Andrew Grassie is a painter whose works engage with complex ideas. Grassie’s starting point is a re-examination of the fundamental question of what to paint. He turns this question on its head, producing paintings which present a series of compelling propositions about painting itself, recording and representing scenarios such as the circumstances of their own production or display.
New Hang consists of thirteen small paintings. Each shows a different view of an exhibition in the space in which Grassie’s paintings are exhibited, Tate Britain’s Art Now room. This exhibition is made up of works from the Tate collection, including well-known paintings and sculptures by historic British artists such as George Stubbs and J.M.W. Turner, international modern ‘masters’ such as Barnett Newman and Pablo Picasso, and works by two living artists: Bridget Riley and Bruce Nauman. Grassie’s paintings are hung according to the view of the room that they depict. Thus, a viewer looking at one of Grassie’s pictures will see a view of the space in which they are standing. They might also notice that the lighting in the room is exactly the same as in Grassie’s paintings. This doubling – of the space in the paintings and the space which the viewer occupies – creates a dislocation which questions our sense of reality, space and illusion.
To make New Hang Grassie selected, at intervals, works from Tate’s collection and installed them in the Art Now room between exhibitions. Having mapped out the space and established his viewpoints (and thus camera positions), Grassie photographed the same set of views each time a new group of works was installed. He then pieced together a set of images of the ‘complete’ exhibition; an impossible or, more accurately, implausible event. Then, working from these images, he painted the pictures that make up the current exhibition.
The title refers to the annual redisplay of the collection that used to take place at the Tate Gallery. The annual New Hang was an opportunity to see works in fresh curatorial contexts. Grassie’s project offers a ‘virtual’ equivalent of such a re-display, as well as challenging its methodology. Viewers might question Grassie’s choice of works, how they are displayed, and what readings and meanings emerge from the combinations he has pictured. In fact his choices were dictated by the desire to work with certain favourite artists and works, as well as the formal demands of his compositions. He has stressed that there is no curatorial intention in his selection or his ‘hang’. Nonetheless, certain themes do emerge: contrasting depictions of the body in works by William Blake, Henry Moore, Hans Bellmer and Picasso, or the doubling seen in both Nauman’s Double No and The Cholmondeley Ladies. Free from the burden of a curatorial agenda, Grassie enjoys ‘accidental’ conjunctions such as the way Frederic Leighton’s Sluggard seems to be ﬂaunting himself to Picasso’s Nude Woman in a Red Armchair. He is also interested in the way these works of art that use such radically different languages of representation have been brought together in his paintings, which themselves use yet another form of pictorial language.
Grassie’s way of working developed out of an impasse he found himself in while studying at the Royal College of Art. Under pressure to develop a ‘signature’ style, Grassie worked his way through many stylistic models, eventually reaching what he felt was a dead end. His response to this was to start painting copies of his own work: a solution reminiscent of Samuel Beckett’s resignation, ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’ Yet Grassie also found that in making what at ﬁrst seemed like a kind of ‘dumb’ gesture – a wilfully negationist action in that it seemed to deny creativity - something new and interesting emerged. Grassie explained: ‘My self-reﬂexive stance originated from the problem of what to paint, or rather how to justify it to myself. The technique of copying a photograph, rather than implying an interest in the ‘photo-real’, was simply a paring down to the bare bone of a practice. What emerged out of this discipline was surprisingly expansive and referential.’ One might say that because of his doubt about the practice of painting, Grassie’s work has developed as a way of providing him with excuses to make paintings.
Grassie’s methods are relatively simple, if technically demanding, but from them emerges a complex and layered situation that can be misunderstood as a form of photo-realism or appropriation. However, he has said: ‘I am as much interested in the differences that occur in the “look” of my paintings from the photographs, and what this implies, than any proximity. They seem now to refer to the “silent gaze” of much seventeenth-century Dutch art and to certain forms of minimalism more than to photo-realism.’ As this suggests, Grassie is engaged in a dialogue with art history. As well as methodologies of creation, exhibition and display, his work addresses a strand that runs throughout art history, of artists drawing on the work of their predecessors for inspiration. A parallel strand locates copying (initially as a means of instruction) as fertile ground. Work such as New Hang is not appropriation however, for the works of art he depicts are identiﬁed as real works within a real space and retain their original identity.
Grassie’s practice suggests that we might consider his work in two further ways: as conceptual art, and as installation art. Sol Le Witt argued that the use of conceptual frameworks and self-imposed conditions ‘eliminates the arbitrary, the capricious and the subjective as much as possible’. But Grassie has found that ‘freedom from having to invent’ actually means he can locate self-expression in other aspects of his work, in painterly qualities such as ‘touch’ for example.
New Hang consists of thirteen paintings, which will almost certainly be dispersed after the show. But in its complete form it exists as a single piece which occupies (and activates) the space in which it is displayed. It is a site-speciﬁc work, made for the Art Now room. As such it is essentially an installation in which the component parts happen to be paintings.
Text by Ben Tufnell