Envy’s a terrible thing

I think I’ve made it clear previously that I have to work full-time in the NHS to support my being able to paint what I WANT to paint. That’s not good is it? I’m only two dozen or so words into an entry and I’m already SHOUTING. Bloody ‘netiquette’. Anyway, I’ve also been elected ‘Chair of staff-side’ which is basically the trade union side of the local hospital’s staff representative body. I’m not new to union work at this level but it has been an eye-opener to find how modern public service management operate. And it’s rapidly turning into another full-time job. On a personally positive note it has meant going to Gateshead for the recent health delegate conference which gave me the opportunity to visit the new Baltic gallery.
It’s a fantastic venue in a beautifully appointed building, but it suffers (thankfully to a lesser degree) from the same problem as Tate Modern. The marketing boys and girls end up making the gallery the focus rather than the work within it. We’re in the middle of the age of ‘personality galleries’ – most odd.
There was some very interesting work on show but sadly I was too early to catch Sam Taylor-Wood’s latest show. I can’t say I’m a fan of her work however the ‘Still Lives’ did look potentially interesting from the pre-match publicity and I was hoping to be converted. Ah well – there will be other times.
There was a hefty amount of painting there which was cheering; however it didn’t do much for me in the way I hoped. In fact my expectations were reversed and I found the work of James Hugonin and Ian Stephenson to be too clinical and reserved for my personal taste. There were obvious painterly ideological associations with artists like Seurat whom I’ve never jumped up and down about and despite claims of Stephenson to be working in a tradition related to Constable and Turner I failed to see it beyond the association of being English.
The main space in the gallery was taken up by the ongoing ‘self-portrait as a building’ installation work of Dutch artist Mark Manders.
‘Isolated Bathroom’ was one piece that I did find darkly interesting, however any atmosphere of threat generated by the work was lost when presented in a cavernous venue like the Baltic. I’d like to see it again in smaller rooms where I think the work would become the focus of the experience and not the celebrity gallery. The work was quite disparate and seemed generally inchoate. It was indeed like ambling round inside the waking thoughts of the artist, and to be honest, with it taken in entirety, it’s not somewhere I’d choose to go for a walk again. Not because it disturbed me, but just because it didn’t seem worth the effort. In the accompanying blurb it states ‘which is more important, the word ‘cup’ or the cup itself? The cup, of course, because it has colour, because light falls on it, because it casts a shadow.’ But the fact that this is even an issue within the supporting literature amply demonstrates that it’s the words that are more important. I’m not getting into the words and galleries rant again…
The artist’s career is assured. The ‘Short Sad Thoughts’ show at the Baltic will become another worthy c.v. stuffer. He’s done Documenta, MOMA and now the big Biennales no doubt beckon. Good luck to him. I’ve got three jobs to get on with – with short, sad thoughts.


“Mai 68” lino-print


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