In Conversation: Magnus Quaife and Professor Andrew Hunt
Tuesday 16th June 8pm-9pm LIVE
About Magnus Quaife:
Magnus Quaife’s practice has been described as that of a conceptual artist interested in paint and as being connected through an approach that is akin to an archaeology of the modern and contemporary. The defining aspect of his recent work in which these concerns have been explored is a visually playful exploration of the connection between the painted mark (the frozen gesture), and the representation or equivalent of that gesture in other media or materials. An attempt to unpick the relationship between haptic, indexical mark of the painter’s presence - the sign of the artist - and its reproduced equivalent. In doing so reconsidering the relationship between ostentatious virtuosity and anonymous execution in the painted surface. It is a practice that has most often been realised in paint and collage, but that has also led to brewing, zine making and projection. This is an unpicking and questioning of the material properties of painting and the master narratives that are still drawn upon to support it.
Earlier works considered the recirculation and re-imagination of images, materials and forms in the art world and beyond, and the emergence of myths as collective cultural or political memory was often the focus. From media images of the global uprisings of 1968 to the mountains in Cezanne’s paintings and Spielberg’s films, via phone masts pretending to be trees, Walter Benjamin’s grave, or Roland Barthes hobby paintings, these diverse subjects were connected by sense that nothing is quite what it seems. Magnus Quaife has exhibited internationally and across the UK and his work is in private and public collections. Born in 1975 in Nottingham he lives and works in Greater Manchester.
About Andrew Hunt:
Andrew Hunt is a curator and writer based in London and Manchester, and is currently Professor of Fine Art and Curating at Manchester Metropolitan University. From 2008 to 2014 he was Director of Focal Point Gallery in Southend-on-Sea, where he was responsible for developing the organisation’s acclaimed exhibitions programme and publishing activities. Since the early 2000s, he has worked on intimate solo exhibitions with significant international artists such as Mike Nelson, Elizabeth Price, Tris Vonna-Michell, Kai Althoff, and Marc Camille Chaimowicz as well as designers such as Fraser Muggeridge, Jonathan Barnbrook, James Langdon, Abacke, Manuel Raeder, and Sara De Bondt on projects that range from minor printed ephemera to major publications, exhibition design and new branding for art institutions. In 2012 he was a member of the Turner Prize jury.
Recent independent projects include ‘Artists Against Homelessness: Insiders and Outliers’ for St Mungo’s (2020), 'As You Change So Do I’ a series of public art commissions for Luton, UK (2016 to 2019). He has contributed to magazines and journals such as Artforum, Art Monthly, The Burlington Magazine, Domus, frieze, Mousse Magazine, Picpus and TATE ETC., and is founding editor of the Slimvolume imprint, which to date has published editions and books by over 250 artists.
Miles Thurlow Good evening, everyone. My name is Miles Thurlow and I'm the co-founder of Work, Workplace Foundation, which is a charity set up by Workplace Gallery to support emerging and underrepresented artists based in the North of England. This week, artist Magnus Quaife will be in conversation with Andrew Hunt, professor of Fine Arts and Curating at Manchester Metropolitan University. Magnus Quaife's practice has been described as that of a conceptual artist interested in paint and is being connected through an approach that is akin to an archaeology of the modern and the contemporary. The defining aspect of his recent work in which these concerns have been explored is a visually playful exploration of the connection between the painted mark, the frozen gesture and the representation or equivalent of that gesture. In other media or materials, Magnus Quaife has exhibited internationally and across the UK, and his work is in private and public collections nationally. Born in 1975 in Nottingham, he lives and works in Greater Manchester. Andrew Hunt is a curator and writer based in London and Manchester and is currently Professor of Fine Arts and Curating at Manchester Metropolitan University. From 2008 to 201 4, he was director of Focal Point Gallery in Southend-on-Sea, where he was responsible for developing the organisation's acclaimed exhibitions programme and publishing activities. Since the early 2000, he has work, worked on intimate solo exhibitions with significant international artists such as Mike Nelson, Elizabeth Price, Tris Vonna-Michell, Marc Camille Chaimowicz. And in 2012, he was a member of the Turner Prize Jury. He has contributed to magazines and journals such as Artforum, Art Monthly, the Burlington Magazine, Frieze, Moose Magazine and Tate etc., and is a founding editor of the Slim Volume in Print, which to date has published editions and books by over 250 artists. So, as usual, we'll try to make time at the end for questions. If you could make use of the Q&A function on Zoom, which is down the bottom, then I'll try and interrupt Magnus and Andy brutally at the end (inaudible). So I'll work on Magnus? Here we go, he should be appearing any second. There we go. Hi Magnus.
Magnus Quaife Hi.
Miles Thurlow And welcome, Andy. Andy, where are we? Hello.
Andy Hunt Hello.
Miles Thurlow Hello, hello. And I am going to disappear, as usual into the background and I'll put up some images and I'll interrupt you soon. Enjoy. Take care.
Andy Hunt Okay. Thanks, Miles. Well, I want to say was, first of all, thanks for joining us. It's a real pleasure to talk to Magnus today. One of the things I wanted to mention, first of all, is I'm really used to interviewing artists on painting because I'm just currently this isn't a plug. I'm currently working on a book and I've interviewed around 40 artists. This is a time thing, by the way, for a book that's going to come out on interviews with contemporary painters, and it involves curators and writers as well. So what I've tried to do is organise it so that we've got the right amount of questions for the right amount of time looking at Magnus's work. So I've got I only got 10 questions. And rather than waffle, which I'm doing now, I'm going to stop in a minute. I'm just going to read them out. And there might be time for riffing and kind of looking at secondary questions between these questions. So I'm just going to read them out and see what Magnus has to say, which I think will be really interesting and in the background, we're going to have a lot of pictures from Magnus's work playing, playing, so you can see what we're talking about. Okay, so onto the first question. I want you to look at the context of this talk. So the intro to this talk say that we're going this is for you Magnus. The intro to this talk says that we're going to unpick the relationship between haptic indexical marks, in quotation marks, made by painters and their re-reproduced equivalent. So, first of all, can you tell me what you interpret, how you interpret these first two terms, haptic and indexical, as meaning? And what do they mean for you in terms of the making of your work?
Magnus Quaife Yeah, I suppose I think of the haptic in terms of the, in painting, at least, that the the visual relating to a sense of touch. And so, thinking about the kind of gesture that is made through the application of paint and that provoking in the mind of the viewer, a kind of haptic sensation, I suppose. And then in terms of the indexical, Isabella Graw talks about that gesture. She kind of turns the idea of the photograph as the index par excellence, I suppose, and turns it on its, turns it on its head and talks about painting being the perfect medium for indexicality, because it is the index of the presence of the artist, the mark or the gesture in the painting is the index or the the presence of the artist. So the painting that we're starting with that we're looking at now. Probably the only one that's in the right order in the whole talk actually, is is a painting from about four or five years ago. I suppose it was exhibited 2017, I think. No, I can't remember. Maybe it was early that maybe it's 2016. And it's about seven and a half foot square. And it involves... There were two paintings the same size. And the marks on it, the kind of gestural marks on it are decollaged from a poster of Cy Twombly's work from the Moderna Museet. So the things that appear, I suppose on first glance is that it doesn't hold up an illusion, in any way. It doesn't kind of you know, you're not looking at it for a long time thinking that they are painted marks because they have that kind of shininess, imprinted quality, but that they form the kind of the figure of the painting, I suppose. So they're the kind of gestural marks in the foreground of the painting, whereas actually the, my presence as a painter, I suppose, as decisions about where those things went to some extent, but it was done fairly quickly and is actually in the background. And we'll get to some images of it where you can see that the paint was light on very, very thickly. I had to get several litres of white oil paint made for the two paintings when it was dragged across with the saw and the, leaving a kind of ridged element, and that's the presence of my hand. So there's a kind of reversal of what Graw talks about as being indexical, which here might be the mark of Cy Twombly. It's taken from another painter. It's not my own, it's not my own mark within these works. Yeah. And then were put in one painting, the big white painting. And then they were taken out and put into this painting so that there's a kind of the gesturies that is almost the ghost in the first painting.
Andy Hunt Okay, just a problematise that a little bit in terms of the index or indexical marks. My second question, and it's this is kind of like, I go, I guess it goes to the heart of perhaps certain issues with Isabella Gross writing and this idea of irony, but that you've kind of an irony in painting and critical painting and late postmodern painting as it opposed to humour and experimental kind of gesture. But I guess I'll just read it out. Secondly, how and why do you make a reproduced equivalent to these indexical marks to provide your own configuration of meaning or to open up new interpretations? For example, an artist who has recently been critical of indexical practises is Alister McLinden, who previously used predetermined reference references but now simply paints with no a priori motive theory or set of ideas. Can you tell me if you're in one camp or on the other or if you're somewhere in between?
Magnus Quaife I don't think I'm in a camp with it. To some extent. I suppose where these works have emerged. The Castle Field show was a part of there series of exhibitions, which of called head to head exhibitions where they get an artist who is maybe less established in this case, that was me. To exhibit alongside a more established artist and see if something kind of productive emerges from that. I suppose, even though I suppose the idea of being head to head sounds a little bit competitive, I don't think that's the way it's intended. And not the current curator but the previous curator. (Previous curators name) had been talking to me about perhaps doing one of these. And I thought actually maybe all the artists that I wanted to exhibit with were probably weren't really going to, I don't know, because I didn't ask them, but maybe they weren't gonna do a show at the Castlefield gallery with me. And so I started to think about how how that format might be reinvented and that I came up with the idea of doing it with a theorist or philosopher rather than doing it with a with an artist. And so it kind of made this I had a chance to talk to the then director, Kwong Lee, about about the idea for the show. And I kind of quite hurriedly mentioned this idea and suggested doing it with Roland Barthes.
Magnus Quaife And so then there were some happy things that happened, you know, discovering Roland Barthes hobby watercolour paintings, for example, and then starting to think about Barthes.
Magnus Quaife Sorry, a cracker funder's just got off in the background and distracted me a little bit, but starting to think about parts of application, close reading and thinking that in relation to other painter's works. So here in this in this series of works, I suppose to some extent there was some theory that was a a priori, you know, that came before the making of the work. But it wasn't it wasn't really about painting. I was reading Roland Barthes talking about Cy Twombly. But actually in in in a fairly critical way. Was one of the things that he does not do is to talk about the surface quality of the painting. And it's been said that actually he wrote most of his stuff about painting from looking at books, and he wasn't really thinking about the kind of physical quality of the paint itself at all. So the ideas about Indexicality is a way of framing the things that emerged from that is kind of taking apart. And close reading of Cy Twombly, in this reversal of the surface in relation to the way the Barthes was talking about painting, the idea of framing that in terms of Indexicality are not a priori. They come. They came afterwards. You know, it's something that kind of emerged in the work. And then there were ideas that I wrote after that. I think probably certainly if it wasn't after it, they weren't at the fore of my mind in making the work. So I think the work is a response to a set of interests, probably in the same way that a lot of painters do.
Magnus Quaife They have a set of interests. They take them, take them to the studio, and then there's this process of kind of thinking about them, playing with them. And there's actually three years in production, this show, but actually the you know, the vast majority of things are made will never be seen. They're not you know, it's a process of working through and sometimes that's done with theory, very much in mind.
Magnus Quaife And sometimes it's it's with out it in the studio. There is a guy, an American, an American phenomenologists. Called Mark Vagle. And he talks about. So he's I think he kind of does social research but uses phenomenological methods. And he talks about where philosophy is situated in relation to his practise. And he talks about this idea of it being at 30000 feet. And so he's always there and it's always pressin, but it's not actually the thing that you're always dealing with when you're on the ground doing the work. If that makes sence.
Andy Hunt A really, Thats a great answer. I got a really long question for you now. So bear with me. It's tp do with political history and cultural history on an international, but on a very local level. So I'll just start reading this,.
Andy Hunt For 'While England Morns', which was a title of one of your shows, you used a well-known Situationist poster containing an image of a young woman throwing a cobblestone at the viewer as the main motif for a series of paintings. In the catalogue essay for the show. I wrote the following passage about the legacy of Situationist practise in popular culture. In quotes, Manchester's own Situationist pop moment came by a factory in the hacienda. It was a long Catalyst's for cultural change in the north of England, although factory gave up the ghost. In 1992, the effects of the record label and the Situationist International's theory still reverberate in the city. In part, however, Wilson's famous phrase This is Manchester, we do things differently here has become a corporate driver for regeneration within the context of Brexit. One could argue it raises an insular resistance to change. A variation on the curmudgeonly Northern caricature epitomised by the phrase theres nowt wrong with round 'ere, as opposed to the use of Europe Mancunian lateral free thinking within the history of the city's continued proud proclamation of independence. Can you. So this is the question. Can you tell me about your show in 2018 based on the Situationist international at Touchstones in Rochdale in terms of the fiftieth anniversary of May 68, as well as a local connexion with the UK and Manchester through the North Northern English caricaturists and satirical poet Tim Bobbin.
Magnus Quaife Yeah. it's almost where to start with that one Andy? I think that the first thing that kind of chimed a cord with me was that kind of Tony Wilson idea. You know the idea of this. This is Manchester. We do things differently here. And that kind of being, I suppose, subverted to towards corporate corporate means as a slogan for redevelopment in redevelopment in Manchester. And I was thinking back to not long before lockdown. It was it was a nice morning and it was getting off the train at Piccadilly Station. And I walked around the backstreets through the old UMAS campus to the art school. And on the way there i passed, I think I think three different sights, a building site, a nightclub and an office that I could see in through the window that all had that slogan on them somewhere on or another. This is Manchester. We do things differently here. And it made me think well yeah but, maybe not from each other then. If It's kind of it's everywhere like that. And I suppose, you know, the exhibition was kind of in some ways intended to be critical of that redevelopment. So the again, it was an exhibition, whereas i was asked to work with something. So it kind of didn't didn't get into it with was very free offer to work with. Contemporry forward forward at touchstones in Rochdale. But they wanted me somehow to work with their collection and they have stores. I mean, you can see that the gallery spaces are amazing anyway. But on the other side of Rochdale, near the train station, they have stores and they took me to the stores to look through. And it's it's only in an industrial estate. And I think they have like four or five of those kind of corrugated metal warehouses just full of stuff from Rochdale, like the contents of a whole post office and Cyril Smiths chair, which has to be kept under lock and key. Now, Gracie Fields dresses a whole collection of Egyptology, Egyptology from some rich guy from Rochdale many years ago. And it's kind of daunting, you know, I think, you know, where do I start with this? You know, what's what kind of things can I deal with? And as I was walking through, I think there's an image of it later on in one of the slides. But there was a there was a a pothead and it was just weird. And it kind of there was something about me I was like what on earth Is this doing in this museum collection? It seemed out of place. The shelves are quite well organised as you walk through. So there are kind of groups of things. And this was there. And I asked what it was. And Mark Doyle, the curator, groaned a little bit and told me that it was it was Tim Bobbin. And I said, well, why? Why you groaning? Because kind of everyone in Rochdale or everyone who comes to Rochdale wants to do something about Tim Bobbin. But I've never heard of this guy. So I went away. I made a note with him and I went away and I started looking and he was an 18th century caricaturist and satirist, very political guy. He was, he was erm a schoolmaster in Monroe just outside of Rochdale. He was actually called John Collier, but he did his his artistic work under the name of Tim Bobbin. And I found out that he called himself the Hogarth's of Lancashire, which had this immediate appeal.
Magnus Quaife And one of the one of the things that he did was a series of satirical prints, really kind of poignant for everyone in society, but especially the powerful and the rich, the clergy and the politicians and the merchants, but himself a little bit as well. He was very fond of a bear and he would send himself up for his terrible drinking habits. It was called Human Passions Delineated. And within the book, there was one particular poem with an etching that's called While While England Mourns and it talks about politicians lining their chests with gold whilst England mourns. I think it's something like their stomachs with wine and their chest, with gold, while England moans. And it seemed something, you know, there was something that rang out to me about that thinking how little maybe has changed. You know, I think there was something that seemed to have a connexion to where we are now. And it felt well worth more investigation. And the second kind of happy coincidence was that the opening of the exhibition was timed to be in May 2018, which was 50 years after the uprisings in Paris. And of course, that, you know, there were uprisings all around the world at that point and it seemed that opportune to make a kind of connexion between this work of this little known satirist artist, Tim Bobbin, and then some of the more iconic work from from 1968. But the work tried to the work, tried to frame that in a contemporary critical. So all the all the work. Made on PIR Board. So it's this PIR Board which is the kind of stuff which is used to insulate tower blocks. You just see it all around the city. That's everywhere in Manchester for the past decade has been on a building frenzy as much of the world has. Although Manchester can proportionally to the per capita, there has been more building going on than than anywhere in the rest of Europe for the past few years. And this is what you see. You see this kind of stuff clad to the outside of those buildings, that kind of corporate slogan which has been brought back in. It is being framed, I suppose on the buildings with this kind of stuff. But then there's also a kind of critique inherent in the work about my own taking of the French revolutionary slogan la beaute est dans la rue, "the beauty is in the street". One, because it kind of provokes the viewer to leave the gallery if they want to see anything beautiful. I think, I think that's something that you mentioned to me as a one of the ideas that's kind of inherent in using that slogan. But also, one of the reasons I was interested in using it was because the Atelier Populair, the students who took over the art school in France. It wasn't just Paris, but also in Marseilles in a couple of other places, wrote a statement which was saying that they should not end up in the gallery. You know, they were not kind of aesthetic things they were designed for a particular purpose, and they didn't want them fetishised as objects of art, and of course, that's to some extent what I'm doing here. Yes. So the image was repeated across, I think, eight pieces in the gallery. And then there was one. One of them, which I painted over the top of which has kind of hidden behind the pink, has an image of the While England Mourns the Tim Bobbin piece, but then i cant remember which which local newspaper it was. We had the rather unfortunate thing that in there. What's on section Put it put it down as White Englnd Mourns. Which was, you know, not really in the spirit of what we thinking of, I suppose that we had to get changed very, very quickly.
Magnus Quaife Does that the question Andy?. I kind of forget what the question was. I've been talking that long.
Andy Hunt Know it does.
Andy Hunt I guess Guy Debord is a bit like Boris Johnson Johnson kind of relationship with Winston Churchill, Guy Debord is out winston Churchill, isn't he?
Magnus Quaife Yeah. Maybe ive never thought of it that way.
Andy Hunt Anyway, I'm going to stay with the north of England, sticking with the north of England and painting. We are both part of a group that is loosely called Painting Manchester, which is based at Manchester School of Art and aims to look at the medium of painting in the region of the northwest of England and how this connects to international developments. I just wanted to know if you could speak a little bit about that. And how you see yourself within it and how you think it's progressive in some way.
Magnus Quaife Yeah. So I suppose Painting Manchester. There were quite a few people at Manchester School of Art who were who are in one way or other interested in painting, whether it's the research or practise or both or curating. And I think it really took you arriving a couple of days ago to kind of get us all together and say, well, maybe there's something that we could do collectively. So certainly myself, and Ian Hartshorne has been doing a lot of work around painting, pedagogies. And there were numerous other projects going on. We came together and started talking about, you know, how we can frame something which is significant within Manchester that feels relevant and appropriate. And for me, the strength of it is much as anything else is putting Manchester within an international critical debate around painting. So we're only a couple of years old, but we've had some some really I think important figures come and talk about different ideas around painting. And I think it kind of I think it's too easy to dismiss anywhere in the UK away from London or almost kind of being provincial and therefore not being able to make a relevant contribution. And I think, you know, there are loads of really cool painters in Manchester at the moment or who've been in Manchester for significant periods of time and moved on. And I think the same for most much, you know, for most of the regions. But being able to give some visibility or a voice to that through connecting it to a serious level of critical debate around painting, I think there has been an important thing to do.
Andy Hunt Yeah, I mean, I won't say what I think the situation is.
Magnus Quaife Go on say what you think Andy.
Andy Hunt No, I think you're completely right. I think it's interesting also, just from an international point of view, bypassing London don't have to bypass London. But I think the idea of setting up a separate centre, not a not a region or minor location as a kind of space for painting, but just another centre somewhere else other than the usual centres in Germany and the US and the UK, I think is quite interesting. So. It's just interesting setting up symposia, making books and, you know, teaching in that situation with all sorts of talented, interesting people. I'm Going to go into the next question, which is about your work.
Andy Hunt And looking at looking at artists, specifically painters who have got practises for want of a better word that embody a whole set of different styles. I just wanted to ask you a question about that, because there aren't really that many. I mean, my reference for someone I've interviewed recently is Lady churchman whose work varies immensely from faux naivete to photo realist images of Iphones most recently. So why do you. I just wanted to ask, why do you use an eclectic mixture of styles and who would you use as your current favourite? Favourite artist? Working in a similar manner.
Magnus Quaife Yeah. The favourite artist one is a really tough question, i dont know there is probably the for me. I dont know You know, I think historically I think there's a there's almost. I think there are really good examples of artists who reinvented them selves or worked through a series of different stylistic approaches. And we might think of as consistent. Despite that, I suppose so. I mean, the the one that I think is easy to think of is Picasso. And I've got a book and I can't remember who it's by. I think about it, but it's about French painting in the first half of the 20th century. It goes back into the 19th century. I think it lists something like 24 different styles of movements of painting in France during that period. And I think Picasso was in 17 of them. You know, I mean, he was kind of moving on quickly and doing different things at quite a pace. And yet there are consistencies. You know, the consistency of his use of the figure and I suppose when we see a Picasso painting, maybe, I think he's more than just how famous they are. I think there's a kind of signature within them. When you google Picasso one of the things that comes up fairly quickly is people who've made their own Picasso's. And I think you can even tell they're the ones that are pretty good. You can even tell they're not. Picasso. It's pretty pretty much straight away. So there's this. There's this there's a consistency in his hand within the work. I think that's the case with, with a lot of artists who are trying to play about stylistically. For me, it was kind of I suppose I never really understood the idea that you would find a way of working and continue doing that thing all the time. You know, it felt to me like there were different things in dialogue in the studio, different things that you're interested in. And then perhaps the way that you deal with that thing might have to might have to change or alter that you can't kind of come up with a single perfect solution. Of course, there are painters who who are very kind of singular about the ideas that they're dealing with. But I think that maybe it comes down to being I'm full of doubt. I've never absolutely, certain. And maybe when I'm making one piece of work. I can be certain about it, but not, you know, it it forces me to kind of go and investigate different ideas and try and approach ideas from different angles. And perhaps there's something of that in the painting. But there have been periods you know, there are periods when I kind of painted in a similar way for five or six years and I have to catch myself and go hold on a minute. This is you know, this isn't something that you're really thinking. Or maybe about 10 years ago I read a quote from Isaac Laskin and i thought thats it. You know, that's what that's I'm thinking of. This is why I've been been trying to approach this maybe, you know, more or less successfully for for a long time now. And he talks about this idea that it's a myth, you know, that you go to art school and you discover who you are as an artist, and then you spend the rest of your life trying to hone that. Until then, she says, I think she says it's always ten years before you die. You find your master style. And then, you know, and then that's it. You know, you done. And she said, well, that sounds fucking boring.
Magnus Quaife And I kind of agree. You know, it sounds it sounds boring and t think its more interesting to push yourself into different spaces and think about work differently than being consistent. But I've always had this ambition that maybe one day I'd be able to do a solo exhibition, which was kind of coherent and yet not stylistically at all.
Magnus Quaife So every single work is kind of approaching an idea or a way of thinking or a problem or a set of images or whatever it would be, but kind of approaching it differently, I've now never managed to do that because in the studio, in any given moment, I suppose any period of time, there are things that start to fascinate me that pull me in. And then, you know, they get dealt with. They get dealt with over a period of time. Yeah.
Andy Hunt So you;ve got like one of the other questions I've got is, is just looking at me, just talking about Picasso a few minutes back.
Andy Hunt But not just different styles, but different subject matter. So, for example, you know, you've got the idea of Tim Bobbin with the Situationist International, but I wanted to look at also a different subject for a different exhibition with Cèzanne and Close Encounters. So I just wanted to ask you about that, because there's some really unusual combinations of ideas. So can you tell me about your subsequent exhibition? This is. In 2014, in Works Projects which conflated Cèzanne's obsession with the mountain in Richard Dreyfus's, you know, where Richard Dreyfuss played Roy Neira in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, who was an electrical lines lineman in Indiana who had a similar encounter with a specific object. Sorry, a specific form of landscape, as well as an obsession with an unknown, unidentified flying object.
Andy Hunt Sorry. I was kind of stuttering over that question. But can you tell me about that exhibition? You know, it just sounds like how did you come up with those two two kind of ideas and.
Magnus Quaife Yeah, well, in all, honestly, I can't remember where it starts. I mean, I know mine. I've kind of been completely I mean, I love Cèzanne I think I just think he's a phenomenal was a phenomenal painter. And about, I don't know, 14 years ago. Maybe not quite that long. About 2008 or 2009, I got managed to get some money to go to Aix-en-Provence and my idea was right, was going to go to Aix-en-Provence because I've been on the Internet and I can't find anything that mapped out the sites that Cèzanne painted Mont Sainte Victoire from So i had been to libraries. I tried to find different stuff. And I managed to go to Aix-en-Provence for about a week and a half, I think it was.
Magnus Quaife And. We were, yeah. I say we, the plan was to walk round Mont Sainte Victoire on the side that Cèzanne lived on the side and find the spots that he painted it from. And I got I didn't know I had no idea where i was staying i had booked this place because it one it was because it was cheap, it was out of season and two, because it was called the Jas de Bouffan . And that's that, that was the name of his family home. But I kind of you know, anyway, it was he was nowhere near it. It was kind of like miles away in the middle of nowhere. And I couldn't work out how to get there. So I went into the tourist office in the centre of Aix and I asked them how to get there. And they they wrote down the number of the bus and said, you get off here, when you see this. And then it's about two minutes or so. And he said, Is there anything else I can help you with? And I said, Well, I doubt it. Well what I've done is I've come there to try and find the sights that Cèzanne painted Mont Sainte Victoire from. And he said, well, OK, give me a minute. And he walks off and he went into the back somewhere and he was gone for ages and he found these ancient, well i say ancient, kind of like, I guess he was from the 70s. Judging by the graphic design, although that might have been the 90s in France. Am i allowed to say that? I don't know anyway this map this kind of old dusty map. The last copy that they had was a map of the sights that Cèzanne had painted Mont Sainte Victoire from. So I still obviously, you know, I still spent the time there, it was just easier to find them, I walked to them. I spent some time and the idea was that some work would emerge from that and it didn't. You know, there's nothing I didn't make anything in response to the experience at the time, but I kept kind of maybe looking more closely at Cèzanne, and I think it's obvious. But, you know, this perhaps this painting. Sorry it's a collage.
Magnus Quaife It says quite succinctly that the idea really that Cèzanne painted a bit of cloth in the same way that he painted a mountain. There is no hierarchy of the area of paintings. But, you know, that's well known that kind of an orange is important as a person. And that became more interesting to me. But there are also certain things, I think, that have increasingly become debunked about Cèzannes character. So there are kind of myths about who Cèzanne was and how he behaved and his moodiness, that the more you read into it, you understand this is a kind of to some extent is a construction around the myth of the artist. And that's when I can't remember how. But the idea of this character of Roy Neary, also having this obsession with the mountain starts to emerge. And in the original script for Close Encounters. Although I've been told since it wasn't Steven Spielberg, Steven Spielberg bought the script of someone else and then wrote their name off it. Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they worked on it together and then he bought it out of it. But it describes the character of Roy Neary as working like a deranged artist. And so clearly for me in Spielberg's mind was this idea, this myth of the artist informing this character of Neary and his behaviour as he's making his mash potato mountains as he's as he's kind of obsessively working. So the idea was really the central piece in the show, which is a model of Mont Sainte Victoire. It was made kind of in the style, I suppose, of. The model that Roy Neary makes, right, using cloths and dirt and just kind of throwing stuff about so the photograph doesn't do it justice. There was kind of soil and stones around the edges and then obviously you can't see what's underneath it. But what we tried to do was find furniture, which kind of matched up with the stuff in Cèzannes studio. So I spent some time in Cèzannes studio. Although the idea was to photograph the furniture in the studio. But of course, you're not allowed to take any photographs.
Magnus Quaife I also went to his parents house and asked if I could go and look at the the rooms where Cèzanne would have had as a bedroom. When he was when he was a young man and they said, no, you know, there's no point. It's just a concrete shell. Everyone visits for the gardens out the back. But you walk in and the buildings kind of just been shored up with concrete and there's nothing there. And I tried to explain why I would really like to go and see the rooms, and that was no as well. I just couldn't I wasn't allowed to go and see see the room. So there was a kind of conflation of these two ideas. But I think there's something about running through the work, which is about a myth, which you know underpins a notion about artistic genius that somehow emerging from obsessional or derangement.
Andy Hunt Staying the idea of like science fiction and theory being a bit silly here. There are so many theories of painting around at the moment. This is second from last question. What's your favourite and your least favourite? And which is more like the most like science fiction.
Magnus Quaife I really don't if it is difficult to think about. You know, I didn't really answer the question about a favourite artist working in different styles earlier. Different. Difficult with an answer. I didnt answer it at all! It's so difficult to think about a favourite theory as well, But I suppose I have been watching recently a few videos of Jan Verwoert, talking about painting, and I really like it. There's a couple of things, a couple of different versions of the talk on YouTube. And there were two ideas that kind of emerge. I mean, maybe, maybe kind of listening to my bio at the beginning where Miles was talking about the conceptual artist who paints, which is how I have been described. But it is kind of reminds me of that joke that Jan Werwoert made, which is why why, why are conceptual artist painting again? Because they think it's a good idea. And then the other joke..
Andy Hunt There is one talk where he got a synthesiser out and started comparing, comparing the rhythm of painting to the rhythm in music. And so.
Magnus Quaife The idea of painting oscillation, of painting kind of oscillates between different kind of stakes and ideas i think. And he is using a Roland three on three drum machine and kind of oscillates using the oscillation controls on it and talking about it as a way to illustrate this idea of [ainting oscillating. And then he talks about the idea of. Of god whats the word it uses cant even remember now. But the proximity of painting to other things I know painting situated itself closely to other things and can can be in conversation with kind of modernism, but also the kind of pink on an album cover at the same time. And I think is a kind of charm in the way that he's talking about that. There's a kind of you know, he keeps it. He talks very seriously about painting, but he opens it up in very interesting ways. And I think what he's talking about isn't kind of a million miles away from perhaps what the idea of painting being beside itself. That David Joselit essay. And yet he kind of frames it in a way which allows painting to feel playful and not academic. I suppose that's something I'm really interested in.
Magnus Quaife Least favourite theories.
Andy Hunt You don't have to. You don't have to.
Magnus Quaife OK, I'll just say there's a book and I think it's called 'Philosophers right about painting' or something, I think is a Routledge book from about 10 years ago. Take your pick. Take your pick of any essays in there. It's like, I don't know, kind of. I think quite often when philosophers write about painting, they use it to illustrate philosophy rather than dealing with rather than really dealing with painting in the state of painting not all the time but quite often,.
Andy Hunt I guess it's a classic revenge, attempted revenge of philosophy on art not free criticism as a way of completing art. It always fails. Mostly, I've got a few more questions, but I just wanted to. I think we're. So let's see how we are doing for time, hold on.
Andy Hunt I wanted to ask you. Let's see if I go back a bit. Bear with me, sorry. Yeah. Can you tell me. This is a sidestep. It's not really about painting, but could you tell me about your curatorial activity? Because you have organised quite a few exhibitions.
Magnus Quaife Yeah. So, yeah, I mean, it's all very much artist lead but I think we've, I've worked with different people. So quite often I work in, I collaborate with one or more people running spaces or ideas. And it's something I started doing at art school. Just really interested. I think, I think it is kind of always been driven by this idea. If there's if there's. If there's something you want to see, don't wait for it to be shown. Don't wait for show to come around or for the artist that you're really interested in to have a show. Well, that kind of idea for a group show, for someone more experienced or able to do it, just just find ways of doing it. So, yeah, I mean, it's some of the most interesting projects that I've done were, with that for a few years. I worked with. Stewart Edmondson who lives down in, I'm probably going to get it wrong. I think Devon now it's Devon, not Dorset. I think he's here, so you can correct me in the, you can send a question and correct me if I'm wrong. But he lived down in Devon, where we worked at, ran at an artist led. It's not really a space. It's called the Blackpool Museum of Contemporary Art. We liked this idea, the kind of grampness of calling yourself a Museum of Contemporary Art, but having no fixed abode. We borrowed spaces and organised events in Blackpool for a couple of years. And then the other, I suppose space that I think was most interesting was in, in Manchester when the same building as Rogue Studios, which was an old cotton mill, had different kind of lives. It was knitting mill, as well, by the time we were in there, and before that they'd make towers in there. I mean, many have an old showroom and the floor with the showroom became available and managed to take over the showroom to run it as a, a gallery space for a couple of years. Again, doing it is, kind of pretty much on the cheap, really. And we, I say we because we worked closely with Helen Collett. Who has gone on to do all sorts of interesting things with wine and music and, you know, lots and lots of things. But yeah, it was kind of this idea, actually, I think at the time. I think Manchester kind of fluctuates between having some really interesting artist led spaces and then none at all. And it kind of felt like maybe, maybe some more stuff should just be happening in Manchester, maybe some artists should be doing some stuff. And then a lot of people came in and curated stuff there. So Paul Cordwell curated a really interesting exhibition called 'Sculpture, is it a vulture nibbling on the entrails of the Mundane?' And I did a show called Zombie Modernism, and I did one called Shit Show, which was kind of framed round, George Barbers video piece, 'I was once involved in a shit show', which is great if anyone's not seen it. And you want to understand what the artist led is all about. George Barber describes it beautifully. But there were, there were kind of opportunities to do exciting things. Then we would, then I would give them where possible just given these grand titles. So they sound, you know, Malgras and Naudet are the two Art Dealers in the masterpiece by Zola. But it kind of sounds like Pace Wildenstein or Hauser and Wirth. So it's meant to sound like, you know, if you if you kind of see someone was talking about it, they had that kind of gravitas. And the reality is in a crumbling mill in the arse end of Manchester City Centre. Yeah. So it kind of defied its reality.
Andy Hunt Last question, what are you working on at the moment? And is it, is it in Manchester or, or further, further afield, or are you expanding into international curating at all?
Magnus Quaife Yes, no, I'm not expanding into international curating, I'm working. So I've been programme leader on the Undergraduate Fine Art Degree at Manchester for two years ago, for two years now. And that's sort of took quite a bit of my energy. But the intention is to have a little bit of a rebalance over the next year and starting very soon being in the studio more. So sat in the corner of this room, I have a stack of stretchers that I've ordered from Holland and some new paints, and the idea is to get back into the studio and I've been making some drawings and thinking about what that might be. And I suppose I have a backlog of two years of ideas that have really just not been dealt with in anything but a very basic way. So I suppose it's kind of the initial stages getting into the studio and trying to think about which of those are actually going to work when it comes to it. Someone some ideas from even longer ago. So I bought a pair of Ralph Lauren jeans, that are pre-painted to look as if.. They're meant to look so, they're womens jeans that are meant to look as if you've stolen them off your boyfriend. And these particular range, which thing are called Astore. Astore in the boyfriend's jean range. Are meant to look as if your boyfriend's an artist and you've stolen his jeans. I actually have two pairs of them that have been sat in my studio for about four years whilst I to try and work out exactly what I do with them, which in the end might be nothing. But they seemed like this, in that kind of idea of connecting to the idea of indexical mark, when when that indexical mark is made in a factory in Mexico and ends up on a pair of jeans as a fashion icon, there seems something, there's something in there. Right. Right.
Andy Hunt That sounds like an idea Merlyn Carpenter might have.
Magnus Quaife Yeah, I like, well, I don't think that's an insult.
Andy Hunt Anyway, here's Miles. And shall we, shall we hand it over to the audience Miles?
Miles Thurlow Absolutely. Absolutely. That's. I could just listen to you guys for ages, I'm really enjoying it. We've got quite a few questions, so I'm going sort power through them. In no particular order. I might anonymize some of them. Well, I no why? Why do I need to do that? Andrew Bracey "hi, Miles. Hope all is well. Here's my question for later. It's to Magnus about appropriation and to ask whether everything is open to him to use as material for his work. Or are there things that are off limits? And if so, what might these be?" Did you get that?
Magnus Quaife Yeah. I did, I'm just having a little think about that, because I think I think. There's nothing off limits I don't think, but it's things that I wouldn't want to use. So I don't I don't kind of. You know, maybe it's kind of. The fact that this talk was cancelled, postponed should I say sorry, two weeks ago, for Blackout Tuesday and I'll never. I don't think I've ever appropriate images or works that feel to me that that would be kind of racially, ethically, culturally inappropriate in that way. Don't think I've ever done that. Maybe. I don't think so. And, yes, there's certain things I don't I don't see the value of it or I see the. Yes. Some things I don't see the value in appropriating and other things, I suppose. I don't. I think that that they're not mine to appropriate. But if I wanted to, I could you know, it's not that they're off limits. It's that there are kind of boundaries. I. That I set for myself around what I'm interested in, what I think is is valid to deal with.
Miles Thurlow Thanks for that. I've got a question here from Brian Fay. "Hi. Great conversation. Does your discussion on indexicallity in painting also apply to drawing or is that a separate discourse?"
Magnus Quaife And I think it's very, Isabella Gros, it talks about, other things. But she does say really that is painting, which is the most appropriate medium, because I think it's, she says it's where we understand it most. You know? So, you know, my kind of questioning around that is when when we see a sculpture made of clay and we can see the thumbprint of the sculptor in that. Why would that not have an equivalence to the gesture of the painter? I'm not sure. I don't I don't get that Isabella Gros particularly. Perhaps she's talking in the bigger term, you know, being in that. The marker, the painter, is always present somehow. But she also goes on to say that that's the case when it isn't. So I've just said it's always present. But I think she's talking about expanded field painting, for example. That says we understand it in the same way, because it's still painting. I don't know how tenuous that is. You know, I mean, I'm not sure I I'm not going to trying to defend that idea, I think that it's problematic.
Andy Hunt I think the other side of the coin is the process of painting. When you, so within in painting, if you're, if you're not going from kind of previous reference points, if you want to put it like that and like different. An index of reference points, it's far more risky in some respects, I think, because you're your playinf with the idea of genius and the horrors of that. So if you're just painting. This is why, I think this is why Alistair's for Alistair MacKinnon is very interested in it, because he just paints from nothing. You... And if something comes up, like that, you really like he'll paint it out. And it's a it's a kind of the, this idea of negative is just erasure of everything until something finally comes up. It looks as if it's new. Not even from some bizarre kind of intuition of what your knowledge has accumulated subconsciously or whatever over time. So, again, that's that's I guess that's the alternative in painting to this idea of ironic, post postmodernism of just everything is just a symbol of something else, and it could be a constellation of new symbols, you know, which has new, you know, in combination, which has a new meaning in drawing. I dunno. That's interesting because the whole idea of erasure and what's the name, what's the name Magnus? You know, where you're kind of constantly erasing.
Magnus Quaife Like a Palimpsest?
Andy Hunt No, it's not Palimpsest. It's this idea of. It's almost like it's got a, got guilty associations, so you're absolutely horrified with what you've made, so you keep. It's kind of. It's got Catholic kind of references. Yes, this idea of like guiltily erasing everything that you're afraid that you've made until something like really good comes out. And I think it's like painting is much more easy to do because you're able to play with the surface and the erase and add, whereas drawing you can just tear up the surface of the paper can't you, so. So it's harder to do.
Magnus Quaife What's the word, Andy?
Andy Hunt Hold on, I'll find out. You talk amongst yourselves. I'll Google it.
Miles Thurlow The question here from Neil Rock, "in light of the discussion being moved for Blackout Tuesday and as two white British men talking together, how important do you think it is to question the cannon in both pedagogy and practise and after postmodernism? How does a value coalesce in light of this?"
Andy Hunt I'll stop Googling. This is more important. I totally agree. Earlier this week, I had a conversation with Cedar Lewisohn, he's a black curator talking about his situation as a. I mean, he works for the Southbank Centre and it's been furloughed. We're talking about another writer, and we're talking about the problem even of the, the kind of phrase bane, from their point of view and this I mean, there's just so many different problems within the British art establishment. The whole idea of decolonising as a easy buzz word for diversity. The fact that the, the establishment of all of the galleries and the Arts Council and the DCMS and the government is intricately linked. About. Kind of issues. I mean, for me about issues of inequality, I've just written an article for Art Monthly about this. So, for example, one of the things I mean, I could go on forever about this. It's not just about the black situation. It's about class in general, the history of, the history of the, of the kind of Victorian officer class which still runs pretty British contemporary art establishment. So it's a kind of oxymoron. It's duplicitous. It's the last bastion of inequality dressed up as liberty. And so the amount of virtue signalling that's gone on since lockdown, which is turned into, you know, protest after the killing in America by the police, is really interesting because if you look in a specific local context in the U.K.. Not one British publicly funded art institution has criticised the government for its handling of COVID, but they have criticised every other, they've latched themselves on to every other worthy cause. Which is good. But then there's not one one kind of criticism from a publicly funded, i.e., government funded gallery, about the government's handling of COVID and where it becomes where it crosses over is the where is where BAME, for want of a better phrase, communities have been inadvertently affected by COVID, and it's it's government policy that's done over, systematically over years. So that's my way of talking about the British art establishment.
Magnus Quaife Yeah, I would I would just say I think they're hugely both hugely important in terms of pedagogy and in terms of how we think and talk about art and make art more more generally. And I think. Without going into huge detail, I'd been thinking for a while now about what a degree in Fine Art or Painting or Studio Art might look like, if it was going to be truly different, because I don't think altering a reading list, mentioning some different names in lectures is enough. You know, I think it has to go further than that. I've been probably taking too long to talk about the ideas I'm trying to work on, but I think that would be significant. And then I think. You know, I think we all need to work on ourselves. You know, the thing we need to listen to people. But that's a project that I think for most of us is under way. And was on the way before last Tuesday and in the art world. And I think certainly in art schools, you know, I think it's something that was already at the before. And I think. I don't know. Yeah, I won't I won't talk too much about it, but I think, you know, certainly for me in the past decade, there are increasingly artists from around the world. Away from a Western Europe centric or you kind of Atlantic, what they call it, Europe and America. Anyway, that kind of access that had been included in my thinking about my own practice and my teaching in the studio. And those artists aren't just contemporary artists. I'm talking about artists that go back sometimes hundreds of years, but certainly to to kind of moments in modernism on a regular basis. And that's been an opening up of myself in that period. You know, there was only one person who taught me at art school who spoke about any of that really in any great extent.
Andy Hunt I think one of the things in the university that I've noticed in particular in Manchester is that if you're in a position of any position of power, I guess, I'm a professor. I was asked some I'm relatively I'm in the senior staff. So one of the things that I was asked to do recently was to be co-chair of a diversity forum. So, I'm middle aged, I'm middle class. I'm white. I'm heterosexual. I mean, why should I be doing that? So I said no. I still want a voice in there. But, you know, it's I. Why should it be me? You know, I mean, that a lot of people are asking the wrong people to be involved. I think all of the time I'm not going to name names, but that's one example. What do you do? I mean, nothing, we just need more people from diverse, for want of a better word, backgrounds in teaching in universities. And it is a problem.
Magnus Quaife But then, you know, the first thing we need to do is work out how we get certainly, you know, I mean, on Fine Art courses has a has a low proportion of people from ethnic minorities. So the first question is, how do they come in and study? You know, how do people from these communities or more people from these communities? Come in and study, and I think there has to be you know, there has to be a more people coming through. That's the. That's the. And not you know, it's not one at the expense of the other. It's kind of both. You know, we need more people teaching. We have you know, we have some, it's not entirely undiverse at Manchester, it isn't the most art schools that I know. But that could be better. And then I think also it could be better in terms of the students who were coming through in a city like Manchester, where you look across the city and you look at the population and it's not reflective, not reflected in the students who come to the Art School. That's really important. But then. Yeah, well, I'm not going. We didn't get round to the value properly.
Miles Thurlow I mean I mean, obviously, this is going to be a series of questions that go on for for quite some time and the discussion that needs to happen and continue, you know, continually and on an ongoing basis. So I think that that's something that maybe. Us that run institutions or are in positions that can facilitate these things can can help to maybe help to happen. I want to try and just come back to some of the questions just to give you, because I think it's important that people have opportunity to to ask and there's quite a few here rolling in. So I'm got to come back to some of these questions here. Tia Maria Taylor Berry asks, "Do you believe painting has a performative element? And if so, how does this come into fruition in the curation of work?" short answers I think now.
Magnus Quaife Yes, but there is a performance in element in the act of making painting. Although I speak, I personally have a I sometimes try to negate that, maybe not always. But yes, I think there's a performative thing in the making of it. I think I don't know. Well yeah. I think, the bit about curating. I think is is a big question in relations that that would almost need some clarification. We can I suppose maybe maybe Tia is asking, can we relate that performativity through the way the painting the work is encountered? To, to viewer and some you know, there are lots of artists who have made painting as performance or video painting as performance or satire. The performative active painting. Or the idea of the painter thinking of Paul McCarthy, and the kind of performative acts in the studio. But I don't know. I think one of the beauties of when you look at a painting is it. And there is kind of performativity in the gesture is the imagining of that. That is kind of cited in situated in the work. And you don't need anything more than that than the work to see that. And so to think about that and to understand it, I think maybe my answer is that curators have an easy job with that or should have an easy job with that, because it's because it's often in the work.
Andy Hunt So speaking as a curator. Basically, I'm interested in the idea in terms of performance in the idea of temporality in painting. There are two answers. First answer is this idea of time. So the temporal aspect is just multiple. So you've got this idea of. The Western history of the western Canon, you know, six, six, seven hundred years worth of years of clock time. And history. But then also you've got this idea of Marxist labour time and the market, which Isabella Groer likes to talk about, I think. As you know, part of her reading. But then you've also got like this idea of the surface time of looking at a painting which can be quick or slow. And I really, like all of them, put together this idea. That's for me, that's a performance.
Magnus Quaife And the time of the making, Andy.
Andy Hunt The time of the making exactly the marxist labour time. So the idea that, you know, the Ruskin, Whistler argument, the traditional...
Magnus Quaife Something else in that as well. And I think it's, you know, going back to (NAME) talking before this, I did a number. (Name) uses... To talk about this idea that she starts when the painting reaches the beginning that she wanted or something. I can remember the exact quote but he says, therefore, that painting has the ability to go back and forwards in time. So that's not the that's. That's another argument about time, given the...
Andy Hunt Its kind of Jurassic. Burgzonian durational time or if you want to get Hippy about it, it's that kind of like countercultural. Idea of nature and duration in that respect over father clock time. So, I mean, I guess I guess it's not a like a morning. I like the affirmation idea rather than morning rather than this this kind of idea of a fragmented time. It's it is kind of slowly takes you out out of out of time. Or quickly takes you out of time. The other thing I was gonna say is that curatorial is traditionally its only group shows that, you know, are performative in some respect. So you have a theme and you have lots of people who paint.
Magnus Quaife I't depends what really mean by performative because as the idea isn't there, you know, people use the word performative. I think it's not just something that we do is it's actually a speech act which commits to something. So, yeah, if if a speech act is performative, then it commits you to some things so it doesn't just state something. So the example, the famous example, I think would be when you get married and you say, I do, you not just making a statement, you making it a binding, you're making a commitment through that speech. And that is performative. So even the word performance is not maybe maybe used wrongly sometimes in the art studio. Not that there's not more than one meaning, right? But you know what I mean. Or maybe don't,
Miles Thurlow You know what, I think we're actually out of time. So I'm going to talking about time. It's a nice little point to wrap up here. And, you know, just to thank you both. What a wonderful way to spend the slightly on the edge of a storm. Summer's evening listening to listening to you guys. So thank you very much. And thank you to all our audience who have again. We've had a really big uptake in people, as you know, stayed steady throughout. So obviously, we must be talking ok. And I hope you will come back for the next one. So I'm going to say goodbye. We can wave and do that. Weird's Thing,
Magnus Quaife Thank you Miles. Thanks everyone.
Miles Thurlow And then it all cut off really abruptly and we'll all feel lost and slightly, slightly strange.
Andy Hunt Can I just say one thing, Miles? Where having a party afterwards and a few other people shouldn't say this, but maybe there's a way that we can invite other people to come along. What do you think, Magnus?
Magnus Quaife Yeah, I don't know how to, ive not got the code. You will have to give me a minute.
Miles Thurlow We'll see if we can figure that out. We'll see if we can figure it out.
Andy Hunt It's would be nice to keep going and have a drink.
Miles Thurlow Right. I'm gonna. I'm gonna cut off.
Magnus Quaife I'll send you the thing and you can send it Miles. All right. Thanks, Miles.
Miles Thurlow Bye, everyone.