You Jest - In memory of art critic and writer Peter Fuller
1. Mount Martha Victoria 2021
2. Introduction – Melbourne 2003
3. Original notes - London 1987 -1988 -1990
A revision of edited notes
1. Introduction Mount Martha Victoria 2021
I was lucky enough to meet with the art critic and writer Peter Fuller on a few occasions after a talk he gave to a group of post graduate students at Manchester where I was studying. On the first of our meetings, he came to my studio and we spoke about honesty and commitment to an individual aesthetic as well as not letting our self, fall prey to fleeting artistic fashion. He was very pleased I was carving stone and talked in depth about the sculptors Constantin Brancusi and Henry Moore. He also spoke about Ruskin and the necessity of reading his thoughts on art. He spoke with such eloquence and fluidity and his knowledge of the development of the contemporary art of the day, was second to none. I had two other meetings with Peter Fuller in my London studio during 1985, where he lamented the fact that too many young artists were falling prey to what he coined to me ‘the scourge of Conceptualism, the latest fashionable twist at the expense of individual creativity’. I remember making a mental note of it at the time and on reflection, am very glad I did.
The art word has often been prone to the shallow twists of fleeting fashion and short-lived artistic movements. In the early 1980’s, Conceptualism was weaving its insipid way across the whole of artistic Britain: indeed, weaving its insipid way around the world to swallow up just about anyone artistic who made the mistake of getting in its way. Art School after art school, gallery after gallery and sadly artist after artist, desperate to get an exhibition in any British city, pandered to this fad with monotonous regularity.
Peter Fuller saw through this artificial aesthetic and made the mistake of voicing his concerns. For this he was ridiculed in many artistic and literary circles. Unlike so many other writers of the day, he spoke about what he believed had become, for too many artists, a loss of creative individuality and artistic skill. Around nineteen eighty six I had been thinking about making an exhibition of sculptures as an homage to his writing. I learned of his death in tragic circumstances during April 1990, just before this exhibition took place, and dedicated this exhibition to him.
For all the attempts upon young, up and coming artists made by those university lecturers, gallery dealers and influential critics who saw the Conceptual Movement as being a means by which to force radical change to what they believed had become a conservative art world; those very same people became the artistic establishment and stamped on anyone who criticised them. They were in practice, much more conservative than those they ridiculed and overthrew and as a consequence of this general air of closed mindedness, it became almost impossible to get an exhibition anywhere in Britain if your artistic face didn’t fit; so to speak. Mine did not.
Much of the art that was produced and exhibited in the major galleries during that time ended up being no more than second rate copies of truly great radical art made by the likes of Joseph Beuys and earlier still, the great Russian artists and poets of the early twentieth century. By the time Post Conceptualism was the artistic norm of the day (during the 1990s), in most of London’s major galleries, much of the art that had been made and written about, disappeared up its own rear end just as Peter Fuller had predicted to me ten years before: The Turner Prize being the quintessence of this infectious artistic movement that lingers with a nasty pong on the nose to this day.
I am so grateful for the few times I was able to meet with Peter Fuller. Not only was he happy to spend time with me discussing my artistic intentions and ideas, (he urged me strongly to follow my own artistic nose), but also because he was one of those rare individuals of whom it can be truly said: had a first-rate mind.
Note: At the time the notes below were written in 2003, I was forty-five years old. When the first notes were written in 1988-89, I was thirty-one years old. I’m sixty-three now! Where did the time go?
2. You Jest
Notes for new sculptural artworks to be exhibited at The Chelsea Contemporary Gallery, Sydney NSW written during May 1987 - August 1988 – April 1990 – July 2003 – revisited May 2021.
Movement of a sort…
I was cleaning up my studio recently when I came across a few pages of notes written during an eleven-month period before my emigration to Australia from England; and during the time leading up to my first exhibition in Sydney at The Chelsea Contemporary Gallery. This was a time of great change for me, not only in my change of personal circumstances, but also with the development of my sculptural ideas. At this time, my ideas in sculpture underwent a vast transformative rebuild as I began to question all aspects of my artistic output. Transformative is the right word to describe this precious time of my life.
It came about after the disease of repetitiveness had crept into my work. I knew I had to affect a change in both myself and my work. The only way to do this was to stop and take the time to question all aspects of my working processes. I did this by stopping work altogether.
During the latter part of 1987 I spent many hours in my studio trying to understand and resolve the many contradictions (and inner conflicts), that had led to my work become bland to the point of redundancy. I remember well the frustration I felt at my inability to work with cohesiveness between my artistic ideas and the physical manifestations of them. It’s curious to take a look back at the way you were thinking at a certain point in time; all the more curious and pleasing as the notes were written as the change in my artistic thinking happened. In some respects, the notes are naive, in other respects I find the notes refreshing by the quality of their naiveté. There are some ideas in the notes I disagree with currently (particularly in respect to the art practices of many contemporary artists of whom I hold complete respect), but nevertheless, in the notes below, that is how I was thinking at the time, for better or for worse, warts an’ all: I believe now for the better as they show a time of great change within my life, a time I now hold very close to my heart, a time when I was able to return to making art with honesty and integrity from a period of self-doubt and inactivity.
Life of a sort…
These days, at forty-five years of age, I believe life to be changing constantly, whether it affects change in us, or whether we affect change in what life has to offer. Life then, is a curious balance between these two states of change. Without warning, they bump into one another, sometimes in complete harmony, other times, with complete and utter discourtesy and contempt with the resulting inner turmoil they manifest. I hope that any ability I have to affect change in my life and artwork, will continue for the rest of my life.
I am going to dedicate this exhibition to the memory of the art critic and writer Peter Fuller who died in tragic circumstances just a few months ago. I am extremely sad at the moment. Over the past couple of years, I had been thinking about doing something to recognise the respect I had for him and lament the fact that I didn’t have the opportunity (or the appropriate artworks ready before he passed. He had so much more to offer the world before his untimely passing. Much of the Conceptual artwork to which he objected during the mid to late nineteen eighties, has become the norm as far as the artistic fashion of today is concerned. Even worse, fashionable twaddle posing as new art, made by a few (I’ll call them), ‘Top End Artists’, has become the accepted fashion of the day by most major artistic institutions as being credible art practice in the contemporary art world. No one questions its existence, no one challenges its subject matter, no one calls its creators to account, no one of note in the art world raises their well-hidden skeptical head above the water so to speak, for fear of being ostracised or ridiculed. Apart from Peter Fuller, who until his passing, let them have it with both barrels, again, so to speak: and both barrels they needed and still need without question.
With the exception of Peter Fuller, there is no one writing these days with the tenacity, knowledge, courage and wit, to condemn so much of the rubbish currently trying to pass itself off as new art in so many of our contemporary galleries; and I do not only refer to England, America, Most of Europe, Australia and Canada. The conceptual epidemic is world-wide. It is killing the creativity of so many young talented artists who, in their innocence, lack of confidence at speaking out and lack of life’s experiences, are falling prey to this stultifying epidemic.