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Review: The Royal Standard: Conversations with Painting

Conversations with Painting is literally that. Artquest London’s 30/30 challenge’s prompts to artists, interpreted by to Mia Cathcart and Sophie Baskerville range from the mundane to the absurd, and their responses tend to be the reverse.

I’ve been fascinated by the nature of conversation for many years, and whether it’s actually possible through the process of making art, and typically end up at the conclusion that it’s not. Discussion, where prompts, and subjects occur as a result of initial conversation yes, but conversation in its true subject-less form, no.

To add context, the idea here is that conversation by definition is a free-flowing exercise that doesn’t focus on a subject, and tangents are more regular than completed thoughts. Discussion is directed, either formally or informally by a person or a subject, and either concludes, or progresses. The definitions are loose, but there’s about half a century of philosophy that has never quite managed to define either.

But the one-night-only show at The Royal Standard last month does seem to get close. Perhaps due to the familiarity between the artists and their prompter, or perhaps because of the fleeting nature of the show. Either way, the hastily hung, and hastily removed exhibition was a demonstration of how artists who are comfortable toying with each other’s directions can actually create very human, very natural responses.

While there was an order to the way they were displayed, I think intended to show that one set of images was the response of one, and the other from the next artist, it was difficult, by the end of the 30-day series of paintings to distinguish between the two artists, whose usual style couldn’t be further from each other.

The character of the exhibition felt very much like something produced by a single mind, in rolling debate with itself, producing funny, cute, and off-the-cuff images.

It’s also worth mentioning, that while the 30/30 challenge was largely completed by artists working separately across the country, within the constraints of 30×30, it was the imaginings of Elizabeth Challinor, coordinating and prompting the artists, and tying them together in a collaborative process that has produced something quite this close to conversational.

That challenge adds risk, but also limitations to the production of new work, again, adding to the sense of urgency in each image, pulling it closer to conversation.

Mia Cathcart and Sophie Baskerville were provided with daily challenges in the form of prompts: “Pretend to be a different artist for the day”; “Make your last ever artwork”; “Collaborate with someone else today”; “Do something backwards”.

Most of prompts were pretty straight forward, so it was easy to relate the response to them, and read a little bit into the relationship between the artists. For example, Mia Cathcart’s last meal response to “Make your last ever artwork” was clearly from a different place to Sophie Baskerville’s, whose painting felt like something from an artist looking back and slowing down, and very different from her usual work.

Conversations with Painting is the end of a series of collaborative curatorial projects by Elizabeth Challinor towards her MA in Exhibition Studies.

Conversations with Painting is now closed, but records of the exhibition can be seen on Instagram @miacathcart @hell.hound.of.the.baskervilles and @elizabethchllnr 

Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith