(Guest Blogpost) Contemporary British Painting by Sophie Cummings

Throughout November and December 2020, Art on Tour explored the fascinating and varied world of modern British art, in the hope of shedding some light on its defining groups and movements. We were inspired by the collection at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery to create a virtual exhibition on Art UK, which charts the history of British art from the 1880s up until today. Alongside this, we’ve published a series of blogposts that expand on some of the artworks explored in the exhibition.

It has been quite a journey, and we’ve had a lot of fun! Since this is the last post of the series (and the first of 2021!), it’s only fitting that we deviate from the norm and bring something extra special to the table…

So the following piece was written by Sophie Cummings, former Curator at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. Sophie worked closely with Contemporary British Painting to expand Swindon’s collection with some of the most fascinating acquisitions of recent years, and we’re thrilled that she was able to tell us about the significance of this work.

Amanda Ansell, Swan, 2008, Oil on canvas, 45 x 60cm

Back in 2013, Swindon Museum and Art Gallery was approached by the artist Robert Priseman who wished to present a major collection of contemporary British painting. Swindon is, of course, known for its remarkable collection of modern British art. However, by the start of the 21st century, collecting, especially of contemporary art, had slowed. Priseman contacting Swindon was both generous and timely. It allowed the museum to again start collecting contemporary art, and to highlight some of the important trends emerging in contemporary British painting.

Priseman, born in 1965, is an artist, writer, curator and collector. He co-founded the network “Contemporary British painting” in 2013 with fellow artist Simon Carter, and invited a range of British painters to join them. The group was and is united in their belief in the importance of painting. The group offers opportunities for exhibition, leaning and collaboration, as well as a forum to discuss the role of painting within contemporary art.

Simon Carter, Burnt Gorse, 2011, Acrylic on paper, 66 x 70cm

The gift to Swindon comprised a range of contemporary painters, including Nathan Eastwood, Amanda Ansell, Linda Ingham, Greg Rook, Freya Perdue and Susan Gunn. The paintings encompass precise, socially engaged realism, as well as pure abstraction.

The collection was first exhibited as part of the exhibition, “Present Tense: Contemporary Painting and Photography from the Swindon Collection” in January 2015. This exhibition, one of the gallery’s more controversial displays in recent years, showcased aspects of the collection made since the 1980s and included work by Steven Pippin, Tony Bevan and Eileen Cooper.

One of the works which generated most comment was by Priseman himself. Home was a series of very small paintings depicting buildings associated with murder. Each was labelled only with its address, and presented in elaborately carved frames. The series could be viewed in different ways, depending on the viewer’s knowledge, the information presented alongside the paintings, and the resonance of each painting’s title. Some of the contemporary works of art do address controversial and challenging topics, such as violence, sexuality and grief. However, many of the older works in the collection explore similar themes, which would have felt shocking when they were first displayed.

Robert Priseman, 16 Wardle Brook Avenue (from Home), 2011, Oil on board, 6.7 x 5.1cm

In the years since Present Tense paintings from the Priseman Gift have been incorporated into various exhibitions and displays, and provided a platform for Swindon to collect other examples of contemporary art, including paintings, collage, photography and ceramics. These include important acquisitions by Monster Chetwynd and Nicola Tyson, along with ceramics by Ashraf Hanna, Akiko Hirai and Edmund de Waal.

Readers can learn more about Contemporary British Painting through their website: https://www.contemporarybritishpainting.com/. Those interested in Priseman and in realism in contemporary painting in particular might enjoy “Documentary Realism: Painting in the Digital Age” which was published by the Seabrook Press in 2015 and features essays by Robert Priseman, Paul O’Kane and myself.

Blogpost by Sophie Cummings

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