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 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.