Last night’s Turner Prize preview event was a jolly affair despite queuing in the rain and the rather hostile security guards – which struck me as funny and unnecessary – but this was the Turner Prize.
Once inside amidst a sea of friends and acquaintances the atmosphere improved markedly to the point – during my second glass of wine – where I was emotionally ready to take on more or less any kind of art, even the Turner Prize kind.
The line up this year: Karla Black, Martin Boyce, Hilary Lloyd and George Shaw were all dire to my eyes except for the work of George Shaw. I was lucky enough to see his retrospective earlier this year at the Baltic (demonstrating the very good taste of the gallery’s director Godfrey Worsdale). That was the first time I’d seen George Shaw’s work but I was delighted to see it again here in the shortlist. For those who haven’t seen his paintings the best description might be: a slice of hyper-realistic Humbrol coated housing estate life. Although the prize hasn’t been awarded yet – surely this work must win – hence the optimistic title on this post.
His images of a place that could be just about anywhere in contemporary Britain (but which are actually Coventry) create, for me, a real nostalgia for my childhood. The places depicted – rows of garages, the edges of parks and school fields, the semi-derelict houses, the fences, the little heaps of urban rubbish – all viscerally reminded me of my daily walk to school and the places I hung around with my friends. It looks terribly depressing and terribly boring but actually, for me, these scenes of urban isolation seem recognisable and comforting.
My husband likened them to 17th century Dutch still life paintings. And as fanciful as that sounds he’s right. The stillness, the beauty inherent in the ordinary everyday scenes and the luminous glaze of those Humbrol paints – very Vermeer.
I re-walked the exhibition room with this thought in mind and experienced it all again with a slightly changed sense of nostalgia.
It made me think about the connections of artists through the ages, the fact that ways of seeing are threaded through time and place and that emotions and memory can be gathered together in a single bent railing or glistening depiction of ashphalt. For me it was a moving and enjoyable experience but I guess if you grew up in leafy suburbia you’d view it all ratherly differently.
Other highlights included: chatting to Sune Nordgrun the first – and highly controversial – director of Baltic looking just the same as he did all those years ago; watching Godfrey Worsdale give his last interview of a very busy media day under the threat of a Stuckist ‘monkey man’ demonstration and viewing the incomparable Matt Stokes’ Cantata Profana installation which wasn’t in the shortlist but probably should have been.
I don’t think there’s a way of describing Stokes’ installation except for the words weird, loud, brilliant, joyful, amusing, intimidating. If you’re a vampire/werewolf movie fan, a heavy metal devotee, a sub-Malcolm Gladwell groupie – go and see it.
And to adopt my very clever husband’s views yet again – this should win the Turner Prize. Why? Because it’s got a primitive appeal that touches your inner howl…. in a very good way. It’s TS Eliot’s communal dance around the bonfire but for a knowing internet-age audience. Be free my friends and enjoy!