Nathan Eastwood / Nicholas Middleton / Narbi Price / David Sullivan



From 31 May 2014 – 22 June 2014

Transition Gallery

Regent Studios, 8 Andrews Rd, London E8 4QN

In view of the prevailing onslaught of neo-liberalist/capitalist tendencies in our current political climate and the daily media denigration of the working class, this timely exhibition, curated by Nathan Eastwood, focuses on renewing latent art historical concepts and exploring the conceptual and aesthetic paradigms inherent in Social Realism re-positioning it within a contemporary context.

Towards a New Socio-Painting questions how the material language of painting can respond to the idea of a socially committed art practice in a new way.

Focusing on the present day each of the participating  artists have contributed a series of paintings that in their various ways operate within an allegorical, political or social framework.

Narbi Price studied at Northumbria University 1999- 2002, Newcastle University 2008-10 (MFA). He has exhibited widely such as: in Between fact and fiction Vane Newcastle upon Tyne 2014, Small is Beautiful XXXI – Who’s Afraid of Red Yellow and Blue? Flowers Kingsland Road London 2013, End of the Line Paper Gallery Manchester 2013 and John Moores Painting Prize 2012 Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool 2012


Nicholas Middleton studied at London Guildhall University 1993-94 and Winchester School of Art 1994-97. His exhibitions include: Provisional Cities, (solo exhibtion) The Crypt at St Marylebone London 2013, Cities All Dimensions Tokarska Gallery London 2013,Fracis Bacon to Paula Rego Abbott Hall Kendall New East Anglian Painting Ipswich Art School Gallery Ipswich 2012, John Moores 2010, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool 2010

David Sullivan studied painting at RCA in 2006-08 (MA) and at KIAD 2001 – 04 (BA HONS). He has exhibited for example: Norfolk Contemporary Art 14 The Forum Norwich 2014, ART/converters! Studio 1.1 London 2014, This Year’s Model Studio 1.1 London 2014, 400 Women Sugar City Amsterdam 2012, Threadneedle Prize Mall Galleries London 2010

Nathan Eastwood – See below

Panel Discussion: Towards a New Socio-Painting

Saturday 14th June 2014 between 2-3.30pm

Transition Gallery

Hosted by Nathan Eastwood and Alex Michon

Speakers: David Tucker / George Vasey / Paul O’Kane.

This event will open out the political, social and artistic discourses surrounding this new socio-real aesthetic. All welcome.


George Vasey is a writer/curator based in London. He was a writer in residence at the Jerwood 2013, his writing has appeared in Art Review and Art Monthly. Recent curatorial projects include ‘Alexis Hunter & Jo Spence’ at Richard Saltoun (London) and ‘A Small Hiccup,’ a traveling group exhibition exploring diseased language at Grand Union.

Alex Michon is an artist, writer and one of the directors of Transition Gallery. Has written for AN and Total Spec and regularly contributes articles to both Garageland and Arty magazines. She is currently collaborating with the Romany artist Delaine Le Bas on a writing project to accompany Delaine’s show at Transition later this year.

Paul O Kane (PhD) is a writer and artist based in London. He has published essays on art and culture in Art Monthly, Third Text, AN, Untitled, Contemporary, Third Text and Zing.

David Tucker (currently Visiting Research Fellow at Sussex University and Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Chester on the AHRC-funded project ‘Staging Beckett’.  His publications include:  (2013) – An A-Z of Modernist Literature. (2012) Samuel Beckett and Arnold Geulincx: tracing “a literary fantasia” Historising Modernism And (2011) British Social Realism in the Arts since 1940.

Nathan Eastwood is a London based artist and curator. Exhibitions he has been selected for include; Threadneedle Prize Mall Galleries London 2013, John Moores Painting Prize Walker Art Gallery Liverpool 2012, Celeste Art Prize T2 old Truman Brewery London and Lyon & Turnbull Galleries Edinburgh Scotland 2007.


A man after Ilya Repin Own Heart. 2011

Humbrol Enamel on board

39.7 x 40cm

A Man after Ilya Repin’s Own Heart is part of a series of black and white paintings that focus on observations of my banal daily life in East London. Using my mobile phone I photograph these moments in order to make a painting. At certain moments; making my bed, taking and picking up my kids from school, making dinner and reading the news, I think, yes, this is real life. I paint or read in solitude, while my neighbours listen to music, quarrel, clean their porch and children play in the yard. I place an emphasis on making art within the domestic space, allowing the integration of real life into the art.

I painted A Man after Ilya Repin’s Own Heart after watching ‘The Art of Russia’ narrated by Andrew Graham Dixon. He talked about the artist Ilya Repin, explaining that Repin did not believe in owning servants but instead did all manual work around his home himself. Repin’s house embodied his intensely political purpose and values and although rich enough to manage servants he prided himself on the fact that he had none. Repin would proudly shovel snow away from his porch without any help from a servant.

Notes: VISITING ARTIST (Tuesday 6th December)

lecture by Nathan Eastwood

In the first part of this talk I will be asking; how does the social and political function in aesthetics? What was the purpose of representing the politics of society in visual art? And, were the earlier artists such as Van Gogh operating in a social real aesthetic?

In the second part I will be asking; what is social realism and Socialist Realism? This will give me the opportunity to speak about my own artistic practice and interests, and the relevance of these genres to art and society today, and who today’s contemporaries of this movement are?


I shall begin by referring to my artistic masters, first, the great painter Jean-François Millet (October 4, 1814 – January 20, 1875), although I would not place this artist in the category of Social Realism, I do argue that it was him and others like him in this period that scattered the seeds in order that the aesthetic known as ‘Social Realism’ could birth. In order to understand the reasons for Socio-realism we have to survey the artists that sowed these seeds.

I have chosen to speak specifically on one painting by Millet in order to penetrate the paintings surface and for me to do that I need to spend some time on the work; but saying that I have included a few other images of this artist practice for your pleasure. Millet was a French painter and is noted for his scenes of peasant farmers, as recorded lifted root and moved from the City in order to settle in the country, (apparently Normandy).  Prior to his exit of the city end exodus to the country according to Millet’s friend and biographer Alfred Sensier, in July 1848 the impoverished artist received a state commission for a painting from the newly formed Provisional Government.1 – That following spring he decided to abandon his first attempt at painting the subject of ‘Hagar and Ishmael in the Desert’, a Biblical subject consistent with his early artistic ambitions, and turned to a rural subject, such as this painting ‘The Gleaners’. It was in this rustic setting that he established a permanent studio and made paintings that would make him a prominent French painter of peasant life.

‘The Gleaners’ was completed in 1857. The canvas depicts three peasant women gleaning a field of stray grains of wheat after the harvest.

With such attention to peasant life his paintings have been talked about in terms of an aesthetic style namely the ‘Social Realism’.  Reading this painting I would emphasise that there is a real genuine social and political undercurrent, there is no political self-serving propaganda, the promotion of the ordinary person, or an agape love for some ruling figure; but there is a form of emancipatory politics.  What do I mean by emancipatory politics? A coming Emancipation. A coded message is instilled within the painted image for a greater respect and understanding of the working peasants. ‘The painting is famous for featuring in a sympathetic way what were then the lowest ranks of rural society; this was received poorly by the French upper classes’. (Wikipedia)

So what do I mean by emancipatory politics within this painting; well let us think of this meaning, the semantic understanding is this; it is the desire of obtaining political rightness or equality; simply the struggle for social and political equality within the community. The painting of these peasants may not radically change the social and political paradigms and implement full equality, they do one thing and that is to keep the social conditions, working classes, the peasants at the fore front of social engagement.

This painting reminds me of the term and premise of the Russian word, Proletkult but at this stage I will only give a quick description and come back to this philosophical premise when I discuss the Social Realism. Is a theory cultivated by Aleksandr Bogdanov (in 1904) who state’s that socialism necessitated a rethinking of the function of the arts. As part of his philosophy Bogdanov perceived that the operation of socialist art was educate the proletariat, and help the working classes achieve class awareness.

According to historical accounts – Millet’s paintings never had paid models. These models would suppress their identities and pose a particular biblical character or some classical hero. Millet’s search for real people, the common peasant, rather than the hiring of professional models saw a shift in the praxis of the realist genre.

Questions concerning the shift in artistic praxis were often discussed and written about; the shift from painting professional models posing in the studio in favour of making naturalistic realist paintings conveying daily life with all of its routines, many of these were scenes from his own daily life, and members of his own family.  Jules Castagnary wrote in a review concerning Millets painting titled, The Knitting Lesson, 1869,

“Nothing is false here: these are not models who have abandoned their routines to come and assume an arbitrary pose before us; these are living beings, seen in their natural setting, and showing themselves to us with their costumes, their manners, their feelings, and their ideas in the ordinary moral conditions of their rustic existence.”

The next artist I want to speak about is van Gogh. I actually believe that van Gough has similar aesthetic interests to Millet (the painting of working class conditions, or peasants working the fields).

Van Gogh:

Van Gough, before discovering his identity as a painter had endured up to this period, a succession of disappointments, failures, disillusionments.

His preoccupation for a long period of time was with religion and his aspiration was to become a pastor, he even worked as a missionary in Belgium. It was here that he began sketch people from the local community. At the age of twenty-eight, Van Gogh entered his career as an artist, and according to research van Gogh transferred to London, where he developed an interest in art and started to study pictures.

Nothing could have seemed more unlikely at the outset than that he would become an artist; when his whole preoccupation was with religion. I don’t think that he gave up his religion but he found another way to serve the community. Instead of giving sermons or preaching as an evangelist he exchanged this for the language of art; his constant violent cry was, “I want to paint humanity, humanity, humanity and ‘more humanity.”

What I find most interesting in van Gogh’s paintings is his evangelical language – an aesthetic that reaches out to one’s humanity. An explanation taken from an article states “He felt that these clients must be guided to a purified humanity as embodied in great art, as they must be guided by their pastors to virtue; his sales talks were based more on the Bible than on the pictures in the gallery.” In order to understand van Gogh’s early paintings, one has to read these paintings in the light of his former interests, his dedication to religion.

Van Gough’s painting: Two Women in the Moor conveying two peasants working the field, is very similar the paintings by Jean-François Millet; the focus on ordinary working class conditions, and peasants, working in the fields as humble servants to their landowner. The majority of these visual narratives are where peasants are seen from behind, bending over working the land, a very primitive activity, but one that is true to being human. This sense of empathy for humanity can be attributed to his preoccupation, and deep rooted relationship with religion.

In keeping on the ideas of Emancipation I argue that this philosophical and political premise could also be applied to the early works of van Gogh? Their lies deep within Van Gough’s painted symbolism, the desire to awaken the viewer’s emotions, to put them in a place where they have to consider their own ontological position to the subject matter. These paintings could be seen as the seeds for a new artistic schema that later became known as ‘Social Realism’ an art paradigm that focused on the ugly realities of contemporary life, particularly the working class and poor.

For many people, the two artists that I have just referred to (as well as Honoré Daumier, Gustave Courbet) could be classified as being Social Realists but I would argue that this is not the case, but only painters re-presenting the social reality that they witnessed, the working conditions of the peasants, etc. But as I have just said, these artists sowed the seeds for the coming artistic model. But let me make myself clear, Social Realism should not get confused with the official Russian art under Stalin in the 20th century. Socialist Realism was the title for this aesthetic paradigm. But before I move into the 20th century artist practices I want to discuss some Russian artist practicing a form of painting that address a social reality, and an aesthetic which was a revolutionary procedure. A group of artist known as the ‘Wanderers’.

‘Peredvizhniki’ or in English ‘The Wanderers’

Although I would not subscribe the term social realism to this group of artist or in particular Ilya Repin, it could attributed to them, that they were the historical seeds to a whole revolutionary form of art at the start of 20th century.

Parallel to the artistic practices of Van Gough, Jean-François Millet a radical aesthetic and social rupture was happening in Russia; Russian intellectuals supported the need for a political and social reform within Russia. It was at his point in history that Russia entered the age of capital development. Influenced by the liberal ideas of Chernyshevsky and Belinski, the Itinerant movement established the first Free Society of Artists in Russia. The founding of the Itinerant’s movement was a measure calculated to express the need for rejection of the social order in Tsarist Russia. The objectives of the Itinerants were:

– the enlightenment of the people by affording them the opportunity to learn about the new Russian art;

– the aesthetic objective of forming a new artistic sense and taste;

– the economic objective of attracting new buyers in order to have a market for the new art.

This artistic free society attracted in 1863 fourteen students that decided to leave The Imperial Academy of Arts.

Information from, Michael E.Donnelly, Ph.D.

These artists were radical, revolutionary if you like. So what made them radical, or revolutionary, well according to history they radically revolted against the hierarchy of the academies status-quo, this status-quo was conservative and they would keep an eye on the artist development, maintaining a high art and low art. This wanderer’s were on a collision course with the forces of the Academy and set the stage for an entirely new type of art; this art would be in opposition to the strict conservative aesthetic dominated by the Russian Academy. This band of artists as a group intended to bring art to the community, to make art about real Russian life rather than religious or classical motif. The Russian group of artists conducted travelling art exhibitions up and down Russia, localities such as, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other large cities.

They showed the bitter life of the peasants, they celebrated the splendour of the landscape, The Wanderers considered Leo Tolstoy as their spiritual God Father; the painters was not interested in the haze and blur like the French Impressionists – they wanted to capture every detail, the flower, the stalk, a cloud. So they aimed for an almost photographic realism.

The wanderers were a collective body, a collection of artists themselves were from all walks of life and age; from peasants to nobility, but they were all united by one single objective. The main objectives, for the Wanderer’s was to depict life in Russia as it really was, they were not interested in big themes, iconic imagery – but instead opted to make art about their present day reality. All formal responsibility to paint lofty ideals was revolted against. These artists painted events that called for reflection and the inherent contradictions in Russian society. The paintings that depicted these social realities included the people’s struggles against oppression. The Wanderers and their ambitions as a totality were, revolutionary in the aesthetic sense; they were the grand seeds for artistic and social change. A quote that is applicable here is:

“Revolutionary literature and art should create a variety of characters out of real life and help the masses to propel history forward. For example, there is suffering from hunger, cold and oppression on the one hand, and exploitation and oppression of man by man on the other. These facts exist everywhere and people look upon them as commonplace. Writers and artists concentrate such everyday phenomena, typify the contradictions and struggles within them and produce works which awaken the masses, fire them with enthusiasm and impel them to unite and struggle to transform their environment.” -Mao Tse-tung (Talks at the Yenan forum on Literature and Art.)

The paintings may objectively depict class struggles and social concerns of Russian everyday reality; but still they could not be conceptually and philosophically considered as Socialist Realist as this conceptual operation didn’t begin till the 20th century.

I want to focus on one of the artists, the famous, influential member of the Wanderers –                         Ilya Repin (1844-1930) his paintings are not sentimental; they are depictions into aspects of Russian reality. He was known for his talent in genre and portrait painting.

The painting titled: “Barge-Haulers on the Volga (The Volga Boatmen)”

It was the most celebrated Russian painting, in the history of Russian art, it was to shock Russian viewers; with its honest depiction of peasant life. It was a great painting of social protest, the artist said ‘I am not concerned with painting light and colour but rather content’. He painted what the peasants had to endure, the misery of life. These peasant are hauling in a tug boat with their strength, they have been reduced to mere animal, (beasts).

(In the words Andrew Graham-Dixon)

Is an interesting work depicting a Russian social reality; Repin was interested in the participants of the scene, he intended that the viewers to see their fate and personalities rather than the hard labour which they would have to endure.

The painting was very charged, with so much human emotion. He is apparently the first in the history of art who tried to peer into people’s faces to understand who they were. For the first time a common Russian man was depicted as a hero of artistic work. He didn’t idealize his heroes but tried to demonstrate their personality. For the first time people could see a group portrait of miserable and humiliated Russian people.

In contrast to other artists Repin did not make paintings that depicted these peasants any way sentimental or patronizing, in fact Repin grew up in poverty himself, it’s this experience that allowed him to capture the truth to reality, the real feelings of poverty. It’s at this point that I want to say what really interests me about Repin; it’s not his paintings but his attitude to life, he had socialist values that were quite revolutionary. The home that he lived in, he designed himself; he did not have servants and would do all the manual up-keep of the house.

The house had a political purpose, this house embodied his values. The key point is that he was rich enough to employ an army of servants, but instead chose not to. Repin would do the tasks that the servant’s job would cover. I will stop here at this moment, as I would like to discuss further my real interest in this later on in relation to one of my paintings.

Since the completion of the painting its popularity has never diminished, in fact it was Stalin’s favourite painting and held it up to the artist, and communist Russia, as a true socialist work, and as the model on which future work should be based.

This work has been considered to be the key painting, the seeds for the revolutionary events; to a communist this would look like a depiction of the energy and the will that would lead to revolution. (In the words of Andrew Graham-Dixon)

Ok, I intend to discuss the authorised aesthetics of Stalin known as Socialist Realism; but first, before I move on to this movement I want us to watch film clip

I think film is an interesting possibility as an aesthetic where we can view a real antagonistic moment, a confrontation between two or more people over social and political issues.  If painting has any delimiting effect to convey a sense of polemic antagonism can film achieve this take over and create this aesthetic gap?

As an example a film by Bernardo Bertolucci titled  ‘1990’ we are witnesses to a particular scene; an hour into the film we are confronted by a horrific violent scene, where  a confrontation takes place between the poor striking farmers and their landowner. As the film unfolds we learn the due to catastrophic weather a harvest was destroyed, so as a result, the landowner is intending to cut the farmer’s wage by half. The farmer’s do not take too well to this economic prospect and respond a critically, the owner is exasperated by their mute resistance to his rational arguments he shouted at one of them: “Don’t you have two big ears to hear?” then in an ultimate gesture the “farmer takes a knife from his belt, and with one strike cuts off his left ear and offers it to the landowner who, terrified by this crazy gesture and runs away in panic” (in Zizek’s words)



Social Realism and Socialist Realism

This part of the paper will address the conceptual and philosophical framework of Socialist Realism and Social Realism. So what is ‘Social Realism’ and the Russian aesthetic model understood as ‘Socialist Realism?’  Social Realism according to historical records began and became an important artistic movement during the Great Depression in the United States in the 1930s. But I don’t really want to discuss any of the Social Realist artists that operated in the US during the 30’s and 40’s; instead I will look at the British Social Realists.

Painting ones reality, the real within the working class community’s, can be traced back to the democratic movements of the 18th and 19th centuries according to some sources. Prior to the social realist associated in America and England around the war years and post war; artist such as Honoré Daumier, Gustave Courbet and Jean-François Millet and also in my views the early paintings by Van Gogh, have been considered in this aesthetic paradigm, but I differ on this analysis. So what is then Social Realism if I do not allow these 19th century artist into this category? Well in some peoples opinion S/R in British cinema is a problematic tradition, one that is politically limited and aesthetically conservative. (British Social Realism, in the Arts since 1940)


In the UK a Socially focused form of aesthetics operated in a very realistic approach and was a politically radical paradigm. What Social Realism was meant to be was often theoretically a politically challenged by artist in the UK. It was in the UK that a group of artists who functioned and made social real art that had sympathies with the Socialist Realist model and the communist politics. A group of artists formed an aesthetic and political organization titled ‘Artist International’ (AI) but later went on to be called ‘Artist International Association’ (AIA) founded in 1933, was key thorium where ideological and aesthetic debates and discussions were able to take place concerning communism and realism. One of the associate members made paintings was Cliff Rowe (1904-1989) – he was an important member of this group who by 1931, he was making the designs for Communist Party publications. According to information from the Tate on Cliff Rowe  ‘the major part of Rowe’s work however consists of large oil paintings, and the Tolpuddle Martyrs and General Strike murals commissioned by the Electrical Trades Union, then led by Communists.’ And ‘Large scale and powerful, his oils are icons to the worker and stress the social value of labour, whilst his murals depict key struggles in the history of organized labour.’

So we can establish that the Social Realist in the 1930’s who formed this AIA organization were influenced by the Russian Communist aesthetics. ‘Socialist Realism, Zhdanov declared, was the ‘true and historically concrete depiction of reality in its revolutionary development (aimed at) educating the workers in the spirit of communism” (British Social Realism, in the Arts since 1940). It is important to note that Social Realism should not be confused Socialist Realism, the official USSR art form that was institutionalized by Joseph Stalin in 1934.

Agape Obedience and Socialist Realism


Agape: by definition is a Greek word translated into English as love. And this premise soon became appropriated by Christian theology; the Christian introduction was the love of God, or Christ to mankind (humankind). The meaning and use of this word is deeper than just simply uttering the word love. It goes deep into the symbolic order of things; operating on the level of divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love. To simply the meaning of agape here to ‘love’ I argue that an understanding of Agape here does not fully express the other symbolic meanings which need to be considered i.e. the other side of the coin, terror.

What we can read from this painting in regards to agape love is not a sexual, erotic love but the political agape; in its Christian terms. I would describe this painting as a failure and this failure represents the greater Socialist Realist art as a whole, as totality; but I will elaborate soon. Agape love has its darker side, which is seen as the opposite to the love – but I am not thinking of Eros with its relationship to jouissance? Agape here functions in an embracing of terrorizing violence, where we ultimately are given over to love unconditionally, no questions asked but pure acceptance of the others desires. So we have with in the image a built in need, to receive agape admiration. Let’s now think about the depiction of the leader. The Supreme Leader:  at a glance this painting could be seen as a narrative; one that contains a ‘didactic’ schema with the intention of teaching the citizens certain truths, via a message that has to be grasped by reading the signs (semiotics). From reading this painting there is a sense that the main point of the painted subject was to stir up intense emotions from the viewer (the citizen), in regards to the image of the painting, and this emotion being a political agape; a complete love for the leader. The love here is love unconditional – to love the superior for his imperfections and weaknesses.) if the viewer intends to grasp the truths within the painting then he/she has to by-past the obvious surface reading and enter further into the painting in order to understand the it’s deeper levels of this painting and its intention on its subjects (the Russian people). This reading of the political agape, and love, to his people and possibly divine fear is reminiscent of the North Korean leader Kim I1 Yong who wrote a short poem expressing that “In the same way that a sunflower can only thrive if it is turned towards the sun, the Korean people can only thrive if their eyes are turned upwards towards their leader “and in this case, himself Kim Yong I1. the painting establishes Terror and mercy; this is what the artist’s intention was to achieve through Socialist Realist propaganda, a message with mixed codes; love me and I will protect you but the key point needs to finally be raised; this closely linked terror and mercy operate on the level of the symbolic; “that out of this power structure only a power which asserts its full terroristic right and capacity to destroy anything and argue it wants can symmetrically universalize mercy – since this power could have destroyed everyone, those who survive do so thanks to the mercy of this in power” so this can be taken as the truth procedure within this paintings a real, the substratum under the painted surface is a reminder to all those who are protected by this regime that Stalin rules in terror and mercy and that you should be thankful of his divine love. and as Zizek goes on to say “terror and mercy are thus closely linked; they are effectively the front and the back of the same power structure.” a paradox is operating at this point; what do I mean; well again I am going to refer to Slavoj Zizek as he puts forward a fascinating proposition: “only a power which asserts its full terroristic right and capacity to destroy anything and anyone it wants can symmetrically universalize mercy –since this power could have destroyed everyone, those who survive do so thanks to the mercy of those in power. ” here we see that if one looks to the painting with agape love then they may live within his mercy; unlike the left and right within the communist community who were liquidated. (All extracts use were taken from Zizek’s ‘Living in the End Time’ p.99)

Socialist Realism is the propaganda machine which was made redundant after the cold war.Social Realism, correctly understood, although in sympathy for Communism, functioned in a very democratic potentiality; leading into Kitchen Sink aesthetics in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s which reached its height by 63.

A group of Artists who were termed as ‘Kitchen Sink painters’ gained some significant popularity and even showed at the prestigious Venice Biennale in 1956. Although this group of artists were acclaimed there is not much written about this British Social Realism. Here in the UK and there is only one decent book that both aesthetically and conceptually deals with this practice; and this book is titled British Social Realism in the Arts since 1940.

But despite their success in Venice these artists were superseded by Greenbergian propaganda aesthetics; and were American Abstract Expressionism.

Greenbergian aesthetics was not just simply an artistic possibility for artists (painters) to develop a way out of figurative art; there was a political substratum which operated as a stealth superstructure where the modernist abstract expressionist paintings operated within as object of imperialist fetishes. AIA and Kitchen Sink art as said to have been superseded and brushed aside for the purpose of American art to spread across Europe and dominate it. The first gallery in the UK to hold an exhibition of the US abstract expressionists was the White Chapel Gallery. Apparently the US CIA funded the Abstract painters as there was a cultural standoff with communist Russia. Everything is great in the West; we have Coke Cola, and freedom of expression and Russia is oppressing their citizens.

Let us focus more so on this Kitchen Sink Art now; artists included John Bratby, Derrick Greaves, Edward Middleditch and Jack Smith. An art critic in the 50’s, Sylvester ‘wrote that their work ‘takes us back from the studio to the kitchen’ and described their subjects as ‘an inventory which includes every kind of food and drink, every utensil and implement, the usual plain furniture and even the babies’ nappies on the line. Everything but the kitchen sink?’…‘The Kitchen Sink painters’ celebration of the everyday life of ordinary people carries implications of a social if not political comment and Kitchen Sink art can be seen to belong in the category of Social Realism.’ (Info: Tate)

The term Kitchen Sink Painters as a description, to sum up them up; did not go down to well with the artist.

Here I will only show and discuss the painter John Bratby: (1928-1992) who was associated to the Kitchen Sink group.

Some of John Bratby’s paintings deal with still life’s that focus on the banal everyday kitchen utensils, and other objects. Sylvester himself argued that there was a new interest among the young painters in domestic scenes, with stress the real banality of life; it’s this futility, banality, and despair of life are also compellingly expressed in Bratby’s paintings. These paintings have a certain amount of honesty to them, a truth to working class conditions with no sense of be embarrassed. A quote that I think is quite apt is by (Berger 1952)

“The realist is fundamentally optimistic (…) he may well face up to ugliness or injustice more squarely than most, but because he is concerned with dealing with the world as it exists, and not comparing it to romantic ideals, or with seeking consolation for its shortcomings in private dreams, he never give way to despair.” 

Kitchen Sink art was an aesthetic that functions in the same way as social realism, it is a form of social realism, am art that draws attention to the everyday conditions of the working classes and the poor, and the reality of politics. Painting was not the only artistic model that could convey the ordinary and banal everyday and the political issues of the day. Social Real Film (Kitchen Sink Film) was also made, socially gripping films about working class conditions, etc.

Films such as, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960),   Room at the Top (1958), The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), and A Kind of Loving (1962) brought wide shots and plain speaking to stories of ordinary Britons negotiating the social structures of postwar Britain.

Social real films continue to be made after the Kitchen Sink period of art, such as Scum.

Contemporary Social Realism

Today artists like myself and my contemporaries such as George Shaw (1966), and Tim Eitel are making art that re-presents ones social reality; or painted images that are supposedly represent the real in life.

Although George Shaw’s paintings are social real in style they do not represent out current living time, but instead explore his interest in a particular period of his personal history, a locality called Tile Hill, in Coventry. Walking around Tile Hill armed with a camera he would photograph key areas that are full of memories. George has been doing this since his days at the Royal College of Art, were he completed his Masters. From what I have read and when I have spoken to him he always comes across in a melancholic excitement, with the desire to locate that space where he first daydreamed. When looking at his paintings I myself as the viewer feel a sense of longing, a longing for what is no more, that which is long gone, and when I look at George Shaw’s paintings the punctum reverberates, the subject. I am thinking of a writer in relation to this aesthetic meaning; Gaston Bachelard. I quote from his book ‘The Poetics of Space’; “For it involves bringing about a varitable awakening of poetic creation, even in the soul of the reader, through the reverberations of a single poetic image;” and again I quote: “Our soul is an abode. And by remembering ‘houses’ and ‘rooms’ we learn to ‘abide’ within ourselves”. In order for George to make these images that will reverberate the poetic he uses a realist technique; painting neglected council house estates that produced poetics out of the mundane. These are not Socialist Realist, not promoting an ideal, or even emancipatory politics but are confronted with poetic politics; revealing working class urban surroundings.

My other contemporary: Tim Eitel is an artist who paints in a realist, but creates painted images are somehow disconnected with the real world from a specific time. Through painting the artist isolates his anonymous subjects from their true contexts, profoundly elevating the significance of every gesture and nuance. Past and present, memories, feelings, and associations converge, evoking ambiguous narratives which force viewers to re-examine their own perceptions of society and to see that which they often allow to become invisible. A few paintings that interest me in this artist practice are the one of depicted homeless people, which could be anyone in any locality due to his aesthetic.



In own work I am constantly thinking about what social realism can be, and is possible and propriate, given our current political, economic and social climate to return to Social Realist painting as creative possibility, capable of reflecting on contemporary life,  social conditions and operate within a post, super, alter, etc. I think that this could be a yes and answer is made possible today because of the current description given to this by Mark Fisher, ‘capitalist realism.’ But before I go on any further I would like to explain a bit more about my art practice.

During my Masters I reduced my aesthetic production down to a minimal site responsive practice and treated this as a kind of clearing ground, to eradicate surplus figurative clutter. I wanted to purge my art practice, which I did successfully. After graduating I went through, what can be called, a dilemma; how could I extend my interests in conceptual and minimalist aesthetics, but still be able to evade the possibility of burying myself in an overtly academic artistic practice. I wanted to move back to representational art, but start from a whole new position; to create a new realism, operating in a reductionist aesthetic, based on social reality.

I started to ask myself questions like; what is social reality or social realism? For me at certain moments in my life, when making my bed, walking around in public spaces, noticing rubbish scattered around, picking up the kids from school, surfing the internet, and watching question time; I think, yes, this is life, the banal existence within the everyday; this is reality in its social context, this is what I know, and so this is what I want to paint, to focus directly with life and my quotidian surroundings. For me, one aspect of the function of social realist art is to represent that which goes unseen (social real) not been given enough attention in society, and art can become that means to express the unspoken and discarded and bring this something to the attention of the viewer.

Working into the early hours of the morning I become lost within my solitary self within the dark spaces (shadows) of my domestic making paintings while listening to ‘The Specials’ or watching Kitchen Sink films, or reading politics and philosophy. Activities surround me as I dwell in solitude within the home, such as my neighbours; as they listen to music, quarrel, decorate, and children play in the yard, with their dog. I desire to recreate a moment previously experienced within every painting I embark upon. I want to make a painting that has the capacity to open up feelings, for me and the viewer.

A painting that I recently made titled ‘A Man after Ilya Repin’s Own Heart’ (2011) is a very important work that I have made to date. The reason for making this painting has a lot to do with my interest for the Ilya Repin’s the Russian artist that I previously mention in this presentation. It’s not necessarily his paintings that inspired me in making this painting but more his socialist values. After watching an episode (part two) on art titled ‘The Art of Russia’ Andrew Graham Dixon talked about this artist. He explained that Repin did not believe in owning servants which is a subservient role, but instead did all manual work around his home himself. Even clearing snow from his porch; it was this attitude that truly inspires me in making this painting. How I came to obtaining the motif was interesting. I was getting on with general act ivies in my house when I noticed a person clearing snow opposite to where I live, so I rushed to get my camera in order to photograph this very exciting moment. I simply kept thinking about Repin as I was taking the photo. I knew straight away that I wanted to paint this in honour or Repin. I have a film clip that I would like to play which contains the moment of Repin clearing snow, this moment in the programme could be described as my own personal ‘punctum’ to use the term by Barthes; It his socialist attitude to life that inspired me in making this painting.

Review title: Paradox as Creative Rupture

by Nathan Eastwood (MA UAL)

A distinctive painter, Thoralf Knobloch trained at Dresden school of art, and has for nearly a decade built a body of work that on first sight could be described as realist painting; well, look again. Using a camera, Knobloch gathers his source material which eventually feeds into motifs for subsequent paintings. His subjects: shopping bags, children’s toys, dustbins, traffic signs and anonymous empty urban spaces are never socialist realist. His works could be described as quiet observations of things in a state of entropy, revealing a sense of something catastrophic having taken place, leaving a trace
of human activity. These depictions never pertain to idyllic sentiment but instead appear to be apocalyptic, bearing a subtle uneasiness of atmosphere as can be recognised in the film ‘The Last Man on Earth’ (1964). Set in the aftermath of an unnamed catastrophe which killed off all humans apart from the forenamed ‘Last man’ of the title, the central character of the film is left wandering the desolate city streets, but as the story goes on to unfold we find he is not actually alone. Knobloch’s paintings could almost be backdrops of scenes from the film, the desolate spaces where no one can be seen, the objects within the paintings are missing one crucial thing, a human operative. While
the banality of everyday trashy items have become the artist’s starting point in making a painting: Lichtleitbake, 2011, Feldscheune, 2011, Zwei Spiegel, seitwärts, 2011, Prellbock, 2011; Knobloch’s paintings resonate with thought provoking layers of aesthetic complexity; they are rich in looseness, with highly detailed elements and pictorial vibrancy. They are clearly a painterly translation of photographs but as a painted image they sit between abstraction and realism.

In terms of methodology it could be agreed on, that his paintings are not in the category of traditional figurative painting i.e. the artist does not sit within a specific locality and sketch what he sees, as an empirical or epistemological exercise. Knobloch‘s paintings are not actually representing the real world as in a mirror-like effect, but rather receive their aesthetic information from an archive of photographs which reflect a so-called truth to reality, a trace of the real. They contain no accurate approximation of a photo but instead Knobloch uses his photographic image as a platform, a vehicle, through which he
can explore the potentiality of painting and its material possibilities, as a formalist. The formalist approach is evident through the painterly brushstrokes that float over hazy backgrounds, blurred contours, slashes of line and thin layers of glazes. These help to formulate an interesting mix of attractive qualities. Knobloch‘s emphasis on abstraction can even be thought of as (dare I say)

In opposition to this, Knobloch has cleverly created a space for realist techniques which provide a creative tension. The painted objects that sit over the abstract areas have been made with real attention to detail giving way to realism. Geometric lines (confidently drawn out over the canvas creating interesting over lapping compositions) perspectival complexity and dramatic shifts in focus have become Knobloch’s aesthetic design, the images posses a sharp animated energy demonstrating that he has calculated the laying down of paint and positioning of objects, creating illusionistic depth but negated at certain points establishing an aesthetic oscillation. Knobloch’s painting techniques can be likened to that of Henri Matisse (although Matisse’s brush strokes were of wild colours; Fauvism).Knobloch’s painting techniques can be likened to that of Henri Matisse (although Matisse’s brush strokes were of wild colours; Fauvism). Knobloch utilises the pictorial design; the strong drawn charcoal lines, to reinforce pictorial forms, such as the human body, to avoid
complete disintegration.

The term paradox in its widest sense could be  applied to Knobloch’ s aesthetic procedure, and to describe his  use of aesthetic oppositions. Discussing his paintings through the conceptual understanding of paradox and contradiction will allow a new perspective on his work to be established. Historically these two aesthetics have been in contrast, in opposition, two separate practices with their own philosophical infrastructures. Knobloch’s paintings could be seen as operating in a space of revolt against the Greenberg aesthetic dogma (an aesthetic divorced from realism and illusionism in favour of form and flat surface) and creating a new painting process; the combining of two artistic
models; it is worth noting that this paradoxical proposition in Knobloch’s paintings can be traced within the paintings of Matisse if one looks carefully. It is possible to argue that a rupture has happened in the conventional language of representational painting and created a new painting schema, where abstraction and representation can be seen as symbiotic, functioning in aesthetic paradox or contradiction. Knobloch, amongst other contemporary painters such as Eberhard Havekost, Tim Eitel, and Luc Tuymans, is operating in this new schema. Thoralf Knobloch has become the post-modern quintessence of how painting can. To widen this aesthetic proposition further, let us consider the
paradox as potential artistic activity and conceptual framework that allows the artistic procedure to be
explored. In his book ‘The Communist Postscript’ Boris Groys discusses ideas around ‘dialectical materialism’ a premise that strives for the unity and the conflict of opposites; so to apply and follow this rule in aesthetics is to operate and think paradoxically.

According to Groys, formal logic evades contradiction and paradox which is the human essence. An artist operating in the field of two oppositions, switching one’s mind from one aesthetic potential
to another means that one has to think in opposites, to think in the philosophies of material dialectics. Groys has said that ‘material dialectics’ thinks in terms of ‘unity of A and non-A’; the idea is to embrace the opposite and to think in opposites. If we apply this procedure to painting, we could then say that the ‘unity of A, is abstraction and that the unity of non-A, is realism. The potential in working in opposites creates a position where the painter is operating in totality; a new artistic painting schema is now a new potential, but one must remember; the painter (artist) should strive for an even greater paradox. The principle of this paradox as premise can be seen within Knobloch’s paintings as a whole and it’s this aesthetic and conceptual potentiality that makes his painting all the more interesting and inspiring for other new painters.

Nathan Eastwood is a practicing artist.

title: Fyodor Shurpin -The dawn of our Fatherland, 1949 (Portrait of Joseph Stalin)


my entire paper will be written in a space of proposition, it shall not be written  in relation to art history, but instead, through isolating this painting as a singular thing, opening up the image conceptually, and looking at the deeper symbolism within the image i.e. that which represented what soviet art should
and could be. what does agape love really mean; and what  does this image

(The dawn of our Fatherland) comment on from the premise of agape? 

agape: by definition is a Greek word translated into English as love. and this premise soon became appropriated by Christian theology; the Christian introduction was the love of  God, or Christ to mankind (humankind). the meaning and use of this word is deeper than just simply uttering the word love. It goes deep into the symbolic order of things; operating on the level of divine, unconditional,
self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love. To simply the meaning of agape here to ‘love’ I argue that an understanding of Agape here does not fully express the other symbolic meanings which need to be considered i.e. the other side of the coin, terror. I shall elaborate on this further on in the paper.   

so it is at this point that I will focus on the word love, not erotic love but the political agape; in its Christian terms. i intend to use the premise of this agape love as an open space to discuss and put forward propositions regarding the painting ‘The dawn of our Fatherland’. I would describe this painting as a failure and this failure represents the greater Socialist Realist art as a whole, as totality; but I will elaborate later. agape love has its darker side, which is seen as the opposite to the love – but I am not thinking of Eros with its relationship to jouissance? agape here functions in an embracing of terrorizing violence, where we ultimately are given over to love unconditionally, no questions asked but pure acceptance of the others desires.


The Supreme  Leader: So what then can we see within this painting, what truths does this painting convey on the surface and as a substratum? Well let’s examine it and think about it: this painting on first glance could be seen as a narrative; one that contains a ‘didactic’ schema with the intention of teaching the citizens truths, via a message that has to be grasped by reading the signs. from reading this painting there is a sense that the main point of the painted subject was to stir up intense emotions from the viewer (the citizen), in regards to the image of the painting, and this emotion being a political agape; a complete love for the leader.

utilizing the government authorized realistic schema, the goal of artist was to provoke deep emotions within the soul of the citizen – such as love and admiration; the political agape. If we get past the  surface we can establish that the idea was that the citizen was supposed to be overwhelmed with agape love for their superior. the love here within the image is love unconditionally, to love the  superior for his imperfections and weaknesses. the painting is to invoke within us an infinite love (an agape love) with Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin and vice versa (although one could argue that this painting only really tells a story of a narcissi dictator, but then that diagnosis would only lead to a delimited analysis) if the viewer intends to grasp the truths within the painting then he/she has to by-past the obvious surface reading and enter further into the painting in order to understand the it’s deeper levels of this painting and its intention on its subjects (the Russian people). when I speak of getting deeper into the painted image, or to get below the image I mean to understand the symbolic order, the logic of the propaganda. It’s at this point I want to consider the idea of the un- impenetrable?
Although the people had access to the divine leader via multiplicity of artistic images, one could not penetrate and gain access into the castle of thought; where the source remained hidden behind the myths. the unrepresentable which brings to mind Lacan’s premise of the big ‘Others’ – the painting in
question operates as an image that can be felt, touched as if the person was in front of you; but is purportedly unrepresentable of the Other; the Other cannot be connected to as a physical interrelationship; and so the paradox; a relationship with what is not but only a dead image concealing the big ‘Others’. the painting acts like a symbolic space where I can consider myself in relationship to the image (big Other) who watches over me like God from beyond which is the impenetrability of another, that is behind the wall of language. the ordinary people stand in front of the
image with agape love and devotion.

conceptually we can understand that through this work the leader intends to radiate love to his people and possibly divine fear? this is reminiscent of the North Korean leader Kim I1 Yong who wrote a
short poem expressing that “In the same way that a sunflower can only thrive if it is turned towards the sun, the Korean people can only thrive if their eyes are turned upwards towards their leader “ and in this case, himself Kim Yong I1. the painting establishes Terror and mercy; this is what the artist’s
intention was to achieve through Socialist Realist propaganda, a message with mixed codes; love me and I will protect you but the key point needs to finally be raised; this closely linked terror and mercy operate on the level of the symbolic; “that out of this power structure only a power which asserts its full terroristic right and capacity to destroy anything and argue it wants can symmetrically universalize mercy – since this power could have destroyed everyone, those who survive do so thanks to the mercy of this in power” so this can be taken as the truth procedure within this paintings a real, the
substratum under the painted surface is a reminder to all those who are protected by this regime that Stalin rules in terror and mercy and that you should be thankful of his divine love. and as Zizek goes on to say “terror and mercy are thus closely linked; they are effectively the front and the back of the same power structure.” a paradox is starting to formulate at this point; what do I mean; well again I am
going to refer to Zizek as he puts forward a fascinating proposition: “only a power which asserts its full
terroristic right and capacity to destroy anything and anyone it wants can symmetrically universalize mercy –since this power could have destroyed everyone, those who survive do so thanks to the mercy of those in power. ”
here we see that if one looks to the painting with agape love then they may live within his mercy; unlike the left and right within the communist community who were liquidated. (All extracts use were taken from Zizek’s ‘Living in the End Time’ p.99)


Failure: what does it mean to fail, is this an absolute closure (a shut down) of what has failed or
presumed to have failed. If we consider this painting and its position within the communist hypothesis maybe our vision of the painting and paintings like it known as Socialist Realism is seen as a failure in relation to the bigger picture as the total whole and that being communism. So what do we mean by
failure; I mean do we have to abandon the premise of Socialist Realism as potential aesthetic critique; or was it a relative failure? was it a failure because of the aesthetic form that it used as propaganda? did it fail to properly critique the establishment; that it did not reveal the true community and did not consider it’s opposite, and that being the aesthetics of abstraction? but these aesthetic answers can probably only be answered in relation to communism end point. but this as a hypothesis may have to be questioned and examined in relation to communism as hypothesis. what I want to discuss is the premise of paradox and how within the structures of Soviet Socialist Realist paradigms, contradiction was not permitted; this development may evolve within another paper on a later date?  it’s at this point of my paper that I want to pose an argument in terms of failure with in Social Realist aesthetics. “the Soviet Union understood as literally as a state governed by philosophy alone” (Boris Groys) Within in the lingustification of politics ‘dialectical materialism’ was considered the premise on which to engage with political discourse; and to quote Groys “the central law of dialectical materialism is that of the unity and conflict of opposites” –the point about the material dialectical political engagement functions as the exclusion of the exclusions; and as Groys puts it; excepting both the A, and the non-A; this meaning the operation of non-A being the contradiction; to practice in the paradox as potential schema. this is where this painting failed; it did not function in a space of material dialectics but in the logics of one-side propaganda. the symbolic order within the soviet art could not embrace its contradictions and paradoxes; its delimited aesthetic and inability to embrace the opposites allowed Socialist Realism to fail, but then again, did it? (extracts were taken from Boris Groys ‘The Communist Postscript)Fyodor Shurpin -The
dawn of our Fatherland, 1949 (Portrait of Joseph Stalin)

Art event (05/08/11)

@                                                                         BRIXTON:

4, Brixton Village Market

The artist (group) blog art agora


a title that should get any one off their comfortable seat, be you an artist of neo-liberal interests or a fully hardcore socialist; but one has  to remember that this was a spectacle with in an un-overtly structured event;  it was a feast of film, commentary, and theatre. the theatre for me was  reminiscent of Bertolt Brecht’s art that aimed at a radical pedagogy that which  would provide political education, cultivate political instincts, provoke  polemics and revolutionary political practice. this was an interesting sight to  see confusing at times as I was not particularly sure what was happening but
hey this un-structured approach created an open space which some filled with  song. an evolving series of events connected together with one goal; to bring  art to the people of Brixton and a chance to talk about their pre-conceived ideas  concerning aesthetics, politics and to get to the point; communism. sitting at  a table some of the artists (I include myself in this as one of the  contributors to the video works) were provoked in to a discussion concerning if  and how relevant were Marxist theories in today’s political and cultural  debates. what can Marx offer us in our contemporary situation(s)? But these  discussions were reinforced by an image of Karl Marx sitting at the end of the
table, writing out the communist manifesto, but I do not want to go into the  theories by Marx in this paper but to reflect on the visual spectacle and the  event in general.

ok not the real Marx as he is dead; but an Italian artist Jean  Blanchaert  who is the likeness of Marx,  or what the drawings reveal him to have looked like, visual presuppositions; (he  as an artist has already played that role at many Italian movies) and Ana  Milovanović from Belgrade, as Famme of
Fatal Capitalism. Jean Blancheart made the journey from Milan to perform  for the public and other artist. what an image; one that will stay with me for  some time; an image that gave a sense of hope in our troubled times. so many  on-lookers confused and fascinated with an image of Karl Marx standing or  sitting in a Brixton Market place, sometimes using his mobile phone which I  found very charming; I mean, have you ever imagined Marx using a mobile phone, well,  probably not as he is dead and buried in high gate cemetery…. but this is not  the point; his physical body may be dead but his ideals live on even if we need  an image to remind us.