I met Stuart Semple on the eve of his new painting exhibition, Anxiety Generation, at the Delahunty gallery in Mayfair. Although Semple says he is “always painting”, this is his first show in a while in which he is exclusively presenting paintings on canvas and paper. His more recent output has consisted of digitally downloadable art on iTunes and immersive public art installations.
Smileys, made from a mixture of helium, soap and pink dye, were floated post-slicing from a state-of-the-art bubble machine across London from Tate Modern
I like Semple’s 2009 piece, Happy Cloud. Smileys, made from a mixture of helium, soap and pink dye, were floated post-slicing from a state-of-the-art bubble machine across London from Tate Modern. A reaction to the doom of recession, the medium and simplicity of message, and the fact that confronted with a wobbling, pink bubble-smile, even the most hardened city-boy managed a smile in return, it was really good, and has been repeated in Dublin, Milan and Moscow.
The medium and the message of Happy Cloud are perfectly in sync. I find Semple’s paintings difficult. I agree with so much the artist is saying about our lonely digital existences, our addiction to endless streams and feeds and the fact that despite our access to the world via all this technology, we are ultimately disengaged from it. Worse, we live in fear. Fear of actual (not virtual) relationships, viruses, death, youth… nothing meaning anything. And we distract ourselves by consuming crap.
Semple says that the painting gives us pause. It “does not have a duration. It remains”. But using a brash commercial art style, where the images look as though they have been projected onto paper and rendered in a slapdash way, detracts from the moment of reflection and repose. Semple’s sensitivity is lost. If the paint is the point, how will the painter paint? The business of painting and its history are given the attention span of a Google click, quickly dashed off, stenciled over. But then maybe that’s the entire point?
In the upstairs gallery, asinine pop lyrics like “Zig a zig ah” and “Oops I did it again” are stenciled over painted images taken from soft porn/horror imagery. But instead of making me think about the meaninglessness juxtaposed with violence, it just makes me wish they were painted better. As much as I agree with everything Semple is saying here, I can’t get past his technique. C
Until 4th December 2014 at Delahunty, 21 Bruton Street, London W1
020-7493 1613; delahuntyfineart.com