We interviewed the curators Sarah Kate Wilson and Zoe Sawyer, of the current show at The Tetley, Leeds “Painting in Time”. The exhibition focuses on painted works which are in a state of flux. The show includes works by Polly Apfelbaum, Claire Ashley, Kristina Buch, Kate Hawkins, Robert Chase Heishman and Megan Schvaneveldt, Natasha Kidd, Rob Leech, Lisa Milroy, Yoko Ono, Hayley Tompkins, Jessica Warboys and Sarah Kate Wilson.

Jessica Warboys_ Box Painting(3)_2013_ (left)_ IMG_2758‘Box Painting’ by Jessica Warboys, 2013 (left). ‘Limes and Brick Suck pink . You Tasteless Hun’, 2012 & Another Tasteless Hunk’, 2013 by Clare Ashley (right).

Sarah Kate Wilson –  “Painting in Time”  explores the relationship between time and contemporary painting. This exhibition has developed out of the research I am undertaking at Leeds University for my practice based PhD as well as my approach to making painting in the studio. These particular artists have become very important to my research, because they (as I do in my own practice) destabilize the idea of painting as a static object and establish painting firmly as a time-based medium.

They bring time into their paintings by side stepping away from making ‘finished’ paintings. Rather, time is inscribed in the work from the beginning through a variety of strategies, which allow the works to evolve once they exit the studio.

My research over the past three years has focused on painting within the expanded field. Of course this field of practice is not new – since the 60’s and perhaps before, the medium of painting has been embracing new materials, surfaces and environments. No longer constrained by the wall, the stretcher or paint, painting has teamed up with sculpture, performance and film and exists within an ‘expanded field’. This exhibition promotes what critic, educator and curator Terry R. Myers would call a ‘coalition’, a joining together of media, which allows the dimension of time to enter the realm of painting.

Artists such as Daniel Buren, Allan Kaprow and Yoko Ono have been incredibly important to my practice and research as they present painting as instructions, as happenings and in site specific contexts.

This exhibition builds on an accumulation of significant moments in the history of art that have marked a shift in both the way that painting is exhibited, and the conceptual framework within which it is produced. The artists participating in Painting in Time are simultaneously pushing the boundaries of painting at this particular moment in time, whilst the medium is in its most expansive state.

Hayley Tompkins_ Digital Light Pool (stone)_ 2013_IMG_2832‘Digital Light Pool’ by Hayley Tompkins

Zoe sawyer – Sarah Kate and I have been in dialogue for the past 2 years whilst both her research interests have been evolving and PSL has been transitioning from the artist-led project space it formerly was, into the contemporary art centre The Tetley now is.

The ideas within the formative proposition Sarah Kate put forward when we first met has developed through our conversations and Sarah’s research and practice. Equally, the terrain of contemporary painting practice keeps moving and even during that relatively short time frame interest in the expanded field of painting seems to have heightened.

This show highlights thinking about and approaches to painting at the forefront of contemporary practice, which still need visibility in the wider sphere.  Through a number of new commissions the project has also allowed artists to push their practice in new directions and experiment, debuting new work and testing it within the context of the exhibition space.

Including some historical works and more established artists such as Yoko Ono, Lisa Milroy and Polly Apfelbaum the show also goes someway to contextualise and chart the (relatively) brief history of the expanded field of painting that has been gaining pace since the 1960s.

Polly Apfelbaum_ Color Revolts_ 2015_IMG_2702

‘Colour Revolts 2015’, 2015 by Polly Apfelbaum

How did you decide on the artists, did the space of The Tetley have any impact on this decision?

Sarah Kate Wilson – I have exhibited alongside Natasha Kidd and Kate Hawkins prior to this exhibition and have co-curated exhibitions over the past three years, which have included Rob Leech and Lisa Milroy. I have developed relationships with these artists through joint interests in our practices. I wanted to work with these artists again as well as include artists who are also relevant to this investigation into painting as a time-based medium. By bringing together this cross generational international group of artists the exhibition is able to look at a variety of practices all engaged in the expanded field of painting and more specifically in the relationship between painting and time.

The Tetley’s ethos of curatorial and artistic experimentation, allowed the exhibition to develop over the past 2 years. I see The Tetley as a unique space which allows an open approach to exhibition making, this is something that I admired when Tetley existed as Project Space Leeds. We have been able to show ephemeral works, ones that evolve and need machines or the attention of gallery attendants to activate the works throughout this 3 month long exhibition.

All the artists in the exhibition are alive and working at this particular moment in time, therefore we have been able to communicate with them regarding the work they wish to show. In this sense it has not been a traditional painting exhibition, i.e. we have not loaned paintings and hung them on white walls.

Claire Ashley_ Another Tasteless Hunk_ 2013_IMG_2830.jpg

‘Limes and Brick Suck pink . You Tasteless Hun’, 2012 & Another Tasteless Hunk’, 2013 by Clare Ashley

I have been following Claire Ashley’s work over the past 3 years and first saw her inflatable works in an exhibition at the deCordova Sculpture Park in Massachusetts, USA. We had studio visits over Skype (as she is based in Chicago) and through discussion decided to try out the works on timer switches – meaning that the works would inflate and deflate throughout the exhibition, by locating them in the atrium space (the central exhibition space) they act like a heart beating rhythmically throughout the day. Keen to have works that evolved throughout the exhibition the choreographing of these large paintings added drama to the exhibition. The idea being that visitors enter one of the gallery spaces in the exhibition and when they re-emerge the work may have deflated or be re-inflating. Likewise her paintings installed on the flagpoles are continually affected by the elements, and over time the paint is being ferociously rubbed away by the wind.

The unique showing spaces of The Tetley lend themselves to the exhibition, the flagpoles allowed us to install outdoor paintings. Kate Hawkins worked specifically with the dimensions of the original art deco paneling in Gallery 1, she made paintings which fitted into the sizes of these panels – these paintings are hinged and can be swung away and pushed back flat to the wall. Similarly paintings fit neatly into drawers and into the fireplace finding their own natural resting place.

Rob Leech and Hayley Tompkins also responded to the art deco features of the room. Leech, swapped the brass name plaque on Gallery 3’s door which originally named an employee from the days of the Tetley brewery headquarters to the title of Leech’s. Tompkins originally exhibited her work ‘Digital Light Pool (stone)’, 2013 on a stone floor at the Venice Biennale in 2013, for Painting in Time the work is exhibited on a parquet floor and is reconfigured to respond to the architecture. The paintings in trays sometimes sit aligned to the parquet design or sit in jarring contrast to it by responding to the orientation of the room instead.

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‘Stella’, 2015 by Rob Leech

My own work ‘Zumba’, 2014, is performed throughout the day with each performance lasting for 20 seconds in total. The room prior to and after the performance has three items installed within it, (a framed photograph of the painting mid performance, a percussion table and sequined painting awaiting activation) which are spot-lit, this theatrical installation sets the stage for what is about to happen. This small gallery space allowed me the opportunity to control the viewing conditions. The performance begins with the spotlights being turned off, plunging the audience into total darkness before the painting is performed by 2 gallery attendants under strobe lights. The encounter with the work is intense and brief, blink and you miss it.

What problems as a curator do you encounter in trying to present time specific work / fragile or ephemeral works. Specifically in the medium of painting.

Zoe sawyer – There are lots of pretty fragile, unfixed works in the show. Many invite interaction whilst others require close attention from gallery staff.  Using standard exhibiting conventions of invigilators and minimal cautionary signage has allowed us to be fairly liberal in the the way works are installed, allowing audiences to interact with them as freely as possible.

Many of the artists are really keen to move painting away from traditional notions of wall based painting. These painting are doing something, moving beyond the inanimate precious art objects of the past.

Kate Hawkins_ Aschenputtel (2015)_ IMG_2656

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Kate Hawkins, Aschenputtel, 2015

Reading list –

  1.  Time – Documents of Contemporary Art Whitechapel
  2.  Painting – Documents of Contemporary Art Whitechapel
  3.  Isabelle Graw, Daniel Birnbaum, Nikolaus Hirsch (Eds.) Thinking through Painting, Reflexivity and Agency beyond the Canvas
  4.  Grapefruit – Yoko Ono