How Stuck Are The Stuckists?
The first major national exhibition of Stuckist art at
Liverpool’s Walker Gallery, 2004: September to November.
By Wy Dot Com
On first sight there does seem to be a strong Naïve Art element about Stuckist art. It’s in the emphasis on figuration, and the colour palette: the painterliness. The human figure occurs a lot, but rendered in such a way as to appear stiff, unlifelike, the faces in particular, sketchy.
But look again. You won’t find Stuckist Art on canal barges, pub signs…. The figures, you see, are proportional, the tonal range of the palette invigorating.
They are naïve in the way that the Dounier Rousseau was naïve, perhaps; that the later Picasso was. But less histrionic. The Picasso connection is not so fanciful: witness the very contemporary and also the very cubist, early cubist, paintings of Eamon Everall, Stuckist core member.
And yet Modern Art denies the past; it will not allow itself history.
The Stuckists want to remedy that.
Founded in 1999, around a core of twelve members, they now own to eighty affiliated groups world wide. All share the same or a similar agenda. And the Stuckists are very good at agendas and manifestoes – they are almost another form of art for them.
It is their aim to restore “authenticity, content, meaning and communication” to art. Their particular bete noir is Conceptualism in art, conceptualism and post-modernism.
Their call is for the ‘Remodernisation’ of art.
Where Modern Art denies itself history, and post-modernism opens up history along with all other areas of knowledge for use, then, it is argued, the concepts and values of history etc become devalued, just a general rag in the rag bag of available knowledge.
I wonder, in this connection, where the admirable neo-cubist art of Eamon Everall stands then; how can he paint post-modernly and yet believe in “authenticity”? Where the Stuckists call for “meaning”, is Eamon Everall, then, a major ironist? And yet there is something affirmative about the art, something not about questioning the questioning’s etc, but about asserting a sense of itself as painting, in the paintings.
This is the wrong question; this is not what Everall is asking.
I own up: Stuckist Art has a much wider range of styles than I have attempted to show here. You could not mistake it, it is very contemporary in use of subject, range of themes; narrative has never gone from modern art, it’s that some artists are more dissevered from the traditional use of narrative, than others. Narrative is out of fashion, that’s all.
With painting of such diversity, of such accomplishment How, the question is posed, is the art not more widely known, accepted, exhibited? This last one is the crucial one. It is on the constant passing-over in favour of ‘flavour-of-the-month’ art by the Turner Prize judges brought about the: “something has to be done” attitude that became Stuckist Art. It took the name from a Tracey Emin comment: Tracey and Billy Childish were an item. Now Tracey is Stuckist persona non grata, and Billy ex-founder member. Another founder, Charles Thomson, put himself up as Stuckist MP for South Islington and Finsbury, in the 2001 General Election.
They are anything but stuck. Initially painters (“How can anyone be artist who doesn’t paint?”), their members now include sculptors, print makers, photographers and film makers.
So much for their entrepreneurial skills, but how about their art? Do they progress? Do they have relevance to our contemporary concerns? They take great pains to emphasise a knowledge of art history: not only Picasso, but Vermeer, El Greco. You will not find many religious images here: the Bonfire of the Vanities that forced Michelangelo into the Sistine chapel, shackled the Medici Renaissance, is far in the past. Likewise, the reference to more up to date Pop Art is thin. Stuckist Art eschews their cartoonism; Stuckist figuration is subjectified response, and contemporary subjective experience’s take on the world is filtered through a more distorting and troubled air.
As a loose grouping of artists their range is wide, their subject matter quirky, their skills immediate, apparent and part of, as opposed to the subject of, their achievement.
As Billy Childish said, “It doesn’t matter if you never sell anything. It’s having something to sell that matters.” Ambiguous, self-consciously old-aesthetic, but also, notice, the emphasis very much on marketability. But then, Billy Childish is no more a core member, but an associate.
Is it that Stuckism has limited life, that real development of skill and marketability lies outside, or, more properly, on the top of the reputation built up in the very media-skilled group’s experience?