even though it is shrouded in a cartoon façade, deep morals actually lie within as Susan Sluggett pours questions over social power and human relationships with a light-hearted well attuned flick of the paint brush.
Going back to Baudelaire’s observation that there is beauty in the every day and that anyone and everyone may cast themselves as the dandy.
Sam Mould http://sammouldpainting.com/