Why won’t painting go away? That was the question I found myself pondering during the installation of the Jerwood Painting Fellowships exhibition, which has just opened at Jerwood Arts. It’s not that I especially want painting to go away but I do wonder why, in 2011, such a thing as a painting fellowship even exists.
Writing in 2009, Time Out New York critic Howard Halle claimed that ‘it’s a widely held belief in the art world that painting is dead’. That was, of course, a preposterous statement and quickly rebutted by Jerry Saltz, who, after describing it as ‘dead rhetoric’, went on to offer $10,000 to anyone who could conclusively prove that painting was dead. Thankfully Saltz will never have to put his money where his mouth is, because painting is still alive and kicking and may even turn out to be immortal. The popularity of the Jerwood Painting Fellowships, along with other notable painting shows such as the John Moores Painting Prize and the Marmite Prize tell us that the discipline of painting is as popular as ever. But why, in our technological age, is this so?
Some artists, such as the 2007 Turner Prize winner Mark Wallinger, who were once dedicated to the craft have now thrown the towel in all together in favour of video, performance and installation. Conversely, certain artists once associated with sensational headline-grabbing installations are now pursuing critically unacclaimed paths as painters.
Whilst chatting to Cara Nahaul, one of the Jerwood Painting fellows, she told me that during her degree course she was often challenged to defend her pursuit of painting. Interestingly enough though, Nahaul’s influences are primarily film-makers rather than painters (more of this in later blog posts). So why, when new media, film and video are so readily accessible and enjoy far more currency, are artists still concerning themselves with cotton duck, gesso, oil and acrylics? Why won’t painting go away?