Research insights

As an artist investigating various theoretical issues via my practice, this project tends towards several conclusions. First, that post-conceptual painting is possible without it being a humanist “return to Painting”. Rather, it accords with conceptual art’s destabilising of traditional mediums such as painting and their self-validating assumed notions of autonomy. Almost any material can be used to realise ideas and I conclude that post-conceptual painting is not real painting, but a representation of painting: a stand-in. Generic painting that results in a type of object. It could be said that post-conceptual painters “nominate” objects to assume the place of painting; in the process the pictorial aspect of painting is jettisoned, while its “objecthood” is promoted. What interests me, however, is the crossover point where the work is both object and picture – a possibility that generic painting, as simply a set of signs, is unable to contain. 

Let’s take as an example, How to Change a Lightbulb – Orange Chair (2016), a painting of a folding chair that is a type of still life. Its illustrational simplicity contrasts with the materiality of its crudely painted surface, manifesting an objecthood that cannot be seen while viewing it as a picture. The perception of this image gets to the core of my own interest in presence and absence, a theme I have used repeatedly in the past. Just as Ludwig Wittgenstein’s famous duck/rabbit diagram highlights that both rabbit and duck cannot be seen simultaneously – one is always absent in the other’s presence – to look at a painting and see an object is to not see its pictorial dimension, while to see it pictorially is to not see its objecthood. The motif in this case can be said to be meta because it refers to the way a picture is seen as a picture or (painting) object, the way consciousness switches between “there” and “not there”. 

Generic painting could not offer me the potential of the “there” and “not there” duality, because it dismisses a pictorial dimension. But my continued fascination with painting has led me to rate its pictorial qualities over its objecthood. And try as I might to simplify, reducing style to the anti- or nonstyle of a how-to manual, complexity and ambiguity are stubbornly standing their ground. In Looking Through a Hole (2016), for example, the picture that came to define the complete body of work, an androgynous figure is hiding, or hunting, or both. Or are they simply looking through a hole? A hole which reappears above the head like a cartoon thought bubble, depicting what is seen (in the head of the figure) through the hole. Or is it an actual hole in the painting ground? The central character was devised as a reflection on introversion and shyness, corresponding to how we look at pictures, in so far as we see them, but are not reciprocally seen. 

The rifle, which clearly has a metaphorical and dreamlike existence as an extension of the figure’s shoulder, provokes a question: what do we do when we have found what we are looking for, and once we have seen it? Like a hunter, a picture-maker has to capture, and not necessarily with due ethical care; in fact, the two are often incompatible. The experience of Looking Through a Hole, with its dream-like imagery, is dependent on visual metaphor, in so far as an interpretation cannot be fixed by either author or viewer. The metaphor creates a resemblance by implication and does not have a literal meaning or specific content. As such, the compilation of elements that form the picture may (or may not, dependent upon a lack in either the viewer or the work) be experienced like the joke form as discussed in psychoanalysis – by affect and not logic. 

Which brings me back to Peter Osborne’s phrase “the experience of meaning”. The pleasure I find in looking at (and making) art is definitely an “experience”. For me, art is an experience, in the face of which you become aware that some kind of meaning is happening. Conceptual art and minimalism have sought to explain art in relation to the rational, and most of the art I am interested in does indeed have a rational side. But the part I am most interested in cannot be explained rationally – namely the aesthetic, which is often diminished by the idea of rationality being superior. In my search for a contemporary milieu for painting, I have pared back my practice to an elementary set of pictures, yet I am unable to eliminate a desire for complexity: allusion, metaphor, ambiguity – and, of course, humour – persist of their own accord.

 

CreatorsCumberland, S.
Description

The research interrogates post-conceptual painting and repositions it as picture making. Stepping outside the parameters of painting as a medium, drawing on historical references and investigations of contemporary psychoanalysis,
Cumberland explores paintings as pictures, a shift through which the conceptual nature of the work overrides their position as paintings. The research is concerned with why, how and what to paint after conceptual art, and proceeds by
making a distinction between post-conceptual painting and a return to painting. As a visual process of analysis takes
place, Cumberland takes as his starting point the works of Velázquez and Manet, which provide him with cues for rigorous compositional experimentation. This process is guided by Cumberland’s concern with control of an absence-and-presence (“there” and “not there”) duality in the work. His works examine painting’s pictorial qualities over its objecthood, and imply that the possibility that a work can be both object and picture is one that post-conceptual generic painting (simply a set of signs) is unable to contain.

Portfolio itemsSensible Signs: Pictures and Not Painting After Conceptual Art
The Painting Show
Handmade Colour Pictures
Year2016
PublisherUniversity of Westminster
KeywordsPaintings, Postconceptual, Pictures.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.34737/qqqz8

Portfolio items

Sensible Signs: Pictures and Not Painting After Conceptual Art
Cumberland, S. 2019. Sensible Signs: Pictures and Not Painting After Conceptual Art. PhD thesis University of Westminster Westminster School of Arts, College of Design, Creative and Digital Industries

The Painting Show
Cumberland, S. 2016. The Painting Show. Touring Exhibition: Currently Aram Art Gallery, Goyang Cultural Centre, South Korea. Previously Vilnius Contemporary Art Centre, Lithuania, and Limerick City Gallery of Art, Ireland. 22 Jan 2016 - 24 Sep 2017

Handmade Colour Pictures
Cumberland, S. 2016. Handmade Colour Pictures. The approach 1st Floor, 47 Approach Road Bethnal Green, London E2 9LY 10 Jul - 07 Aug 2016

Related outputs

Dog with Four Rifles
Cumberland, S. 2019. Dog with Four Rifles. Edinburgh College of Art 25 Jul - 25 Aug 2019

Sensible Signs: Pictures and Not Painting After Conceptual Art
Cumberland, S. 2019. Sensible Signs: Pictures and Not Painting After Conceptual Art. PhD thesis University of Westminster Westminster School of Arts, College of Design, Creative and Digital Industries

The Painting Show
Cumberland, S. 2016. The Painting Show. Touring Exhibition: Currently Aram Art Gallery, Goyang Cultural Centre, South Korea. Previously Vilnius Contemporary Art Centre, Lithuania, and Limerick City Gallery of Art, Ireland. 22 Jan 2016 - 24 Sep 2017

Handmade Colour Pictures
Cumberland, S. 2016. Handmade Colour Pictures. The approach 1st Floor, 47 Approach Road Bethnal Green, London E2 9LY 10 Jul - 07 Aug 2016

Four circle paintings
Cumberland, S. 2011. Four circle paintings.

YLLW240
Cumberland, S. 2010. YLLW240. Walker Art Gallery 18 Sep 2010 - 03 Jan 2011

Gone/There
Cumberland, S. 2010. Gone/There.

Stuart Cumberland, Comma 10
Cumberland, S. 2009. Stuart Cumberland, Comma 10.

Stuart Cumberland
Cumberland, S. 2009. Stuart Cumberland.

Fort/Da
Cumberland, S. 2009. Fort/Da.

Stuart Cumberland: Congratulations
Cumberland, S. 2007. Stuart Cumberland: Congratulations.

The way we work now
Cumberland, S. 2005. The way we work now.

Permalink - https://westminsterresearch.westminster.ac.uk/portfolio/qqqz8/pictures-out-of-painting


How to Change a Lightbulb – Orange Chair, 2016, oil on linen, 71cm × 102cm
How to Change a Lightbulb – Orange Chair, 2016, oil on linen, 71cm × 102cm
Now you see it: Ludwig Wittgenstein’s famous duck/ rabbit diagram explores the problems of perception
Now you see it: Ludwig Wittgenstein’s famous duck/ rabbit diagram explores the problems of perception
Charcoal sketches developing the ideas of How to Change a Lightbulb, 2016
Charcoal sketches developing the ideas of How to Change a Lightbulb, 2016
Charcoal sketches developing the ideas of How to Change a Lightbulb, 2016
Charcoal sketches developing the ideas of How to Change a Lightbulb, 2016
Installation views, Handmade Colour Pictures at the Approach Gallery, London, 2016
Installation views, Handmade Colour Pictures at the Approach Gallery, London, 2016
Installation view, The Painting Show, Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius, Lithuania, 2016
Installation view, The Painting Show, Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius, Lithuania, 2016
Installation views, Handmade Colour Pictures at the Approach Gallery, London, 2016
Installation views, Handmade Colour Pictures at the Approach Gallery, London, 2016