I first started painting full time in the early 1980s when New Expressionism, as it was termed, suddenly hit the English Art scene. The Whitechapel's show of late Phillip Guston, with the heroic return to an outrageous out-sized humorous figuration, got everyone going. To be frank it is now painfully obvious that nothing that came after was half as good. The waves of Germans and Italians rolled in, Baselitz, Polke, Penke, Kiefer, Koberling, Palladino, Chia, and then a bunch of charlatans with sergeant Schnabel as M.P. of Kitsch Kunst.
For a time everywhere you went the student studios bulged with paintings the size of urban back gardens. Painting surfaces were encrusted with grass, hay, sand, soil, shit and broken supermarket ceramics. These vast waste lands were writhing with contorted badly painted giants, amazons and midgets, and a variety of wild life, all decked out in Teutonic symbolism of Wagnerian vulgarity and painted with feigned violent gesturalism and even more phoney
sturm unt drang. There was always a Unicorn somewhere. My God how we suffered! The colours were no better, it was a real emunctory shite storm of paint to which I contributed with gusto but no spirit of Guston. Baselitz upset the apple cart and then half the student art world decided it was a good idea to paint everything upside down. This topos of topsy-turveydom only gains in irony when the truth comes out that Baselitz's inversion experiments were only made after the canvases were painted the right way up.
I grew away from this mode within about a year and burned nearly all that work, the fact I even made it still troubles me. I didn't have an expressionist judder for decades. Then years later I went through a period of two years during the ruination of my marriage and family where almost all the painting seemed stacked with fear and emotional surplus. Munch's incubus or was it succubus descended upon me like the black wings behind Willam Cowper's mind. I hadn't felt wired into the sticky slapstick of expressionist batter and crust for years, and I didn't even want to be. I just had to paint though it. I kept some of these works, if anything saves them it's the humour.
NEO ABSTRACTION THE EASEL WORKS
John Golding, was Senior Tutor at the Royal College of Art Painting School while I was there. We talked often about how too much book learning could get in the way. Because he was a writer he respected the problems I faced coming to painting as a writer. Could I imagine a life without objects? One day, laconically, he suggested I read Nabokov on synaesthesia. If I couldn't stop thinking in words at least I could create a parallel universe of colour for the words. That is how I first came to read Vladimir Nabokov's Speak Memory, which has remained one of my aesthetic hand books.