An exploration of contemporary painting practice

Zonbi (Painting at the End of the World) presents

Louise Bristow * Adam Dix * Ian Goncharov * Jane Millican * Benet Spencer

Pre-production exposes the visual testing and exploration of subject matter and material before committal to final output.

Historically the audience rarely sees the preparatory work of the artist. Instead and more so now, the audience gets the gloss full stop. If you visit a review show like the recent Lichtenstein retro at Tate, you might glimpse a few sketches of his early cartoons – before they were all transformed into Benday dots – or a few collages on lined paper, but these are often versions that don’t make it into a finished work. Richter’s Atlas (2006) is perhaps the best example of a thorough exposé of the artistic process. The extensive library of photographs taken and collected, played with in collages and visualised as super massive canvases, give a deeper understanding of the core concerns of the practice. The personal navigation through the world of images, memory and response are staked out and laid bare.

When thinking specifically about collage and painting, perhaps the first examples that come to mind are the works of Picasso and Schwitters, or Dalwood and Rosler. Collage provides a jumble of the expected in combination with the absurd. The rules of normal engagement are suspended – in favour of a parade of the impossible, the visceral. The real is pasted back onto the illusion in the case of Picassos’ ‘Still Life With Chair Caning’ (1912), compressing our experience of the real and facsimile at one in the same time. Or, we are transported into a state of war via a snapshot version of our own domestic bliss juxtaposed with state sanctioned inhumanity courtesy of Rosler’s ‘Photo Op’ (2004).

The notion that temporal shifts are occurring and a warping of a multiplicity of genres and codes is certain.

In our 21st century everyday, the collage or mash up is a way of life. I walk from home to studio and pass through zones of ethnicity and architecture street by street. My particular soundtrack shuffles through ‘rock and roll all night’ to ‘Un as der Rebbe singt’. I have memory and association that is triggered by these sights and sounds, a memory flashing through time zones of personal experience at searing speeds, sometimes analysing sometimes questioning, but always changing, revolving, responding.

As we hurtle further into our future, the bulkheads that once conveniently separated out artists’ stylistic output are long ago crumpled and broken. We occasionally find a stylistic commonality in the work we encounter in group shows – 30 paintings in the ‘on trend’ style. We continue to read the zones of recognisable elements in our new context of instant access. We search the surface of a painting, naming the reference points, naming the stolen and the plundered. We tangle in the juxtapositions imposed and the new regime of contemporary dialectics post-temporal, post collapse.

It’s this sense of urgency that ricochets all through the twentieth century, with collage and it’s symbolic collisions resurfacing almost systematically at every new resurgence of collective panic and social change. Massimiliano Gioni 01

The artists presented here have been followed via browser bookmarks by Painting at the End of the World for some time and bring together a wide variety of pre-production processes. Part Two of this exhibition will offer the finished works that the samples here describe and outline, but for now the presentation is limited to 5 artists preparatory sketchbooks, print outs, drawings and models.

One question that Pre-production asks is ‘why is this not the work?’ For tutors in art schools it can be a recurring question. Where is the departure point from the set up? Why does it have to be a drawing, a painting or sculpture? Is this not enough?

Louise Bristow’s work in this show is perhaps the most orthodox in terms of historic approaches, but it is also the most ambitious in terms of the multiplicity of converging potentials. The process involves a careful selection of found, readymade and made-to-order 3-dimensional elements that are then meticulously rendered in photographic detail in paint. The resulting macro-vistas – perhaps reminiscent of landscape painting from antiquity – position us directly in the flux of meaning, as juxtaposition and combination leave us frozen, quite unable to decide on a one line quip to explain it all away.

Adam Dix employs mythologies and traditions mixed with the sinister elements of the science fiction genre, in order to make sense of our current preoccupations with technology. The celebration of our times – the high-speed mast or linkup – is present in the production that also invokes a range of ‘folk’ and ‘familial’ circumstance. These picturesque or idyllic institutions are cruelly and cynically corrupted into a critique on the folly of our naivety, transcribed to replicate the printed aesthetic origin.

Benet Spencer utilises digital technology to form 2D collages that ultimately examine the relationships between pattern, architecture and the natural world. The commitment to Photoshop as a tool for cutting and pasting has been discussed at length in the last few years, but less resolved is the confluence of both forms i.e. pixels and wet oily paint. The works produced as a result of this digital rendering are liberated from the confines of 0’s and 1’s into paintings that revel in the joys of the swathe, the swoosh, the drip and the smudge. One easy formal analysis could be that the electrical energy of the bright Mac plasma is a catalyst for work that pushes awkwardly cropped elements into a field bursting with the essence of that same slightly dystopic glow.

Ian Goncharov is an ardent keeper of a sketchbook. All the paintings he produces undergo an incubus period there. Often a collage will be repeated several times before commitment to a larger scale and mono material. The urgency of the flippant cack-handed stroke over a tangle of felt-tip is his fixation, alongside the potential converging narratives therein. Referents to current geo-political turmoil are cut and covered, removed and then re-drawn in order that the artist may be ‘cutting’ in opinion and still have the challenge of painting a faithful reproduction.

Art must concern itself with the real, but it throws away any notion of the real into question. It always turns the real into a façade, a representation, and a construction. But it also raises questions about the motives of that construction. Mike Kelley02

Jane Millican’s practice has evolved from pure painting – where daubs of paint were fearlessly applied to massive canvases – to one where mark making with paint is now the informer of intricate pencil drawings. The petri dish-like study of the swoosh with lead and graphite now takes primacy over the standalone dialogue of the ABEX marks, but of course it has to be the right kind of swoosh. Shown here is a selection of ‘marks’ that are later committed to drawings.

What changes to the semiotic reading of a felt tip drawing when transferred into oil paint, apart from the obvious transcription?

A stacking up of meaning – derived from the origins of image and its materiality – when transformed by paint or pencil into a representation, with new material properties and therefore ‘meaning’, is what is key to all in this show. Multiplicity abounds: when we slide from zones of the familiar to zones of the unknown in our commute to work everyday, no two journeys are ever the same. The route could be, the train may appear to be; but the news has changed, the music is different, the faces are new, the war is over or the war is just beginning… the packed tube is altogether different with Electric Wizard rather than Tchaikovsky, with football fans than with a school group…

Louise Bristow is an artist based in Brighton. Upcoming shows include a solo at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester.

Benet Spencer is Course Leader in BA Fine Art at Anglia Ruskin University, and recently exhibited in ‘Forward Thinking’ at Horatio Jr.

Adam Dix is an artist based in London. Recent shows include Unobtrusive measures at Kunstpavilion Munich.

Jane Millican is an artist based in Newcastle upon Tyne. Jane shows regularly with Kenneth Paul Lesko Gallery.

Ian Gonczarow is an artist based in London. Ian recently showed work at Art13 with Jealous Gallery and is the curator of Pre-production

02 Mike Kelley, Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction 2002, Lukas and Sternberg, New York p. 42

01 Massimilio Gioni, Collage: The Un Monumental Picture 2007, Merrell. P. 12