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New British Painting: Part 1

02 December 2003 - 31 January 2004

Featuring Marta Marcé, Katie Pratt, Danny Rolph, Hans Scheirl, Clare Woods

This exhibition presents a snapshot of New British Painting. Introducing a young generation of artists, the exhibition celebrates contemporary painting through the current practice of their work. Many of the works have not been exhibited before, and some have been made especially for this exhibition.

Marta Marcé, inspired by board games and geometrical structures, creates colourful abstract images. Katie Pratt will produce some new work for this exhibition, illustrating the sumptuous textural surfaces for which she is well known. The depth of Danny Rolph‘s work is achieved by layering sheets of industrial plastic roofing. By painting on the front and back of successive layers, his bold shapes and images are made more complex by the resulting real space relationships. Hans Scheirl (originally a filmmaker) will show a site-specific installation commissioned by the John Hansard Gallery. The careful installation of objects and the painting of a gallery room’s walls will provide the backdrop for the creation of the bright, schematic imagery. Clare Woods paints on aluminium, using the techniques of gestural abstract expressionism, thereby exploring lush textural surfaces.

This exhibition has been curated and organised by the John Hansard Gallery. It is the first of two parts, each featuring five artists, which will run consecutively. Part II runs from 17 February – 7 April 2004.

A publication including artists from both exhibitions will be published during March 2004.

Artist's interview

DR:: Danny Rolph
BB:: Bernadette Buckley (John Hansard Gallery)

Interview conducted, 27th November 2003

BB:: Thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview for us. I thought I’d start just by asking you about some of the work you’ve submitted for this exhibition, New British Painting Part …if you could just tell me something about that work, about how it came to be etc.

DR: There are four pieces that I’ve sent down to the show – one small piece, two medium sized pieces similar to the ones you see around you [in the studio] and one large piece, which is the biggest painting I’ve worked on for about 8 or 9 years. I see that as a key painting actually. I think its hitting the spaces I’ve been attempting to reach in these size paintings a lot quicker and…without romanticising the whole process, it sort of painted itself. I can’t remember making any mark on that surface, or any decision. It just sort of fell into place... I think it was an accumulation of whole processes of making work, rejecting work and all the decisions that are made. It just blossomed really quickly for such a big painting. So you begin to distrust something that falls into place that quickly. It does something far more potently with concepts of spatial depths…you know the spatial illusions, spatial delusions as well... I’m really pleased with how its turned out.

BB: And that’s something that you’re really concerned with in your work as well isn’t it…that whole idea of spatial illusion in particular. Could you just say something more about that and why it is so important to you?

DR: Well it comes out of my love of paintings in previous centuries and what I perceive to be the important components of that. And there’s space within different forms of artistic expression manifesting itself in silences, in music, in haikus, in different forms of poetry. But in particular what struck me the first time going to Florence and seeing the Giottos or the Fra Angelicos was the control of space and the amount of space that could be proposed within these paintings painted directly on to a wall. And then that was reinforced by my love of Duccio and Cimabue and their work and Piero obviously in the National Gallery and something that’s this big…the same size as a TV… contains this infinite space. Or Vermeer… The space is infinite, it’s timeless and yet it’s about that moment in time…it slows you down; it absorbs all the light out of the room…it almost sucks the life out of the focuses in on what you’re seeing. But the great stuff...what I see as great is the stuff that can do that. It stops you in your tracks but also reveals the nature of its construction and the way that the flourish of a stroke or a decision or a slightly skewed perspective sort of focuses in on the nature of the art of making painting and Mannerism in particular.

BB: Yes you mentioned El Greco earlier and Duccio now as well and in these works there is a very ambiguous sense of space…to our eyes anyway. Do you see yourself as part of that tradition?

DR: Absolutely. These are decisions made with a paintbrush on the surface – the fact that people used to work on wet plaster is pretty strange. Why did people start to paint using the same stuff, this pigment, this muddy stuff, onto this material called canvas? It’s an extension you know …I just work on this stuff which is used for conservatory roofs called twinwall, and it just fascinates me…Joseph Albers said that he was only interested in what a painting does, not what it is. I don’t think you have to make that separation. I think the two can completely co-exist. And its not a massive revelation. What a painting does and what a painting is, is very very key and these are what I enjoy...the way that a Frans Hals painting falls apart in front of your face and then sort of comes back…you know like one of his cavaliers or whatever. And then the same in great impressionism or in Matisse…the same principles are there. I looking for these things but I’ve also always subconsciously picked up on these things after 20 years of looking at them.

BB: The category of painting is becoming quite stretched now isn’t it…if you think of someone like Julian Opie as being a painter, or Bob and Roberta Smith’s work being bad painting…then there are lots of different kinds of criteria coming into play in the genre of painting now aren’t there? Do you think we’re becoming confused about what painting is?

DR: No I don’t think so. I think what we’re doing is seeing painting from just a lot of different positions. We’ve basically you’ve got the same set of materials …not so much Opie…but you’re using this muddy stuff which is put on to something which is nice and smooth and we find our own expression through that. Now granted, with print media and different new technologies, this is adding something else to it. For a lot of artists, it may be the initial source….I’m completely stimulated by discarded printed materials…everyday process, the colour of beans and packaging and everything like this. But its digested, its within me, it doesn’t mean I want to replicate that flattened smooth matt space. And a lot of artists are very conscious of this and some people try to replicate that or add something new to it. We all just bring something different to it, that’s all.

BB: Yes but I suppose if you look at say Gary Hume’s work, it would seem to have a closer relation to design. You can see that your work has a love for contemporary design, but it is in terms of colour rather than in terms of its surface.

DR: Yes in terms of colour rather than in terms of manufacturing as well. Also this whole idea of the graphic quality within an object or in my case within a painting which is also an object…is key. The graphic construction of a Piero painting, you know The Flagellation of Christ or… there are loads and loads of paintings from history…. their graphic strength comes through the dynamics of the composition allied to various other factors, its size, the technique employed. What happens just standing there, allowing the paintbrush to find that subject…the way that a Titan completely opened up these spaces to everyone.

BB: In terms of composition, how do you make decisions about your composition…about how one solid or one not-so-solid element relates to another?

DR: Totally intuitive…as far as that can be…as far as any decision can be intuitive. I really think that the most important thing that happens to me during the day is the journey between home and the studio and I’m not just saying that for effect…but that 15 minutes, or however long it takes is the time when everything that I am as a human being, and interested in….economics, politics, history, philosophy, everything … I can separate myself from and I come in here and this is the space in which I paint. Now within every decision, every decision that I make on these surfaces, because it’s made by me, retains a sense of everything I’ve decided not to paint. So it’s almost like I start with all these answers… in the sense that I chose these materials. So I’ve got these givens. I’ve got this thing called paint. I’ve got this surface. I’ve got the tools to apply this paint to the surface. Then through a series of actions or decisions, hopefully I will achieve a question. So it’s not a series of questions working together to achieve answers, I think it’s the other way around. I have all the ‘answers’ in terms of materials and so I look for questions. I think that’s the way a lot of artists have worked.

BB: Well certainly, speaking to Katie [Pratt] earlier on…she describes her work in terms of processes of making decisions and systems by which to make decisions. And yet even though one can see that you have this is common, your work is entirely different.

DR: Oh yeah, Katie’s position is quite different. I respect it because I respect the idea that people work in ways that are completely different to mine…I’m intrigued by it. If I deliberately set out not to have a system, that would be a deliberate act. It would be counter-intuitive. It would deaden the whole process. But because I come in with this idea of just making a painting…I don’t come in with the idea of making an abstract painting. I just make paintings which end up in this generic space called ‘abstract painting’ and it’s as simple as that…it really is.

BB: And this word ‘abstract’ is becoming increasingly more problematic actually…

DR: It’s always been a problem

BB: Yes but I meant especially during the course of this show because everyone in the show is using it – this word with single quotes around it…

DR: Oh give it a great big ‘A’…we all know what it generally means in terms of visual arts. It generally means you’re not re-presenting something that exists elsewhere. It’s not a mirror on other things…reflecting objects or people. It’s an unfortunate word, but there are worse words. You know, I’ve been teaching a bit over the years, and what people call themselves always make me laugh. I always thought ‘this isn’t abstract’ because I don’t abstract from something that exists. This is just gesture. This is real. This is real time and action. And then, teaching a bit over the last 7/8 years, and hearing some of the quite redundant terms that people call themselves…there’s this term called the ‘maker’. A ‘maker’ apparently is somebody who doesn’t paint. They’re terrified of calling themselves a ‘sculptor’. For fuck’s sake what’s that? A maker? God forbid, it sounds like some kind of Craft’s Council objective. Where does that come from? We all make. So what does that mean then…that painters don’t make? Of course we make an object that exists on the wall. This is real time, real space – literal or real allusion

BB: But it’s interesting the anxiety that exists around these terms…whether its ‘abstract’ or ‘creativity’ or ‘making’ or ‘painting’ or ‘sculpture’ or whatever. It can make it very difficult for us to talk about what’s going on in the work.

DR: People are embarrassed by these words. Artists are embarrassed about asking these questions. But to the general public…I mean someone speaks to me for the first time, they say what do you do? I say I’m an artist. They say what do you do? I say I’m a painter. They say what kind of paintings do you make? These are the 3 questions. I used to go through this elaborate process of trying to describe something and then I would see them just going glassy-eyed and looking like this…so it’s easy to just say ‘an abstract painter’. It throws the ball back in their court and then something else comes back and you can hear the sort of palpitations.

BB: DO you think it’s a problem though…and this is something I’ve been discussing with some of the other people in the show as well….do you think that it’s a problem that viewers in general don’t have the visual literacy any more when it comes to painting. They can’t necessarily tell the difference between a Damien Hirst painting and a Joseph Albers painting. Is that a difficulty for you…the way they look at the work?

DR: No. See, it depends. In the UK we haven’t got a great tradition of visual culture…you know our churches due to the Reformation…all the stained glass, all the adornments were ripped apart, taken away, so it’s never been properly trusted. I don’t want to go into this because this has been covered by lots of people over the years, so I don’t think there’s that much trust anyway. And I don’t think it’s a problem if people don’t know the difference between say Hirst or Albers if they look at an object and prefer this object to that object – which we always do, we prefer this person to that person. We prefer this music to this…That’s fine, but it’s nice when they can try and understand why they prefer that object to this object. I think it’s that, you know, it’s okay to say you like something more than something else..that’s great. But there’s that next level of understanding, why you prefer this, why you don’t like that. Who made it is unimportant…it’s just recognising why these are different objects.

BB: And what about then highly critical viewers, say critics who almost without thinking about it would put painting in this ‘traditional’ bracket…or would see painting as being ‘reactionary’ in comparison with installation or site-specific work. Does that worry you at all?

DR: No not at all. Painting’s a constant. We don’t have to defend anything about painting or any forms of expression – they just are. It has this unnerving sense of constantly walking to the precipice. We were talking about Abraham earlier, and Iasaac…this act of faith…leap of faith. It has this constant ability to almost fall apart in front of our eyes and yet then build itself back up. It’s a fantastic constant that reflects and is a mirror of our times in which we make the stuff.

BB: But one of the things we’re of course very interested in, in the artworld, is this whole idea of the new. We’re obsessed it you might say…

DR: It’s a very Victorian idea though…it’s like the industrial revolution…newness equals radical, or new technologies equal something that’s more important. Yet technologies are instantly replaced by newer technologies so the obsoletion of these technologies is far far quicker than this ancient caveman activity of just making a mark on the surface. I do think we have this blind faith…this Victorian mentality that whatever is new is more valid that what went before. And you know it’s not the case is it?

BB: And of course there still is an equally big focus on originality even though the concept of originality even though over the last 20 years so much has been done to challenge this notion of originality.

DR: Well concepts of originality are driven by other agendas. I just don’t think its relevant. Any forms of expression in whatever media…if it works, it works. I’m not down on any other form of media at all.

BB: Is that behind your choice to not paint on canvas, but to paint on industrial materials?

DR: I love the fact that you can take this elegant everyday industrial material which is used for conservatory roofs and then through the act of daubing with this muddy stuff, you respect this surface and you want to paint on it, yet you ridicule it, you cut it up, or paint on it. So it’s disrupted. So there’s that great ambiguity there about the act or these collisions, these purposes. But then there’s also the fact that, as you walk across this, as you scan across, what you’re seeing is obstructed by the nature of the glare from the light in the given space. So it’s about obstructing the viewer as well and I’m interested in that. I like the way that light refracts and the way that that operates especially in architecture…modernist architecture in particular…the way that you can’t really see the whole thing, you can’t really see the detail and then all of a sudden you move across it. It demands something more of the viewer and then it reveals itself again. Just think about the way the great big Sebastiano Del Piombo painting at the National Gallery, The Raising of Lazurus…it’s about 12 foot by 15 foot. Do you know the painting, it’s at the end of the corridor…and you enter that space and the lighting is appalling and you can’t really find the space where you can register it as a whole. I enjoy that. I enjoy the fact that it’s obstructed and you have to walk around to really get an idea of what’s actually happening in those spaces where you can’t see because of the glare. And it’s this idea that it’s hidden, yet it’s there, that interests me.

BB: Yes that reminds me also of Holbein’s Ambassadors and the way that that’s hung. The skull is a kind of open secret…we all know what it’s supposed to be and we all know that if you get into a particular position then you will see it, but at the same time it’s kind of concealed from you by virtue of the fact that you can never quite get into the position you need to be in to read it properly, because of the way that it’s hung in the gallery.

DR: And also the way that films work. Screen as well. What isn’t spoken about a lot is the way that say, this generic term ‘abstract painting’ can be related to film as well and to notions of the screen… the big screen… the way that the space evokes in Pollock, that panoramic scale….the way that when you scan across the screen (I’m not just talking about film or TV but also a computer screen ), the way that that thin brightness is pulsing there. There are these pixelations and it breaks down into this other stuff and this sense of unreality. We’re seeing this whole totality and then it breaks down very quickly, the closer we get to it, or we get a glare off the sun coming through the window. It actually comes out of a lot of sensations.

BB: You could feasibly see the surfaces that you paint on as screens. They have that resonance with TV screens or computer screens…that same shimmering effect

DR: Yes this is really key. We live in times when we’re surrounded by screens. It’s a fantastically honest way to construct something. Say you’ve got 3 layers, front/back, front/back, front/back…you have 6 different planes. So there’s literally 6 different planes as well as everything that’s in between and an illusionism can manifest itself. So yeah it does relate to notions of screen and also to how windows in architecture work. I really admire those tiny windows in the Corbusier building or the windows in Toledo Cathedral are very very simple no stained glass. It just allows, permits light to create a volume of space. These are the factors which are key and they do seem to manifest themselves into this thing that I end up with.

BB: One of the things I was reminded of in looking at your work (and again this has to do with the notion of optical illusion) was Marcel Duchamp’s roto-reliefs – the works on glass that are put into motion and that spin and create an optical illusion. I thought of them for 2 reasons. First of all because they start with that transparent surface, but second of all, because they create this kind of confusion in the viewer – you’re not quite sure what you’re looking at and the spaces are confused into a sort of hovering effect. And it’s interesting when thinking about painting, to see in it a kind of lineage from Duchamp because Duchamp himself rejected painting.

DR: Supposedly and yet continued painting. I like that idea of painting hovering and going back to that Sebastiano painting I think that’s what that does. Apart from those little light things in the National Gallery. It’s spatially ambiguous. You’re constantly moved about by colour and shape and its size, the formal components that are there. And you’re taken around by the nature of the composition. I love Duchamp’s Large Glass. Obviously there’s two sides which are as important as each other. He frees painting in a certain way, just as Picasso, and Manet freed painting…Courbet. There are a lot of people that free it up. Maybe Duchamp is the great catalyst for reinforcing the nature of the graphic, rather than the painterly. He was great.

BB: The other thing that I return to as regards Duchamp’s as well, is his term the ‘infra-thin’– you could almost say that there was an infra-thin space between the two different planes in your work…a space that you see but you don’t see; that’s not of the painting but it’s in the painting. It’s a space that creates this system of oppositions and reversals that Duchamp loved

DR: That’s true. It’s like traditional print-making processes as well, where you’re working back to front quite a lot. You make an image and when it’s printed you have to realise that it comes round the other way. I’m interested in that impression. I do like the thinness, or the illusion of thinness as well. Because some people have spoken about them in terms of constructions and I don’t see anything further away from constructions. Yeah they’re constructed but they’re about pictorial traditions and the difference is that they’re on a different sort of surface. I’m really fascinated by the complexities of pictorial decisions. My eyes were really opened to this again last year when I went to see the Matisse/Picasso show was on at the Tate. A friend of mine is a trustee so we walked around the Tate Modern at night on our own, so none of the Barbar jacket brigade were there…no hundreds of kids. It was just me and him. Prior to that time I was working on paintings which were propped against the walls. They were still dealing with similar issues but they had a lot more overt sculptural and architectural association by the fact that they leaned, on the floor up to the wall and so the space behind that wall became active. I was beginning to feel that they laboured that point. And then seeing these Matisse paintings…it was this massive revelation {laughs] that no, actually everything could just happen on the wall. It would demand more of the pictorial for it to be on the wall. It’s hardly just a revelation to say that something actually should just hang on the wall, but it was for me. I was just a visual reminder after 5/6 years of making these propped paintings, that I wanted it all to happen just there. And I think spatially, the space is far more ambiguous and tense by being sandwiched closer together as opposed to being separated and speaking more about the nature of its construction. Whereas this way it’s thinking more about the nature of it’s illusion. And all these other pictorial elements which blew me away about Matisse.

BB: One of the other things that goes on quite a lot in your work is to do with the layering isn’t it? It’s a kind of layering that makes you flip all the time between something that looks a bit solid, like a solid shape, and something that’s very opaque and shiny and translucent. And it means that you have to have a kind of schizophrenic vision to look at it.

DR: I think that’s a good description actually, because what they are… they’re a series of decisions made over a period of time. Obviously every day I come in, free of everything that I’ve been thinking about. I do a crossword, I do a couple of little watercolours and then I start daydreaming, making paintings process. That sort of layering process…your talking about opacity or translucency …it’s a reflection of just what happens then at that time. It happens in real time. That’s what Bergson spoke about when he said “I am time”, as opposed to the past and the future being abstract ideals. We are time. We live time. We are real time and I like the idea that. These reflect that and they reflect a series of decisions made over a period of time. I think they contain that and I think they expose that because there’s so much of that …these conflicts. And I think, in a tangential way, that reflects the nature of the majority of us really. It definitely reflects me. One minute I love something like the street and the dizzy rascals and at other times I love Bach or Rilke’s poetry, Kirkegaard…whoever…

BB: So there’s that constant disorientating flipping between one thing and the next. Would you say then that painting is a kind of mode of orientation in the middle of all that or not?

DR: Maybe it’s just that unnameable space…that space which you can’t quite pin down. I see these. I’ve spoken about this before… but I see these asnd all my patterns as locations, as existing somewhere between the physical facts and the metaphysical. And I’m not afraid to use those terms. I don’t think they’re physical and I don’t think they’re metaphysical. I think they’re located somewhere between those spaces. I think that something has to be more than it’s parts but I don’t think it has to have this overt sense of allegory of the metaphysical state. So I think there’s a space between and it’s a thin space. It’s when it takes on an aura it doesn’t feel like a painting and yet it is a painting. It’s that unnameable space that intrigues me. That location.

BB: And yet they’re difficult concepts to grapple with. We’re so nervous at the end of the 20th century, of terms like transcendence and the metaphysical.

DR: Great words. It’s good because they aspire to the great guys. You look at great artists like Sol le Witt. Compare Sol le Witt to someone like Robert Mangold. Or these Minimalists as opposed to these Conceptual artists…horrible terms. But it’s like the conceptual artists were prepared to make this leap of faith, to think about how they can imagine it to be. It might never exist, but there was this ability to imagine something rather than the concrete facts, or limitations of ‘what you see is what you see’. You know say Robert Morris’ sculptures or whatever. I still think there are strengths to them but I love that separation, that mindscape, the way that Daniel Buren and Arte Povera work really.

BB: Again that’s something I was going to ask you about, because you can see that evident link to Arte Povera.

DR: I absolutely love them – especially Giovanni Anselmo, Pisteletto are really key. Luciano Fabrio and Marisa Merz who died a couple of weeks ago, which was a real shame. That sort of respect and ridicule of the material and understanding of space and questioning of space more than anything.

BB: Would you say that painting itself has become a kind of Arte Povera in general now. If you compare what painting does not with what say Olafur Eliasson has done in the Tate and the huge funds that goes into generating a work like that…In comparison with that, working in the studio is relatively cheap, relatively direct and relatively immediate and has the same kind of advantages…

DR: I hadn’t thought of that but it’s true and most of us are poor as well [laughs] So it’s poor art being made by poor artists. That’s a good point. I like Eliasson…I prefer other work that I’ve seen by him, but a lot of these artists they get big opportunities and they perform big stunts and that’s what they end up looking like…stunts. Luckily enough I’ve seen quite a bit of opera over the years (I’ve got friends who worked in the Colliseum and in the Opera House) and I’ve seen a lot of mirrored ceilings and a lot of smoky rooms…bit like a queen concert and all these trompe l‘oeil effects. Which are fun and have their place. And to be fair, I think that’s the best use of the Turbine Hall I’ve seen. But it’s not great - it’s a bit overblown. But I loved his show in Venice and it’s the same sort of yellow in that room. That room…the way that everyone’s colour is bleached away. We become black and white and it’s almost like we’re in some 1920s film. Everything is quite fantastically wrong about the space…I just love that.

BB: Do you think that that, in general, is what the function of painting is?

DR: Disorientation I think is the key. This is where maybe the distinction lies. This is Maybe Painting’s function, for me, Painting’s function is not necessarily to disorientate but to re-orientate, as opposed to the traditional concepts of a lot of quite tedious work in lots of media and including painting…which starts off at A and moves to B to C to D. I like the fact that you can start off with D and move to C and maybe end up with J. It’s that lateral as opposed to that literal

BB: It’s about how the painting invents you as a viewer rather than you as an inventor of a painting?

DR: Absolutely and also I want to make painting just for one person. Not for a committee, not for a patron, not for a curator and not for myself. Just for one viewer. This may be a person I’ve never met and am never likely to meet, but it has to engage the viewer.

BB: Is there an ideal viewer for a painter like yourself?

DR: I don’t think there is. I think it can be someone from any form of life…it hasn’t got to be an artist at all…preferably not actually. But I think there’s an ideal viewer for each different painting, each different object. And they may be the same viewer, but I don’t think they are, I think they’re different viewers. But there’s always one. I hate the idea that this would appeal to a lot of people, or this would sell because its got this component. That doesn’t interest me. I hate art that just looks like therapy for the artist. I just think its rubbish.

BB: But what would the ideal viewer, if one existed, what would they do when they’re in front of your work? Would they simply absorb it, enjoy it, what’s their role?

DR: Hopefully to feel, to have sensations from it…maybe just one sensation…maybe to make them feel happy, feel sad, feel glad. I try to make paintings that are free of dread as well, which is probably the only conscious thing I try to do. Which is quite a peculiar thing to start with but I’d like to enable the viewer to feel a frisson, maybe a relationship or a distance with what they’re looking at….but to hold them within that space, question the nature of where they’re standing as well as how they’ve looked at things before.

BB: So it’s not just about seducing the viewer but about questioning them…

DR: No its about questioning. Suddenly they’re questioning their own concepts of what they think objects do…not necessarily just what paintings do. But they’re valid. They’re questioning their own validity and decision-making as well. Or maybe just enjoying something. Because it’s so different from the thing that’s next to it on the wall. And so different from the carpet or the lights around it…it’s distinctiveness is the key.

BB: And if you were to make a painting that was filled with dread, why would that be such a difficult thing to do?

DR: Because that would be a determined act.. to make that. Now I know that you can argue that to make a painting free of dread is a determined act, but I just like fact that this isn’t telling you how to live your life. This isn’t saying how you should live your life, this isn’t say you should go out and kill someone, this isn’t saying you should follow me at all costs. I think that it permits the viewer to just daydream, to loose themselves a bit. And yet they can find that from physical stuff, so there are lots of dual purposes actually here. This is the problem with talking about this stuff.

BB: This was one of the things that came up in talking with Katy [Pratt] as well….that having to negotiate between being in control and being out of control. These aren’t quite the terms that you’re using, you’re speaking about “loosing yourself”. And that seems to be something that was once traditionally associated with painting in that we’re supposed to enter into some kind of haze. I don’t know what loosing oneself means necessarily.

DR: Thank God it is an unnameable quality, but I think loosing oneself in relation to painting maybe is about…to use a term we used earlier…transcending its physical nature…basically you’re experiencing something and then its secondary ‘hit’ is that, oh God it’s a painting. I have that experience in front of Vermeers all the time. I’ve been looking at the Guitar Player in Kenwood House for years since I was about 8 or 9. Coming from North London, I used to spend quite a lot of time up in Hamstead. And still every time I look at it, 25 years later, it’s just as radical and as changing and unbelievable as the first time I saw it. I recognise it’s a painting but I don’t see the painting.

BB: How important is it to be in front of the painting? There will be people, say, watching this video for example on the internet or people looking at an image on the invitation card in reproduction, how does it compare to that?

DR: It’s preferable. Images exist in different forms and work, or they don’t work in different forms. Obviously these are made to be looked at by someone standing in front of them and yet there is certain work, which works really well when reproduced in different media. I quite like the fact that this is hard to reproduce, because of the nature of what light does to the surface and the glossiness next to the mattness of something. All these qualities are lost when you’re not in the space with it. Things work in different ways.

BB: But then this is one of the difficulties when you start to talk about painting isn’t it. That it begins to sound almost as if you’re in some kind of magical realm, that you have to be exposed to the original itself in order for it to act effectively on you. That’s not the sense I get in talking to you about your work at all but it is one of the problems that speaking about painting seems to produce.

DR: You can gauge a lot through looking at work in reproduction

BB: You’ve got your postcards there all around you.

DR: Yeah they’re quick reminders of places I’ve been to and paintings I’ve seen and straight away they trigger that memory so many they’re acting for me in that way. I’m not looking at the sensation of paint I can’t really pick that up. But what they do is trigger a certain association or memory. There’s a fantastic painting by Tiepolo in the Pasadena in California. I’m just constantly consistently thinking of this painting. I’ve got a reproduction of it. I look at it and I’m back in the sky around those angels.

BB: This is maybe an unfair question, since it’s always easier for us to think about the painting of the past, but what is the painting of the future going to be?

DR: I think the artists that I’ve admired through history have painted the future. It’s in real time in real space they’ve made real marks. But great paintings I think are in a way, memories of the future anyway because they’re not Salon paintings which replicate that horse or replicate certain scenes. I think great painting possesses a sense of memory of the future

BB: Thank you very much indeed Danny Rolph

Danny Rolph
Danny Rolph, Seventh Floor, 2003, Courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery