curated by Richard Ducker

The 1960s and 1970s were a period of radical transformation in contemporary art, resulting in what Terry
Atkinson has aptly described as a “complex and expanded” field of art practices and related institutions, both in
the UK and abroad. The most visible legacy in Britain of such innovatory work is that now historicised under the
rubric of “young British art”, with the truly innovative developments of the ‘60s and ‘70s having been to a large
extent obscured by the pomp, hype and market-led fanaticism that was so much a part of the yBa’s success in
the ‘80s and ‘90s. In order to carry out a critical reappraisal of this historical and political imbalance the
Fieldgate Gallery, for its final exhibition at its current premises, presents the work of three important and highly
influential artists who came to prominence in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s: Terry Atkinson, Stuart Brisley and Tim
Head. These artists were not only key figures as artists operating within Conceptualism, Performance Art and
other zones of practice, they also influenced subsequent generations of students – and not least that of the yBa
– through their significance as teachers and committed commentators on art and politics, as well as upon the
difficult interface between these overlapping, if only apparently contradictory  fields. All three artists continue to
make work today, a point that it is easy to forget or ignore in the celebrity-infested pro-youth climate so
prevalent in both the art world and the broader culture. Presenting the work of these three figures at the present
time (and especially in tandem) may be, in some quarters, regarded as a provocative act, or, from another
perspective, perceived as one long overdue. Both interpretations are correct. Why it is important to draw
attention to Atkinson, Brisley and Head at this particular historical moment is a combination of a number of
elements: their work and general contribution to significant developments within fine art practice is one clutch of
reasons; another is the unfortunately mannered, formulaic itineraries of much post-Conceptual art. It is surely
time to reiterate that Conceptual Art and its concurrent artistic developments were critical, rigorously innovative
and deeply skeptical methods of art-making, not driven by the desire for easy and insipid market-based
success as is so much post-Conceptual work today.  

Terry Atkinson (b. 1939) has chosen to show at Fieldgate extracts from several substantial bodies of work
executed in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the Irish works, the Greasers and the Mutes. Whilst the Irish pieces utilise more
or less conventional painterly forms to comment upon – often in a wry and critically penetrating manner – the
convoluted niceties of the political situation in Northern Ireland, the Greasers and Mutes push painting into an
area that is difficult to classify as painting proper, though it is similarly hard to label it with other established
terms. Employing axle grease (a substance that never fully congeals) as a substitute paint, and having
squelched this viscous connotator of labour, wealth and energy into specially constructed troughs that form part
of larger mixed-media structures, these constructions raise questions about what it means to expand the
Modernist notion of vanguard innovation beyond its now well-documented limits. At a moment when the mass
media is constantly harping on about the imminent evaporation of the Earth’s oil resources, Atkinson’s
Greasers and Mutes take on a heightened relevance as allusive, impressively prescient representations of
Capitalism in a state of panic and disarray.

Stuart Brisley (b. 1933) has produced a highly diverse range of works and utilises a broad span of
methodologies, resulting in live actions, installations, paintings, drawings and writings. His pioneering long-
duration performances, first carried out in the 1960s, gained him an international reputation. Brisley’s prime
contribution to this show will consist of an installation entitled “Psychocleaning” (2008), involving the deployment
of various props – an old ironing board, a low plinth, a dirty white plaster leg – with other items placed in
relation to these (possibly highlighted) objects. Brisley frequently works in an open-ended manner, his
installations and (if he chooses to carry them out) actions developing dialogically with the space into which they
are inserted or performed. “Psychocleaning” as an operative term has a number of connotations, including
ethnic cleansing but also the troubled and troubling pseudo-obsession with dirt and its emphatic erasure that is
so prominent a trope within Capitalism. (In 2003 Book Works published Brisley’s novel Beyond Reason:
Ordure). Despite these clues or contextualising triggers “Psychocleaning” is, however, a work open to many
possible interpretations; in part a potential stage-set for live action, it is also a configuration of formal and
material relationships designed to act as a machine for the generation of meanings other than those
consciously marked out by the artist himself.

Tim Head (b. 1946) has worked in a variety of media. At Fieldgate he will exhibit a number of pieces made
since 2002, concentrating upon works that take as their point of departure what he has perceptively termed the
“elusive and contrary nature of the digital medium and its unsettled relationship with both ourselves and with the
physical world.” Although the use of digital media is a widespread and increasingly naturalised aspect of
everyday life in the West, its alleged stability and reliability is arguably somewhat overstated. Head’s recent
work draws the viewer’s attention not to the coherence and practicality of the digital form but to its unreliability,
its ability to generate heterogenous and diffuse results. In “Laughing Cavalier” (2002) a computer randomly
selects a colour from the literally millions of possible colours held in the computer’s palette, filling all the pixels
on the screen with it. This is rapidly replaced by another random colour choice in a constantly shifting process,
the specific particularities of which are determined by the idiosyncrasies of the hardware being used. "Dust
Flowers" (2008) are large digital inkjet prints made by vastly magnifying layers of randomly generated ink dots
that reveal the latter's granular, interwoven surface.

Peter Suchin

private view: Friday, 13 June 2008, 6-9 pm
exhibition runs from 14 June - 13 July 2008
gallery open: Friday - Sunday, 1  6 pm

14 Fieldgate Street, London E1 1 ES