“A generation that had gone to school on a horse-drawn streetcar now stood under the open sky in a countryside in which nothing remained unchanged but the clouds, and beneath these clouds, in a field of force of destructive torrents and explosions, was the tiny, fragile human body.”
Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections
“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labour to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”
Walt Whitman, from the introduction to the first edition of Leaves of Grass
“Our work may look like it’s confused and conflicted, but it is in fact a highly controlled poetic outpouring”²
“L-13 …. Like the mind of a man about to ride into battle with the heart of a child at play”
Nothing Remains Unchanged But The Clouds
4 Broad Street, City Centre, Stoke-on-Trent, ST1 4HL
28th April – 2nd June 2018
Exhibition preview by Harold Rosenbloom
Harry Adams³ and the L-13 Light Industrial Workshop⁴ has a spirited and highly dynamic LOVE/hate hate hate HATE/love relationship with Art and the Art World.
Over the past 30 years as practising artists Steve Lowe and Adam Wood (aka Harry Adams) have developed strategies to enable themselves to function with creative freedom and, to the best of their ability, avoid what they consider the restrictive, prescriptive and destructive norms of contemporary art practice. An art orthodoxy they see as rendered near impotent and lacking in the elemental primacy, spiritual power or search for meaning that informed the high arts of past ages, or the critical/moral outrage and courage that informed the fights and challenges against dominant culture in the avant-garde movements of the modernist era.
Taking up Duchamp’s mantel as “anartists” they position themselves not so much as opposed to art, but as artists despite it. Unlike Duchamp who abandoned painting (then the mainstay of the elitist art world) in 1923 to develop a radical language of non-art in a reinvention of what art could do or might be in the modern age, Harry Adams refuses the corrupted and recouped version of his defiant strategies (now the de-toothed and sanctioned mainstay of the elitist art world) to develop a romantic vision of the unruly and reactionary painter as the true radical for what they describe as our “post-art” times. They embrace Duchamp’s despised retinal art⁵, now that serious retinal art is scarce and distrusted. This time not as egocentric ‘lone genius’ art, but with a commitment to collective creation, collaboration and the wish to stimulate a passionate community of spirit. That said, they don’t mind others playing the contemporary art games of the mind, they just find it a bit boring. They understand that some children like to play chess and engage in other tactical or academic pursuits, but these ones grew up playing on old bomb sites and in muddy streams, firing catapults and throwing sticks at passers-by. They are doers, they want to go places for real – to explore, not discuss going, or deal in notions of going.
The clinical corridors of the analytical art maze are not for them. They have a metaphorical bulldozer for such things.
As such, Nothing Remains Unchanged but the Clouds is simply an exhibition of what they love to do: Painting and making stuff… and gleefully enjoying the critical difficulty such base pursuits might cause to those on the cutting edge of contemporary art practice. After all, painting (in its simple glory) can be difficult to quantify in the current cultural climate as an effective contribution to the complex socio-political debates and explorations that a serious contemporary “radical” artist must engage in. As Jeremy Deller said on winning the Turner Prize “Artists don’t paint these days, just as we don’t go to work on a horse.” Painting can be too easily dismissed as an old-fashioned bourgeois, indulgent and romantic activity that lacks relevance to today’s critical dialogues. This is all true and, as previously mooted, that is why Harry Adams is a painter. Harry Adams paints because he is in love with painting, its shifting sands of uselessness, and the lack of comprehension it provokes in those that might dismiss it as a retrograde art form lacking the rigour of concept led art.
Harry Adams sees the radical potential of painting as poetic and unquantifiable in our algorithmic mediated world. They are endlessly curious, thrilled and frustrated by it – consumed by the challenges, the joy, and the disappointment it brings. They are the savage from Brave New World, the spanner in the works for the likes of Cambridge Analytica. They want to know what a good painting for our time would look like if they were able to make one. They paint because they want to make beautiful, evocative and terrible things that people can fall in love with or find appalling. They keep on trying. This exhibition is evidence of their most recent efforts, for better or worse.
So here, presented by Harry Adams, are paintings of an imagined flat empty landscape with big chaotic skies (or is it just paint?): The Dereliction Series made. Also, more traditional landscapes with “real” fields and hills and trees. These works are tactile and made of stuff (oil paint and oil mediums, beeswax encaustic, gesso, cotton dust sheets, hessian, charcoal and plywood), tangible in their combination of illusion and materiality and smell – mineral, wholesome and toxic. Also present are works showing curious religious imagery or animals, and reference to paintings of the distant past. These paintings, big and small, may contain personal meaning that no one will get or care about, but it is all of beauty and confusion; and glory in a lack of clarity or intent that leaves them open to poetic interpretation.
Paintings Vs Trees
Then, posed as a challenge, or to compliment these imaginated painted worlds are the real trees: an edition of little oak saplings planted in ceramic pots made here in Stoke by Harry Adams with the help of local ceramicist Joanne Ayre at the old Spode Works. This is their first attempt at pottery and all 31 pots were made over four days of frenzied activity. Two days of throwing (and learning) then two days of glazing (and learning). Harry Adams is not a master potter, the pots are inconsistent, warped and imperfect – the trees are small and delicate.
And then we have other things produced through the L-13 Light Industrial Workshop: the home of Harry Adams, their day job. Editions, publications and projects they devise and make with or for a small group of other artists they’ve worked with over the years. Artists that have all influenced them and provided an anchored point from which they can develop their own practice: namely (amongst others) Jimmy Cauty, Billy Childish, Neal Jones and Jamie Reid.
Through all this energised activity they recognise and honour the special necessity of collective human creativity and its holistic power. To this end subscribing to a vision of making, doing, sharing and communing with those who seek or wish to make, do, share and commune with them. All done with the devilishly playful glee of those content with their self-validated freedom.
Harold Rosenbloom, January 2018
¹Formally known as the fine arts. (i.e. arts with no functional purpose or value)
²Harry Adams has since confessed that the “highly controlled” part of this statement is in fact a lie.
³Harry Adams is the pseudonym used to present the collaborative work of Steve Lowe and Adam Wood. They have collaborated together on various visual, conceptual and music related projects since they met at art school in the late 1980’s and adopted the name Harry Adams in 2007 specifically for the purpose of making paintings.
⁴The L-13 Light Industrial Workshop and Private Ladies and Gentlemen’s Club for Art, Leisure and the Disruptive Betterment of Culture is an organisation founded by Steve Lowe (with the help of Adam) that provides a creative platform for the development and dissemination of work by a small group of artists he has found himself working with since 2003.
⁵Essentially, ‘visual/aesthetic’ rather than ‘idea’ based art.