Integrity Painting Prize
From the outset it’s clear that this group exhibition is unlike any other. Its challenging, sometimes confusing dialogue, immediately caught my attention. Was this show a joke? or was it a serious discourse into artistic morality? Maybe it was somewhere in-between. Then there were the prizes: The Laity Fellowship (Outstanding Achievements in Unease with Symbolic Infinity), The Dove Men(TM); "Care Makes Us Men" Award, The Landmark Prize, The Didact Prize for Meaning, The Preternatural Flow Award, Zones Medallion, All City Prize and the Hubris Prize. What did they really stand for? were they purely ornamental or would they transform the artist’s commercial reach?
Four years ago, Integrity Painting Prize’s sister organisation, Hotel Gilchrist, hosted the British Art Show 7 in 49 West Princes street. Not to be mistaken of course with the British Art Show 7 which took place in galleries across the city. Since then, organisers Florrie James and Ross Little, have been working towards hosting this extraordinary group show in Glasgow’s Glue Factory. The nominated and exhibiting artists are: Giovanni Giacoia, Ross Little, Tom Marshallsay, Max Prus, Hannah Bays, Rodolfo Brito, Florrie James and Francesca Blomfield.
Of the eight artists from Glasgow and London, I managed to speak with four of them about their work and integrity.
The voice of Integrity has spoken. However, as one of the organisers of the exhibition, how would you describe the Integrity Painting Prize?
Ross Little: We are walking a thin line between taking the piss too much (and so diminishing the work) and being too serious. For me I think the idea of the show, or at least the title and frame of the prizes, is to try and rid the show of this austere and serious vibe I often get from painting shows. Austere is possibly an interesting word to use, as it both implies a strict coldness, but also alludes to being free from luxuries, which is a bit of a paradox as paintings are synonymous with luxury objects.When thinking about this thin line I want us to tread, I have found looking at the word 'serious' to be useful. It is is something I want to be, and something that I loathe to be as well.
Integrity would like to be earnest, sincere, genuine and wholehearted, it has aspirations (aspirations that will likely not be met, at least within this farcical exhibition-framework) to be intellectual, heavyweight and profound, but at the same time is wary of being sober, dour and stony-faced.
Integrity is interested in communicating a certain mode of exhibition format and presentation thatflickers between criticality and and nonsense, between the trustworthy voice of an alleged authority and the ersatz voice of a dubious institution.
You've won the prestigious Hubris Prize which is described as: 'Painting is no big deal. The Hubris Prize is.' Each artist has received an award, could you explain the reason behind this and their unique titles?
Florrie James: Everyone is a winner. Sam Bellacosa created the prizes, he also wrote the exhibition text which describes the award and its recipient. Sam and I have worked on films before and he has done a lot of writing for many journals around Glasgow. He is a very good friend of us all, so he can speak from a place that is familiar rather than just taking a viewpoint after seeing the work which is nice.
Was Sam the voice of Integrity?
FJ: No, no, well - it depends - he has a lot of integrity in his voice [laughs].
You've expressed your hope that the Integrity Painting Prize will parallel the success of other competitions such as the Great British Bake-Off and the British Petroleum Portrait Award, does this mean that we can expect another one?
FJ: I hope so, I hope a lot of people apply next year.
As a Londoner and a recent graduate in Fine Art from the Royal Academy, how does the art scene in Glasgow compare to London?
Hannah Bays: I love it. We drove the work up in a van and it’s been pretty busy since then. I’ve always wanted to come to Glasgow, but never made it. London is changing so rapidly in terms of the property prices and that's really pushing away a lot of the D.I.Y element of putting on shows and finding spaces. So it seems like there is more space to do that here and it's a bit more ramshackle which I love.
Do you think it is important for artists to be curating their own shows?
HB: Yeah absolutely, it is really important. Having just left the RA, you think to yourself ‘do I wait for the galleries to come knocking?' but the trouble is they perhaps aren't institutions you want to be creatively aligning with. I think it’s quite hard to navigate through all the corporations too.
You mention that you've been strongly influenced by Dada and the Surrealists. Your paintings are very striking in their size, colour combinations and the fast, bold application of paint. What would you say underpins your creative curiosity?
HB: I am very interested in human drives, motivations and that which provides meaning in our lives. Desire as a motivating force; we are on a rotating wheel where we are constantly seeking new goals. This notion plays into consumer cultural ideals: that we always want more. Our unconscious is a factory that produces desire - not just sexual desire but linked to it - it is the will of the machine to connect to others. I find this an especiallypertinent subject in this time of obsessive social media.
There is a sense of artifice in my paintings and the colours denote that, specifically in Desiring Machine. It’s kind of like a seductive apple from myth. By this I mean, you don't get a mythical feeling from the painting but my idea was that the apple had this mythical content from the bible; the tempting fruit in the Garden of Eden. The infiltration of myth into consumer cultural context. I'm interested in inherited symbolic meaning. It’s like a fruit machine in my head, but with bodily forms. The bold curves look quite artificial, but they also reference natural reproductive diagrams from a science book.
The painting is about reaching for your ideals which are fallible. The plaster on the apple is there to signal that the object is puncturable. I went through a phase of painting inflatable objects and it’s just like that: they are purely surface. They look 3d but there is nothing in them. Instead, they are just filled with air. In terms of consumer culture and perhaps all sorts of desires, they pop as soon as you get them and then you want something beyond that. You are never satisfied.
You raise an interesting point when you describe the paintings as being 'purely surface.' In Frederic Jameson's Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalim, one of the arguments he puts forward is that postmodern paintings are purely surface, they have a depthlessness quality to them. He specifically references Andy Warhol's Diamond Dust Shoes, but it is applicable to other Pop Art or postmodernist artists like Jeff Koons. Koons who similarly has a playful, affirmative mode in art but one which can seem quite repulsive too, such as the Banality series.
HB: I wasn’t a massive fan of Jeff Koons but there are definite links. I think my paintings are quite poppy, yet I also have an interest in spontaneous gesture more linked to abstract expressionism, so I try to combine the two. The mixing of 'so-called' high and low, though obviously problematic terms, is also of interest. I like to include more prosaic elements from everyday life (apples, plasters) whilst also dealing with the history of painting. I think my work has links to so-called 'Bad painting' in this sense. Blurring those boundaries.
Wrapture depicts one big sweetie which is more abstract but really large. It was supposed to be quite a negative, dark and evil exploding sweetie but in the process of making it, it transformed into something almost celebratory. My colour choices are always really seductive but to the brink of being nauseating. They seduce the viewer but then there is something there that makes you question whether they are nice or not. They can really vary in under different lighting conditions too, sometimes they are horrible and then other times they are made to look totally loveable and enticing. I want the colours to really affect the viewer, it is about the here and now. A lot of my older work was about history and different textures but I want people to experience impact through the shock of colour.
In addition to the Integrity Painting Prize, you recently won another award. Could you tell us a little about it and its significance?
Francesca Blomfield: Yeah, yeah I’ve won a real painting award for the first time in my entire life; an improbability. It is a painting fellowship for a year with a space called Jerwood in London. It’s basically a bursary and some mentorship from Pheobe Unwin, who is a London-based painter. We have meetings together and she imparts her wisdom and hopefully by the end of it I’ll be a better painter [laughs].
Your current work explores cultural motifs, specifically credit cards. What do you consider to be your greatest influence to date in your practice?
FB: I got quite involved in conspiracy theories. It’s kind of like mysteries filtered out a bit. My current work is revisiting these ideas and the challenges they impose. I'm specifically looking at the connections between things and how we locate our everyday objects, what the meaning of that is and maybe the meaning you wouldn’t necessarily expect. I also like advertising and branding and I do a bit of writing as well. I'm exploring the idea of copywriting and how copywriters basically get a word count and then they have to fill the space through the use of copy. It’s kind of like that approach to doing things, I feel quite assimilated to that approach.
I’m still trying to work out why it is that I am painting. 'Once a conspiracy theorist, always conspiracy theorist.' I think you could say the same thing about painters, even painters that don't make traditional painting any more but started out that way. Someone like Duchamp is a great example, starting with painting, then over time shifting into other materials, but there are still traces of painting in their later work whatever they move onto.
By comparison to the other works in the Integrity Painting Prize your canvases are much smaller. Is there a reason for this?
FB: I really like American painting but I was particularly affected after reading an essay by Robert Morris, From a Chomskian Couch: The Imperialistic Unconscious; he was arguing about the impact of American imperialism on Abstract Expressionist painting - but like all over - you can look at that like you are colonising the space. So I stopped making big work.
There are a lot of bold colour gradients and juxtapositions in your work. You seem to be working in layers both on theoretical sense and a practical one when creating these pieces.
FB: It was something I did for a couple of years, I was really interested in layering things up. It looks like you are covering something up. In order to get some of those colours it requires other colours underneath, it does kind of mute them but it does change them too - it's interesting for me to play around with that. However, I’m not a colour theorist, it’s a 'lets see what happens approach.' The colour schemes in these works are taken directly from credit cards.
How does it feel winning the Preternatural Flow Award in the Integrity Painting Prize?
FB: I don't understand what the word 'preternatural' means, but I like the word flow because I have racing thoughts. At one point when I was painting at university I thought: 'hold on a second I’ve got too many thoughts.' It’s difficult painting sometimes because it demands its own constraint but for me, canvas painting is about constraint due to its materials: size, surface and paint. All those things inform the idea behind the painting. That is how you make that journey through. My mind is super flowy.
What is integrity to you?
FB: Working really, really, really hard. Just going through that wall. It’s weird because I’ve got a studio of my own and it is a different environment to other painters who work in a collective space or a shared studio. However it is that process of getting through the work alone and getting through the bad paintings that is actually the most interest thing. You can learn a lot from paintings that you weren’t happy with, or things that occur that you hadn't foreseen. Being honest enough to say you make those mistakes, I think that is integrity.