Much of college art I have seen in the last couple of months was utterly generic and boring. In October this year I started working for the online auction house AucArt, which specializes in the art of recent university graduates, and I must say that a great proportion of what I saw was uninspiring art which will presumably end up decorating the lobby of your nearest third-rate hotel. I am not here to make enemies with AucArt. Whilst I do think that most (but not all) of the art offered there is generic and uninteresting (I guess most college art is), I think Natasha Arselan (its founder) is inspiring for her bravery and perhaps AucArt will fill a much needed gap in the market. The art of recent university graduates is certainly something which has by and large been neglected by the market and even young not always so talented artists have to make a living off something.
I recently discovered Daniel Spivakov, a 22 year old student at Central Saint Martins. His paintings had depth and were certainly a much needed breath of fresh air from the generic ‘fast’ art I had been exposed to the last couple of months. Nothing about his paintings was generic, ‘fast’ or pretentious; no brushstroke seemed like an unnecessary filler and, frankly, I have never seen someone do art with so much obsession and dedication. He often prays before he paints and talking to him about his art I had the impression that he regarded painting as something more significant than his own existence. In fact, intriguingly, Daniel vehemently believes in God and believes that he was ‘chosen’ by God to change the course of art.
One might think that such an obsessive almost mystical engagement with art – believing that you are the ‘chosen one’ and praying before you paint – is at best naive and at worst dangerously stupid. I disagree. I certainly think that modesty is a virtue for most aspects of life and even as a painter I think you should remain critical of your own practice. Yet – look at Jeff Koons – I think becoming a ground-breaking artist first requires believing in your practice in an obsessive way. There are enough hurdles to becoming a great artist – your own conscience or modesty shouldn’t be one of them.
On December 4th he and his partner, Lina Stallmann, organised a one-man show in their flat in north London. It was an intriguing and novel exhibition which attracted the attention of one of the most significant conceptual artists of our time (his name must unfortunately go unmentioned). I think home-organised exhibitions are particularly exciting because the constraints of a home-space force you to try out ways of displaying works you wouldn’t have come across had you started in a white cube. Both Lina and Daniel exhibited Daniel’s works on self-made wooden structures in their garden; they drilled iron wires into their living room floor and ceiling (never mind the landlord…) and finally they used headlights as lighting. This certainly is something you’re missing out from, if Mayfair is the limit of your (art)world.
Daniel’s exhibition comprised of works on paper and large oil paintings on printed plastic – one of them (the most expensive) being a depiction of the author (surprise!). As can be glimpsed from their titles – Bible lies in the drawer of a Hilton hotel room, Forty-year old man killed his wife with a kitchen knife –, Daniel’s works were concerned with religion and morality (or rather the lack thereof). Both Forty-year old man killed his wife with a kitchen knife and Man builds a house, then murders the neighbour with a hammer contain objects of assault – a knife and a hammer – and seem to portray a sinister view of reality. In a perverse and disturbing way, however, Daniel’s works were at once also humorous and jocular; although the knife and the hammer portrayed were objects of assault, the fact that they were printed, oversized and centrally-placed on the canvas, almost turned these objects into something unreal or toy-like.
Whilst the influence of Georg Baselitz was clearly visible in his paintings – Daniel used colours such as brown and dark blue and generously applied them to canvas such that the brushwork was clearly visible – they seemed like very genuine works. He combined a Baselitz-like painterly technique with prints of significant objects, such as a knife or a bible, perhaps reminiscing Sigmar Polke’s use of printed fabrics; Spivakov would use prints of objects as starting points (just like Polke used cheesy textiles) and then paint around the imagery with a dark and limited colour palette. Besides religion and a perverse representation of immorality, I think at the end of the day, Daniel’s works were mainly concerned with exploring paint as a medium: paintings are paintings and ipso facto they should primarily be concerned with paint and nothing else.
Alas, joy is still to be found in painting. Daniel’s art neither is generic like so much art these days, nor is it (as is the fashion) too concerned with feminism, politics, race or what have you.
One point of criticism I have, or rather one thing I would have been curious about, is how Daniel’s works would have looked like in a more quiet, neutral and withdrawn setting. In his show, paintings were placed in a garden and shun on by huge headlights. Whilst this was in itself interesting – I enjoyed how the headlights made the still wet oil paint reflect in different ways and how this created an interesting texture – I was also keen to see how his works would have looked like by themselves without aggressive lighting and once the paint had completely dried. I’m sure there will be future occasions to see how his work engages viewers in more neutral environments.
Bible lies in the drawer of a Hilton hotel room
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Written and researched by Martin Schlombs