1b Contemporary Artists

As suggested in my course, I watched the video ‘What is Contemporary Art?” 2012, where Sheila McGregor, Chief Executive of Axis talks about art on the Axis website, pointing out what she considers ‘Contemporary Art’ is.  She says, it is very difficult to give a neat definition, because artistic practice has expanded and changes all the time as it keeps up to date with current trends.

McGregor says when she started out in the art world, after obtaining a history degree, over forty years ago now, she was told by an Art Tutor that painting was dead, she disagrees and thinks painting will survive.  Art is now hugely supplemented by photography, film, materials and other media. Work is responding to current ideas and moving away from traditional conventions.  Sculpture used to sit on a plinth, but more space is available now in galleries than fifty years ago.  

Mcgregor mentioned artists that she found particularly interesting Emily Speed from Liverpool, who had an exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.  She created precarious constructions which responded to place and were of the moment.  Victoria Lucas from Sheffield, who collaborated with Richard Witter, to place Neon installations of lyrics of love songs on an industrial building near Wakefield station which can be seen on a train journey from Sheffield to Leeds.  The signage was regularly changed between Valentines Day 2011 to 2012.  She included David Webb, a London based artist, a colourist, who depicted small paintings which hover between representation and abstraction responding to his physical environment.

Continuing my search on “What is Contemporary Art” I noted the following points taken from Art21.

Contemporary art: –

  • is the work of artists who are living in the twenty-first century.
  • mirrors contemporary culture and society.
  • uses dynamic combinations of materials, methods, concepts, and subjects that challenge traditional boundaries and defy easy definition.
  • is diverse and eclectic and distinguished by the very lack of a uniform organizing principle, ideology, or -ism.
  • gives artists a voice to the varied and changing cultural landscape of identities, values, and beliefs in a globally influenced, culturally diverse and technologically advancing world.
  • allows audiences to play an active role in the process of constructing meaning about works of art.  Some say that the viewer contributes to or even completes the artwork by offering his or her personal reflections, experiences, opinions, and interpretations.
  • addresses both current events and historical ideas. (Art21,2021)

“Curiosity, openness and dialogue are the most important tools for engaging with works of art.  Instead of questioning whether an artwork is good or bad, the study of contemporary art requires an open-ended methodology and an inquiry-based approach.  Asking questions that ignite discussion and stimulate debate is an important first step toward appreciating and interpreting work of art that can defy expectation, may provoke strong responses, or contradict personal beliefs or societal values.” (Art21, 2021)

This makes me question if contemporary art reflects the current environment, will it be never ending as a movement?  Will it be the final and only movement in art, after starting in the 21st century?

1b Contemporary artists

On a YouTube video, Caitlan Cherry, artist in residence at the Brooklyn Museum talks about her project “Hero Safe” for the museum’s Raw/Cooked series.  Her paintings usually start with a maquette, which she uses as an example and then starts to paint an acrylic underpainting followed by painting over it with oils.  A golem figure, constructed out of clay, has become a main character in most of her paintings.  She uses them to comment on different points in history. Her exhibits are three paintings and three sculptures based on Leonardo da Vinci’s war machines, two installations are displayed in the fourth-floor contemporary galleries, facing towards the grand chandelier, overlooking the Beaux Arts Court.  The location is chosen because the grand chandelier represents the heart of the museum and launching the catapult towards it represents bringing art towards the centre of an arts community.  Cherry is inspired by the way Leonardo da Vinci moved through his life as a man of multiple trades, as a painter, an inventor, and an engineer.  At the same time as he was making beautiful creations, he was also conceptualizing war machines, and in that sense, she was attracted to his biography.

In 100 New Artists Francesca Gavin’s interviews each of the artists giving them an opportunity to explain the motivations and ideas behind the subject matter of their work. 

Anne Neukemp explains that she chooses colours based on the temperature she wants to create in her work.  She works in oils and egg tempera which gives a matt dusty surface.  The muted colours are the result of the process of rinsing and washing away layers of colour to give a used impression. Geometry is imperfectly used, as a clue, in her work which makes it look faulty and handmade.  She states: –

I am interested in both abstract and real forms. Abstract elements are often drawn from the fragmentation or alienation of real motifs. In those cases, I am trying to capture the ambivalent space between the abstract and figuration”. (Gavin, 2011:200).

Neukemp is interested in feelings of in emptiness, incompleteness or limitations which lead to melancholy and how it is possible to work with that.  Most of her work is in a work-in-progress unfinished state, which she says speaks of incessant transformation.

Christian Schoeler uses translucence and lack of solidarity in skin as he is moving dark to light to illuminate a scene,

“in the same way that the eyes of Caravaggio’s saints illuminate a scene for a brief moment”. (Gavin,2011: 258a)

Schoeler draws with watercolour and it functions like a breath, nimble and uncontrollable. His subjects are adolescent boys who are self-aware and join in the game of movement, closeness and longing which he describes as not an expression of seduction or of the artist’s desire. He uses a traditional approach in his paintings which are sensuous, enchanting and obsessive. He paints from observation, quick small watercolour sketches reflecting feelings. He is inspired by the people in his life and needs to be motivated in order to paint. (Gavin, 2011:258)

” I still believe in the age-old tradition of painting – in the extravagant, the sensual. in its glamour, in the enchanting and the obsessive. Often today there is a rejection of artistically formal means of production”. (Gavin, 2011:258)

I like the sensitive nature of Schoeler’s paintings and his use of watercolour in a very loose way. I also enjoy to use watercolour sketches, as an observational record, and a way of motivating me to embark on a larger painting.

Searching online for Contemporary Artists, I found Harvey Taylor who a representational artist who paints super realistic landscapes. The process he uses to achieve such detailed paintings, start from his photograph of local woodlands. Taylor transfers the image, using a grid method, and before starting to paint, he masks out everything except the area he is going to work on. He builds up the painting, in that small section, meticulously from close observation before moving on to the next section. I admire his patience and the dedication needed for his labour intensive painting process which can take up to two months.

Fig.1 Sea Kale (2019) oil on canvas70 x 100cms by Harvey Taylor

I found Taylor’s painting very striking and I can relate to the subject of nature in to his work, and I too enjoy painting in a representational and detailed style. His technical skills are obvious, his use of colour and the amount of light he gets into the painting is quite beautiful. This is a representation of nature to which he adds his own touches, making it a painting, rather than just a copy of a photograph.

David Hockney, born 1937, has undergone many art classifications as he has moved with the times throughout his career. In the 1960’s he was considered a POP artist, according to the classification in Art21, he should be classed as a Contemporary artist, as he is living today. His working process includes drawing, photography, photo collage, printing, iPad and en plein air painting in both watercolour and oils. The Yorkshire Wolds countryside was the inspiration for his work in the “A Bigger Picture” Exhibition at the Royal Academy in March 2012 where one main room featured a large number of iPad paintings. Hockney starts his work by sketching his chosen scene. he then paints the subject en plein air. He is particularly focussed on painting different seasons and catching the light, especially early in the morning.

I am particularly fond of David Hockney’s work as it shows his enthusiasm and brings joy to the viewer. My painting of Quarry Park Reflections shows a similar use of perspective to Early July Tunnel. Woldgate Woods has a much more level flatter perspective, when I was stood looking at it at the exhibition I felt as though I was actually standing in the woods. The woods and nature is what I intend to research for my Major Project and I feel it will be appropriate to relate it to how trees are necessary, along with the underground relationship with fungi, for the future of our planet.


Fig. 1 Taylor, H. (2019) Sea Kale [oil on canvas] At: http://www.harveytaylor.co.uk (Accessed 11/03/2021) permission received

Fig. 2 Hockney, D. (2006) Early July Tunnel [photograph] In: David Hockney My Yorkshire (2011:17) London Enitharmon Editions

Fig. 3 Hockney, D. (2006) Woldgate Woods [photograph] In: David Hockney My Yorkshire (2011:43) London Enitharmon Editions

Fig. 4 Ketteridge, S (2021) Quarry Park Reflections


Contemporary Art in Context (s.d.) At: https://art1.org/for-educators/tools-for-teaching/getting-started-an-introduction-to-teaching-with contemporary-art/contemporary-art-in-context (Accessed 03/03/2021).

Gavin, F. (2011) 100 New Artists London: Lawrence King

What is Contemporary Art ? (2012) At: https://www.oca.ac.uk/weareoca/fine-art/what-is-contemporary-art/ and https://vimeo.com/39845765 (Accessed 03/03/2021).

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