One of Leeds’ newer independent art spaces, Lady Beck, recently presented Painting, Fo’ Sho!, an exhibition of paintings by artists Richard Baker, Tom Palin, James Quin, Phoebe Ridgway and Rosie Vohra. The exhibition was ‘curated and disrupted’ by the artist Jack Fisher. That teasing credit, along with the exhibition’s flippant title (which could also be read as a phonetic play: painting, for show), might have led one to expect the exhibition to constitute a rhetorical critique of contemporary painting. Painting, Fo’ Sho! was finally a more generative, generous endeavour.
Fisher published the Facebook group conversations that took place between those involved, from provisional discussions to opening. This was printed in its entirety and displayed in the exhibition space, as well as compiled in a Google drive document, the link to which was publicised in the lead up to the exhibition. From these conversations, we learn that the painters invited Fisher to curate them as he saw fit. Though they did not specify what Fisher could and could not do, it is tempting to read the invitation itself as a kind of self-flagellation. The invitation characterised Fisher as a non-painter, an artist ‘concerned with the shifting cultural signifiers between physical and online space’ (Painting Fo’Sho! publicity, 2016). Hence the above-quoted disruption, clearly expected by the painters and implicit in the invitation. In response, Fisher devised an elaborate multi-round game of various actions to which the submitted paintings were then subjected.
It seems beside the point to discuss individual paintings, each one of which the exhibition construed as a cipher, a placeholder for the idea of Painting and by extension that of the Painter. Some paintings turned their backs to us, facing the wall. One was strapped to a ceiling-mounted rotating disco ball; another was reduced to ashes. Where the painted surfaces were visible, the works were bothered in less physical ways. For example, several works were accompanied by strings of Google image searches, printed and tacked next to each searched painting. Some of the searches appeared to return us to the painting’s source image (probably found via the same method), whilst others delivered us to the painting’s online item listing, telling us where we can buy it and for how much. The gesture suggested a vast sea of generic images, a sea that each painting, whilst discrete and unique, will eventually be lost in.
The actions that sounded merely silly on paper (paintings were to be tarred and feathered, hung outdoors to weather, printed on underpants, etc.) cumulatively took on symbolic resonance in the exhibition. The ritualistic and therapeutic associations included: purifying fire, to cleanse the Painter, and public humiliation, so that the Painter may atone for their sins. Fisher (and the exhibition’s very premise) certainly riffed on the stereotypical figure of the painter as precious and self-important. However, Fisher’s playful yet systematic approach (and the spirit of curiosity that led to his invitation) prevented the project from becoming overly romantic or overly frivolous. It was akin to a performed group art therapy session, where art and art making are not the means of recovery but the subjects of analysis.
David Steans is an artist and writer based in Leeds.
Installation photo: Jack Fisher
Painting, Fo’ Sho! was on at Lady Beck from 21 to 30 October 2016.