Richard Whincop

Reception: 6-8pm Thursday 23 March. Continues until Thursday 13 April 2006.

BIOGRAPHY: Richard Whincop was born in 1964 in Fordingbridge, Hampshire in the United Kingdom. He graduated in English and Art History from the University of York in 1986 and subsequently pursued a career as a free-lance artist in Preston, Lancashire. He moved to Glasgow in 1988 shortly after his first solo exhibition at Worden Park Arts Centre in Leyland, and began teaching art classes for mature students in the Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities. During this time, he continued to work on private commissions and exhibited drawings at the Collins Gallery and the University of Strathclyde.
In 1996, Richard formed Treehaus, an art & design partnership with Fiona Paton, a designer and abstract painter. They produced paintings, sculptures and interior adornments for restaurants, bars, clubs and domestic premises throughout Scotland, and was later short-listed for the Irvine's Bridge of Invention Competition.
Following a debilitating bout of M.E. in 2003, Richard began to work on this most recent series, entitled Art & not-Art. These paintings explore the relationship between people and works of art on display in museums, institutions & galleries and were first exhibited at the Glasgow Art Fair in 2005. He was invited to submit new works for Oisín Gallery's Summer Event Exhibition in July 2005 and its International Group-Show in September 2005.

CATALOGUE EXTRACT: Richard Whincop has a unique ability to deliver these presentations with the appearance of total objectivity, when they are in fact careful reconstructions; loaded with ambiguities of meaning and interpretation. Contemplating the subject of his work can be like negotiating a tenuous psychological tightrope, as each piece emanates undeniable tension, regardless of specific interpretations. He achieves this by directing us to a metaphorical key hole through which we are able to catch a glimpse into the hermetic world of the museum wherein he subtly examines ideas of individual identity, beauty, spirit and belonging in the face of today's hedonistic pressures. His choice of perspective, scale and composition offer just a hint of the richness and diversity of the exhibits. From the depictions of finely detailed marble carvings to the formidable physical presence of larger-than-life figurative sculptures, the naturally present dynamism is tempered by the close proximity of his real-life guests; visitors to the museum, who are captured in poses of scrutiny, interest, or often appear entirely oblivious to their imposing surroundings.
Richard's work consolidates our sense of cultural identity in an oblique and equivocal manner, rather than employing a self-conscious nationalistic approach. His vision is lyrical and romantic, but also purposefully unsentimental as he continues along his line of ontological questioning regarding individual consciousness and ethnicity. Many of his paintings are marked by the intensity of finding a sense of place in increasingly fragmented communities and elicit strong psychological responses; inviting the viewer to decipher the connotations prevalent within these ambiguous, strangely familiar, yet foreign themes: Familiar, because the artist addresses concerns affected by issues shared by many; gender, race, class structure and economics. Foreign, because these often common issues take on different meanings through the eyes and experiences of individuals within and estranged from their cultural heritage. - Antoinette L. Sinclair

ART & NOT-ART: AN INTRODUCTION BY THE ARTIST: I began painting Loss (top right; oil on board, 54"x39") in 2001, little realising that it would be five years before I would finish it. Back then I was painting studies of sculptures, and became fascinated by one of my source photographs of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum, which by chance had included a girl standing in front of them. The girl seemed preoccupied, staring off into space, as distant in her own way as the now faceless sculptures, and, like them, somehow lost in an unfamiliar world.
I was at work on this painting when news of the tragedy of 9/11 first broke. My initial feelings of shock, outrage, fear and helplessness were, over time, tempered into a general feeling of sadness: a form of grief, perhaps for the loss of a world that in retrospect seemed somehow more innocent. As I continued to work on the painting, it seemed to tie in with this mood, conveying the sense of being cut off from an irretrievable past and, to symbolise in my mind, both a personal and collective sense of loss.
The scale of the sculptures and cropped composition create a sense of a pressingly close proximity; the girl seems overwhelmed by them: small, lonely and a little out of place, she does not seem to fit in where she finds herself, and perhaps wishes she were somewhere else. Yet the sculptures too seem out of place: having suffered the ravages of time, they now find themselves in a pristine museum interior, on display, like freakish beings from another world, which in one way, they are.
What fascinated me about the picture was that it seemed to correspond to a general psychological situation: the sculptures represent something remote and unreachable, something that has been damaged and which cannot be restored. And yet though faceless and mute, somehow their sheer physical presence commands attention, weighs on the mind, as though they would speak if they could, their silent insistence suggesting they have a message that we must heed.
It seemed to me that despite the differences and separateness between them, a kind of sympathy existed between the real and the sculpted figures, which seemed to arise from the unspoken sense of loss that they both seemed to express. I imagined, deep down, the girl yearning for the kind of familial closeness that is exuded by the larger-than-life sculptures, for a world where people feel safe and secure, and share in a sense of togetherness. The broken sculptures seem to express the forlorn hopes of a once great and confident civilisation, that imagined itself lasting forever but which is now gone save for a few fragmented remains. Yet the potential for the sculptures to evoke the girl's inner dream somehow vindicates their existence, bringing them alive in the present moment. What they express speaks not only for their own time but for ours as well.
In sensing this deeper connection between the girl and the sculptures, the feeling of loss that permeates the painting is somehow alleviated. Whilst not alive, the sculptures are the product of human hands, and a redemptive joy can arise from the perception that they share with the girl a common root of human suffering and loss: together, each seems less lost and alone. But as well as juxtaposing an individual person and a particular sculpture, Loss also brings together two very different worlds: the irretrievably lost world of ancient Greece, and the contemporary world we live in.
These ideas and feelings, largely intuitive and unspoken at first, formed the seed from which a whole series of paintings grew. In 2004, I realised that the environment of the art museum could become a kind of melting pot, which could conjure a kind of alchemical reaction between opposite elements; and that by setting up simple oppositions within this limited context, I could explore all sorts of interesting issues and situations. As they developed, the paintings became an exploration of the possible reactions and preoccupations of visitors to an art gallery. Taken together, like pieces of a mosaic, they begin to build up a picture of our own society through its relationship to art, which reflects its connection, or lack of it, to its own past and to its own history and cultural heritage.
One of the great sources of tension in the modern age is to be part of history and yet to feel divorced from it. In art this anxiety was vividly expressed in the twentieth century by Modernism, which tried to dissociate itself from the tradition from which it had sprung. The irony is that in the twenty-first century art now finds itself in an uncertain position in the public mind. The art-going public often feeling alienated not just from traditional art but from much of contemporary art as well. Things labeled “art” are seen as being in a special category, which sets them apart from everyday life and from everyday people as well. Both traditional and modern artists have at times contributed to a vision of art that is too exclusive. When art is placed on too high a pedestal, it loses touch with reality. The world effectively becomes divided into “art” and “not-art”; and sometimes art Museums can be as guilty of putting up barriers between the two, rather than breaking them down.
Part of the fun of creating these paintings was to start out with two apparent opposites and then begin to blur or undermine the distinctions between them. They challenge the viewer to search for the common ground that might not be obvious but which exists none the less.
In my work, I take great joy in conducting a dialogue with the art of the past. I have much sympathy for Cezanne's view: whilst often viewed as the revolutionary father of modernism, he actually saw himself as adding another link in the chain of art, as continuing the line of the great Venetians such as Titian. I myself see the art of the past as an extraordinary and varied legacy to which artists such as myself can, in their own small way, make a contribution. I learned through the study of artists both ancient and modern and owe them an incalculable debt. To find value in the art of the past is to recognise the contribution the culture of the past has made to our own and to acknowledge the past is simply to become more aware of who we are.
The delight of viewing art of any age is to discover the humanity of those who created it. This discovery is essentially an act of empathy, an imaginative identification with the situation or configuration that the artist presents. In these paintings we can sense how well the empathic sense of the figures is working, which of course demands an act of empathy from ourselves. We sense whether the people in the paintings are receptive to their surroundings, or distracted from them, and whether or not they are attuned to the works of art before them. Yet even when they appear to be in a world of their own, the artworks can seem to embody what it is that preoccupies their imagination, be it an inner conflict or a sudden recollection. In many of the paintings, the visitors become drawn into the world of the artwork, even seeming to become assimilated into it. When this happens, the essential nature of both the person and the artwork seems to change through their interaction. - Richard Whincop

Paintings in the exhibition