Artists have more media available to make work than ever before. Why, then, do many still prefer to stand in a freezing studio mixing colours and working with oil and acrylic on a canvas?
The argument proposed by videomakers, multimedia designers, iPad creatives, photographers, performance artists, contemporary sculptors, is there is nothing new to say through painting.
Yet painters such as David Hockney argue it is a matter of the eye, about how we see; the discussion should go via one’s own way of looking rather than the media one uses to present ideas.
Hockney, of course, works with paint and embraces the iPad. As such, were he to be based in Brighton, he would surely be interested in Phoenix Gallery’s latest show.
Its emphasis is contemporary painting: abstract, figurative, landscape, photorealist, gestural, staged compositions. Every one of the 32 Paintings spread over six rooms has been made by an artist with a connection to Brighton.
Half the painters exhibiting work are based at the Phoenix Gallery. The other half either live in Brighton, used to live in Brighton or work in the city.
Patrick O’Donnell, the man responsible for the giant collection of sketched heads covering the scaffolding attached to the front of the gallery opposite St Peter’s Church, co-curated the show with Nicholas Pace. Both have studios in the building and both have work in the show.
Pace, who lectures in art history at the National Gallery as well as working from Phoenix, is interested in contemporary and classical painting.
He says the exhibition was commissioned to take paintings out of studios and into a gallery space.
“We were thinking a lot of this work doesn’t get seen in Brighton because a lot of these artists in the show are represented by major galleries in London. They make work here but it doesn’t get shown here. We wanted to intervene before it goes off to art fairs or collectors.”
As we walk through the show, past paintings freshly executed, recently delivered, still with wet oil, Pace says an all-day symposium featuring artists, curators and historians has been organised for February 16 to discuss the future of painting.
“Painting has a long and distinguished history so there is nothing very novel about painting. One of the questions we are hoping to pose with this is, why do people do it?”
For Pace the answer is clear.
“Uniquely with a painting you as an individual have complete control. Everybody starts with the same thing: a rectangle, a blank canvas. There are a billion ways it can go. It’s up to you as an individual to express what is unique about you and your interests. A painting is an amazing way to do it.”
O’Donnell and Pace met at a private view of Louise Bristow’s work (she features in 32 Paintings) and wondered why there had not been a big painting exhibition in the city for so long. Pace says there are no other shows dedicated to painting in Brighton with as broad and as long a remit.
“There hasn’t been a big, long painting show in Brighton since I’ve lived here – and I’ve been here for six years. There are artists’ open houses, and a lot of shows tend to be new media, performance.
“It’s old-fashioned in a way, but oddly now we’ve put it together it looks refreshingly new. It’s high time. We are overdue for just a painting show.”
Meet the artists
Painters based at the Phoenix with work in 32 Paintings will open their studios on the afternoon of March 16 (1pm to 4pm, free). Visitors have the chance to find out about how the artists work and their ideas.
Two workshops will give novices and enthusiasts the chance to learn more about technique. Stig Evans leads Painting, Science and Restoration (February 22, 1pm to 4pm, free) to share the hidden secrets behind a painting. Acrylic Painting Techniques (March 2, 11.30am to 5pm, £25) is a hands-on workshop led by Chris Gilvan-Cartwright to explore the range and flexibility of painting.
Phoenix Gallery, Waterloo Place, Brighton, February 9 to March 24. Open 11am to 5pm, Wednesday to Sunday, free. Call 01273 603700.