Exhibitions Reviews and Press Releases


Exhibition Review: Jack Coulthard - A Coming of Age 1969-1990
A Retrospective exhibition of paintings, drawings and sculpture at the Byram Gallery, Taunton.
1 October - 20 October 1990

Jack Coulthard - He really means it!

by Jack Gardner

Like religious icons Jack Coulthard's paintings glow with the certainty of an artist who's talents and vision are at their peak. His paintings are so dense in content, so perfectly executed that, like icons, we expect to see them alone, each painting as complex as a novel, glowing. To see eighty all in the same place as you can at the Byram Gallery, Somerset College of Arts and Technology in Taunton for one more week is an experience not to be missed. Walk from one to the next like a police identity parade. They all stare back, each as confusingly guilty as the last, each as powerful and intimidating. Enough similarities to be sisters, enough differences to be biographies. The conclusion is inescapable. As Machiavelli said to Cesare Borgia, "He really means it".

The technical skill of the artist is beyond doubt, Brueghel alps, Caravaggio robes, Poussin architecture, they're all here along with Coulthard's unique techniques that they would have 'borrowed' if they had been around first.

Breathtaking though the techniques are, they are nothing against the depth of meaning in the paintings. Wherever you start on the surface one image leads to the next in a seemingly natural progression of narrative. Fantastic stories emerge, stories as potent as a culture's mythology. (Which Coulthard is often wrongly attributed with illustrating). These are not illustrations, not images drawn from stories, but THESE are the stories, without these images there is no meaning to the events they portray.

If only it were that simple. But on top of all this there is another layer to trap the unwary viewer. The characters in the paintings, the people and animals are not the originals. They are actors playing the parts of long dead or simple unavailable people who originally performed these deeds. We can tell they're actors because of the costumes, make up, grandiose theatrical gesture, expressions often unable to comprehend the task being asked of them by the director. It isn't Coulthard either, the unseen director is an implicit part of most Coulthard subjects.

Then there are the landscapes which have also been constructed by some vast hand, mountain size material backdrops, vast skies made round in case we need to move around the landscape and provide us with a different view from every angle as well as allowing us to lie flat on our backs and rest, staring up.

And so we have these images/stories reconstructed by the explorer who has visited these places and who perhaps hasn't quite realised that the medium for the telling of them is the images he has made. In the place where this is reality there is no separate literature, no separate film, no separate myth, all are intermixed and put onto a tape that runs sideways in four dimensions. Being confronted by these extraordinary images is like an illiterate football hooligans brain being injected withthe complete works of Dante. You have to accept that there is a meaning in the score Chelsea 2, De vulgari eloquentia 3.

At this point I must say that these observations are made without reference to the artist. Having read a good deal about him, and what he has for breakfast, and how much he likes television, I realise that he is not going to help. This smoke screen of jovial, craftsman-artist simply doing an honest days painting and watching Neighbours on TV just doesn't square with the complexity of the images he creates. Why should Coulthard say more? After all, he has painted his way through the last twenty years and watched the self congratulatory, sulking of Arts Council funded abstract art, give way to the equally nauseating cosiness of the ruralist view of the world seen through Laura Ashley glasses.

His statement on it hangs in the Byram Gallery now. Eighty blows for art that celebrates and enriches our view of the world. Eighty blows against the talentless lazy who want to change five hundred years of tradition just because they aren't much good at it.