Pop Michael Stubbs Pop
Michael Stubbs (michaelstubbs.org) is fantastic, and I feel a strong affinity to his interest in clashing the Greenbergian tradition of flatness and purity in painting with other modes of constructing painterly space. In particular, I acknowledge the way he wants to replicate our experience of digital screens; they create illusions of depth on a flat surface – sure, so did Renaissance paintings – but it is a recognisably shallow depth that is paradoxically infinite (think of layering windows).
I think he could go further in exploring the screen’s glossiness, radiance and addictive allure: we can’t help but look at them when they’re there, and I think it may be because they offer the promise of unbounded mutability and interactivity through scrolling, zooming or panning. What could painting do here?
He also imports some slightly outmoded preoccupations into his paintings: the ‘Pop’ imagery of billboards and consumerism, as well as a fascination with household paint colours and their distinctively calming register. This is perhaps a product of his generation (Stubbs was born in 1961), since this relationship between the sensationalist billboard and the idealised modern home was once the most contemporary of concerns.
I don’t really share this interest in commercial imagery, and maybe it’s because I’m more of an estranged and insular Modernist than Stubbs is, but I think it has more to do with its relevance. Since the dawn of Modernism, painters have interpreted dominant, contemporary aesthetics – the Futurists gawped at advanced industrial machinery and Pop artists fed on adverts and disposable goods. These things stand in for (represent, symbolise?) defining technological and socio-economic realities, but they are of a time. They don’t go away – we still use machinery, we are still deeply entrenched in a consumerist society – but they fail to encapsulate that which distinguishes our contemporary experience from whatever has gone before. A major goal of abstract painting (I believe) is to identify and shape these novel facets of reality.
The Pop imagery that Stubbs utilises is an art historical relic (he knows this), but perhaps we don’t have enough distance from it to use it in this way. Instead, the paintings of his that prominently feature commercial text strike me as strangely transitional – neither here, nor there.
We know about commercial imagery – abstract painting should touch a little more upon the Unknown. This is why we intuit that art should always ‘move on’; it’s not simply about banal originality, which is often the accusation levelled at contemporary art (and a real problem with sensationalism), but a reflection of the real need for an avant-garde to present the incomprehensible.