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INTERVIEW

PHILIP GURREY

PULSE Prize Winner 2008


‘Robert Manners’, 2008, Oil on Board, 55 x 50cm. Image courtesy the artist.

‘Robert Manners’, 2008, Oil on Board, 55 x 50cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Could you expand on the series you exhibited over a decade ago at PULSE 2008 and how it felt like to receive the award?

The work I was exhibiting in 2008 concentrated on the bridge between contemporary culture and its historical precedents. I was fascinated by the painters of the Dutch golden age, not just because of what they were depicting but also because of the way they handled paint. I saw in these society portraits glimpses of our modern culture where money held more power than the king and religion for the first time. Taking inspiration from these traditional portraits, I set about painting contemporary juxtapositions or amalgamations of these subjects. Although the outcome looked very much like portraiture, my works were more akin to abstract constructions. 

What debt do we pay to the past in our search for something new?

Understanding the history and significance of a medium- such as paint - is crucial. The past can teach us a lot about a possible future. Echoes of the past often reverberate into the present. Contemporary painting is read in relation to its past as well as its current context that for me makes an acknowledgement of the history of a medium crucial. 

Which parts of that series were the most difficult to create? Why?

The most difficult to create were the first investigations for sure. I have always tended to work in series’. Once an investigation is taking shape you can see your way through it. The work is able to point you in one direction or another. When beginning a new body of work, there are so many questions that begin to arise. These can be addressed slowly as a series of works, or as a body of work develops. The works Balthasar Carlos as Hunter and Cornelius van der Geest were crucial works in that respect.

‘Balthasar Carlos as Hunter’, 2007, Oil on Board, 31x31cm. Image courtesy the artist.

‘Balthasar Carlos as Hunter’, 2007, Oil on Board, 31x31cm. Image courtesy the artist.

‘Cornelis van der Geest’, 2007, Oil on Card, 15 x 10.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

‘Cornelis van der Geest’, 2007, Oil on Card, 15 x 10.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

You’ve expressed interest in 17th Century Dutch portraiture and Walter Benjamin’s On the Concept of History, what other areas of art and culture do you feel like you are most inspired by?

Painting, philosophy, politics and jazz have always been there in my work. Whether they colour an approach to painting or directly influence a subject matter. My most recent work draws connections between British abstraction in the late 60’s, in particular the work of John Hoyland, the writing of Theodor Adorno and the work of British saxophonist John Surman. I’m concerned with trying to create a position for contemporary painting, after conceptual art, that is capable of critical sociological expression. 

The art world has changed drastically in the past decade and a half, in which way do you feel it has changed the most?

The art world is now dominated by wealth and not sociological concerns. That’s been true of the last 30-40 years maybe. We consume culture today, we don’t absorb it. The wealthy are wealthier and that has bred more inequality in the art world. However, the optimist in me thinks it can only be a matter of time until this model is uprooted and usurped by a rigorously radical art anti-capital in nature. 

 
‘Red, Black, Grey’, 2018, Acrylic on Canvas, 150x150cm. Image

‘Red, Black, Grey’, 2018, Acrylic on Canvas, 150x150cm. Image

 

Where is your favorite place to relax and find peace of mind?

My studio sits at the bottom of my garden. It was something my wife and I decided to build when our son was born. I love to sit in the garden on a sunny day with Felix (our two year old boy). He, like the studio itself, optimizes everything my wife and I have prioritized together; a life filled with hope and the potential to create and change.

What’s coming up next for you?

The next big leap for me is a move to Canada. I am about to begin a PhD at Western University in London, Ontario. It’s a practice based investigation of gesture and improvisation in abstract painting and improvised music seen in relation to Theodor Adorno’s idea of homeostasis with a view to better theorize a critical practice of contemporary painting. I’m very much looking forward to this shift and what effect it will have on my creative output. I have been amazed at how art can facilitate change and adventure, ever since I moved to Glasgow as an 18 year old to study at the Glasgow School of Art. 

‘Grey, Black, Green’, 2018, Acrylic on Canvas, 150 x 150cm. Image courtesy the artist.

‘Grey, Black, Green’, 2018, Acrylic on Canvas, 150 x 150cm. Image courtesy the artist.


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