Is Painting Back for Good?

By Craig-Martin, Michael; Vettriano, Jack et al. | New Statesman (1996), January 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Is Painting Back for Good?

Craig-Martin, Michael, Vettriano, Jack, Smith, Charles Saumarez, Squire, John, Ayres, Gillian, Stallabrass, Julian, Opie, Julian, Hoyland, John, Frost, Anthony, New Statesman (1996)

Michael Craig-Martin Artist

The announcement of the return of painting is a triumph of public relations, not painting. Painting never went away. There are always artists making interesting paintings--sometimes they attract little attention, sometimes, as now, a lot. The traditional division of art according to medium is no longer relevant or useful. The most absurd is the supposed division between painting and conceptual art. Some painting is conceptual (to the extent that this overabused term still has any meaning), and some is not. Some photography and video is better understood in the context of painting than in that of other work in the same medium. More than 40 years ago, artists started to challenge and eventually overturn the hegemony of painting. Today painting is one of an artist's options, by its nature neither out of date nor suddenly relevant. I think painting will always attract some artists because of its combination of orthodoxy and openness, its capacity to respond to every level of engagement from obsessiveness to detachment.

Jack Vettriano Painter

Much was written in the 1980s about the "return to painting", but I don't think it ever really went away, as such. Perhaps figurative work was ignored for a while, overshadowed by other media deemed to be of more contemporary relevance or perhaps more apposite for the movement in vogue at the time. Things of beauty give me great pleasure and I've always valued the skill and craftsmanship that is obvious in the work of an artist who has truly mastered paint as his chosen medium. My exposure to art came relatively late in life when I started visiting local public galleries to see if I could work out, and thereby teach myself, how the artists I admired used light, shade and texture to create their images.

Charles Saumarez Smith

Director, National Gallery

Over the past two decades, there has been a recurrent debate over the role of painting and its centrality as an art form, beginning with the return of painting in the early 1980s and the exhibition "Zeitgeist" at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. In the 1990s, it was clear that painting was taking a back seat to new art forms, especially film and video, but also versions of performance art, as represented by the Young British Artists. But that doesn't mean painting has ever lost its legitimacy. My own view is that it will continue to retain its importance to collectors (not many people want to own performance art) and that it will remain, as it always has been, a practice with its own passionate followers among artists who want to master the medium of canvas and oil paint.

John Squire Musician and painter

So British painting is back. When did it leave? Was it something we said? Were Fiona Rae and Gary Hume not listening? Painting didn't stop; it just faded from view in the tabloids' frenzied mockery of shock art. Surely there's room for everyone. I love the smell of paint, the surface, the imperfection, the mess and the magic inherent in subtracting one dimension from three. I'd rather play a round of golf with Josef Mengele than suffer another video installation (if you've seen one desperately naked individual cavorting on a carpet of ball bearings, you've seen them all), but it takes all sorts. Painting is cheap. All you really need is a lump of earth, a burnt stick and your own spit, or a few tins of Dulux. I'm no Luddite, but the king's new clothes were wearing a little thin.

Gillian Ayres Painter

I have spent my whole life painting and have never been interested in conceptual art. Painting has not declined; people have just focused on other things. One reason for the popularity of conceptual art is that people like to feel they understand. They like things that are easier to explain. Painting is hard to understand and hard to write about. In the 1950s, Patrick Heron wrote on the visual nature of art for the New Statesman, but he was sacked, I think, because no one understood him. …

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