Stuck Inn III
By Charles Thomson.
PART THREE: GINA — SEEING THE WORK
(for PART TWO click here)
Assessment of Gina Bold’s work is something which badly needs doing, and it is obvious that she is not capable of doing it. Her criterion is the Emin egosophical yardstick of the specialness of the work because of its relevance to her own life, regardless of its relevance to artistic achievement (and by that I don’t mean a display of skill), which is what makes it special and relevant to anybody else, apart of course from people who, having failed to get one, think Tracey’s life is more important than their own. It is not even necessary for an artist to fulfil this function of evaluation, and it is understandable that subjective creative involvement can be incompatible, at least in the immediate term, with an overview, which is where a good curator can save the day (I didn’t choose my own work for the last two major shows I was in), but Gina has severed herself from peers, who would be capable of the level of insight which the work needs and also not be afraid of speaking their minds.
Born to Be Bold show at the Arlington Gallery
The omni-present Paul Everitt is a co-curator with the artist of the Born to Be Bold show at the Arlington Gallery, but either does not possess the requisite judgement, or has realised that Gina takes to challenge of her views much as the Inquisition took to heresy, and has consequently prudently decided acquiescence is the alternative to a rapid loss of his leading client base. The positive corollary to her lack of self-criticism is a lack of self-censorship, which has opened a diverse and fecund exploration, but the result of subsequent editing failure, on both her web site (where much of the work makes no sense under its allocated page headings to anybody but her – the “Arlington Gallery” page omits much of the show, some but not all of which is scattered on other pages) and in her actual show (where the work has wilfully avoided arrangement in meaningful themes) is a kleptomaniac’s car boot sale, where gems are randomly scattered amidst bric a brac.
Some of the work is on the same level as the standard adult evening class’s run-of-the-mill portraits in a tame, conventional manner. Only slightly less trite are heavy monochrome groups of figures or celeb portraits, based on photographs, where the subject still intimidates any interesting individual response, unlike Stella Vine’s consumed, but confident and sardonic, confrontation with glamour. There is also a selection of superficial illustrative work, which might well sell to a predictable modern living room that wants palatable modern art, or even risqué modern art with small Warhol-type repetitions in yellow, red, blue and green, depicting, instead of a Marilyn, a hand on a penis (based on a Warhol drawing of a penis), which is both literally and metaphorically tossed off. A green abstract-looking image with a single red poppy, and another similar with three white daisies, could have been successful, if the brush marks depicting the overall grass effect weren’t merely mechanical. The idea for them originated in Van Gogh’s Long Grass with Butterflies in the National Gallery, but this translation has turned it into wallpaper. I was going to include an example or two of these works, but I couldn’t bring myself to undermine her artistic reputation in this way.
Break Art Free by Gina Bold
A successful area of her work is a fashionable mixed media of paint, text and found objects to create bijoux Britart with gimmicky, throwaway one-liners, which comment wryly or bitterly on life, but have a mostly narcissistic, and sometimes self-pitying, adolescent outlook that gives them great potential for popular success and media exposure. Her assemblages fall under the loose categorisation of “conceptual art”, where you make your claim to fame by using a material which has not previously been employed artistically, having misinterpreted the trivial thought of doing this, sparked in a moment of excitement, for a revelation distilled from deep and enduring experience. This has proved too tempting at times for one of Gina’s greatest faults: she has a rapid, ingenious mind, whose facility is all too often facile.
Plastic Couple full of Shit (July 2005) by Gina Bold
Such virtuosity can be highly entertaining at first sight, although it palls and/or irritates in direct proportion to the speed with which it was conceived and accomplished. Some of this work repeats in the mind like a jingle, Plastic Couple Full of Shit being two bear-shaped baby feeding bottles filled with horse manure, causing Keresplat on stumbleupon.com to exclaim, “Oh man, Oh man!” when he stumbled upon it. Art references include a self-portrait, Break Art Free, where, vying with Duchamp’s moustache on the Mona Lisa, Gina has painted one on herself with the words, “Imagine to be so bold wild and mad as to paint a picture and break art free.” This is meaningless nonsense, but undoubtedly has popular appeal to the notion non-artists have of artists, while pandering to the art world’s vogue for insincere painting and ironic art world in-jokes. Another in the latter category is a pink neon sign in the gallery window with the words, “Born to Be Bold”. Bruce Nauman has a lot to answer for, but the most immediate reference is Tracey’s pink neon sign, “Is anal sex legal?”, to which I don’t suppose Gina’s is meant to be a wry answer.
Neon sign by Gina Bold
I don’t suppose any of Gina’s work is meant to be anything other than earnest self-expression to be taken at face value. Don’t tell anyone, but she doesn’t do irony, any more than Tracey, as both of them have a seriousness about their experiences (not in itself a bad thing), which forbids any such luxury – except for the viewer, for whom the main irony is the lack of its intention. Gina’s works make a niche contribution to the genre, injecting confessional intimacy into a practice which is normally puritanically devoid of it; she inherits not Duchamp’s and Damien’s clinical anality, but Tracey’s tabloid emotionality. This has the same ease of consumption and the same lack of sustenance as its gastronomic equivalent of a Big Mac’s 493 calories (in the UK, 480 in Australia, 540 in the US and 600 in Mexico) and is also (particularly in the UK, where Big Macs manage, at 2250 mg, twice the amount of sodium as anywhere else in the world) likewise very good for high blood pressure – that is of course very good for causing high blood pressure, rather than curing it. Such emotional claustrophobia craves an escape to some detachment, and even makes a case for irony’s pseudo-objectivity to save yourself from being completely suckered and sucked into your worst tendencies – by at least knowing what your weakness is and pretending to disown it, even if not being able to disengage from it.
Ragdoll by Gina Bold
If the irony and artistic devaluation are not intentional, then the offhand calligraphy can just about justify itself as flippant next to the horse dung, but used in Ragdoll with a cry of despair, “He loved me, he fucked me, he betrayed me and left me feeling like a crucified rag doll”, there is obviously no conscious intent for self-mockery and one is left wondering not so much about the meaning of the text than about why its execution carries less conviction than the lettering painted on the gallery window by the artist to announce the show – with the unfortunate conclusion, despite the evidence proffered to the contrary, that the latter is somehow more meaningful than the former. Although the nailed-up, hanging rag doll with its lolling head has pathos (largely because all rag dolls do by their very existence, although here the positioning adds to it), the black painted cross behind is crude, but in a banal, not a raw, way. The net effect suggests that the apparent intensity of anguish is belied by another unheard voice in the psyche that refutes the accusatory egocentricity by undermining the will for a convincing artistic statement. Nevertheless, its simplicity and lack of any overt disingenuousness still allows the evocation of feelings, even if unresolved and ambivalent ones. There is no doubt that if Gina continues to advance this kind of work, her talents will make a strong impression in an arena which is mostly lacking in talent, but she would nevertheless be selling her talent short.
Woman with Pipe by Gina Bold
Novas is to be applauded for its insightful change of direction with the realisation that material well-being does not solve people’s problems, but merely leads to the necessity of dealing with non-material ones. It is right in identifying “mental states that are on the increase in today’s fragmented society, and has [sic] now overtaken unemployment as the biggest social problem in the UK”, and even to see the manifestation of this as “depression and isolation”, but it is quite inaccurate to say of Gina’s work that “It is this mental state of being that is emotively captured with great resonance”, nor does that illuminate why it should then be “a canon of work that is strangely uplifting”.
Bold Octet with Dog by Gina Bold
Following a psychological meltdown towards the end of 2003, Gina chose to see a breakdown was a breakthrough to the journey of a new self, and in due course chose to navigate recurrent storms of “panic attacks and depression” without drugs, which “make people into ‘zombies’, unable to express themselves at all”. She has an innate understanding and fortitude: “I can’t get back to what I was before, but I don’t think I want to any more. This is new and I want to explore it.” This does not in itself validate as art anything she has created, but it refutes a simplistic explanation of a condition of mental illness to be cured. It is not illness: it is the unavoidable consequence of depth. It is not to be cured: it is to be transubstantiated.
Kat by Gina Bold
Gina has a particular and identifiable body of work which overlaps but stands apart from that which I have previously described. It is the enduring and artistically accomplished product of this journey, but certainly does not belong with outsider artists, whom Novas, referencing art historian, Roger Cardinal, define as “adept at exploring their own psyche”, yet whose stylisations and manifestations of endlessly repeated fetishes indicate a lack of exploration that remains pathologically lost in a fixated ego shell, offering little apart from curiosity or amusement to others, and certainly not illumination or connectedness. What outsider art lacks in terms of emotional power, intelligent insight, and integration, is everything that makes this body of Gina’s work iconic.
The Wedding Photo after the Divorce by Gina Bold
It falls into two main categories, both consisting of paintings, whose subjects are strongly realised through a patient, yet spontaneous and inventive facility with composition, colour and painterly qualities. Much of this work was criminally not even included in the show, and some truly great paintings have vanished from her web site, while some amazingly lame ones remain. The first of the two categories consists of strongly defined figures or figure groups. Some are those we might find in our everyday lives, where outer observation is used to evoke inner realities, whether the futile attempt to redeem the breakdown of a parental relationship in The Wedding Photo After the Divorce (the canvas is cut vertically and safety-pinned together), the engaging, warm, whimsy of Bold Octet with Dog (accomplished with the effortlessness which Raoul Dufy tried in his later career, but succeeded only in shallowness), the seeming, but insecure, achievement of closeness in Hug and Spoon, or the intense, isolated and quietly quizzical portrayal of masturbation, which originally carried the unfortunately ambiguous title, I Do It to Myself, Hasn’t Everyone and was curiously renamed Kat. Its controlled, spontaneous, bold rendering, devoid of any attempt at artifice to deflect from the dignified, self-aware, nakedness – in all senses – of the subject, leaves it a unique, existential, humanistic, sensual classic.
Woman with Pan by Gina Bold
These simple scenes are not simplistic, but an essence distilled from complex experience, and fulfil the dictum (probably mis-) attributed to Einstein, “everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” This can operate just as well with portraits such as It’s Dark in Here Mary Jane, showing a lush descent into a consumed, and presumably stoned, netherworld, and an unexpected appearance of Billy Childish Looking in the Mirror, where he muses equably on the heart of darkness. Other images derive from mythology, such as the alluring mystery of Sphinx, pagan identification with nature in The Berry Picker, a particular configuration of tender inquiring male, and vulnerable dreamy female, relatedness and sexuality in Woman with Pan, or the compassion and timelessness of The Good Shepherd, who carries one of his sheep on his shoulders. Boding still lifes with vases of bloody poppies, and the stark, appropriate (for a change) lettering on the memento mori, Silentio (where gruesome poppies also appear), rightfully take their place in the canon. There are also works that are simply beautiful and state the person at peace with themselves, one of these being the (vanished) work, Woman with Pipe, or the more allusive and decorative Flying Goose, whose fine companion piece, Woman, Two Seahorses and a Lily, has also disappeared from public view.
The Good Shepherd by Gina Bold
The second category consists of more complex images, which weave together observation, invention, imagination and design with permutations of recurrent images, including small circles, birds, claws, hearts, partial faces, bodily parts, abstractions and arabesques, melding into each other with total conviction to achieve, not a surrealism that abrogates meaning, but an inner realism of precise psychological definition. They are conveyed with an aesthetic charge, whose intensity communicates as much as the symbols themselves. Colour and composition are consummately handled to give concrete form to the unseen experience. The skill of the artist is again allied with uncompromising self-confrontation to communicate the truth in an enduring fashion.
Hysterical Shock by Gina Bold
This avenue of Gina’s work stems from an evening in September 2003, when I loaned her a biro and an A6 size piece of paper outside a Turkish restaurant in East Finchley for a doodle, which – mainly to achieve some motion in her mental stasis – I urged her to do and then turn into a painting, although the rare colour and gloaming stillness of the consequent Hysterical Shock made it far superior to anything I had imagined would result from the initial simple lines. Freedom to delineate a state of mind in this way has been developed through related works, including Woman Two Birds and a Cock, A Little Bird Told Me, Ios, and its finest manifestation in Inner Dealer, whose unerringly analytical, evocative title shames Hirst’s pretentious, pedestrian attempt at significance with the limpid poetry of The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.
Inner Dealer by Gina Bold
Inner Dealer depicts simultaneously the division and union of external and internal relationship through the classic images of a bleeding heart and a dual face, where the urge to understand, articulate and resolve the stated dilemma manifests as birds, embodying conflicting modes of knowledge, confusion, enquiry, indifference, patience and aggression, while the need to make sense is thwarted by the seeming lack of awareness that that the only means of holding onto the heart is also the cause of its pain, and is self-inflicted, though there is an alternative explanation that this is a conscious choice, suffered for love. Like all effective symbolism, it is specific in defining principles, while leaving those principles open to personal interpretation, which can change over time to reflect different tangents to an archetypal condition. The busyness of the painting keeps the eye in unpredictable motion, with enough clear space to avoid claustrophobia and able to return easily to the central motifs, realised in accomplished colouration based on modified primaries of blue, yellow and red. The exquisite variation of hues throughout the painting cannot be appreciated properly in a reproduction, nor the differences in texture, where the blue background is a smoother layer and the bird feathers applied heavily. The rhythm and complexity of forms takes place with masterful ease.
Ios by Gina Bold
Such work that reaches a balanced statement of psychological complexity through apt symbology, allied with formal invention and aesthetic accomplishment, shows a genius that makes Tracey Emin look infantile in comparison, and reveals Stella Vine as the society portrait painter that she is (albeit an outstanding one with the insightful bite of a nouveau-Goya, incapable of chocolate box decoration). Its insight and depth leave lauded contemporary competitors such as Chantal Joffe, Marlene Dumas and Sophie Von Hellerman splashing around in the shallow end, and even Paula Reago’s eerie scenes become contrived. Discard the dross from Gina’s output, and what remains already ensures her place in the story of art.
A Little Bird Told Me by Gina Bold
That place, whether she likes it or not, cannot be divorced from the history of Stuckism, which has transformed over eight years from a group to a genre. Her work’s genesis is not only in the context of my showing her how to mix black from burnt umber and prussian blue, and demonstrating the usefulness of black acrylic outlines which allow oil paint to be applied next to them immediately without smears, but also from habituation with Wolf Howard’s thick brushstrokes and strongly defined forms, with Elsa Dax’s restatements of Greek mythological subjects, with Paul Harvey’s Mucha-influenced intertwining of arabesques and figuration, with Bill Lewis’s recurrent evocative symbolic animals (often foxes and dogs), with Joe Machine’s dark, explicit sexuality, and even with Sexton Ming’s blue faces and elastic limbs.
Silentio by Gina Bold
Gina’s artistic evolution is quite different to, for example, the erstwhile Angela Edwards, whose ideas and style were formed from other influences before she flitted in, and just as quickly flitted out, of Stuckism. Gina’s position is more akin to that of Salvador Dali’s, who ceased to be an official member of the Surrealists in 1934, after a mere five years with them, but will always be classified as one. Even more pertinently, Billy Childish left the Stuckists (having co-founded them with me) after two years in 2001, but continues to be seen in this context.
Billy Childish Looking in the Mirror by Gina Bold (text above him says, “You talking to me?”)
Gina’s temperament is suited to, and her work embodies, the same ethos which Stuckism embodies, namely holistic truth to self and experience and its direct communication. She is a fellow traveller in the paradigm, despite wishing not to – and claiming not to – travel with her fellows, and, for that matter, regardless of their wishes or claims on the matter. History does not give a fig for such refutatory peccadilloes and incidental vanities. All of her influences have been put into the cooking pot and alchemically transformed into something of its own, which is not any one of those influences, but which has the same inextricable connection with them as they do with each other. We only achieve any original expression by a collaboration with those who have gone before us or who surround us, and by an interpretation of ideas that we, along with them, are subservient to, whether we know it or not. The reconciliation of the personal with the universal results in the individual, which possesses a self-evident identity and verification.
Flying Goose by Gina Bold
This article on Gina Bold’s show Born to Be Bold at the Arlington Gallery in Camden was meant to coincide with the opening of the show, but, due to the circumstances described, appears long after it.
My doctor friend wrote to Paul Everitt to find out if he and his family were allowed to see the show, and the answer took so long to arrive, that they ended up missing it altogether.
I’m still waiting for an answer to the email I sent Michael Wake on 9 March (2007).
My request for images to use in this article was declined by Novas (something to do with Gina wanting a bar of chocolate, I think), so I have had use what I could find, along with some anonymous help. This met most of my requirements.
The Arlington Gallery has changed its name to the Novas Gallery, 73 Parkway, Camden, London NW1 (tel: 020 7267 5641). Novas also has a gallery at the Novas Contemporary Urban Centre, SE1 and the Alima Centre in Liverpool.
Following the show, Gina Bold has an exclusive arrangement as the first Novas Gallery associate artist, and will be provided with studio space. This will enable her to work on larger canvases, prohibited by her previous working area in her kitchen.
Related: Heyoka Magazine.
(update: Stuck Inn IV)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Charles Thomson was the only person in 10 years to fail the painting degree at Maidstone College of Art. In 1979, he was a founder member of The Medway Poets, and then a full-time poet for 13 years, with work in over 100 anthologies. In 1999 he named, co-founded and has since been the driving force of the Stuckism movement, which now numbers more than 150 groups in 38 countries. He has demonstrated for 7 years outside the Turner Prize, and in 2005 applied under the Freedom of Information Act for Tate trustee minutes about the gallery’s purchase of its trustee Chris Ofili’s work. This led in 2006 to the Charity Commission’s ruling that the Tate had been acting illegally for the last 50 years. His painting satirising Sir Nicholas Serota, whose face peers over a large pair of (Tracey Emin’s) red knickers, is a well-known image. He was briefly married to artist Stella Vine in 2001.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, April 27th, 2007.