Serpentine Galleries / A Symposium on Leon Golub
This 2015 symposium brought together people from across disciplines to discuss Golub’s work in the context of contemporary global politics. I had long admired the artist – the gritty honesty of his paintings and the vitality of his figures, which seemed even more inescapably human for being roughly formed and featureless. I resonated with his focus on power and its abuse, and with his conviction that art should be relevant and deeply rooted in collective experiences and their consequences. As I listened, I was struck by how relevant his work is today, how applicable in a wider sense beyond the geopolitical conflicts to which he was responding in the 1960’ and 70’s.
The experience opened up new questions that influenced the way I approach my practice. Can the visual and imaginative worlds that artists construct achieve something that debate and analysis cannot? How can I allow deeply felt convictions to find natural expression through my art in ways that never result in work that is didactic or moralizing, and that still encourage open interpretation in the viewer? Working with these questions in mind led to a shift in my approach that has been liberating, one that emphasizes what I most want to understand or investigate, more than what I want to communicate or depict.
In Golub’s large-scale interrogation paintings, the viewer is cast as bystander to a moment in time that encapsulates a much larger story. One figure often looks out toward the viewer, intensifying this unsettling effect - to witness is to be involved. I began to think about ways this dynamic might apply to my exploration of modern surveillance culture and ideas of security. What are some of the ways that we willingly surrender power, and why? How aware are we of less overt ways we are shaped and manipulated, and to what extent are we complicit in this? While I do not attempt to find definitive answers, exploring strategies that create a sense of a pivotal moment in real time has become a running thread through my recent work. I am now experimenting with extending this idea toward more interactive works and installations