Painting of the Month, Special Feature, October 2015
This month we’re choosing to have an additional painting of the month to accompany our Annual Steven Campbell Lecture. It is with great pleasure that we include this short essay by Roger Hoare. Roger was Lecturer at The Glasgow School of Art from 1973 to 1981, where he taught on the short-lived Mixed Media programme between 1977 and 1981. Steven joined the course in his second year in 1979. It was where he made the now iconic Poised Murder performance with a group of fellow students.
In September 1981 I left Glasgow School of Art after running the Mixed Media Course in the new Fine Art department, to study Chinese art in the Far East. Steven Campbell had been in the final group of about twelve students from September 1980 to June 1981, working above the Victoria Café, opposite the Mackintosh building. Both he and Adrian Wiszniewski were then in their third year, so still had a final year to complete.
During his year in Mixed Media Steven had worked on installation and theatrical performances, culminating in ‘Poised Murder’…. in which I was beaten to death by a dame with a chair leg, whilst on the telephone. It was more disturbing having to wear Brylcreem, a black polo neck and medallion. It’s difficult to be a cool tutor when starring in a student performance.
On my return from Japan in February 1982 I visited Steven in his room in the annexe along Renfrew Street, where Mixed Media was originally based. The course had closed after my departure and the remaining students returned to their usual departments – painting, sculpture, printmaking etc. Steven could not work in the crowded Drawing and Painting studios, hence his retreat to the annexe. (Moral – never despise the importance of annexes in art colleges ….. see also Goldsmiths circa 1987.)
He was working on ‘Hunt’s Dilemma’. We had a conversation about his paintings, which I thought were a confident development of narratives that he had begun in his last term in Mixed Media after the performances. I was impressed by the power of the image of ‘Hunt’s Dilemma’, its crude directness, the strange flag-like composition and the general oddity. The either/or aspect of the bright, hellish red and the other-worldly blue pattern, with the twisted figure suspended betwixt and between, reinforced the mental concept of ‘dilemma’. I remember talking about the hand gestures and referring to the ‘haloed hand’ in Duchamp’s Fauvist portrait of Doctor Dumouchel, 1910.
‘Hunt’s Dilemma’ is a crisis for a fictional character, between the devil and the deep blue sea, between the hell of Fascism (oh! those handsome uniforms and sharp haircuts) and the innocence of peace (the sunlit and seascape patterns of Matisse – no! Sandro Chia more like). But what is the blob … a reference to a mountain? …. and those outlines repeated on both the red and blue areas. Has Guston been here with his big boots?
Who next is going to hove into view? Courbet and Titian, Apollinaire and Duchamp, Hume and Nietzche , John Buchan and ‘Rogue Male’, de Chirico and Magritte, Beckett and Joyce, Gerstl and Bacon, Wodehouse and Chandler……..
This is not a far-fetched list …. Steven and I had discussions about all of them during this period ….. and about pictorial conventions, naming and depicting, word and image, happenstance and conundrums ……. Especially humour in art, accidents in painting.
Steven was very aware of contemporary ideas in Post-Modernism – Baselitz, Immendorf, Schnabel, Longo etc. We talked about an imagined, new history painting of contemporary politics, character and events … wonderful as an idea… but difficult … needing to be painted very fast and skillfully. Steven brought Picasso with him…. the heavy-limbed, post-primitive, post-Cubist Picasso. In our conversation he always had an interesting point of view, a generous mind and was unfailingly humorous and quick-witted.
Steven gave me ‘Hunt’s Dilemma’ from his degree show in 1982. That summer I took it to deepest Surrey, where it lived with me in a damp country cottage for over thirty years, mostly hidden from view in an attic and remaining intact, during two burglaries.
It was painted on rough cotton canvas, probably on top of something else, in thick oil paint, perhaps mixed with printing inks “borrowed” from the silk-screen department of GSA. Money for materials was short in 1982. The paint surface was always fragile, it suffered temperature extremes and was rolled up for two long journeys. It now needs considerable repair and has to be seen again in public.
I’ve given it back to Carol Campbell…. end of my dilemma!
I have never used it as a rug. (see Steven Campbell and Hitchcock).
Steven would appreciate the fact that in my dictionary “dilemma” is wedged between “dildo” and “dilettante”.
Roger Hoare, October 2015