It's such a joy for me to share recent work by Edinburgh-based artist Matthew Bainbridge, whose paintings I ran across for the first time in mid-2014. Interestingly, I didn't actually see his work--not really, as it was during the 2014 Glasgow School of Art degree show, which, in the wake of the devastating fire to the historic Charles Rennie Mackintosh school building, which destroyed a number of students' artwork as well. So to even the score a bit, all of the students presented photographic depictions of their work, giving those whose work was damaged the opportunity to recreate. The effect of the photos created a sort of abstraction of a degree show, with plenty more to look into. So really, I discovered a photograph of one of Matthew Bainbridge's paintings, and I had to follow up. A couple of years later and he's just opened his first solo show, DO LIKE DO LIKE, this weekend at 36 Lime Street Gallery in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, featuring work from this year! I've touched base with him to see what's new!
+ + +
YS: Time has flown! I wrote about your work back in mid 2014 following the (rather unique) GSoA spring show, as I was really inspired by your bold palette, choices of medium, and pop culture references. What have you been up to since? Are you still in Scotland?
MB: Hello again Kate! A year on from the showcase following the fire in 2014 I exhibited alongside other affected graduates as part of the Phoenix Bursary Exhibition in the Reid Building on the GSA campus, which was a nice culmination to the aftermath of missing out on a degree show. Although it was designed as a sort of surrogate for a missed opportunity, the process felt more professional in a way, as there was less segregation between exhibited works and more interpersonal communication between participating artists. We were actively encouraged to be more selective with our input and consider the changing dialogue of our work in the wider context of the space, which made for a really fluid exhibition.
Following on from this I continued to work in Glasgow for another year before relocating to Edinburgh just this summer, where I currently work as part of the Visual Arts team at Summerhall and recently joined the committee at Embassy Gallery. Its been a great experience so far to get involved with the inner workings of two different gallery environments and to see how they operate, Summerhall is privately owned whereas Embassy is artist-run; there’s a lot to learn from the conversations that occur on a daily basis, particularly in diplomacy!
You’ve opened your first solo show in Newcastle -- what has been the most exciting or surprising thing you've come across during this process? How did this show and the location come about?
Probably that I was offered a solo show! There was a period of time after the culmination of the Phoenix Bursary where I was beginning to feel a little stagnant because of commitments outwith my studio practice, it was strange to have spent a year as a graduate still attached to GSA through what often felt like an extra year of study and to simultaneously attempt to establish some sort of professional life. I responded to an open call by Lime Street early in the year and was offered the show in March, which gave me a solid chunk of time to produce a substantial body of work I’d be confident in presenting in a solo show. I’m originally from North East England but haven’t lived there for almost six years now, so it’s been great to be invited back to contribute to Newcastle’s expanding arts scene and to see how it’s developed since I’ve been away.
Can you tell me a bit about the premise or theme of the show?
The show is probably more indexical to the overarching interests of my practice than representative of a specific internal theme, I like to think of exhibitions as clauses in a sentence that will in time come to define the context of my work, punctuated by the periods of studio work and self reflection in-between.
I graduated from the Painting & Printmaking department at GSA and so have always been acutely aware of contemporary debates surrounding paint’s capacity to effectively communicate ideas and emotions, particularly in the post-net era where CWIT (creative work incorporating text, see artist-led curatorial project HOAX) and other forms of expression are becoming increasingly prevalent as alternatives; studying at GSA was great in the sense that I was always encouraged to experiment beyond stretched canvas yet that’s what I found myself intrinsically drawn to, despite it’s sometimes unfavourable obstinacy, so I had to figure out why. It took me quite some time to pin down my concerns with the practical feasibility of painted languages, to find the common thread between my experiments over the past however many years and it was only within the last six months of my undergrad that I began to purposefully manipulate my work accordingly. The works on display in DO LIKE DO LIKE are next in the chronology and continue to explore the semantics of gesture and the accessibility of painted images.
As you've been out of the art school/university setting for a bit now, what has been the most challenging or daunting thing about pursuing your practice, and how have you worked to overcome it?
I actually managed to work for a steady income during the majority of my time at GSA, although only ever in part-time positions, so I think I’ve always been able to distribute my time pretty effectively anyways; once I graduated and went into full-time work however, it felt really easy to miss the immediate accessibility of a studio, studio-mates, crits and tutorials. Any time I find to paint now is spent in my makeshift studio, alone, at home and so as a result I’ve found myself becoming a lot more suspicious of my decision making process without relying too much on a more-or-less constant stream of outside critiques, which I guess is just a natural part of maturing as an artist.
Your recent work is still very much grounded in pop culture -- what are some your major influences right now?
It’s true that my work runs in the vein of a certain pop sensibility, the idea of appropriating something as banal as a takeaway menu, something that already exists in the world that requires very little mental acuity to process and then changing it to comment on the necessity of understanding in an art-context is key to my current practice.
A lot of the paintings in DO LIKE DO LIKE have their imagery wrought straight from a takeaway noodle bar menu that I found on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow way back in 2014, I find the fact that I’ve been able to sustain a whole body of work based around one small piece of street detritus kind of hilarious in the first place, so that kind of associated humour naturally tends to find its way in to my paintings.
Another find was a ‘NHS: Safety in the Workplace’ infographic that I found in the post recently and came in the form of a banana peel fridge magnet, I saw it and immediately conjured up a crop of different situations, all totally ridiculous, all centring around the misfortunes of this banana peel and everything it comes into contact with. It’s this kind of narrative I want to encourage my audience to run away with, and it's these familiar images that provide an unprejudiced catalyst to the imagination.
Moving from one painting to the next there’s a seemingly very open dialogue because of the accessibility of the imagery, so the whole thing becomes very slippery; when the dialogue between the works becomes strained and attempting to form a coherent narrative becomes difficult, then that’s when the physicality of the paint comes to the fore and the gestural makeup of the paintings become equally as evocative. There’s a lot of push and pull between image and non-image within the exhibition, sense and nonsense, dumbness and smarts; all things associated with the often vapid nature of pop culture that I’ve appropriated into a fine art context, poking fun at the often severely dramatised catharsis of painting.
What is your studio like?
My studio is a spare box room in my Edinburgh flat, its pretty small and doesn’t actually have any windows so there’s no natural light - but it does the job! The benefit of having a space to work in at home is that there’s no sort of pressure or sense of immediacy to be making, if I’m struggling with a painting then I can just close the door to the room and forget about it for a while; I’ve had studios in the past that I’ve pushed myself to spend as much time in as possible, but when you’re forcing yourself to work in that way its really easy for things to start looking confused and over-laboured.
How do you get started on a painting? What is the planning process like?
Images are subordinate to colour in my work so I’ll often put down grounds purely in response to any colour combination I’m drawn to at the time, I do very little forward planning, so these tend to sit for a while until I come across something I think will fit the character of that specific ground. Once an image is found or thought of, fidelity to its original form is unimportant; I try to paint in a way that highlights the artifice of the medium both physically and stylistically, whereby brush marks are left visible to the point of hyperbole. I probably spend more time mixing paint than actually applying it, its important to me that colours don’t accidentally blend on the canvas, so this almost exclusively occurs on a palette. I like to ensure each successive layer of paint is fully dry before working back on top of it, so I’ve learned to be patient this way; there’s sometimes long periods of inactivity and then a lot will happen in a quick burst, it’s an exercise in formal rigour versus spontaneity.
+ + +
Find more information and a bunch of other examples of recent work at matthewbainbridge.com.