In Part Two of Anna Preston's interview with Mall Galleries Duty Managers and ING Discerning Eye exhibitors, Jack Sutherland and Henry Byrne, we expand on Part One’s discussion of the exhibition to explore the practices and experiences of Jack and Henry as artists.
PART TWO: The Artists
As well as working at Mall Galleries, you've both exhibited in shows here before. Jack had works in ING Discerning Eye exhibitions in 2012 and 2014, and in the Mall Galleries’ staff show in 2015. Henry exhibited in the Lynn Painter Stainers Prize in 2015 and this year's Royal Society of Portrait Painters' Annual Exhibition. What is it like experiencing the Mall from an exhibitor's perspective having gotten to know the place ‘behind the scenes’, so to speak? Do you expect this exhibition to feel different to those in which you have participated in the past?
JS: Exhibiting in the 2012 ING Discerning Eye felt very different in comparison to 2014. The prior occurred at a time when the gallery was a fresh-faced façade, and the latter held with it the knowledge of the inner workings of the space. Working in the gallery has certainly changed my view of it, but only by giving me a greater appreciation of the vast levels of work that go into organising and hanging these exhibitions.
HB: Having exhibited at Mall Galleries twice before, from a personal perspective it is both reassuring and exciting to be selected by one's peers. I generally organise my own shows so it's a novel experience to perceive the work as a guest and view my work in a gallery setting.
Henry Bryne, Dirt on Whitechapel Road
It’ll be fun to see if you get recognised by fans of your pieces while working at the gallery desk! Tell us a little about the practical methods you employ to manifest your ideas as physical artworks.
HB: I work with oil on canvas. I have a studio in east London where I keep my practise, however I try to stay a month abroad each year. It’s a chance to catch up on admin and scrutinise my ideas. My work is project-based as I like a start and end point, and I try to exhibit as much as possible. I use my camera phone to take the images I later paint from, allowing a lot of flexibility to capture interesting things quickly and without too much consideration. Later I paint and then analyse if they are successful or not. If so I will exhibit it in that state or rework it to a larger scale. I like to play with the colour and tone to give a more accurate description of what I saw and how I saw it.
JS: My process is still fairly fractured, which is something I'm still learning to accept. Ideally, I would like to make a painting or a series of paintings from sketches or sets of ideas that I'm currently interested in. However, most of the time I'll sit down to make the painting or start the series and something will happen during the making that sets me down a different path. The materials might behave in a way that I was expecting, or a mistake gets left in and surpasses the initial idea.
For example, something happened in between the making of 'Cut Tooth' (2015) and 'Small German Painting I' (2016) that led me from the former to to latter. If I had to pin it down, I think it would be to do with my concerns and continuing acceptance of the materiality of paint. 'Cut Tooth' was made with acrylic and spray paint, and aimed to achieve a surface which simultaneously dealt with flatness and depth. 'Small German Painting I' still employs the use of spray paint, but most of it is covered up with a pleasingly slapdash coating of oil paint, into which crude shapes have been cut. The immediacy and unforgiving nature of painting black lines wet-on-wet into white oil excited me, and I found something utterly intriguing about the shapes I was depicting. It still toyed with illusionistic depth, but in a way that was less interested in a perfect surface and more interested in the primitive crudity of paint.
I'm still trying to pare down my interests and realise that simplicity can be the goal. It's a painting. Made from paint. To accept that is my goal.
Jack Sutherland, Tooth Root
Jack, I've always been intrigued by how you go about titling your paintings. What relationship does title have to form, and how do you think titles influence - or even manipulate - the viewing experience of your work?
JS: I have a love/hate relationship with titling my works. I think it can be a gloriously playful way to extend the meaning of the painting and give the viewer some access to a dialogue with the work. Sometimes, in my studio, I draw from pages of phrases and garbled words that I have collected and seem to fit in some way to a painting that needs a title. Very occasionally, I will have a phrase or a set of words that I enjoy so much that I feel compelled to make a painting that fits.
Normally the title would follow the painting; ‘Cut Tooth’ was taken from the title of the aforementioned diptych ‘Tooth Root’, which in turn was taken from the method in which the diptych was displayed. One painting would sit above the other and act as the visible tooth, and the second would act as the bloody root of the tooth. The digraph ‘oo’ found in both words also served to please me.
As for ‘Small German Painting I’, the title followed the colours and forms found within the painting. I felt that the loose gathering of shapes was fairly German in form and presentation (i.e. paintings of Thomas Scheibitz), and the colours are that of the German flag. I also liked the self-deprecating nature of the title, and its inherent failures to represent all of German painting. Fairly tongue-in-cheek, like a lot of my titles. It is of course worth noting that the German flag is in fact black-red-yellow from top to bottom, whereas my painting follows the flag of Tegelen, a former independent municipality in the Netherlands. So a non-apocryphal title would be ‘Small Tegelen Painting I’, although I cannot say I’m familiar with the Tegelen style…
Jack Sutherland, Small German Painting
Henry, both works you have in the show reference London's urban landscape. I see you very much as a London artist, and thereby your work as site-specific. Would you say that environment and locality play a crucial role in your creative process?
HB: Yes I would. I'm interested in the change in atmosphere of places over different times of day and night, specifically the range of colours that are generated. Urban settings allow for this this due to the prevalence of artificial light. That constant creates a focus on an area that is quite unnatural, the works are almost like 'Still Lives' in of themselves. It is my intention that the works are open to multiple interpretations.
Chaps, I'd like to thank you for being so gracious throughout this interview and providing some super answers. You’ve certainly whet my appetite for Discerning Eye, and I’m sure the same can be said of our readers. Finally, what is next for both of you creatively?
HB: Regarding the future I have a couple of upcoming shows revolving around light and locality, so keep an eye on my website and social media pages for information about those. I’m currently on a residency in Trelex in Switzerland for a few weeks, which is taking my process and work in exciting new directions...watch this space.
AP: Watch this locality!
JS: Thank you very much for the questions, Anna. I’m planning on making some larger scale works based around the ideas in ‘Small German Painting I’, and am very much looking forward to seeing them come to fruition. This would be greatly helped by someone buying one of my paintings in the exhibition, so I urge the viewing public to do so as it is a matter of national cultural significance. I’m also involved with the DIY Art Market in Oval Space on Saturday 10 December so if you need some wondrous works on paper in your life, do come and say hello.
See more of Jack’s work here: jacksutherland.co.uk