When I was first interviewed for a place to study art at Sussex Coast College, I remember saying that one of the reasons I wanted to become a student was that I felt my works looked amateurish. Reasonably, I was asked what that meant and replied that I didn’t know; if I knew the reason I would be able to change it. The answer obviously satisfied as I got in. But it is a problem that I have wrestled with every since and perhaps am now a little closer to finding the answers though not necessarily to putting them right. I thought about this whilst looking at Czech artist Richard Höglund’s extraordinarily effective Primary Colours at the Mayfair Ronchini Gallery.
Richard Höglund: Primary Colours
The work which is part of his Sea Pictures project is about portraiture; Höglund has explained that he wanted to indicate a man through “mark and measure.” It comprises a series of panels each showing a number of loosely executed loops and swirls drawn in silver point on a pastel background inspired by Turner’s seascapes
What I have found interesting about this work was that in the four years I spent studying art, two fellow students, one at the Hastings campus, one in Brighton attempted something similar. They came from different perspectives; one was influenced by the measurements and data from her own body and the precise measurements which she recorded became, over time, looser and more fluid; in the other case, the starting point was originally Chinese calligraphy but her drawings were made on the out breaths whilst she was in a kind of meditative state. Both artists produced marks which had a lot in common with those made by Höglund. If two students from one university have tried something like this, it is likely that there are people across the world also experimenting with this kind of mark making.
Indeed look at the marks in isolation and they are no so very different from the scribblings of a small child. This is not a matter of saying that anybody could do it, because they quite clearly could not, but trying to understand why, with similar initial ideas, the paintings produced by my two friends, though interesting, were not impressive and those of Höglund are.
Size is obviously part of it. Höglund’s paintings are enormous. They are apparently some of the largest silverpoint works ever made. The photograph shows just one side of the room; on the opposite wall there are a further four panels whilst there is a single linking panel at the end. But size alone is not the answer.
Materials are also important; Höglund’s painting are on linen and incorporate lead, tin marble dust and bone pulver. The use of the metallics means that the works will change and develop as the materials react with one another after they have left the studio. Whilst the potential for change is interesting, it does not explain why they look so right just now.
With this work, the reason that they are so powerful is not the looseness of the drawing, nor the subtlety of the colour, nor indeed the concept but is actually all of those things crucially combined with the precision of the horizontal bands. It is the grey bands top and bottom and the centre grey mark which are all so carefully and perfectly executed which gives the work a structure and a discipline which was lacking in the student works. Professionalism is a matter of getting everything right at the same time: and that is never going to be easy.
Primary Colours is showing at the Romchini Gallery, 22 Dering Street, London W1S 1AN until 10 September.