Exhibitions Reviews and Press Releases


Exhibition Review: Jack Coulthard - Stansell Gallery, Taunton - 1994

The Face

by Sebastian Brogue

It's not often that you feel like trying to persuade people to look at paintings. It's a thankless task, not helped by the endless stream of mediocre slabs stuck up around corridors and foyers of buildings in a feeble attempt to persuade us that by defining a shape, that art must exist within it. Paintings are never defined by what is around them, only by what is within them.

It's a wonderful idea born of consumerism that, if art is good, then lots of it must be better. And this strange idea that everything is Art. Awful children's paintings of 'monstus' and curtains and rope and bits of wood washed up by the sea. The idea just crept in that as anyone can do abstract expressionism then everyone who did it was worthy of equal consideration. And if it's true of abstract expressionism then why not every other ism? The talentless, but dissatisfied and hitherto platformless, con artist suddenly got handed the keys of paradise. Authority without responsibility, accolade without risk, victory without war. It's funny how all of them have decided to produce abstraction.I mean none of them say, hummmm, think I'll do a bit of a Piero Della Francesca, or gods, I can do better than Botticelli.

How many times can people talk about shape, texture, colour, mood, without screaming, "for God's sake, what is it?"

We are not all artists, I'm sorry, I know this will come as a shock to many, now aging, enthusiasts off the gallery tea circuit, wine at six in the evening, wicked! And all enclosed in private walls of mystical symbols pointing inwards like the spikes on a mediaeval torture instrument.

The younger generation have a lot to blame us for but probably the worst crime of all was to take art away from them. We told them their paintings were wonderful, their prose inspired, with little regard for the actual merits of their efforts. It was a misguided application of a psychology based on the idea that all creative efforts somehow need to be eulogised over just in case the child might be another Picasso, little realising that in doing so we took away their right to improve. Now, when they venerate the ugly, cheap and uninspired, we castigate them for being crass.

Time to strike back, it's easy, go and see Jack Coulthard's portraits at the Stansell Gallery. The faces are painted with a subtlety of colour that makes you look beyond the surface, not so much for character more for straight information about their lives, or rather Coulthard's basis for portraying them in such odd circumstances. There is also the rather disturbing sensation that these could be masks through which we are staring out at the world. A strange idea that one becomes the subject of the painting you are standing before. As one has come to expect from Coulthard the craftsmanship is breathtaking, all the right colours in all the right places and on the same surface. It's pointless describing these pictorial biographies in any great detail as, in the end, pictures can only be properly understood by seeing them. Do just that and apologise to the kids.