Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Tomma Abts

I suppose I should come clean on where I stand on Tomma Abts and her winning of the Turner Prize.

I've posted comments about this on one or two blogs and it began to seem to me that I was vacillating. But my opinion varies to reflect the question. Am I glad a painter won the Turner Prize? Of course, given that I'm a painter and painters have not done well previously.

What did I think of her being given the prize? I was interested in her quiet demeanour at the prize-giving, and the fact that she seemed to be mercifully free of self-aggrandisement and meaningless artspeak. I was amused by the Channel 4 interviewer's question, "How do you know when a painting is finished?" and half-expected him to go on to, "Where do you get your ideas from?" On reflection, that last might have been a difficult one as she seems to have no ideas.

What do I think of her work? I quite like it, but only in a very low-key way. I think I saw a couple of her paintings in last year's soul-achingly boring British Art Show at the Baltic and remember thinking, well, at least it's painting, and then drifting on.

The trouble is, I guess, she's coming from a different direction from mine. While I value working in what I regard as a long and honourable tradition growing out of the history of painting, she, I suspect is approaching it from a Postmodern sensibility.

Her working method is to start without any prior idea and to work the paint by layering and abrading until an image begins to clarify. I have no quarrel with the method. David Prentice often starts his paintings in this way. Max Ernst often maintained that he never knew what his pictures would look like before he started. Before him, Gustave Moreau used what would later be called Decalcomania to develop parts of his paintings.

The images Tomma Abts discovers in her paintings appear in most cases to be reflections of work done by the Abstractionists of the early 20th Century. I'm not even sure the images are important, except as a form of Conceptualist irony

Irony: the prophylactic of the 21st century

This seems like a kind of arid archaeology, quite unlike Ernst's exciting psychological self-discovery.

So: do I like Tomma Abts's paintings? Only a little and not very much

Oh, and what do I think of the Turner Prize? I gave up being either irritated by it or particularly interested in it a long time ago.

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